If New York is known for its skyscrapers and Los Angeles for its endless highways, then San Francisco is known for its streets. The seven-by-seven mile city is a tight grid of one-way streets, steep, stair-lined hills, and dark intimate alleys. Locals know that the streets are a thing and a frequent topic of conversation. These discussions can range from a disgruntled complaint of traffic stemming from a gentrifying neighborhood’s new high-rise to a puzzled inquiry about which walking route has the least amount of incline. Since we’re fans of finding the diamonds in the rough, our ears always perk up when we hear a savvy local talk about a sweet alley spot around the city. We think you might feel the same, so without further adieu, here are our favorite little streets in San Francisco.
If you’re up for an alley crawl, begin your night with a walk down the brick-lined Gold Street. Look toward the upper left end of the alley and you’ll see the neon-green sign for Bix, one of San Francisco’s most iconic eateries that has been around since 1988. Enjoy the jazz trio and order up a perfectly balanced icy-cold martini, platters of raw oysters, and the steak tartare, dressed tableside. The next stop is at Claude Lane, an alley on the border of Union Square, which is filled with bustling restaurants. With the tourists and overhanging lights, it feels as if you’ve been transported to a European town. That said, if you want to experience a taste of Basque Country in the Bay Area, pop into Gitane. This sexy eatery from French restaurateur Franck LeClerc has divine charred octopus with purple potatoes and an excellent list of sherry.
For a more casual but equally delicious discovery, walk down the alley known as Minna and pull up a chair at Anchor & Hope. This spacious spot is known for its stellar seafood, so if you’re feeling adventurous, order the Dungeness crab carbonara with uni; it’s so rich, it’s downright sinful. We recommend you cut the fat with a local craft brew off the extensive beer list.
Ready for a nightcap? Jessie Street is your destination. Although this alley may feel a tad seedy at first glance, it’s the home of The Cavalier, Hotel Zetta’s buzzy British gastropub. The bar is always crowded and the patrons are criminally attractive. Our must order: The delectably nostalgic ham and cheese soldiers with hen egg hollandaise.
SF’s side streets also serve up plenty of lovely libations. If craft cocktails are what you’re after, North Beach’s 15 Romolo is right up your alley. This smart spirits spot, which sits on the left-hand side of a steep alley, doesn’t provide much signage so you could miss it. Listen out for the sounds of the jukebox and ice being shaken, though, and you will immediately be pointed toward your target, which is known for its signature Pimm’s Cup. Prefer wine to cocktails? Over in Hayes Valley, on the border of Market Street, is a tiny, but amazingly chic establishment called Hotel Biron. This wine bar is an excellent date spot; it’s moody, dark and provides an unparalleled wine list. Traveling with a group? Go to The Hidden Vine, another winning wine bar. The only things that these two spots have in common are that they both pour vino in tucked-away addresses. The Hidden Vine is a coveted spot on warmer days (and happy hour) thanks to its hidden outdoor bocce courts. It also serves up a simple menu of flatbread pizzas, cheese and charcuterie, so if you want to stay awhile and leisurely sip a couple bottles of wine, we say go ahead.
For shopping in San Francisco, Maiden Lane is your one-stop alley shop. It’s a pedestrian-only walkway just off of Union Square that runs only a couple of blocks. Maiden Lane is home to high-end international fashion boutiques like Chanel, Marc Jacobs and Hermes as well as several SF institutions such as Gump’s and Britex. Gump’s is the place for the well-dressed San Franciscan to shop, seeing as how the building is filled with several stories of ornate statues, luxurious table linens and thoughtful gifts. Britex is a fabric and textile store that’s one of Maiden Lane’s true landmarks. It’s been around for over 60 years and is a must-visit for those who love browsing for colorful cottons, pretty prints and exotic jerseys.