Cafe Bastille 22 Belden Pl./Bush St., Financial District. Located in the middle of a quaint alley in the “French Quarter,” this Very French bistro provides a quick fix for Francophiles. Seating is either at a long row of tight tables with a wall bench on one side and a chair on the other, or in the Bohemian atmosphere of a crowded cellar. In warm weather, tables are set up outside in the alley. The Americanized menu includes salads, sandwiches, a pizzetta, crêpes, and more substantial entrees such as boudin noir (black sausage) and quiche. Authentic French desserts include crème caramel, chocolate mousse, and a fabulous crêpe topped with chocolate sauce, toasted almonds, and whipped cream. Live music is scheduled upstairs Tuesday through Saturday.
Cafe Claude 7 Claude Lane/Bush St., near Grant Ave., Financial District. Located in a narrow alley, this restaurant is about as Parisian as you can get without an 11-hour flight. Banquettes line walls in the main dining room, and all the furnishings and fittings were bought in France from a restaurant that went out of business and then were reassembled here. Additional seating is available upstairs and outside in an alley. The onion soup, pâté plate, pan bagnat, and coq au vin are all exceptional, especially when accompanied by a robust cote du Rhone. For dessert, stick to the classics--a tarte tatin, crème brûlée, or refreshing pastis. Live jazz is scheduled Thursday through Saturday evenings.
Cafe Dolci 740 Market St./3rd St., Financial District.
Caffe Bianco 39 Sutter St./Montgomery St., Financial District.
Cinderella Bakery & Cafe 436 Balboa St./5th Ave., Inner Richmond.
second Cliff House, 1896; image courtesy of venue
Cliff House 1090 Point Lobos Ave., Outer Richmond District. Perched solidly at the edge of the Pacific on Point Lobos bedrock, this historic treasure holds the only ocean-front restaurant in San Francisco. It has been around for quite some time, since 1863 to be exact, but in four different renditions--it twice burned to the ground and most recently went through a major update completed in 2004. More detailed history. Though all the changes the structure has always housed a restaurant, and it has been part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area since 1977.
Elegant Sutro’s is housed in a new 2-story wing with floor-to-ceiling windows and features an American seafood menu. You can’t go wrong with crab cakes and butterscotch pots de crème. Hard-wired remote control Venetian blinds control the glare.
The more casual Bistro serves a less expensive menu that includes omelettes, sandwiches, and fish and chips.
While here, visit the Camera Obscura. Leonardo daVinci’s 16th-century invention was probably a popular tourist attraction in the 1700s and 1800s. This reproduction was built here in 1946 and was once part of the now defunct Playland-at-the-Beach. It uses a 10-inch mirror and two opposing plano-convex lenses to focus a live image of the shoreline outside onto a 6-foot parabolic screen inside. Rotating slowly, it presents magnified views of Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks, and crashing Pacific waves. The personalized tour is both entertaining and educational. Fee.
Visible from shore, barking sea lions and brown pelicans share space out on historic Seal Rocks. They can be seen with just the naked eye or viewed through an antique telescope. However, there are now more birds than seals since the seals got smart and moved to Pier 39--where there are no sharks and more food.
Scenic trails leading to the Sutro Baths ruins—it was once the world’s largest indoor swimming pool complex--and to Land’s End begin on the bluffs above to the east, which now is home to a labyrinth.
Cordon Bleu Vietnamese Restaurant 1574 California St./Polk St., Nob Hill, (415) 673-5637. Cash only. One of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in the city and under the same management since 1976, this petite venue has just a few counter seats and tiny tables. From the counter, diners can sip a complimentary mug of hot tea while watching their meal being prepared. Satisfying one-plate meals consist of a large scoop of rice topped with light tomato-based meat sauce and a choice of a deep-fried imperial roll, a tasty barbecued beef satay (listed on the menu as shish kebab), or barbecued five-spice chicken.