Take a Bite of the Sea at San Francisco's Best Oyster Bars

By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

Just as San Francisco's fog isn't for everyone, San Francisco's oysters aren't for everyone. Sure they don't look all that appetizing, and their slippery texture might take awhile to get used to.

But nothing says seafood like an oyster. Dress it up with some cocktail sauce, give it some crunch on a cracker, or, if you can handle it, try them straight up and call yourself a true seafood eater.

Recent history has only shown how passionate people out here are about oysters. Drake's Bay Oyster Farm, a beloved local institution, was put out of business after many years of wrangling with the National Parks Service about side-effects of oyster farming on the surrounding eco-system. Which side you took on this argument could easily decide who you would talk to for the next 10-15 years.

Although the closure of Drake's Bay was hard for those locals who love oysters, there are still plenty of oysters out there. Swan Oyster Depot has been serving oysters for generations, and Hog Island Oyster Bar is getting more popular by the day.

If you're wandering around San Francisco with a growling belly and just not sure how to satisfy your hunger, go with what a native would do. Grab a beer and some fresh oysters!

10. Waterbar
Photo courtesy of Waterbar

Waterbar knows its a beautiful restaurant in a beautiful city - and makes the most of it. Designer Pat Kuleto spared no expense to insure diners will walk away with a complete ocean experience, including floor to ceiling aquariums full of Pacific Marine life. Some of what's swimming in the tanks might look tasty, too - including the calamari, "dip net" caught in nearby San Pedro. For those who want to have one, big, special meal in San Francisco to really remember, be lavish and spend a long evening by the water at this sumptuous restaurant. With this food and these views, it's a decision that's very hard to regret.

9. Mayes Oyster Bar

Founded in 1867 by George Mayes, this upscale oyster bar is a perfect fit for a fancy night out. Mayes offers a full bar and large menu, including a memorable ceviche and savory smoked pork ribs. What separates Mayes from the other oyster bars is that it's also a late-night entertainment option. As soon as the dinner hours are over, the house lights go down and the hose music starts. If you're looking for a more lavish setting than a belly-up-to-the-oyster-bar atmosphere, Mayes is your place. And if you don't want your after-dinner excursion to include wondering what to do with the rest of your night, Mayes has that covered, too.

8. Woodhouse Fish Company
Photo courtesy of eatingandlovinginsanfrancisco.blogspot.com

Since they don't take reservations, Woodhouse is the classic example of a pop-in oyster bar. If you're wandering San Francisco and need that quick snack to get you up the next hill, step into Woodhouse and order up some oysters with a side of slaw. Since it's open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, you can always depend on Woodhouse Fish company. Two convenient locations, one downtown on Market and one in the Fillmore district, both close to public transportation. If you want some quality oysters but don't want to "put on airs" (or a tie) for one of the frillier oyster spots, head to Woodhouse Fish Company.

7. Foreign Cinema
Photo courtesy of hillary h

While Foreign Cinema's misleading moniker may seem a better fit for a movie theater than an oyster bar, this restaurant's real attraction is their Mediterranean-inspired menu and outstanding oysters. They do, in fact, offer film showings in the adjoining courtyard, an added perk for those savoring tasty shellfish like the Hog Island Sweet, Marin Gem, Chatham and Steamboat oysters. The dinner menu changes regularly, and brunch is served on weekends. Foreign Cinema has a lot to offer besides oysters, so it's a good choice for groups who have varied and eclectic tastes. It's also one of the most romantic restaurants in the city.

6. Anchor Oyster Bar

Distinguished from other Bay Area oyster bars by its tiny yet undeniably charming setting, Anchor Oyster Bar makes up for its intimate size with out-of-this world eats, including a fresh, daily changing oyster selection. Diners particularly love the Anchor Special that features 12 handsome oysters on the half shell, eight juicy steamed clams and four monster-sized chilled prawns. And with the same owner since its opening in 1977, you can rest assured that this place has been consistently popular over a long stretch. And it location in the always fun Castro District is a great excuse to explore this historic and important neighborhood.

5. Hyde Street Seafood House & Raw Bar

Hyde Street doesn't hide the fact that oysters are the freshest seafood around. When it opened in 1985, the concept of raw food wasn't as wildly popular as it is today, so you can rest-assured that this place knows how to prepare and handle raw food. When the decor is nautical maps, wood plank benches and dim lanterns, it's hard to not picture being at sea, which is the perfect atmosphere for oyster eating. Besides oysters, their hot plates are prepared in the French "En Papillote" cooking style, where the food is wrapped and cooked in parchment paper to seal in natural juices and flavors.

4. Bar Crudo

It's hard to beat the eats at Bar Crudo, a beloved local establishment whose reputation for amazingly fresh seafood is well deserved. The space is small but comfortable, with bar dining downstairs and a handful of tables upstairs. Fresh Kumamoto, Miyagi and Kusshi oysters are available by the piece, and there's also a sampler platter that features shrimp, mussels and clams. Their Happy Hour from 5-6:30 offers Oysters on the Half Shell for a dollar each, as well as Herb and JalapeƱo Marinated Mussels for a dollar each. (Order by Half-dozen or dozen.) Open since 2005, it has quickly established itself as one of the best oyster bars in the city.

3. Hog and Rocks

As the name indicates, this Mission favorite likes to pair oysters with ham. Not just any ham, but the finest proscuitto, from Iowa to Spain to Italy and all parts in between. Hog and Rocks is a great choice for groups of not 100% oyster lovers, as the ham offers a nice side dish and even full substitute. Hog and Rocks also offers and inventive and fun cocktail list, probably one of the best of any oyster spot in the city. If you're looking for a little more savory than your average oyster bar can offer, head to Hog and Rocks.

2. Hog Island Oyster Bar

Delicious fresh seafood and a veritable "oyster experience" await you at Hog Island Oyster Bar. Here, enthusiasts savor the freshest local oysters, including Hog Island Kumamoto, Sweetwater and Atlantics, served raw, baked or as part of a stew. Other menu favorites include steamed Manila clams, daily seafood specials, organic salads and the ever-popular Hog Island grilled cheese sandwich. And with its fantastic location right in the Ferry Building alongside the beautiful Embarcadero, you'll be eating in one of the liveliest spots in all of San Francisco. Enjoy half-priced chef's choice oysters during happy hour from 5pm to 7pm, Monday through Thursday.

1. Swan Oyster Depot
Photo courtesy of Swan Oyster Depot

Locals can't help but rave over this oyster bar's fantastic selection. Opened in 1912, Swan Oyster Depot is a small, lovable hole-in-the-wall where seating consists of about 20 stools along a long marble bar. There's usually a line outside at lunchtime, but it moves quickly and the food is well worth your wait. As far as oysters, it's hard to beat this place. You get to watch them picked right out of their brine tanks and shucked before your eyes. Frankly, the whole place smells like oysters, so it's really the best spot for oyster lovers. Grab a few for a midd-day snack or sit for awhile until you get a full meal.