If you believe the perfect meal can make an entire trip, we'd suggest that an unforgettable view can make that perfect meal. From the Italian expertise of North Beach to the cultural adventures of Chinatown to the comfort food of the Mission, San Francisco has no end of restaurant choices. What really makes these restaurant experiences distinct and memorable is the atmosphere, and what can really make that atmosphere is an mesmerizing, signature view. These restaurants have gone to great lengths and expenses to showcase the gorgeous topography of San Francisco. So whether you're taking in the crashing waves of the Pacific at the Cliff House, or having a more tranquil, romantic evening by the calm waters of the bay at Greens, or feeling cosmopolitan and chic while drinking martinis and soaking up the city lights at The View, these restaurants will leave an indelible impression for you to carry back home.
All cities have special traits, and the qualities that make them memorable also give rise to unique dining scenes. In San Francisco, we share our favorite selection of Restaurants with Views. These restaurants grant a distinctive experience, allowing you not only to indulge in great food but also to soak up the city's character and charm. One of the best, Slanted Door, has a sure hand with cuisine and hospitality, and Scoma's keeps folks returning again and again.
Hog Island Oyster Bar
Sometimes, the simplest things in life are best, a premise wholeheartedly embraced by the people who run this fantastic oyster bar. In fact, they raise the oysters about an hour north of the city, and their sweet, succulent mollusks are some of the area's best. Indulge in a selection at an outdoor table, and couple awesome Bay views with a dozen Hog Island Sweetwaters or Kumamotos. Add in a glass of wine, some sake or a cold beer, and there's nothing better! Clams, clam chowder, oyster stew and salads can be had as well. Try their grilled cheese, which is simple but fantastic. (415-391-7117)
McCormick & Kuleto's
Looking out over Aquatic Park and toward the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, this restaurant presents picture-postcard views of the City by the Bay. Inside, polished woods, faux tortoiseshell light fixtures and crisp detailing welcome diners. The extensive "Fresh List" menu, created and printed daily, presents the best seafood selection from international waters. Menu offerings hail from around the world, and the house crab cakes are a much-loved favorite. A busy bar scene proves popular with tourists and residents alike. If you want a special, memorable dessert after your meal, walk a block down to Ghiradelli Square where you can indulge yourself in everything that's chocolate. (415-929-1730, 888-344-8374)
What began in 1965 as a small coffee shop has evolved into an oft-frequented, family-run restaurant. It's also the only place amid Fisherman's Wharf's touristy eateries that locals recommend for quality of food and generous portions. Celebrity photos grant silent, smiling endorsement, and broad windows showcase wharf and Bay vistas. The lengthy menu tempts with Italian-accented seafood, including pastas, grilled fish, shellfish saut--s and a fabulous cioppino alla pescatore with Dungeness crab.There's also a Scoma's in Sausalito, just a quick ferry ride across the bay, which is on a dock overlooking the water and offers spectacular views of San Francisco. (415-771-4383, 800-644-5852)
Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant
The Beach Chalet sits right on Ocean Beach, so it's a great spot to watch the sun set. Quality comfort food with a California twist, inventive but not too radical, definitely offers something for everyone. Start off with the crispy calamari, crunchy and tangy, and pair that with the filet mignon for a surf and turf meal. The Chalet burger is a favoritee, too, as is their BBQ pulled pork sandwich with Jordo's Carolina BBQ sauce. The house wine list is extensive, but the signature drink here is their brewery, from Riptide Red to Fogtown Brown - or try the sampler to get a taste of them all. (415-386-8439)
High ceilings and awesome Bay views establish a unique atmosphere at this well-received waterfront venue. Style and spectacle are grounded, though, by Slanted Door's authentic country Vietnamese dishes, which get a California kick from local ingredients. Taste the results in the catfish claypot, crispy peppercorn duck, shaking beef, spicy squid and mesquite-grilled pork chops. Spring rolls also come highly recommended, and great cocktails and scrumptious desserts are worth indulging in. And don't forget to keep an eye out for celebrities! If you're there for lunch, take a well-deserved stroll through the Ferry Building for one-of-a-kind San Francisco souvenirs. If you're there for dinner, stroll outside on the Embarcadero and enjoy the Bay Lights art project on the Bay Bridge. (415-861-8032)
The View Lounge
Located on the 39th floor of a downtown hotel, "The View" earns its namesake. Although this is not a full service restaurant, we had to put this on the list because it has such a magnificent view of downtown. And the barbites menu shouldn't be dismissed - the "View Trio" plate of hummus, babghanoush, tomato olive relish and grilled pita bread is a meal for one or a fun platter to share. If you need a sweet fix, the Marquis Chocolate cake with rich buttercream feels like meal to itself. Once you've soaked in the view and had a nice appetizer, all of downtown is at your feet for a full dinner. (415-442-6794)
For more than a generation, Waterfront has tempted diners with a host of fresh seafood offerings. These days, with renewed interest in the Embarcadero, the upscale restaurant enjoys an added dose of attention. Its amazing views of the Bay, and the Bay Bridge in particular, are sublime whether you dine inside or out. The menu is also an enticing prospect, populated by dishes like wood oven-roasted Dungeness crab, bouillabaisse, linguine with clams and grilled fish. A robust wine list includes selections by the bottle or the glass. The brand new Exploratorium is a quick walk away, which has 1.5 acres of free public space that offers more spectacular views. (415-391-2696)
Greens, one of the city's finest vegetarian establishments, is owned and operated by the San Francisco Zen Center, which helps supply it with organic produce. Inside the voluminous space, diners are afforded spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. Chef Annie Somerville, the creative force behind the menu, has an artistic touch, as proven by Asian-inspired curries, fresh pizzas and luscious pastas. Soups, sandwiches and salads also delight taste buds, as does a tempting wine list. The view is a calm and tranquil shot of the bay, at least on days when the fog hasn't rolled in. (415-771-6222)
Sutro's at the Cliff House
If you're looking for an ocean rather than a bay view, Sutro's at the Cliff House is your spot. After fires and earthquakes destroyed the previous Cliff houses, this newly restored and beautifully modern space offers dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean almost everywhere you turn. The menu is highlighted with seafood dishes with a California flair, such as Bacon Crusted Loch Duart Salmon (seasonal) and California White Sea Bass. The Cliff House Sangria, a merlot with fresh citrus juices and triple sec brandy, is recommended by Chef David Seawell. And if you need a walk after a full meal, scenic Land's End is just steps away. (4153863330)
Established in 1925, Alioto's has been a reliable sea food restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf for years. Simply put, these people know how to prepare great sea food. And they've been consistently doing just that ever since their restaurant was just a fish stall and Fisherman's Wharf was lumber yards, train tracks and wholesale fisheries.
Besides the amazing view of the water and an enduring presence on Fisherman's Wharf, what also makes Alioto's unique is its Sicilian-style menu items, which are identified by the three-legged triangle on the menu. (This "trinacria" symbol represents the three corners of the island of Sicily.) Besides these Sicilian specials, Alioto's also prepares traditional seafood specialties of the Wharf, such as fried calamari, crab and seafood salads. (4156730183)
About Tom Molanphy
The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.
Tom has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 2000. His journalism has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, and 7x7. He teaches writing, journalism and literature at the Academy of Art University in downtown San Francisco. His latest book, Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life, is available through Outpost19.
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