Mention Hayes Valley to a San Francisco tourist and you’ll get a look of confusion. Ask a local, however, and you’ll likely spark a grin. To San Franciscans, Hayes Valley is a treasure, all the more so because it’s sandwiched between two gritty zones.
The up-and-coming community is thriving between the Civic Center and Western Addition, with its main drag on Hayes Street between Franklin and Laguna streets. These blocks are buzzing with intriguing shops, cool watering holes and places to eat, and of course, a great place for coffee. Here’s a short guide to some of the area’s best spots.
Blue Bottle Coffee. Line up at this garage-like stand for truly outstanding organic coffee, both as beans and as potent, filter-drip brew. Their “artisanal microroasting” philosophy means that everything is impeccably fresh. Try their signature espresso or a New Orleans-style iced coffee laced with chicory. 315 Linden St., at Gough St.; no phone.
Hayes Green. This narrow park is the neighborhood’s outdoor living room. It’s got picnic benches, temporary public artworks, and a rope-network domed play structure that’s a hit with children. Octavia Blvd., between Hayes and Fell Sts.
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Where to Eat & Drink
Absinthe. A chic local crowd fills the plush banquettes at this brasserie and bar. The daily menu swings between French, Italian, and American comfort dishes like duck confit, mushroom risotto, and BLTs. The bar is a major force in the city’s cocktail scene; you can choose among concoctions like the chai-spiced Bombay by Bourbon. As for the namesake liquor? They’re hoping to have it by the end of this year. 398 Hayes St., 415-551-1590.
Hayes Street Grill. This fish house has been around since 1979, making it an anchor in the community. People on their way to performances at Davies Symphony Hall or the War Memorial Opera House have long depended on it for their pre-show dinners; if you come here after 8 pm, you’ll have the best shot at a table. Most of the fish, like the swordfish or river sturgeon, is simply and deliciously grilled. 320 Hayes St., 415-863-5545.
Zuni Café. Hands-down, one of the best restaurants in the city — and many fans would add, in the U.S. Southern Italian and French influences shape the daily menu, though you can always find the signature roasted chicken with bread salad. The welcoming, unfussy spot epitomizes how simplicity can equal success. 1658 Market St., 415-552-2522.(photo, right)
Hôtel Biron. This pocket-sized den is tucked down an alleylike block. Once you find it, you can peruse the well-balanced wine and cheese lists. The soft lighting and sofas make it especially popular for couples on those make-or-break early dates. 45 Rose St., 415-703-0403.
Where to Shop
RAG. At Residents Apparel Gallery, Bay Area designers rent space to show their clothes, from deconstructed tees to retro-inspired tulip skirts. The high turnover and reasonable prices keep locals coming back at warp speed. 541 Octavia St., 415-621-7718.
Gimme Shoes. Sneaker fans and slingback dames alike come here for a terrific international selection. Unusual designs are culled from major brands (Puma, Sigerson Morrison) and cult favorites (Devotte, Loeffler Randall, Dries Van Noten). 416 Hayes St., 415-864-0691.
Miette Confiserie. A pastel-packin’ sweets shop with a European slant. Large glass jars filled with rainbow-colored candy line the walls. You’ll find everything from Dutch licorice to fleur de sel caramels, plus a few pastries like chocolate tarts. 449 Octavia St., 415-626-6221.
Alla Prima. These lingerie experts are known for their careful fittings. The staff will make sure you find the right combination of style and substance, whether it’s gauzy La Perla or a lacy confection from Aubade. 539 Hayes St., 415-864-8180.
Ver Unica. Vintage clothes and accessories are carefully curated here. Some of the best finds are from the 1940s and ’50s, but the racks and shelves hold everything from floppy ’70s hats to vivid Puccis. 437B Hayes St., 415-431-0688.
Photo credits: (1) © Jared Tarbell; (2) © misocrazy