As the name implies, the Civic Center is the primary center of government within San Francisco, housing many important civic institutions. Aside from its official duties, it also moonlights as a cultural center with many fine museums, theaters, opera houses, and symphony halls located here. Over the years however, it has developed a reputation for attracting many of the city's drug-addicted and homeless to its open plazas. Next door is the Tenderloin, one of San Francisco's lowest income neighborhoods with an unfortunate reputation for poverty, drugs, and crime, particularly violent street crime. However, it also has a rich history and an eclectic community, with treasures for those who know where to look. The Civic Center-Tenderloin area is bounded roughly by Market St to the southeast, Taylor St to the east, Franklin St to the west, and Sutter St to the north.
The Civic Center is on Van Ness Ave, north of its intersection with Market St. The city began developing the area in 1913, and most of the buildings there are of a "Classical Style", with their development being heavily influenced by the "City Beautiful Movement". Most of the city's integral governmental institutions are located here; like City Hall which dominates the Civic Center with its impressive "Beaux-Arts" style dome. There are two main plazas in the area; Civic Center Plaza and United Nations Plaza. The Civic Center Plaza (in front of City Hall) has been a popular place for holding rallies, protests, and festivals. As well as being a hub for city government, the area is also a serious cultural center. "Culture vultures" flock here at night to see performances of the San Francsico opera, symphony, and ballet, as well as to attend theater, galas, concerts, plays, and special events. During the day you can get your "culture fix" by visiting one of the many excellent museums and galleries such as the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, and the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. There are also several other smaller private galleries in the area.
Architecture aficionados will be happy to know that some of the most beautiful buildings in the city are cloistered within a few square blocks here. Examples include the War Memorial Opera House, the Asian Art Museum, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, and the War Memorial Veterans building with the Herbst Theater (where the United Nations charter was signed in 1945).
There is also a popular farmers market held twice weekly in United Nations Plaza.
Many guidebooks will tell you to avoid a large part of downtown — the Tenderloin. It's true that this "bad neighborhood" is rife with panhandlers, adult bookstores, and massage parlors, but it's also full of good, cheap ethnic restaurants and colorful dive bars. The 'Loin is probably the last area of downtown to experience real gentrification, a process that seems to be taking its time, but the early signs are already here. Culture vultures will find several cutting edge, alternative/experimental theaters and high-culture galleries, which are attracted by the neighborhood's low rents and proximity to downtown. Sleek lounges and trendy clubs are also increasingly making a home in this eclectic neighborhood, side by side with the traditional dive bars it has always been known for.
The name "Tenderloin" comes from the overall shape of the area's boundaries: triangular, like the cross-section of a tenderloin steak. According to a different explanation the area was originally called "The Tenderloin" by the police officers, since they were paid more to work there — the most notorious part of the town. There are many different ways to define its boundaries; the official and original three corners (making a Tenderloin shape) may be delineated by Market St and Larkin St to the south, Geary St and Larkin St to the northwest, and Market St by Geary St to the northeast. Today the area would be more better defined between Polk St, Sutter St, Mason St, Market St, and Golden Gate Ave.
Although it has a reputation as one of the tougher parts of town, in reality the Tenderloin is quite variegated and can change drastically from block to block. There are many different sub-neighborhoods within the 'Loin. Much of the area on the east side of Mason St (above O'Farrell St) is high-rent and more properly considered part of downtown Union Square. The western area around Hyde and Larkin Sts, from Turk St to O'Farrell St, is a colorful Vietnamese neighborhood known as "Little Saigon".
Geary St, Post St, and Sutter St, especially the blocks west of Jones St, are part of the so-called "Tendernob", "Lower Nob Hill", or "Tenderloin Heights" bordering Nob Hill; sometimes this definition also includes southern Nob Hill as far north as California St or Sacramento St (especially the western blocks around Polk St). The Tendernob (at least on the 'Loin side) is considered a nightlife hotspot by some folks who like their drinking milieu a bit rough around the edges. It connects with Polk St on the western edge of the Tenderloin. Known variously as "Polk Gulch", "Polk Village", or the "Outer Tenderloin", this very lively area of Polk St, from Geary St to Union St, is populated with all types of restaurants, cafes, bars, venues, bookstores, and other shops. Finally, an area bordered by O'Farrell, Geary, Leavenworth, and Taylor Sts, is sometimes called the "Tandoor-loin" because of the high concentration of excellent and affordable Indian restaurants.
Dashiell Hammett's novel, "The Maltese Falcon," was set in the Tenderloin, and the 1941 movie adaptation for the Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, was also set in the Tenderloin.
Directions for driving to the Civic Center are marked on the freeways. Once inside the City limits, two main arteries serve the area — Van Ness Ave and Market St.
There are several garages, such as the Performing Arts Garage at Grove St and Gough St, an underground garage under the Civic Center Plaza (entrance on McAllister St), open from 6AM to midnight, or 24-hour valet parking at Opera Plaza on Turk St just off Van Ness Ave. Where the freeway was prior to 1989 earthquake (between Grove St at Gough St and Turk St at Franklin St) there are several smaller open air lots, which will charge about $10 for all day or $6 for an evening. Those lots are gradually being displaced by new construction. Street parking in the Tenderloin is extremely difficult to find, but parking garages are plentiful.
The neighborhood is well-served by public transit, provided by MUNI in the form of the Metro system, the F-Line streetcar and various bus lines. All of the MUNI Metro lines ( ) serve the Powell/Market and Civic Center/United Nations Plaza stations under Market St along with the BART line. The MUNI Metro also serves the Van Ness/Market station, which is part of the same subway tunnel but is not shared with BART.
The historicstreetcar line runs on Market St between Castro St and the Ferry Building (where it turns north on The Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf), passing by both the Civic Center and the Tenderloin.
From the Caltrain station the 47-Van Ness bus takes you to along the western border of the area (Van Ness Ave) to City Hall. Other frequent MUNI bus lines serving the area are: 49-Mission/Van Ness, 9-San Bruno, 31-Balboa, 5-Fulton, 19-Polk, 21-Hayes and 38-Geary.
BART runs under Market St with two stops in the area; both the Powell/Market and Civic Center/United Nations Plaza. Both BART stations will put you well within walking distance of any Tenderloin attraction; the latter is the most convenient BART stop for the Civic Center.
By cable car
One or other of two cable car lines — either the Powell/Mason cable car line or the Powell/Hyde cable car line — can take you from Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, Nob Hill, or Russian Hill to the intersection of Market St and Powell St in Union Square — near the Powell/Market BART and Muni station. From here it's just one block to the Tenderloin.
Given that the area is centrally located downtown, it is extremely accessible on foot. From the SoMa area walk northbound on anywhere from Fifth St to 11th St. Market St forms its broad southern boundary and makes the area easily accessible from either the east (Union Square-Financial District) or west (The Castro), and from the north (Nob Hill-Russian Hill) it's just a 10-20 minute walk directly due south.
As this is a relatively small area, the best way to get around is on foot.
- 1 Little Saigon (Sài Gòn Nhỏ) (Larkin St between Eddy St and O'Farrell St). A tiny two-block strip of Larkin St houses an active Vietnamese American community where the vast majority of shops and restaurants are Vietnamese-owned and -operated. Little Saigon functions as a both a Vietnamese commercial and cultural center, and there are some excellent restaurants and stores here.
Museums and galleries
- 2 Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St (between McAllister St and Fulton St), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-Su 10AM-5PM (with extended evening hours every Th until 9PM); closed New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. Built in 1917 as the library building, this building is a fantastic blend of "Beaux Arts" and modern design elements. It was designed by renowned architect Gae Aulenti (architect of the Musée d'Orsay, Paris). Inside, you'll find many interesting architectural details including the grand staircase, loggia, vaulted ceilings, the great hall, stone floors, period light fixtures, and inscriptions. The museum is one of the largest and newest museums of Oriental art. It has circa 15,000 artifacts covering 6,000 years of Asian history. The Asian Art Museum hosts many special exhibits as well. Free first Sunday of every month, $15 adults, $10 seniors/students/youth ages 13-17, free for children 12 and under/military/SFUSD students. Th evenings at a reduced rate ($10) after 5PM. Special exhibitions cost extra.
- 3 John Pence Gallery, 750 Post St (between Jones St and Leavenworth St), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. M-F 10AM-6PM, Sa 10AM-5PM. This 8,000 ft² (740 m2) gallery exhibits art of the realism movement (particularly academic realism) as well as "Beat Generation" art works. Free.
- 4 San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, War Memorial Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave (at McAllister St), ☏ , fax: , Cece.Carpio@sfgov.org. The Gallery at 401 Van Ness: W-Sa noon-5PM, Cafe Valor: M-F 7:30AM-4PM, Art at City Hall: M-F 8AM-8PM. The San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery supports a diverse range of Bay Area "Visual Art" culture by supporting artists projects through collaboration with community organizations, commissioning contemporary art, and curated exhibitions. They also have display art in Cafe Valor in the Veterans Building lobby, as well as in City Hall. Free.
- 5 Tenderloin Museum, 398 Eddy St (at Leavenworth St), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. W-Su 11AM-5PM; walking tours daily 11AM, 1PM, 3PM (no 11AM tour on Su). A museum dedicated to the history of the Tenderloin, with exhibits on the neighborhood's cultural history. Guided walking tours of the neighborhood are also available. $10 adults, $6 students/seniors/youth, free children 12 and under; walking tours $10, or $5 extra with museum admission.
Parks and monuments
- 6 Civic Center Plaza (between Polk St and McAllister St). This grassy plaza is at the heart of the Civic Center and its tree-lined central avenue visually draws the eye to the imposing structure of City Hall. Protests and demonstrations of all political persuasions are frequently staged here. There is a parking lot underneath the plaza.
- 7 James Lick (Pioneer) Monument (behind the Main Library branch, next to the Asian Art Museum). The monument is a tribute to California and its early pioneers like Sir Francis Drake. Atop sits a bear and a man carrying both spear and shied — all three objects are imagery that represent California.
- 8 Large Four Piece Reclining Figure, 201 Van Ness Ave. This bronze sculpture was created by English artist Henry Moore in 1973. It poses happily outside Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall.
- 9 Sgt. John Macaulay Park (Larkin St and O'Farrell St). Named in honor of a police sergeant who died on duty, this vibrantly colored park and playground only allows adults in if they are accompanied by kids. It has become a bit of an urban oasis set amidst the grittiness of the Tenderloin.
- 10 United Nations Plaza (at Market St and Hyde St). The UN Charter was signed in the Civic Center in 1945, and this plaza was constructed in honor of its ideology and is ironically over the site of the original San Francisco City Cemetery. Designed by architect Lawrence Halprin, and completed in 1975, this is a three acre red-bricked pedestrian plaza. Brick columns inscribed with UN members country names line the plaza, and the UN Fountain sits at its center. Intended to be a visual gateway to the Civic Center, it is often habituated by the city's homeless, but has a compact and diverse Farmers' Market on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The Civic Center with its "classical" architecture was declared a national landmark in 1978. It has several buildings that are of architectural interest including the Asian Art Museum, listed under Museums and galleries above, as well as the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the buildings that comprise the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center (SFWMPAC), the Orpheum Theater, Golden Gate Theater, the Curran Theater, and the interior of the Great American Music Hall, which are all listed under Performing arts below. Other architectural points of interest include:
- 11 Alcazar Theater, 650 Geary St (between Jones St and Leavenworth St), ☏ , email@example.com. By appt only, and for events. Built in 1917 in honor of the Shriners (Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine); this Byzantine-style Islamic temple (now a 500 seat theater showing Broadway and off-Broadway shows), is now a historical city landmark. It also houses a contemporary art gallery. The architect was T Patterson Ross. Free.
- 12 City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Pl (between Van Ness Ave, McAllister St, Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, and Grove St), ☏ , fax: , City.Hall.Building.Management@sfgov.org. Brochures are available for visitors to take a self-guided tour: M-F 8AM-8PM. Docent led tours: M–F 10AM, noon, 2PM. Designed by Arthur Brown Jr., and opened in 1915, the architecture of the building was heavily influenced by the "City Beautiful Movement," which in turn reflected the American Renaissance style of the time. Its "Beaux-Arts" dome (the fifth largest in the world) was modeled after that of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy. The building itself is huge, 393 feet long, by 273 feet wide, and 307 feet high — occupying a full two blocks of San Francisco's downtown real estate. It is considered by many admirers to be the most impressive building in the city. Inside, it features a large rotunda with a grandiose staircase leading up to the second floor. The walls are adorned with oak paneling and the ceilings with crystal chandeliers. City Hall is the site of much history — In 1954 Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe wed here. In 1978, Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated here. Tours: Self guided and docent led tours are free unless you're a private group of eight or more persons.
- 13 Federal Office Building, 50 United Nations Plaza (just north of Market St, between Hyde St and Leavenworth St). Architect Arthur Brown Jr., who also designed City Hall and several other Civic Center landmarks, designed this building. It was completed in 1936, making it the last building to be completed in the seven-building complex of the Civic Center. It is an interesting 6-story, D-shaped, "Beaux Arts" building. It also has a 24,000 ft² (2,200 m2) interior courtyard and many of its features such as the lobby and main stairway are subject to historical preservation laws. The building is closed and can only be appreciated from the outside. Free.
- 14 San Francisco Public Library - Main Library, 100 Larkin St (at Grove St), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Su noon-5PM, M 10AM-6PM T-Th 9AM-8PM, F noon-6PM, Sa 10AM-6PM; tour hours: offered on the first Tuesday of every month at noon. Completed in 1995 at a cost of $109 million, the main library branch is over 375,000 ft² (34,800 m2) of modern architecture. It has seven floors, over 2,000 seats, and an impressive foyer that has a five story high atrium. At the top of the atrium is a bright sky-light and a roof terrace. Internet: free tours: free.
- Dashiell Hammett Walking Tour, 100 Larkin St (n.w. corner of the main library), ☏ , email@example.com. May and Oct: Su noon-4PM. If you're a fan of mystery books, film, or would just like to recapture what San Francisco was like in the 1920s and 1930s; then you'll love this tour. It takes you round all the places where Hammett wrote his famous books. It also visits the exact locales where his famous characters like Continental Op and Sam Spade got into their storied adventures. The tour is about 4 hours long. $10.
- 1 Glide Memorial Church, 330 Ellis St (intersection of Taylor St and Ellis St), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. M 7AM-2:30AM, Tu,Th 7AM-11:45PM, W,F 7AM-11PM, Sa-Su 7AM-1:30PM. Famous for its gospel music, as well as for its inner-city missions, the church is a pillar of this community and plays a vital role in Tenderloin day-to-day life; anyone truly trying to understand the area should visit here. Sunday services are a major musical event attracting crowds, and yes, even long lines to get in! Free.
- Heart of the City Farmer's Market, United Nations Plaza (just north of Market St, between Hyde St and Leavenworth St), ☏ . Su 7AM-5PM, W 7AM-5:30PM. The farmer's market held Sundays and Wednesdays offers a less expensive alternative to the yuppie Ferry Building Farmer's Market, though it helps if you're seeking the ingredients for Asian food. On other days, there are often tents with vendors selling jewelry, scarves, clothing, snacks, house wares, and who-knows-what. The fun is in the surprises. Free.
- 2 St. Boniface, 133 Golden Gate Ave (just off Jones St), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. This Catholic church features its original elaborately decorated interior from 1900, so why not come in and say a prayer! A Franciscan parish, it is also known for allowing the homeless to sleep in the pews on weekdays. Free.
- San Francisco City Guides, Main Library, 100 Larkin St (at Market St), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Tours are offered year round, times and dates vary by tour - see website for schedule. They offer walking tours of the Civic Center, the Tenderloin, the main library, and City Hall, free of charge. The tours highlight the history, architecture, culture, events, and folklore of the area. Free.
The Civic Center is the center of opera, ballet, symphony, and theater in the city. Even if one hasn't bought a ticket in advance, there are often returned tickets available at the box offices before a performance. Make a night of it when you are here; take a walk around the Civic Center, enjoy the architecture, sit for dinner, or just have a cappuccino in one of the cafes before the overture.
- 3 The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St (between Polk St and Larkin St), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. The auditorium is not open to visitors or for tours, but only during event times which vary. This four-story tall, "Beaux-Arts" style building occupies an entire city block in the heart of the Civic Center and has 7,000 seats inside. Large and small bands, exhibits, concerts, and galas are all hosted at the Civic Auditorium. Check Ticketmaster to see what's playing. Price varies depending on act.
- 4 CounterPULSE Theater, 80 Turk St (at Taylor), ☏ . This hybrid theater is a hub for experimental art and activism. Online calendar boasts new and eclectic events year-round.
- 5 EXIT Theatre, 156 Eddy St (between Mason St and Taylor St), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. See website for exact hours. EXIT Theatre is a no-frills experimental/alternative theater in the Tenderloin. There are two performance spaces inside: Exit Theatre and Exit Stage Left; they have another theater "EXIT on Taylor" which is located at 277 Taylor St. They host productions like "Waiting for FEMA" and "Babylon Heights" by Irvine Welsh. They also host the Fringe Festival (listed under Events and festivals below), which is the largest grass roots theater festival in the San Francisco Bay Area. $6-9.
- 6 Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell St (between Larkin St and Polk St), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Shows: hours vary; Box office: M-F 10:30AM-6PM, show nights 10:30AM-9PM, closed Sa-Su (except during shows - opens 1 hour before show time). Reputed to be the city's oldest nightclub, this ornate 600 capacity music venue presents hip music acts, some well-known among the cognoscenti, some so cutting edge that there's blood on the pavement. In the 1930s, this was fan-dancer Sally Rand's "Music Box." The interior, which was designed by a French architect, is known for its ornate balconies and columns. Ticket prices vary by act but typically run from $10-30.
- 7 The New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave (half a block from Market St and the Van Ness MUNI station), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Box office hours: W-Sa 1:30PM-7PM, Su-Tu noon-3PM; show times: Performances are typically W-Sa 8PM, Su 2PM, year round. The three small New Conservatory theaters present novel, musical, comic, and educational plays. Tickets generally cost $18-40.
- 8 San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, 401 Van Ness Ave, Room 110 (between Grove St and McAllister St), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Tour hours: M 10AM-2PM — on the hour. This 7.5 acre complex comprises the War Memorial Opera House, Memorial Court, the War Memorial Veterans Building (including Herbst Theatre and the Green Room, which is a classically styled reception hall), the Harold L. Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall, and Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. The opera house and the veterans buildings (which are for the most part identical), along with the court, were intended to be appreciated in unison, and to compliment the surrounding architecture of the Civic Center. Their "Beaux-Arts" structures employ the Roman Doric Order and were designed by architect Arthur Brown, Jr. Both buildings were completed in 1932. Guided tours of the buildings are available. Free.
- 9 Herbst Theater, War Memorial Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave (at McAllister St), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Box office: Opens 1.5 hours prior to performance. Herbst Theater, next to the Opera house in the similarly-styled War Memorial Veteran's building is host to a wide variety of activities. One can find plays, readings by well-known authors, chamber music, jazz performances, etc throughout the year. The monthly Friday evening talks of the Long-now Foundation, projecting the far future, are presented here or in the Fort Mason Center. Inside the theater it has impressive foyer, chandeliers, beaux-arts murals (symbolism for the different aspects of mankind), and over 900 seats. The UN Charter was signed here in 1945. Adult: $18-81 Child: $10.
- 10 San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave (at Grove St), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Box office: M-F 10AM-4PM (10AM until start of performance on performance dates); Performances: Tu-Su usually 8PM or 7:30PM with Sa-Su matinee 2PM. The repertory season begins in January and continues through May. $18-250.
- 11 San Francisco Opera, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave (at Grove St), ☏ , fax: . Box office: M 10AM-5PM, Tu-F 10AM-6PM; Performances: Tu-F usually 7:30PM or 8PM, Sa 12:30PM or 8PM, Su 1PM, 2PM, or 3PM. See website for exact schedule. There are Fall, Spring, and Summer seasons. The summer season focuses on lighter and popular operas. Performances are in the War Memorial Opera House on Van Ness Ave which has over 3,000 seats. The interior has a grandiose entrance hall with marble floors and a 38 foot high barrel vaulted ceiling. Two wide marble stairways at either end of the foyer, take you up to the main floor. The proscenium arch inside the theater is ornately decorated with gilded sculptures. In December and late spring the Opera House is used by the San Francisco Ballet. $15-290.
- 12 San Francisco Symphony, Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave (at Grove St and Van Ness Ave), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Box office: M-F 10AM-6PM, Sa noon-6PM; Performances: W-Su usually 8PM or 8:30PM with Sa-Su matinee 2PM, See website for exact schedule. San Francisco has an excellent symphony orchestra, with Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) as the principal conductor. The Season goes from September to April, with a break in the middle of December and January. When the San Francisco Symphony is on tour, other orchestras visit to fill the void. In July there is a "Summer in the City" program of light music; August is quiet. Opened in 1980, the building's sweeping wraparound architecture was elegantly designed to compliment the other buildings in the War Memorial complex. Inside, the building was designed to maximize acoustical tones with the exterior glass wall being used as a backdrop to capture sound. To further enhance and refine the sound it has adjustable acrylic acoustical panels around the stage area. There are circa 2,700 seats inside. $10-50.
- BroadwaySF (formerly SHN), 1192 Market St (at Hyde St), toll-free: , email@example.com. Show times: varyl Box office hours: vary, See website for details. BroadwaySF runs two theaters that focus on the usual Broadway classics like A Chorus Line, Grease, and of course The Phantom of the Opera. $25-99.
- 13 Golden Gate Theater, 1 Taylor St (at Golden Gate Ave). Built in 1920 and influenced by the "Art Deco" and "Gothic Revival" styles, this theater has over 2,800 seats. It was designed by architect Gustave Albert Lansburgh.
- 14 The Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market St (at Hyde St). Over 80 years old, this official historical landmark theater received another facelift in 1998; it now has over 2,400 seats. The theater has hosted everything from silent films to Broadway theater, and special shows such as "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." It is modeled in the style of a 12th century Spanish Cathedral, being heavily influenced by both "Spanish Moorish" and "Spanish Baroque" architecture. It has ornate architectural detailing inside and was designed by architect Benjamin Marcus Priteca.
- 15 Warfield Theater, 982 Market St (between Mason St and Taylor St), ☏ . Hours vary but shows usually start at 8PM. This historic theater on Market St has a balcony and approximately 2,700 seats. Built in the 1920s, it was renovated in 1969 and today it is as popular as ever hosting some major acts like Velvet Revolver and Bill Maher. Prices vary depending on act.
Events and festivals
- Black and White Ball, Civic Center Plaza, ☏ . Takes place once every two years in May. If you have the budget, why not "hob-nob" at San Francisco's classiest party? Taking up four entire blocks of the Civic Center, this ball attracts a well-heeled crowd, as well as those who are just splurging. The ball began in 1956 and features several high profile bands (the Grateful Dead played here in 1969), and includes a performance by the San Francisco Symphony orchestra. $200 gets you in the door, feeds you, and lets you enjoy the music, dancing, and entertainment. If you want to formally dine at the Patrons Dinner, you'll have to shell out a lot more. $200-3,000.
- Fringe Festival, 156 Eddy St (between Taylor St and Mason St), firstname.lastname@example.org. 12 Days, beginning the Wednesday after Labor Day. See website for exact performance hours. This bohemian 10 day festival is all about theatrical experimentation and having fun... even if you don't know what you're doing exactly. Chaos rules here; even the list of performers are selected randomly at the last minute and participants are effectively given "carte blanche" to be as artistically free as possible. This leads to a lot of wackiness and of course a healthy dose of good old nudity! It takes place in several theaters but it is run by the EXIT Theater in the Tenderloin. $7-8 per performance, Frequent Fringer Pass (all 10 Days): $55.
- San Francisco Pride Festival (All streets between Van Ness Ave, Market St, Golden Gate Ave, and Hayes St), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Final full weekend in June: Sa noon-6PM, Su noon-7PM. Known as "San Francisco Pride" for short, it's one of the largest gay pride festivals in North America, a huge, happy, chaotic celebration of diversity, politics, sexuality, and San Francisco wackiness. The two day festival grew up around the parade (below) which takes place on Sunday. Some seven city blocks between City Hall and Market St are closed to vehicles, and about a dozen stages and spaces offer everything from square dancing to hip-hop, from a family garden to Leather Alley. Hundreds of businesses, community groups, non-profits, and political groups attempt to connect with hundreds of thousands of celebrants. It's a movement, it's a market, and it's a party. Car and bus traffic is interrupted during the celebration, and parking is even worse than usual; take BART or Muni trains (which run underground, and put on extra cars to carry the load) instead. Both parade and celebration are for everyone — straight as well as gay are welcome. Free (donations encouraged).
- San Francisco Pride Parade (Along Market St from Beale St to 8th St), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Final full weekend in June: Su only 10AM-2PM (approx). San Francisco's annual "Gay Pride Parade" long ago grew into a two-day "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration" (see above). The parade itself, which takes place on the Sunday, features over a hundred contingents, and takes over four hours from start to finish. Hundreds of thousands of people line the parade route to watch. If you want a good spot, arrive two hours before the 10AM start, and set up closer to Beale St than the Civic Center. Be careful about climbing on bus shelters, scaffolding, or light poles to get a better view: people do fall and injure themselves. The only thing better than watching the parade is marching in it. If you can make contact in advance, you likely can find some contingent with affinity which will welcome you. Free.
- Tet Festival, Larkin St and Ellis St, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Mid-Jan to mid-Feb 9:30AM–6PM. Celebrate New Year's Vietnamese style at this festival. It attracts almost 30,000 each year to the area. It's mostly Vietnamese-Americans in attendance, but everyone is welcome and it's a great opportunity to sample some of the delicious Vietnamese dishes that they have in the Tenderloin, and of course to throw around some "lucky-money.". Free.
There are very few chain stores here and limited shopping opportunities. This has probably got more to do with socio-economic reasons than anything else. If you are looking for your more recognizable stores try its glamorous neighbor Union Square, and on the other side of Market St in the SoMa neighborhood, you'll find plenty of large shopping malls. What this area does have however, is a varied collection of smaller esoteric stores.
- 1 Kayo Books, 814 Post St (at Leavenworth St), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Th-Sa 11AM-6PM. "Specializing in vintage collectible paperbacks from the 1940s to 1970s and esoteric books of all persuasions... " They have a large stock of rare and out of print books, many of which are of the lurid and sleazy persuasion.
- 2 Napa Valley Winery Exchange, 415 Taylor St (between Geary St and O'Farrell St), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. M-Sa 10AM-7PM, Su 10AM-5PM. Well known wine store featuring hard to get and small production wines.
- 3 San Francisco Antique and Artisans Market, United Nations Plaza (at Market St), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. M, Th, and F 8AM-6PM. Three times a week, over 100 vendors come together to sell antiques, gifts, and keepsakes from all over the world. Appropriately, the market is held at UN Plaza.
|This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
|Budget||$10 or less|
|Mid-range||$10 - 20|
|Splurge||$20 or more|
Given the grittiness of the area, much of the food is very affordable. Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian restaurants are well represented in the Tenderloin. One of the best options for a cheap lunch is picking up a "Vietnamese sandwich" from any of a number of corner delis in the area (they're packed especially thick along Larkin St). For about $2.50 you can expect to get a generous helping of your choice of meat and shredded vegetables sandwiched into a quarter of a baguette and dressed with a thin, tangy sweet and sour sauce. Be sure to bring cash, as these places don't take any credit cards. There is actually a decent selection of restaurants in the area, but if you are not satisfied, there are many other excellent eateries just west of the Civic Center, around Hayes St, and northeast of the Tenderloin around Chinatown and North Beach. Generally speaking, for mid-range to high-end restaurants in the area, seating is easier around 8PM, when opera and symphony patrons depart.
- 1 Ananda Fuara, 1298 Market St (at Larkin St), ☏ , fax: . M-Tu, Th-Sa 8AM-8PM, W 8AM-3PM. This vegetarian restaurant is a little different as it's run by an Indian religious order called 'Sri Chinmoy'. Ananda Fuara means the "Fountain of Delight" and their food is intended to harmonize you both inside and out. $6-11.
- 2 Chutney, 511 Jones St (at O'Farrell St), ☏ . Noon-midnight daily. Affordable and excellent selection of authentic Indian food. Speedy service and filling portions, and free Chai tea for all customers. A recent addition and a neighborhood favorite. $5-8.
- 3 Joey's Laundry, 517 O'Farrell St (between Jones St and Leavenworth St), ☏ . 6AM-9PM daily. What is a laundry doing under 'Eat'? Joey's serves Mitchell's Ice Cream, widely recognized as the best in the Bay Area. If you're bored with chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla, try the green tea or macapuno ice creams. For the launderer seeking more solid sustenance — or if you get hungry while using their internet access ($7.50 per hour) — there are breakfast pastries, pizza slices, and coffee. $4-10.
- 4 Moulin Rouge Breakfast Cafe, 887 Geary St (Larkin St), ☏ . M-Sa 7AM-2PM, Su 7:30AM-2PM. If you can't stomach the line (or the hipster clientele) at Dottie's, the Moulin Rouge Breakfast Cafe around the corner on Geary offers solid grub at much cheaper prices. The elderly couple who run the place are always friendly and never hurry you, and the shabby faux-French decor is weirdly charming despite liberal amounts of duct tape holding the place together. $3-7.
- 5 The Olympic Cafe, 555 Geary St (between Taylor St and Jones St), ☏ . 7AM-2PM daily. Spacious, affordable and home-cooked breakfast joint. Excellent omelettes. This is a viable alternative of Dottie's True Blue Cafe which almost always seems to have a line. $4.50-8.50.
- 6 Pakwan, 501 O'Farrell St (at Jones St), ☏ . 11AM-11PM daily. Pakistani food featuring curries, tandoori fish, and piping hot naan. Unlike some of the local eateries in the "tandoor-loin," the seating is clean, comfortable, and fairly new (possibly the results of some other restaurant's going-out-of-business sale). The restaurant tends to be comparatively quiet, as well as offering an excellent view of police actions on Jones St. $6-10.
- 7 Shalimar, 532 Jones St (between O'Farrell St and Geary St), ☏ , email@example.com. Noon-midnight daily. Northern Indian/Pakistani food, they have a tandoor (clay oven) which means excellent naan (flat breads) and murgh boti (barbecue chicken). The curries and rice pilaf are also worth checking out for their unique combination of spices. $3-10.
- 8 Tommy's Joynt, 1101 Geary St (at Van Ness Ave), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Restaurant: 11AM-1:45AM, Bar: 10AM-1:45AM. Open since 1947, Tommy's is a classic San Francisco eatery and bar. You can't miss this place — on both the inside and out it's colorful and quirkily decorated. They serve wholesome, filling food like "hand-carved" sandwiches, stews, and mash potatoes. $4-10.
- 9 Bodega Bistro, 607 Larkin St (at Eddy St), ☏ , fax: . Lunch: 11AM-3PM daily, Dinner: Su-W 5PM-9:30PM, Th-Sa 5PM-10PM. In Vietnamese Bo-de-ga in Vietnamese means beef-lamb-chicken — all popular Vietnamese dishes. The menu also draws equal inspiration from French cuisine making this an unusual dining experience. $8-23.
- 10 The Douglas Room, 345 Taylor Street (Between O'Farrell and Ellis Streets, inside the Tilden Hotel), ☏ . Restaurant with well-stocked bar and simple pub fare. Italian Hoagie on the menu strives for authenticity -- the Douglas Room insists on importing Amoroso Rolls from Philadelphia for their hoagie.
- 11 Kim Thanh, 607 Geary St (at Jones St), ☏ , fax: . M-F 11AM-11PM, Sa-Su 5PM-11PM. Check out the aquariums in the window if you want to know what's for dinner. If you've never seen a geoduck, you will not soon forget it. $7-12.
- 12 Grand Cafe, 501 Geary St (at Taylor St), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Breakfast: M-F 7AM-10:30AM; Brunch: Sa-Su 8AM-2:30PM; Lunch: M-F 11:30AM-2:30PM; Dinner: Su-Th 5PM-10PM, F-Sa 5PM-11PM. With 30-foot high ceilings supported by pillars, sunken tables, sculptures, and artwork adorning the walls, it's not hard to see that this place was once an elegant ballroom. Today it's an elegant dining room where they serve excellent French cuisine. $30-100.
- 13 Max's Opera Cafe, 601 Van Ness Ave (Golden Gate Ave - in Opera Plaza), ☏ , fax: , MaxsOperaSF@maxsworld.com. Su-Tu 11:30AM-10PM, W-Th 11:30AM-11PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-11:30PM. The California version of a New York deli. Dinner $15-25.
- 14 Millennium Restaurant, 580 Geary St (at Jones St), ☏ , fax: . Su-Th 5:30PM-9:30PM, F-Sa 5:30PM-10PM. This is an environmentally friendly vegetarian/vegan restaurant that does its best to source local, organic and non-genetically modified food. If you're one of those people who think veggies can't be tasty... you need to go here, the food is delicious — very pricey — but delicious! $30-75.
These days the Tenderloin is on the "up-and-up," and with this urban gentrification has come a surprisingly eclectic and artistic nightlife scene. It now has a decent selection of trendy lounges and hip clubs, as well the musical venues (many of which are listed under Performing arts above), strip-clubs, and "dive bars" that were the more traditional staples of the area. In fact, many of the modern "faux-dive" and "dive bars" used to be illegal speakeasies during the prohibition era of the 1920s. Given the area's long and storied association with the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender community (the "Polk Gulch" was the city's first openly gay neighborhood, before the emergence of the Castro in the 1970s), many of the bars, clubs, and entertainment are geared toward this crowd, although typically everyone is welcome.
- 1 Blur, 1121 Polk St (at Hemlock St), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 4PM-2PM daily. Upscale, lush, candlelit bar in the Polk Gulch. It's dark and romantic and they have a good selection of cocktails... try the strawberry margarita. They also have free pizza on Monday nights.
- 2 Bourbon and Branch, 501 Jones St (O'Farrell St), ☏ . M-Sa 6PM-2AM. This hard to find cocktail/spirit themed bar is a throwback to the prohibition days of the 1920s — this address used to be an thriving illegal "speakeasy" known as the "JJ Russell's Cigar Shop." Inside it's ornately decorated with dark woods giving the place a real cozy feel. It being a prohibition themed bar, they also have some strange house rules posted on the walls like "no photography" and "Please speak easy" They have an exhaustive selection of spirits and cocktails.
- 3 Edinburgh Castle, 950 Geary St (at Larkin St), ☏ . 5PM-2AM daily. Expatriates from the British Isles are often to be found at this Scottish pub, which on Thursdays through Saturdays becomes a hipster mecca. The interior is warm and shadowy, a comfortable place of dark wood and golden lantern light, and the beer selection is good; you can get pints of Belhaven or Newcastle as well as the ubiquitous Guinness, and it's all available by the pitcher. The Edinburgh Castle also has a relationship with a local fish and chips fryer, so you can order from their menu and have it delivered to you at the pub. The jukebox is well stocked with punk rock, Irish folk/rock, and American roots music, and live bands also play regularly (which can unfortunately make it impossible to carry on a conversation). A trivia contest is held on Tuesday nights. And on Burns Night (January 25th), the Edinburgh Castle is the place to be, with ribald poetry readings, music, and a public haggis.
- 4 Hanaro, 939 Geary St (at Larkin St), ☏ . Noon-2AM daily. Just across from the Edinburgh Castle is a shadowy hole-in-the-wall festooned with Korean lettering: Hanaro. Though the bar is wallpapered with "No Smoking" signs (as California law demands), you need only loiter outside the bar for a few minutes with a cigarette before you are beckoned inside and offered an ashtray. In fact, Hanaro's great charm is it that it's accommodating in every respect; stay for a bit and you will be offered various bar snacks, and there is usually a hostess on hand whose only job is to chat with the patrons. This is done, however, with taste and tact; if you wish to drink in silence, you won't be disturbed. The jukebox is stocked with Asian pop singles.
- 5 Ha-Ra Club, 875 Geary St (at Larkin St), ☏ , fax: . 9:30AM-2AM daily. Standard but friendly dive-bar in the Tenderloin that serves cheap drinks. It was co-founded by pro-wrestler Hank Hanastead and boxer Ralph Figari. Great place if you're into the 'Loin's no nonsense dive bars.
- 6 The Owl Tree, 601 Post St (between Taylor St and Trader Vic Aly), ☏ . 5PM-2AM daily. A small, quiet upscale bar that's great for conversation and relaxation after a long day of wandering around San Francisco. What used to be a dive bar with walls adorned with tacky owl memorabilia, is now another upscale watering hole in the 'Loin, where cocktails have replaced draft beers as the drink of preference. There's still a mosaic owl on the outside though.
- 7 Tradition, 441 Jones St. A dive bar (originally the 441) which was bought and renovated by the same people who own Bourbon & Branch. Featuring house made alcohols and unique mixes, while not cheap, it's a unique experience in a classy wood paneled environment.
- 8 Union Square Sports Bar, 115 Mason St (between Ellis and Eddy), ☏ . 11AM-2AM daily. Crowded and loud, but you can catch just about any game here. This place thinks flatscreen TVs are a type of wallpaper. Food offerings are limited to hot dogs and potato chips.
Entertainment and clubs
- 9 Aunt Charlie's Lounge, 133 Turk St (between Jones St and Taylor St), ☏ , email@example.com. M-F noon-2AM, Sa 10AM-2AM, Su and Holidays 10AM-midnight. If you haven't already guessed from the name, "Aunt Charlie's" is a transvestite dive bar. It hosts a wide variety of entertainment shows and drag shows that are popular with gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and indeed straight patrons. Cheap, stiff drinks accompanied by endearing, harmless, and vocal co-drinkers, provides for fantastic people-watching.
- 10 Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater, 895 O'Farrell St (at Polk St), ☏ . M-Sa 11:30AM-1:30AM, Su 5:30PM-1:30AM. Tourists have flocked here for live, nude girls and dirty movies since 1971, when porn star Marilyn Chambers followed her performance in a Mitchell Brothers' film by becoming an Ivory Snow model. The venue is large, clean, and the biggest rip-off in adult entertainment this side of Paris. If possible, avoid this over-priced, over-hyped tourist trap for the Crazy Horse on Market (next to the Warfield) or any of the clubs on Broadway in North Beach. $20 before 6PM, $40 after 6PM, girls demand large tips for anything more.
Due to the lower rents and what was a general lack of options, there has been a recent revival of the coffee shops in the Tenderloin. The new, charming cafes provide relaxing shelter from the general hustle and bustle of the neighborhood.
- 11 Farm:Table, 754 Post St. M-F 7:30AM-4PM, Sa 8AM-4PM, Su 9AM-2PM. Very tiny spot with one large "farm table" (thus the name) and limited outdoor seating/standing bars. They serve coffee from nearby Santa Cruz roaster, Verve and have their own delicious sweets and other foods that they make daily. Very popular with the locals.
- 12 Hooker's Sweet Treats, 442 Hyde St. M-F 8AM-5PM, Sa 10AM-2PM. Great spot to pick up handmade chocolate caramels, bread pudding, and coffee from local roaster, Sightglass. Very cute interior decorated in an antique style and owned by a Louisiana native.
- 13 Soluna Cafe and Lounge, 272 McAllister St (at Larkin St), ☏ . M-F 11:30AM-10PM, Sa 5PM-10PM. Just a stones throw from the performing arts buildings, it's a great place to grab a cappuccino just before the overture.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
|Mid-range||$100 - 200|
|Splurge||$200 and over|
Many "hotels" in the Tenderloin do their major business as single-room occupancy (S.R.O.) lodgings for permanent residents, many of whom live from welfare check to welfare check. These hotels also rent rooms to frightened-looking tourists lured by bargain rates "just off Union Square." Both the rates and the location are true: the management merely neglected to mention the urine-stained mattresses or the drunk lurching in the lobby. Use caution: if a rate seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are more normal hotels in the area as well, ranging from large chains to tiny boutique hotels with fashionable decor and chi-chi prices. If you plan to park a car, scrutinize the hotel listing for parking information. Free parking is not a given, and at peak times, even paid garages overflow onto the sidewalks. There are also several backpacker's hostels in this area, particularly on Taylor St., that attract both backpackers and those traveling on a budget.
- 1 Adelaide Hostel, 5 Isadora Duncan Ln (between Geary St and Post St), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 1PM, check-out: 11AM. This is a popular backpacker hostel just two blocks from Union Square. Dorms: $23 and up, Private rooms: $60 and up.
- 2 Hostelling International-City Center, 685 Ellis St (at Larkin St), ☏ , fax: . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Clean, cheap, safe, fun. The hostel has 75 beds in total, some are 4 or 5 bed dorms and others private rooms. All rooms have their own private bathroom. They offer a free breakfast and free wi-fi. Dorms: $27-42, Private Rooms: $89-129.
- 3 The Opal San Francisco, 1050 Van Ness Ave (between O'Farrell St and Geary St), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. An elegant 5 story hotel that was built after the 1906 earthquake, it has 164 guest rooms. They have a gym, laundry facilities, and all access to free wi-fi. $60-110.
- 4 Rodeway Inn Civic Center, 860 Eddy St (between Franklin St and Van Ness Ave), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. This is a pretty standard but comfortable inn near Van Ness. They offer some free limited parking and a complimentary breakfast. $60-110.
- 5 Taylor Hotel, 615 Taylor St (at Post St), ☏ , toll-free: , email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 10AM. This is an older building and the rooms are in need of paint, but it's relatively clean. There is a nice Indian couple who runs the place, they have wireless internet and a community computer in the lobby and a continental breakfast each morning. It's in a great location, just 2 blocks from Union Square. $66-90.
- 6 USA Hostels San Francisco, 711 Post St (between Jones St and Leavenworth St), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: Dormitory rooms: 10AM Private rooms: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Great hostel operating in two buildings just off Union Square. All rooms have their own bathrooms. Dorms: $25-30, Private rooms: $64-81.
- Boston Hotel, 140 Turk Street, ☏ .
- 7 Cova Hotel, 655 Ellis St (between Hyde St and Larkin St), fax: , email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. This hotel has 96 well decorated rooms in the heart of downtown. All rooms have 300 thread count sheets, high definition TVs, complimentary breakfast, and free wi-fi. $85-300.
- 8 Hotel Bijou, 111 Mason St (at Eddy), ☏ , fax: . Hotel Bijou is inspired by San Francisco's rich cinematic history, adorned with movie palace stylings and Hollywood portraits, and features a mini movie theater in the lobby.
- 9 Hotel Metropolis, 25 Mason St (between Eddy St and Turk St), ☏ , Reservations@PersonalityHotels.com. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. It's on the eastern outskirts of the Tenderloin, but there can be people sleeping in stairways and panhandling right next to the hotel, so it's authentic enough. Inside it is perfectly clean. $99-299.
- 10 The Phoenix Hotel, 601 Eddy St (at Larkin St), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. A boutique hotel, favored by musicians of all stripes, with free parking and breakfast. $119-169.
- 11 Hotel Carlton, 1075 Sutter St (at Larkin), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. A reasonably-priced boutique hotel with decorations that feature international travel. Non-smoking and pet-friendly hotel, and certified as a green business. Saha Restaurant in the lobby serves Arabic fusion cuisine.
- 12 Hotel Adagio, 550 Geary St (between Taylor St and Jones St), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. A luxury boutique hotel featuring a fresh design that bridges its Spanish Colonial Revival architectural roots to a clean and contemporary design aesthetic. 2½ blocks away from the Powell St Cable Car line, 6 blocks from the Moscone Convention Center. $189-289.
- 13 The Hotel Monaco, 501 Geary St (at Taylor St), ☏ , fax: . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. A fun and hip boutique hotel. This is part of Kimpton Hotels, a San Francisco based hotel and restaurant company. $249-299.
- 14 Serrano Hotel, 405 Taylor St (at Taylor St and O'Farrell St), ☏ , fax: . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. This is a deluxe boutique hotel in a 17-story Spanish Revival building. They have free high speed internet and a wine appreciation hour every evening. $239-329.
The Tenderloin is one of San Francisco's lowest income neighborhoods and has all the socio-economic problems that stem from this including crime, homelessness, and drug addiction. In particular there is a lot of violent street crime like assault and theft. Parts of the Tenderloin are considered the most dangerous areas in San Francisco, with the exception of Hunter's Point and possibly a few areas in the Mission (such as Mission between 16th and 17th Sts). Turk St and Taylor St might be considered the heart of the "true" Tenderloin; the sidewalks teem at all hours with the homeless, people openly selling crack or heroin, derelicts, hustlers, and the mentally ill. This area spills directly into Mission St on the other side of Market St; Mission St between 8th and 5th St may be considered part of this truly seedy "core Tenderloin" area. Travelers should be aware of their environment and take an appropriate amount of care. The area is lively and safe until about 2AM (when the bars close); after that, it does get sketchy, and is best avoided by travelers walking alone.
Hayes Valley — If you are an art lover and liked the formal galleries in this area, then why not continue into neighboring Hayes Valley where you will find many smaller urban chic galleries.
Union Square — There are also many other smaller and more exclusive art galleries in Union Square that focus on selling the artwork of high profile artists like Renoir and Chagall. Union Square also has a good selection of galleries that exhibit the work of local and up-and-coming artists.
|Routes through Civic Center-Tenderloin|
|Balboa Park ← Mission ←||SW NE||→ Financial District|
|West Portal ← Castro ←||SW NE||→ Financial District → Visitacion Valley|
|West Portal ← Castro ←||SW NE||→ Financial District|
|Sunset ← Haight ←||SW NE||→ Financial District → SoMa|