The Tenderloin (TL) neighborhood in San Francisco has a reputation that is complex, yet steeped in history. One of the best things about San Francisco is its patchwork of neighborhoods–each with its own unique character changing block-by-block. In the TL, you can see huge street murals, pre-war apartment buildings, and Single-Room occupancy (SRO) hotels butt up against hip bars and five-star restaurants.
Here are just a handful of things to unearth in this dynamic neighborhood this summer:
Brenda’s is a San Francisco staple for Cajun deliciousness where locals still flock to feed their ‘soul’. The Tenderloin location of Brenda’s has the adjoining Libby Jane Cafe next door for coffee and cream biscuits to tide you over while you prepare for the usually long wait time.
For those short on time, weekday morning breakfast is less crowded. Or stop by for dinner, which is also fantastic.
The tiny storefront on Larkin Street is lit by fluorescent lights and crowded with plastic bins of Vietnamese snacks and drinks. What draws the lunchtime crowds is the insanely cheap and loaded banh mi sandwiches stuffed with tangy pickled vegetables and the option of roast pork, meatball, fancy pork, or chicken. And for the adventurous, adding extra pâté on your sandwich is a tasty idea.
An unpretentious hangout spot across the street from The Phoenix Hotel, Emperor Norton’s Boozeland is great for day drinking, cheap booze, rock and roll, and old San Francisco vibes. Enjoy the back patio, billiards table, shuffleboard, and a happy hour that lasts from noon to 7pm–which is a lot of happy! The circular bar is roomy so everyone has a place to sit.
Ready for a trip to a bygone era? Bourbon and Branch is a 1920’s prohibition-style speakeasy that goes out of its way to recreate the underground, illicit Prohibition feel, complete with a list of house rules that includes no phone or camera use. The assortment of hand-numbered whiskeys and liquors is long and impressive. And if that wasn’t enough, there is a secret book-lined library open for drinks 6pm to 2am 7 days a week.
Hint: the password to get into the library is probably “books”.
Voted one of the best Karaoke spots in the Bay Area, Pandora Karaoke Bar has multiple microphones, touch-screen song catalogs, and private rooms. The rooms have cocktail service and can host 15 to 25 people. But you can also mingle in the main bar/lounge area. You can set your group up with bottle service, but there’s also a pretty good selection of cocktails, beer, and wine by the glass. Take your friends, family, or coworkers for an after work sing-off!
This iconic spot in the Tenderloin evokes a funky 1950s beach motel. On a hot day, you’ll want to soak in the tropical vibes by the pool at this popular locals’ spot. You can eat, drink, and lounge around the same stomping grounds that held legends like Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol.
And if you develop an appetite from baking in the sun, Chambers, the hotel’s restaurant and lounge, offers cocktails, brunch, and dinner. This is a great place to gather some people together and beat the heat in an off-beat rockstar style.
The only signage to indicate its presence may be just a piece of computer paper on the door, but don’t be fooled, a treasure trove awaits you inside. Camera Heaven is one of the best-kept secrets in the Tenderloin and a must-see for any photography enthusiast or camera collector.
Camera Heaven sells unique cameras, new and refurbished, and the staff is very helpful at finding specific parts. The prices for repairs are also very reasonable.
Fleet Wood is a great place to find affordable artwork for your home. Functioning as a screen-printing store and art gallery with lots of local designs, tee shirts, and hip gifts, this boutique isn’t fussy or pretentious.
Customers can quickly identify the artist and the cost without asking. Although prices vary, artwork is mostly under $100. This is a good place to find a gift for yourself or others–and support local artists at the same time
Vacation has all the things that make a thrift store. The space is small but packed with vintage designer brands, curated finds, concert tees, shoes, accessories, and jewelry. The inventory is discerning and always changing, so it’s a preferred spot for seasoned vintage shoppers. And adding to the coolness, the downstairs is an indie performance and art venue.
Since 1973, The Magazine has been a resource for collectors, historians, artists, students, and tourists alike. Part of its founding mission was to provide a safe space for connoisseurs of erotica both new and vintage, and it has an impressive collection of both. The shelves are packed floor to ceiling with backdated periodicals, local gazettes, and fashion and art magazines. The Magazine is also a trove of old photos, ephemera, antique advertising, and vintage maps.
Kayo Books is a one-of-a-kind purveyor of pulp fiction, rare first edition paperbacks, and dime novels. Kayo’s flair for the stylish and unusual makes it a must visit place for literature buffs or anyone looking for a new good read or interesting gift. Unlike any other bookstore you’ll come across, it’s a perfect place to pass (or go back in) time.
If you want to have an authentic San Francisco experience this summer, make sure the Tenderloin is on your to-do list.