451 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This is one of those restaurants you can always count on to be great, no matter when you come, or what the occasion—and the subtly French menu is that magical length that gives you options without being overwhelming. While the wine list is thorough and creative, it's the cocktails that really shine—try a refreshing Daybreak (a combination of genepy, elderflower, tonic, and lemon), or their subtle absinthe drink, which is served with gin, mint, and Lillet. The space, which you'll know from the neon cat that hangs out front, is around the corner from the symphony and the War Memorial Opera House, so it's the perfect spot for a date before a performance.
141 1/2 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This adorable neighborhood cheese shop (named for its owner, Phithak Raxakoul) specializes in French cheese and other gourmet items like chocolate, wine, and tea. The cheese selection is the kind you dream—or drool—about, but they also make sandwiches and charcuterie plates, which you an enjoy on their patio.
20th Century Café
198 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This café came to us by recommendation from Kim Alter, who calls it one of the neighborhood's hidden gems. Inspired to open up shop after visiting cafés in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, owner and chef Michelle Polzine is known for knishes; linzer tortes; a drool-worthy, 10-layer Russian honey cake; and for her eclectic collection of vintage dresses and aprons. As Alter told us, "She's just the whole package."
330 Gough St., Hayes Valley
Kim Alter's been a fixture of the SF food scene for a long time, working with the Daniel Patterson Group and several of the area's high-end restaurants, but Nightbird is her first solo project. It comes highly recommended by Chef Thea (who calls Alter a "kitchen badass"), which is as about good a seal of approval as you can get at #goophq. Go for Nightbird's stunning $125/person tasting menu that changes with the seasons; next, head to the Linden Room, her teeny-tiny cocktail lounge next-door, for after-dinner drinks.
Smitten Ice Cream
432 Octavia St., Hayes Valley
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody who’s more passionate about ice cream than the folks behind Smitten, who actually built and patented a completely new technology to make what they claim to be the smoothest ice cream in the world. They started in San Francisco, selling ice cream out of a little red wagon (seriously), and while they’re beloved in their hometown—there are locations in Pacific Heights, Oakland, Hayes Valley, and more—they’ve just expanded to LA with a shop in El Segundo (Silver Lake is opening soon).
Project Juice Test Kitchen
364 Hayes St., Hayes Valley
Project Juice's little shops, which are in San Francisco and Southern California, make fresh juice and cleanses, but the real game-changer is their test kitchen, which also has a menu of clean, vegetable-based whole meals. Breakfast is particularly strong with smoothies and bowls both on offer.
768 Hayes St., Hayes Valley
Torryne Choate is a truly talented designer. While she can take on any floral challenge you throw her way, she's especially skilled at handling those way-harder-than-they-look homogenous sculptural arrangements—not to mention crafting flower crowns that put your Pinterest to shame. For our San Francisco pop-up shop, we asked her to put together arrangements to complement the architectural space; needless to say, she didn't disappoint.
398 Hayes St., Hayes Valley
Absinthe was an early pioneer both of the craft/artisanal cocktail scene in San Francisco (the absinthe cocktails are still amazing) and of the Hayes Valley neighborhood (they were one of the first in the area). The cuisine slants French, but not in a restricting way—you’ll find a Hawaiian swordfish alongside their famous French onion soup and coq au vin. The upstairs private space is unique in the city for being completely separate, with an exclusive-use bar and entrance.
411 Hayes St., Hayes Valley
Corina Nurimba and Catherine Chow, the two Cornell grads behind Azalea, are big believers that shopping should be an experience, and a pleasant one at that. This means that customer service is priority number one at both the original Hayes Valley outpost and the newer one in the Mission. The stores are split into men's and women's sections and do a really great job of staying current and affordable with the brand offering but not super trend-driven in the assortment (Topman and Nudie jeans for guys; OAK, T by Alexander Wang, and the house line for gals).
544 Hayes St., Hayes Valley
This goldmine of a shop is the work of former Old Navy designer, Leah Bershad. The space is dimly lit much like a museum, which makes sense since the Southwestern-tinged biker rings, folksy wall hangings, and embroidered dresses from Mexico are essentially pieces of art. And it's not all vintage either, as Leah stocks contemporary items from Ace & Jig, Raleigh Denim, and Cinq Workshop, too.
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