Neighborhood Guide: Russian Hill/Nob Hill

No matter where you live in the city, there are always new, unexplored neighborhoods to discover. That’s the beauty of living in a place as diverse and exciting as San Francisco. Although Russian Hill and Nob Hill are filled with specialty shops and fair-trade coffee roasters, the neighborhoods haven’t been too busy or popular until recently. However, in the past few years, they’ve transformed into upbeat and busy areas filled with neighborhood locals as well as SF foodies and shoppers that visit in search of delicious bites and vintage finds. Since I’ve lived in the neighborhood my entire life, I’ve discovered the neighborhood must-visits: restaurants, candy stores, vintage boutiques, juice shops, and more. Russian Hill and Nob Hill are easily accessible either by the 1 California, 10 Townsend, 12 Folsom/Pacific, or if you want to ride in style, the cable car.

Saint Frank Coffee: Named after the humble Saint Francis who saw ordinary things as special, Saint Frank aims to create community through the aroma and flavors of its coffee. The space is absolutely beautiful — I always feel relaxed when sitting in the Scandinavian-inspired spot with its lofty white ceilings and oak details. Although Saint Frank isn’t the best place for homework (no wifi on weekends or electrical outlets), it’s amazing for hipster-watching (there are lots of black skinny jeans and beanies) or reading a novel. It truly is the perfect San Francisco coffee shop. Try the honey lavender latte, coffee flight (a set of “coffee shots”), or the iced almond macadamia latte.

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Brunch at Gioia. Photo courtesy of Gioia Pizzeria

Gioia Pizzeria: Gioia is a trendy, neighborhood pizza spot that offers brunch, lunch, and dinner. When opening his first spot in North Berkeley, the owner, Will Gioia was inspired by the slices of pizza he bought in Brooklyn as a kid. In the second location in Russian Hill, they “aim to keep the sense of a neighborhood joint” while still offering appetizers and sides, like the Fuyu persimmon, speck, burrata, fennel, Moroccan mint, and juniper vinaigrette salad as well as the pork belly fritters with Hosui Asian pears, arugula, and Marigold Mostarda. Here, their pizzas are the real attraction. My family’s favorite pizza is the Julian (named after the couple’s fiery son) with Calabrese sausage, broccoli rabe, ricotta, capers, and pecorino.

Tip: Come for Saturday or Sunday brunch to devour their lemon ricotta pancakes, “hangover pasta” with bucatini, pancetta, parmigiano, poached farm egg, and garlic breadcrumbs, or their huge breakfast pizza with new potatoes, spring onions, smoked pancetta, farm egg, salsa verde, and watercress.

Basik Cafe: Basik Cafe originally started out in Hawaii and has since opened a storefront in San Francisco. Basik has created the city’s best smoothies and açai bowls. Although there’s always a line out the door filled with yoga-goers and health fanatics, Basik is worth the wait. Inside, the cafe is modern with huge windows and sleek black furniture; there is an eclectic touch with old photos of Hawaii and boxes full of bananas. The café’s original açai bowl, the Brazilian bowl, has a thick, sorbet-like base topped with fresh bananas, pumpkin flax granola, and Hawaiian honey. The cafe also offers additional toppings; I recommend coconut flakes and raspberries.

Smoke Signals: Although most people have switched to digital newsletters, Smoke Signals is the ideal old-school newsstand. It is said to have the most expansive magazine collection in the Bay Area. As you walk into the small shop, you are greeted with walls covered with every magazine imaginable. The owner offers traditional publications, like Vogue and The Economist, as well as foreign publications like Vogue Italia and Chinese newspapers. A few of my favorites: Kinfolk, an indie magazine on slow-living, and Surface, an innovative design magazine with a focus on architecture and photography.

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The exterior of Cheese Plus. Photo courtesy of Cheese Plus

Cheese Plus: Cheese Plus is a gourmet grocer complete with an organic deli and a charming café. For any cheese enthusiast, Cheese Plus is heaven — they offer soft cheeses, French cheese, hard cheeses, blue cheese, and the list goes on. The best part is the free samples located throughout the store! I alway love trying as many options as possible. Another great option is to order a cheese filled sandwich from their deli. The toasted caprese with mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil is my personal favorite. Pick up a foamy, spicy chai latte or tart lavender lemonade from their café to enjoy with your sandwich while sun-bathing on the adjacent parklet.

The Candy Store: This shop is a candy connoisseur’s dream: high shelves filled with delicate glass jars, exotic delicacies like Swedish melon Cadillacs and lemongrass chocolate balls, and a whole wall devoted to vintage candy. Although The Candy Store is on the pricier side, it’s the perfect once-in-a-while treat. The owners, Dianne and Brian, are incredibly welcoming and always insist on sharing free samples of their seasonal products. My personal favorites are the red licorice Scottie dogs, black licorice salt coins, and the sour cassis berries.

ReLove: ReLove is one of the best vintage and consignment stores in San Francisco. The atmosphere is fun and upbeat — there is always music playing and the adorable shop dog, Amanda (a pit chihuahua mix), greets you as you walk in. Delilah and her staff are warm, welcoming, and always happy to act as your personal stylists. They offer vintage Levi’s and Coach bags, designer pieces like Chloe oxfords, and modern pieces like Rag & Bone skinny jeans. I always love looking through their vintage band tees and the generous sale section in the back. The best part? You can consign your old pieces and not feel as guilty about scoring an embossed leather tote.


A view from the Ina Coolbrith park. Photo courtesy of, Wharman

Ina Coolbrith Park: Ina Coolbrith Park (better known as Pillbug Park within my neighborhood circle) is a quaint and quiet park on the top of Taylor and Vallejo street. Although there isn’t much grass to lie on, there are tiers of stairs that offer a gorgeous view of the city — Alcatraz, Coit Tower, the Bay, Financial District, and the Transamerica Building are all visible. It’s the perfect spot for reading a novel, enjoying a picnic, or going on an early morning run.

Contraband Coffee Bar: Yet another outstanding Russian Hill coffee shop. Although the staff aren’t always the friendliest, the soothing atmosphere complete with the hum of the cable cars and outdoor seating makes up for it. Not to mention, the drinks and pastries are delicious. Since I’m not a huge coffee drinker, I opt for their two Chai options — the Pirates Spicy Green Chai and the House Sweet Black Chai. My mom, a lifetime coffee lover, always craves Contraband’s famous cappuccino and plain croissant (supplied by Neighbor Bakehouse in Dogpatch).

The interior of Quito Keeto. Photo by Elena Moore

Quito Keeto: Quito Keeto is a new boutique on Mason street filled with vintage cookbooks, California ceramics, and artisan kitchenware. The owners, Wayne Bremser and Heidi Swanson, are two SF locals who love food and design — in fact, Heidi has published multiple vegetarian cookbooks and her Instagram has an impressive following of 39,000. Quito Keeto is the perfect place to buy holiday gifts or just stop in to chit-chat and take photos of their beautiful products. A few of my favorites: olive blossom honey and Alice Water’s Chez Panisse cookbook.


Bob’s Donut & Pastry Co. // Classic donuts in a no-fuss interior with excellent customer service

Lord Stanley // An English-inspired restaurant that offers options like salt cod beignets as well as frozen yoghurt with huckleberries and rosewater

Belcampo Meat Co. // A neighborhood butcher shop and restaurant

Swensen’s Ice Cream // An old time San Francisco ice cream parlor

Molte Cose/Belle Cose // Two adjoining storefronts filled with vintage clothing, home decor, and gifts

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About Elena Moore

Elena, a junior at Lick-Wilmerding High School, is one of the co-editors of the Arts and Leisure section of the Paper Tiger. Along with writing, she is an avid reader and recently finished the Elena Ferrante series (which she highly recommends). In her free time, she enjoys working at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, eating delicious and local food, and spending time walking around San Francisco.

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