On my father’s side, I come from a long line of Norskes. After moving to San Francisco, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few more links to Norwegian culture here than I expected. (Not sure why I was so surprised since San Francisco is on the water and Norwegians are a notoriously sea-faring people.)
However, the best and biggest surprise is the Norway Day Festival at Fort Mason, where you can enjoy some great open-faced shrimp or salmon sandwiches and drink a few beers, all while taking in some fine musical performances and cooking demonstrations for things like lefse (a crepe-like item that you roll in butter and sugar). In addition to lefse, be sure to try some kringle for dessert.
Even if your ancestors didn’t roll with the Vikings, you can have a great time at this unique and fun festival. It usually takes place in early May. For more info, along with schedules for music and performances, take a look here: http://www.norwayday.org/
After a day of walking through Golden Gate Park or hanging out on the beach, the Chalet is a great place to wet your whistle with the great beer made on site. (Of course, the cocktails and the wine aren’t bad either.) The Chalet encompasses 2 restaurants, each with its own vibe and menu.
When you first enter the building, you’ll notice the beautiful murals that cover the walls, a WPA project. (Back in the day, to help take the sting out of Depression-related unemployment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration employed artists to beautify public buildings. The Chalet is one of the best examples of such art in San Francisco.)
On closer inspection of the murals, however, you will notice some interesting details, which seem to imply that, perhaps, not everything was as it should be with the local denizens. One creepy stand-out is the mural section as you head over to the bathrooms (on the right side of the passage to the bathrooms). Once you start looking for strange, symbolic things in the murals (think: sausages, fountains, and cylinder shapes at odd angles), you’ll find the oddities right in plain sight. (Much like San Francisco itself, but I digress.)
The Beach Chalet, upstairs, has a menu that’s more steakhouse-focused, and the steaks are great. There’s a lot of music (particularly jazz) played up there throughout the week, which makes it pretty enjoyable. The view of the ocean is tremendous for dinner when you can watch the sunset. For breakfast, while you sip a fine bloody mary, you can watch the surfers and other ambitious aqua-athletes (kiteboarders, skimboarders, and more) hit the frigid ocean in the morning.
The Park Chalet is downstairs in the back, and has a different food menu, though the same great libations. Pizzas are great. Burgers and other grilled stuff are also good, particularly when you eat them outdoors at the weekend BBQ on their lawn (only available during certain months). Studded with cheerful Adirondack chairs where you can get service, the lawn’s a perfect place to watch some great music outdoors in the summer. (The Mermen swing by from time to time.) You’re also welcome to throw a blanket down on the grass when the comfy chairs fill up, and you can even get service from your own blankie. Sunny Sundays are very popular here, and you’ll see a great cross-section of San Francisco folks massively enjoying the weather, tunes, and beer.
If it’s too chilly for all that, as it often is in San Francisco, they’ll do the music indoors at the Park Chalet, which is just fine. The entire indoor area is glass, which opens and closes in different configurations to make you feel like you’re always outside. There’s a stone fireplace that is nice to sit and sip next to on cooler nights, of which there are many in San Francisco, particularly in July.
Check out their site for special nights, special deals, and music schedules before you go @ www.beachchalet.com Or, just get surprised and head over to the end of Golden Gate Park at 1000 Great Highway. If you have only one day in San Francisco and the weather happens to be nice, this is a must-visit.
The tiki bar is a sadly dying breed in the surviving American kitsch scene, and the Tonga Room is the Graceland of tiki bars. Scurrilous rumors are currently circulating around San Francisco that the Tonga will be closed at some point to make way for luxury condos, and this has only heightened the Tonga’s popularity.
Situated in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel, the Tonga Room is a San Francisco institution, most notably for the hangovers it cheerfully administers, but also for its kind staff and amazing decor. Did I mention the rainstorm, replete with thunder? Yes, it rains indoors at the Tonga.
You can even conga in the Tonga when the band plays, which is usually Thursday through Saturday evenings. The musicians come out on a barge on the old swimming pool and play the most rocking of disco beats from the 1980s.
You can shake your tiki goodness on the dance floor, which resembles the deck of a schooner.
Though it can be fun to go dancing here as a couple, the Tonga Room is the most fun when you’re with a group of friends, all devoted to worshiping the Gods of Tiki, Mai Tai, & Scorpion Bowl.
I’m not usually a thin crust pizza fan, but the Pizza Place on Noriega changed my mind. Great toppings, awesome sauce to cheese ratio, and a crispy yet not too cracker-like crust. (Full disclosure on sauce to cheese ratio comment: I prefer a fairly balanced sauce to cheese ratio, and dislike pizza that has too much cheese or too much sauce. Your preference for this ratio will drive your pizza preferences, whether you are a thin crust or a thick crust devotee.)
Good selection of beers on tap (including the ever refreshing PBR), and nice variety/quality, yet reasonable, wine list. Some great salads to start off with, particularly the wilted spinach with Zoe’s bacon. Amongst the pizza selections, the Dimitri’s pretty outstanding when you’re in a garlic/meat-tastic mood.
The folks who work here are super nice as well, even when it’s crowded, and it can be, because it’s really good. If you’re solo, the bar is a good place to get a beer and grab a slice.
As a town that prides itself on the fine Dungeness crabs that once teemed in the local waters, it’s easy to find lots of restaurants that serve crab in San Francisco. However, such multiplicity makes it tough to find the best crab.
Until you wash up on Ocean Beach, that is.
The An family has been dishing up roasted crabs for decades at its flagship restaurant, Thanh Long. There are a variety of styles of roast crab on offer, but if you’re a garlic person, the roast garlic crab is perfection, along with a side of the secret recipe garlic noodles. (Adding to the special cache of Thanh Long is the secret kitchen, where only family members can enter!)
It’s a great place to go share plates, and I’ve never taken anyone who has been disappointed. In addition to the infamous crab, other wonderful entrees, great appetizers, nice desserts, some interesting cocktails made with house infused spirits, and a wonderful wine list. But don’t over-indulge in any of that if it takes you away from the garlic roast crab and garlic noodles.