So, growing up in San Francisco, I have become quite accustomed to the cafe life. It seems to be a universal feeling in the Bay Area to reject chains as much as we can and find that little independent cafe we will dedicate our patronage to. Cafes in San Francisco are usually full and busy, and it is totally normal for someone to sit in one for one or two hours working or reading. It is also normal for friends to meet at one and then actually hang out there for a while. This is so different from other major cities I have visited in the US. San Francisco's cafe life is more akin to the small restaurants on corners in Paris or the coffee houses of Italy.
Whether you have experienced this accept of San Francisco or not, I am about to make it even better through the offering of ten delicious and wonderful cafes in easy to locate areas. I have even sorted them out by neighborhood and included MUNI directions, just to make things even easier for you.
1) Cafe La Vie
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley
Address: 514 Octavia St
I really love this cafe for a lot of reasons. One is the vibe - it's in an old garage so it opens completely up on the street in front. The ceilings are high, the music is good (last time I was in, they played The Dodos), and the chairs are comfy. Another reason to really love it are the low prices - it has remained cheap in this economic crisis, where even Mels had to raise their stakes. But not here. I can get a hot chocolate and a bagel with cream cheese for $3.25. On top of it all, the people who work there are super nice and the service is quick. If you stake out there with a laptop, they will be more than happy to keep the coffee coming. Bonus: delicious iced tea with a different flavor every day. I recommend the pomegranate.
Muni: 21 Hayes to Octavia and Hayes, or any underground to Van Ness station
2) Coffee To The People
Neighborhood: The Haight
Address: 1206 Masonic Ave
This is located right as you're getting to the end of the main stretch of Haight st. It is an awesome place; they are based around a theme of organic and fair trade products, always appreciated in today's world. It's a cool and busy atmosphere, and the staff is non-judgmental (which is not quite an abundant personality in the Haight). It's perfect for coffee and free wifi or to grab something with a friend. In addition to the name being extremely catchy and witty, the cafe actually does live up to it quite nicely with a very alternative anti-industry feel to the whole place. A popular cafe for many hip youngins' in SF.
Muni: 71 Haight to Haight st, or N Judah to Carl & Cole, or 43 to Masonic and Haight
3) Tart To Tart
Neighborhood: Inner Sunset
Address: 641 Irving Street
Okay so it doesn't have the cutest decor or homiest atmosphere, but their cookies and pastries are amazing, as are the coffee drinks they can mix up for you. The cakes they sell are also delicious. And of course, the tarts are a favorite. Tart To Tart also boasts a large selection of San Francisco native Double Rainbow Ice Cream, which seems to be getting used less and less (damn shame, it's delicious). It is reasonably priced too, and in a good location: there's a lot to do around there, from the de Young museum to the Botanical Gardens. I choose Tart To Tart over the Starbucks on block down any day.
Muni: N Judah to 9th and Irving
4) Cafe Cole
Neighborhood: The Haight
Address: 609 Cole Street
I adore the location of this cafe, and love their vibe and set up. The people who work there are really cool, and they still make the best mochas I have tasted to date. Cookies could be better, but the specialty apple cider (amazing) and bagels totally make up for it. Plus they always seem to a really good selection of pastries. When you're in there, look at the paintings of scenes from Wind of the Willows on the wall. They're very old and were there even before Cafe Cole was; however, no one seems to know where they came from or what they were there for.
Muni: 71 Haight to Haight, or 37 Corbett to Cole, or N Judah to Carl and Cole
5) Tartine Bakery
Address: 600 Guerrero St
Okay, so it's more a bakery. Whatever. You can still sit and have coffee and something to eat. This place is incredible. The food is delicious and the location is perfect. The only downside I can find to it is that everyone loves it so much that it's always crowded. However, if you do grab a bite and a delicious coffee, then manage to get a spot, it is perfect. On a sunny day, outside spots can be tough but it's possible. Nothing like people watching with a yummy croissant. This place is also a real neighborhood cafe, big for gatherings of people or meeting up. The busy aspect is kinda cool.
Muni: 49 to Mission and 18th, or 31 to Guerrero
6) Java Beach
Neighborhood: Outer Sunset
Address: 1396 La Playa St
It's a long trek via the N all the way to Ocean Beach and The Great Highway, but once you're there and the ocean is gorgeous and Java Beach makes you feel like you live on a tiny island...you'll love it. Good food and drinks, outdoor seating, and a unique set up inside. The ceiling is low and arches ornament different parts of the cafe. Very intimate feeling. Even if it's raining, there's something about Java Beach that makes it seem so cozy. You really want the indie cafe vibe, go here. And ocean beach is literally 20, maybe 30, steps away, just across the Great Highway.
Muni: N Judah all the way to the end
7) Cafe Corbas
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley
Address: 364 Hayes St
I've been going here since I was born practically. My mom is a regular there, like so many Symphony employees (the symphony is just a block away), and has been popping in there for many years. I remember many a hot chocolate. I still like to go here now. It's a tad expensive, yes...but the coffee drinks are delicious (amazing latte, voted best in SF) and Nadi, the owner, uses really good products. If you become a regular here, or even just pop in once a week or so, the staff and Nadi are great to you and super welcoming and kind. He also gets to know your preferences very fast. Every time I walk in, it's "English breakfast tea, two tea bags, with milk?" Word. Sidenote: great sandwiches made with care.
Muni: Any underground to Van Ness, or 21 Hayes to Hayes
8) Caffe Trieste
Neighborhood: North Beach
Address: 601 Vallejo Street
SF classic, famed through the Beat Poets. I just really love being in here, not only for the historical significance, but also because since it's in North Beach, it has that awesome Italian cafe feeling. It opens up onto the street really freely and is bustling and alive. Amazing coffee. Bring a book or a conversational friend and soak it all in.
Muni: 30 to Stockton and Columbus, or 9 to Columbus and Broadway, or 20 to Columbus and Broadway
9) Peet's Coffee
Neighborhood: all over
Even if it is a chain, it's a local one, and their food/coffee/settings are still great. Plus support anything but Starbucks, right? Try and locate your favorite SF Peet's; they're all really different when you feel 'em. I love the one on Fillmore the most just for it's cozy seats and couches. I had my first mocha ever at a Peet's (8th grade) and thought it was the most amazing thing I have ever tasted.
A little story on Peet's of Berkeley
10) Cole Valley Cafe
Neighborhood: Cole Valley
Address: 701 Cole Street
It's just a block up from Cafe Cole, but they are totally unique and different. Cole Valley Cafe feels more yuppie compared to Cafe Cole, but that is not a bad thing! It's warm inside, friendly and inviting, and I love their hot chocolate. Make sure to get whipped cream on it because the whipped cream is hand made right there on location. It is delicious. They have a very wide selection of sandwiches and bagels to choose from, plus free wifi and plenty of seats. The bagels I recommend strongly, especially cream cheese and lox. They don't skimp on the fixings like so many cafes do.
Muni: N Judah to Carl and Cole, or 37 to Cole, or 6 to Parnassus and Cole