Outer SunsetA Vibrant Urban Suburb
The Outer Sunset and its neighboring Parkside neighborhood used to be largely desert -- literally; the area was entirely covered by sand dunes. The district got its name when a former city assessor, Aurelius E. Buckingham, went into the real estate business and sought a name that would dodge the area's reputation for gloom. A real estate boom followed the 1906 earthquake and fire as San Franciscans fled the shattered and burned downtown areas toward new housing. The completion of streetcar tunnels from downtown to West Portal (1917) and Judah Street (1923) only accelerated the boom.
By 1924 the San Francisco Bulletin was writing headlines like "Home Seekers Conquer Sand Wastes of Sunset," and the process of paving over the dunes was largely complete a decade later, when the San Francisco News wrote, "Little more than a dozen years ago, a Hollywood motion-picture company shot desert scenes [in the Sunset]. The company set up its headquarters near 36th Avenue and Ortega Street, and by angling his cameras so that sand dunes hid Golden Gate Park to the north, the director created the illusion of a vast desert."
The Outer Sunset's main retail drag is on Irving Street, between 19th and 27th avenues, while the Parkside's is along Taraval Street, roughly between 15th and 30th avenues, continuing with lower density practically to Ocean Beach. Connecting the two neighborhoods are the numbered avenues and Sunset Boulevard, which runs between 36th and 37th avenues from Lincoln Boulevard to Sloat Boulevard. Although Sunset is heavily trafficked, it's also heavy with trees and grass that separate nonmotorized travelers from the cars, making it a great walking, biking or jogging route. Visitors can also take walks on the beach, hear concerts and opera at Stern Grove during the summer, visit the San Francisco Zoo and watch hang gliders launch from the cliffs at Fort Funston.
While West Portal remains wedded to its largely Irish and Italian roots, the Parkside and the Outer Sunset are much broader reflections of San Francisco's ethnic diversity; while more than half of these neighborhoods' residents are white (mostly of Italian, Irish and Russian extraction), more than a third are Asians or Pacific Islanders, and that proportion is expected to continue growing in the coming decades. From block to block, it's difficult to predict whether you'll come upon a hofbrau, a Thai noodle house, an Irish bar, a Vietnamese restaurant or a Chinese dry cleaner, adding to these neighborhoods' attraction for visitors.
As in West Portal, the most common occupations for Outer Sunset and Parkside residents are firefighting, teaching and health care -- stable, middle-class jobs that give San Francisco's west side a more politically conservative cast than the city as a whole.
Taraval Street between 15th and 25th avenues has what the Inner Sunset boasted 10 years ago: cheap and multi-ethnic cafés, restaurants and service businesses oriented toward neighbors, plus light traffic and parking that's not only possible but also actually nearby.
Fog is a fact of life in southwestern San Francisco, and its presence means the gap between the best time to go and the worst time can be narrow. The best advice is to bring a couple of sweaters along and just enjoy it, although, as in the rest of the city, your odds of hitting a sunny day are much better in September and October than during the "summer" months.
Sights and CultureFort Funston: Visitors can spend hours walking around Fort Funston's paths, dunes and beach and watching the dramatic launches, flights and landings of the Bay Area's active soaring community. Skyline Boulevard (west of Lake Merced); call the Golden Gate National Recreation Area at (415) 556-8371 for more information.
Harding Park Municipal Golf Course: Eighteen holes, great views and dramatically lower greens fees than at private courses. Harding Drive (off Skyline between the Great Highway and Armory Drive), (415) 661-1865.
Lake Merced: This large urban lake, surrounded by parkland, includes options for walking, jogging, boating, fishing, golf (at Harding Park) and skeet shooting at the Pacific Rod and Gun Club. Bounded by Lake Merced and Skyline boulevards and John Muir Drive; for more information, call the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Dept. at (415) 831-2700.
Mount Davidson Park: At 927 feet, the summit of Mt. Davidson is the highest point in San Francisco and for years has been crowned by a giant cross. Constitutional concerns led to the sale of the cross and 0.38 acres around it to the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California in 1997; however, the park itself remains open and makes a pleasant hike with great views in practically every direction. Bounded primarily by Juanita, Dalewood and Myra ways and Molimo Drive, (415) 831-2700.
Parkside Branch, S.F. Public Library: General-interest library, plus a small park (McCoppin Square) and tennis courts on the same block. 1200 Taraval St. (between 23rd and 24th avenues), (415) 753-7125.
San Francisco Conservatory of Music: Recitals and adult and children's classes in the musical arts. 1201 Ortega St. (at 19th Avenue), (415) 564-8086.
San Francisco Zoo: Koalas, lions, meerkats, kangaroos, penguins, tons of primates and more. Finally open is the Family Farm, a project where children can have close encounters with wildlife. A new, larger education center allows more kids to enroll in classes on animals and conservation. Sloat Boulevard (near the Great Highway), (415) 753-7080.
Stern Grove: This park is also the home of a long-running free performing-arts festival, held each summer, that brings a wide array of genres to audiences, including jazz, blues, opera, Celtic, symphonic and more. (Pine Lake Park is adjacent to and west of Stern Grove.) Vale Street (between Forest View and Meadowbrook streets), (415) 252-6252
Sunset Boulevard: This classic divided boulevard is planted on both sides with trees and grass; it's a good north-south biking or jogging route and an ideal access route for Golden Gate Park or Lake Merced (between Lincoln Boulevard and Lake Merced Boulevard).
Bashful Bull Too!!: Chicken-fried steak with country gravy, and American breakfast standards: It's the last full breakfast before the Pacific. 3600 Taraval St. (at 46th Avenue), (415) 759-8112.
The Beach Chalet Restaurant & Brewery: This seaside hot spot used to be a teahouse; like Sutro Park and the Sutro Baths, it's reminiscent of a more genteel era in San Francisco history. Today, the upstairs offers not tea but microbrewed beer, plus decent food, huge crowds (especially around sunset) and amazing views of Ocean Beach. The bottom floor is filled with WPA-era murals, historical artifacts and photographs of Ocean Beach. Also check out a new addition with a distinct menu. 1000 Great Highway (just south of Fulton Street), (415) 386-8439.
BullsHead: 'Merican food: salmon steak, beef steak, turkey burgers, broiled sandwiches. 840 Ulloa St. (at West Portal Avenue), (415) 665-4350.
Bursa Kebab: Good grilled meats, especially the doner-style kebabs, at this Turkish restaurant. Timing can be off on service. (-SF Chronicle) 60 West Portal Ave., (415) 564-4006.
Cafe for All Seasons: This popular West Portal restaurant serves up homey American-style food. Since new owners took over in early 2006, however, the experience has been more uneven than comforting. 150 West Portal Ave. (between 14th Avenue and Vicente Street), (415) 665-0900.
Cajun Pacific: Inexpensive po-boys and other Louisiana-style delights in a small space. Dinner only. 4542 Irving St. (at 47th Avenue), (415) 504-6652.
Carousel, a.k.a. the Doggie Diner: You literally can't miss the beaming, newly restored mug of the Doggie Diner dog. Just the place to take the kids for burgers, hot dogs and chili after checking out the zoo. 2750 Sloat Blvd. (at 46th Avenue), (415) 564-6052.
Cheung Hing: If you are looking for a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, you've found it. Bypass the takeout line going out the door and take a seat at one of the six tables. Chickens, ducks and pigs hang right behind the counter, and there is the ever-present flow of people less than five feet from your table. Still, the food is worth it -- especially the duck. (-SF Chronicle) 2339 Noriega St. (at 30th Avenue); (415) 665-3271.
Chick -N- Coop: Hofbrau dining. Not for those with small appetites; this place will happily sell you a whole chicken for dinner. 1055 Taraval St. (at 21st Avenue), (415) 664-5050.
DiGrande's: Italian and American surf-and-turf. 1439 Taraval St. (between 24th and 25th avenues), (415) 665-0325.
El Burrito Express: There's nearly always a line at this tiny burrito joint, which locals compare favorably with Mission District taquerias. 1601 Taraval St. (at 26th Avenue), (415) 566-8300.
El Toreador: Wonderfully overdecorated Mexican restaurant where the cuisine is served beneath Day of the Dead crafts in Day-Glo colors. 50 West Portal Ave. (between Vicente and Ulloa streets), (415) 566-2673.
French Village Cafe: Sandwiches, salads and espresso, plus a bunch of sp�cialit�s de la maison. 60 West Portal Ave. (between Ulloa and Vicente streets), (415) 681-6726.
Fresca: Peruvian takes on beef, lamb and seafood, including chupe de mariscos, "Peru's national treasure." 24 West Portal Ave. (between Ulloa and Vicente streets), (415) 759-8087.
Fuji: Sashimi, sushi, tempura, udon and more Japanese cuisine for lunch and dinner. 301 West Portal Ave. (at 14th Avenue), (415) 564-6360.
Golden Gate Pizza: Italian and Indian favorites, delivered to your door. 1388 46th Ave. (at Judah Street), (415) 564-5514.
Guerra's Delicatessen: Full-service butcher, along with breads, sandwiches, imported pastas, Niman Ranch beef. Closed Sundays. 490 Taraval St. (at 15th Avenue), (415) 564-0585.
Happy Donuts: The Outer Sunset edition of the classic donuteria. of the San Francisco Chronicle's Food staff. 2049 Irving St. (at 22nd Avenue), (415) 665-4774.
Hong Kong Seafood: Excellent dim sum in the restaurant and at a carryout counter. The har gau is exceptional. (-SF Chronicle) 2588 Noriega (at 33rd Ave.), (415) 665-8338.
Hong Phat Noodle House: Good cheap bowls of noodles, perfect for when the fog rolls in. 1920 Irving St. (between 20th and 21st avenues), (415) 681-6833.
Java Beach Cafe: Last gasp for coffee before Japan. Comfortable, and a great hangout whether it's sunny or not. 1396 La Playa Street (at Judah Street), (415) 665-5282.
Java Bound: Bagels, sandwiches, coffee and more at the beginning of the Outer Sunset. 1916 Irving St. (between 19th and 20th avenues), (415) 664-3154.
Johnny's Hamburgers: Burgers and fish-and-chips. Look for the muscular blue arm holding a biiig burger. 2305 Irving St. (at 24th Avenue), (415) 681-7666.
Just Won Ton: There are wontons galore at this tiny neighborhood restaurant, but there are many other options, too. Braised noodles, jooks, fried rice, chow mein and chow fun are on the menu, along with such "hometown goodies" as pig's feet, Mongolian beef and broiled pork kidney with liver. (--SF Chronicle) 1241 Vicente St. (between 23rd and 24th avenues); (415) 681-2999. Lunch, dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
King of Thai Noodle Cafe: Pad thai and other favorites. 1541 Taraval St. (between 25th and 26th avenues), (415) 682-9736.
Leon's Bar-B-Q: "Ribs & chicken, hot links & pie," right across the street from the zoo. 2800 Sloat Blvd. (at 46th Avenue), (415) 681-3071.
Loi's: Vietnamese cuisine. 2226 Irving St. (between 23rd and 24th avenues), (415) 661-5936.
Manor Coffee Shop: Old-time diner with practically everything on the menu for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Save room for a shake. 321A West Portal Ave. (between 14th and 15th avenues), (415) 661-2468.
Marnee Thai: This popular Thai restaurant has two locations in the Sunset, where beautiful, intricate fabrics, woven hangings and pictures of royalty evoke visions of Thailand. So does the food. Spicy green papaya salad, noodle dishes and prawns stir-fried with garlic and pepper hit the mark. Save room for dessert -- perfect mango with sticky rice. If Marnee is in the restaurant, you may also get an impromptu fortune telling, or at least some guidance on what to eat. (-SF Chronicle) 2225 Irving St. (between 23rd and 24th avenues), (415) 665-9500. Also at 1243 Ninth Ave., (415) 731-9999.
Micado: Great big sushi restaurant. 2126 Irving St. (between 22nd and 23rd avenues), (415) 564-1122.
Ming's Diner: Seafood, chicken, duck, clay-pot and vegetarian dishes. 2129 Taraval St. (between 31st and 32nd avenues), (415) 242-0811.
Mozzarella di Bufala: Pizza and pasta, sit-down, takeout or delivery. 69 West Portal Ave. (between Ulloa and Vicente streets), (415) 346-9888.
North Beach Pizza: The famed North Beach-based chain's Outer Sunset outlet. 3054 Taraval St. (at 41st Avenue), (415) 242-9100.
Old Krakow: Polish fare that's hearty but far from heavy. The space has a cozy, lived-in feel, and servers are knowledgeable, friendly and efficient. Good picks from the lengthy, Polish-language menu (with translations in English) include the marinated herring appetizer, mushroom soup, pounded pork cutlets and boned roast duck. The wine list falls a little short, so bring your own bottle or stick to one of the Polish beers offered by the bottle. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 385 West Portal Ave. (at 15th Avenue), (415) 564-4848.
Other Avenues Food Store: Community health-food co-op, since 1974. 3930 Judah St. (between 44th and 45th avenues), (415) 661-7475.
Park Chalet: This glass-enclosed extension at the back of the Beach Chalet serves casual fare like pizza with radicchio and pancetta, and braised lamb shepherd's pie. House beer is on tap. A stone fireplace heats up cold foggy nights, while retractable glass walls that face the Dutch windmill and trees in Golden Gate Park open when the weather is nice. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 1000 Great Hwy. (at Fulton), (415) 386-8439.
Pho Hoa-Hiep II: A hot bowl of noodle soup on cool, foggy Sunset days is comfort for the soul. Here there are traditional options with beef and seafood combinations served in three sizes ranging in price from $4.55 to $5.75. The extra-large bowl is big enough to share. Pho is served with fresh basil and cilantro, bean sprouts and jalapeno slices, and the chicken stock is especially good. Nice selection of pearl tapioca shakes. No options for strict vegetarians. (--SF Chronicle) 1833 Irving St. (at 19th Avenue); (415) 664-0469. Also at 1402 E. 12th St. in Oakland, 85 Southgate Ave. in Daly City.
Polly Ann Ice Cream: Polly Ann is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2005 with a remodeling -- though not much else has changed. The shop still offers a variety of flavors, some traditional, and some unique like durian or taro. Can't make up your mind? Employees will spin the "wheel of fortune" to decide a flavor for you and offer a chance to win a free cone. (-SF Chronicle) 3138 Noriega, (415) 664-2472.
PPQ Vietnamese Cuisine: Good cheap Vietnamese food in a brilliantly lit environment. 1816 Irving St. (between 19th and 20th avenues), (415) 661-8869.
Sea Breeze Cafe:A buzzing crowd of locals lines up for impressive brunch dishes like chorizo and eggs and honey wheat flapjacks. Sidewalk seats fill up first on rare sunny days; if you'd rather not wait, grab a table inside, where diners are enveloped in kitschy tropical decor. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 3940 Judah St. (near 44th Avenue), (415) 242-6022.
Shangri-La Vegetarian Restaurant: Chinese restaurant that uses no MSG but lots of nuts, tofu and wheat gluten. 2026 Irving St. (between 21st and 22nd avenues), (415) 731-2548.
Shaws San Francisco: Candies, gifts and Mitchell's ice cream. 122 West Portal Ave. (between 14th Avenue and Vicente Street), (415) 681-2702.
Skylight Cafe: Gourmet coffees and teas, pastries, bagels, vegan soups and sandwiches. Open mike on Saturday nights. 1722 Taraval St. (between 27th and 28th avenues), (415) 682-7286.
So: So draws a young, hip crowd with its stylish butter-yellow walls, crimson trim and wooden tables polished to a high gloss. The fare is Chinese with Japanese touches, noodle dishes and rice plates that almost all cost around $6. Try the noodles with stir-fried strips of pork, tree ear fungus and lots of garlic. Potstickers taste very homemade, and the stir-fried green beans are delicious. 2240 Irving St. (near 23rd Avenue); (415) 731-3143.
Spiazzo Caff�: Reasonably priced Italian lunch and dinner standards. 33 West Portal Ave. (between Ulloa and Vicente streets), (415) 664-9511.
Sunrise Deli: Traditional Middle Eastern fare in a no-frills space. Chicken and lamb shawarma glisten on spits in the front window, and the aroma is enough to lure diners indoors for what will be a memorable meal. Start with a half pint of chunky cucumber and yogurt salad or six briny dolmas. For the main meal, in addition to shawarma, falafel stars. Choose from three types of falafel sandwiches, the best option being a super falafel packed with eggplant and herb-tinged potatoes. Specialty items and ingredients are available for purchase, and Sunrise specializes in catering for large parties as well. Scattered tables provide options for seating, but many choose to grab food to go. (-SF Chronicle) 2115 Irving St. (near 22nd Avenue), (415) 664-8210.
Taiwan Point: The menu covers lots of ground, from street food like Chinese doughnuts and green onion cake to Taiwanese pork ball soup and preserved cabbage with lamb hot pot. Be adventuresome and try the more unusual braised items including pig ears or seaweed. If you still have room, milk teas, shaved ice and soy bean cheese are available for dessert. (-SF Chronicle) 1920 Irving St. (near 20th Avenue); (415) 665-9879.
Taraval Okazu Ya: Hot and cold Japanese standards. 1735 Taraval St. (between 27th and 28th avenues), (415) 759-6850.
Tasana Thai: Thai cuisine; open for dinner only. 339 Taraval St. (between Funston Street and 15th Avenue), (415) 664-7603.
Tel-Aviv Kosher Meats: Full-service butcher, plus lox, matzoh, kosher wines, gefilte fish and more. 2495 Irving St. (at 26th Avenue), (415) 661-7588.
Tennessee Grill: American standards in a diner setting; just the place to fill up. 1128 Taraval St. (between 21st and 22nd avenues), (415) 664-7834.
Thanh Long: Vietnamese restaurant featuring roasted crab. Dinner only. 4101 Judah St. (at 46th Avenue), (415) 665-1146.
West Portal Bakery: Pastries and breads, and tables to eat them at. 170 West Portal Ave. (between 14th Avenue and Vicente Street), (415) 681-4546.
Yum Yum Fish: Top-quality sushi, sashimi and fancy rolls are a deal at this small restaurant/fish market. The dragon roll or sushi combo with another roll is plenty for two, and is served with complimentary hot tea (for orders over $10). Don't dally; the fish market closes at 6:30 p.m. and last call for sushi is 7:15 p.m. (-SF Chronicle) 2181 Irving St. (at 23rd Avenue), (415) 566-6433.
Antiquarios: Furniture and furnishings, carpets and lamps, plus restoration of antique porcelain, enamel, ivory and bronze. 9 West Portal Ave. (at Ulloa Street), (415) 564-1338.
Aqua Culture Surf & Snowboard Shop: Boards and other equipment for riding water in its various forms. 2830 Sloat Blvd. (between 46th and 47th avenues), (415) 242-9283.
Axscents for Home: Details for your house. 329 West Portal Ave. (between 14th and 15th Avenues), (415) 566-9431.
Big Swingin' Cycles: Cannondale, Marin and lots of other two-wheeled favorites. 1122 Taraval St. (between 21st and 22nd avenues), (415) 661-2462.
Bike Nook: This bike shop is packed to the rafters with stuff. 3004 Taraval St. (at 40th avenue), (415) 731-3838.
Free as a Bird: Kites, kite surfboards, kite buggies and everything else wind powered. 3620 Wawona St. (between 47th Avenue and the Great Highway), (415) 665-4359.
Goodwill Boutique: While it features more adult garb than thrift stores in, say, the Haight, Goodwill still goes easy on your wallet. 61 West Portal Ave. (between Ulloa and Vicente streets), (415) 665-7291.
Growing Up: Cool books and toys for infants, toddlers and children. 240 West Portal Ave. (between 14th Avenue and Vicente Street), (415) 661-6304.
Hausen Home: Candles, pillows, picture frames and other stuff for the home. 80 West Portal Ave. (between Vicente and Ulloa streets), (415) 731-6600.
Irish Delights: Irish specialty foods, newspapers and gifts. 77 West Portal Ave. (at Vicente Street), (415) 664-1250.
Music Store: CDs, LPs, videos, laserdiscs and DVDs bought and sold. 66 West Portal Ave. (between Ulloa and Vicente streets), (415) 664-2044.
Nomad Cyclery: Bike shop with lots of maps that'll aid Bay Area explorations. 2555 Irving St. (at 27th Avenue), (415) 564-3568.
Occidental Power: SF's only solar-power store. 3629 Taraval St. (between 46th and 47th avenues), (415) 681-8861.
Play It Again Sports: New and used sporting goods ready for action. 45 West Portal Ave. (between Ulloa and Vicente streets), (415) 753-3049. (
San Francisco Wine Trading Company: Domestic and imported wines and liquors. 250 Taraval St. (at Funston Street), (415) 731-6222.
Skate Pro Sports: Rent or buy hockey skates and gear. 3401 Irving St. (at 35th Avenue), (415) 242-0706.
Stonestown Galleria: Large shopping center anchored by Nordstrom and Macy's, with 120 other stores, plus restaurants and a movie theater. 3251 20th Ave. (at Winston Street), (415) 759-2623. (
Sunset Music: Sheet music and musical instruments. Check out the world map and the drawing of the cathedral at Cologne done entirely in music notes. 2311 Irving St. (between 24th and 25th avenues), (415) 731-1725.
Sunset Soccer: Cleats, jerseys, shin guards, videos of classic games and everything else for the soccer jock. 3214 Irving St. (between 32nd and 33rd avenues), (415) 753-2666.
Sunset Sports: Specializing in tennis. 2101 Taraval St. (at 31st Avenue), (415) 664-6888.
Waldenbooks: The chain bookstore's entry to West Portal. 255 West Portal Ave. (between 14th Avenue and Vicente Street), (415) 664-7596.
West Portal Antiques: Antique furniture and furnishings for the home. 199 West Portal Ave. (between 14th Avenue and Vicente Street), (415) 242-9470.
West Portal Books: Packed used-book store with back rooms to explore. 111 West Portal Ave. (between 15th Avenue and Vicente Street), (415) 731-5291.
White Rose Boutique: Funky women's fashions. 242 West Portal Ave. (between 14th Avenue and Vicente Street), (415) 681-5411.
Empire Cinema: First-run movie theater. 85 West Portal Ave. (between Ulloa and Vicente streets), (415) 661-2539.
Fahey's Lounge: Solid Irish bar with sports on the tube. 1355 Taraval St. (at 24th Avenue), (415) 566-7700.
Grandma's Saloon: Good ol' neighborhood bar. 1016 Taraval St. (between 20th and 21st avenues), (415) 665-7892.
Joxer Daly's: Irish pub with your favorites on draft and sports on the tube. 46 West Portal Ave. (between Ulloa and Vicente streets), (415) 564-1412.
Sand Bar: Neighborhood watering hole for surfers and others. 3639 Taraval St. (between 46th and 47th avenues), (415) 759-7263.
West Portal Station: Formerly the Philosophers Club, this bar is under new management and ready for business. 824 Ulloa St. (between West Portal and Claremont avenues), (415) 753-0599.