Russian HillRussian Hill is a residential neighborhood with pockets of restaurants and shops, feels a bit more visitor-friendly than its more formal neighbor, Nob Hill. The views are also just as dazzling.
The neighborhood got its name when gold rushers found seven Cyrillic-inscribed gravestones at the top of the hill. Consensus on the identity of the Russian men buried there -- they were reputed to be anything from sailors to fur trappers -- was never reached, the gravestones disappeared in the late 1800s and the Russian influence has long since dissipated.
Charming restaurants and small businesses cluster on leafy Hyde Street between Jackson and Union Streets, and Polk Street is crowded with unusual boutiques, antique shops, trendy restaurants and night spots. A mini French quarter has sprung up around Polk and Green, where you'll find a great bistro, a traditional café-boulangerie, a French antiques store, and several French-influenced gift and home décor shops.
The center of Russian Hill is accessible by the Hyde-Powell cable car and two Muni buses, the 41 (weekday rush hour only) and the 45. The 19 runs along Polk Street, stopping frequently from Ghirardelli Square to the Tenderloin.
For more information on events, history and local issues, see the Russian Hill Neighbors Web site at www.rhn.org.
Lombard Street: Known as "the world's crookedest street," Lombard winds past ornate houses (one of which was home to the San Francisco edition of "The Real World") and lush, flowering bushes. Between Hyde and Leavenworth streets.
Parks, Gardens and Great Views: Although the bursting hydrangeas along Lombard Street are pretty, there are more leisurely places to enjoy the outdoors. Alice Marble Park, at the corner of Greenwich and Larkin streets, is a block away and offers a stunning view of the neighborhood's historical houses. Ina Coolbrith Park (at the intersection of Taylor and Vallejo streets) has steep steps lined with thick trees and a patch of grass where locals sunbathe (fog permitting) and read. With its sweeping views of the Bay, North Beach, the Bay Bridge and the lower Financial District, it's also a favorite, lesser-known spot to watch fireworks. Adjacent to the park are the Vallejo Ramps -- steep, zigzagging steps -- between Jones and Taylor streets. From there (or anywhere at the top of the hill), the view of the Bay and Alcatraz is stunning. Over at Macondray Lane (known to Armistead Maupin fans as Barbary Lane), get a behind-the-scenes look at life in the neighborhood as you go from busy Union Street to hidden urban gardens.
San Francisco Art Institute: The architects behind San Francisco's City Hall designed this Spanish-style structure, complete with bell tower, in the 1920s. Stop in to view the school's imposing and magnificent Diego Rivera mural, or to take in a student exhibit or artist lecture. The school café is open to the public and offers comforting staples like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, burgers and just-baked cookies, accompanied by a splendid view of the Bay. 800 Chestnut St., (415) 771-7020. www.sfai-art.com)
ShoppingAcorn Books: There are thousands of used books to browse at this neighborhood establishment. The collection covers all categories, but specialty subjects include San Francisco and California history, art and belles lettres. 1436 Polk St., (415) 563-1736. www.acornbooks.com
Atelier des Modistes: Seek out this boutique for custom-made and ready-to-wear evening and bridal gowns. Suzanne Hanley's designs incorporate rich silks and satins and are adorned with detailing such as vintage trim, satin flowers, beading and gemstones. The studio also spotlights jewelry by local artists as well as sculpture and photography by co-proprietor Christopher Farris. 1903 Hyde St., (415) 775-0545. atelierdesmodistes.com
Beauty Company: The hair care and beauty products at this corner shop run the gamut of styles: Mop, for the lemongrass shampoo-loving gourmand, Sebastian for salon addicts, Bedhead for rock 'n' rollers, and everything else in between. 2259 Polk St., (415) 567-8740.
Brown Dirt Cowboy: Part gardening store, part gourmet-kitchen outfitter, Brown Dirt Cowboys feeds the neighborhood's desire for eclectic, eccentric and tasteful home decorations. 2406 Polk St., (415) 922-9065.
Brownie's Hardware: Owned and run by the same local family for more than 30 years, Brownie's has a small-town feel and offers one-on-one help on DIY projects. Walk in with any question and you'll walk out with a thorough yet manageable answer. 1563 Polk St., (415) 673-8900.
Cole Hardware: SF's favorite hardware store chain opened this fourth location with the blessing of Brownie's Hardware in 2003. The community-minded business offers assistance programs to schools and nonprofits, as well as all kinds of recycling services to the public. Check the Web site for tons of DIY advice. 2254 Polk St. (at Green), (415) 674-8913. www.colehardware.com
Cherries: This florist shop has more personality than most. You get the sense that the flowers were gathered from some nearby cottage garden -- the arrangements have a loose, country-influenced style. The store also carries vintage items such as quaint porcelain dishes and floral paintings. 2436 Polk St., (415) 441-0310.
Cris: An elegant resale shop specializing in glamorous clothes in impeccable condition from designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Tocca and Prada. 2056 Polk St., (415) 474-1191.
Dylan: Buyer Samantha Traina (Danielle Steel's fashion-conscious daughter) picks an eclectic, feminine mix of L.A. style -- high-end floaty tops, dresses, skirts and jackets from labels like Desanka, Jill Stuart, Development and Catherine Malandrino -- and basic S.F. work wear -- like Autumn Cashmere sweaters, Theory jackets, and ballet flats from French Sole, a London label. It's run by the same troupe that created Vintage 415, a San Francisco events company that puts on fashion shows, restaurant openings and art gallery events. (SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 1506 Vallejo St. www.dylanboutique.com
Dylan's Shoes: The tiny sister store to Dylan's boutique. Lots of peep-toes and round-toe heels from an eclectic array of pricey up-to-the-second brands like Marc Jacobs, Loeffler Randall and Tara Subkoff for Easy Spirit. (-SF Chronicle) 1507 Vallejo St., (415) 922-7019. www.dylanboutique.com
Fioridella: In addition to big, contemporary flower arrangements with a dramatic flair, this floral design shop carries a bewitching selection of unusual gift items, most of them imports from far-flung places. From South Africa you might find brightly colored pigs and chickens, ingeniously fashioned from plastic bags and wire. Other items include oilcloth purses, zippered bark cloth pouches, glazed ostrich eggs and flip flops adorned with silk flowers. 1920 Polk St., (415) 775-4065.
Frame-o-Rama: This 25-year-old frame shop offers complete advice and artistic solutions for any picture problem. Weekends are busy, so visit on a weekday for a more leisurely pace. 1940 Polk St., (415) 441-3636.
Girl Stuff: It always easy to find something cute at this mini boutique, which specializes such girly essentials as jewelry, hair accessories, shoes and baby clothes. 2255 Polk St., (415) 409-2426.
Goldsmith American Antiques: One of many Polk Street antique stores, Goldsmith specializes in miniatures and Americana. One-stop shopping for your country kitchen or unique nursery. 1924 Polk St., (415) 771-4055.
Jug Shop: More than a liquor store, this spirit, microbrew and wine mecca is staffed by the most knowledgeable sommeliers and mixologists in town. If they can't answer your question, they'll call someone who can. For last-minute dinner-party or picnic needs, it's conveniently located across the street from Leonard's 2001 Cheese Shop. 1567 Pacific Ave., (415) 885-2922.
La Place du Soleil: The wares at La Place du Soleil carry an air of gracious living, with an aesthetic that's a cross between an elegant manor house and a dainty Parisian parlor. Find English country linens in delicate floral patterns, high-quality French candies, whimsical antique china and some furniture. 2356 Polk St., (415) 771-4254.
La Tulipe Noire: Visiting this store is like stumbling upon an estate sale in the French countryside. The shop is crammed with French antiques and oddities: for the kitchen you'll find enameled cookware and china canisters, and there are plenty of paintings, chandeliers and decorative items to add a touch of charm to the rest of the house. 2418 Polk St., (415) 922-2000.
Leonard's 2001 Cheese Shop: In his spacious shop, owner Leonard Born offers a great selection of imported cheeses (at low prices, for the world of expensive cheese), as well as expert advice on available varieties and current specials. Also on hand are specialty dips, pastas, condiments and snacks. 2001 Polk St., (415) 921-2001.
Lollipop Collectibles and Gifts: Lollipop rounds up choice vintage finds as well as new items with a retro aesthetic. It stocks cookware, dishware, vintage tea towels and children's things, all in cheery '50s colors and styles, plus a range of kitschy cards and books. 2435 Polk St., (415) 921-5460.
Lombardi's Sports: Two-story palace of sporting goods to outfit all activities, seasons and styles. 1600 Jackson St., (415) 771-0600.
Molte Cose: The name of this three-room shop means "many things," and among its wares is a wide range of charming home adornments, clothes and accessories. Look for cornflower juice glasses, small oil still life paintings, French soaps and carefully selected vintage clothing. The second room features contemporary sweaters and shirts for men, as well as luxury desk accessories, barware and other manly gifts. Belle Cose, the lingerie portion of the shop, carries lacy under things by labels such as Cosabella and Only Hearts, as well as pretty little dresses in romantic prints. 2044 Polk St., (415) 921-5374.
Naomi's: Fans of midcentury pottery flock to Naomi's to gaze at his collection of Starburst and Oasis Franciscan dinnerware. The prices are steep, considering you could find some of these pieces at yard sales in Amarillo, but then again, you're probably not going to Amarillo anytime soon. 1817 Polk St., (415) 775-1207.
Nest: Sister store to the Fillmore St. branch, this Nest is feathered with a more limited yet equally sumptuous selection of European-influenced house wares and gifts. Find items such as silhouette portrait pillows, rustic white-glazed pottery, bed linens in vibrant hues and embroidered satin slippers. 2340 Polk St., (415) 292-6198.
One Half: With everything typically half off the original price at this home accessories and gift shop, One Half offers those whose apartments have become overwhelmed with Ikea a golden opportunity to diversify their décor. Look for rugs, artwork, throw pillows and baskets, as well as candles, body products, journals and frames. The store closes each July, prior to which the owners clear out the inventory by cutting prices in half again, bringing the discount up to 75%. 1837 Polk St., (415) 775-1416.
Prize: This bright and sparkly little shop is laden with whimsical yet elegant gifts, housewares, stationery and vintage treasures. On one visit the trove included embroidered pillows representing various US states, 1950s grammar school posters of animals, a selection of hotel silver, pink-and-green maps of Paris and letterpress note cards on lusciously heavy card-stock. 1415 Green St. (415) 771-7215.
Retro City Resale: Vintage-clothing store stocks lots of pillbox hats, Hawaiian shirts and tight brown leather jackets. 1825 Polk St., (415) 673-1144.
Russian Hill Antiques: New, handmade jewelry, antique furniture and home accessories. 2200 Polk St., (415) 441-5561.
Russian Hill Books: A used bookstore with stand-out selections of photography, architecture, children's and vintage transportation books. 2234 Polk St., (415) 929-0997.
Smoke Signals: News hounds and expatriates will find the current Le Monde, Time Out London and everything else they need at this international newsstand, including a comprehensive selection of American newspapers and journals. It also sells cigars, cigarettes and other tobacco-related goods. 2223 Polk St., (415) 292-6025.
Swallowtail: The antiques and oddities at Swallowtail run the gamut from fine old furniture and objects d'art to mid-century scavenging finds, with a unifying aesthetic of muted tones and an appreciation for artifacts of natural history. A tawny Louis chair in leopard velvet keeps company with a French marble angel, and those attracted to signage can stock up on ruby-colored marquis letters. Some items have a ghostly air, such as a turn-of-the-century public library sign for the town of Sleepy Hollow. But this trove of attic treasures is far from musty: the space is bright and breezy, with spectacular wall-to-wall skylights. 2217 Polk St., (415) 567-1555.
Vintage Poster Art: If you're looking for an original 1920's perfume advertisement or an Italian movie poster, Vintage Poster Art probably has it. Everything but the postcards are original and, therefore, not a decorating bargain. But the prices reflect the vast selection and high quality. 1830 Polk St., (415) 776-4178.
William Cross Wine Merchants: Weekly wine-tasting events lend a social, festive atmosphere and attract locals to this purveyor of boutique wines from around the world. 2253 Polk St., (415) 346-1314.
Zonal: Furnish your New York-loft dream world with vintage stainless steel desks, smooth and sexy couches, leather chairs and custom upholstering. 2139 Polk St., (415) 563-2220. www.zonalhome.com
The Bagelry: Line up with the masses for fresh-baked bagels, a variety of cream cheeses and toppings like lox and tomatoes. Mainly a takeout place, but there are a few tables outside. 2139 Polk St., (415) 441-3003.
Cafe Rex: Classic American cuisine served in an elegant interior marked by dark wood and brass accents. Popular for dinner and weekend brunch. On sunny days, highly coveted tables line the sidewalk. 2323 Polk St., (415) 441-2244. (Chronicle Review)
Frascati: Friendly service and lots of regular customers give this rustic restaurant the welcoming atmosphere of a true neighborhood favorite. Frascati features pan-European fare in a quirky, intimate setting that includes an open kitchen, a mezzanine balcony overlooking the main dining room, and several secluded nooks that fit just a table or two. Menu items might include paella, cassoulet or coq au vin, and stand-out desserts have included the black-and-white bread pudding and a light pumpkin cheesecake. 1901 Hyde St., (415) 928-1406. (Chronicle Review)
Habana: Interesting and exotic food with a Cuban twist, served in a fantastical tropical atmosphere. The drink list features five Cuban cocktails, including the best mojito you're likely to find. 2080 Van Ness (at Pacific), (415) 441-2822. (Chronicle Review/www.habana1948.com)
Harris': In these days of soy chai lattes and tofu spring rolls, stuffing yourself on an oversized cut of beef has become highly unorthodox. Thankfully, Harris' hasn't pandered to the Bay Area's changing diet, instead opting to perfect what they do best -- cook meat. They serve unfussy standards like porterhouse, as well as dressed-up classics like filet mignon topped with grilled foie gras. 2100 Van Ness Ave., (415) 673-1888. (Chronicle Review/www.harrisrestaurant.com)
Hyde Street Bistro: The husband-and-wife team that runs this inviting little bistro had a vision of presenting simple food in an unpretentious setting. Someday the American palate may consider sautéed escargot with gnocchi a simple meal, but until then the restaurant will have to content itself with a reputation for its intriguing French fare and cozy atmosphere. 1521 Hyde St., (415) 292-4415. (Chronicle Review)
La Folie: One of the most expensive restaurants in San Francisco has a whimsical interior -- clouds on the ceiling, hand-painted signs and closely set tables. The menu is traditional French, with California touches. The wine list focuses on California and French vintages. 2316 Polk St., (415) 776-5577. (Chronicle Review)
Le Petit Robert: Traditional French peasant food influences the small-plate menu at this elegantly casual bistro (run by Pascal Rigo of Chez Nous and Boulangerie Bay Bread). The restaurant's high, airy ceilings, warm-hued décor, and bustling pace are harmonious with the hearty simplicity of the food. 2300 Polk St., (415) 922-8100. (Chronicle Review)
Lemongrass: Good value Thai food in a cozy atmosphere. The cooks pay special attention to freshness and spice; the green curry (with seafood, vegetables or chicken) and pad thai are especially good. 2348 Polk St., (415) 929-1183. (Chronicle Review)
Little Thai: A green awning with the name of the restaurant points the way into a room with glass-topped tables and wall hangings. Expect well-spiced dishes with good levels of heat, as in kaneg ped, a coconut milk red curry with boneless roast duck, tomatoes and basil. There are rice and noodle dishes, and a decent version of pad Thai. On the way out, don't miss the curio cabinet filled with curious items for sale, including hand-knitted caps. (-SF Chronicle) 2065 Polk St. (at Broadway); (415) 771-5544. (Chronicle Review)
Nick's Crispy Tacos: This club by night, taqueria by day, dishes out flavors from Baja daily. Chomp down on crispy battered fish tacos as you dine under crystal chandeliers and images of Sponge Bob. Also excellent are the tacos done "Nick's way." Carnitas, carne asada, or chicken are stuffed into a soft corn tortilla that is wrapped around a deep-fried one and overflows with guacamole, cheese and salsa fresca. Cash only. (--SF Chronicle) 1500 Broadway (at Polk Street); (415) 409-8226.
Pesce: Visit this fish restaurant for simple seafood dishes with an Italian accent. The dark wood décor and tile floors give the place a clean, classic ambiance. 2227 Polk St., (415) 928-8025. (Chronicle Review)
Polkers: Get in line with the rest of the neighborhood on Saturday and Sunday mornings for overflowing skillets and scrambles. The all-American menu switches gears to burgers and deluxe salads for lunch and dinner. 2226 Polk St., (415) 885-1000.
Sushi Groove: The best sushi choice in the neighborhood has a trendy, posh interior and devastatingly gorgeous sake cocktails. Wait for your table at Bacchus Wine and Sake Bar next door. 1916 Hyde St., (415) 440-1905. (Chronicle Review)
Swenson's: This ice cream shop has been around for generations, super-fresh cones and overpacked pints to crowds on sunny days (and even some cold, foggy ones). Corner of Union and Hyde streets, (415) 775-6818.
Tablespoon: Closely packed tables, a row of mirrors and a partly open kitchen create a casual ambience that encourages banter among the eclectic patrons, while chandeliers, cherry wood-paneled walls and polished concrete floors lend a tailored impession that suits the neighborhood. The excellent California cuisine-style pasta, salads and main courses all seem to have some twist that raises them above the ordinary. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 2209 Polk St. (between Vallejo and Green), (415) 268-0140. (Chronicle Review)
YaYa: Yahya Salih's well-loved restaurant from the Inner Sunset has resurfaced, with a similar menu with dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean, Greece, Turkey and Iraq. The space features murals by the artist Moktar. 2424 Van Ness Ave., (between Union and Green), (415) 440-0455.
Yabbies Coastal Kitchen: Considered one of the best seafood restaurants in town. Eight kinds of fresh oysters are available by the dozen. 2237 Polk St., (415) 474-4088. (Chronicle Review)
Za Pizza: Too-large-to-hold gourmet pizza slices. Eat at the large bar or at one of the few small tables, or take it home. 1919 Hyde St., (415) 771-3100.
Zarzuela: There's usually a line outside this Spanish restaurant, and no wonder. The casual atmosphere, pitchers of sangria and tapas menu practically ensure a festive dinner. Highlights include the paella, garlic shrimp, mushrooms and fried bananas with black bean sauce. 2000 Hyde St., (415) 346-0800. (Chronicle Review)
Bacchus Wine & Sake Bar: What started out three years ago as an overflow bar for the always-packed Sushi Groove restaurant has become its own debonair destination. Grab a seat on one of eight bar stools or plop down on one of the leather love seats in the storefront window and groove to Euro-style lounge music while mingling with young neighborhood hipsters. The eclectic 50-bottle wine list focuses on small wineries from around the world -- there's even a wine from Lebanon -- and the bar offers 13 wines by the glass or half-glass. Want some sushi to go with that? Just give the bartender your order and pick up the goods a few doors down. (--Tina Caputo, special to SF Chronicle) 1954 Hyde St. (near Union Street), (415) 928-2633.
The Buccaneer: An unpretentious bar with great happy-hour specials and a free pool table. 2155 Polk St., (415) 673-8023.
Green's Sport Bar: If there is an important sporting event on, even at 9 am, Green's will be open for business. March Madness really packs them in with as many as 10 simultaneous games, and on an off day, it's one of the few bars in the area where you're likely to find a seat. 2239 Polk St., (415) 775-4287.
The Royal Oak: With its plush sofas, Tiffany-style lamps and jumble of potted plants, this popular bar is a relaxed, old-time feel saloon by day. After dark, however, it drops its sleepy demeanor and is transformed into a packed singles scene. 2201 Polk St., (415) 928-2303.
Tonic: In the space that once housed a working-class neighborhood bar is now Tonic, home to black clothes and pink cocktails. The interior is plush, with dark blue velvet couches and barstools, architectural light fixtures and floating candles on every table. Another plus is the jukebox, which specializes in alternative British bands such as Hooverphonic, the Smiths and Pulp. 2360 Polk St., (415) 771-5535.