Outer Richmond

Outer Richmond

San Francisco, CA

Outer Richmond

- Before 1900, most of the San Franciscans in the Richmond District were the deceased inhabitants of the municipal and Chinese cemeteries. It's taken over a hundred years for the Outer Richmond to blossom from a giant vacant lot into prime (albeit foggy) real estate. At the turn of the 20th century, it was little but sand dunes and potato fields and was dubbed "The Outer Lands" and "The Great Sand Waste" until streetcars opened it up to the public. Early in its history, those eager to sell homes and property in other parts of the Richmond tried to rechristen it "Park Presidio," but the original moniker stuck fast, though the origins of "Richmond"are uncertain. The most common explanation is that an early settler saw in its stark, gently hilly landscape echoes of his old home in Richmond, New South Wales, Australia.

While the Inner Richmond is a restaurant haven and one of the city's more difficult parking areas, the Outer Richmond retains a neighborhood feel along its main shopping streets. The many waves of immigrants who have settled have put their stamp on it; whole blocks along Geary Boulevard hum with Russian and Cantonese speakers, and you can find Mexican, Russian, French and Italian restaurants with ease, not to mention a plethora of establishments serving food from every corner of Asia.

Like the Outer Richmond itself, Geary calms down considerably after 25th Avenue as it meanders off into the fog and ultimately ends at the Pacific Ocean.

About that fog -- the weather in the Outer Richmond is notoriously unpredictable, ranging from full sun to blustery, grit-filled winds to a thick blanket of fog, often shifting by the hour. The fog closes in rapidly after 3 pm on many summer afternoons, which can make for very chilly beachcombing, but the booming foghorns and marine breezes are exhilarating and romantic in their own right.

Sights and Culture

Baker and China Beaches: In 1900, China Beach, then known as Phelan Beach, served as a camp for Chinese fishermen. Today, it's a popular bathing beach, and one of the only places in the city where you can swim safely. During a very low tide you can wade out and around the protruding rock cliff and find yourself at the south end of Baker Beach, which is about a quarter-mile away by car. Mile-long Baker Beach isn't protected enough to avoid the ominous pull of the riptide, but it's far more stunning than China Beach. It's also home to a series of huge concrete bunkers built during World War II; they house giant cannons that remain eternally pointed seaward at invaders that never came. Today, the chief attraction at Baker Beach is the beach itself -- and the nude sunbathers, who occupy the northernmost stretch of beach. The opportunity to frolic au natural just miles from a major urban center just seems too enticing for some to pass up, regardless of the fickle sunshine and chilly breezes. The merging of the russet-colored Marin Headlands with the Golden Gate Bridge provides one of the most stunning photo opportunities in the world, and locals see many tourists, wedding parties and wanna-be supermodels enjoying the backdrop -- and shivering from the cold.

Balboa Theatre: This art-house theatre shows second- and third-run Euro and indie flicks. 3630 Balboa St. (at 37th Avenue), (415) 221-8184.

4-Star Theatre: There are only a handful of neighborhood theatres left in San Francisco, and the Richmond has two great ones left. The 4-Star shows the best of Asian cinema, with and without martial arts, as well as European art-house films you forgot you wanted to see. Parking can be a real hassle, so take Muni bus #2 instead, and leave enough time for a preshow or postshow dinner in the neighborhood. 2200 Clement St. (at 23rd St.), (415) 666-3488. Chronicle article: Giant Camera/Camera Obscura: The Giant Camera is housed in a square yellow building at Point Lobos, overlooking the sea. A series of mirrors and concave lenses work like a periscope and rotate, providing a 360-degree view of all that's outside. You can see views of the sea, Seal Rocks, the Cliff House, the Great Highway, Sutro Cliffs and Ocean Beach if you stay around for the full six minutes it takes to do a complete rotation. For a while, the Giant Camera was in danger of being taken down, but a letter-writing campaign saved it, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 2001.

Lincoln Park: Most people know Lincoln Park for two things: The Palace of the Legion of Honor and the golf course. Fewer know about the park's easy access to Land's End and a portion of the Coastal Trail that runs about six miles along the bluff above the sea, from Baker Beach to Ocean Beach. Walkers along this path will be treated with incredible views and a series of alarming yet amusing warning signs with messages like, "Danger: People have fallen from these rocks and drowned." What a downer.

Ocean Beach: Spanning about four miles from the Cliff House to Fort Funston, Ocean Beach looks as inviting as Malibu from a distance (try viewing it from above at Sutro Park). In reality, only the hardiest wet-suited surfers dare take a dip; riptides, powerful currents and cold water make real swimming very difficult. But the beach itself is a jewel, and on sunny weekends it's full of kite flyers, wakeboarders and pick-nicking families. The north end, at Kelly's Cove, is a prime spot to watch surfers; the more isolated south end is home to dog walkers, cliff swallows and hang gliders -- if the wind is right. When the sun is out, hundreds flock to Ocean Beach to watch it set, but during spring storm season, it's equally awesome to watch mammoth waves assault the beach with frightening ferocity.

Palace of the Legion of Honor: Perched at the top of Lincoln Park, overlooking Seacliff, the Richmond and the sea, the Palace of the Legion of Honor was built in the 1920s to honor Californians who died in France in World War I. It was originally intended to showcase French art, but its raison d'tre has enlarged over the decades, and now it features art from around the world. Last summer it hosted a huge Georgia O'Keeffe show, and it now houses the Anderson Graphic Arts Collection, including works by Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Diebenkorn. 34th Avenue at Clement Street, (415) 863-3330.

The Presidio: Although the Presidio flanks the Richmond, it's really a separate entity, and not even a neighborhood, though a few hundred people are lucky enough to live there, and it has its own post office, golf course and bowling alley. First established as a military fort in 1776, it's seen soldiers through the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, both world wars and the Korean War. It was also filled with tents and shacks to provide relief to survivors of the 1906 earthquake and fire. It's a veritable treasure trove of San Francisco history, but it's also a park and an area of outstanding natural beauty that's easily accessible from the Outer Richmond at either Park Presidio Boulevard or 25th Avenue.

Seal Rocks: Depending on the strength of your senses, you'll either hear or smell the inhabitants of Seal Rocks before you get two hundred yards from the Cliff House. These densely populated and terribly fishy-smelling rocks provide a daytime sunning place for scads of barking sea lions and the birds who eat their leftovers. Tourists can watch from the Cliff House, the cliffs or the sidewalk; spotting telescopes along the sidewalk will eat your pocket change like mad.

Sutro Park and Baths: Adolph Sutro, San Francisco millionaire and onetime mayor, sure had an eye for great real estate. On a sunny day, Sutro Park is a perfect park for a picnic; on a foggy, windy day, you'll wish Sutro's mansion were still there so you could run inside and get warm. The public baths he built to capitalize on a small ocean cove have, obviously, been dismantled, but with today's energy worries, it's probably for the best. According to historians of San Francisco, the seven freshwater and saltwater tanks, containing almost 2 million gallons and kept at different temperatures, were housed in a "light and airy" glass, iron and concrete structure. A 1912 issue of PG&E magazine mentions seven toboggan slides, 510 private dressing rooms and a 3,700-seat amphitheatre. Hungry swimmers could eat at three restaurants that seated 1,000. In 1937, after realizing the baths were losing money, owners turned the property into an ice rink, then sold it to developers in 1966, when a fire reduced the once-magnificent structure to rubble. It's simply incredible that Sutro kept his private property open for public use; he could have put stone walls around it and made it as insular and inviolable as Seacliff. Now, it's woefully underused, but the site of the mansion and the skeletal foundation of the baths complex remain for pick-nickers and explorers.


Al-Masri: Very good Egyptian food served in beautiful, colorful surroundings. Try the lamb kebabs, baked quail and hummus. Belly dancing featured every night. (-SF Chronicle) 4031 Balboa St. (at 41st Avenue), (415) 876-2300. (

Aziza: Chef Mourad Lahlou's exceptional Moroccan food, approached with a California sensibility, is light and fresh. The best way to enjoy the evening -- which includes a sexy, somewhat exotic environment complete with belly dancing throughout the night -- is to order the chef's five-course tasting menu ($39). Exciting wine list, plus a full bar. (-SF Chronicle) 5800 Geary Blvd. (at 22nd Avenue), (415) 752-2222.

Bazaar Café: Like many of the best hangouts in the Outer Richmond, the Bazaar is tucked away on a mainly residential street. The place serves decent coffee and pastries in a cozy, quiet and inviting space with plenty of cozy nooks for private conversations or study sessions. It also offers live music, which brings crowds big enough to be interesting but small enough so you can find a place to sit. 5927 California St. (at 21st Avenue), (415) 831-5620.

Bill's Place: Sit at the counter and scarf a burger named after a San Francisco celebrity, and you'll find out what you're missing when you hit the fast-food restaurants -- real meat and an old-fashioned atmosphere. Bill's is the kind of neighborhood institution that people don't patronize often enough and yet sorely regret losing. 2315 Clement St. (at 24th Avenue), (415) 221-5262.

Bok Choy Garden: Vegetarians rule the menu at this Chinese restaurant, and the spicy Hunan "chicken" never clucked a day in its life. Egg rolls are filled with vegetables and tofu. Bok choy, and many other kinds of choy (greens), are the order of the day. 1820 Clement St. (at 19th Avenue), (415) 387-8111.

Caffé Mono: This is one of a number of youth-oriented hangouts in the Richmond; perhaps its relative proximity to George Washington High School and the Geary bus line keeps the kids coming. It's a bright, cheerful and inviting space, though it can get a bit noisy. 6157 Geary Blvd. (at 26th Avenue), (415) 831-0633.

Chapeau!: Chapeau! serves up excellent French-bistro classics, including cassoulet and coq au vin. It offers three-course menus, à la carte dishes and a vegetarian selection. The dining space can get a little cramped, but the service is friendly, and if this place is right around the corner from your house, you're to be envied. 1408 Clement St. (at 15th Avenue), (415) 750-9787.

Cliff House Bistro: While Sutro (is the new centerpiece restaurant at this San Francisco landmark, Cliff House Bistro is a more casual dining option. An Art Deco feel permeates the room, with large glass etchings and a long wooden bar. Tables are flanked by photos of the personalities who have visited the Cliff House over the years. The menu emphasizes seafood, with starters like mussels with chorizo and Dungeness crab cakes with mango salsa. For dinner, entrees range from traditional cioppino to miso-marinated sea bass. For carnivores, braised short ribs come with onion spaetzle, and a classic New York steak has Maytag blue cheese melting on top. It can get chilly by the ocean, so cozy up with the homey sour cream chocolate cake with hot fudge for dessert. (-SF Chronicle) 1090 Point Lobos Ave., (415) 386-3330.

India Clay Oven: The restaurant moved across the street, but the menu of North Indian favorites and specialties from the tandoor remained intact. The much larger space is divided into two dining rooms, with hand-painted murals, including one of the Golden Temple, gracing the walls in the front. The old space is still available for private parties. 2436 Clement St. (near 25th Ave.), (415) 751-0505.

El Mansour: This Moroccan restaurant's new space (the old was next door) recreates the romance of the North African country with hand-painted wood furnishings, a fountain and tents imported from Morocco. The old menu items are still available, but there are new dishes to try, like fish and rabbit tagines, and chicken with onions and olives. Each is served on the prix-fixe menus, which include soup, salad, bastela, dessert and tea. Belly dancer also included (nightly). (-SF Chronicle) 3119 Clement St. (near 32nd Avenue),(415) 751-2312.

Garden House Café: There's actually a garden at this sunny, pleasant café, which is not too far from the Lincoln Park golf course and the Palace of the Legion of Honor. The Garden House serves coffee drinks and deli-style sandwiches, and there are several seating areas, including the peaceful back patio, which can sometimes be spare in the way of plants but nevertheless feels like a haven. 3117 Clement Street (at 32nd Avenue), (415) 668-1640.

Great India: Of all the Indian restaurants in the neighborhood, Great India has the most favorable combination of virtues: ample seating, low (but not too low) prices and good, if somewhat inconsistent, quality. Chicken Makhani and Channa Masala are good bets here. 6127 Geary Blvd. (at 25th Avenue), (415) 751-4433.

Hong Kong Villa: This Chinese seafood restaurant is always full of chattering families sitting around huge tables, especially on weekend nights, and it's dependably good. 2332 Clement Street (at 25th Avenue), (415) 752-8833.

Jang Soo: This charming Korean BBQ spot continues to draw in a loyal crowd of regulars. Perfectly marinated kalbi (beef ribs), savory jop-chae (noodles), hot soups and the dizzying assortment of complimentary appetizers make over-ordering the biggest mistake you'll never regret. 6314 Geary Blvd. (at 27th Avenue), (415) 831-8282.

-- Dan Wu, SF Gate

Jasmine House: Jasmine House is deservedly famous for its roast crab and its garlic noodles. Don't walk down Clement Street near this restaurant while you're hungry, because the delicious odors of garlic and simmering seafood will drive you insane. 2301 Clement Street (at 24th Avenue), (415) 668-3382.

Joe's Ice Cream: Visit one of San Francisco's few remaining old-style lunch counters, complete with worn-out formica and rotating stools. Joe's has been around since 1959 because its ice cream is terrific, and you can get it in cones, malts, sundaes, floats, sodas, banana splits or chocolate-coated ice-cream sandwiches that mimic the It's It. The sandwich menu includes classic (and modestly priced) American favorites like grilled cheese, hot dogs and BLTs. 5351 Geary Blvd. (at 17th Avenue), (415) 751-1950.

Kabuto A&S: For 20 years, Kabuto Sushi built a cultlike following at its previous location across the street. This spot is half the size, modest but pleasant with bright yellow walls and storefront windows. The congenial family feel of the place is enough to draw a crowd in itself, but it's the sushi that sets this small restaurant apart. It's probably the best in the city considering the reasonable prices, the quality and the amount of work that goes into preparing each piece of food. Chef Sachio Kojima mixes it up with creative dishes like foie gras sushi; you could bring a party of four every night for a week and still not work your way through the menu. (--SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 5121 Geary Blvd. (near 16th Avenue), (415) 752-5652.

Khan Toke Thai House: Khan Toke was one of the first Thai restaurants in San Francisco, and it still has a citywide reputation; it's mentioned in several big-time Bay Area travel guides. People are willing to remove their shoes and sit cross-legged while they eat here, so you know the food has to be good. 5937 Geary Blvd. (at 23rd Avenue), (415) 668-6654.

La Vie: Locals would put the Vietnamese cuisine at this Outer Richmond landmark up against the Slanted Door's any day. Traffic can get just as snarled here as in the Mission, and you're likely to see even more cell phones, but the food is worth it, and there's a lot less attitude and a lower cost. Try anything with lemongrass, or the chicken in coconut milk with hot peppers. 5830 Geary Blvd. (at 22nd Avenue), (415) 668-8080.

Louis': This family-run diner serves traditional diner fare, but when you consider that it has almost the same views as the Cliff House, with decent food at less than half the price, it makes sense to line up with the rest of Louis' fans and wait a few minutes for a table. 902 Point Lobos Ave., (415) 387-6330.

Lucky Fortune Seafood Restaurant: Reasonably well-crafted food at bargain prices. Try the West Lake minced beef soup, minced pork with tofu and salted fish, dried scallop soup with Chinese chives and tofu or, if you like your flavors bold, the oysters with black bean sauce. Basic dishes like broccoli beef and lemon chicken are also done well. The decor is no frills but casually comfortable. (--SF Chronicle) 5715 Geary Blvd. (between 21st and 22nd avenues), (415) 751-2888.

Mayflower: Popular, bright Hong Kong-style dining room specializing in seafood dishes. Other good bets: dim sum and minced squab. Full bar. (-SF Chronicle) 6255 Geary Blvd., (at 27th Ave.), San Francisco; (415) 387-8338.

Minami Sushi: Minami is a true neighborhood sushi bar nestled on a corner in a residential area, just a few blocks from the 4-Star Theatre. Perhaps its unassuming exterior keep it from being mobbed, but locals know it as a dependable, consistently good place for sushi. 1900 Clement Street (at 20th Avenue), (415) 387-5913.

Pachi's: A menu of "seafood with a Latino flavor" includes mojito de camarones, chilled prawns in a clam gazpacho and an entree of roasted shellfish perfumed with Peruvian spices served in a cast-iron skillet. Gold walls and mahogany tables set the ambiance for dinner Tuesday-Sunday and brunch Saturday and Sunday. 1801 Clement St. (at 19th Ave.).

Russian Renaissance Restaurant: Lovers of borscht, blinis, smoked fish and the like say this place is worth trying, despite the 1980s Russo-gothic decor (complete with mirrored exterior). 5241 Geary Blvd. (at 17th Avenue), (415) 752-8558.

Shanghai Dumpling Shop: This small, bright place is known for Shanghai-style dishes as well as delicious soup dumplings -- tender pork dumplings filled with steaming hot soup, which gushes out when you take a bite. The menu also includes other savory and sweet dumplings, offal and salted meats, and several noodle dishes. 3319 Balboa St. (at 34th Avenue), (415) 387-2088.

Simple Pleasures Café: This café has the diverse, wacky crowd of a Mission District hangout in the small shopping area on Balboa. it also has probably the best (read: the strongest) coffee in the Outer Richmond, and full sun in the front in the morning and early afternoon. 3434 Balboa Street (at 35th Avenue), (415) 387-4022.

Sutro's, at the Cliff House: After months of renovation, the Cliff House opened Sutro's in September 2004, an upscale restaurant is located in a new building adjoining the original 1909 structure, where the more casual Cliff House Bistro as well as Cliff House ToGo will open soon. Sutro's is set in a steel-beamed glass tower suspended over the cliffs, with an open mezzanine that connects the dining rooms to a bar, an open kitchen and an upper lounge. Vintage photographs and a male mannequin in a Sutro Bath suit recall the almost 150-year history of this San Francisco institution. The menu emphasizes seafood, as well as locally raised vegetables and fruits. (-SF Chronicle) 1090 Point Lobos, (415) 386-3330.

The Sweet House: The sweet and chewy surprise at the bottom of your cup is the key to pearl-milk, or bubble, tea, which has traveled stateside from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The black pearls are actually balls of sweet-potato powder and sugar, not the white tapioca-root balls you can buy in a box at the grocery store. They're added to a mix of sugar, flavorings and condensed milk -- though the recipes vary widely. This Outer Richmond hangout serves up dozens of flavors, including taro, red-bean, litchi, watermelon and coconut, which you can mix and match to make your own secret favorite. Not everyone's crazy about the balls, but if you don't try them, you'll never know. 3512 Balboa Street (at 36th Avenue), (415) 876-1388.

Tommy's Mexican Restaurant: Offering food from Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula, plus great margaritas -- not to mention many, many, many kinds of tequila -- Tommy's is one of only three Mexican restaurants in the Outer Richmond, and it's definitely the best. 5929 Geary Blvd. (at 23rd Avenue), (415) 387-4747.

Ton Kiang: Ton Kiang is home to delicious Hakka cuisine, including the ever-popular salt-baked chicken and various meats and seafoods stewed in clay pots, but it's full all weekend long for those seeking dim sum. Try the steamed dumplings, crisp-skinned duck and garlic-laced pea shoots. 5821 Geary Blvd. (at 22nd Avenue), (415) 386-8530.

Zephyr Caffé: This cavernous café benefits from a great location near the Balboa Theatre and an enormous seating capacity; it feels more like a mini-cafeteria than a coffee shop. The coffee's on the weak side, but respectable, and the shop sells coffee beans and a variety of pastries. 3643 Balboa Street (at 37th Avenue), (415) 221-6063.


There's not a lot to buy in the Outer Richmond besides food. It remains a residential neighborhood, not a destination shopping area like Irving, Valencia, or Fillmore streets. This means that it's still well stocked with shops that contain things locals actually need -- hardware, drugs and sundries, paint, furniture, books and housewares of the non-decorative sort. You won't find any $35 aromatherapy candles or chenille throws here: This is a no-nonsense, no-frills neighborhood.

Friedman's Microwave Ovens: Okay, so it doesn't seem like an interesting shop. But it is! Not only can you find used and repaired small appliances for sale, you'll see a plethora of new small appliances for sale, and not the crummy, low-quality stuff you can get at K-Mart or Rite-Aid. Friedman's has European- and American-made goods and kitchenware, including juicers, microwaves and food processors. If you're looking for a good toaster or a quick-heat electric kettle, this is the only spot in the neighborhood where you might find it. 5509 Geary Blvd. (at 19th Avenue), (415) 221-0888.

Israeli Strictly Kosher Meat-Poultry and Deli: In the days of factory farming, E. coli, bovine spongeiform encephalopathy (a.k.a. mad cow disease) and just plain bad meat, a kosher meat market is -- forgive me -- a godsend for meat eaters of all religious persuasions. 5621 Geary Blvd. (at 21st Avenue), (415) 752-3064.

Kimberley's Consignment Couture: This shop has designer clothing for men and women from Armani to Versace, from Jil Sander to Max Mara -- and it's all marked down 50 percent to 75 percent off retail. Where is all this loot coming from, you ask? Well, Seacliff is a hop, skip and a jump away. 3020 Clement Street (at 32nd Avenue), (415) 752-2223.

Muzzy's Attic: Find cute consigned goods for the home and the garden in this stylish space. You never know when the glassware/dishes/small furniture piece you've been searching for all your life will appear, and if you find it here, it's likely to have a reasonable price on it. 3448 Balboa Street (at 35th Avenue), (415) 831-4338.

New World Market: Want a whole smoked haddock shrink-wrapped in plastic? Turkish fruit juices and jams? Lumpfish caviar? European butter? Russian soft drinks or Czech beer? Georgian, Moldovan or Bulgarian wine? Mysterious canned, "separated" beef? This is the place. 5641 Geary Blvd. (at 21st Avenue), (415) 751-8810.

Wonderland: The only shops on Geary Boulevard that are more crowded with local kids than Wonderland are cell-phone shops. But what are they after? Whatever Asian-made toys happen to be hip at the moment: Pokemon, Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Digimon, etc. 6149 Geary Blvd. (at 26th Avenue), (415) 831-7666.


Bars are a little difficult to find because the lion's share of the Richmond's famous Irish bars are in the Inner Richmond, but the neighborhood does have a classic or two.

The Blarney Stone: The Outer Richmond's major Irish bar moved down the street last year, and now Guinness can be had, and football watched, in newer, swankier, more spacious digs. Sure, all the best spots are in the Inner Richmond, but you can't find a bar stool to save your life on a weekend night at Ireland's 32. 5625 Geary Blvd. (at 21st Avenue), (415) 386-9914.

Trad'r Sam: Trad'r Sam is an Outer Richmond institution, and it's so popular on weekend nights that the energetic, talkative crowd spills out onto the sidewalk. People come all the way from the Marina (or farther) for blended tropical-theme drinks like Scorpions and Piña Coladas. On weekday nights, the scruffy furniture and private booth-style seating provide the perfect setting for a fruity, boozy tete-á-tete. 6150 Geary Blvd. (at 26th Avenue), (415) 221-0773.
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