I left it in a handful of coffee shops, in fact, and each time I fly back to San Francisco I fall a little deeper in latte love. The City by the Bay is one of my favourite destinations on the Virgin Atlantic network and when it comes to adding more coffee hotspots to my little black book, this west coast city is hard to beat. Here are a few of my current faves.
Sipping at Sightglass
You rarely need to go more than a few steps in San Francisco to enjoy a great morning brew. I like to start my day at the eternally hip, sibling-owned Sightglass Coffee, and my favourite of their four locations is the flagship shop/cafe/roastery in SoMa (short for South of Market Street, a downtown, warehouse-filled neighbourhood known for its museums, tech companies and hotels). Sightglass’s original store is set in bright industrial surroundings, with clean metal lines and raw wood beams reminding me of a huge barn, minus the hay. But don’t let the soaring glass windows, vast open space and gigantic coffee roaster deceive you into thinking this is somewhere cold or unwelcoming – it’s not. Warm wood hues, soft amber lighting and stacks of bean-filled burlap sacks help soften the edges, while the smell of freshly roasted coffee makes you feel cosy and at home.
As I wait patiently for my coffee to brew, an early morning sunbeam illuminates my buttery, fluffy, flourless almond cake, and I almost devour it before my cortado arrives. If I visit in the afternoon I prefer to sit up by the second coffee bar on the quieter mezzanine level, where I can still peer down over the comings and goings below, but also concentrate on my book with only a gentle soundtrack of clinking cups and fingers tapping keyboards for company.
Sightglass source their delicious coffees from all over the world. I particularly like the Owl’s Howl espresso; a blend of Colombian, Ethiopian and Guatemalan beans, which has notes of warm honey, toasty cocoa nibs sweetened with cherry-like stone fruit, and a hint of candied citrus peel. It’s delicious with milk too. I’d recommend the vanilla paste latte as an afternoon pick me up, or an individually brewed filter coffee first thing, to kick start your day and combat any jet lag.
Sightglass Coffee, 270 7th Street, SoMa, San Francisco
In with the old
I often head over to the Italian neighbourhood of North Beach, a charming and energetic district home to locally owned bakeries, boutiques and bookstores, as well as the long-established Caffe Trieste just off the main thoroughfare of Columbus Avenue. Founded by Italian émigré Giovanni Giotta in 1956, it was the first espresso house this side of town (and said to be the first on the whole of the west coast) and was a famous hangout for Beat generation writers and poets in the late 1950s and 60s – a legacy which still lingers today.
In an ever evolving world of Modbar espresso systems and robotic cafes, Caffe Trieste is every bit the traditional coffee spot in San Francisco and still an absolute hit with the locals. It’s somewhere I love to go for a perfectly crafted double espresso or a foam-topped cappuccino, where I can sit and listen to the rustling of newspaper pages and animated conversations, and just watch the world go by.
Caffe Trieste: 601 Vallejo Street, North Beach, San Francisco
Sand dunes and salty air
One of my favourite coffee escapes is a short hop from downtown San Francisco, just a block from the broad, three-mile Ocean Beach on the Pacific side of the city. Before heading to crunch my toes into the sand and watch the elusive snowy plover birds glide across the sea, I make my way to Andytown coffee, a specialty roaster in the Sunset district, where the easy, breezy atmosphere sits perfectly with the beachside vibe.
I always order their iced specialty called, aptly enough, the snowy plover. This is a seriously delicious combination of sparkling water, two espresso shots and brown sugar syrup, topped off with a quenelle of homemade whipped cream – sheer decadence. It uses Andytown’s own Short Strand espresso blend, and if you like your coffee notes toffee-like with a milk chocolatey finish this is for you. Other signature coffees and all the usual suspects are on the menu if the snowy plover is a little too indulgent for your palette.
Next up is the original Andytown site (this small local chain is worth two visits) which sits next to a surfboard repair shop on Lawton Street, and with only a few table spots outside it feels neighbourly. I find myself reading the local notice board advertising for volunteers to help keep the ocean and beach clean. I love the salty, seaside feel of this area, and with the beach, the sunsets and two kinds of snowy plover to discover, there’s certainly a reason to visit.