Whether you’re into a chaotic bar scene, mellow speakeasy vibes, classical music, artistic dance performances, the opera or symphony, DF-infused dance beats, intimate live ensembles, piano bars or anything in between, you’ll find something to fit your musical temperament in San Francisco.

In Union Square, Harry Denton’s Starlight Room is a splashy yet sophisticated upscale cocktail and entertainment bar, while Latin vibes, world music and a menu ranging from traditional Bolivian dishes to raw-living organic (and 100 percent gluten free) are the focus at Pena Pachamama Downtown.

In the Castro, El Rio bills itself as “a LGBTQ-plus space that is welcoming to all good people.” The Madrone Art Bar in the Western Addition offers an all-encompassing artistic experience highlighted by live music, DJs, films, spoken word and dance performances and oodles of art, and the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in the Civic Center is home to the San Francisco Symphony, chamber, organ and other musical performances.

One of San Francisco’s quintessential entertainment spots, and a must-experience when in town, is Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon in North Beach. Presented cabaret-style, Beach Blanket Babylon—premiering in 1974—is recognized as the world’s longest running musical revue and has been experienced by nearly 6 million people, including professional athletes, A-List movie stars, international royalty and others from around the world. This nonstop, highly entertaining musical spoof is known for its unique (yet typically San Francisco) spin on pop culture through amazing musical numbers, extravagant costumes, outrageous headdresses and great theatrical dancing.

Contributing to its popularity and longevity is the show’s continual evolution, keeping it fresh, relevant and cutting edge, which really speaks to its international audience. With the exception of a few quips that may sail over the heads of those not familiar with San Francisco or California politics, the show is immensely enjoyable and, again, a “must-experience.”


All across the spectrum of gastronomic penchants, desires and necessities, from vegan to Italian, Indian, seafood, Caribbean, Korean, French, Thai, Russian, Japanese, soul food and more, the food scene in San Francisco draws from its 850,000 multifarious denizens who have come here from all over the globe, infusing the city with their familial, cultural and individual ingredients, recipes and styles. A great many city standouts have been hailed in numerous print and online publications, as well as local, hidden gems that only the locals—or those who relish dining at local neighborhood digs—wholeheartedly support.

That being said, there are so many amazing places (estimated to be more than 5,300), as well as those on my very long list of personal favs, that offering an eating “bucket list” just can’t be done. However, I will offer you the following taste-tempting morsels: The Stinking Rose: A Garlic Restaurant (North Beach) for contemporary California-Italian cuisine, whose motto is “We season our garlic with food”; Taddich Grill (Downtown), serving, in my opinion, the finest and freshest seafood on the planet; Eric’s Restaurant (Noe Valley), for outrageously good Mandarin and Hunan cuisine; La Mediterranee (Castro), offering a wide array of outstanding, affordable Lebanese, Greek, Armenian and other Middle Eastern cuisine; and La Taqueria (Mission), for great authentic, “grandma’s recipe” Mexican food, among others.

Despite my urge to run back to some of the aforementioned, on this visit I forced myself to broaden my palate (pardon the pun) and add a few new bites to my plate. One of them was for the killer clam chowder at Cioppino’s on the Wharf (Fisherman’s Wharf), a thick, aromatic, chunky New England-style white clam chowder loaded with potatoes and pancetta. (It’s worth braving the tourist crowds—it’s that good!) They also serve very tasty Italian and seafood dishes, including their signature cioppino, chicken and seafood risotto, scampi linguini, penne Bolognese, and local Dungeness crab cakes.

And then there was Piperade (the Embarcadero), serving what they call “West Coast Basque Cuisine,” a nod to the classic Basque (stretching from Northern Spain to France along the Atlantic Coast) style of cooking. This upscale yet relaxed, quintessentially European restaurant serves sumptuous, hearty, traditional dishes with a twist, including roasted rack of lamb with baked garbanzos, chorizo, pistachio and basil aioli, braised albacore rillettes with pimenton, basque rice “gaxuxa,” seasonal vegetables, sheep’s milk cheese and espelette, crisp crab croquettes and cheese with cherry preserves and quince paste, and seared sea scallops with parsnip purée and shaved apple salad. It was definitely one of the best stateside European meals I have ever enjoyed.

No disrespect to the others, but one of my new must-haves is definitely Trattoria Pinocchio. Situated in North Beach, the restaurant almost takes a backseat to its owners—husband and wife team Giovanni and Maria Zocca—who have infused every aspect of their Sicilian heritage into the food, presentation and ambiance. Their almost entirely homemade specialties are unreal, exuding deep, intricate flavors in each bite, stemming from their use of fresh seafood and meats, homemade pastas and sauces, and fresh herbs and vegetables grown in their own garden, including mint, Sicilian garlic, rosemary, basil, tomatoes, arugula, lettuce, lemons, apples and other garden delights.

For appetizers, we enjoyed their house-cured marinated olives, grilled portabella mushrooms with pine nuts and sundried tomatoes on a bed of arugula, and a to-die-for eggplant Parmesan. What absolutely blew me away was the sample Pasta Trio, fettuccine with fresh pesto, penne with tomato sauce and prosciutto and the lightest, most flavorful gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce that literally had us moaning at the table. And if we thought we had already gone to see Jesus, their Boba, a light sponge cake filled with rum imported from Sicily, had us singing with the angels.

Speaking of singing, Giovanni Zocca must have been an opera singer in a past life because throughout the evening, he sauntered among the tables, belting out Italian operettas so exuberant and pitch perfect that passersby stopped on the sidewalk for a listen. The entire experience went far beyond the food to a heartfelt, authentic love for creating family—which the Zoccas call their customers, whether new or frequent diners—through enjoying and sharing a meal. At Trattoria Pinocchio, you’re in for an exceptional dining experience.


It’s the end of this three-part series, and I feel as if I only offered about a 5 percent slice of the overall delicious San Francisco pie. But that speaks to the breadth of all that this city of international acclaim has to offer. But in the end, you’ll no doubt agree that San Francisco—whether you’re a first-timer or repeat visitor—captivates you mind, body and soul.

Lysa Allman Baldwin is a freelance writer and the publisher and editor of Amazing Escapades, offering “adventures for the mind, bod and belly (www.amazingescapades.com).