San Francisco Early Autumn Market Report

Due mostly to seasonal issues, median sales prices typically drop in Q3 from Q2 peaks, and did so this year as well. The median SF house price was up 15% and the median condo price was up 4% from Q3 2017. The other Bay Area counties also saw substantial year-over-year increases in median home sales prices in Q3 2018.

New Listings & Price Reductions
September is always a big month for new listings coming on market in San Francisco – typically with the highest number of the year – and this year they jumped 28% higher than in September 2017 to hit their highest point in years.

The number of price reductions in September also increased: 37% over 2017 and 18% over 2016. October is usually one of the two biggest months of the year for price reductions as sellers of unsold listings make a last attempt to grab the attention of buyers before the mid-winter slowdown begins in mid-November.

The number of active listings on the market on a given day in September was somewhat higher than last year, but a bit lower than in September 2016.

What will tell us most about where the market is heading is how buyers respond to these new listings and price reductions, and that information won’t be available until autumn’s listings have time to accept offers, and accepted offers have time to close escrow – in quantity – to give us their data. October is usually a very big month for sales in San Francisco as buyers jump on the surge of listings.

Bay Area Statistics by County

Jumps in listings and price reductions have been common around the Bay Area, and in some counties, the changes are much more pronounced than in SF: Sonoma saw a 122% increase in price reductions amid an active inventory of listings 90% higher than in September of last year. Santa Clara County saw staggering increases, but much of that is due to the fact that inventory was incredibly, abnormally low last year, when Santa Clara was perhaps the hottest real estate market in the country.

Days on Market, Overbidding &
Months Supply of Inventory

So far, we are not seeing significant shifts in these 3 standard measurements of market heat.

Price Tables by Neighborhood & Bedroom Count

Below are selected excerpts from 10 pages of tables breaking down SF home sales over the past 12 months. If a field is left blank, it signifies that there weren’t enough sales for statistical analysis; if a price is asterisked, it means there were only 3 or 4 sales in the period. We are happy to provide the full collection of tables upon request.

House Sales

Condo Sales

The Luxury Home Market

As with the general market, September is typically a very important month for new luxury home listings and October a big month for sales. For the past 3 years, October has been the biggest month of the year for luxury house sales of $3m+. Even more so than the general market, the luxury market goes into a precipitous slowdown from just before Thanksgiving to mid-late January.

It is impossible to know how median and average value statistics apply to any particular home without a specific comparative market analysis.

These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and are subject to revision. It is not our intent to convince you of a particular position, but to attempt to provide straightforward data and analysis, so you can make your own informed decisions. Median and average statistics are enormous generalities: There are hundreds of different markets in San Francisco and the Bay Area, each with its own unique dynamics. Median prices and average dollar per square foot values can be and often are affected by other factors besides changes in fair market value. Longer term trends are much more meaningful than short-term.

Compass is a real estate broker licensed by the State of California, DRE 01527235. Equal Housing Opportunity. This report has been prepared solely for information purposes. The information herein is based on or derived from information generally available to the public and/or from sources believed to be reliable. No representation or warranty can be given with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the information. Compass disclaims any and all liability relating to this report, including without limitation any express or implied representations or warranties for statements contained in, and omissions from, the report. Nothing contained herein is intended to be or should be read as any regulatory, legal, tax, accounting or other advice and Compass does not provide such advice. All opinions are subject to change without notice. Compass makes no representation regarding the accuracy of any statements regarding any references to the laws, statutes or regulations of any state are those of the author(s). Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

© 2018 Compass


The Multi-Unit Residential Property Markets of San Francisco, Alameda & Marin Counties

The big political issue facing the market is CA Prop 10, which, if passed in November, repeals the limits on local rent control laws enacted in the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. This would almost certainly have negative ramifications for owners of multi-unit residential properties in San Francisco and Oakland. The CA Legislative Analyst Office does a good job summarizing the issues: Prop 10 Review. Prop 10 is currently creating something of a shadow on the larger apartment building market, with some buyers waiting for election results – much as happened with SF Prop G did in 2014. (Prop G failed and the market rallied dramatically after Election Day.) However, the market certainly did not grind to a halt in Q3, nor did values plunge.

Historically speaking, it has been difficult for rent control measures to pass on a statewide basis, because homeowners, all of whom are potential landlords, outnumber tenants in California. On this issue, people tend to vote their financial interests, and homeowners generally vote in higher percentages than tenants. Strong rent-control measures are generally found only in tenant-majority communities. All of which is not to take for granted what will occur on November 6.

This report generally separates out the 2-4 unit and the 5+ unit apartment building markets, since they have different dynamics and values. All the statistics herein are broad generalities covering a wide variety of buildings of very different location, age, size, quality, condition, tenant profile, income and income potential. The number of sales in many of the segments is relatively small, which can make the statistics more prone to anomalous fluctuations.

Some charts pertain to multiple counties, and others drill down on statistics specific to San Francisco; some track the last 12 months of sales, and others have a final data point reflecting 2018 YTD sales. All numbers should be considered good-faith, general approximations.

Trends in Residential Rents

This chart below tracks longer-term average asking rent trends, instead of median asking rent appreciation since 2012, as illustrated in the charts above. It provides a bit more historical context.

Sales, Prices & Market Trends

2-4 Unit Buildings

5+ Unit Buildings: Inventory, Sales & Values

The inventory of active listings ticked up in the last 2 quarters.

SF 5+ Unit Buildings: Trends in Gross Rent Multiple,
Cap Rate & Dollar per Unit Value

Many of the standard value parameters have remained remarkably
consistent in San Francisco over recent years.

San Francisco New Construction Pipeline

Almost 70,000 housing units are now in the SF new construction pipeline. Plans are constantly being added, revised and abandoned, and new housing construction is extremely sensitive to changes in economic conditions.

Q3 2018 Sales of San Francisco 5+ Unit
Apartment Buildings

San Francisco is a unique residential-investment market: the buildings are smaller and older than in most places, built in a wide range of architectural styles. The great majority of the market is under rent control, which makes upside rental-income potential a big component of valuation, even if it is unknown when that potential might be realized. Within the city the variety in buildings and units is enormous.

In real estate, the devil is always in the details: If you are interested in further insight into the details of any of the above sales, or regarding properties currently on the market, please contact me.

Broker Performance in
Residential Multi-Unit Property Sales

In the summer of 2018, Paragon and Pacific Union merged into Compass to create the largest residential investment property brokerage in San Francisco.

It is impossible to know how median and average value statistics apply to any particular apartment building without a specific, tailored, comparative market analysis. Statistics are generalities: This is especially true for multi-unit properties, with the enormous range of property types, sizes, conditions, circumstances, qualities, financial data and locations. We are often dependent upon listing agents for income and expense details, which can be of varying accuracy. A percentage of investment property sales are not reported to MLS, which sometimes limits our ability for more comprehensive data analysis.

Compass is a real estate broker licensed by the State of California, DRE 01527235. Equal Housing Opportunity. This report has been prepared solely for information purposes. The information herein is based on or derived from information generally available to the public and/or from sources believed to be reliable. No representation or warranty can be given with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the information. Compass disclaims any and all liability relating to this report, including without limitation any express or implied representations or warranties for statements contained in, and omissions from, the report. Nothing contained herein is intended to be or should be read as any regulatory, legal, tax, accounting or other advice and Compass does not provide such advice. All opinions are subject to change without notice. Compass makes no representation regarding the accuracy of any statements regarding any references to the laws, statutes or regulations of any state are those of the author(s). Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

© 2018 Compass


CoreLogic S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index Update

The CoreLogic S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index does not evaluate median sales price changes, but employs its own proprietary algorithm to measure home price appreciation over time. Since its indices cover large areas – for example, the San Francisco Metro Area is comprised of 5 counties – which themselves contain communities and neighborhoods of widely varying home values, the C-S chart numbers do not refer to specific prices, but instead reflect prices as compared to those prevailing in January 2000, designated as having a value of 100. Thus a reading of 250 signifies that home prices have appreciated 150% above the price of January 2000 (with its reading of 100).

Case-Shiller divides all the house sales in the SF metro area into thirds, or tiers. Thus the third of sales with the lowest prices is the low-price tier; the third of sales with the highest sales prices is the high-price tier; and the third in between is the mid-price tier. The price ranges of these tiers changes as the market changes. The 3 tiers experienced dramatically different bubbles, crashes and recoveries over the past 18 years, to a large degree determined by how badly the tier was affected by the subprime financing crisis. The low price tier was worst affected – huge bubble, huge crash, most dramatic recovery – and the high-price least affected (but still deeply affected).

Most of the house sales in expensive counties such as San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo, as well as affluent communities in other Bay Area counties are in the “high price tier”, and that is where we focus most of our attention. In fact, much of the house market in San Francisco and other very expensive markets would qualify for an “ultra-highprice
tier,” but C-S does not break that out. All counties, to some degree, have sales in all 3 price tiers.

The Index is published 2 months after each month delineated – the July index was released in late September – and reflects a 3-month rolling average, so in effect, it is looking into a rear-view mirror at the market 3 to 5 months ago.

The 5 counties in our Case-Shiller Metro Statistical Area are San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa: Alameda and Contra Costa are by far the largest markets; SF itself comprises only about 7% of house sales in the metro area. We believe the Index generally applies to the other Bay Area counties as well. There are many dozens, if not hundreds, of unique real estate markets found in such a broad region, with different dynamics, moving at varying speeds, sometimes even moving in different directions. How the C-S Index applies to any particular property is impossible to say without a specific comparative market analysis.

More information: https://us.spindices.com/index-family/real-estate/sp-corelogic-case-shiller

S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index [CSUSHPINSA], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/CSUSHPINSA, September 25, 2018.

Compass is a real estate broker licensed by the State of California, DRE 01527235. Equal Housing Opportunity. This report has been prepared solely for information purposes. The information herein is based on or derived from information generally available to the public and/or from sources believed to be reliable. No representation or warranty can be given with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the information. Compass disclaims any and all liability relating to this report, including without limitation any express or implied representations or warranties for statements contained in, and omissions from, the report. Nothing contained herein is intended to be or should be read as any regulatory, legal, tax, accounting or other advice and Compass does not provide such advice. All opinions are subject to change without notice. Compass makes no representation regarding the accuracy of any statements regarding any references to the laws, statutes or regulations of any state are those of the author(s). Past performance is no guarantee of future results.


San Francisco September Newsletter

September is typically the single month with the highest number of new listings coming on market in San Francisco, a big spike in inventory which fuels the relatively short autumn selling season. Very early indications are that this September may be a very big new-listing month, and how buyers react to the flood of new inventory will provide more clarity as to where the market may be heading next. That data will start becoming available in October.

Long-Term Trends in Median Sales Prices
& Average Dollar per Square Foot Values

These first two charts look at appreciation trends in median prices and average $/sq.ft. values since 2005. The short-term fluctuations in the lines are normal, typically seasonal effects of no great meaningfulness.

As of August 2018, the 3-month rolling median sales prices are as follows: $1,620,000 for houses, $1,200,000 for condos, and $1,125,000 for TICs.

San Francisco Home Sales
by Price Segment

Houses selling for less than $1 million are becoming an endangered species in SF, limited to small homes and/or fixer-uppers in the most affordable neighborhoods. Condos and TICs now dominate sales under $1.5 million.

Four Standard Statistics of Supply & Demand
Year-over-Year Comparisons since 2011
These 2 charts below compare the June-August periods for the last 8 years. These statistics have been moving in parallel during this period, which make them more trustworthy as true indications of market trends.

As illustrated in the first chart, the inventory of listings available to purchase continues to be constrained, and the overbidding percentages, especially for houses, remain at insane levels (though part of this has to do with a strategy of under-pricing by many listing agents).

Home Value Appreciation by City District
Since 2015

Coming out of the long, post-crash housing recession in 2012, homes all over the city began appreciating very rapidly, led at first by the most expensive neighborhoods, and this lasted through mid-late 2015. Then, in the last 4 months of 2015, financial markets went into a period of extended volatility and unease (Chinese stock market and oil price crashes, Brexit and election anxieties), which ran through the 2016 election. At the same time hiring in high-tech temporarily slowed and high-tech IPO activity ground to a halt. New condo construction in the city also soared, changing the supply and demand dynamic for that property type. These factors had significant effects on the luxury home and condo segments.

Since 2015, appreciation of houses has far outpaced that of condos, and homes in more affordable areas have appreciated much faster than in more expensive neighborhoods. The lower the home prices, the higher the appreciation rates. However, virtually all segments saw a dramatic surge of demand in late 2017 through spring 2018, propelling values quickly higher.

House Values: More Expensive Districts

Though the median house sales price in the very expensive Pacific Heights-Marina district has not increased in the past 3 years – in fact, it has seen a small overall decline – it is worth noting that from the beginning of 2012 to the end of 2015, it appreciated by a whopping 87%.

Partial year data should be considered preliminary until full year results are available in January.

House Values: More Affordable Districts
In these neighborhoods, large bursts of appreciation have been common in recent years, as the pressure of buyer demand shifted to a search for affordability.

Condo Values: More Expensive Districts
As with houses, the most expensive neighborhoods for condos have seen limited or no appreciation in median sales prices since 2015.

Values in Other Major Condo Districts
The large South Beach-SoMa-Mission-Potrero Hill-Dogpatch district has been ground zero for the greatest number of large new-condo projects coming on market. That led to a drop in median sales price in 2016, but in 2018, prices jumped dramatically in all 3 districts illustrated below.

San Francisco New Housing Pipeline
The number of units somewhere along the line in the SF Planning Department new housing pipeline hit almost 70,000 in Q2 2018, however developers face increasing challenges in land and constructions costs, reportedly the second highest in the nation, as well as issues pertaining to affordable housing requirements, neighborhood activism, possible increases in rent control measures, and the lengthy review and approvals process. The outlook in new housing construction can shift very quickly if economic conditions change.

Projects of 20-Plus Units under Construction
The main areas for new home construction – of both condos and apartments – are the greater South Beach-SoMa-Potrero Hill district, and the Market Street and Van Ness Avenue corridors. These are the areas where large, previously commercial-use lots can be used for building large projects, and where zoning often allows for much taller buildings.

It is impossible to know how median and average value statistics apply to any particular home without a specific, tailored, comparative market analysis.

These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and are subject to revision. It is not our intent to convince you of a particular position, but to attempt to provide straightforward data and analysis, so you can make your own informed decisions. Median and average statistics are enormous generalities: There are hundreds of different markets in San Francisco and the Bay Area, each with its own unique dynamics. Median prices and average dollar per square foot values can be and often are affected by other factors besides changes in fair market value. Longer term trends are much more meaningful than short-term.

Compass is a real estate broker licensed by the State of California, DRE 01527235. Equal Housing Opportunity. This report has been prepared solely for information purposes. The information herein is based on or derived from information generally available to the public and/or from sources believed to be reliable. No representation or warranty can be given with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the information. Compass disclaims any and all liability relating to this report, including without limitation any express or implied representations or warranties for statements contained in, and omissions from, the report. Nothing contained herein is intended to be or should be read as any regulatory, legal, tax, accounting or other advice and Compass does not provide such advice. All opinions are subject to change without notice. Compass makes no representation regarding the accuracy of any statements regarding any references to the laws, statutes or regulations of any state are those of the author(s). Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

© 2018 Compass


San Francisco Real Estate Market Report

We are pleased to announce that Paragon Real Estate has joined forces with Compass in order to deliver a new level of support and service for our clients. Founded in 2012, Compass is a real estate technology company now operating in 30 regions with over 90 offices across the United States, including New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Washington D.C., Dallas and Miami. With the merger, the Compass Bay Area team consists of more than 500 agents closing more than $4.5 billion in annual sales volume.

While we wait for the autumn selling season to begin in September, this report will take a look at SF and Bay Area market trends from a variety of angles, starting with home prices.

Market Seasonality & the Autumn Selling Season

Inventory and demand ebb and flow dramatically in the SF market, as illustrated by the two charts below. The spring selling season is the most active overall, a period in the Bay Area that can stretch from late February to mid-June. The market then slows down for the mid-summer holidays. Autumn is the second major selling season, but is much shorter, running from after Labor Day to early-mid November. Activity then plunges for the mid-winter holidays. Because of this dynamic, September is usually the single month with the greatest number of new listings coming on the market, providing buyers with the widest choice of homes until spring rolls around again. The luxury home market is even more fiercely seasonal than the general market, which will be discussed later in this report.

The September surge in listings (first chart) leads to an
October surge of listings going into contract (second chart).

Housing Affordability

The California Association of Realtors just released its Q2 report on housing affordability, which we have illustrated in the 2 charts below. The numbers tie into the county median home prices delineated in the chart near the top of this report.

The Luxury Home Market

Bay Area Sales by County

With the continued growth of high-tech – exemplified by rapidly expanding companies such as Apple, Google and Facebook – Santa Clara and San Mateo now dominate Bay Area luxury home sales. Santa Clara has the biggest population in the Bay Area and the 2 counties combined have 3 times the population of the city of San Francisco. San Francisco is the only county that has a substantial luxury condo market, which adds a different dynamic to the mix.

Luxury Market Seasonality

As mentioned earlier, the luxury segment is fiercely seasonal in its supply and demand ups and downs. This next chart measures the number of new listings coming on market by month. It is not unusual for luxury house sales to peak in October, fueled by the rush of new inventory in September. On the other hand, luxury condo sales typically peak in May or June, feeding off the spring rush of new listings. The high-end market generally crashes in activity from before Thanksgiving through January, so the short autumn period is considered the last major window for sales until early next spring.

The Ultra-Luxury Home Market in San Francisco

The highest end of the high-end market consists of house sales of $5m+, and condo and co-op sales of $3m+. These sales constitute about 2.5% of SF home sales. There has been a big surge in luxury and ultra-luxury condo construction in recent years, providing the basis for increasing sales, while ultra-luxury house sales have mostly plateaued in recent years (very little new construction). Many new-project condo sales are not reported to MLS, upon which this next chart is based.

Luxury Condo Sales in the Greater South Beach District

Generally speaking, the SF luxury home market cooled significantly in mid-2015 due to a number of economic events (Chinese stock market crash, oil price crash, Brexit, big drop in IPO activity and high-tech hiring, presidential election fears), before picking up again in 2017. The luxury condo market in the greater South Beach district, running south from the Financial District and Market Street, was hammered by these events plus a number of other factors, which are delineated on the below chart. After peaking in 2015, sales volume (as reported to MLS) suddenly dropped almost 50%: Agents sometimes reported no one showing up for open houses.

Then in 2017, a recovery began that has now brought sales back up to a dramatic new peak. (Sales not reported to MLS would further increase recent sales volumes.) One of the big dynamics in this district is the competition between newly built, luxury condo listings and resale listings. Whether new or resale, almost all of these properties are in gorgeous, high-service, high-rise buildings, often with staggering views.

3 Classic Measures of Market Heat
Longer-Term Trends

Average Days on Market

As the market get hotter, listings sell faster.

Percentage of Listings Selling over List Price

The entire market has been very strong – these percentages are staggeringly high – but the house market is hotter than that for condos and TICs due to supply issues. The very small co-op market in SF is dominated by very expensive listings, and the luxury market is almost always softer than more affordable segments: The pool of buyers for the highest priced homes is clearly much, much smaller. And, frankly, luxury home listings are more prone to overpricing, which drastically affects response.

Months Supply of Inventory (MSI)

The stronger the buyer demand as compared to the supply of listings available to purchase, the lower the MSI. Generally speaking, MSI figures around the Bay Area have been flirting with historic lows in 2018.

Mortgage Interest Rates
Short-Term and Long-Term Trends

Two of the factors that have worried market analysts have been the big changes in federal tax law limiting the deductibility of state and local taxes, and interest rate expenses – changes that affect more affluent, higher home cost areas like ours most dramatically – and increasing interest rates. So far in 2018, buyers appear to have shrugged off any such concerns, and dollar-appreciation rates have actually accelerated since the beginning of the year.

Interest rates play a big role in housing affordability, and their plunge after the 2008 crash played a vital part in the market recovery of the past 6 years. It has typically been very difficult to predict interest rate changes with any accuracy, though most economists believe they are headed higher. The questions being: If so, how high? And how will buyers react?

It is impossible to know how median and average value statistics apply to any particular home without a specific, tailored, comparative market analysis.

These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but may contain errors and are subject to revision. It is not our intent to convince you of a particular position, but to attempt to provide straightforward data and analysis, so you can make your own informed decisions. Median and average statistics are enormous generalities: There are hundreds of different markets in San Francisco and the Bay Area, each with its own unique dynamics. Median prices and average dollar per square foot values can be and often are affected by other factors besides changes in fair market value. Longer term trends are much more meaningful than short-term.

Compass is a real estate broker licensed by the State of California, DRE 01527235. Equal Housing Opportunity. This report has been prepared solely for information purposes. The information herein is based on or derived from information generally available to the public and/or from sources believed to be reliable. No representation or warranty can be given with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the information. Compass disclaims any and all liability relating to this report, including without limitation any express or implied representations or warranties for statements contained in, and omissions from, the report. Nothing contained herein is intended to be or should be read as any regulatory, legal, tax, accounting or other advice and Compass does not provide such advice. All opinions are subject to change without notice. Compass makes no representation regarding the accuracy of any statements regarding any references to the laws, statutes or regulations of any state are those of the author(s). Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

© 2018 Compass


Tilden Park; for Children of All Ages — How Berkeley’s Beloved Park Provides a Magical Experience

If Golden Gate Park embodies San Francisco’s eclectic vibe, Tilden Park 
represents everything wholesome about the East Bay. This 2,000-acre wooded sanctuary, packed with hiking and running trails, is a perfect place for a picnic or a simple stroll. But there are also plenty of activities to enjoy with your little ones, or engage your inner child.

THE STEAM TRAINS

Redwood Valley Railway is colloquially known to park-lovers as “the steam trains” — miniature trains in majestic, authentic detail that loop through the park every weekend year round. For twelve glorious minutes, passengers are whisked (albeit slowly) along a scenic ridge and through vibrant redwood groves.

A VINTAGE CAROUSEL

The Tilden Regional Park Merry-Go-Round is an authentic turn-of-the-century carousel with hand-carved wooden horses, as well as lions, giraffes, roosters, pigs, and zebras. One of the last operating antique carousels in the country, Tilden Park’s was once in service at California amusement parks from Los Angeles to Ocean Beach. Upgrades to the platform deck, mechanics, and color pallette spin the carousel into the modern era.

LITTLE FARM

A working farm and petting zoo, Little Farm is a free attraction to see cows, goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits, and pigs in their “natural” habitat. Bring lettuce and celery (only lettuce and celery) to feed these animals year round. There’s also a nearby playground.

JEWEL LAKE NATURE TRAIL

Accompanying a visit to Little Farm,this modest half-mile journey around adjacent Jewel Lake is perfect for a leisurely stroll. A rustic one-acre pond created in 1922 as a water supply, then subsequently abandoned, now stands as a bucolic aquatic sanctuary ringed by wooden bridges and quaint duck signage.

 

TILDEN NATURE CENTER

Adjacent to Little Farm sits a free museum, where the park’s many interpretive programs often gather before embarking. Learn the story of the Wildcat Creek Watershed, see models of indigenous people, and explore life-size dioramas.

NIMITZ WAY

Park at Inspiration Point to head out on this popular and easy trek. The paved, relatively flat trail (net elevation gain is a mere 100 feet), with plenty of rest benches, is a fantastic stroll for little ones — even in strollers. Enjoy seasonal wildflowers and giddy songbirds, then take in the stunning 360-degree views of the greater East Bay. If you persevere for 3.5 miles, you’ll reach a peak in Wildcat Canyon Park.

 

LAKE ANZA

In the warm, sunny East Bay, a good swimming hole is priceless. Lake Anza boasts a sandy beach and well-maintained swim area with lifeguards on duty in the summertime. The littlest citizens have their own area for wading and splashing, with a deeper part of the lake reserved for adults and older kids who pass a swim test.


Distinct Dining Spots — Only-in-the-Bay Places to Eat and Mingle

There’s no shortage of exquisite food in the Bay Area, but for that truly unique dining experience — seek out these culinary gems.

SAN FRANCISCO

BELLOTA

With its traditional Spanish cuisine and libations delivered in a modern space filled with natural light, Bellota is perhaps the Absinthe Group’s 
most ambitious effort in its quest to define San Francisco cuisine. Chef Ryan McIlwraith’s specialty is paella, including one nicknamed “San Francisco treat” a cheeky homage to the old Rice-A-Roni commercials (but nothing like Rice-A-Roni at all). The tapas selection is sensational, the sangria to die for, and the roasted, fermented brussels sprouts truly divine.
MORE INFORMATION: bellotasf.com

FOREIGN CINEMA

A beloved San Francisco dining experience since 1999, Foreign Cinema could coast on its reputation as a hip back-patio movie theater and restaurant in the heart of the Mission. But this iconic spot never skimps on culinary quality. For years it has kept traction with constant recognition from local media (on the Chronicle’s Bay Area-wide “Top 100 Restaurant” list for 16 straight years) and industry organizations (the owner/chefs are frequently nominated for James Beard Foundation awards). Watch a classic film as you enjoy exquisite menu items for dinner or weekend brunch.
MORE INFORMATION: foreigncinema.com

The East Bay

ESIN

For thirty years, Esin has been quietly serving elegant fare to Danville patrons of the culinary arts. American food with “Mediterranean flare,” the lunch and dinner menus are stockpiled with tantalizing options, and the low-key but swank dining room is the perfect place to impress a guest. Even when owners Esin and Curtis deCarion opened a sister restaurant, Revel Kitchen & Bar, across town, Esin’s offerings didn’t suffer. The makers’ dedication to serving fresh food from sustainable, seasonal ingredients shines through.
MORE INFORMATION: esinrestaurant.com

ROOFTOP RESTAURANT & BAR

Walnut Creek has grown into a vibrant community with its own unique culture and choice dining spots. Rooftop Restaurant & Bar is a jewel of the city, revered by locals for its vibe as well as its menu. The cosmopolitan ambience is paired with 
a spectacular view of town. Patrons can choose to sit in the sheltered Tower Room, on one of three patios, or gather around the bar itself. Menu items are heavy on the imaginative starters and shared plates, including a raw bar and other delicious seafood options.
MORE INFORMATION: rooftopwc.com

The North Bay

FISH

Perhaps no restaurant says “Sausalito” more than Fish, the appropriately named sustainable seafood spot on Harbor Drive, with its view of a marina and aroma of salty sea air from the Bay — so close you can touch it. The ambience is casual. You wait in line to order, then hurry to snap up a picnic table on the patio. But the self-serve mentality belies the absolutely delicious seafood. Fish’s commitment to protecting wild fish populations and supporting the local fishing industry has won it many accolades over its many years as an unassuming culinary anchor of Southern Marin.
MORE INFORMATION: 331fish.com

MURRAY CIRCLE AT CAVALLO POINT

There’s a rarified air to the culture of Marin County an upscale place, yet without a hint of stuffiness. The ambience at Murray Circle Restaurant in Cavallo Point at Fort Baker exemplifies this paradox of down-to-earth luxury. And the menu, full of ingredients from Bay Area farms, ranches, and fisheries, is always tantalizing. Pair local ling cod or Skywalker Ranch wagyu beef carpaccio with a bottle from the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning collection of over 2,000 bottles (and an impressive 30 wines by the glass). Sit in the elegant dining room, adjacent to Farley Bar, or on the historic porch, with its unfettered views of the Golden Gate Bridge. 
MORE INFORMATION: cavallopoint.com/murray-circle-restaurant

PLACE Magazine


Unconventional Quintessential San Francisco Experiences

Visiting tourists are drawn to the magnificent icons of Golden Gate Park, the Palace of Fine Arts, AT&T ballpark, and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. Dig a little deeper, and the city has plenty of unconventional adventures to offer the more inquisitive sort.
For your consideration, here are a handful of quintessentially San Francisco experiences that are sometimes overlooked.

THE BEAT MUSEUM

In the 1950s, a collective of East Coast writers, artists, and free spirits migrated west to San Francisco and started a movement that became an integral part of the counterculture of the time. The Beat Generation railed against the “square” aspects of conventional society, and gave birth to classic American literature, including Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road” and Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” The Beat Museum in North Beach houses an impressive collection of memorabilia, original manuscripts, first editions, letters, personal effects, and cultural ephemera.
MORE INFORMATION: kerouac.com

GOLDEN GATE FORTUNE COOKIE FACTORY

Located in historic Ross Alley in Chinatown, San Francisco’s famous fortune cookie factory produces custom variations of the prophecy-holding treat. While the origin of the fortune cookie is unclear, some tales identify San Francisco as its birthplace. Visitors of the factory can observe how they get those little slips of wisdom inside the cookie for free, however it costs fifty cents to take a picture.
MORE INFORMATION: sanfranciscochinatown.com

THE PIRATE STORE AT 826 VALENCIA

The Pirate Store on Valencia Street stocks all buccaneer necessities: pocket sundials, spyglasses, hand-stitched hook hands, and “Scurvy Begone” lemon gummies. Behind the retail space is the youth writing lab known as 826 Valencia, founded by author Dave Eggers and local educator Nínive Calegari. This nonprofit brings together city kids and volunteers in an afterschool program designed to promote literacy and creativity. Purchases at the Pirate Store support the free writing program.
MORE INFORMATION: 826valencia.org/store

DRAG BRUNCH AT THE STARLIGHT ROOM

Every Sunday morning, Harry Denton’s Starlight Room atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel transforms into a den of glamour and mimosas. Often considered the “best drag brunch” in San Francisco, the weekly downtown affair includes a raucous and hilarious cabaret show by the city’s talented drag queens and transgender performers. It’s a modern twist on old-world glam, served up with classic brunch items such as beef tartare and caviar. Come for the spectacle; stay for the feast.
MORE INFORMATION: starlightroomsf.com

LANDS END LABYRINTH

Art, adventure, naturalism, and spirituality collide at Eagle’s Point in Lands End. At the end of a promontory overlooking the Pacific and the Golden Gate Bridge, lies a monument to peace, love, and enlightenment. This winding path of rocks was originally set in sand by artist Eduardo Aguilera in 2004, but it has been vandalized and rebuilt so many times that the labyrinth has become a community creation. Locals love the zen quality of a quiet stroll through the maze. 
MORE INFORMATION: 
parksconservancy.org/visit/park-sites/lands-end.html

PLACE Magazine


Angel Island — A Ferry Ride Back in Time

One of the things that sets the Bay Area apart is the easy and abundant access to nature — not just parks and trails, but places steeped in rich history. Angel Island is one such magical place. A short ferry ride from San Francisco or Tiburon transports you to an undeveloped place with layers of historical significance.

Once a hunting and fishing destination for Coastal Miwoks, Angel Island was named by Spanish sailors who landed there in 1775 as the first Europeans entered the San Francisco Bay. They called it Isla de los Angeles, although American sailors later nicknamed it “Wood Island” for the abundance of trees. Army personnel again renamed the land Fort McDowell, but the original moniker stuck, through years of use as a military camp, quarantine station, Nike mission station, and immigration control point.
Today, remnants of that rich past remain in what’s now California State Park protected land. Debark the ferry and you step into a wild, beautiful place with panoramic views of the entire Bay and some of the best bird watching around. The grebes, blue herons, and egrets love it here — and so will you.

 

AYALA COVE

The ferries to Angel Island land in Ayala Cove, where a visitor center and seasonal cafe are more or less the only modern amenities. Some daytrippers come to bask in the sun on the small beach, execute 
a barbecue using the basic facilities, or picnic under the Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus — a non-native species planted by the army a hundred years ago which have largely taken over the arboreal landscape.

 

THE PERIMETER

Many visitors walk or bike the five-mile perimeter on the aptly named Perimeter Road. There are numerous smaller trails that offshoot this surfaced road, and maps are available at the Welcome Center. Hikers can summit Mt. Livermore for a more strenuous workout and an epic view of the Bay, but bicycles must be left behind for this part of the journey.

 

HISTORIC SITES

When hiking the periphery of the island counterclockwise, you’ll pass a legion of historic military sites including garrisons, forts, and barracks. But the more subtle history must be sought out. On the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station are etched a collection of poetry written by Chinese detainees awaiting decisions on their entry status from the early 20th Century. Preservationists have fought to save these poems and today the Immigration Station has been converted into a museum.

 

CAMPING

A limited number of sites across four camping areas provide an overnight escape from city life, but they fill up very quickly early in the year. Most of them are walk-in sites, so bank on a 40-minute-or-so hike from the ferry dock. The last ferry “home” leaves at 4pm. Once the daytrippers are gone, the island is a sweet, tranquil spot for camping.

 

WATER ACCESS

Ayala Cove has some of the largest public docks in the Bay, with 40-foot slips and 20-foot mooring buoys perfect for aquatic entré. (Either use a California State Park Annual Day-Use Pass or self-pay; first come, first served.) Kayakers, too, love the island. For them, more isolated parts of the shoreline become a unique adventure.

PLACE Magazine


Pampering Places — A Spa for Every Body and Soul

Whether your idea of R&R is a luxury spa setting with all the accoutrements or a more eccentric but equally tranquil experience, the Bay Area is rich in great spa options.

San Francisco

 

NOB HILL SPA AT THE HUNTINGTON

Nob Hill is the tony top of the city, and the Scarlet Huntington Hotel it’s crown jewel. A landmark building circa 1924, the Huntington was refurbished recently. Within this legendary urban hotel, Nob Hill Spa is an exquisite oasis of its own, beloved by travelers as well as locals with a yen to book a massage or bliss out in the Zen Relaxation Room. Visitors can also choose to relax aquatically in the sauna, steam room, infinity pool, or whirlpool.
PRICE: Starts at $160 for a classic 
50-minute massage
HOW TO RESERVE: nobhillspa.com

 

SENSPA
As the Presidio grounds have 
evolved into a collection of choice restaurants, shops, and businesses, one exceptionally zen-like center serves as an anchor. SenSpa has a mission to “guide every guest to their optimal state of well-being” with a well-curated roster of services and a talented squad of healers. Yes, you can get a massage, but you can also sign up for acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, or a Senzen Body Ritual that includes a full-body lemongrass scrub. Go early and enjoy one of the tranquil reading areas before your treatment.

PRICE: Starts at $145 for a 50-minute Swedish massage
HOW TO RESERVE: senspa.com

 

BURKE WILLIAMS
To relax amidst the hustle of downtown San Francisco, head to Burke Williams in the Westfield Shopping Centre. The Parisienne theme of the spa’s decor imparts a cosmopolitan vibe of luxury while promising refuge from the city. Along with standard spa offerings such as massage, aromatherapy, and facials, Burke Williams is famous for its Wetroom Treatment. In a specially built Wetroom with custom shower heads, have mineral salts or sugars massaged into your skin for a sublime exfoliation experience.

PRICE: Starts at $150 for a 50-minute massage
HOW TO RESERVE: burkewilliamsspa.com

The East Bay

 

WOODHOUSE DAY SPA
“Welcome, and here are your reflexology sandals.” This first-class luxury spa in Walnut Creek takes stress-release seriously. Your visit begins with a cup of tea in the Quiet Room. Next you might choose to embark upon a signature service such as the Woodhouse Minkyti, an 80-minute “age-defying facial” replete with organic seaweed and utter relaxation. The family of Woodhouse Spas were voted “America’s Favorite Day Spa” by American Spa Magazine’s Professional Choice Awards — among many other accolades and awards — the Woodhouse Day Spa is the place to relax and unwind in posh style.

PRICE: Starts at $105 for a 50-minute Swedish massage
HOW TO RESERVE: walnutcreek.woodhousespas.com

 

CLAREMONT CLUB & SPA
Simply known as “The Claremont” to its devoted fans, this hotel and spa sits high in the Berkeley Hills overlooking the Bay. Built in 1905, the grand white building, surrounded by palms, gives an elegant impression at the outset, but the spa experience is remarkable. There are 32 treatment rooms, a full-service hair-and-nail salon, a eucalyptus steam room, saline whirlpools, a full menu of healing therapies… and childcare services available every day of the week.

PRICE: Starts at $165 for a 50-minute Therapeutic Relaxation massage 
HOW TO RESERVE: fairmont.com

 

THE SPA AT THE PARK
The Lafayette Park Hotel & Spa 
(in Lafayette) has old-world charm that starts with the European decor and extends to the exceptional treatments delivered in a secluded spa. Signature treatments include hot stone massage, aromatherapy massage, and couples’ candlelight massage. Or consider the Lush Vanilla Fig Wrap, the Blossom Exfoliation, or the Organic Enzyme Facial. Make sure to save time to sit by the outdoor pool in an atmosphere reminiscent of the French Countryside.

PRICE: Starts at $105 for a 50-minute Park Classic Massage
HOW TO RESERVE: lafayetteparkhotel.com

The North Bay

 
photo: Kodiak Greenwood

CAVALLO HEALING ARTS CENTER & SPA
A visit to Cavallo Point’s day spa in Sausalito is not merely a massage; it’s an integrated experience in a tranquil setting. You might arrive early to read by the fireplace in a plush robe, or opt to stay late for dinner and drinks at Farley Bar or Murray Circle across the way. But the centerpiece of your experience will certainly be the treatment itself. Cavallo Healing Arts Center lives up to its name with a full suite of integrative medicine services including acupuncture, nutritional counseling, yoga and martial arts practices, and a lovely tea bar.

PRICE: Starts at $175 for a basic 60-minute massage
HOW TO RESERVE: cavallopoint.com

 

SPA SOLAGE
A getaway to Calistoga is relaxing no matter how you go about it, but Solage ups the luxury quota with its five-star experience. The ideal way to “do” Solage is with a stay at the resort. Have your meals at Solbar, the onsite restaurant that’s a veritable homage to Napa Valley’s best food and wine. But the spa stands on its own, with its Bathhouse and Mud Bar featuring healing geothermal pools and mineral-rich mud therapy. A full menu of exquisite twists on standard spa treatments is also available.

PRICE: Starts at $180 for a 60-minute signature massage
HOW TO RESERVE: solage.aubergeresorts.com

 

OSMOSIS DAY SPA SANCTUARY
Just past the charming Wild Flour Bread bakery on Bohemian Highway, a winding and verdant path in western Sonoma County, you’ll find a marvelous little spa in a tranquil country setting. This Japanese-inspired spa is unique, and while you can book a wonderful classic massage or facial here, we highly recommend the signature cedar enzyme bath treatment, followed by a sound therapy experience. Be sure to visit the sublime Meditation Garden. It’s a relaxing, reflective, reinvigorating experience for your body and soul.

PRICE: Starts at $145 for a 75-minute Swedish-Esalen massage 
HOW TO RESERVE: osmosis.com

PLACE Magazine



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