12 Hours In The Tenderloin: A Visitor's Guide

The Tenderloin may not have a reputation as a tourist haven, but there are delights to be found at all times of day in this culturally and historically rich neighborhood, right in the heart of San Francisco.

For visitors to the neighborhood, or locals looking to see the TL with fresh eyes, here's a one-day itinerary that, while by no means comprehensive, hits on some of the neighborhood’s gems. (Got recommendations of your own, TL locals? Let us know in the comments.)

Brunch (11am)

Brenda’s is amazing. But by 11am on a weekend, it also has an amazing line. FarmerBrown offers an all-you-can-eat spread for $25.95, complete with live music on Sundays, but you should really block off plenty of time to get the full experience.

So for this itinerary, try starting out at Rusty's Southern (750 Ellis St.), a relatively new joint in the neighborhood, which offers homemade biscuits and gravy, fried chicken and waffles, and grits loaded with either meats or veggies. Top off your meal with a cup of Sightglass coffee or an Arnold Palmer, or share a mimosa carafe with your friends.

Rusty's Southern Country Breakfast. | Photo: Tian Q./Yelp

Walk It Off (12:30pm)

Get moving after your big meal by shopping the Larkin Street boutiques (between Eddy and Post).

Find some vintage clothes at Vacation SF (or sell or trade something you’ve had gathering dust for years). Shop for Bay Area-made wares at Fleet Wood, grab a kitschy, bike-themed tee at SFC, or grow your record collection at the recently re-opened RS94109. You can also hop just one block north of Geary Street to commemorate your day with a shirt from The Loin or to find an out-of-print edition at The Magazine.

Fleet Wood offers an assortment of locally-sourced goods. | Photo: Fleet Wood/InstaGram

Afternoon Adventure (2pm)

If it’s a chilly day or you need a pick-me-up, stop by George and Lennie on the way (277 Golden Gate Ave., between Hyde and Leavenworth) for a cup of butter coffee or an afternoon espresso.

Then, meet an expert guide in the lobby of the Tenderloin Museum (398 Eddy St., at Leavenworth) at 1:50pm to join a 2pm walking tour of the neighborhood that'll give you an in-depth look at the area’s culture and history. 

On the tour, you’ll learn where Muhammad Ali used to box, Miles Davis and other greats played jazz, the Grateful Dead recorded and some of the earliest LGBT movements took root. Tickets are $15 (with museum entrance included) and are available through the Tenderloin Museum’s website, and you’ll meet in the lobby area at 1:50pm. Be sure to check out the museum’s great exhibits after the tour; it’s open until 5pm. 

Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline

Happy Hour (5:30pm)

Stop by Emperor Norton’s Boozeland (510 Larkin St. (at Turk) to play some pool and grab a refreshing beverage.

The bar, which pays homage to legendary San Francisco figure Emperor Norton, has local brews on tap, makes a good hot toddy on a cold day, and features a dog-friendly patio for those rare, warm afternoons. There’s also a pool table and a well-curated, never-silent jukebox.

Emperor Norton's Bar. | Photo: Emperor Norton's/Facebook 

Dinner (7:30pm)

Head over to Tadu (484 Ellis St., at Leavenworth) for the best Ethiopian food in the city. It's vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, but also offers plenty for meat eaters.

You’re sure to be hungry after exploring the neighborhood, so get some sambussas to start with, and try the veggie combo and the kifto. Share a selection of different entrees with your friends to get the full experience. It’s a small joint, but the food arrives fast, the tables usually turn over quickly, and if there is a wait, you’ll probably find it's worth it.

Kifto, Chicken Tibs and Veggie Combo | Photo: Steph L./Yelp

After Hours (9pm)

The Tenderloin boasts some of the best bars in the city, from delightfully dingy dives to elevated cocktail lounges. There's a lot to choose from, but Tradition (441 Jones St., between O'Farrell and Ellis) is a good place to start.

You can check out this bi-level spot, brought to you by the same bar virtuosos behind Bourbon & Branch (as well as Local Edition, Cask, and Rickhouse), with no speakeasy password required.

Try one of the barrel-aged cocktails, have a tiki-themed drink, order an old standard or let the bartenders make up a concoction based on your preferences. It can get crowded on weekends, so if you’re with a group, try reserving one of the cozy booths ahead of time.

Cozy booth at Tradition. | Photo: tradition/Facebook

From there, we recommend seeing where the night takes you, whether it's a 10pm drag show at Aunt Charlie's Lounge (133 Turk St., at Taylor), live jazz at Black Cat (400 Eddy St., at Leavenworth), or a trip to diminutive dive bar Geary Club (768 Geary, at Hyde). 

Tenderloin locals, where do you take visitors in the neighborhood? Let us know in the comments.

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12 hours in the tenderloin a visitors guide