Polk Street gets pegged for its bars and nightlife scene, because, well, there are quite a few. But it’s also got some of the coolest shops in the Nob Hill - Russian Hill area. That said, do yourself a favor and take a stroll during the day - and stay into the night. It’s only a short walk from Stanford Court Hotel. Here are some spots that you shouldn’t miss along Nob Hill’s most popular avenue.
Swan Oyster Depot has been around for over 100 years. Let that sink in. It’s a Polk Street legend, and it may very well be the best seafood you eat in your life. Although this is definitely a local dive, the staff is always friendly and welcoming, tourist or not. When you finally get seated, order a bowl of chowder and slurp down some oysters. The crab salad is also phenomenal.
Another Polk Street classic, Bob’s Donut & Pastry prides itself on being one of the few remaining independent donut shops around. Being open 24 hours a day, it also has quite the following very late night. But the real clincher at Bob’s is that the donuts are HUGE. Think the size of your head. Of course, they do have normal-sized donuts, but that would kill all the fun at 4 a.m., right? #LocalTip: Get there around 10-11 for donuts fresh out of the fryer. Don’t be surprised if there’s a line, especially if it’s Saturday night.
A pair of women’s and men’s vintage boutiques, Belle Cose and Molte Cose make shopping fun again. These adorable boutiques also have some seriously good finds that are curated better than most boutiques, without losing that garage sale-treasure hunt charm. Here you’ll find quality vintage clothes from the 1940-50s, as well as trinkets and even lingerie.
At Smoke Signals, print is alive and well. With over 2,000 publications from all over the world, this news stand is sure to have the magazine or newspaper you’re looking for. However, take some time to peruse the rack. It’s easy to miss some quality publications upon first glance. And if happen to be a smoker, this is one of the few places you find those hard-to-find cigarettes you always crave.
A guide about Polk Street wouldn’t be complete without a nod to this dive bar. A Polk mainstay since 1975, the irony is that Royal Oak is hit or miss - not because of the quality of bar or drinks, but because even locals don’t know when it will be open or not. Either way, it’s worth it to try your luck and throw a few back in this Victorian-style bar, complete with velvet couches and Tiffany lamps.
photo by Eric Heath