Sweet Spots in A Spicy Hood: The Tenderloin for Families

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San Francisco boasts plenty of neighborhoods that are kid-friendly shoo-ins, such as Noe, the Inner Sunset and Bernal, but if you are looking for a day out that takes you outside your comfort zone, we would like to recommend the city’s very own Tenderloin District. If world-famous pastries, kid-friendly theater, ice cream and art galleries are up your family’s alley, then it’s high time you visited the Tenderloin.

jane cafe


Jane Cafe
Hearty, nutritious salads, sandwiches on fresh baked bread, killer coffee and plenty of pastries whipped up right on site—Jane Cafe has managed to become a bright, bustling local hangout along a sometimes seedy stretch. A glorious living wall helps to bring some of that brightness to passerby as well. Stop in for a quick treat or a leisurely lunch—seating is usually easy to come by (except at busy weekend brunch hours) and order-at-the-counter service adds to the casual vibe.

Jane Cafe
925 Larkin St.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: itsjane.squarespace.com

The Hall
Can’t agree on where to eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner? How about a place with 6 different restaurants with dozens of dishes, a big screen playing the ballgame, plenty of room to wander and a nicely stocked bar? While The Hall on Market Street has become a hot spot for tech workers and culinary-minded locals, it’s also a hangout well suited to those with little ones in tow. This former pool hall is now lined with stalls serving up food from around the globe, and while the dishes are more inventive than infantile (no grilled cheese or chicken fingers found here), the options are plentiful enough that everyone can find something that satisfies, from burgers to roasted chicken to tacos. The best part? No one has to agree.

The Hall
1028 Market St.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: thehallsf.com

George and Lennie
The Tenderloin runs on coffee and sweets (the family-friendly version of it, at least) and this is another fairly new outpost that does them both right. Come in for a perfect latte, some steamer eggs loaded with butter (a kid favorite) or sweet pastries from a variety of local suppliers, including Revenge Pies. The owner, an artist, dad and master barista, is there most days playing records on the old hi-fi.

George and Lennie
277 Golden Gate Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: facebook.com/georgenandlenniecafe


mr holmes


Hooker’s Sweet Treats
Their chocolate covered caramels with a sprinkle of sea salt are a thing of legend. But those in the know follow them on Twitter to find out what fresh baked goodies are also coming out of the oven, from mocha bread pudding to spiced chocolate-pistachio macaroons to sweet cheddar scones. There is also a full menu of caramels (which are handmade and baked in house of course) as well as Sightglass Coffee. There are a handful of tables so you can sit and stay awhile. If it’s baking hour, littles might even get to see goodies going in and out of the oven.

Hooker’s Sweet Treats
442 Hyde St.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: hookerssweettreats.com

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
This is the castle of the Cruffin king—that flakey, creme-filled, popover-looking creation that causes people to wait in early-morning, hour-long lines down one of SF’s less-scenic blocks. But one bite of Mr. Holmes superb baked goods will explain the hype. It’s just best to know the process before you go: The bakery opens at 7 am (8 am on weekends) and starts selling its “normal” baked good then, such as amazing Ube pop tarts, ginger and wasabi kissed California Crossiants and so much more (check their Instagram for advance menu updates). At 9 am is when they release the Cruffins. There are two lines, one heading up the hill to the right, and one going down the hill to the left—one is for Cruffins, the other is for all other baked goods, and there should be clear signage letting you know which is which. Around 8:50 a.m. they come out to hand out (a limited number of) stickers to folks in the Cruffin line, which is like your golden ticket to Cruffin land. No cruffin? No problem. Their other offerings are equally out of this world, so we recommend going for a least half a dozen and scoring one of the too-pretty-to-toss bakery boxes. There is no where to sit inside, so we suggest continuing up the hill to Huntington Square and playground to enjoy your bakery bounty.

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
1042 Larkin St
San Francisco, Ca
Online: mrholmesbakehouse.com

The Tenderloin may not immediately make you think of ice cream, but this place is serving on some prime scoops on the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare. ShakeDown is easy to spot thanks to it’s colorful murals, and hard to forget once you try flavors such as Cinnamon Toast Brunch (tastes a lot like your favorite childhood breakfast cereal) and Jacker Crack—imagine Cracker Jacks and coffee. The price is right, too. Two big scoops on a waffle cone for $5.

835 Geary St.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: shakedownsf.com

Alex Brightman and the kids of Broadway's School of Rock - The Musical Photo by Matthew Murphy


Curran Theater
This historic theater is undergoing a major renovation, but instead of going dark while the work is being done, they are actually offering some incredibly intimate and out-of-the-box theater experiences by letting theater goers enter in though the stage door and sit on stage while pared-down performances take place. In December they hosted Story Pirates, an improv group that works within schools to help kids write plays, which are then performed by their professional troupe. And starting in March, it will host the first-ever amateur production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newest hit, School of Rock—The Musical, created and performed by the students of Oakland School for the Arts, a public charter school focusing on the Visual and Performing Arts. Tickets went on sale last Friday for the limited run. Get em here.

Curran Theater
445 Geary
SF, Ca
Online: sfcurran.com

826 Valencia—Coming Soon
This will be the second SF outpost for the nonprofit 826 Valencia, an organization founded by author Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Calegari dedicated to helping students ages 6-18 with their writing skills. In addition to stellar writing workshops, and educational partnerships with local schools and organizations, this location will also feature a kooky retail component, similar to the Pirate Supply Store on Valencia. Theme TBD! This location should be opening within the next few months, and will be the largest of 826 Valencia’s seven locations—a 5,000-square-foot space with windows wrapping around the northeast corner of Leavenworth Street and Golden Gate Avenue.

Leavenworth and Golden Gate
SF, Ca
Online: 826valencia.org

The Tenderloin National Forest
The Tenderloin National Forest, a wonderful project by the Luggage Store Gallery which turned one of the neighborhood’s more brutal alleys into a whimsical park-like space complete with an outdoor pizza oven, sky-high murals, landscaped paths and plenty of greenery. The only catch is that the park also features a tall sculptural gate which is frequently locked. Open hours aren’t set (although Yelp says 11 am–3 pm Tues. through Fri.), but public events are held here often, so it’s worth it to stroll by and try your luck. .

501 Ellis St.
SF, Ca
Online: yelp.com

tenderloin museum

The Tenderloin Museum
Still unconvinced about the Tenderloin? Then a visit to this new museum will change that. Kids will love donning headphones at the listening stations and clicking though rock, jazz and folk, all of which was recorded mere blocks away at the Wally Heider Studios. There are old grainy videos of familiar streets in unfamiliar states—some were recorded more than 100 years ago. The walls are covered with historic images and colorful stories, but for those who are interested in something a little more immersive, the museum also offers historical walking tours, led by neighborhood icon and expert, Del Seymour.

398 Eddy St.
San Francisco, Ca
Cost: $10/adults; $6/Seniors, students and youth; FREE/12 and under
Online: tenderloinmuseum.org

The Heart of the City Farmers Market
This is one of the oldest and best farmers markets in the city, and it takes over UN Plaza twice a week: Sundays and Wednesdays. This vibe here is way less touristy than at the Ferry Building, and there are less prepared food options (although there are a few), but there is a bounty of fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, eggs and even fish local meats. The market starts bright and early at 7 a.m. and runs until 4 or 5 p.m. (vendors pack up whenever they sell out). If you cruise through towards then end, you can score major deals, as the vendors fill bags and sell them for $1 in order to move the last items.

UN Plaza
San Francisco, Ca
Mon. and Wed. 7 a.m.–5 p.m.
Online: heartofthecity-farmersmar.squarespace.com

Boeddeker Park
Once a grungy, kinda scary “park,” Boeddeker got a major facelift last year. It was redesigned by WRNS Studio and is now a major bright spot in neighborhood. The new modern park includes something for all ages and abilities—there’s a basketball court, a sizable lawn, three play areas (including a small tot lot) and, toward Ellis Street, a sunny space for morning tai chi. The old clubhouse was replaced with a 4,000-square-foot  light-filled building that includes a meeting room, an all-purpose recreation space, restrooms, offices, and storage. 

295 Eddy St
San Francisco, Ca

Do you have any recommendations for families visiting the Tenderloin? Let us know in the comments below!

–Erin Feher

All images courtesy of the author unless otherwise noted.