Dreamforce is awesome. It is the biggest tech event in the world, held in one of the greatest cities in the world, attended by a community of tens of thousands of Salesforce enthusiasts. The energy level in San Francisco during this week is indescribable.
Whether this is your first Dreamforce or you’re a seasoned veteran, it can be overwhelming. This will be my 8th time participating, my 5th as a presenter. While nothing in the world is more exhilarating for me than speaking in front of hundreds of people, like most of us I need a little “me” time to regroup and recharge from time to time.
While you can always head back to your hotel room if you need to get away from it all, what fun is that? You’re in San Francisco (hopefully on an expense account), and while I know it may seem like every restaurant, bar or coffee shop you step foot in around Moscone Center is jam packed with people wearing the same powder blue lanyards, there are some amazing places within walking distance that you can head to when you need an escape from Dreamforce.
Get Your Bearings
I will be making recommendations for escaping the hustle and bustle of Dreamforce in three neighborhoods: South of Market, Union Square and The Tenderloin.
South of Market (SoMa)
Moscone North, South and West are located in a neighborhood called South of Market (SoMa). Dreamforce Ground Zero will extend from roughly 3rd Street to 5th Street, between Mission Street and Howard Street. Market Street, which is the main thoroughfare in this area of San Francisco, is just a block northwest of Mission Street.
Howard Street is the street that separates Moscone North from Moscone South and it gets closed off between 3rd and 4th Streets during Dreamforce to create an oasis for you to sit and chill out, grab a boxed lunch and take in a low key concert or two.
Union Square is one of the primary tourist areas in San Francisco. This is where many of the attendee hotels will be located, and Union Square is where most of the shopping in San Francisco is clustered. You will find Macy’s, the Apple Store, Uniqlo and many other stores within a few blocks of each other.
The Tenderloin is a neighborhood that butts up to Union Square, and honestly it’s difficult to figure out where one ends and one begins. When I lived in San Francisco in the late 90’s, the ‘Loin was pretty rough.
You will probably have at least one person tell you to avoid it at all costs – while you do need to remain vigilant, ignoring the Tenderloin would be a mistake as many great little restaurants, bars and coffee shops have sprung up that can be options for escaping Dreamforce.
Again, if anyone tells you to avoid the Tenderloin…you need to make an exception for Shalimar. I have been coming here for nearly 20 years, and it is my favorite Indian / Pakistani restaurant on the planet.
Don’t get me wrong, the neighborhood surrounding Shalimar is a little rough around the edges, and the restaurant itself isn’t exactly a white tablecloth type of place, but the food is amazing and super cheap.
When I travel to San Francisco to teach classes for Salesforce University, I eat here at least a couple of times during the week. I dream about dipping extra crispy garlic naan in the chana masala when I’m away.
When you get to Shalimar, grab a menu from the counter and then find yourself a table because they are usually hard to come by. There is no table service, so once you know what you want, go back and order at the counter.
The guy taking your order will ask you what table you’re sitting at, but you don’t pay until after your meal. Go back to your table, and your food will be brought to you. When you are finished, go back up to the counter and pay, and be sure to leave a nominal cash tip on the table for the service.
Million Thai (Tenderloin)
Right across the street from the San Francisco Hilton Union Square, about a couple of blocks from Shalimar, sits the most unassuming looking Thai place you have ever seen. There are only maybe 10 tables inside and there isn’t much ambiance to speak of, but the food is off the charts.
When I’m not dreaming of Shalimar, I’m dreaming of the vegetarian Tom Yum soup at Million Thai. Their curries are also spectacular, and if it’s on the menu I recommend the pumpkin curry.
When you order, you will be asked how spicy you want your food. They rate their spiciness on a scale of 1-10, and unless you know what you’re doing, I wouldn’t recommend going much beyond a 6. I’m a huge fan of spicy, but the food is so flavorful that it stands on its own and you don’t need to go over the top with the heat.
Sausalito Cafe (SoMa)
This is another place that shows up multiple times on my expense reports when I travel to SF. There are a few locations around San Francisco, but this is the one closest to Moscone.
Sausalito Cafe has a great selection of sandwiches and standard deli fare, but what brings me back is the breakfast burritos and wraps. You can never go wrong starting a day with the egg white wrap with avocado and spinach.
If you head to Sausalito Cafe for breakfast, you get your choice of coffee or orange juice included in the price of your meal. I’m not sure which brand they serve, but the coffee is pretty tasty. There are a few tables inside, and I like to just sit with my earbuds in and watch the flow of foot traffic into this place. They always seem to be busy.
The Grove (SoMa)
Just a block down Mission behind Moscone North you will find one of the coolest spots around. The menu is pretty standard if you’re looking for something tasty but not feeling adventurous. They serve breakfast all day, which is always a plus for me.
The Grove serves coffee and espresso drinks, as well as a decent selection of beer and wine. You can also break up your day with a nice Bloody Mary or mimosa.
I just love the feel of The Grove, especially at night when they have the trees inside all lit up. The seating inside is communal, and there is an upper level if you want to sneak away. There is heated outdoor seating as well if you feel like people watching on a nice day.
Montesacro Pinseria-Enoteca (SoMa)
I have to admit, I almost gave up on finding this place when I first read about it. It’s tucked away on a side street near 6th Street and Market, and at night this isn’t exactly where you want to be loitering or looking lost.
I’m so glad I stuck with it, because the pinsa – a pizza-like flatbread baked in their massive coal oven – ended up being some of the best food I’ve ever had. And because it’s off the beaten path, it’s a perfect place to escape Dreamforce.
The wine list is extensive, but admittedly most of it is way over my head as a beer guy. If anything, you have to stop in just to check out the gargantuan oven that was built by the SF Oven Company in the early 1900’s.
Homeskillet (Union Square)
Right at the corner of Market and 6th Street, if you’re like me and have a deep appreciation for a good diner breakfast (served all day, of course), you’ll love Homeskillet. While breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and I could eat breakfast for every meal, if you’re looking for something for lunch there are many other standard diner options on the menu.
I especially recommend stopping in before you head to Moscone Center for sessions if you enjoyed the parties a little too much the night before, as there are few things that help you fight through a Dreamforce hangover better than eating an entirely too large breakfast.
Westfield San Francisco Centre Food Emporium (SoMa)
Yes, I am recommending a food court at a mall. But this is no ordinary food court, it’s like the Epcot Center of shopping mall dining experiences.
The lower level at the Westfield San Francisco Centre has food options for everyone, and the only issue I find myself having here is that I can never decide on what I want to eat.
Sure, there are shopping mall standards like Panda Express and Chipotle, but the ramen at Ajisen Ramen is fantastic, there’s a Brazilian churrascaria (Fire of Brazil Express), a vegan restaurant (Loving Hut), good Thai (Coriander), burgers (Bistro Burger), Mexican (Andale), Chinese (M.Y. China), Japanese (Sarku), Korean (Sorabol), Italian (Pasta Moto), and many, many others.
Coffee and Tea
Blue Bottle Coffee (SoMa)
I agonized over my recent decision to give up coffee, because it meant I would no longer have a reason to visit Blue Bottle Coffee. Something tells me I won’t be able to stay away forever, but for now I will just have to live vicariously through you.
Living in Chicago where we have a relative dearth of coffee options, I would always make it a point to hit Blue Bottle when I was working in or staying near SoMa. If you’re staying at the Hampton Inn on Mission Street, Blue Bottle will literally be right outside your back door.
I am torn between Blue Bottle and Phil’z as my favorite coffee in San Francisco, but from a convenience perspective, Blue Bottle has a location just a short two block walk from Moscone Center.
I wrote about this in a previous post, but when you find yourself in need of caffeine and you can’t find any inside of Moscone, do yourself a favor and just keep walking past the Starbucks on 4th Street or the one inside Metreon and treat yourself to Blue Bottle. It won’t exactly be an escape since the line will be out the door and you will see blue lanyards everywhere, but you won’t regret it.
Phil’z Coffee Truck (Financial District)
I only recently discovered Phil’z and I immediately fell in love with it. On my way to teach a class in the Financial District (yes, I know this isn’t one of the three neighborhoods I talked about) I discovered that the Phil’z Coffee Truck parks at Sansome and Pine Street during the week from 6AM to 3PM. If you’ve never experienced Phil’z (the coffee shop you see on the HBO show Silicon Valley), track down the truck and prepare to have your mind blown.
David’s Tea (SoMa)
I only recently discovered David’s Tea even though they seem to have locations popping up everywhere. I was impressed, and I noticed that there is a location inside of the Westfield San Francisco Centre. If you’re a tea connoisseur you probably already know about David’s, but if not I would recommend stopping in and trying one of their seemingly endless varieties of teas. The people that work at David’s are passionate about tea, and their enthusiasm will win you over.
21st Amendment Brewpub (SoMa)
I lived right down the street when this place opened and spent many an evening sampling the tasty wares. I have been coming back at every opportunity when I find myself in San Francisco with a free evening.
21st Amendment is a solid alternative to Thirsty Bear on Howard Street, which will be packed wall-to-wall with blue lanyards during Dreamforce. Check out the Watermelon Wheat, which I realize is now widely distributed, but it continues to be one of my favorite summer brews and they might still serve it with a watermelon wedge.
Cable 55 Bar at the Parc 55 Hotel (Union Square)
I travel to San Francisco often, and I tend to stay at the Parc 55 most weeks. For a hotel bar, Cable 55 has one of most well curated beer selections I have ever seen. The bartenders know the beer menu inside and out and always have recommendations at the ready. I’ve discovered some of my favorite California microbrews here, and they always seem to have something on tap that I can’t find anywhere else.
The lounge is a good place to disappear for a couple of hours and just decompress if you need some time apart from the Dreamforce crowd.
Mikkeller Bar (Union Square)
I love beer and I know what I like, but I would never for a moment pretend to be a beer expert. The guys at Mikkeller on the other hand…not only do they know their beer, but they know it on a level I’ve never seen before.
The meticulously curated beer menu is always changing, but one thing that remains constant at Mikkeller is that you will find some of the best and hardest to find beers around.
Bartlett Hall (Union Square)
Bartlett Hall filled a huge craft beer void in Union Square when it opened a few years ago. In addition to the beers that they brew themselves, they always have a solid selection of about a dozen guest brews from around the region.
It’s a little tough to get a seat here during happy hour and into the early evening, but it’s still a great spot to check out if you’re near the Hilton in Union Square. And as an added bonus – it’s not Johnny Foley’s!
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Jewish Art (SoMa)
Sadly, I haven’t yet had a chance to take in the entire Museum of Contemporary Art as I was pressed for time when I went to see the Amy Winehouse exhibit last year, but I am excited about the Stanley Kubrick exhibit that will be on display during Dreamforce as he is one of my favorite directors (The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Lolita, 2001).
The museum is located directly behind Moscone North and Yerba Buena Gardens on Mission Street between 3rd and 4th Streets.
Louie’s is a bar. It is a dive bar with a great beer selection, really good food, and high energy but with a working class feel. The bartenders are fantastic, and I always seem to meet new best friends at Louie’s.
Here’s the thing about Louie’s…sure I could have included this in the beer or food recommendations, but it is more of an escape than anything. In fact this is my escape, and has been since a good friend of mine introduced me to it a few years ago.
I was reluctant to include Louie’s on this list, because on the one hand I want to hold onto it as my own Dreamforce hiding spot, but on the other hand I want to share it because I love it so much.
Louie’s is not just my favorite bar in San Francisco, it is my favorite bar in the world. I mean, how can you not love a place that has a permanent special that consists of a can of Hamm’s beer and a sipping shot of Fernet-Branca?
Irish Bank (Union Square)
The Irish Bank is a San Francisco institution, and I have been drinking Guinness here since the late 90’s. Like Louie’s, I consider the Irish Bank to be more of an escape option than a beer option.
Even though the beer selection is your standard Irish pub draught list, “The Spank” has long been one of my hiding places, and you can’t go wrong stopping in for a couple of pints of the black stuff.