If You’re Going to Downtown San Francisco…

As the heart of San Francisco, the downtown core embodies its spirit of creativity and resilience. Supporting it will be essential to the city’s future.

It’s the first week of December, and San Francisco’s new rooftop restaurant off Union Square is packed with groups in waiting. Down the street, a line for one of many holiday-themed cocktail bars wraps around the corner. Closer to the Embarcadero, restaurants lined with picture windows offer glimpses of holiday parties in full swing, revelers with flutes of champagne in hand. Despite the chill, a crowd has gathered at the foot of Market Street to admire artwork projected onto the façade of the Ferry Building, part of a city-wide initiative to activate public spaces.

It’s a stark contrast to the “doom loop” narrative perpetuated by the media in recent months, painting a grim picture of San Francisco’s future. Citing concerns such as rising commercial vacancies and crime, it suggests that the city is on a downward spiral. Though our city does have its problems—ones it shares with most major cities across America—San Francisco’s status as a cultural and financial center tends to attract sensationalized coverage. Criticizing the city for its issues and how these issues are addressed simultaneously, this misleading narrative also omits the abundance of reasons that make San Francisco one of the world’s greatest destinations. A closer look at the heart of the city reveals a more nuanced story—one of resilience, community, and optimism.


A hotbed of culinary innovation, downtown San Francisco is constantly evolving with an influx of new and exciting dining destinations. One of its latest players is Alora Coastal Mediterranean, an elegant restaurant breathing new life into a waterfront space which had been sitting empty for some time. Its owners are Vikram and Anu Bhambri, longtime Bay Area residents and the couple behind the acclaimed ROOH eateries.

“The downtown area holds a special place in our hearts. When looking for a place to open our restaurant, we were drawn to the historic charm of the waterfront and the views from our back patio,” said Vikram. “Alora is not just a restaurant, but a gateway to this distinctive atmosphere, offering a taste of the Mediterranean against the backdrop of the city’s rich tapestry.”

The elegant dining room of Alora Coastal Mediterranean (Neetu Laddha Photography)

Some of these tastes include a divine ’nduja sausage lasagna, fusing bold and hearty flavors, and a succulent steak shish kebab served with a roasted grape and bone marrow salsa and earthy maitake mushrooms atop a bed of creamy hummus. The Bhambris hope Alora will be one of many businesses that help draw customers downtown. “The success of local establishments [creates] a ripple effect that extends to neighboring businesses, residents, and the city as a whole,” said Vikram. “By patronizing downtown businesses, everyone can play an active role in preserving the dynamic spirit that defines San Francisco.”

Another restaurant relatively new to the scene is Holbrook House, which had social media abuzz ahead of its opening last fall. Located within The Conservatory at One Sansome, the all-day restaurant and bar turned heads for its playful use of light switches to summon carts serving champagne or martinis directly to its tables. Taking a cheekier approach to naysayers, it states its opinion directly on its website: “Congratulations, you’re in San Francisco. It’s not just a city—it’s a club. It’s not for everybody, and that’s fine.”

Holbrook House boasts a moody interior by designer Jeff Schlarb (Matthew Millman Photography)

Indeed, its glamorous interior sends the message that this is an exclusive gathering place, one that calls “for locals and those who wish they were.” Barbershop-style chairs upholstered in emerald green leather frame a sleek Calacatta marble bar, while soft blue banquettes line a room outfitted with botanical print wallpaper. It’s the sort of place you could comfortably kick off your day with Hachiya persimmon toast, then return for a lively round of caviar bumps in the evening.

Just a few blocks away from Holbrook House is Estiatorio Ornos, chef Michael Mina’s Mediterranean restaurant, which took over his eponymous restaurant in 2021. Under the direction of executive chef Daniela Vergara, the kitchen showcases the freshest seafood, such as salt-crusted sea bream, and a twist on traditional Greek fare, including a tableside baklava sundae served with 23-carat gold honey.

The tableside baklava sundae at Estiatorio Ornos (Courtesy of MINA Group)

As the chef, founder, and executive chairman of MINA Group, which manages over 30 chef-driven concepts across the country—three alone in downtown San Francisco—Mina is no stranger to opening restaurants. “We are striving to do our part as a restaurant by continuing to create jobs for our community and places for people to enjoy,” he said. “The more economic support downtown receives, the more momentum will be built on building back business and the overall downtown economy.” Some of MINA Group’s initiatives to bring activity back to downtown include Tuesdays at Estiatorio Ornos, where guests enjoy half off mezze (small plates) and gin and tonics at the bar, and Wine Down Fridays, offering half off bottles of wine at all three of his downtown restaurants.

One Market Restaurant Chef/Partner Mark Dommen (Courtesy of One Market Restaurant)

Downtown San Francisco also boasts long-time eateries that weathered downturns and disruptions prior to the pandemic. Established in 1993, One Market Restaurant has become a standard for sophisticated dining in FiDi. Chef/partner Mark Dommen’s award-winning, farm-to-table cuisine celebrates the bounty of Northern California, while sommelier and wine director Tonya Pitts manages the restaurant’s impressive 500-bottle wine list.

Across the Embarcadero, the neighboring Ferry Building is another longstanding beacon of downtown San Francisco’s resilience. After opening in 1898, it survived two major earthquakes before its transformation into the bustling culinary destination it is today, with further enhancements planned for 2025. Featuring artisanal food vendors, specialty shops, and farmers’ markets frequented by some of the city’s top chefs, the Ferry Building remains a symbol of the city’s rich history and promising future.

Inside the historic Ferry Building (Nat and Cody Photography)


Meanwhile, downtown San Francisco’s businesses reflect the city’s diverse and innovative spirit, ranging from iconic institutions that have shaped its cultural landscape to the emergence of establishments driving the message that San Francisco is still unabashedly the place to be. In addition to Holbrook House, The Conservatory at One Sansome’s $25 million makeover included a handsome reimagining of its stunning, light-filled atrium and North Lobby, totaling nearly 16,000 square feet of flexible event space.

“Back in September 2022 when [it] was under construction, I would rarely share the elevators with anyone or see regular foot traffic around the building in the FiDi,” said Lillian Phan, executive vice president of sales and marketing at The Conservatory at One Sansome. December 2023 was a much different story. “Since the launch of the Holbrook House, there has been a noticeable increase in activity within the atrium during public hours, along with a heightened awareness of our event spaces.”

The Conservatory at One Sansome offers a beautiful atrium for public enjoyment, as well as private events (Natasha Gillett Photography)

This new chapter also reflects its commitment to the community as a space for the public. Special programming, such as a U.S. Navy Band performance during Fleet Week and a holiday pop-up featuring photo opportunities with Santa, attract both locals and tourists. “These activations aim to foster a sense of community,” says Phan.

The nearby Jay Hotel, which opened toward the end of 2023, is also keen on shared spaces that are inviting to all. “Our vision for The Jay has always been to be more than just a place to stay, but to also be a catalyst for positive transformation in downtown San Francisco,” said General Manager Michael Mussara. The Jay’s strategy is reflected in its partnership with Omakase Restaurant Group for The Third Floor, an upscale dining environment where locals and travelers alike will flock to a menu offering unexpected fare such as Japanese skewers, seafood towers, and superfood smoothies. “Through this collaboration, we aim to not only redefine the downtown dining scene, but also to foster a sense of unity and connection in this vibrant city that we call home.”

The terrace of The Third Floor at The Jay offers a cozy respite in the middle of downtown (Courtesy of The Jay)

Another massive bet on downtown San Francisco’s revival comes from the acquisition of the Transamerica Pyramid Center by SHVO. Purchased by the luxury real estate developer in 2020, a multi-phase renovation estimated at $400 million has been planned for the iconic 48-story tower, as well as two adjacent office buildings and an urban park at the center of the properties. One highly anticipated addition is a new branch of the ultra-exclusive private club, Core, expected to take up residence on the Transamerica Pyramid’s first three floors.

Like its locations in Manhattan and Milan, the club will offer members-only spaces including a restaurant, culinary lab, wine gallery, and speakeasy. Other luxe amenities include cutting-edge fitness facilities and a skincare institute offering head-to-toe tailored treatments. This major investment into the renowned landmark symbolizes a strong belief in San Francisco’s ability to rebound. “With its world-class architecture, state-of-the-art amenities, and a reinvigorated park open to members of the public, the revitalization of this iconic site is encouraging firms and individuals to return to the office,” said a December 2023 report by HR&A Advisors. “The influx of activity [is] anticipated to create a ripple effect benefiting local retailers and businesses across the downtown neighborhood.”

A rendering of the restaurant at Core, a new private club opening in the Transamerica Pyramid (Courtesy of Core)

SHVO’s plans to expand the urban park at the center of the complex will connect North Beach, Jackson Square, and Chinatown—neighborhoods that house beloved institutions such as City Lights Bookstore. Founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin in 1953, the bookstore continues to stand as an emblem of literary arts and countercultural history after 70 years and is one of many businesses that will keep thriving with continued investment into downtown San Francisco.


While challenges remain, downtown San Francisco is far from succumbing to a “doom loop” and persists as a dynamic area with a rosy future. As we continue to navigate the uncertainties of a post-pandemic world, it is important to recognize and celebrate its local businesses, the contributions of which are essential to the city’s cultural vibrancy and economic vitality. So, savor a meal at a new waterfront restaurant or gather with loved ones at an old favorite. Swing by the Ferry Building and see what’s new, then stop in for happy hour and live piano at One Market Restaurant. Let’s keep the heart of San Francisco beating.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti outside City Lights Bookstore, which recently celebrated its 70th anniversary (Stacey Lewis)