Given San Francisco's mercurial climate, December can be pleasantly temperate — although you should always be wary of fog or oceanic winds, which can deliver a sudden chill. Chicagoans might bristle at our definition of cold, but along with an emergency sweater, every San Franciscan carries a mental list of places to seek warm refuge in case the marine layer smothers a lovely afternoon. Whether you're looking to recharge with a tasty treat or need a spot to warm your bones, here are some great drinks for chilly days.
Combine two holiday treats - chocolate and holiday lights - on Gourmet Walks
Holiday Lights and Chocolate Tours (gourmetwalks.com). The downtown walk, which
has seven stops (each with its own chocolate tasting), runs Fridays and
Saturdays from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. during the month of December. See the lights of
Union Square, Embarcadero Center, the Palace Hotel and Westfield San Francisco
Centre while sipping hot chocolate and nibbling a peppermint truffle.
European Hot Chocolate
Should coffee start to feel a little utilitarian, the eastern European hot chocolate at Boulette's Larder (bouletteslarder.com) is a decadent affair: thick, fortifying and served straight out of a copper kettle. It's a perfect accompaniment to browsing the Ferry Building farmers market on a gusty Saturday morning, as it'll keep your hand nice and toasty.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
But since this is San Francisco, Mexican hot chocolate must not be overlooked. No taquería has the bragging rights to authenticity that La Oaxaqueña (oaxaquena.yolasite.com) has. Until the city put a stop to it, they used to serve grasshopper tacos. Slightly gritty though this block of Mission Street may be, the cinnamon-y Mexican hot chocolate here is a genuine treat. Made with ground almonds, it's even better with a pinch of guajillo chili powder for that addictive burn.
Teddy Bear Tea
Check out the Teddy Bear Tea at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Nob Hill (ritzcarlton.com) if you're out with the kids and need to rest tired feet. This charming holiday show stars an entertaining elf and his animated helper and boasts a giant teddy bear. Every child gets a photo with the giant teddy. Shows are at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Dec. 5-7, 13-14 and 19-23. And it's for a good cause; a portion of the proceeds goes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, benefitting children with life-threatening medical conditions.
Gingerbread Holiday Tea
The Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill (fairmont.com/sanfrancisco) showcases an enormous holiday-time gingerbread house made with thousands of ginger bricks baked by the hotel, adorned with icing and candy and displayed in the Fairmont's splendid main lobby. The life-sized gingerbread house is just for looking, but when it premieres Nov. 29, complimentary hot chocolate and cookies will be served. The Fairmont's annual Gingerbread Holiday Tea continues through Dec. 31 in the Laurel Court Restaurant & Bar, just off the lobby.
If ever a jaded San Francisco resident claims there are no good restaurants on the waterfront, grab them by the wrist and bring them to The Slanted Door (slanteddoor.com) for afternoon tea (2:30-4:30 p.m. daily). Among the herbal blends and oolongs, you'll find black Hong Kong milk tea and Thousand Days red jasmine, perfect for when the breeze is stiff. There's an afternoon food menu as well.
Loose Leaf Tea
Loose leaf tea lovers have long flocked to Samovar's (samovartea.com) three tea houses (in the Castro, Yerba Buena and Hayes Valley), but the opening of their decidedly high-concept Valencia Street location was an abrupt shift. This minimalist, travertine-filled space was literally designed around the stone mugs, offering restorative tonics like Green Ecstasy (made with Japanese sencha and matcha powder).
Tea's resurgence pales beside the dominance of Third Wave coffee, however, and San Francisco's premier temple to caffeination remains the flagship Sightglass Coffee (sightglasscoffee.com) South of Market. Beautiful, barn-like, and Wi-Fi-less this café-roastery is as full of tech workers as industrial equipment and sacks of beans, all of them queuing patiently for innovative drip coffees harvested from small lots.
Riders on the city's famous cable cars have long stopped for an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Café, (thebuenavistal.com). The first in America (according to the historical plaque), their method of aging and frothing the cream so that it floats dates back to 1952. It's not far from PIER 39 )(pier39.com), so it's a great spot to warm up before or after festivities like the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony.
Hot Buttered Rum
Smuggler's Cove (smugglerscovesf.com/trapdoor) in Hayes Valley is a unique place: it's devoted entirely to rum. And with 400 in stock, there is no better venue for a hot buttered rum than this beloved tiki bar, lauded by Bon Appetit and Esquire for its cocktails. Prepared with demerara rum and a secret spice mix, it would warm up a pirate of the Caribbean who's marooned in the Arctic.
A hot toddy is an uncomplicated drink that can be had almost anywhere. But if they begin to feel more like a folk remedy for the common cold than a proper libation, head to Elixir (elixersf.com) in the Mission district. A staple of any dive bar tour, this neo-Victorian saloon serves more than 330 different whiskeys, meaning that basic hot yoddy can take on vanilla notes or a serious peaty flavor.
The San Francisco Travel Association (sanfrancisco.travel) provided this excellent information for your visit to San Francisco. Call them: 415-391-2000. The Visitor Information Center is located at 900 Market St. in Hallidie Plaza, lower level, near the Powell Street cable car turnaround.