Winter in Northern California means cool, bright days and crisp, chilly evenings. It also means always having a great excuse to duck into someplace cozy for a pick-me-up. From fire-lit bars, to brick-oven-warmed bakeries, to restaurants chock-full of cozy ambiance, we asked the staff at our seven Norcal hostels for their favorite local spots to warm up. Read on for their picks, and get ready to settle in for the winter.
HI-SF Downtown and City Center Hostels
“It's a staff favorite,” says HI-SF Downtown Activities Coordinator Ellysa. “The bartenders are really friendly and there is a nice cozy ambiance with brick walls, red lights, and a fireplace.”
This one’s “really, really close to the hostel,” says Ellysa. “It's connected to a hotel, so there’s a variety of travelers, and locals too. There's a fire place, free snacks and shuffle board!”
Zeki’s is cozy bar with a nice fireplace, affordable drinks, and a variety of cocktails. “They’re self-proclaimed as ‘the friendliest bar in SF,’” says Ellysa, “and, arguably, they’re not lying!”
Though the Inner Richmond district, where the Hearth is located, is a bit out of the way if you’re based downtown, it’s well worth the bus ride out. One of the city’s latest “up and coming” neighborhoods, it’s full of multi-cultural restaurants, independent shops, and artsy young locals. Not to mention some of the city’s best dive bars: “The Hearth is a great Richmond dive,” Ellysa says. “A cute fireplace, pool, stiff drinks -- what more do you need?”
About a five-minute walk from HI-SF Downtown, Sugar Café will warm you up no matter what the time. By day, Sugar’s a laid-back coffee shop with a roaring fireplace, free Wi-Fi, and well-rounded brunch and lunch menus. By night, it’s a sleek bar serving beer, cocktails, and bar bites like pork-belly sliders and Kobe meatballs.
HI-SF Fisherman’s Wharf
Locally roasted espresso, toasted sandwiches and homemade quiche, and now, Northern California beers and wines by the glass – HI-Fisherman’s Wharf’s on-site café has everything you need to warm up your evening! Meet some new friends around the hostel lounge’s central fire place, then pop into Café Franco to make a night of it.
The Buena Vista Café
The Buena Vista Café makes quite the claim to fame: according to legend, it was here, in 1952, that the Irish coffee was invented. Also, says HI-Fisherman’s Wharf Activities Coordinator Mellice, “It's pretty cozy, and has a nice view.”
“Many of the places on this side of the bridge can be quite pricey for any levels of ambiance,” HI-Marin Headlands Assistant General Manager Meghan warns, “but there are some ways to get the ambiance on the cheap!”
The Pelican Inn
This old English-style inn near Muir Beach is cozy, warm, and locally beloved. “It’s a great place to grab a pint and some pub snacks after a long day of hiking on Mount Tamalpais,” Meghan advises. “You'll feel like you walked into a cottage on the shores of Dover!”
Sartaj India Café
Meghan recommends Sartaj’s chai tea and veggie samosas. “Grab one and sit on the docks looking out on the beautiful bay in Sausalito. Bring a blanket and a good book and you are set!”
“The Buckeye is more on the pricey side, but they have a beautiful lodge feel, fireplace and full bar,” says Meghan. “Head over after dinner for dessert and a night cap, like cinnamon-bourbon hot chocolate!”
Taste of Rome
Meghan loves the café food and the mochas at this Sausalito hub. “They also have live music on the weekends, and it becomes nice and cozy once everyone starts to dance. It's usually an older crowd so you feel like a kid at a holiday party once your aunts and uncles have had too much eggnog!”
Sir and Star
“It's a bit high-end,” HI-Point Reyes General Manager Hanna admits, “but Sir and Star in Olema has a gorgeous fireplace that you can almost walk in.” It also has rave reviews in Food & Wine magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of other publications – so make your reservations in advance!
Station House Café
Hanna also recommends the Station House Café in the town of Point Reyes Station. The bar here serves up hot toddies and hot chocolate during the winter months.
HI-Point Reyes Norm’s Market
That’s right – you can also opt to stay warm without leaving the hostel! “Bring your own provisions, make your own hot chocolate in one of the hostel kitchens, and enjoy sipping it with a view looking out at the surrounding hillsides and valleys,” Hanna suggests.
The tiny town of Pescadero, just minutes from HI-Pigeon Point, has a cozy new café that’s drawing coffee worshipers from all over the Bay Area. Downtown Local’s been earning high praise for its Sightglass coffee, its vintage décor, and its penchant for screening silent movies on the wall.
Pescadero Country Store and Norm’s Market
Nothing warms you up like a snack right out of the oven. At the Pescadero Country Store, don’t miss the fresh brick-oven pizza. Over at Norm’s Market, there are two ways to try the artichoke-and-garlic bread that draws visitors from all over the world: buy it warm, straight from the oven; or pick up a partially baked loaf, then pop it in the oven back at the hostel and watch the crust brown before your eyes.
Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.
Beers brewed on-site, food sourced in season, and fire pits out back so you can enjoy it all with a side of Bay views. Best of all, the brewery’s located in Princeton Harbor, just three miles south of HI-Point Montara.
Grab a discounted drink or dish from the bar menu during happy hour at this upscale Peruvian restaurant. Inside, the ambiance is warm; outside, fire pits overlook the ocean.
Here Comes the Sun
The warmth in this Montara coffee shop, less than a mile north of the hostel off of Highway 1, comes from the people who work there. Here Comes the Sun is run by a “super-friendly mom and daughter,” says Brian from HI-Point Montara. “It has good views and is a great local place for coffee, tea, and bakery treats.”