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5 SF-Based Coffee Shops that Edge Out the Corporate Competition

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Working from home may be a luxury, but perhaps the luxury ends there. Perhaps “home” is little more than a sunlight-starved hovel, crawling with roommates and other forms of vermin. Perhaps you, like me, are in need of some alternatives. 

You might consider The Coffee Shop. San Francisco is littered with them, after all. In some ways, that’s precisely the problem. Where to go? What to do? Corporate coffee chains leer on every street corner, offering an accessible option, a predictable exchange. There is familiarity here, but no warmth. 

Say you’re seeking a little novelty. Say you’re seeking reprieve from the “Apple ideology,” defined here by Ian F. Svenonious in Censorship Now!:

The Apple ideology is sleek and clean. It proposes a futuristic lifestyle without attachments or clutter, where mankind is free to chase down every desire, creative or otherwise, free of the “fuzz” of possessions. Like a nomad on the steppe, movement, horizon, and conquest are the only concern.

Arguably a San Francisco specialty, the Apple ideology is efficient yet alienating. Rather than trade in your living room for a well-designed box, let’s assume “movement, horizon, and conquest” are not your only concern. Let’s assume you’re chasing a little grit, a little intrigue. Human connection, even. 

Let’s assume you want my recommendations:

Trouble Coffee
4033 Judah St.
San Francisco, CA 94122

Trouble Coffee assures customers that they are open “every damn day.” I visited their HQ location in Ocean Beach, a popular joint for grab-and-go coffee and decadent toast. The interior design is a testament to owner Giulietta Carrelli’s sharp taste and idiosyncratic vision.

Carrelli describes herself as “BAtsHIT CRAZy trOUBLe HeRsELf,” once just “broke with a dream.” Carelli built Trouble Coffee with her friends, using driftwood culled from Ocean Beach. Inside, wheatpaste collage meets creative offal in the form of books, records, and cassettes. Good luck finding another cafe where you can sip from a coconut in the presence of Discharge, Flipper, and Rudimentary Peni.

The Social Study
1795 Geary Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94115

The Social Study is an elevated study lounge. Menu items transition beautifully from AM to PM, from roasted Four Barrel coffee to an inventive assortment of beertails, winetails, and Soju cocktails. Glossy quilted leather lines one wall, providing an anchor to a series of hovering tables. The opposite wall is all brick, doubling as a screen to the nightly film projection.

As the display beyond the register would suggest, music is mindfully selected: A mix of jazz, R&B, soul, funk, hip hop, and classics. The atmosphere lends itself to more than a study destination; The Social Study was voted “Best Date Bar in San Francisco” by San Francisco Magazine in 2015.

The Gallery Cafe
1200 Mason St.
San Francisco, CA 94108

Discovering the Gallery Cafe is worthy of celebration. Congratulations, you’ve found a public living room. Vinyl records, pulp fiction novels, and cassette tapes inexplicably hang from the ceiling. Vintage typewriters peek over the ledge of a loft. Jazz and blues are a welcome respite from the cyclical spin of pop tracks. (The contemporary moment recedes even further with the steady passage of cable cars, as the cafe is located directly across from the Cable Car Museum.)

Whimsy aside, what truly wooed me was the proud display of their nastier Yelp reviews in the loo. Well played.

SF Rinse Laundromat & Hideaway Cafe
850 Jones St.
San Francisco, CA 94109

The Hideaway Cafe is a bizarre find for those simply looking to give their rags a rinse. What lies beyond the laundromat is oddly charming discord. The ambient hum of laundry machines meets a muttered exchange between two television screens mounted on opposite walls, as if in competition with each other. (On my last visit, it was football versus bull riding.)

Maroon armchairs crowd a small bookshelf, offering titles like Lynn Lawson’s Staying Well in a Toxic World and Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Ill-conceived quotes whisper from the walls, claiming, “I like you a latte,” and yet, “I saw that,” signed, “Karma.” A small lego diorama of a coffee shop has earned a place of prominence near the register, an uncanny echo of its surroundings. Don’t be deterred. Stay a while. The owner has a wicked sense of humor, and he makes a mean breakfast sandwich.

The Little Spot
1199 S. Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94110

The Little Spot earns its title. Checkerboard tiling encases a warmly-lit space featuring bookshelves, window seating, and wandering dogs. A black be-jeweled snake guards the register, coiled beside slices of homemade cheesecake and lemon meringues. On my last visit to the cafe, the barista was both affable and agile in vintage leather pants. Impressive. Those who seek distraction from their drudgery will appreciate the basketball hoop mounted in the entry, as well as the crate of $2 vinyl records by the front door.

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Lydia Sviatoslavsky

Lydia Sviatoslavsky

Lydia Sviatoslavsky covers culture and curiosities for Bay City News and Broke-Ass Stuart. She publishes artist interviews and experimental writing at You can find her on Instagram at @rot_thought.