San Francisco Slang

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San Francisco is a city that is known for its quirks and charms-and the San Francisco slang is no exception. From the rolling hills to the eclectic cuisine, San Francisco's got it all. Just make sure that you can keep up with all of the colorful culture by brushing up on your San Francisco slang phrases.


For a town that grew up on the frontier during the Gold Rush, San Francisco has developed a highly sophisticated palate. In fact, it sometimes feels as if no two people in the city have the same food preferences. There are all different types of diets throughout the city...hence the term "locavore." This slang term describes a person who only eats locally produced food, such as free-range meat raised in California, or produce raised within driving distance of our city.

There is such an incredible variety of cuisines and restaurants in San Francisco that our ways of distinguishing them might not make sense to outsiders. For instance, a popular cuisine in San Francisco is known in local language as "Asian Fusion," a type of cooking that combines traditional recipes and spices from Asia with the flavors and freshness of California cuisine. One popular Asian Fusion restaurant, Betelnut Pejiu Wu, offers "Emerald fire noodles with mint, Thai basil, and chilies." Don't stick your hand in the emerald fire!

Betelnut Pejiu Wu Restaurant
2030 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
Sun-Thurs 11:30AM-11:00PM
Fri, Sat 11:30AM-12:00AM

Menu Language

Sometimes, the San Franciscan menus are riddled with over the top language, oozing with French, Italian and Spanish phrases. The menu at Acquerello Italian restaurant in Nob Hill boasts of serving, "Delicate Parmesan budino with mushrooms 'trifolati' and shaved Parmigiano 'Vacche Rosse'." Doesn't Vacche Rosse mean "pink cow"? Where are they getting their food? You can follow that course with, "Pan-fried filet of blue nose bass with seaweed pesto, dehydrated cherry tomatoes and abalone." Dehydrated tomatoes? Is this gourmet food for astronauts?

Another eatery called Boulevard features a dish with "Sonoma Foie Gras, Dapple Dandy Pluot, Pistachio & Plum Biscotti, Plum Coulis" for only $27.

But seriously, folks, there is no place for eating like San Francisco. So don't be too intimidated by the abundance of flowery San Francisco lingo--the sensational flavors speak for themselves. If you only eat at Fisherman's Wharf or in Chinatown, it's like going to Disneyland and not seeing Mickey Mouse. You can find listings and reviews of San Francisco restaurants on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, where you can search for eateries by location, type of food, price range, etc. They even have a list of the 100 best restaurants, most of which are pretty affordable.

Acquerello Restaurant
1722 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
Tues-Sat 5:30PM-9:30PM

Boulevard Restaurant
1 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Lunch, Mon-Fri 11:30AM-2:00PM
Dinner, Sun-Thurs 5:30PM-10:00PM
Fri, Sat 5:30PM-10:30PM


Coffee is a local obsession in San Francisco. Some cafes specialize in what San Francisco locals call "single drip," local language that means for each cup of coffee, the beans are ground and brewed individually. Blue Bottle, Phil'z and Sightglass are some of the best places to go for a single drip fix.

Blue Bottle Coffee
66 Mint Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Mon-Fri 7:00AM-7:00PM
Sat 8:00AM-6:00PM
Sun 8:00AM-4:00PM

Phil'z Coffee
3101 24th Street at Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Mon-Fri 6:00AM-8:30PM
Sat, Sun 7:00AM-8:30PM

Sightglass Coffee
270 7th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Mon-Sat 7:00AM-6:00PM
Sun 8:00AM-6:00PM

San Francisco Navigation

There is one thing that every visitor should know before bracing the city of San Francisco: there are no streets, avenues or boulevards in the city. Oddly enough, San Franciscans never use the words "Avenue," "Street" or "Boulevard" when they are talking about the name of a thoroughfare. They simply do not exist in San Francisco lingo.

One of the main roads in the city is Geary Boulevard, but you could spend your whole life plowing through the San Francisco fog without ever hearing the "Boulevard" part spoken out loud. You'll often here phrases like, "Just take Geary to the beach," but never, ever, with the "B" word tacked on. The same can be said for the streets and avenues throughout the city of San Francisco. Lingo includes names like Mission, Bryant, and Clementine, but the "Street" never follows it. In fact, the local signs don't even have the words "Street" or "Avenue" on them.

The only time you might hear another word after the name of a byway in San Francisco local lingo is when there's a teeny-tiny street that seems like it needs a bit of extra punch for distinction. Here's an example: much of the movie Tales of the City was shot in a charming little alley with wooden walkways located on Russian Hill called Macondray Lane. When referring to this quaint little back street, San Franciscans actually do use the word "Lane" after Macondray.

Speaking of streets, there are some that aren't pronounced the way that you might expect. For instance, there's a lovely street situated in a neighborhood of old Victorian houses called "Noe," but you must pronounce the "e" at the end: NO-ee. There are a few unusual tidbits to know about this street. It was named for Jose Noe, a rancher and the last Mexican mayor of San Francisco. Noe owned the land where the street runs, as well as the surrounding area. In Spanish, his name sounds like Jose No Way. Another fun fact: the locals paint an extra "L" on the Noe street signs at Christmastime so that they read "NOEL."

Another street that often gets mispronounced is Sansome. San Franciscans say it with two syllables: San-Sum. It's actually pronounced incorrectly on the San Francisco bus recordings to warn riders when their stop is coming up. Interestingly enough, the voice on the recording belongs to a woman named Donna Reed (like the actress who plays the mom in the film It's a Wonderful Life). This Donna Reed lives in Houston, Texas, God bless her, and she is not so fluent in San Francisco slang.

One street name in San Francisco that tourists tend to say incorrectly is Gough. The real San Franciscans say it "Goff," to rhyme with "doff" and "scoff." And here's a quick tip - Gough is a good street to take when heading downtown from the area near the Golden Gate Bridge because it is one-way with timed lights.

Vallejo, which is pronounced Vah-LAY-ho, is an intriguing and exotic street name. It's Spanish and named for a general and statesman, Mariano Vallejo, who served during the transition from Mexican rule. If you were to say it the Spanish way, it would sound more like Bah-YAY-ho. But if you said it in English, it would be Val-LEJ-jo. Instead, we wound up with something in between. Not surprising, since California's heritage is a mix of both Spanish and English cultures.

What's unique about San Francisco is the collection of little neighborhoods, each one with its own character, architecture, and climate (believe it or not, it can be hot and sunny in one neighborhood and cold and foggy a block away). In San Francisco lingo, there are three types of names for the parts of the city.

The "The" type is usually named for a major landmark, street or characteristic in the area, such as The Castro, The Mission or The Sunset.

Other neighborhoods are named based on whether they are at the top of a hill, "Heights," or at the bottom of one, "Valley" (pretty much every area of San Francisco falls into one of the two categories). Take the following areas: Cow Hollow (which I promise you is more upscale than it sounds), Pacific Heights (even fancier), Sea Cliff (the fanciest), Noe Valley, Potrero get the idea.

While it is always entertaining to check out the tourist sites like Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz, you should not leave San Francisco without visiting the distinctive neighborhoods with breathtaking Victorian houses. Once you see the charming areas like Ashbury Heights, Pacific Heights and Noe Valley, you'll understand why the locals love this city.

Alcatraz Island
San Francisco, CA

Another quick tip: don't call it "Frisco." No one here does, so get with the San Francisco local language and say the full name - a tribute to St. Francis of Assisi. That's right; "San Francisco" is the Spanish name for an Italian saint...another great example of the city's multicultural traditions.

Zack Rogow is the author, editor, or translator of eighteen plays or books, including The Number Before Infinity and the poetry anthology The Face of Poetry. Read his blog on Red Room.
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