Why has everyone left their hearts in San Francisco? Because SF has it all: water, great food, inspiring architecture, world-class museums, and—most important—style, glamor, romance!
SEE THE SIGHTS
- Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge–It’s a THRILL!
Afterwards, bike through the Presidio, a park and former military base that’s hilly and gorgeous. Next, bike or walk along the San Francisco Bay through Crissy Field in the Golden Gate Recreation area. You will see people romping with their dogs and children, playing softball, watching the windsurfers, with the water on one side and the dense neighborhoods of San Francisco rising up its hills on the other side of this Bay-side park.
- California Academy of Sciences (Golden Gate Park)–Near the Presidio, the CAS is a great museum! Walk on its rooftop to see the undulating meadow of flowers and native California plants. Its aquarium is a tunnel that you walk through, surrounded by beautiful fish and corals. The CAS is a combination planetarium, aquarium, natural-history museum and a research center designed by star-chitect Renzo Piano to be the planet’s greenest museum.
- BONUS: The world-renowned De Young Art Museum (paintings, sculpture) is within easy walking distance of the CAS, and the Conservatory of Flowers is also nearby in Golden Gate Park. I haven’t been to the CoF but is sounds intriguing and was recommended by Travel + Leisure (2013).
- Exploratorium (located near the Embarcadero)–One of the most fun and interesting museums to which I have ever been! This is an interactive science museum that is neither dusty nor dry. Go.
- Museum of Modern Art (SoMa neighborhood)–I am in love with SF MOMA’s GORGEOUS big, new expansion designed by Snohetta, the architects who designed the stunning National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in Manhattan. Feast your eyes on their creation here…
BONUS: One of SFMOMA’s three restaurants is called In Situ and overseen by a Michelin 3-star chef, who recreates the signature dishes of the best chefs from around the world!
- Seasonal Sight: If you happen to be in San Francisco the last week in June, check out the Gay Pride Parade. Coincidentally, we were there at that time and it is a sight to behold. Everyone goes around saying, “Happy Gay Day!” The SF Pride Celebration and Parade has been around for over 46 years. There is a fair amount of bare skin, so no wonder it takes place in June!
EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY!
San Francisco restaurants are especially good because so much fresh food is grown year-round locally. For your eating pleasure, I have thoughtfully organized the best SF restaurants by neighborhood in this spreadsheet (san-fran-restaus). These restaurants are Michelin-starred and/or were mentioned in articles in various travel magazines stashed in Mimi’s Travel File. The following are my favorites from our trip in September 2016.
- Forget $50+ room service! Instead, wander down to the Ferry Building and have a delicious breakfast at one of its several restaurants. “This is what foodie heaven looks like: dozens of local purveyors, hawking everything from cheese to chocolate to cupcakes line the arcades of this historic, waterfront building,” per Travel+Leisure (2013). Sit outside and watch the boats bob around the bay. It’s cheaper, better, faster than awaiting room service. If it’s chilly, the FB’s interior is also nice.
We went to Boulettes Larder in the Ferry Building twice in three days! Sit outside at Boulettes Larder‘s informal cafe tables & soak up the sun.
- Wayfare Tavern (Financial District)–good food, fun ambience, lively
- Tadich Grill (Financial District)–is the oldest restaurant in CA (est. 1849) and memorable for its ambience. Reservations not accepted.
Cocktails: SF is a cocktail-ing kind of town!
- Stookey’s Club Moderne–This small, intimate Nob Hill bar is quietly elegant and oh-so transporting back, back, back to the 1930’s via its decor and music. The lighting is darkish with a hint of blue up lighting, the cocktails are period and knowledgeably made, and service is great. Woody Allen could film a movie set in 1930’s San Francisco here. Stookey’s CB is one of my top five fav bars in the world! It’s that good. Thank you, Travel + Leisure (2015), for recommending it to me.
- Leo’s Oyster Bar: for FUN ambience and buzz! LOB’s designer described its look to Architectural Digest (2016): “Think 1950s Beverly Hills meets Manhattan club.” My husband took me here for my birthday and I was quite happy. Dress is city sophisticate.
- Central Kitchen: for EXCELLENT food and relaxing ambience with low-key style…or as Travel+Leisure described it, “Confidently unfussy California cuisine in a canopied, elegantly industrial space.” Have a pre-dinn drink at Trick Dog (a T+L 2013 recommendation), the bar next door. Dress is casual.
Hotels: A Quick Word
SF hotels are EXPENSIVE, possibly more so than those in NYC or London. They’re also elusive: I found very few good recommendations among my many travel magazines and online sources. By good, I mean those that are smallish (under 75 rooms), nice and in convenient and attractive neighborhoods…and don’t cost $1,000 per night. Reasonable parameters. Here’s what I found:
- Hotel Drisco (Pacific Heights): Expensive but warm ambience and talented staff, atop a hill in SF’s pretty Pacific Heights neighborhood, far from tourists; This is the place to stay if you’ve been to SF a few times and want to experience an upscale, quiet, urban neighborhood versus the business district’s/Embarcadero’s hubbub. The Hotel Drisco feels homey in an upscale way.
- The Palace (Financial District)–Normally, I shy away from hotels that are huge, landmark, historic hotels with atriums because usually they are resting on old laurels and packed with conventioneers. BUT The Palace is an exception. It’s beautiful and stylishly decorated, having been renovated in 2015. When we entered the lobby and I saw the stantions with velvet cords in front of the check-in desk, I winced: stantions usually mean long lines to check in and out. However, the service was fast. Our room was really comfortable and decorated with panache. Located in the heart of SF’s Financial District, the Palace is a short walk from the SF Museum of Modern Art, cable cars, and the Ferry Building on lovely SF Bay. Check out the lovely Maxfield Parish painting in the bar (too bad about the tv’s that flank it)! (556 rooms)
Sure, you can go to Gump’s at Union Square (definitely a good get) or wander into the little independent home decorating shops on Sacramento Street between Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights (Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic, Anthem, The Future Perfect, March, Sue Fisher King, to name a few good ones), BUT Chinatown is way more memorable and intriguing…
Chinatown–the largest outside of Asia. Be sure to visit an herbalist’s shop! An herbalist uses plants for medicinal purposes; like a Chinese drug store filled with plant-based remedies and charm (not a marijuana shop, FYI).
Neighborhoods: The Lowdown
Travel + Leisure’s 2013 article provided the following descriptions of SF’s various neighborhoods:
- Union Square: Big-name luxury boutiques border this central plaza downtown. MTF likes this neighborhood.
- Mission District: The fast-gentrifying neighborhood is known for its Latino culture and standout restaurants and bars.
- Hayes Valley: A stone’s throw from the opera and symphony hall, Hayes Street is chock-a-block with chic shops and cafes.
- Pacific Heights: Come to this mansion-filled hilltop for postcard-worthy views of the city. MTF thinks it’s lovely!
- SoMa: This sprawling area includes a plethora of museums, destination restaurants, and the ballpark, all amid a sea of parking lots and highway ramps.
TIP: Gotta take a cable car! They are San Francisco institutions, fun and an efficient way to get around the three neighborhoods they serve: Financial district/Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf area, and Nob Hill.
Traveling Companions: To get into a San Francisco frame of mind, read Dashiell Hammett’s “Maltese Falcon” and Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club.” For more suggestions, go to Longitude Books’s website.