San Francisco Treats

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(photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association)

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!

San Francisco at dusk

(photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association by Can Balcioglu)

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge–It’s a THRILL!
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Golden Gate Bridge (photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association)

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.

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The Presidio (courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association/photo by Scott Chernis)

  • 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.
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California Academy of Sciences (courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association): Check out that roof!

  • 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…
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SFMOMA (photo courtesy of SFMOMA)

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close-up of SFMOMA facade was inspired by the water and fog SF Bay (courtesy of SFMOMA)

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Note the wall of green plants in the outside sculpture space (photo courtesy of SFMOMA)

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gallery at SFMOMA (courtesy of SFMOMA)

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SFMOMA’s expanded space is so big that it allows room for this wonderful indoor maze! (courtesy of SFMOMA)

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!
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The 40th Annual San Francisco Gay Pride Parade where the theme was “Forty and Fabulous” (Photo by Nader Khouri)

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.

Breakfast

  • 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.
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Ferry Building (photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association)

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.

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Boulettes Larder’s small dining room, facing San Francisco Bay (photo courtesy of Mariko Reed)

Lunch

  • 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!

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(photo courtesy of Stookey’s Club Moderne)

  • 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.
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This photo doesn’t begin to capture Stookey’s wonderfulness (photo courtesy of Stokey’s Club Moderne)

Dinner

  •  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.
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Leo’s Oyster Bar

  • 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.
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Hotel Drisco

  • 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)
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The Palace’s entrance: Beautiful!

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A Palace bedroom: Love those 11′ ceilings and city view!

SHOP

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).

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Chinatown in San Francisco, California September 11, 2014. (Photo Copyright Nader Khouri 2014)

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.

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(photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association/Scott Chernis)

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.

Maine’s Coastal Charmers

If this is what comes to mind when someone says, “Maine,” you will not be disappointed because it really is this beautiful!

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(photo courtesy of the Pentagoet Inn)

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Hiking near Blue Hill, Maine—lots of blueberries! (photo courtesy of the Pentagoet Inn)

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You will see lots of classic old sailboats in Maine (photo courtesy of the Pentagoet Inn)

Based on articles in my file, my husband’s multiple sailing trips along Maine’s coast, and our trip a couple of years ago, following are Maine’s most charming coastal towns:

Castine

MOST perfect! Historic, not touristy, peaceful small town, with beautiful houses, situated on the tip of a peninsula overlooking Penobscot Bay. The best introduction to the village of Castine is to read the history and then to follow the self-guided walking tour in the “Welcome to Castine” brochure, which describes historic sites and homes, and anecdotes about early citizens. It’s fun, easy and relaxing…oh, and a bit educational to boot!

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Castine’s history is amazing!

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Having lunch in Castine (photo courtesy of The Castine Inn)

STAY in Castine

  • Castine Inn–What could be more welcoming than the Castine Inn’s front porch, below?! Built in 1898, one block from the harbor, wraparound porch, gardens,  and its own pub. 19 rooms with private baths
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The Castine Inn (photo courtesy of The Castine Inn)

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room at Castine Inn

Blue Hill

Lovely, lovely!

STAY in Blue Hill

  • Blue Hill Inn–Such a classically pretty inn! The bedrooms look every bit as nice, so check out BHI’s website for photos. Located on an acre of land in the center of the village of Blue Hill and a block from the head of Blue Hill Bay, the inn, built in 1835, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
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Blue Hill Inn—oh, those rhododendrons!

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Blue Hill Inn’s parlor

EAT in Blue Hill:

  • Wonderful Restaurant: Arborvine
  • Excellent Carry-out: Blue Hill Co-op
  • Kitsch-at-its-best diner: Fish Net (no web site, of course!)
  • The Boatyard Grill: It’s a fun one! (no web site for this one, either)
  • Blue Hill Country Club: The house we rented came with use of this private club, whose upscale casualness charmed us, so you might want to see if your club has reciprocity with the BHCC, which has golf, tennis, etc.
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photo courtesy of the Wooden Boat School

Stonington

Perfectly charming! Stonington is one of the few working fishing villages left in Maine and boasts one of New England’s largest fishing fleets (lobstering, fishing, urchining, scalloping, clamming and musseling). Stonington sits on the southernmost tip of Deer Isle, with lovely panoramic views of fir-dense islands. What to do in Stonington and Deer Isle: hiking, kayaking, tennis, golf, bird watching, jogging, biking, and fishing.

STAY in Stonington

  • Inn on the Harbor-This is not a fancy place BUT it is perched right on the edge of lovely Stonington Harbor, has a great view of the Penobscot Bay islands, and was built in the 1880’s. It is a bed and breakfast, with 13 simply furnished rooms, 10 of which face the sea, and a spacious flower-covered deck extending out into the harbor. Several rooms have wood burning fireplaces and/or private decks; all with private baths.
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Inn on the Harbor

SEE THE SIGHTS in Stonington

  • The Inn on the Harbor’s innkeepers will introduce you to Captain Walt Reed, who takes 1 to 4 passengers aboard his 21′ vessel to explore around the islands, see lighthouses, seals, and water birds. He will let you create your own tour, including the timing thereof. Stonington harbor is the departure point for daily cruises (by the Isle au Haut Boat Company) around the islands and to Isle au Haut, part of Acadia National Park, which offers hiking trails, rugged beaches and gorgeous sea vistas.

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EAT in Stonington

  • Aragosta–Breaking news: My cousins just visited Stonington and highly recommend this farm-to-table dining overlooking Stonington’s beautiful harbor.
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photo courtesy of Aragosta

SEE THE SIGHTS

In nearby small, sweet Brooklin, Maine (setting of E.B.White’s  “Charlotte’s Web”):

  • Brooklin Inn:  has a good restaurant
  • Brooklin Boat Yard, where E.B. White’s grandson builds beautiful, classic boats
  • Wooden Boat School: great gift shop (selling boat models and books) & gorgeous location on a 64-acre campus on the water where you can learn to make your own wooden boat
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photo courtesy of the Wooden Boat School

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regatta as seen from the shores of the Wooden Boat School

SEE THE SIGHTS

A little farther afield:

Miscellaneous well-rated hotels in Maine:

  • Whitehall (Camden)–My cousins-with-good-taste recently returned from Camden and, while they agree with my sailor husband’s description of the town (“not bad, a little touristy”), they loved this hotel. And you will see why when you go to its website. Here are some photos to whet your appetite:
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Whitehall (photo courtesy of Lark Hotels)

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Whitehall (photo courtesy of Lark Hotels)

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Whitehall (photo courtesy of Lark Hotels)

  •  Camden Harbour Inn–This is a Relais & Chateaux but as we all know, the hotels in that group are only guaranteed to be great in France. Outside of France, sometimes they’re great, sometimes not. The CHI’s website looked okay, with only a few hints of tackiness.
  • The White Barn Inn (Kennebunkport)–This is the only hotel in Maine recommended by Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who have good taste. Here’s what they say, “Set on a prime plot of Atlantic coastline, The White Barn Inn hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine, captures the region’s nautical spirit without resorting to sailor stripes and ship-inspired design. The airy riverfront cabins and 19th-century guesthouse often include dual-sided fireplaces, marble bathrooms and antique furniture. As for the namesake barn, it’s home to a local-centric restaurant, which serves some of the best food in all of New England.” Based on a few articles I have read, I worry that Kennebunkport might be touristy, though I haven’t been there.

From  Andrew Harper‘s always-helpful website (April 2016):

“Contrary to popular belief, not all of the Maine shoreline is rocky. Many of the beaches in the southern part of the state offer sandy shores.’Goose Rocks Beach is one of the best beaches in Maine, and quite possibly in all of New England,’ says Justin Grimes of Hidden Pond. ‘It’s protected by two small islands that shelter the bay and make it especially great for swimming.’ In case you think it’s too cold, Al Black of The White Barn Inn says water temperatures are typically pleasant from late June through early September. Plus, you get two-for-one in Kennebunkport: From the coast, drive a mere mile inland and you’re in the thick of the forest.”

AVOID BECAUSE PACKED WITH TOURISTS: Bar Harbor

AVOID BECAUSE STRIP-SHOPPING CENTER CENTRAL: Freeport

Reading companions to get into the Maine spirit: any E.B. White books, but especially E.B. White’s “One Man’s Meat” (witty essays on daily life at his Maine farm on Allen Cove, between Blue Hill and Brooklin) and, should you want to re-live your childhood, “Charlotte’s Web,” part of which is set in Brooklin

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photo courtesy of the Wooden Boat School

-posted June 2016

Savannah on my Mind…

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STAY

  • Hamilton-Turner Inn (330 Abercorn St.)–Built on 1873 with very high ceilings and some lovely architectural details, the H-T Inn is well-located on beautiful and quiet Lafayette Square in the heart of the historic district. Good breakfasts, plus cakes and cookies throughout the day, plus cheese/crackers/wine at cocktail hour, plus port after 8 pm. Mostly pretty décor.
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Hamilton-Turner Inn

  • The Brice (601 E. Bay Lane at Houston St.)–If staying in an old house on one of Savannah’s squares is not your thing, stay at The Brice. It is a Kimpton Hotel—and decorated stylishly, as expected—& near (not on) the waterfront, which is touristy-tacky though historic and active.

OF NOTE: The Ballastone Inn and the Mansion on Forsyth Park get lots of positive press but the former is not on a square and the latter has faux-Greek statues out front & is located on large park versus small, charming square.

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

  • The Grey (109 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.)–in a revamped Greyhound bus station with fabulously renovated art deco architecture, great food (its chef worked at NYC’s acclaimed Prune restau for years), good service, excellent staff…and it’s full of life.
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The Grey (photo by Quentin Bacon)

  • Collins Quarter (151 Bull St.)–fun ambience, good music (not live, except on occasional Sundays), attractive décor (candlelight, gorgeous flowers, exposed brick, big windows), excellent food, warm & friendly staff, and a service-oriented owner.

View More: http://joshmorehousephotography.pass.us/cq

SHOP IT!

  • E. Shaver Bookseller (326 Bull Street at Madison Square)–a DREAM of a bookstore with knowledgeable staff, a small tea room, beautiful books in a beautiful location! Reminds me of the charming bookstores of London.

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  • Satchel (4 E. Liberty St. at Bull)–beautiful leather goods (mostly purses) designed and produced on the premises by SCAD students and alums, seven of whom were sewing away when I was there…no barrier between store front and workshop, and if you would prefer your chosen purse in a different color, the staff offers an array from which to choose. I am still lusting after a bag I saw there…matter of fact, that one in the photo looks pretty great!
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Satchel creation (photo by Izzy Hudgins)

  • SCAD Shop (340 Bull St.)–creative, artistic jewelry, paintings, stationery, etc. made by some of the 12,000 SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) students in Savannah

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SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Town Squares–Walk (or take a pedi-cab) the historic district’s 26 squares, filled with live oaks dripping with Spanish moss…nothing finer than looking at the GORGEOUS old houses in and around the squares.
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Owens-Thomas House

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  • SCAD Museum (601 Turner Blvd.)–beautiful architecture (American Institute of Architects award-winning) meets world-class exhibits (contemporary art, plus some fashion)

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  • Ships of the Sea Museum (41 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.)–If you like ship models, those displayed here are excellent; if you don’t, the pre-Civil War house in which they’re exhibited is fun to see and has an interesting history.
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photo by Attic Fire

  • Bonaventure Cemetery — If you’ve read, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” which I loved, you will want to visit Bonaventure Cemetery. Even if you haven’t, it’s a wonderfully evocative place…Spanish moss, romantic tombstones, very Southern.

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DAY TRIP

Tybee Island–A very pretty, 20-min drive from Savannah’s historic district, Tybee Island is a beach town-that-time-forgot meets a-little-bit-of-kitsch. No pretense or McMansions here; instead, think small, 1950s beach cottages on small lots. Gidget would be right at home here. Tybee is an little barrier island w/a fun feel on the Atlantic Ocean, so bring your beach wear.

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BONUS: If you’re a history buff, check out well-preserved Fort Pulaksi National Park on the drive back. FP  has informative docents, exhibits and signage.

Reading companion: To get you in that Savannah state of mind, read, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

-posted April 2016