Built on 43 hills, covering 49 square miles and surrounded by water on three sides, San Francisco packs an incredible number of sights into a small and compact area. The ‘City by the Bay’ is a vibrant place to see. I have visited a few times for work and pleasure, but this last trip was with my best friend, Linda Gomes, and it was truly memorable. A tremendous thank you to Michael Stedman, Trish Mannion, Kathy Mannion, Yao-Hsuan Huang and Barclay Webster for helping cultivate this list over the past few years.
- Currency: US dollar
- Tipping: 15-20% appreciated
- Parc 55 Wyndham (Union Square Area): Cost effective and great location.
- Hyatt @ Fisherman’s Wharf: A 5-minute walk from the shops and restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf, this upscale hotel is 3 blocks from Ghirardelli Square, and 4.3 miles from the east end of Golden Gate Park.
- Sir Francis Drake (Union Square Area): A historic 1920s building just off Union Square. Part of Kimpton Hotels, the amenities are fantastic – the hotel hosts a free afternoon wine hour and has a glamorous top-floor lounge, The Starlight Lounge. The views are beautiful, the Yoshi’s Fix cocktail is delicious and although I haven’t made it yet, I heard the Sunday Drag Queen brunch is terribly entertaining. It’s also pet friendly.
- Westin St. Francis: This upscale hotel dating to 1904 was once visited by Queen Elizabeth II, and is 1.8 miles from downtown San Francisco. Can we say Starwood points?!
San Francisco Dining:
- Yank Sing : My personal favorite dim sum. Keith and I rang up a $200 tab – yes, we are fat. Linda and I came in second place at $115.
- Michael Mina: Expert waitstaff and world class sommeliers. Classic California cuisine!
- Original Joes: Old school Italian. They also have a great hamburger.
- Sons and Daughters: Contemporay American influenced by the seasons. A 28 table restaurant with a beautiful open kitchen.
- Foreign Cinema for brunch: Truly a magical destination with an outdoor space screening films. Amazing brunch focusing on Californian-Mediterranean fare.
- Brenda’s French Soul Food: NOLA take on fresh gumbo, crawfish, beignets, po’ boys & other Big Easy bites. The watermelon ice tea is glorious. No reservations so get there early!
- Wayfare Tavern: Feels like a British Pub. It’s known for it’s fried chicken. It’s good, but Willie Mae’s in NOLA will always be my #1. There was just a little more soul in the batter. What stood out during this meal was the mac and cheese and the burrata whipped potatoes.
- Locanda: Every pasta was outstanding, and we tried them all. Amen!
- Tony’s Pizza: Coal fired to Roman style – ’nuff said.
- Liholiho Yacht Club: Hawaiian, Indian & Chinese dishes in a brick-walled space with booths. I am on a mission to eat everything with poke. The tuna poke, sesame oil, radish, nori cracker was ridiculously delicious. The other stand outs were manila clams, coconut curry, fresh turmeric, naan & grilled shortrib, escargot, bone marrow, mushrooms, fresh horseradish.
- Bouchon: Thomas Keller’s French bistro serving traditional fare in the Yountville area. The french onion soup is outstanding and you cannot go wrong with the steak frites.
- Auberge du soleil: The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil is one of the most romantic experiences I’ve ever had. It has one of the best vantage points in the valley. With 10 consecutive Michelin Stars, the exquisite Mediterranean-inspired cuisine reflects the natural diversity and rich seasonal produce available in the Napa Valley. Keith and I were lucky enough to have a wedding anniversary dinner here…and we sat next to some of the NY Giants!
- Rutherford Grill: Lively restaurant focusing on American comfort food – the skillet corn bread was life changing.
- Thomas Keller’s French Laundry: The Ultimate. I’m still working on getting reservations one day…
I love wine. It’s no secret. It’s my kryptonite and I fully disclose that. It’s been the source of my greatest and worst moments and I cannot quit it… although my cardiologist has other views. Wine has an amazing way of pleasing all your senses. It breaks the ice between people, it makes the nerves and muscles relax, your eyes brighten and see things in a new light, tongues loosen, friendships are made/deepened and the whole world is so damn happy.
Visiting wine county is such a pleasure. Here’s a cheat sheet map from the Legendary Napa Valley Site: Napa Valley Winery Map
As for my personal favorites, here goes:
- Chandon: All the etoile brands are magnificent specifically the brut. It’s made in Dom Perignon style and a fraction of the price. The 2006 tete de cuvee with is nutmeg flavor translates to a winter champagne on the palette.
- Robert Mondavi: The grounds are so magnificent and while I’m not a fan of super sweet wine, the Moscato is brilliant.
- Darioush: So exotic and sexy. Darius II is stunning.
- Inglenook: In 1975, Francis Ford Coppola purchased the historic Inglenook property, intent on restoring the estate’s legacy of creating world-class wines equal to those that founder Gustave Niebaum and his grandnephew John Daniel Jr. made for decades. I love the classic Rubicon.
- Clos du Val: Clos Du Val Winery is a winery in the Stags Leap District. The Cabernet Sauvignons are beautifully done.
- Cakebread: The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are outstanding.
- Far Niente: Beautiful grounds/estate and the Chardonnay is delicious.
- Chimney Rock (need advance reservations): Saving the best for last. If I won lottery I would try and buy this winery. By far, my favorite wines on earth. I have been known to enjoy a bottle myself. (I don’t know if I should be proud of that, but the wine is like drinking silk). The Elevage is my true love, but I adore the Cabernet Sauvignon. I also appreciate the Elevage Blanc which I consider the white wine for red drinkers.
Must See / Excursions:
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Jefferson St. Promenade: San Fran’s fishing fleet; Fish Alley (Jefferson btw Hyde and Jones) to view the fisherman at work.
- The San Franscico Dungeon.
- Red & white Fleet Bay Cruise: 1 hour and takes you under the Golden Gate and by Alcatraz.
- Ghirardelli Square: Once the home of the world famous chocolate factory.
- Thai Massage at Royal Thai Spa (5 minute walk from Pier 39).
- San Francisco Maritime National Park.
- Hyde Street Pier: The only floating National Park.
- Pier 39: Renovated cargo pier with specialty shopts and dining.
- Gotta love the street performers.
- Sea Lions!
- Vendors along Jefferson Street sell Dungeness crab from steaming cauldrons and clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.
- Cable Cars: Introduced to San Francsico on August 2, 1873, the wire-cable manufacturer Andrew Hallidie conceved the idea after witnessing an accident in which a horse drawn carriage fell, rolled backwards and dragged the horses and carriage downhill. The cable car created a vital link in the public transportation system. These beloved cars are the only vehicles left of their kind still in operation and are designated national landmarks.
- Alcatraz: One of the cities top attractions, Alcatraz served as a harbor fortification, military detention facility and maximum-security federal penitentiary. Many mafia criminals and high-risk convicts spent their time here. Fun fact: the prison was the only one in the federal system that touted hot showers – a luxury designed to keep prisoners from acclimating to cold water. The island is only 1.25 miles from shore and there is no evidence of any successful escapes across the icy Bay. Nicknamed ‘The Rock’, it is accessible only by Alcatraz Cruise boats which depart daily from Pier 33 near Fisherman’s Wharf on the Embarcadero. Purchse the tickets in advance.
- The world’s crookedest street – Lombard Street: Located in the Russian Hill district, it’s 8 sharp turns on a 40 degree slope making it the world’s croodedest street. Note, speed limit is 5mph.
- Golden Gate Bridge.
- Golden Gate Park: Among the world’s greatest urban parks, approximately 3 miles long and a half mile wide, this treasure is covered with grassy meadows, bike trails, secluded lakes and gardens. Includes the Conservatory of Flowers, de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, The Japanese Tea Garden and Stow Lake.
- Chinatown – Dragon’s Gate at Bush and Grant: Your senses are immedietly tempted by the aroma of the ethnic cuisine. The heart of Chinatown is Portsmouth Square where San Fran’s first Chinese immigrants settled in the 1850’s. Old St. Mary’s Church is the first Roman Catholic cathedral built on the West Coast. Stockton Street is the place to find traditional herbs, pharmacies, temples, produce, seafood and restaurants.
- The Embarcadero: This is the waterfront boulevard lined with palm trees, historic pier structures and delicious eateries. The Ferry Buidling serves as the market from which the piers are numbered, odd numbers are located to the north and even numbers to the south.
- Union Square Area for shopping.
- Presidio: This area served as a military station for more than 200 years. Union regiments trained here during the Civil War.
- Mission District: Mission Street is where you can immerse yourself in Latin American and Mexican rich cultural traditions. Valencia Street has become the epicenter of the gentrified Mission District. The eateries are on the ‘must-try’ list.
- Japantown: Ramen noodles!
- Day Trip to Napa – we used Ambassador Airport Service. They were terrific.
- Trips to Sonoma and Healdsburg (small town in Sonoma): Home to many award winning boutique wineries.