After 11 days of sun and sand in Miami and Turks & Caicos, we were ready for some city. I hadn’t been to San Francisco for a very long time and forgot what a great vibe it has. It doesn’t have the intensity and excitement of New York, it’s more like a warm friend who is happy to see you again. Very walkable (some would disagree with all those hills!), lots of helpful polite people, good food and plenty to do. We did see a lot of homeless though which was quite confronting and heartbreaking.
On our very first morning to re-acquaint ourselves we hired a GoCar. These GPS guided three wheelers are sort of a cross between a car and a motorcycle and great fun. The GPS tells you where to head as well as giving you some interesting commentary along the way, and plenty of opportunities to stop, take photos and look around. Loved it and recommend it. Bookings can be made online.
It takes you on a really nice route along the water, and drivers are generally very considerate of the GoCars, which don’t go overly fast. You’ll stop at various points and beaches, getting progressively closer to the Golden Gate Bridge.
You’ll also stop at the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts.
Along the way you’ll pass some very nice – and no doubt seriously expensive – real estate.
And there’s the drive down the crooked Lombard Street which gives the GoCar breaks (and your wrists) a serious workout.
In the neighbourhood nearby is Chestnut Street with its own little shopping strip. Stop in at Delarosa, a bustling, family friendly neighbourhood Italian. Delicious pasta and pizza at great prices, beautiful mixed Summer tomato panzanella salad. Loved the Zucca Highball drink too.
Save room for dessert, because the “Coppa” desserts are worth having.
Around the corner on Fillmore is Woodhouse Fish Company, which serves up some very fresh and well priced seafood, including $1 oysters on Tuesdays. I liked the DIY iced tea – they give you a glass of ice and freshly squeezed lemon juice, then you add the tea and sugar syrup to your liking.
The steamed clams were delicious, and the fish had a nice light crispy batter. Lobster roll was disappointing though.
For Modern Californian, give Nopa a whirl. They have a woodfire oven here and use it well, you could taste the smokiness, even in the slow cooked nine hour Bolognese. They used fried quinoa with the squid, which I hadn’t seen done before and it added a lovely texture to the dish.
On the sightseeing front there is so much to do both in the city and its surrounds that it’s hard to know where to start. Note that the SF MOMA is unfortunately closed until 2016 – do go if you’re there after that, fabulous museum.
Half an hour from the city is Muir Woods in Marin County, where the giant redwoods live. You can do various walks, none are particularly strenuous. Best to go early – we got there at about 8.30am and by the time we finished our walk around 10.30am there were a hoard of tour buses and a long line of cars streaming in, the blissful silence was lessened.
On the way back you can stop in the pretty town of Sausalito for a stroll. Some lovely art galleries and cafes here too.
I also did a bit of a reminiscence walk around Berkeley (catch the BART), where I did a finance course many years ago. It’s a very pretty university campus, though the town has lost some of its distinct ‘hippiness’ that it had when I was there.
For a bit of history head over to Alcatraz. But be warned you need to book tickets several weeks in advance. We were there on 9 July (I booked our tickets back in May), and the next available tour date?
Although it has deteriorated, you can easily imagine the bleak life of the prisoners. Crime doesn’t pay!
From the Alcatraz pier you can stroll over to the Exploratorium, which is an awesome science museum for kids (though I have to say the Marito and I enjoyed it very much). It has lots of exhibits that cover concepts around motion, sound, light, spatial perspective, technology and nature; you can easily spend 2-3 hours here. Avoid mornings when all the school groups come.
Back on the food trail, at Embarcadero you’ll find the Ferry Plaza, and on several days of the week, the Farmers Market. There is some beautiful produce for sale, and different food stalls on different days – Thursday seemed to be the most popular food stall day. We had some excellent organic coffee there too.
Inside the Ferry Plaza building there are permanent stores selling bread, cheese, wine, homewares, as well as restaurants and cafes.
In the Mission District (catch the BART to Mission 16th Street) you’ll find San Francisco’s famous Tartine Bakery. Out of the city, on a residential type street, mid morning on a grey and drizzly Wednesday, there was a line out the door and you couldn’t move inside. It’s worse on weekends. Great coffee and plenty of treats on offer. Below is a pain au chocolat (flaky and light), their famed morning bun (we loved it, that was the favourite), the frangipane tart (take it or leave it) and the chocolate tea cake (good distinct chocolate flavour but not too heavy).
To go to have later we bought a lemon tart (tangy, I thought it was decent but not great, though the Marito loved it) and the chocolate hazelnut tart which was disappointing, not hazelnutty enough. I have to say that our own Lorraine comes up trumps on the tart stakes.
I didn’t get to try the sourdough bread they are particularly famous for – they don’t sell bread in the mornings. It’s a bit of a trade-off – go in the mornings, miss the bread. Go in the afternoons, miss the morning bun and other treats.
I have to have one burger while I am in the US and a friend suggests Super Duper Burgers. It’s a straight forward burger with a tasty patty – but what I really noticed is the freshness of the other ingredients such as lettuce and tomato, which bring it together very nicely.
For some Modern Californian Italian fusion, there’s Jersey on 2nd Street. Instead of traditional arancini, here they are done with tuna confit; the polenta with rosemary, honey and pecorino; and I adored the soft shell crab salad which had a bit of a kick.
The ragu was done with guanciale making it rich and hearty, with nicely made papardelle; and a good pizza selection too. Very friendly service.
We finished with some cannoli – four cannoli for six bucks? Bit of a no brainer.
There is plenty more to do, some of which I did last time I was here and skipped this time – like the Powell-Hyde cable car (go in the afternoon if you can, morning queues can be huge), going up the Coit Tower for sweeping city views, and strolling around neighbourhoods like China Town and Haight Ashbury.
We stayed at the Saint Regis Hotel on 3rd Street. Very impressed with the service, a really solid hotel, and a great location very close to Union Square, all the shopping, public transport and plenty of restaurants. The kids liked their welcome goody pack.
We also had some seriously amazing pancakes at their breakfast restaurant, Vitrine (the photo does not do them justice). I’m trying to get my hands on the recipe.
Thanks for having us SF!