SAN FRANCISCO – Let me begin by saying how welcoming the city of San Francisco is to tourists. I cannot remember a time when a tourism bureau was so helpful.
San Francisco is often called “Everybody’s Favorite City,” a title earned by its scenic beauty, cultural attractions, diverse communities, and world-class cuisine. Measuring 49 square miles, this very walk-able city is dotted with landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Alcatraz and the largest Chinatown in the United States. A stroll of the city’s streets can lead from Union Square to North Beach to Fisherman’s Wharf, with intriguing neighborhoods to explore at every turn. Views of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay are often laced with fog, creating a romantic mood in this most European of American cities.
The San Francisco Travel Association (www.sftravel.com) is a private, not-for-profit organization that markets the city as a leisure, convention and business travel destination. With more than 1,300 partner businesses, San Francisco Travel is one of the largest membership-based tourism promotion agencies in the country. Tourism, San Francisco’s largest industry, generated record-breaking numbers in 2016. More than 25.1 million people visited the destination, spending in excess of $9.69 billion.
We were there for a week and built our itinerary carefully.
It is easy to spend weeks in San Francisco and still not experience everything the city has to offer. The Golden Gate Bridge, the most famous bridge in the world, manages to impress even the most experienced travellers with its stunning 1.7-mile span. Approximately 120,000 automobiles drive across it every day. A pedestrian walkway also allows the crossing on foot, and bikes are allowed on the western side. The Golden Gate Bridge is said to be one of the most photographed things on Earth. Cable cars have been transporting people around San Francisco since the late 19th century. The cars run on tracks and are moved by an underground cable on three routes. Their familiar bells can be heard ringing from blocks away. Tickets ($7) may be purchased at the cable car turnarounds at the ends of each route. Each one-way ride will provide spectacular views of the city’s celebrated hills, as well as exhilarating transportation.
Alcatraz, the notorious former prison, is located on an island of the same name in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Fisherman’s Wharf is also home to Pier 39, a festive waterfront marketplace that is one of the city’s most popular attractions. A community of California sea lions has taken up residence on the floats in the Pier 39 Marina and visitors line the nearby railing to watch their antics. From there it’s a short walk to the San Francisco Dungeon and Madame Tussauds, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and the famous crab vendors selling walk-away crab and shrimp cocktails. Union Square is the place for serious shoppers. Major department stores and the most exclusive designer boutiques line streets like Post, Sutter, Geary, Grant, Stockton and Powell. The Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre houses the largest Bloomingdale’s outside of New York and the second largest Nordstrom in the U.S.
The entrance to Chinatown at Grant Avenue and Bush Street is called the “Dragon’s Gate.” Inside are 24 blocks of hustle and bustle, most of it taking place along Grant Avenue, the oldest street in San Francisco. This city within a city is best explored on foot; exotic shops, renowned restaurants, food markets, temples and small museums comprise its boundaries. Visitors can buy ancient potions from herb shops, relax and enjoy a “dim sum” lunch or witness the making of fortune cookies.
San Francisco is home to internationally recognized symphony, opera and ballet companies, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art , the Asian Art Museum, the de Young Museum, the Legion of Honor and the California Academy of Sciences – the only place on the planet with an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a four-story rainforest all under one roof.
Do consider purchasing the San Francisco CityPASS, which saves travellers up to 42 percent off combined admission to top attractions. It includes a Cable Car and Muni Bus Passport, good for three consecutive days of unlimited rides on all Muni buses, light rail trains, streetcars, and the city’s celebrated cable cars. While other visitors are paying $7 for each one-way cable car ride, CityPASS holders can hop on and off as many times as they like. Also included is pre-paid admission to the city by the Bay’s top attractions: California Academy of Sciences, a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, the Aquarium of the Bay on San Francisco’s lively Embarcadero waterfront, and a choice between the Exploratorium and the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor. Travellers with kids will definitely want to check out the Exploratorium’s stunning new home at Pier 15. The museum’s 330,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor space features some 600 exhibits, 25 percent of which are new installations designed to engage, delight and inform. Each 2017 San Francisco CityPASS ticket booklet costs $89 for adults, $66 for kids, ages five to 11. Passes, which can be purchased online at CityPASS.com/san-francisco or at any of the CityPASS partner attractions listed above, are valid for nine consecutive days, beginning with the first day of use.
Since 1997, CityPASS ticket booklets and admission cards have been premier products for travelers who want to visit a destination’s top attractions while enjoying significant savings. CityPASS booklets/cards are available for New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, Tampa Bay and Toronto. Visit CityPASS.com.
WHERE TO STAY – THE HILTON UNION SQUARE: We were excited to get accommodations at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square (www.sanfrancisco.hilton.com)
located in the theatre district and within walking distance to cable cars, the Moscone Center and about one mile from night clubs, Chinatown and Nob Hill. Macy’s and the upscale Westfield San Francisco Center are only a few blocks away.
This historic three-tower hotel provides rooms with city views, the Cityscape lounge on the 46th floor and a ballroom that occupies an entire floor. You can relax on their16th floor pool deck. It’s only 14 miles from the San Francisco International Airport. There are more than 1,900 rooms here, making it the largest hotel on the West Coast.
We stayed in one of the hotel’s newly renovated Tower Two Luxury suites, which has a main bedroom with two Queen sized beds and a small sofa. This connects to a much larger room –called a parlor – which features a Murphy bed, two sofas, a round dining room table that can seat six and windows on all sides. Combined you have two bathrooms, two fridges, two in-room safes, more cupboard space, which adds up to ultra-comfort. There is also a tablet in each room, which provides you with all of the necessary hotel and city information. For a nominal charge you can surf the net with it as well.
The hotel even has a Suites Director, a fine gentleman named George Ferris. At the front desk there are plenty of staff to take care of you and I very much appreciated the able assistance provided by the concierge team.
Classic guest rooms offer HDTV and Wi-Fi access while ultra-modern rooms showcase city skyline or bay views. Accessible rooms are also available. There’s plenty of choice for dining here. Head to Herb ‘N Kitchen where you can eat your way – sit down, grab and go, or order to your room. Urban Tavern is the place for sit down dining and a fantastic buffet breakfast under the name of “Poached.” The Lobby Bar is the perfect setting to unwind after a busy day.
Whether conducting business, keeping up with a fitness routine or looking to spend quality time with your family, this Hilton hotel provides the amenities you expect and the extras you deserve. A Business Centre is located in the lobby level of Building Two. It includes computer work stations, conference room rentals, rentals for audio/visual equipment and conference rooms, a fax machine, and data phones with web access, Express mail and even secretarial services. For your fitness and recreational convenience, enjoy the fully equipped 2,800 sq. ft. health club with high calibre equipment.
There are accessible guest rooms with mobility features, entry or passage doors that provide 32 inches as well as special provisions for parking, entry ways, swimming, braille on the elevators, closed captioning on televisions or closed captioning decoders, TDD devices, a digital alarm clock available with sound and a vibrating pad, grab bars in bathroom, shower baths or roll in showers, an inflatable chair available to assist in getting in and out of a bath and a level or ramp entrance into the building.
EMBASSY SUITES AIRPORT: Here is a tip when arriving in San Francisco in the middle of the evening. Why head to your main hotel right away? We checked into the modern Embassy Suites by Hilton San Francisco Airport hotel. Here you can enjoy spacious accommodations in this all-suite hotel, where a separate living area and bedroom are standard features. The flexible rooms have tiered Wi-Fi available and convenient, delicious dining options at your fingertips. Their daily cooked-to-order breakfast and evening receptions with drinks are included in all reservations. They offer a complimentary shuttle bus service to and from the airport, a free daily trolley to and from the city of Burlingame (11:30 am to 9 pm) and a complimentary motor coach to downtown San Francisco on Fridays and Saturdays. The hotel is located 10 miles south of downtown. You can take a refreshing swim in their indoor on-site swimming pool, or check out the fitness center. The tropical atrium, perfect for relaxing after work or a day out, features a beautiful koi fish pond and water fountain. The on-site restaurant is called Two Fifty and there is also a Starbucks on site. I really felt at home here and enjoyed the ambience of the gigantic lobby where I connected to free Wi-Fi and got a lot of work done squeezed between some Netflix binge watching.
The hotel is fully accessible, with a wide front entrance, wide hallways, several elevators, walkways above the tropical atrium. There is easy access to the pool as well. Service animals are permitted. It is located at 250 Gateway Boulevard. For more information call 650-589-3400 or log on to www.sanfranciscoairportsouthsanfran.embassysuites.com.
HOP-ON, HOP-OFF BUS: For our first full day in San Francisco it was a no brainer to take the hop-on, hop-off Big Bus tour. You can buy your tickets in multiple ways. Log on to www.bigbustours.com and click on the San Francisco section as this company operates across the globe. We previously experienced it in London and Paris. Download the free App before you go. In a city like San Francisco, with stunning bays, bridges and hills, this bus tour is the perfect way to sightsee. Hop-on, hop-off, and revel in the flexibility as you explore the treasures of Golden Gate Bridge to Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight Ashbury to Chinatown. You will be offered ear buds when you board and a guide will announce all of the sites you pass by. Just keep your tickets as these will get your re-entry. You can sit in an enclosed space downstairs or climb the stairs to the open air second level if there is room. The buses are supposed to arrive at different spots every 20 minutes. That does not always occur, so we called on Uber a couple of times to keep us on the move. Overall, though, we were very pleased and hit all of the major landmarks. There are a variety of different packages available, so pick the one that best suits your needs. As for handicapped accessibility, Big Bus tours does operate wheelchair accessible vehicles with lifts that can accommodate a weight up to 650 pounds. The entire fleet in San Francisco is not wheelchair accessible. If you or your travelling partner(s) requires an ADA accessible vehicle, contact the company 48 hours prior to your planned tour commencement. They can then arrange for a suitable vehicle to be available at the time and location required. Passengers with mobility impairments may not be able to access the upper deck.
MUIR WOODS AND SAUSALITO: Alan Rosenzweig moved to San Francisco 30 years ago from Brooklyn to go to university and never left. “When I arrived here, I spent just about every weekend exploring different places on foot, by bike or in my car,” he recalls. “One of my first trips was to Muir Woods National Monument and the grove of coastal Sequoias (Redwoods) — the tallest trees in the world! Thirty years later, I am taking people to visit this spectacular Redwood Grove as well as to many other places I love and appreciate.”
Via his Best Bay Tours (https://bestbayareatours.com), Rosenzweig found a second career and started thinking about what he loves to do: to travel, explore and engage people. “I have travelled throughout the United States, as well as to many parts of the world,” he says. “I have spent time in Central America, Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. For three months I lived in Borneo volunteering at an Orangutan rehabilitation center and wildlife refuge. I’ve visited most of the National Parks in the USA. I’ve also volunteered as a tour guide at Ano Nuevo State Park near San Francisco, which is home to a large population of elephant seals. So it seemed like a natural move for me to create Best Bay Area Tours and become a tour guide. I absolutely love doing what I do. I get to show people from all over the world many of the wonderful sights, smells and tastes of the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s been a lot more fun than I thought it could possibly be. I look forward to seeing you on one of my tours.”
We had a great time on this tour. A comfortable van picked us up in front of our hotel and what an incredible chauffeur/tour guide we had in charismatic Paul Berman. A native of Scotland, he moved here 27 years ago with his wife and never left. The Muir Woods tour took us across the Golden Gate Bridge, past the Marin Headlands, and into a magical Redwood forest known as Muir Woods. This is one of the most amazing and beautiful sights in the world. The Coastal Sequoias (Redwoods) in Muir Woods are the tallest trees in the world, found only along the Northern California coast, and after decades of logging only five percent of these old growth trees remain. On our drive to Muir Woods Paul explained how this grove of Redwoods was spared from the clear-cutting that went on during the gold rush and then again during the rebuilding and reconstruction of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. Once in the grove of Redwoods, we had a special opportunity to walk amongst these beautiful and awe inspiring Sequoia trees by following the creek bed. We spent about 90 minutes in the Redwood grove. The tour the moved on to picturesque Sausalito, California, where had a chance to shop, visit art galleries and have lunch all while gazing across the bay at beautiful San Francisco. You have the option of returning with the tour back to San Francisco with a stop in the Marin Headlands, which provides stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco beyond. Or you can stay in Sausalito and spend as much time as you’d like and then make your own way back via the ferry. Tour prices are $45 for children and $60 for adults. This does not include the $10 entrance fee to the Muir Woods National Park.
ESCAPE TO ALCATRAZ: I have always been fascinated by Alcatraz, once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals. The federal penitentiary that operated here from 1934 to 1963 brought a dark mystique to the Rock as the presence of infamous inmates like Al “Scarface” Capone, and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud helped to establish the island’s notoriety. To this day, Alcatraz is best known as one of the world’s most legendary prisons. A visit to Alcatraz is high on every San Francisco tourist’s list. We booked our tickets via Alcatraz Cruises (www.alcatrazcruises.com), the National Park Service concessioner of ferry service to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz Cruises hosts nearly 1.5 million visitors annually. Plan about two and a half hours for your visit. You can stay as long as you like, taking the cell house audio tour, exploring the rest of the island and its historic exhibits, and returning to the mainland. The National Park Service volunteers and guides offer guided programs throughout the day, frequently taking visitors into seldom-seen areas of the island. The compelling Cell house Audio Tour “Doing Time” through the cell house featuring the actual voices of former guards and inmates is currently available in multiple-languages: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish Dutch, Mandarin, Portuguese and Korean. An orientation video with historical footage of the island is shown every half hour. In addition, museum displays and several bookstores are available. From late September until February 1, when bird nesting season begins, you can explore the island’s historic parade ground and hike down the Agave Trail to the water’s edge.
Portions of the cell house West Wall are temporarily shrouded while they repair and restore this important historic structure. With the exception of the hospital wing, all areas traditionally open at this time of year remain so. There are limited areas on Alcatraz that are always closed, due to their fragile, potentially harmful, condition. Restoration of the cell house will be complete in early 2018.
Many people are unaware of the wealth of other stories to be learned on the island. Alcatraz is now home to rare flowers and plants, marine wildlife, and thousands of roosting and nesting sea birds. Civil War-era buildings dotting the island give insight into the 19th century when the island served as both a harbor defense fort and a military prison. You can also see visible reminders of the American Indian Occupation that started in 1969 after the prison closed, highlighting an important milestone in the American Indian rights movement.
As for Alcatraz Cruises, we were transported to the island on the nation’s first hybrid ferry, an eco-friendly vessel powered largely by solar panels, wind turbines, and grid electricity. Carpet, countertops, and fixtures incorporate recycled and sustainable materials. It was a fascinating experience. Here is a tip. Order your tickets as far in advance as possible.
CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCE: The California Academy of Sciences (http://www.calacademy.org) is home to an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and research and education programs, which engage people of all ages and backgrounds on two of the most important topics of our time: life and its sustainability. Based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it’s remarkable what is housed all under one living roof.
The Steinhart Aquarium is one of the most advanced and biologically diverse aquariums in the world, home to the world’s deepest indoor living coral reef, an albino alligator, a colony of African penguins, a shark lagoon and more than 38,000 live animals representing over 900 species. Through partnerships with Academy scientists, who travel the world in search of new and little-known species, Steinhart’s biologists often display animals you won’t find in any other public aquarium.
The Morrison Planetarium is home to one of the largest and most advanced all-digital domes in the world. The Academy’s Visualization Studio produces award-winning original planetarium shows that tell stories about faraway galaxies—and our home planet Earth—using scientific data to depict the most current discoveries.
The Kimball Natural History Museum explores some of the most significant discoveries and issues of our time. Explore majestic dioramas of African landscapes and animals and immerse yourself in exhibits that examine the evolution—and future—of life on Earth. And don’t miss our earthquake simulator, the Shake House, while learning about the natural forces that have shaped the Bay Area.
The Osher Rainforest allows visitors to explore a lush, four-story rainforest, housed in a 90-foot glass dome and teeming with life from some of the most biodiverse places on Earth—from an ant colony and free-flying birds and butterflies to enormous Amazonian fish.
Along with dozens of daily programs on the museum floor, there are plenty of ways to see and learn more during your visit and after hours. You can book a behind-the-scenes tour
and get a closer look at the live animals, discover scientific collections, or learn what makes this museum the greenest in the world. On Thursday nights, adults 21 and over can enjoy live music, cocktails, and special activities and entertainment in addition to exploring the entire Academy after dark. The Academy also partners with scientists from institutions around the world to host lectures on a wide range of topics. Astronomy buffs can learn more about discoveries within the final frontier at our Benjamin Dean Astronomy Lecture series.
Admission is: $34.95 for adults; $29.95 for youth ages 12 to 17, Seniors ages 65 plus, and students with valid ID; $24.95 for children ages four to 11; and free for children ages three and younger. Admission fees include all exhibits and shows. Hours are 9:30 am to 5 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11 am to 5 pm on Sunday. During peak periods, including some holiday weekends, extended hours may apply. Visit www.calacademy.org or call (415) 379-8000 for more.
CULINARY TIPS: Dining in San Francisco is an attraction in itself. Known as one of America’s best restaurant cities, San Francisco chefs excel at combining the freshest local ingredients, authentic international flavors and a touch of creative genius. Choose your cuisine – Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, Indian, Malaysian, Mexican, Greek, Russian or “fusion,” a combination of any or all of these influences.
DINNER AT FARALLON AND SHOW: We came upon the ideal dinner and show combination right next to each other- a fabulous meal at Farallon Restaurant (www.farallonrestaurant.com), followed by an evening at the San Francisco Playhouse and a presentation of the La Cage Aux Folles. In fact, anyone mentioning they are going to the Playhouse gets a complimentary plate of six oysters or a dessert (one per party).
Farallon, founded by famed restaurateur and designer Pat Kuleto and Chef Mark Franz, has been enchanting guests for 18 years. With carefully crafted details that capture the life aquatic, Farallon has been vastly lauded as a top dining establishment offering coastal cuisine from Chefs Franz and Jason Ryczek, highlighting the freshest seafood available. Since opening in 1997, Farallon has been named a top restaurant by Bon Appetít, Esquire, and the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as receiving a nomination as a James Beard “Best New Restaurant” and “San Francisco’s Best Newcomer” from Food & Wine magazine’s readers’ poll.
Farallon offers a sophisticated menu featuring “coastal cuisine” created by Franz and Ryczek. The freshest seafood available comprises the majority of the menu, rounded out with local produce, meat, and game. The Oyster Bar menu features a daily selection of 10 different types of oysters from around the world, all on the half shell. Tartars, caviar, and house-cured gravlax are also available. Iced shellfish platters feature an assortment of raw and chilled shellfish. The dining room menu features appetizers to pique the palate, such as Ahi Tuna Panzanella with pistachio pesto, Calabrian chilis, and sea beans; Baby Beet & Dungeness Crab Salad with grapefruit, hazelnuts, mint, and black truffles; Sea Urchin & Bone Marrow with grilled levain and garlic scape persillade; and Oysters & Gnocchi with paddlefish caviar, celery root, and baby fennel. Dining room appetizers are priced from $11 to $19.
Dinner entrees are priced from $27 to $36 and include dishes such as Seared Tombo Tuna with garbanzo beans and red walnut muhummara; Dry Aged Prime Ribeye Pave with honey glazed baby carrots, farro verde, and fines herbes; and Cast Iron Roasted Striped Bass with baby artichoke barigoule, rouille, and pistou. Chef Eleana Rosenthal’s innovative desserts include dishes such as Bergamot Angel Food Cake with earl grey ice cream, short dough, and honeycomb; Lavender-Lemongrass Panna Cotta with tapioca, huckleberries, and poppy seed tuile, plus an exquisite selection of imported and domestic cheeses.
As for the décor, Kuleto created a colorful undersea fantasy in a space originally designed for a 1925 Elks Club’s salt water plunge room. The underwater whimsy begins in the 25-seat Jelly Bar with its hand-made “jellyfish” lights suspended two stories overhead, the octopus bar stools, hand-made illuminated kelp pillars and a floor resembling the bottom of the ocean with sandy color and inset marble- tiled fish. The Oyster Bar offers eight sea urchin bar stools, white Carrera marble counters, custom stainless steel oyster display case and large oval mirror. These elements come together to evoke a classic oyster bar feel. The “caviar” staircase leading to the balcony shines with 50,000 iridescent indigo-blue marbles, suggestive of caviar; the ceiling is done in a rich, night-sky blue, overlooking the underwater scene below. Leading into the Pool Room is the Nautilus Area, designed to suggest the inside of a shell, with its winding nautilus-patterned floor, the light fixtures made with real and glass barnacles and the sand-coated ceiling. The Pool Room features a restored elaborate 1920s-era painted mosaic of mermaids on the three Gothic arches, along with hand-made giant “sea urchin” light fixtures and three commissioned paintings portraying how the San Francisco wharf might have looked at the turn of the century. Hammered copper and metal fish scales adorn the open kitchen that is lit by hand-blown glass blue squid fixtures. The Wine Hold, 12-seat semi- private dining room off the Pool Room is adjacent to the restaurant’s wine cellar and features a painting suggestive of being in the hold of a ship, surrounded by bottles of wine.
Wine Director Luke Kenning brings an extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for wines to Farallon. The $200,000 cellar maintains over 500 wines from around the world, priced from $35 to $1,500. With a generous selection of half-bottles and wines-by-the-glass, Farallon’s wine program is accessible and enjoyable. With one of the largest collections of single malt whiskeys in the city (140 in total), Farallon complements its celebrated food with an impressive spirits program from Bar Manager Kevin Boals. The cocktail list of this Union Square haunt is full of simple classics with Boals’ personal touches. Guests of all tastes and price ranges will find something to enjoy at the bar. From unique Tasmanian single malts to rare, closed distillery treasures, the ever-changing bar menu is stocked with exciting bottles that always blow cocktail connoisseurs away. The private dining rooms, located on the fourth floor of the historic Elks Building, are designed in a manner consistent with Farallon’s underwater theme. The Sevruga Room, seating up to 18 guests, is a cozy wine library with a hand-blown glass aquarium and a candle-lit fireplace. The Osetra Room, with 10-foot French windows overlooking bustling Union Square, seats up to 50 diners. Beautiful porthole paintings are the perfect accent to this room. The largest of the three rooms is the Beluga, which seats up to 120. French doors lead you into the grand ballroom of a luxury ocean liner that has sunk to the bottom of the sea. Inside, sea creatures are having a party. All the rooms are serviced from their own kitchen under the direct supervision of Chef Ryczek who uses the freshest ingredients to create seasonal menus that change daily.
We had an absolutely fabulous dinner. Our server Nancy nicely described the options and paired different wine with our appetizers and main courses. We started off with a large selection from the raw bar: lo b s t e r c l a w , Dungeness crab, oysters, clams and prawns as well as tasting of Pacific Coast oysters. I also enjoyed a very unique bowl of soup, the Brodo of Homemade Charcuterie, mussels, mushroom , tortellini, summer corn and pesto. For the main course our party of three feasted on the sablefish, from the Farallon Islands, which came with h i c k o r y ro a s t e d b a b y e g g p l a n t, couscous, figs, almonds and ras el hanout (a yogurt-like topping). The bone dry scallops, with m u s h r o o m s, cherry tomatoes, flageolet beans and arugula pistou got a big thumbs up. So did the flannery filet of beef, with braised scallions, fingerling potatoes and crisp summer peppers. For dessert we opted for the mocha mousse chocolate cookie crumble and lavender Chantilly and the raspberry charlotte with lime meringue, fig compote and citrus tuile. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal!
Dinner is served Monday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m; and Sunday, 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Happy Hour, offered daily in the Jellyfish Lounge & Oyster Bar, goes from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Reservations for dinner are recommended by phone or Open Table. Info: 415.956.6969
SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE: Now beginning its second decade as San Francisco’s premiere Off-Broadway style theatre company, the San Francisco Playhouse (http://sfplayhouse.org) presents a diverse line up of shows from cutting edge, bold plays direct from Broadway runs like Bengal Tiger in the Bagdad Zoo to innovative musicals like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson or classic musical favorites like My Fair Lady and Company. The Playhouse has a cool bar and happy hour, as well as the diverse entertainment offering, presenting a wide range of theatre including premieres by new writers, all in an intimate setting of 200 seats. They are in performances throughout the year, so there is always something for people to see. I’d make this an automatic stop for any planned trip to San Francisco.
The Playhouse has also been praised for its commitment to new works and for its world premieres, several of which have moved to New York for acclaimed Off Broadway runs. This is a newly renovated theatre which still retains its historical beauty and significance. We thoroughly enjoyed a showing of the classic La Cage Aux Folles. As artistic director Bill English notes, there is no better recipe than La Cage, with the catchy tunes of Jerry Herman and the wicked book of Harvey Fierstein to install a permanent grin on our faces. The music and acting was great and the laughter in the room was infectious.You can find the full lineup of their productions planned through September 2018 on their website. It is located at 450 Post Street (between Mason and Powell Streets) on the second floor of the Kensington Hotel, less than one block from Union Square. There is elevator service.
RYOKO’S JAPANESE RESTAURANT & BAR: In terms of sushi, there is no question that Ryoko’s Japanese Restaurant & Bar is tops in San Francisco. Located on the border of Nob Hill and Tenderloin, at 619 Taylor, this is a lively basement sushi spot helmed by high-skilled Japanese chefs. There is a dj every night but Sunday. Reiko Kobayashi, whose mom Ryoko owns the spot, notes that it has been in operation for 30 years. It opens at 6 pm each night and continues serving until 1:30 am. Reservations are not taken here, so prepare to line up. When we arrived at 7:30 pm there were already many people standing along the stairs and out the door. You first must enter the name of your party on a sign-up sheet, but it is truly worth the wait. The manager on duty, Ling, got us a nice table, had us seated and made some helpful suggestions starting off with a creative cocktail. As for the menu and the evening’s specials, posted on a board behind the bar, she was right on the mark. We shared the beef teriyaki, the grilled whole squid, oh toro (fatty tuna), jumping unagi (eel), spicy scallop, shrimp symphony, crunchy crab (deep fried soft shell crab, cucumber and mayonnaise and the 49ers (crab and avocado with tuna and salmon on top) named in honour of the city’s football team. There are also sushi rolls named after Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and Pier 39. Some of the other favorites include such non-traditional maki rolls as the Kentucky, which has fried chicken in it. There is also the volcano, containing fried shrimp, jalapeño, and peanut butter. Everything here is served so fresh. There is no handicapped access to the restaurant.
JOHN’S GRILL: There is a very historic restaurant in San Francisco called John’s Grill (www.johnsgrill.com). This is one of the city’s oldest and most famous dining establishments, born in 1908, known for its great steaks, seafood, salads and pastas and the price is indeed right. The restaurant was actually a setting in author Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. You will be impressed with the interior, complete with original period furnishings as well as a kind of virtual museum of authentic memorabilia. The dark oak panelled walls are covered with photos of well-known patrons and San Francisco of the past. Located within walking distance from Union Square, it has a full bar and is open daily. The list of famous patrons, from Hillary Clinton to Johnny Depp, can be found on their website. General Manager Sean Kulanet gave me a personal tour of the restaurant. We were seated on the main level. Little did we realize that there were two more floors and a total capacity for nearly 300 diners. Last year they installed an elevator for patrons in wheelchairs or with mobility problems. Washrooms are also handicapped accessible. On the bright and cheerful top floor, a private room with a door can accommodate a small group. This is excellent for business meetings or family gatherings.
Our excellent server was Chris. He gave us the option of ordering from the main menu or the evening table d’hôte. Our party of three each chose the latter. It began with a jumbo prawn cocktail, followed by a choice of either some New England clam chowder or a Jack Lalanne favorite salad for two. It contained seasonal greens, crab, shrimp, avocado, mushrooms and tomato tossed in their famous creamy bleu cheese vinaigrette dressing. We opted for the New York steak and definitely made the right choice. It was perfectly cooked and cut like butter.
All beef entrees are served with seasonal vegetables and baked Idaho potato. They have an extensive wine and drink list. I chose a wonderful glass of Chardonnay. For dessert we thoroughly enjoyed the flan (vanilla cream caramel). The restaurant is located at 63 Ellis Street. It is always crowded so call first for reservations at 415-986-3274.
PIER MARKET: Be sure to experience the Pier Market Seafood Restaurant, located at Pier 39. The family owned restaurant specializes in mesquite-grilled fresh, local, sustainable seafood and fabulous California wines enjoyed while providing bay views of Alcatraz and the Pier 39 sea lions. You can also enjoy dining on their fabulous outdoor patio, perfect for people watching on the Pier. Owned and operated by the Simmons family, who created and built Pier 39, they own three other restaurants – the Fog Harbor Fish House, the Wipeout Bar & Grill and the Biscoff Coffee Corner. The Simmons family has been a part of San Francisco for over 30 years, created and developed Pier 39 and are third-generation restaurant purveyors, priding themselves with being a family-owned and operated business and a sustainable seafood company.
We started off with some drinks, a raspberry mojito and a California Dreamin’ (vodka, peach schnapps, orange and cranberry juices, shaken). For appetizers we opted for the clam chowder in a sourdough bowl and salad combo. The chowder was piping hot and when I was done I ate a good part of the bowl; the Caesar salad was tasty. We also had half a dozen shucked oysters served on the half shell. For the main course we turned to their specialties section and selected the crab cake dinner (a large portion of their fabulous crab cakes served with Cajun rémoulade) and the whole Dungeness crab, which comes teamed and served with drawn butter. For dessert we treated ourselves to the warm chocolate fudge cake and the tiramisu. The service was excellent and we appreciated manager Michael Guevara checking in on us throughout the evening. The restaurant is very much handicapped accessible; in fact the entire pier is beautifully set up to accommodate those in wheelchairs.
BEST PIZZA: I can never travel without sampling the best pizza in town. In San Francisco that would be Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria (https://www.amicis.com). In the mid-1980’s two East Coast transplants, Peter Cooperstein from Boston, and Mike Forter from New York decided to do something about their mutual longing for the style of pizza they’d grown up with, and set out on a quest to learn the secrets that made pies from the famous pizzerias of New York, Boston, and Connecticut so distinctively delicious. The friends discovered that their favorite pizzerias had something in common: a traditional, Italian brick oven. The 700 degree temperatures of the stone hearths produced thin crusts that were crisp, airy, and slightly chewy. When the pies ingredients were of the highest quality and freshness, those hot bricks melded together the flavors just right, for a taste that was nothing short of perfection. Peter and Mike returned inspired, and were excited to share what they had learned with fellow East Coast transplants. In 1987 they opened the first Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria in downtown San Mateo and to their delight it became a success – not only with transplants, but with everyone. With a focus on authenticity, friendly service, customer satisfaction, and with carefully measured growth, Amici’s has become the Bay Area’s standard for high-quality, freshly made pizzas, pastas, and salads enjoyed by thousands in their homes, businesses, and in Amici’s stylish restaurants. There are 10 locations, including two in San Francisco. We stopped at the one at 2200 Lombard, conveniently on the route of the hop-on, hop-off bus and it made for a fantastic lunch!
At Amici’s, the pizzas are baked in brick ovens, the way tradition-minded Italians have been baking pizzas for hundreds of years. Because the pies are baked directly on the super-hot brick floor, the crust comes out crisp and darker than the typical American pizza – often a bit black. If you are a crust lover, you will find this crust distinctively delicious. If a darker crust is not to your liking, just specify “light crust,” although the result may be undercooked for some tastes. Besides pizzas, they have salads, sides, starters and desserts. You can call 415-885-4500 for more information.
DINNER CRUISE: Are you looking to do something completely different in San Francisco? We had a wonderful evening on the Hornblower Dining Cruise (www.hornblower.com). You’re not truly a San Franciscan, we were told, until you cruise the Bay! With the Hornblower you can embark upon an exquisite brunch, lunch, or dinner cruise, feast on shimmering Bay views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, and take it that gorgeous city skyline. There is great food, special cocktails, champagne, live music, and the most stunning views in town. We chose a three hour dinner cruise, complete with a four course seated dinner. Our sever Lupita welcomed us to our table with some glasses of sparkling wine, summer spinach salads and a basket of fresh bread. We each enjoyed some piping hot tomato basil soup and ordered the herb roasted chicken breast, with risotto cake, seasonal vegetables and lemon butter sauce and the braised lamb shank with parmesan truffle mashed potatoes and seasonable vegetables. Decadent chocolate flourless cake with raspberry glaze topped off one fine meal. The Hornblower departs and returns from Pier 3 on The Embarcadero. For 35 years, its yachts have sailed past famed landmarks while serving seven California cities and New York City. In addition to dining cruises and classic, scenic, city and wildlife tours, the company hosts holiday dining cruises and private charters for corporate, school and family groups. Whether an intimate anniversary celebration, a wedding ceremony, a teambuilding event or a birthday bash for up to 2,200, Hornblower’s professional event planners help clients navigate every detail. We loved every minute of this experience, stepping outside to take some priceless photos and revelling in some unforgettable scenery. You can call 415-788-8866 or email email@example.com Monday to Friday. Hornblower does have accessible yachts in the fleet. However, not all yachts and decks are accessible. You need to call 1-888-467-6256 to ensure handicap accessibility for the date you are planning to cruise