Thanks to Ed, I now have even more tempting reasons to plan my next trip to begin/end/include SF. I have to keep blogging these suggestions so when the time comes I can click the SF tag and find all the tips I’ve been give all in the one spot.
Any other suggestions? Please let me know I really will be trying to plan a US trip in 2008 which passess in and through and then stops at SF for some time!!!. So all tips most appreciated. Thanks!
Insider’s look at San Francisco
A guidebook author’s tips to the city
By Jerry Camarillo Dunn
Special to the Tribune
Published June 17, 2007
When you write a travel guidebook, friends and even casual acquaintances start asking you for recommendations. After all, you’re the big travel expert; you’ve had to endure long, arduous weeks of staying in nice hotels and sampling great food. So, when my latest guidebook — “The National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco” — came out, I began keeping a list of “inside” tips to pass along. With the idea that strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet — here you go!
If you leave your heart in San Francisco, the love affair may start as something purely physical. This is a city of views: the sparkling water of the bay as your cable car tops a hill, the exotic dragon gate in Chinatown, Victorian houses painted in all the colors of a Crayola box.
Some beautiful prospects:
- Golden Gate Bridge: Visitors can see the famous span from all over the city, but most dramatically from below. Go to Ft. Point, an 1861 brick fortification located under the bridge’s toll plaza and vista point. Right above you, the vermilion-painted bridge soars across the water. (You can see individual bolts.) Next to the fort’s sea wall, surfers ride frigid waves, while ships steam through the Golden Gate. In the Presidio, just off Lincoln Boulevard.
Lunch suggestion: On the road into Ft. Point, stop at the Warming Hut Cafe and get sandwiches to eat outdoors with a view of bay, bridge and boats. There’s a lawn and small beach.
- Up for cocktails? On the 19th floor of the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill, the romantic Top of the Mark lounge is where departing World War II servicemen bid farewell to their sweethearts. A cocktail still comes with a 360-degree view of San Francisco. (Tip: The bartender’s repertoire includes 100 different martinis.) 999 California St.; 415-392-3434; live music Tuesday-Saturday.
- Alamo Square: You’ve seen the picture postcard: a row of small Victorian houses against a skyline of modern office towers. Now bring a camera and take the picture yourself — at Alamo Square. Fulton and Steiner Streets.
CHINATOWN’S BACK ALLEYS
Slip away from the tourist shops on Grant Avenue and explore:
- Tin-How Temple: Climb three flights of stairs to the oldest Chinese temple in the U.S., founded in 1852. You’ll inhale sweet incense, see lanterns trailing slips of red paper with black calligraphy and admire a gilded figure of Tin How, the goddess of heaven and sea worshiped by millions of Chinese. 125 Waverly Place, between Washington and Clay Streets.
- Fortune Cookie Factory: In a minuscule bakery, Chinese women sit beside a clanking iron contraption whose tiny round griddles pass through a gas oven. The women ladle out dough that quickly bakes into flat cookies, which they bend and then insert paper fortunes. Tip: Customize your own cookies! Bring paper slips printed with any message (they’re easy to make on a computer) for the factory to put inside cookies — a fun idea for birthdays and jokes. 56 Ross Alley, off Jackson Street between Grant Avenue and Stockton Street.
Because a cable car has no motor, it must be towed by hooking onto a cable that runs in a slot under the street. Every cable car in the city is propelled by the steel ropes that whiz in and out of the brick Cable Car Powerhouse and Museum. The endless loop of cable is driven by the powerhouse’s electric motors and gigantic wheels, on view here along with relics of the world’s first cable car system (1873) — and now the last. 1201 Mason St.; 415-474-1887; ride the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason cable car line.
HIDDEN ART TREASURES
San Francisco has several major museums (De Young, Modern Art), but check out these hidden artistic gems:
- Maxfield Parrish mural: While sitting on a bar stool at Maxfield’s in the historic Palace Hotel, you look up at an artistic masterwork, “The Pied Piper,” by Maxfield Parrish. In 1909 the celebrated children’s book illustrator painted this 7-by-16-foot canvas of the pied piper, the village youngsters and a mountaintop castle. The whole scene is bathed in the golden light of fairy tales. 2 New Montgomery St., at Market Street; it’s OK to stop by and visit the art.
- Cartoon Art Museum: Like jazz, the cartoon is an American art form, and this storefront museum celebrates cartooning in all its forms, from comic strips to animation. On the walls you’ll see drawings and cels from a 6,000-piece collection, plus special exhibitions — such as gag panels that New Yorker cartoonists had rejected as too edgy or tasteless. (Example: a ventriloquist sprawled in the gutter, guzzling booze, while his dummy throws up.) The bookstore has hard-to-find books on cartooning, photography and graphics. 655 Mission St.; 415-227-8666; admission fee.
- Xanadu Gallery: The gallery sells museum-quality antiquities and world art, but the real masterpiece is the building itself — the only one in San Francisco designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. (He even signed it.) Inside, a white ramp spirals up to the mezzanine — a plan that prefigured Wright’s famous design for the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The spaces and volumes, the lighting, the unfolding views from the ramp — all make this 1949 building an architectural adventure. 140 Maiden Lane (off Union Square); 415-392-9999.
FREE WALKING TOURS
The public library’s City Guides lead tours that are fun and focused. Dozens of neighborhood walks explore topics from the 1906 earthquake to the Castro district’s gay community. 415-557-4266; schedule available at www.sfcityguides.org; donation suggested.
A true product of San Francisco, this crusty French bread with a sour tang was introduced in 1849 by Isidore Boudin, whose namesake bakery now offers tours. See dough tossed from the mezzanine to the ground floor, where it is baked into nearly 10,000 loaves of bread daily. Take home a sourdough loaf shaped like a crab, or visit the cafe for chowder served in a bread bowl. 160 Jefferson St. (on Fisherman’s Wharf); 415-928-1849.
SCIENCE MADE FUN
Exploratorium, the original hands-on science museum, has an exciting new “ears-on” exhibit that explores sound and listening. You can test how quietly you can walk, or try on alternative ears to listen like a deer. 3601 Lyon St. (at the Palace of Fine Arts); 415-561-0360; admission fee.
Among San Francisco saloons, the Buena Vista Cafe is a historic icon. Why? In 1952 the bar introduced Irish coffee to America. Duck inside on a foggy summer day and watch the bartender fill a dozen glasses at once. In this single drink you get caffeine, alcohol, sugar and fat — all the major food groups. 2765 Hyde St. (near the cable car turnaround at Fisherman’s Wharf); 415-474-5044.
WHERE I LIKE TO EAT
- Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe: Frothy cappuccino and legendary focaccia sandwiches served in a wedge of a cafe in North Beach, the Italian neighborhood that was home to the 1950s Beat Generation. Inexpensive. 566 Columbus Ave.; 415-362-0536.
- Farallon: Exquisite seafood presented in an undersea-fantasy setting that reaches the level of art, with jellyfish-shaped glass lamps and mosaic ceilings that evoke lost Atlantis. Be sure to try dessert from the award-winning pastry chef. Expensive. 450 Post St.; 415-956-6969.
WHERE I LIKE TO SLEEP
- Hotel Diva: A bargain ($149 for a king-bed room) located close to Union Square, with contemporary Italian design (bold color, brushed steel headboards) and a staff that’s friendly and strives to be helpful. 440 Geary St.; 415-885-0200; www.hoteldiva.com.
- The Donatello: Large rooms ($199/king); some have terraces with views. Close to Union Square. 501 Post St.; 415-441-7100; www.thedonatellosf.com.
- The Inn Above Tide: Located across the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito, this is the only Bay Area inn that’s actually on the water. Most rooms have private decks ($315/queen with deck), astonishing views of San Francisco and fireplaces. All have luxury bedding and amenities (binoculars for the view, Hermes toiletries). From the adjacent ferry dock, take a scenic day trip to San Francisco and avoid the parking hassles. In Sausalito at 30 El Portal; 415-332-9535; www.innabovetide.com. ———– Jerry Camarillo Dunn, author of “The National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco” guidebook ($22.95), was born and raised in Los Angeles, “a fact that elicits pity — at best — in San Francisco.” He lives in Ojai, Calif., which is 90 minutes north of LA. and seven hours south of San Francisco.
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Guidebook writers like to collect odd facts to amuse their friends — like these:
Golden Gate Bridge: Workers have been painting the bridge non-stop since it opened in 1937. Each suspension cable contains 27,572 wires whose total length is 80,000 miles. In a strong wind, the bridge is designed to sway more than 27 feet. It is the nation’s most popular suicide spot, with more than 1,000 jumpers.
Fortune cookies: They were introduced to San Francisco in 1909 by a Japanese gardener at the tea garden in Golden Gate Park — and only later adopted by Chinese restaurants.
Cable cars: Andrew Hallidie invented the cable car after he saw an overloaded streetcar slip down a hill and injure the horses pulling it. The California line’s cable is more than 4 miles long. The system’s steepest grade feels nearly vertical at 21.3 percent (on Hyde Street, between Bay and Francisco Streets).