Getaway Guide: San Francisco
Where to eat, stay and play in the City by the Bay.
San Fran (please don’t call it Frisco) offers that ideal mix of urban density and Western scenery that perennially places it on the list of most-visited cities in the U.S. But if you avoid the obvious tourist traps—Pier 39, we’re calling you out—it’s a city that allows you to blend with the population with ease.
Think of Golden Gate Park as Central Park’s West Coast doppelgänger: they’re both long, green rectangles (Golden Gate is actually 174 acres bigger), they both have amazing museums on site (the Herzog and de Meuron-designed De Young Museum anchors Golden Gate) but while N.Y. tourists flock to Central Park, Golden Gate is more of a locals-only affair. See some art, stroll through the Japanese Tea Garden and finally amble down to the Pacific (try that back East) and generally imagine what it would be like to live here.
The food scene here rivals anywhere in the world, but if you’re looking for pomp and pretense, you’ve come to the wrong spot. Exhibit A: State Bird Provisions, a small, relaxed room in the Western Addition neighbourhood that may be the most enjoyable restaurant in the country right now. Relatively low prices, a small, excellent wine list and two chef/owners who seem to pour their passion into every dish make this the must-visit spot of the year. For dessert, hop aboard the national ice cream renaissance, which started here with two exemplars of the cold stuff: Bi-Rite Creamery (go for pumpkin ice cream between gingersnaps) and Humphry Slocombe (try the Secret Breakfast: bourbon and cornflakes).
San Fran has all the glitzy options—Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Barneys, Saks—but it also has one spot, Gump’s, that you’ll only find here. Founded in the gold rush days of 1861, the multi-level store features high-end home furnishings with an Asian bent. And while avoiding tourists is great, it’s worth braving the crowds at the Ferry Building Marketplace to stock up on the famed vendors—Cowgirl Creamery, Blue Bottle Coffee, Miette Bakery—all legendary farm-to-table wares.
There’s no getting around it—San Fran is a pricey stop for hotel rooms, but it also has some of the most memorable lodging around. Top of that list is Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square, a waterfront retreat with 53 very large one-, two- and three-bedroom units, located within a retrofitted heritage building, that accommodate families like a dream. The best feature is coming back with a bag of food from a North Beach grocer to make dinner in your stainless steel wonder of a kitchen.
Even a few years ago, the suggestion that you’d leave San Fran for Oakland would garner laughter, then concern, but the city on the other side of the Bay has of late become a serious foodie destination. Try Camino for thoughtful small menus crafted daily, Commis for Oakland’s take on haute cuisine and Pizzaiolo for some of the best pizzas in Northern California.