San Francisco is one of the world’s most romantic cities. The city has it all – breathtaking scenery, fabulous restaurants with some of the most talented and creative group of young chefs and easy access to amazing excursion options from Napa Valley to Carmel and Big Sur. San Francisco is the perfect city of an ultimate weekend getaway.
The St. Regis Hotel is a natural choice for this ultimate weekend getaway. The hotel is located in the vibrant SoMa area (short of “South of Market”) and is the most luxurious hotel in San Francisco. The hotel interior reflects a simple elegance but what sets the hotel apart is its extraordinary level of service. You are assigned a 24/7 personal butler who will be available during your stay to take care of your every need from unpacking your luggage upon arrival to delivering your coffee and your favorite newspaper in the morning.
The Metropolitan Suites are among the nicest rooms – they include a private dining area in the living area and marble window seats below floor-to-ceiling windows. The bedrooms they are elegant and luxurious, with comfortable King-sized beds and separate dressing area.
St. Regis Hotel // 125 3rd Street // Website
After getting settled into your hotel, a quick orientation tour of the city is in order. San Francisco has many iconic landmarks – the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Cable Cars, to name just a few. No visit to San Francisco would be complete without a ride on the city’s famous cable cars.
So, for today’s orientation tour, we suggest taking a cable car from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf. Union Square, which is just a couple of blocks north of the St. Regis, takes its name from the large open 2 ½ acre plaza and is one of the city’s most commercial areas filled with hotels, large department stores and top-end boutique shops. Unless you live for shopping, the area does not warrant much time since most of the department stores and boutiques can be found in most major cities (though there are a couple of shops unique to San Francisco, including Gump’s for unique high-end gifts and home décor). After a quick look around, head to the cable-car turnaround at Powell and Market Streets to board a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf (take the Powell – Hyde line).
After leaving Union Square, you first pass through Chinatown, which is the oldest Chinese community in the country. The official gateway to Chinatown is the Chinatown Gate (which is just down the street from the cable car line).
The cable car then ascends San Francisco’s famous steep hills to bring you to the top of Nob Hill, with its classic hotels, Huntington Park, the Gothic Grace Cathedral and exclusive membership clubs.
Next, the cable car crosses Russian Hill, a tony residential neighborhood. On the east face of Russian Hill is Lombard Street, with its one block stretch of eight switchbacks called the “Crookedest Street in the World.” You can hop off the cable car for a quick look.
Finally, the cable car reaches Fisherman’s Wharf. Touring Fisherman’s Wharf is probably something every tourist should do once, but, frankly, there is very little appeal since it has lost its authentic charm and is mostly home to aggressive souvenir vendors. Fortunately, you are not far from tonight’s dinner, which is in the Marina district.
For a truly special dining experience, we suggest Atelier Crenn, which is Dominque Creen's two-Michelin star homage to her father. The restaurant, which is located in the Marina district, is small and the interior reflects a minimal Japanese style, with concrete floors and bare wood tables. The unique experience begins with the "menu" -- it is simply a poem that expresses the chef's emotional connection to the food and dishes to come. Chef Crenn calls this "poetic culinaria". Each line of the poem describes one of the 18 courses to follow. A recent menu started with:
Spring has come with its cool breeze
I touch the earth and play, in its coolly milky light
I revisited my childhood memories
The sea is in me, as strange and mysterious
Initially you may think that this is a gimmick, however, starting with the first dish you marvel at the presentation that looks like it was put together by an artist (it was) and think that the taste could never live up to its appearance. That is where you would be wrong -- the flavors of the dish are pure, complex and in perfect harmony. By the third course, you are seduced and willingly to submit completely to Chef Crenn's "poetic culinaria" -- the poetic expression reflected in the artistry of the presentation and the emotional connection to the creative food. It is an experience not to be missed.
Atelier Crenn // 3127 Fillmore Street // Website
We suggest that you skip breakfast at the hotel and head down to the Ferry Building Marketplace, which is an indoor market full of distinctly San Franciscan food shops and restaurants featuring the best local foods.
If you love coffee, your first stop should be Blue Bottle Coffee, an artisan micro coffee roaster, for a cup of their drip coffee made with their Japanese “siphon” brewers. All coffee should be this good!
While you can get excellent pastries with your coffee at Blue Bottle, we think you can find the best fruit-filled pastries and, if it is in season, the most amazing organic peach parfait at Frog Hollow Farm. Frog Hollow Farm is known nationally for growing the sweetest and juiciest peach that you will ever find. If they are in season, load up on their just picked peaches – they are truly incredible. If not, a close second is a bag of sun-dried peaches you can take on the road with you.
Some of the other shops worth visiting include Cowgirl Creamery Artisan Cheese, which offers their own cheese (try their triple-cream Mt Tam) and artisanal cheese from some of the best cheesemakers in American and Europe, Acme Bread, which offers a fabulous selection of breads baked on site, and Miette, a charming dessert shop (one of the top 10 pastry shops in the world according to Conde Nast).
Although it is probably too early for oysters, Hog Island Oyster Company serves amazingly fresh and delicious oysters from their oyster farm just north of San Francisco. You may want to come back at some point during the weekend for a mid-afternoon snack --nothing beats sitting at Hog Island’s outside tables overlooking the bay with a platter of a dozen oysters on ice and a crisp glass of Sancerre.
On Saturday mornings, the plaza surrounding the Ferry Building becomes a giant Farmer’s Market with stands offering fresh farm products from top Northern California farmers and ranchers and locally produced artisanal foods, including delicious hot platters of food from local restaurants. Visiting the Farmer’s Market is a Saturday morning ritual for many San Francisco locals, including the city’s top chefs, who you may see selecting produce for that night’s dinner service.
Not far from the Farmer’s Market is Union Street, which is the main shopping street of the historic Cow Hollow district and is known for its beautifully preserved Victorian and Edwardian houses. Unlike the Union Square commercial shopping area, Union Street is a charming old-fashioned shopping street filled with small bakeries and coffee houses, fashionable boutiques and delightful garden cafes. Many of San Francisco's finest stores and restaurants are nestled in quaint and colorful courtyards. Strolling and browsing along Union Street makes for an enjoyable morning.
For today’s lunch, we recommend A16, an Italian focused restaurant located in the Marina District, not far from Union Street. The dining room is located in the rear of the restaurant and is rather long and narrow, with much of the space being taken up with the open kitchen and the wood-fired oven. The rustic Italian dishes are inspired by cooking from southern Italy, particularly Campania (the region surrounding Naples) and the wine list highlights the wines from this area. The menu features fresh pasta, house-butchered and cured meats and authentic Neapolitan pizza. It is a perfect place to enjoy a taste of San Francisco’s Italian heritage.
A16 // 2355 Chestnut St. // Website
For the afternoon, we suggest wandering through San Francisco’s most unique neighborhoods -- the Castro District, Haight-Asbury and the Mission District. The Castro district is the center of the city’s large and active gay community. It is lively (particularly on weekends) and is filled with popular cafes and bars and trendy boutiques. Not far from the Castro is the Haight district, which was the center of the 1960’s counterculture movement and preserves much of the same political spirit today. The Upper Haight area is filled with shops selling vintage Sixties clothes and popular restaurants, including weekend brunch spots.
The Mission district is filled with fabulous restaurants, including many ethnic restaurants and a hip bar scene. It is also the home of Tartine Bakery & Café. Tartine Bakery, which is owned and operated owner/baker Chad Robertson, makes the most amazing pastries (croissants, decadent brioche bread pudding, pain au chocolat, frangipane tarts, buttermilk scones), breads (their sourdough French bread is freakishly good) and sandwiches and serves them up in a casual café with indoor and outdoor seating. San Francisco is known for its delicious sourdough French bread but the bread at Tartine Bakery is arguably the best in the city. They also operate an excellent restaurant nearby called Bar Tartine that serves a prix fixe dinner and brunch on the weekends showcasing local seasonal ingredients. Travel Tip: Tartine Bakery offers only 250 loaves of bread each day at 4:30 pm but they sell out within minutes of offering. To avoid disappointment, you can call them to pre-reserve your loaf up to three days in advance.
For tonight's dinner, we suggest Quince, which is one of the most elegant restaurants in San Francisco. Michael Tusk and his wife have created a space that is coolly elegant without being stuffy -- dark walls are accented with small shaded sconces and Asian style dark wood nooks are tucked away on both sides. They have carefully considered every detail. Even the plates are carefully selected - from Japanese bamboo sake cups to malleable tin and aluminum serving plates.
Quince offers two 8-course tasting menus, one of which is vegetarian. The dishes highlight local and seasonal ingredients and each course is beautifully plated. In early fall, some of the dishes may include Golden Osetra Caviar Panna Cotta, Tagliolini “Carbomare” with squid and gaper clam and Berkshire Pork with flageolet, eggplant and okra. The sommelier can suggest a wine paring that enhances the sophisticated dishes and may include a number of mature rare wines. At some point during the service, you may be invited to the kitchen to meet Chef Tusk and enjoy a mini-course while watching the chefs at work. After dessert and coffee, the server wheels over a mignardise cart filled with caramels, nougats, tiny puff pastries, chocolate nut bar bark and more. If you are too full to even consider anything more, they thoughtfully fill a box with an assortment to enjoy later. As you walk out of the restaurant into the cool evening air, the hostess hands you a Styrofoam cup with the richest and densest hot chocolate that you will ever taste.
Quince // 470 Pacific Avenue // Website
Hotel restaurants typically don’t have great coffee so you are much better off seeking out one of the many fabulous coffee bars and cafés throughout the city. Some of the many to choose from include Blue Bottle (Ferry Building and multiple locations), Four Barrel (Mission District), Ritual Coffee Roasters (Hayes Valley) and, just a short walk from the St. Regis Hotel, Sightglass. Sightglass sources and roasts their own coffee and their singular focus on coffee ensures a perfect cup of coffee. If you are a coffee lover, San Francisco’s micro coffee roasters are a real treat.
Sightglass // 270 7th Street // Website
After getting some coffee and breakfast, we recommend visiting Chinatown, the oldest Chinese community in the country. The buildings have pagoda-style roofs and the streets are lined with crimson and gold banners. The area is a fascinating mix of small storefronts selling all types of exotic products (from colorful spices to unusual produce) and restaurants and cafes with smoked poultry hanging on display. Even on Sunday morning, the area will be very active. As you wander through Chinatown, be sure to go down some of the narrow alleys since they house many tiny shops that are worth exploring.
There are a number of authentic and delicious dim sum restaurants in Chinatown but the overall experience can be lacking since service can be abrupt (which may seem rude) and communication can be challenging. Yank Sing, which is located in the Financial District, is a much better choice for reliable hospitality combined with excellend dim sum. It offers a broad selection of excellent dim sum dishes (the dim sum carts are constantly passing though the restaurant), an elegant setting and very friendly professional service. Some dim sum favorites include Ha Gou (steamed shrimp dumplings), Pork or Shrimp Siu Mai, Nor Mai Gai (sticky rice in lotus leaf), Har Cheung (shrimp noodle rolls) and mango pudding.
Yank Sing // 101 Spear Street // Website
San Francisco Bay is a sailor’s paradise -- stunning scenery, steady ocean breezes and ease of access to the water. If you enjoy sailing or want to experience a truly unique way to explore the San Francisco Bay (including Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge), book a private sailing charter with ACsailingSF. In addition to their 84-foot racing yacht, they operate a 40-foot high-performance racing catamaran. If you like excitement and are want to feel the sea spray in your face, choose the catamaran. Either way, they take you along the Marina District, past the Presidio and out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Then you will sail past the infamous Alcatraz prison in the middle of the Bay on your way back to Fisherman’s Wharf. This will be an experience you will never forget!
If you are not a sailing fan or want a more relaxing afternoon, we suggest Cavallo Point Resort, which is just across the Golden Gate Bridge, for an afternoon of indulgence at their acclaimed Spa and Healing Arts Center. Cavallo Point Resort is a luxury hotel and spa located in Marin County on a former military base overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, just eight miles from San Francisco. It is a perfect place to spend a beautiful San Francisco afternoon. You can have lunch at their excellent restaurant, Murray Circle, which has stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and offers modern Northern California cuisine made with local ingredients, or, for a more casual option, you can have lunch of salads and sandwiches served on the Hotel’s porch from their Farley Bar.
As you enter the Healing Arts Center & Spa at Cavallo Point, you are welcomed by the scents of eucalyptus and pine. The spa is an oasis of serenity and is a perfect spot to enjoy an afternoon of quiet and relaxation. Book one of their signature massage treatments but plan to spend the afternoon soaking in the heated outdoor meditation pool beneath the pines, lounging by a fireplace with good book, relaxing in their beautiful garden and sipping tea from their tea bar.
Healing Arts Center & Spa at Cavallo Point // 601 Murray Cir, Sausalito // Website
A perfect option for tonight’s dinner is Sons & Daughters, a small 28-seat restaurant near Union Square that serves New American cuisine in a single seven-course tasting menu. The restaurant has two cozy dining rooms with romantic fireplaces, vintage chandeliers and black & white photos adorning the grey walls. In the center of the restaurant is a tiny kitchen that barely fits the three chefs. The menu is guided by the seasons and much of their produce is grown at their 28-acre farm located in the Santa Cruz mountain range. The carefully curated wine list contains a broad range of wines that have been chosen by the wine director to enhance their tasting menu. Each dish is beautifully presented and the flavors are pure and vibrant. Some of the recent standout dishes include Heirloom Peppers with prawns and togarashi, Black Cod with Japanese eggplant and summer beans and Guinea Hen with pink lady apples and onion. Sons & Daughters is a true gem!
Sons & Daughters // 708 Bush St. // Website
Hotel Vitale is a luxurious boutique hotel with a “hip” vibe in a great location on the waterfront of the Embarcadero right across from the Ferry Building. The service is excellent and the rooms are modern and luxurious and have fabulous views of the waterfront (make sure you request a waterfront-facing room). For the best rooms, book their Landmark Terrace Suite, which is on a top floor with a separate living room and private terrace with sliding glass doors overlooking the Ferry Building, the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz and the San Francisco Bay. Hotel Vitale // 8 Mission St. // Website
Ritz-Carlton is a beautiful luxury hotel in the Nob Hill area that offers exceptional service and elegant accommodations. The hotel’s vast lobby impresses with its ionic columns and acres of marble flooring. Ritz-Carlton // 600 Stockton St // Website
Fairmont San Francisco is one of the “grande dame” luxury hotels of San Francisco located at the top of Nob Hill. The hotel has preserved the timeless elegance of its stunning lobby and continues to attract the luxury traveler. Fairmont // 950 Mason St // Website
Rich Table is a very popular dinner spot in Hayes Valley run by Chefs Evan and Sarah Rich. The vibe is casual with walls made of reclaimed barn siding and scarred wooden tables and the food is inspired and exciting. The menu changes daily based upon seasonal availability, though their porcini doughnuts and sardine chips are always on the menu (for good reason). Rich Table // 199 Gough St (at Oak St) // Website
Flour + Water is a casual restaurant located in the Mission District that serves amazing pastas. The restaurant serves regional Italian dishes, including thin-crust Neapolitan pizza, but they are particularly known for the pastas. If you want the ultimate pasta experience, order their pasta tasting which involves a multi-course selection of pasta dishes. Be aware that reservations are hard to come by but they keep some tables available for walk-ins or you can stop by on the earlier side to dine at the bar. Flour + Water // 2401 Harrison St // Website
Taxis. Taxis in San Francisco are often hard to find, expensive and the drivers have a reputation for being somewhat rude. It is not surprising that Uber started in San Francisco. Uber is the better option.
Cable Cars. You should definitely take a cable car ride during your visit but there are often long waits at the turnarounds and they are crowded so it is not a particularly good option for general travel around the city. There are three cable car routes in operation, and it helps to know their respective destinations. Riders can board at any cable car turntable (the beginning/end of each route) or anywhere this brown and white stop sign is posted.
Vintage Streetcars. Although not very efficient, riding San Francisco’s vintage streetcars is a fun (but rather slow) way to traverse San Francisco. The vintage streetcars run on the “F” line from the Mission District to Fisherman’s Wharf. The city has lovingly restored these vintage streetcars from cities all over the United States. Worth at least a picture!