I was looking forward to seeing San Francisco again, much in the same way you look forward to seeing an old friend you haven’t seen in years. Driving up from Los Angeles on the 101, we were arriving in San Francisco at rush hour. The amount of building cranes south of Market Street surprised me. San Francisco was busy re-inventing itself yet again.
Where to Stay
The Vintage Court
Popular with Europeans who are experts in value travel, The Vintage Court is within easy walking distance of Chinatown and Union Square. World travellers gather around the fireplace every night at 5pm to share stories and travel tips at the complimentary wine reception in the lobby.
Fans of detective novelist Dashiell Hammett will be thrilled to learn his apartment was around the corner and the lane next to The Vintage Court is named Dashiell Hammett Alley in his honor.
Fairmont Ghirardelli Square
The Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory moved to San Leandro in 1967 and the old chocolate factory warehouse was converted into luxury condos and rentals. If you want to splurge on a modern loft-style suite with views of San Francisco Bay, this is the place.
A Taste of Old San Francisco
Restaurants come and go with the latest trends. But there’s a reason Scoma’s has been around since 1965. Fresh seafood skillfully prepared will never go out of style. A location on the water at Fisherman’s Wharf, fantastic seafood (I’m still thinking of my luxurious lobster bisque) and a lively ambience with attentive and friendly waiters, all make for a fun night out. Is the décor old-fashioned? Yes. Would I want it any other way? No.
Located near Union Square, John’s Grill is even older, dating from 1908. A great American steakhouse with a literary history, John’s Grill has Dashiell Hammett to thank for its designation as a national American literary landmark. In his 1930 novel, The Maltese Falcon, Hammett’s hard-boiled private detective Sam Spade orders chops, baked potatoes and sliced tomatoes at John’s Grill. In the 1920s, Hammett worked next door at the Flood Building as a Pinkerton operative and undoubtedly had that very same meal. A replica of the Maltese Falcon from the 1941 film noir classic, starring Humphrey Bogart, is on display at the restaurant.
Things to do
What could be better than cycling the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny day? The Powell cable car dropped us at Fisherman’s Wharf and we picked up our bikes and helmets from Blazing Saddles. There are two moderately challenging hills – from Aquatic Park into Fort Mason and from The Presidio to the Bridge, but most of the 4 mile ride is flat with spectacular views of the Bay.
Unfortunately there is no dedicated cycling lane on the Bridge, not even a painted dividing line. On weekdays, pedestrians and cyclists share the east sidewalk of the Bridge. On weekends, cyclists take the west sidewalk. The views of the city are best from the east side (as you are not looking across traffic). Even during the week, the sidewalk is crowded. Watch your speed as pedestrians can be unpredictable.
Despite its many hills, San Francisco is a compact and very walkable city. Active City Travel followed Walk SF Tour guide Ryan Russo along the Barbary Coast on his Gold Rush Drinking Tour, a walking tour that follows in the footsteps of the miners who flocked to the city during the California gold rush of 1849. We enjoyed period libations from the Comstock Saloon (try their Cherry Bounce) and Taverna Aventine.
If you’ll be in San Francisco for a week and don’t want to drive, City Pass is an excellent way to save money on public transportation and popular attractions. The pass includes unlimited transportation on all Muni trolleys, buses and historic cable cars for seven consecutive days, a one-hour waterfront cruise underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz, admission to Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39, two world-class art museums, the Legion of Honor and The de Young and admission to the California Academy of Sciences.