Thursday, October 30, 2008

What (Not?) to Wear

So San Francisco is kind of quirky in general and weather is no exception. The biggest piece of advice that I can offer you is to bring layers! Trust me on this. It will seem as if the temp changes from block to block and you'll want to be able to peel off/put back on your clothing at will. Summer months to the rest of the country are typically chilly in San Francisco. Our "summer" months are more liky Sept./Oct. and even then, 80 is hot to us. Don't think of LA weather when planning your SF vacation. Evenings are always rather chilly, especially the closer you get to the water. I carry gloves in my purse at all times. You don't need ski gloves or anything, but just a pair of lightweight gloves is great to keep the chill off of your hands. Bring a good coat. Again, trust me of this. If you choose not to, you'll be one of the people buying a "SAN FRANCISCO" fleece pull over from one of the vendors at Fisherman's Wharf because you're freezing your tail off and shivering in the middle of July. And aside for a few occassional heat waves, you likely won't need multiple pairs of shorts. Bring a pair but no need to over load the luggage with those, sun dresses, etc... Again, you'll be shivering at the cable car stop in the middle of summer while the rest of us are in coats. Don't get me wrong, short sleeves and such are still good to have but don't pack as though you're going to be spending your days in 85 degree weather. :)
Definitely check the weather on leading up to your visit to see what is going on to help you better prepare. Remember: "layers are my friend!"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Union Square Christmas Tree Lighting

If you don't already know, I love Christmas, probably to an annoying degree. I am already in the spirit if you can't tell. Of course I have to mention the annual lighting ceremony of the Union Square Christmas Tree. Typically done on the Friday after Thanksgiving across from Macy*s on Union Square. Crowds are extreme but it is lovely nonetheless. A great family friendly activity.

Dance Along Nutcracker

I happen to think this is really rather cool. The website gives the info because on this one, it explains much more than I could. Very fun if you're here around the holidays and another activity that is fun for all ages. A lovely take on the Nutcracker which is likely a holiday tradition for many.

Dance Along:

And for those who are more traditional,

Chinese New Year Parade

If you're in town and have never witnessed Chinese New Year, I highly recommend checking it out. Good for all ages and likely something that you will find pretty unique... unless you're from Hong Kong in which case you'll probably think our Parade is stupid. ; )

Lombard Street (aka "The Crooked Street")

Lombard Street (between Hyde & Leavenworth)

Unless you're just dead set on driving down, I really recommend taking the Hyde Street cable car (don't forget your Muni pass!) and getting off at Lombard. 99.9% of the time, the cable car operators will tell you when it is coming up. You can look down and take pictures or get off and walk down via steps. I have to say, I feel bad for the people who live on this street. Some guy got pissed when he was taking a photo of the building I used to live in and I happened to walk out of the lobby at the same time and "ruined" his photo. I can only imagine how these people feel! LOL. Anyway, it is worth checking out and it is very picture-esque. A truly unique anad free "attraction".

Golden Gate Bridge

Lincoln Blvd & Highway 101

Not seeing the Golden Gate would be like going to New York and not even glancing at the Statue Of Liberty. It is just one of those landmarks. The Golden Gate is lovely and you can even bike across and ride over to Sausalito and take the ferry back to SF if you're outdoorsy like that. If you merely want to see the bridge, you can do so from Aquatic Park about a block away from Ghirardelli Square. The photo is the Golden Gate view from Baker Beach.

For more info, visit:

For information on renting bikes, try the following:

Red Box Sushi - CLOSED :*(

581 Eddy St (Basically @ Larkin, between Larkin & Hyde)

Firecracker balls = orgasmic. I actually really liked this place thanks to the very creative rolls that they offer. The sashimi is extremely fresh and tasty. I highly recommend sitting at the sushi bar. Adds to the atmosphere and sometimes the chef will give you a few extras. He is really just such a kind man. I think the location is both a blessing and a curse. The food is really good, atmosphere is fun, service is nice... but the location well, sucks. The neighborhood is rather gritty so I would really recommend cabbing it unless you're fimiliar with the area. While the neighborhood is not for the faint of heart, it is well worth the trip. Service is very friendly and the food is good. The place is tiny so I would recommend going early (around 6:00pm) because it will get crowded.

Mixt Greens

White truffle potatoes? You people must be trying to kill me. There is a conspiracy to make me fat. Seriously. That said, on days I can actually stay away from those, they make some great salads. It makes me feel that I'm being healthy. I love this place. If you're trying to eat healthy foods and you can resist temptations and stay away from the potatoes, this is your place. This is really popular with those of us who work in the area for lunch so you may wish to come on the earlier side (before 11:45) to avoid the FiDi crowd. Not super cheap but not expensive.

Spa Vitale

Okay. I actually had a really good experience here. I love this hotel and in all honesty, I'd move in if they'd let me so I decided on a whim to make a spa appointment. I really enjoyed it and the fact that it is so small was actually nice, intimate and relaxing. Keep in mind that this isn't a full service spa so there are certain treatments that aren't available. I didn't mind because I am so utterly anal that I research things before I'll try them. Just know what to expect. If you want more than you see offered on their website, another spa will suit you better. FWIW, I also frequent The Nob Hill Spa and Burke Williams.
The one thing that took away from my enjoyment was the possibility that people in the building across the way were watching me as I was in the soaking tub on the roof. The soaking tub is a great concept but the whole thing made me paranoid so I didn't enjoy it as much as I should have!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cliff House

Simply put, you come here for the view. The view definitely deserves 5 stars. Unfortunately, the food and service at this place are below average and simply put, I don't think it's worth it. It is basically impossible to order what you would typically order for 2 people at another restaurant and get out for under $100. I am all for spending money on a great meal, but this was far from it. For not all that much more money, you could have a pretty decent dinner some place else. I'm not saying you shouldn't ever come here because I truly understand the appeal, however, just be prepared in terms of cost with what you get.


Even if you live here, I think Alcatraz is worth visiting at least once in your life. I think I probably end up here about once a year when out of town friends/family show up and I have to play tour guide. That said, I really don't mind going. I think the history is facinating and on a nice day, you are greated to some great views on both the island as well as the ferry on the way over. One tourist attraction that is worth your time. I also have to stress, buy your tickets well in advance! Alcatraz tours always sell out. I can pretty much guarantee you won't be able to purchase tickets the day or so really, plan ahead on this one!

To purchase your tickets, visit the official website:

Fleet Week

Fleet Week... This can be a very fun time of year for visitors and the weather is typically incredible. I used to live in a building that allowed me to watch the Blue Angels (see photo) air show from my front window. You can wander in to bars at this time and meet some really interesting people. One year I ended up on a cable car with the Marine Corps Band and the played songs the whole ride. Definitely a rather interesting night.

For more Fleet Week info, check out

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Palace of Fine Arts

3301 Lyon Street (at Bay Street)

Beautiful and peaceful. The perfect place to come to just enjoy a nice day in San Francisco. If you're in to architecture or you are in to photography, this is a lovely spot. If you just want a break, I highly recommend making the trip. Useless trivia fact: Charlie & Harriet run into the Russian sailors here in So I Married An Axe Murderer.

You's Dim Sum

675 Broadway (at Stockton St)

If you want to eat on the go, don't want to spend a lot of money but want to try some dim sum, I recommend You's for cheap food and lots of it. None of the menus are in English, the staff don't speak a whole lot of English so get ready to smile, point and nod. Most items are 3/$1.20-1.50 I also have to say that the ladies who work here are always so nice to me and give me extra food so it makes me like them more. Simply put, you could do a lot worse for $5 or so. It is isn't at all fancy but if you just want good, cheap food, try it. Everything is always very fresh when I come here. Cash only.

What I like to order (the short list!):

Char Siu Bao (BBQ pork bun)
Har Gau (Shrimp dumping)
Lou Mai Gai (Lotus rice leaf)
Lo Mei Bao (Sticky rice in wonton skin)
And while my whiteness is showing... I like the egg rolls.

"Thank You" in Cantonese: Mh goi (mmm goy)

Golden Gate Bakery

1029 Grant Ave (between Jackson St & Pacific Ave)

I don't know if you're firmiliar with "Dahn Tats" (aka egg custard tarts) but it is a belief of many that they have the best in the city. This may just be my thing, but I love Chinese bakeries. While I'm technically Greek, I think that there is some Chinese blood in there somewhere. If you enjoy Chinese pastry, this is worth a stop. At the very least, come by and enjoy a Dahn Tat... and a coconut cover mochi ball... and a BBQ pork bun... A tip if you don't know the Chinese terms for what you want, just smile and point. The workers don't typically speak much English. Cash only, so be prepared.

The Ferry Building Marketplace

Simply put, I love food. If you're the same, the Ferry Building is a must visit on your trip to San Francisco. There is a Sur La Table, wonderful restaurants, a caviar bar... the list really just goes on and on. If you're in to cheese, you can't bypass the Cowgirl Creamery (see photo.)
If you can dream it, it is likely in here somewhere. There is also a farmers market which may be of interest.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Parking is a pain in San Francisco even for those of us who live here. Keep this in mind when you're deciding whether or not you should rent a car. Parking is very expensive --$50/day at most of the hotels in the area, potentially more for an oversized vehicle. There are "motor inns" that you can stay at along Lombard street (not in the area as the crooked section) but I generally don't recommend those. Most are extremely overpriced for what you get, even if parking is included. Some people consider doing street parking, however, I don't really recommend this. Many streets require you to have a residential sticker. If you don't, they will tow or ticket you. There may also be time limits on how long you can park, etc... Simply put, if you plan to stay in SF, visit attractions in SF, etc... don't rent a car. It isn't needed. Walking, Muni and possibly taxis will serve you just fine. If you're dead set on driving and you're staying in the Union Square area, you may consider this off site garage for $30/day: This may or may not be great depending on how many blocks away your hotel is but I thought I would mention it anyway.

If you wish to do a day trip, there are many rental car agencies in the downtown area as well as at Fisherman's Wharf. It is often cheaper to just rent a car for the day, take your trip and return the car when you are done.

Getting from the airport to San Francisco

The City of San Francisco is about 15 miles. I would recommend planning at least half an hour to get to/from the airport, however, you also have to keep traffic in mind in your planning. Allow extra time if you plan to take BART. Once you're in the city, you will be able to rely on Muni.

BART: $5.35/per person (to Powell Street if you're staying around Union Square, Embarcadero if going to Fisherman's Wharf... if going to FW, note you will have to either take a bus or taxi the rest of the way to your hotel from the Embarcadero station. Cost is a bit more coming from OAK and you'll have to use a shuttle to take you to BART.) The website also has a trip planner to help you.
Shuttle: $15/per person. ($25/pp from OAK)
Taxi: $45+
Town Car: $55+ (try ExecuCar or ABC Transportation.)

For BART info, visit
Shuttle Services: and

Where Little Cable Cars, Climb Half Way to the Stars

The Cable Cars

Some San Franciscans hate the cable cars but I for one, love them. I ride the California Street line to work much of the time when we have good weather. What better way to get up steep California street from the Embarcadero? The cable cars are one of those things I recommend you ride at least once. It is an experience like none other. There is the California Street line which is typically used more by locals as it runs from the Embarcadero to Van Ness straight up California Street, through the Financial Dist, Nob Hill and to a residential area.

There is another line more popular with tourists that will take you from the cable car turn around on Powell Street @ Market (4 blocks from Union Square) to Fisherman's Wharf. You can take the Powell/Mason Line which will let you off closer to Pier 39 or you can take the Powell/Hyde street line which will end 2 blocks from Ghirardelli Square. My advice if you're just riding to check it out: Take the Hyde line as it is more scenic and longer.

The cost:

The cable car charge is $5/per person, one way. Each time you board, you have to pay another $5/per person. This is overpriced and stupid. They obviously make a lot of money off the tourists. What you can do to cut the cost: buy a muni pass! I can't stress this enough if you're going to be in town and ride the cable car more than once. You have the option of a 1, 3, or 7 day pass. This includes the cable car.

Current prices are as follows:

1 day pass - $11

3 day pass -$18

7 day pass - $24

As you can tell, if you ride the cable car more than once, the cost will quickly add up so this will be worth it. In additon to the cable car, your pass also enables you to ride on any Muni vehicle (buses, historic street cars, etc...)
Cable Car Museum
If you're interested in knowing more about the history of the cable cars and how they work, it may be worth your time to visit the cable car museum which is free to all visitors.

For more Muni info, visit

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Cafe

1 Ferry Building #12

I love caviar. If you're interested in trying it or if you're already a fan, I highly recommend this little cafe. The setting is bar style and unpretentious. The food is creative and while obviously everything is caviar themed, it is unthreatning even to those who may be experiencing caviar for the first time. I highly recommend the caviar napoleon, caviar flight, truffled scrambled egg, and the Parisian sandwich. Prices are moderate to pricey depending on what you order.

Where to Stay: Part 3

Nob Hill

Pros: Residential feel, quiet, close enough to downtown to be a good jumping off point, great views.

Cons: More residential, steep climbs up/down hill if you're walking, hotels can be expensive.

Hotels to consider:
The Ritz-Carlton - name pretty much tells you what you're in for. Great spa. Highly recommend the Dining Room even if you choose not to stay there. The tasting menu is a must for any foodie.

The Fairmont - An original San Francisco landmark! Beautiful common areas, nice rooms, great views from certain rooms. Cable car stop nearby.The Stanford Court - Likely the most "budget" friendly of the Nob Hill hotels. Older. Could likely use a renovation in the rooms, but perfectly acceptable if you get a good deal. Cable car out front.

The Mark Hopkins - Top of the Mark is located here and a great place for drinks even if you choose not to stay here.

The Huntington Hotel -Home of the Nob Hill Spa, which I highly recommend. One of the "big four" hotels.

Where to Stay: Part Deux

The Embarcadero

The Embarcadero is one of my favorite areas in San Francisco. Close to the water, great area to walk or jog, with absolutely stunning views.
The Pros to staying in this area: Beautiful water views without the madness of Fisherman's Wharf, quiet at night, very calm, beautiful area.
Cons: Quiet at night, not as central to downtown as Union Square, not too many hotel choices.

The hotels:
The Vitale - Luxury boutique hotel. Great restaurant and bar and one of my favorite after work spots (I'm sure my stalkers are taking notes. ;) ) Lovely views and amazing suites. I was lucky enough to stay in a panoramic suite (see photo) one weekend and it was one of the best experiences I've ever had. It is small and intimate but with the luxuries of some of the more well known chains. Small, but nice spa. Simply put, you can't go wrong here. Cable car 2 blocks, historic street cars and buses stop next door.

The Hyatt Regency - Typical Hyatt hotel. California Street cable car stops right next to the hotel. If you've stayed at one Hyatt (or Hilton, or other similar chain) you know what this is all about.

The Harbor Court Hotel - Not as great a location as the first two mentioned but you can still get around by walking a few extra blocks.

Where to Stay?

Union Square (and nearby)
Pros: Very central to pretty much everything you'll want to see, nice hotels, get more for your money hotel wise than Fisherman's Wharf.

Cons: Extremely busy area, quite a few beggars.

Hotels in the area that are budget friendly:
The Chancellor - this is really one of the best as far as your budget friendly options go. It is an older historic hotel with a great location.
The Powell - Steps from the Powell Street BART station and right next to the cable car turn around. You may want to specify you would like a room facing away from Powell Street or the cable cars may keep you up late and wake you very early. Very basic property. Location is the best thing is has going for it.
Hotel Adagio - Hipster scene, good restaurant, good location.
Westin St. Francis - If anyone is fimiliar with the Fatty Arbuckle scandal, this is the hotel! You can even stay in the notorious suite if you have the funds. That said, to those on a budget, you can often get this property on priceline for a very reasonable rate and you can't be the location.

If you have more to spend consider the following:
Campton Place - Luxury boutique hotel right on Union Square. Lovely on site restaurant.The
Four Seasons - The name pretty much tells you what the hotel is all about.
The Intercontiental - Just opened in 2008 and supposed to be extremely nice. Within walking distance of Union Square.
The St. Regis - Within walking distance but not technically Union Square. Great luxury hotel with spa to match.Don't hesitate to ask for info if you have a specific hotel in mind. It is impossible to list them all here!

Restaurant Gary Danko

800 North Point St (at Hyde)

Anyone who knows me knows that I quite enjoy Gary Danko. If you haven't guessed, I am kind of a foodie. The thing that I really like about Gary Danko is the fact that it is just so unpretentious. The food isn't so over the top that it makes you feel like they're trying too hard. Service is friendly and welcoming. I just haven't had a bad experience here. The menu changes a bit based upon the seasons but they do have standard favorites that appear constantly. I highly recommend the lobster risotto, the glazed oysters with Osetra caviar and lettuce cream and the infamous cheese cart. The glazed oysters have the most amazing flavor, nothing I've tried can duplicate it. Simply put, if you want fine dining without the attitude, I recommend Gary Danko. Portions are generous. Make reservations in advance.

Bar Crudo

603 Bush St (between Burritt St & Stockton St)

Bar Crudo is one of my favorite restaurants. Some think it is overhyped but I love it. If you like raw seafood, this is your place. While cooked foods are also on the menu, I think their strengths lie with the raw stuff. The seafood here is very fresh and the dishes are unique. Think tapas bar meets seafood. Portions are small and yes, you're meant to order more than one plate. Favorites of mine include the lobster salad, seafood chowder and spicy yellow fin tuna cubes. Menu is seasonal however. If you're a hardcore seafood lover, I highly recommend it. All of the plates add up quickly so if you're really hungry, this may be an expensive evening!

Short List to Get You Started

It should get you started. The SFGate link below is one I find to be very helpful to visitors.

Things to do:
Golden Gate Bridge
Fisherman's Wharf
Ghirardelli Square
Union Square
Japanese Tea Gardens
Golden Gate Park
Cable Car Museum
Bike the Golden Gate Bridge
Explore Sausalito (you could bike over) and take the ferry back
Explore the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero
North Beach
Explore the Castro
Haight-Ashbury (Greatful Dead house is there)
Shops on Union, Chestnut and Fillmore streets
Check out Pacific Heights (beautiful old homes)
Ride the cable cars
Chinatown. You may enjoy a walking tour which is done by a local who lives in Chinatown. You'll get some history and see parts of Chinatown that most tourists don't find because they mainly stick to Grant Avenue. There is also a dim sum lunch if you so choose.
Other sites that may be helpful: Muni passes, fares, other info

About Me:

After spending 2 or so years handing out recs. on the Travel board, I thought a blog may be helpful. I was born and raised in San Francisco and still live in the city. It is truly one of my favorite cities on earth and I love helping people to discover a bit more about it. I will post my recs of things to do, short reviews of restaurants I like, where to say... Don't hesitate to comment if you would like to see something else. This is just a long work in progress. I hope that this helps my fellow nesties in their travels. Have a fantastic visit.

Thank you for reading,

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the properties or restaurants. I do not represent them in any way, nor do I work for them. These are merely my opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of the businesses in my entries.