San Francisco, also known as The City by the Bay—a term (I sheepishly admit) I learned by listening to Journey as a teen back in the day—is one of the most beloved cities in the world. Who can argue with that? It’s beautiful and romantic, has a rich cultural and culinary history (I made a beeline to the Beat Generation’s City Lights Bookstore during my first visit), is progressive on nearly every front and has ideal weather—when it isn’t shrouded in fog.
Since the TravelMuse team is based in the Bay Area, I’ve decided to dedicate the first part of this column to our staff favorites.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park for beautiful surroundings as well as inspiring art, the historic Fillmore for kick-a** live music acts and the Marin Headlands for a stunning view of the city all received multiple mentions.
For more must-see San Francisco attractions, read Jill Robinson’s Insider’s Guide cover feature.
SF Food Picks
Suppenküche, the home-style German restaurant with communal tables (and an Oktoberfest-like atmosphere) in Hayes Valley is a winner for TravelMuse founders Kevin Fliess and Eric Wood. Kevin also recommends Greens vegetarian restaurant for outstanding California "slow food,” and brunch at the Carnelian Room on the 52nd floor of the Bank of America building when money is no object.
Eric likes the cafés in South Park: “My favorite sandwich is the vegetarian sandwich at Caffé Centro—and I’m a meat eater!—and my favorite upscale pick is South Park Café. The tomato salad is to die for.” And Zuni shouldn’t be missed.
The City Lights Books is the legendary Beat Generation bookstore founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953.
Engineer Franck Muraldo and I both like Yang Sing for dim sum in Chinatown, but it’s a little touristy these days, so for a more authentic experience, he recommends Koi Palace in Daly City. If Japanese cuisine is your preference, try the Soazik at Kiji. He also likes Pomelo for brunch (it’s always filled with families), and, being a Frenchman, knows what he’s talking about when he says Ti Couz for crêpes “is far ahead of any other crêpe places in San Francisco.”
Jill Robinson prefers Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, an authentic and family friendly joint in the Richmond area that also has the biggest collection of 100 percent agave tequila outside of Mexico.
I’m partial to nibbling at the Ferry Building Marketplace on the Embarcadero, and if you’re on the peninsula, the one upscale restaurant that lives up to its reputation is Manresa, in Los Gatos.
Read this week’s Taste Buds column for custom culinary tour options.
Feed Your Sweet Tooth
Tartine Bakery, for anything and everything on the menu.
Beard Papa, for large cream puffs, different daily flavors.
Mitchell’s, a local institution, for ice cream.
Many of the food and flower vendors at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market at organic.
Noe Valley: family central, boutiques, Rabat for shoes.
Hayes Valley: art galleries, sleek furniture stores and one of the best travel shops, Flight 001.
Upper Fillmore St.: designer shops, from locals to Mark Jacobs; Kiehl’s.
Glen Park: the Cheese Boutique, Destination Baking Company and Bird & Beckett Books & Records (live jazz Fridays). The names say it all.
Best Places for Kids
Exploratorium—unanimous first choice and good for all ages
Yerba Buena Gardens
Zeum—read our review
Crissy Field and California Academy of Sciences
Day trip: the newly expanded Monterey Bay Aquarium
Read our San Francisco Family-Friendly Neighborhoods article for more ideas for both shopping and kids.
The Great Outdoors
The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, located on the San Mateo County coast (in Moss Beach), has some of the best tidepooling in the area, says Jill. If you stop by on a weekend, you might catch a resident naturalist who can teach you more about the reef creatures.
Kevin’s pick is the Marin Headlands. Enjoy sumptuous accommodations at the Mountain Home Inn, and hike out your door into Muir Woods and up Mt. Tamalpais.
Colorful Victorians in the Upper Haight district.
For other Bay Area outdoor activities, read our Hike, Bike and Kayak article. Jill highlights great city parks in her Green Spaces article.
Special Attractions and Events
With Halloween around the corner, Web designer Adrienne DiPalma suggests staying in the supposedly haunted Queen Anne Hotel and booking a ghost hunt with San Francisco Ghost Hunt. “I did this for my daughter’s 14th birthday with a group of her friends and stayed right next door to Miss Mary Lake’s room at the Queen Anne. They had a blast! Tweens and teens love ghosties.”
Last year I enjoyed the Day of the Dead neighborhood procession that winds its way through the Mission. This year’s event takes place Nov. 2.
If you like European dinner theater/circus experiences, Adrienne insists you check out Teatro ZinZanni. “This is totally off the wall and very cool for those who enjoy things a bit on the odd side, but it’s not great for young kids.”
Visit a fortune cookie factory in Chinatown.
Jill shares even more city weirdness in her Quirky San Francisco article.
The Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point.
Additional San Francisco Coverage
Make your San Francisco vacation green; find the right guidebook with our Streets of San Francisco review; check out two College Visits pieces, one for the city, Berkeley and Stanford, and one for the South Bay and Santa Cruz; be tempted to plan a relaxing Northern California escape in nearby San Mateo County.
Weekly Features & Blogs
Amy Hatch gives tips to avert travel health emergencies; Kim Foley MacKinnon reminds us that whale shark season is upon us in Baja California; and don’t forget about our weekly Travel Deals column.
TravelMusings, our daily blog, recommends books for youngsters to get them in the mood for your San Francisco family vacation, while other posts cover travel discounts, and airline customer loyalty.
New!—Social Trip Planning
This week we’re also excited to launch our latest innovation—Social Trip Planning—which enables you to now manage all your travel information in one place and share travel research with the rest of your social network—eliminating the need to e-mail links and itineraries back and forth.
You can create a Netflix-like list of trips, manage and save travel research, connect and collaborate with friends and family, organize schedules and easily change itineraries and share all your information and travel planning activities.
We unveiled this new tool at DEMOfall 08 on Tuesday in San Diego to rave reviews. Come check it out for yourself!
And if you haven't done so already so, sign up on TravelMuse for your chance to win $1,000. The drawing takes place soon!
Happy planning your travels!
Donna M. Airoldi