25 Things to Love About San Francisco

by Don and Ann Jackson


It's always a pleasure to rave about San Francisco because for over twenty-five years it's been our favorite city to visit. During a ten year period we made it our goal to stay there at least once a month, checking out different hotels, eating at the many fantastic restaurants, exploring various neighborhoods, and visiting different cultural landmarks and famed tourist attractions on each trip. But it's not just us who have an ongoing love-affair with this renowned metropolis; numerous media polls taken by international travelers often rate San Francisco as the world's preferred destination. Our list of twenty-five reasons to love the city by the sea is in random order, so you may love reason number twenty-five as much as number one, but either way, you're sure to find several great ideas for rediscovering this fabulous city. One over-riding caveat: before heading in, check a trusted weather source and choose a clear forecast.

1. Glorious City Park Adventures

Golden Gate Park, with its sheer beauty and breadth, is one of our country's paramount city parks. Exploring the entirety of its 1000+ acres by walking or biking is our recommended approach. It may take an entire day but it's worth every minute. Adding stops at the California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Gardens, de Young Art Museum, Conservatory of Flowers, Bison Paddock, Stow and Spreckels Lakes, Koret Children's Quarter and Golden Gate Carousel, and the authentic North Windmill and Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden can add an extra day or more to your trip but all should be considered. Tips: Be sure to take the elevator to the top of de Young's tower for incredible views. No admission to the museum is required for free tower excursion. Yearly park events include the annual Comedy Day where over forty professional stand-up comedians put on a very lengthy outdoor show free-of-charge. (Robin Williams performed the last two years.) (comedyday.com) The annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in October is free and often headlines major artists like Emmylou Harris. (strictlybluegrass.com) Dining at the famous nearby Cliff House restaurant overlooking Seal Rocks provides incredible vistas and delicious cuisine. (cliffhouse.com)


2. Best On-Going Show

Ready for some hearty belly laughs? Then don't miss Beach Blanket Babylon, the longest continuously running musical review in American theater history-over thirty-seven years! This constantly changing topical show never gets old: the costumes with humongous outrageous hats, the original spoof-filled song lyrics and talented performers dazzle. (beachblanketbabylon.com)


3. Favorite Holiday Season Performance

Every December the esteemed San Francisco Ballet Company puts on the most unique and mesmerizing version of the Nutcracker Suite we've ever seen as the national critics rave reviews attest. Tip: Go online early to secure tickets as sell-outs


4. Marvels in the Sky

Every year we try to make it to Fleet Week (this year, October 4-8) where the famous Blue Angels air-show team still enthralls us. Viewing the parade of ships and visiting the S.F. Maritime National Historic Park next to Fisherman's Wharf to tour the dockside ships are added pluses. (fleetweek. us) When going to Fleet Week we strongly recommend staying at the Hyatt-on-Fisherman's Wharf where you'll likely be rubbing elbows with Blue Angel pilots and crews usually headquartered there. Our fave S.F. sports bar, Knuckles-atthe- Wharf, is also at the Hyatt and their grub is first rate. (hyattfishermanswharf.com)



5. The Rock Rules

Our favorite tour in all of Northern California is Alcatraz. Overseen by the National Park Service this tour has actually gotten better over the years and continues to amaze us with its eerie facilities, famous criminal inmate history and bizarre happenings including brazen escape attempts, the Native American siege and the days under U.S. Army control. (nps.gov/alcatraz) A special tour of the ongoing project to beautifully revitalize the prison gardens is worth inclusion. (alcatrazgardens.org); (alcatrazcruises.com)


6. One Crazy Race

The Bay-to-Breakers race is internationally known as one of the largest and craziest running/jogging/ walking events on the planet. For years, world-class runners from all over the globe have competed with all levels of runners and revelers showing off incredible costumes and shocking behavior as the event rules the city. If you can handle a little nudity from folks that shouldn't go nude, this 101 year old celebratory race that sets the benchmark for wildness will be forever imbedded in your memory bank. (baytobreakers.com)



7. Amazing Hill Top Hike

Telegraph Hill is well known as the site of the famous Coit Tower and we think it provides some of the most gorgeous 360 degree vistas in the city. It's also a perfect place to view holiday firework shows. Tips: As you ascend and descend the hill be on the lookout for the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, avian residents for over twenty-five years. If you prefer to drive, you'll find limited parking at the top. For a fee, taking an elevator to the tower's top is another option.


8. Marriage of Food and Wine

San Francisco is referred to by many as the dining capital of the U.S. and numerous food centered affairs are offered throughout the year. Our pick: the annual summertime S.F. Chef's Food and Wine event sponsored by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association is the preeminent happening that will pique the palates of all foodies. Epicurean cuisine and premier wine tastings, as well as numerous entertaining classes, demos, and parties are offered over a six day period. Be sure to attend the Grand Tasting Tent in Union Square featuring many of the city's most renowned chefs. (sfchefsfoodwine.com) Camping out at the luxurious event-central Westin St. Francis is our #1 Union Square lodging choice anytime of year. (westinstfrancis.com)


9. Best Sports Venue

Even Oakland A's fans will admit that AT&T Park is one of the country's finest baseball venues. On non-game days, we recommend the insider's tour of the ballpark that often includes insider info, visits to the press box, dugout, visitor's clubhouse, batting cage area and a luxury suite. Tip: Every year around January or February the Giant's sponsor a special Fan Fest Day with free admission and parking. Most of the team shows up and close-up player viewing, photographs and autographs are much easier to come by than during regular season games. (sfgiants.com) Dining across the street at local favorite MoMo's Restaurant and staying within walking distance at the lovely Hotel Vitale on the Embarcadero should enhance your experience. (sfmomos.com; hotelvitale.com)


10. Asian Culture Awaits

San Francisco's Chinatown claims to be our country's largest enclave of Chinese ancestry and, in our eyes, it's the most genuine and picturesque. The shops are especially popular with tourists but the restaurants are frequented by both visitors and locals alike. The annual Chinese New Year's Parade is considered by many as a do-not-miss spectacle. Tip: Stop into the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley for free samples and special made-to-order gems. (sanfranciscochinatown.com) We recommend staying at the hip Triton Hotel just across the street from Chinatown's grand and glorious gateway arch. (hoteltriton.com) Although not as well known, Japan Town is also worth a visit for lovers of Japanese culture and cuisine. The serene Hotel Kabuki is our recommended pick for overnight visits. (hotelkabuki.com)



11. Hobnob on the Hill

Nob Hill is fashionably known as the original home to the very wealthiest residents in San Francisco, including famous railroad tycoons Stanford, Crocker, Huntington and Hopkins, (also known as "The Big 4".) It remains the kind of destination that caters to the affluent and stands-out as a place to stay and dine for that special occasion getaway. Our fave hotel is the stately Huntington. Their Nob Hill Spa and Big Four Restaurant always shine. (huntingtonhotel.com) A time honored tradition for drinks, munchies, and five-star views is the historic Top-of-the-Mark at the Mark Hopkins Hotel-a chic destination for eons. (intercontinentalmarkhopkins.com)


12. Don't Forget the Kids!

The Exploratorium, currently at the Palace of Fine Arts but soon to move to a pier location in 2013, is one of the most exciting, fun-filled educational experiences anywhere. Kids from 3 to 90 will find numerous exhibits to kindle major exuberance! (exploratorium.org)


13. A Favorite for Out-of-Towners

Whenever out-of-town friends or family members visit and we mention San Francisco they usually want to go to Pier 39 to see the dockside sea lions, complimentary stage shows, the Aquarium of the Bay, eclectic shops, and to choose from a wide variety of dining choices. Pier 39 is one of California's most visited attractions. Tip: Visit their website for a free Fun Pack booklet for discounted parking, dining and shopping redeemable at the pier's California Welcome Center. Our dining recommendation is Pier Market Seafood where clam chowder and the freshest fish reign supreme. (pier39.com)


14. Broadway of the West

If you're a fan of Broadway and love all the glitz, toe-tapping, and song belting that comes with it, then be sure to check in with SHN Productions. Their theaters include the Orpheum, Curran, and Golden Gate, all of which are beautiful and put on stupendous, Broadway-quality productions. This summer, musical lovers can catch Tony award winning shows like Les Miserables, Green Day's American Idiot, and War Horse. Book of Mormon, which cleaned up at the Tony Awards this year, will also have a five-week run this November that's not to be missed. (shnproductions.com)


15. Chocolate Lover's Heaven on Earth

Ghirardelli Square has long been one of our favorite places to dine (check out McCormick and Kuletos Seafood Restaurant) and shop (we frequent One Of A Kind, a store dedicated to fine woodwork by local artists.) Enjoying an always tempting visit to the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop for a sweet treat and listening to the talented musicians performing on the square are added plusses. The Annual Chocolate Festival usually held in September benefits Project Open Hand and is a chocoholic's must event. (ghirardellisq.com) We suggest staying just down the street at the historic Argonaut Hotel, where a nautical elegance gives a luxury cruise ship impression. (argonauthotel.com)


16. Dine on a Dime

The San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau (SFCVB) offers a wonderful "Dine About Town" two week restaurant promotion twice a year that will wow food lovers. A complete list of these top restaurants are posted in advance on San Francisco's official visitor web site. Food and wine enthusiasts are provided an incentive to experience many of San Francisco's finest restaurants at reduced prices. Participation dates and times vary by restaurant. Reservations are encouraged and may be made online through a partnership with OpenTable.com (sanfrancisco.travel/dine/dineabout- town)


17. Cultural Appreciation

World class art museums, live theater, opera, ballet, symphony and the cultural opportunities in San Francisco are practically limitless. Our personal favorite of these enriching experiences has always been the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, where fine art and one of the world's most picturesque settings connect. Visualizing the great art masterpieces and then enjoying panoramic views overlooking the bay from the hilltop captivates us on every visit. Tips: the Legion and de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park both offer free general admission the first Tuesday of every month. Many museums in S.F. do similar "free days" but check their websites or call for details. Legion of Honor's general admission ticket also includes the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park for no additional charge if you go the same day. (famsf.org)



18. Iconic Photo Ops

Our number one recommendation for a photo op is the "Painted Ladies" a row of multicolored Victorian houses overlooking Alamo Square and we've heard that next to the Golden Gate Bridge it's the biggest selling photo-postcard. A stroll or auto ride down Lombard Street, one of the world's most crooked roads, provides another great Nikon moment looking up from the hill's bottom.


19. Slumming It and Loving It

The Tenderloin District of the city is probably considered the exact opposite of Nob Hill. However, we've found staying at the Phoenix Hotel on a number of trips has been a very enjoyable experience. Modest rates and comp parking are big plusses, and the fact that it's known as a rock-star hangout makes it a very interesting destination. Close proximity to the Opera House, Symphony Hall, Bill Graham Auditorium, numerous other concert venues and the civic center are bonuses. (jdvhotels.com/ hotels/phoenix) Tip: A free tour of City Hall, a 1915 National Historic Landmark, is more stunning than many state capitals and a perfect example of Beaux Artes architecture. (sfgsa.org)


20. The Man and the Mouse

How fortunate that the Walt Disney Family Museum chose San Francisco as its home instead of Anaheim or Orlando to showcase his life and achievements? Our country's most famous animated film maker is honored with tons of his personal art work, memorabilia and artifacts from his life's work. Driving through the striking grounds of its Presidio location and complimentary parking are key added benefits. (waltdisney.org)


21. A Shopaholics' Paradise

San Francisco has one of the world's most amazing varieties of interesting shopping areas from highly sophisticated Union Square, to the funky bohemian counter-culture shops in Haight Ashbury, to the ultimate luxury shopping mall at Westfield's San Francisco Center, and to many neighborhood shopping paradises like Chestnut Street. We usually pick the Union Square area as our first choice for serious shopping. A favorite store: A Miner Miracle on Sutter where name brand designer clothing and accessories sell for 50-80 percent off retail and all proceeds go to an award winning charitable cause. (aminermiracle.org)



22. Up Close and Personal with 'The Bridge'

The Golden Gate is one of the world's most famous and photographed bridges and actually strolling or biking on its sidewalk is so much better than driving across it. It might be a tad windy but the vistas and the bridge itself are exhilarating- and in many cases quite romantic. Tip: For the best photo ops try the Visitor's Center or Fort Point on the southern side or Ft. Baker on the northern end.







23. Definitive Farmers Market

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market at the beautifully restored 1898 Ferry Building where Market Street meets the Embarcadero is the highest quality farmers market we've ever shopped. This certified market is all about sustainable agriculture and is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Add in the tremendous food oriented shops and superb restaurants in the Ferry Building and it's a definite "must experience." (ferrybuildingmarketplace.com) Checking into the stunning Hyatt Regency, home to the world's largest atrium lobby, directly across the street is a no-brainer. (hyattregencysanfrancisco.com)


24. Wild Nightlife

Supperclub San Francisco offers "off-the-wall" singers, performance artists, musicians and staff members providing one of the most unique night club experiences that originated in Amsterdam. While you enjoy "dinner in bed", you have the option of quietly joining in, going wild or just sitting back and enjoying the truly outrageous show. (supperclub.com)


25. First Hand View of Ultimate Risk Takers

A drive out to Fort Funston on the city's coast always gives us a thrill to see the many hang-glider aficionados run off the sky-high cliffs launching pad, fly out over the Pacific, and soar back for an often bumpy landing. We're not really temped to try it (we'll stick to zip-lines) but we're always excited to witness these daredevils first hand.
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