I came across this bar/restaurant on the internet when I was doing research for my 2010 USA roadtrip and I became determined to visit it. The bar is slightly out of the way for most, but luckily for me, it was down the street from where I was staying. Still, I didn't make it there until my last night in San Fran. My friend and I had a tiring day of sight-seeing and only strolled in to Tommy's at around 11pm. Tommy's is a Mexican restaurant, not only famous for it's food, but also for it's tequila. It's not fancy, or classy, or pretentious. I headed straight to the bar and ordered a margarita, only to be told last orders were at 11pm. I was gutted! I begged and pleaded with the bartender. He went and asked the owner, but came back with an apology. I then decided to play the English card. He went back to the owner and this time, the owner himself came over and greeted me with, 'Oh! You're from England! Come! Have a drink!' It was probably one of the best margaritas I've ever had! Not only that, I was given a personal lesson in picking good tequila, was given free tasters, and also a free shot glass. The owner chatted to myself and my friend for a good few hours about his favourite bars in the world and it turned out he knew someone I knew. He even introduced us to his family and the original Tommy! A little tip on Tommy's. They have a 'tequila card' that has around 50 different tequilas listed on it. You are allowed to try a maximum of three tequilas a night and each time you try one, it will get marked off your card. They vary in price - some start at a few dollars and some go up to hundreds of dollars. If you complete the card, the owner will take you to his distillery in Mexico. I now keep on noticing 'Tommy's Margarita' on bar menus around the world, which proves how iconic this place is. I know it is slightly out of the way, but please give it a shot - I guarantee you will love it!
OK fine you could go to Mexico City for day of the Dead and I imagine it would be insane. But San Francisco with it's vibrant Mission District puts on an amazing show. Garfield Park is filled with altars made by the community, there's a walking procession, music, dancing and a lot of dressing up. Grab some amazing Mexican food at Gracias Madre on MIssion Street and go get involved.
San Francisco itself is a great city in autumn - mainly because it's no different to summer. The fog still rolls in, you still need a jumper, but there are less tourists and the colours are beautiful. The sun here just seems softer.
Stayed here recently on a trip to San Francisco and can't recommend it highly enough (actually booked it because of reading about it in these tips!)
Beautiful room, fabulous host, AMAZING breakfast, good wifi, voip phone in the room, and excellent location in a great area and right near lots of public transport. I doubt there is a better place to stay in the city. I will definitely be going back.
The Swedish American Hall is a venue above the Cafe Du Nord on Market Street. Built in 1907, the grand ballroom was a speakeasy during Prohibition and still has its old decor. Fold-down seats make it feel a little like school assembly, but the hall has great acoustics and provides good sized folk and rock concerts at a reasonable price.
Down a very unassuming (and long) street hides Millenium. We went for the tasting menu and matching wine as it was a special meal (a 40th.) The waitress advised against eating the bread (very wisely) and introduced a wonderful wine to accompany our starter. The slight twist was we were both given different taster menus and the chef must have been in a good mood that night as we ended up with a six course instead of the usual five. From blue corn tamale to sweet potato griddle cake finishing with a variety of puddings (hello chocolate ganache cake) a delight from beginning to end. You'll leave purring and happy if not a little heavier!
Having paid homage to City Lights Bookshop and the Beat Museum, a stroll in the North Beach area must include a visit to Caffe Trieste. This café boasts the vestiges of the Beat generation, giving the traveller the opportunity to sip a wonderful espresso and taste some of the best pies and pastries of San Francisco, surrounded by the pictures of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg among others. Being here is a true literary experience. The picturesquely coloured marble tables and the wooden chairs are still those that one can spot in the old pictures of the place in which poets are shown sitting and chatting amiably. But the most amazing experience is that, not only one can taste real Italian flavours here, but still today be surrounded by those very poets that one can recognize in the black and white pictures on the walls. Lawrence Ferlinghetti has been a habitué for years and Jack Hirschman, the amazing 'red poet', can be found sitting, reading the local newspaper and enjoying a double espresso almost every day.
Fantastic collection of books including many hard to find titles. Home of the Beats. 'A literary Meeting Place' since 1953. They also publish books, run a foundation to encourage reading and literacy and hold regular events and readings. The sort of bookshop to spend time browsing, reading and generally enjoying the atmosphere. Open daily until midnight. As a bonus it's just a short walk away from Francis Ford Coppola's Cafe Zoetrope, well worth a visit. If you like the Beats and you can't make San Francisco try Albion Beatnik Bookshop in Oxford.
261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway (North Beach)
San Francisco, California 94133
Tel (415) 362-8193
For a potent San Francisco experience, the Phoenix delivers on all levels. Its motorlodge 1950s motel style, complete with kitsch central pool and vintage furnishings, make you feel like you're in a really good Quentin Tarantino film. Team this with its grungy Tenderloin location and the fact that tour buses regularly pull up on the drive to deliver touring rockstars as guests, and you've got yourself one hell of an American Dream.
This is where the engines that drive the cables for the cable cars are located. For geeky kids (and parents), see pre-computer, mechanical stuff.
San Francisco is one big movie location – so many films have been made there – from The Hulk to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner to the car chase in Bullit. The Pacific Heights neighbourhood hosted Mrs Doubtfire and, er, Pacific Heights. The early Broadway stage-door scene in All About Eve was shot at the Curran Theatre in Geary Street in San Francisco 's less than salubrious Tenderloin area. And there are way too many scenes in Vertigo to mention – from Mission Dolores church to the Golden Gate bridge.
But my most thrilling holiday movie moment took place 60 miles north of the city at the tiny hamlet of Bodega Bay, the setting of Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 masterpiece The Birds. I called into a gift shop near the Tides Inn (which also features in the film, though now totally transformed into deli, gift shop and restaurant) to ask directions to 'the centre of town' as seen in the movie. I was told by the woman in the shop: 'This is where she gets in the boat, the school is four miles inland!' I'd clearly not been the first fan of The Birds to call in to ask directions!
Inland was the classically spooky schoolhouse (very Edward Hopper) perched high on a hill, but no neighbouring jungle gym next door where the crows once perched. It was like being transported into the film and I half expected Tippi Hedren to appear at any moment. I never found the centre of town – there is no town – just cinema, the magic of.
North of San Francisco, take the coast road for the views.
Google map: tinyurl.com/ycyg6n5
Living in London it's not often you get to drive on the open road. Well, on a recent trip to Northern California, starting in San Francisco I got to do just that. After spending a few days in San Francisco with the girlfriend we rented a car and took 80 East towards Lake Tahoe which is one of the most gorgeous drives I've ever done. And when your destination is Lake Tahoe you really can't get a better package. Spending some time in Lake Tahoe, and a few nights camping was great. But we were soon on our way again down to Yosemite NP. Another breathtaking location in Nor Cal which is full of wildlife and picturesque views. Yosemite Valley is an obvious highlight. We were happy to get back to San Fran, it was a long 10 days. San Francisco remains one of my favourite cities - absolutely beautiful, even if the weather can be a bit odd sometimes!
Even in San Francisco, the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar has a reputation for being surprising and quirky. It's in the basement of the very swish Fairmont Hotel - in which the UN charter was signed and, more importantly, where you can find Scarlet O'Hara's staircase from Gone with the Wind. (Although if you run down it repeatedly while attempting a bad southern accent, the staff will look at you strangely.)
The Tonga Room isn't signposted in the hotel, but take the lift down to the basement and you will find a place of such incredible kitch-ness that you'll understand why the hotel may try to downplay its existence. It's a tiki bar, so it's decorated in a 1950s vision of the tropics: pots of leafy plants, palm trees, plastic Easter Island statues, and waiters in Hawaiian shirts. Cocktails are served in hollowed out coconuts and pineapples festooned with umbrellas.
The room is arranged around a rectangular pool. The band plays in a thatched hut in the middle of the pool. The reason it's thatched? Because precisely every half an hour, lightning flashes, thunder rumbles, and it rains into the pool.
Go for the (admittedly expensive) cocktails and the experience: the food isn't great, but even on a weekday evening the punters arrive dressed in full 1950s costume and dance late into the night. And it rains every thirty minutes.
Address: The Fairmont, 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, California, USA 94108
Tel: (415) 772-5000
Buy a Muni 1 ($11), 3 ($18) or 7-day ($24) visitor passport for unlimited rides on cable cars, streetcars (trams), trolleybuses and diesel buses, but not BART. Regular fare is $2 (Cable Car is $5).
If you're 65 or older, show your driver's license, ID or passport as proof of age and buy a Muni monthly Senior Pass ($15).
Muni's visitor passport and Senior Pass can be purchased at their kiosk (looks like a cable car) at the Powell-Market cable car turntable. You can also buy a Muni 2-for-1 street and transit map for $3 there.
Muni is the nickname of the San Francisco Municipal Railway, America's oldest public-owned large city public transit system (1912) and probably the last to call itself a railway.
Muni (San Francisco Municipal Railway)
Phone: 311 (within San Francisco)
1 (415) 701-2323 (outside San Francisco)
It is like rollercoaster ride and offers sensational views. My tips would be to (1) get there early in the day and (2) avoid being fleeced by the guys who hang around Powell purporting to sell tickets, but then slink off with your money into Burger King! You buy the tickets ON THE CAR. Don't make my mistake.
40 miles north of San Francisco, on Highway 1, the Doughty family vinters (who made vintage wine for the Grateful Dead) give their reds a complexity and richness which stems from the unique Marin micro climate. Drink the 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon then visit Marshalls to eat a dozen oysters on the beach. All set in the unique Point Reyes national seashore.
Point Reyes vineyards, Quail Hill vineyard, Marin County. The Marshalls Store boatyard and Oyster sales(415)663-1339
If you're looking for somewhere classy to stay on the West Coast The Westin St. Francis in San Francisco brings old time nostalgia to the 21st century. Located in the very heart of Union Square it is in a prime location to explore all that this city has to offer.
However if all that sounds a little too strenuous then why not stay awhile and as the saying goes "meet me at the clock". The old style grandeur shines through in the lobby of this 5 star luxury hotel. Marble doric columns all exquisitely maintained and acres of polished wood make guests feel welcome as soon as you set foot in the door.The greeting is no less warm from the staff that work here, from the doorman to reception.
The rooms are very well appointed with all the modern amenities that a seasoned traveller could ask for. Especially the Heavenly Bed, you'll be fast asleep in no time. If you can, ask for room 1132 the views across Union Square are superb.
If you do decide to "meet at the clock" then be prepared to taste some fantastic cocktails and nibble finger foods from Michael Mina. Or why not stroll across the lobby and sample this Michelin starred chefs menu for yourself. Exquisite dinner and lunch at a price that might just surprise you!
Of course you may feel the need to work off some of that excess and there is a gym if you're so inclined, or why not head to The Spa and indulge in some rest and relaxation. Treatments to suit all tastes and budgets are catered for. Whether you would like a massage to relieve jet lag or just getting your nails done - its' all here.
If you are tempted to leave this luxury retreat then San Francisco has much to tempt you with. Take a cable car to Fishermans Wharf and experience the tacky side of 'cisco. Stalls selling fresh seafood, souvenir shops and the sea lions at Pier 39. Try Boudin bakeries sourdough bread with clam chowder - delicious! But make sure you leave room for the bread. Its the best bit!
No trip to San Fran would be complete without a visit to The Rock. Alcatraz has been closed for many years now but visitors still flock to its spooky corridors. The night visit is especially terrifying and not for the faint of heart.
The ferries also take you across to Sausalito a small slice of the Meditteranean in The Bay. Art galleries, boutiques and the best sandwiches ever at the delicatessen 'Venice'. On your return the Golden Gate Bridge spans the straits and there are some great photo opportunities.
Once you return to terra firma explore Chinatown, Little Italy and Nob Hill as all these areas are in easy walking distance. Don't forget Lombard Street the worlds windiest road. San Francisco may seem like a long way to go for a city break but its accessability is it's strong point. Everything seems to be in easy reach and a cab ride is taken at your own risk...remember Bullitt?
Couple your trip with a stay at The Westin and if you need to escape the hustle and bustle of San Francisco and need a quiet oasis to recharge and regroup then The St. Francis will leave you feeling refreshed - but I'm sure that at some point you'll want to return to the Streets of San Francisco!
A music festival in hippy San Fran. Not sure who's playing this year but last year included Bon Iver and Drive By Truckers - it's only on its second year so still very chilled and not too crowded so you can get very close to bands.
The Bay Area has numerous beautiful panoramas to appeal to even the most cynical visitor, but Indian Rock in Albany, next to Berkeley, offers perhaps the most spectacular views of the Bay - in fact, the views are up there with the best in the world. Its location in the middle of leafy suburbia, far away from any other major tourist draws does make it something of an effort to get to. But it also means that, a few locals aside, you'll have the place pretty much to yourself a lot of the time. And believe me, it is worth the effort. Directly opposite the Golden Gate Bridge, the view from Indian Rock encompasses almost the entire Bay Area. The shimmering skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco, the gridiron of the East Bay (mesmerisingly illuminated at night), the waters of the Bay, the far-off glistening Pacific, the coastal mountains including the forest-clad hills of Marin County. A world-beating feast for the eyes that you can hardly believe. Come and witness the spectacular sunsets and have your breath taken away. The memories will last a lifetime.
A couple of miles north of downtown Berkeley, a car is the best way to get there, as it's more than half an hour's walk from North Berkeley or El Cerrito bart station. Indian Rock Park, 950 Indian Rock Ave, Albany, CA.
If you've ever looked at films like The Doors and Woodstock, wondering why you can't just hop on one of those ancient Bluebird school buses and just go on a wild trip coast to coast...
...you still can. Green Tortoise buses have been going coast to coast from Boston to San Francisco and back since god knows when, but these days they've got full-on, air-conned sleeper coaches that a rock star wouldn't sneeze at rather than converted bench buses. Around $700+food/parks allowance gets you coast to coast in 14 days - maybe slightly more, or slightly less, depending on which way the driver wants to go - and a whole bunch of new experiences. If you're lucky, new friends too (still emailing mine 10 years later).
Pieces of advice, though:
- bring far more shower gel, soap, and deodorant than you'd ever actually need, and don't be too fussy about where you use it. Or who borrows it.
- use electronic devices sparingly, as there's plenty of places to see - and few places to charge up.
- Much as you'd love to trust the free peace and love vibe, keep absolutely everything somewhere you know it should be and lock the important stuff (passport, med insurance, etc) at the bottom of your bag.
- learn to love veggie food if you can. Really. You can get great steaks in San Fran if you need them (and by the end, boy did I need them).
- be open-minded about everything you see and everyone you travel with, and open to new experiences...
- ...just not any mind-altering ones (bear in mind that in some states, if someone is caught possessing drugs on a road vehicle, and can't prove exactly whose it is, they will bust EVERY SINGLE OCCUPANT. Bad karma, dude.)
Green Tortoise Adventure Travel:
When roadtripping in America, pick up your hirecar earlier in the day to maximise your chance of an upgrade. Most people go for the smaller, cheaper cars so these are usually all out for hire and people usually drop their cars off in the afternoon. The hire car company will never downgrade you - only upgrade you, so you could get yourself a better drive than you paid for.
This worked for me when picking up my motor in San Francisco. I ended up with a car the size of a boat for an authentic American driving experience.
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