Chez Panisse is a Berkeley institution. Just across the Bay Bridge from SF (itself a beautiful and highly underrated bridge with great views of the SF Financial District, always coming in second place to the Golden Gate Bridge!) is Berkeley, probably the most liberal of places in the US. Home to Berkeley University (where I spent 2 happy years as a student) and numerous incredible restaurants, my pick of which is definitely Chez Panisse in the Gourmet Ghetto district.
Alice Waters, creator of "California Cuisine" (all natural, organic, local, fresh, seasonal ingredients), founded this restaurant in 1971, and it is still serving up some of the best, freshest food in the whole of the Bay Area. It is not cheap, but not outrageously expensive either, and worth splashing out on.
They have two sections in the restaurant - the a la carte cafe upstairs, slightly cheaper, where you can choose between courses, and the restaurant downstairs, which serves a set menu every night. The wine list is also impressive, and it is worth asking the waiters to pair your meal with some excellent local Napa and Sonoma Valley wines, as they are extremely knowledgeable and will no doubt recommend the perfect wine to go with your meal. I have eaten in both the a la carte section and the restaurant downstairs, and both times felt I had eaten the best meal of my life!
Reservations should be made, as it is a popular place.
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley (nearest BART station is Downtown Berkeley;
Café reservations: (510) 548 5049; Restaurant reservations: (510) 548-5525;
The best cheesecake in the world, and the other food isn't bad either. This is a great US chain restaurant, serving damn good food.
Go to Union Square and into Macy's. Hit the button for the 8th floor in the lift and be transported to SF's version of Willy Wonkas Chocolate Factory. Watch your eyes get bigger than your belly when you order dessert. Have two of the biggest courses you've ever seen. Feel bad, when you leave half of the best cheesecake you've ever tasted!
Go late on a Friday/Saturday night (open til 12:30) and sit on the terrace or just go late and get a slice to take away!
8th Floor Macy's, 251 Geary Street, just off Union Square;
This street is an easier environment than Chinatown with comparable Asian markets and restaurants, as well as orthodox Russian residents and a scattering of lovely small bistros like Clémentine. A great flat street for walking, shopping and eating.
Clémentine: 126 Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94118;
tel: (415) 387-0408
I booked this hotel in advance for my final night in San Francisco. I ended up staying prior to this as I was stranded in San Francisco unexpectedly due to a missed flight. The staff were brilliant, gave me a great room and offered really helpful advice.
The lobby is lovely. I spent a fair bit of time there as there was free wi-fi. Also has a fireplace and free wine in the early evening. Could have not asked for more.
This hotel is conveniently close to everything, and the staff really make this place. Wonderful. Will definitely stay here again and recommend it to anyone.
1075 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA 94109;
tel: (415) 673 0242
It is a short drive from San Francisco. A place of serene beauty. Sit on the beach, listen to the roar of the surf (if you have a board catch some waves), chill, watch the sun set over the bay. Then retire to a B&B or enjoy the drive back to the bright lights of the city.
Half Moon Bay is 30 miles from the city.
Nearest redwood forest to SF. Deeply spiritual place - which gives a taste of what the coastal forest must have been like before the loggers got working. The trip includes crossing the Golden Gate bridge and returning by ferry from the pretty town of Sausalito.
There are lots of tour companies that go there but they charge a lot of money and give you almost no time. It is accessible by public transport and the best parts of the park can be see on this round trip walk.
Saturdays in summer:
Golden gate bus 10/70/80 (before 9.57) from the Civic Centre to Marin City then catch bus 63 to Muir Woods (leaves Marin at 10.41). Arrives at Mountain Home Inn 11.07. Walk through the forest to the visitor centre (downhill). Return from Pan Toll ranger station or Bootjack (mostly uphill but not steep) 3.29 (last bus to catch a ferry 5.24). Arrive Marin 4.04, bus 22 to Sausalito ferry leaves 4.09. Ferry from Sausalito 6.10 (or at 4.45). Arrive SF 6.40 (or 5.15). Last ferry at 6.25 from blue & gold terminal el portal east of Bridgeway.
For more information on how to get to Muir Woods see www.nps.gov/muwo/pphtml/planyourvisit.html
For amazing gospel singing, inspirational speakers and just being in the presence of pure joy, acceptance and unconditional love, I recommend a celebration at Glide. Really beautiful. 9am and 11am on Sundays. Gets very busy so get there early if you want a seat downstairs. You'll come out uplifted and smiling.
330 Ellis Street (corner of Ellis and Taylor); www.glide.org
Best weekend brunch place in the city. This very cool Mission eatery is where the club kids go to come down and where the bedheads go to get some coffee. The eggs benedict is a must.
3296 22nd St, San Francisco 94110 CA (nearest cross st is Valencia);
tel: (415) 824-4088
This is a small and perfectly formed pirate supplies shop down in the Mission District. More installation than retail, though you can buy glass eyes, wooden legs, doubloons, flags, eye patches, loaded dice and, er, lard. Treasure troves hide under the floorboards, there's an aquarium theatre and funny writings on the walls. You can barter drawings and poems for treasure, and buy the books of bartered drawings. It's actually the front for a literacy project and is the dreamchild of writer Dave Eggers. It's SO cool I could hardly breathe...
826 Valencia St (between 19th and 20th Sts) in the Mission District;
tel: (415) 642-5905;
In the same vein as the Mad Dog in the Fog (owned by the same guy), this is the city's premier sports bar.
And by sports, I mean sports. The Kezar is located across the street from Kezar Stadium, the former home of the city's five-time Super Bowl champion 49ers, now converted to a trim 10,000 seat athletics, football and soccer stadium. The atmosphere follows the same vein as the decor: distinctly 49ers-related, and NFL and college action packs the place to watch every game on its 24 TV screens. Similar crowds watch baseball, especially the Boston Red Sox, or ice hockey (an unusual interest of the owner - read more). March madness may bring the biggest crowds of all. If you want your American sport, the Kezar's the place to go.
But it's more than that.
The Kezar abuts the epicentre of the city's legendary Irish community (a community third only to New York and Boston) and there is a distinctly Irish undertone to the place, from the logo exhibiting Kezar Stadium's famous arch with a shamrock placed in it to the Irish bar staff and owner. Gaelic sports are in abundance here, and the bar is equally full for the Six Nations or Republic of Ireland internationals.
But while it's an Irish bar in America, it's not an “Irish” bar. Rather, it's a mishmash of European and American sensibilities. The Premiership and Champions League football attract huge crowds, mixing tourists, American fans, and expatriates. New Zealanders and Australians pack the pub for Tri-Nations rugby (shown live in the wee hours) and even Indians come for cricket. The World Cup saw the start of Kezar's newest demographic - Ukranian soccer fans.
Oh, the food's also top notch for a sports bar. You'll find your fish and chips, meat pies and your Irish fare, including shepherd's pie and the legendary Irish breakfasts munched on by hungry rugby and football fans, as well as American hamburgers and buffalo wings. But the owner's wife - a chef - adds some subtle touches in the form of salmon, penne pasta and excellent salads.
Beer flows freely here, with several varieties of American beers, English ales, and God's own Guinness.
770 Stanyan St, at the edge of the Haight-Ashbury district. Reachable by several bus lines, including the 71 Haight-Noriega, the 43 Masonic and the 6 Haight;
tel: (415) 386 9292
The bar on top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel is a famous and historic bar. It has a fantastic view of the city and a relaxed atmosphere. Here you can have a drink at "weepers corner" where the wives/girlfriends of the sailors in WW2 watched their loved ones sail off to war, many to never return again. Truly mesmerising views.
1 Nob Hill (999 California Street) - you cant miss it, it is visible from all of San Francisco;
tel: (415) 616 6916;
Last summer (August) we were in SF and were taken by surprise with how cold it was. We bought good waterproof and warm anoraks for about $20. They're great for here in the UK.
Lots of souvenir shops on Pier 39 and around Fisherman's Wharf. Available in many colours.
This is a fantastic restaurant where you can sit and look out at the sea lions from the side. We had a delicious meal here last summer. It was great to find such a good place to eat in a very touristy area, and very reasonably priced. Look a the website and see the amazing choice on the menu. It doesn't include the desserts, which are yummy. I had an Apple Granny which was so big I couldn't finish it but they packed it for me to take out.
Pier 39, space 103; reservations: (415) 982 5872;
This was the largest public swimming pool and was ruined in the 60s. The ruins remain just at the entrance to the park. I went on a windswept day and was amazing.
Also, there is the Cliff House right beside it with shop, cafe and bar - amazing. I went after going to the Legion of Honour art museum. Very compact but sweet, and the best baristas - very friendly, in an incredible location
1090 Point Lobos Avenue, near Lincoln Park;
tel: (415) 386 3330;
It is a very peaceful place with two big labyrinths (one inside, one outside) in the style of the one in Chartres. Highly recommend doing the labyrinths at your own pace.
1100 California Street;
tel: (415) 749 6300;
It's a great bar that hosts literary readings, music quiz nights and more. They also serve the best British chippy-style fish & chips I've found since moving here. (They actually come from the Old Chelsea, a tiny place round the corner.) Irvine Welsh has been known to hang out there.
950 Geary Street;
tel: (415) 885 4074;
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