When I visited San Francisco a couple of years ago I stayed at a colourful victorian guest house, moments from the bars and shops of Castro and Market streets. With five tastefully themed rooms it had a friendly, laid back atmosphere and was a great starting point for exploring the city.
It's a quirky B&B in the heart of Castro - the gay and lesbian district in San Francisco. Everybody is welcome and the breakfasts are divine. Rooms are clean with beautiful views. Each decorated with a kind of funky 70s style.
The Green Tortoise Hostel in North Beach San Francisco has a lovely, separate cottage just down the street with sunny, private rooms, its own kitchen, DVD stash and internet access. The hostel puts on a bagel breakfast, entertainment every night, and organises trails across country on the Green Tortoise bus. The cottage is friendly, cosy and allows you to dip in and out of the hostel social life.
Broadway, North Beach.
Although strictly not a B&B the San Remo is a little oasis in this stunning city. The abundance of cafe's and coffee shops right outside the door mean that you can choose a different breakfast every day or just stick to your favourite! The hotel is in a European pensionne style, the rooms are elegantly furnished and oh so quiet and serene. Bathrooms are shared but clean as a whistle and very sumptuous, most rooms have a sink too. Staff are supremely helpful and it's possibly the best value for money I have ever experienced.
2237 Mason Street, San Francisco, California 94133 (415) 776-8688 (800) 352-7366
The Red Victoria is a lovely hotel in the Haight (pronounced Hate) district of San Francisco - think Camden with more hippies and less pirates.
It is run by a septegenarian artist called Sami Sunchild who designed each room separately and occasionally joins guests for breakfast and discussion in the Peace Cafe. You can choose from Peacock, Butterfly, Sunshine and even Japanese tea garden rooms, but I found waking up in the Skylight room particularly relaxing.
Local curios include the Red Vic movie house where I squeezed in with the other punters on to old sofas and benches whilst eating popcorn 'n' yeast and watching The Big Lebowski.
Golden Gate Park is two blocks away, and the Castro district is a steep 20 minute walk (via Twin Peaks), or a 5 minute bus ride which connects with trams into the centre of town.
I was assured by a man whose eyes seemed to work independently that the burrito shop on the corner was the best in the area, and after only being there for a couple of days I met a gay man and a lesbian who had fallen in love. Only in San Francisco...
It's a bright red building on Haight and Ashbury, if you're on the street it's hard to miss.
Red Victorian Bed, Breakfast & Art
1665 Haight Street San Francisco,
Phone: (415) 864-1978
Fax: (415) 863-3293
I was supposed to meet my sister in San Francisco one year but the hotel I had booked was horrendous so I had to find a place to stay for a few nights before she arrived. The White Swan Inn saved my bacon. My room had a little fireplace in it and was the definition of cosy, which is weird considering it is quite near Union Square. So the bed part was great. Breakfast was served in a lush little parlour and was really good - scrambled eggs, bagels, muffins - I felt really fat! I felt really at home and was happy killing time with a book in the parlour. I haven't stayed in many places in San Francisco so I don't know if this kind of character in a place is normal but I had a super stay and would be happy recommending it - although if you expect it to be like and English B&B in price (i.e. £25 a head) you'll be disappointed. Even with a strong exchange rate it wasn't cheap.
Bush Street in the Nob Hill area
A beautiful Edwardian building in the Nob Hill area of town The Golden Gate Hotel ticks all the boxes. The hotel is wonderfully original with an amazing old fashioned lift to take you to the upper floors. Homely doesn't even begin to describe this small family run hotel, from the morning croissants and juice, to the complimentary tea and home baked cookies every afternoon, not to mention Pip the curious ginger cat and Cookie the aging Golden Retriever who lend their images to the hotel's logo. The Golden Gate Hotel is what all B and B's should aspire to be and John and Renate are kind and informative hosts. They were even nice enough to post me my dressing gown back to the UK after I left it behind post check out! Located right next to Chinatown and the main shopping districts of San Francisco and on the beautiful cable car line one could not wish for a better location.
775 Bush Street, San Francisco
Powell Street Station
An historic Inn 15 mins from downtown San Francisco across the Golden Gate bridge with stunning views of the city and the Bay. Just a five minute walk to the ferry crossing through streets of funky boutiques, museums, eateries and scented gardens. Finely furnished historic Inn with wonderful touches of detail.
Haight Street - legendary. The Red Victorian - legendary. So where else to stay in San Francsico? Great, quirky B&B, think peace and love people! The decor is weird to eclectic but I think it gives you that 'authentic, hippie feel' if that's not a contradiction in terms.
In the mornings you eat brekkie and have 'conversations' with other guests on a wide range of topics, you can drink coffee in the peace cafde or just chill out. Best thing is it's slap bang in the middle of Haight St (ignore the gap on the corner of Haight and Asbury - what a travesty.) Head to Amoeba Records for discount CD's or to trade yours for new albums. Seriously, it's the best store in the world.
Lovely B&B near Point Reyes which is a little way out of San Francsico (oh ok, about an hour's drive) but worth it for the absolutely stunning views.
The Inn looks like a giant treehouse and set in a forest it feels like one. Big open fire, huge windows and fantastic breakfasts. I stayed in the Lupine room which was beautiful - slanted ceilings, peaceful and the sort of place you felt the impulse to write a best-selling novel in!
No, not cheap - if you want that stay in a crusty motel. But a real experience.
The beautiful Lake Tahoe region, bordering California and Nevada, may have other ski resorts better known to Europeans (Heavenly, Squaw Valley, etc.), but Alpine Meadows combines the intimacy of a smaller resort with spectacular, well-maintained pistes.
On a clear day, travel up the Lakeview Chair and absorb outstanding views of the pure, blue lake and across the Sierra Nevada. The resort gets busy with visiting San Franciscans over the weekends, but mid-week you might catch some exhilarating moments of solitude on the mountain.
The pistes are mainly of an intermediate level. Snowboarders will be particularly happy that all lifts are chairs. There are even a couple of small freestyle parks for the more reckless amongst us.
This is a great place to buy ski and snowboard gear if you're heading to places like Breck, Keystone, Vail etc. It's a huge store stocked with loads of brands but the some prices are amazingly discounted. If you were planning to buy ski gear in the states anyway because of the cheaper prices, then this place is a good bet to get even better deals.
Dillon Plaza, HWY 6, next to City Market
A little way away from Keystone but there's is a ridiculously attentive bus service which makes not having a car no problem. I booked a one bedroom condo with a loft room expecting it to be compact but it was massive. The condo was serviced every day which I hadn't expected in self-catering and it had access to an outdoor heated pool and hot tub. Because of its location it was much cheaper than any place in River Run village so if you can handle the bus these condos are a great deal.
The Disney Photopass is available in Disney World, Florida (I can't yet confirm the other parks). It is basically a free barcode to get photos taken by Disney photographers around the parks.
It's free to get the pass - there are photographers all over the parks (including the water parks) and they will take your photo for free. They will also often use your camera as well, if you ask nicely.
The first time you have it done, they give you a photopass. This is a bar code (and ID number) to identify your photos. You can then use the same pass for every photographer around the parks and they all go to the same account. Then, register online and it is possible to browse through the photos they have taken (or in one of the photo stores in the parks and Downtown Disney). You can pick photos for prints or - recommended - get all of your photos on a CD.
The photo CD is around 140 US dollars including tax (Feb 2009) and you get three "free" 7" x 5" prints with it. This seems a lot, but if, like me, you are never in any holiday photos because you are keeper-of-the-camera then it is a great way to get some nice snaps to prove you were there. Once you have bought the cd you can make as many prints/copies as you want at home/via cheaper printing outlets (you buy the copyright licence with it). In fact as long as you are not using them commercially you can pretty much do anything that you want with them.
I did it for the first time this February (as a couple) but it seems to me that if you are on a group/family holiday you can easily get 100 photos of your group in a week and split the cost between a few of you and it becomes a really economical way to get some lovely photos. There are also enhancements, such as Disney borders that you can add to copies of the photos. The online editting is pretty good and there are even some magical additions (such as Tinkerbell) that can appear in your hand, etc - which although cheesy are surprisingly nice in some photos.
www.disneyphotopass.com/, Walt Disney World, Florida
Another 'Old Town' favourite; Dan and Louis' is where to go when you want to try some local seafood in Portland.
Do not be fooled by the name - D&L's is a family-friendly restaurant with a diverse menu that features some of the freshest local ingredients. The clam chowder is classic and the Cioppino is a particular favourite, but if you are an oyster afficianado, you cannot miss out on the dozen varieties of oysters offered here.
The decor is classic Pacific Northwest fish house: every inch of wall space is covered with marine-related memorabilia, much of it collected over the restaurant's 100 year history.
For adults, there is a separate bar in back and make sure you ask about 'the hole' - a glass-covered look into almost bottomless pit - right below the bar.
208 SW Ankeny St, Portland, OR
The Portland Saturday Market is a gregarious mix of public fair, marketplace and food festival.
Located in the heart of 'old town' Portland, right on the downtown 'Max' lightrail, the market is a literal maze of hand-crafted and locally made wares, artwork, jewellery, clothing and more. Live music from diverse local bands and a food court that offers a taste of just about everywhere - American, Thai, Spanish, Greek - including local brews.
Street performers - mimes, living 'statues,' jugglers and magicians stroll the market, but they are not the only entertainment - just watching the diversity of the crowd is one of the major attractions of the market.
Located right off of Portland's Waterfront Park, visiting the Saturday Market is one of the best ways to see Portlanders in their natural element - and not worry about blending in.
Since driving and parking downtown is something of a nightmare, the best way to get around to and from the market will be on Portland's 'Max' lightrail train - it runs from Portland Airport through downtown and will only set you back about $5 for a day pass. The downtown area itself is part of Portland's 'fareless' square, so if you are only riding for a brief distance - its all free.
The market can be used as a jumping off point to explore more of downtown since it is central to the Waterfront and Chinatown - and just a short train ride to Pioneer Courthouse Square.
The Laurelthirst Pub is just that - a favorite of the locals for food, drink and great music - though just enough off the beaten track to be missed by the tourist crowd - and that is a shame.
The food, while hardly high-end cuisine, is still quite good and reasonably priced; local brews and wines are featured as well as cocktails - but what sets the Laurelthirst apart and makes it so popular is the music.
Blues, jango, rockabilly, jazz - the Laurelthirst has been serving up diversity and eccentricity for the past 20 years with local favorites like the Kung Pao Chickens, Jackstraw and the Tree Frogs, among many others.
The Laurelthirst is small and generally quite cramped on a nightly basis - but do not let this deter you. If you want an 'authentic' Portland experience - from the locals point of view - this is where to begin.
The best part? No cover charges - the music is free.
2958 NE Glisan, Portland, OR (corner of 30th and Glisan)
A free weekday only tour of a local brewery which includes lots of free samples at the end. Very popular so you need to book weeks in advance!
For tour reservations call:
It is a rental apartment in San Francisco which easily rivals the best 5* hotel or B & B in town. Our host Ed was fantastic, nothing was too much trouble, he arranged restaurant reservations, sightseeing tickets etc. This apartment has two bedrooms and is within an easy stroll downhill to the transit stop to get into downtown.
Visit www.vrbo.com/23933 to see details.
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