San Francisco: The Bay to Your Heart

San Francisco streets seldom lose their charm, even at night  (PhotoDisc)

No other major American city has a setting quite as spectacular as San Francisco. Surrounded by water on three sides and filled with a perpetual rolling fog, this human-scaled city has long been a favorite among travelers of all types. Cosmopolitan and richly diverse, the city's urban sophistication is matched with a Californian emphasis on finding pleasure in the delights of the everyday, as exemplified by its charming, café-lined streets that meander up and down the many hills.

Perhaps the most leisurely, carefree symbol of San Francisco is its renowned cable cars. Once the most critical mode of public transportation up the steep, rolling canvas of the city, cable cars largely serve as pleasant, breeze-inducing modes of wistfully wiling away an afternoon—of course, with someone special on your hip.

Spend one afternoon riding the cables, and the next day enjoying another of San Francisco's great pleasures—its proximity for day-tripping to Napa, Lake Tahoe, or the Pacific Coast. The splendor of California's vineyards, mountains, and coastline are some of the best mood-setters around.

When it comes time to retreat to your own universe, consider staying in the new Hotel Vitale (8 Mission St.), set along the Embarcadero in a wonderfully convenient location far from the tourist bustle around Union Square. The deluxe waterfront rooms have marvelous views of the bay punctuated by Treasure Island and the silver span of the Bay Bridge.

Just outside the hotel, the wide Embarcadero Promenade makes a perfect place for a morning run or evening stroll. On Saturday mornings, join the city's many food lovers for the sensory delights of the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market (415.291.3276) at the foot of Market Street. Or step inside the Ferry Building (which now houses a mouthwatering array of restaurants and local food products) and get a couple of seats at one of the outdoor picnic tables at the Hog Island Oyster Company (1 Ferry Building, 415.391.7117), where a dozen Tomales Bay "sweetwater" oysters and a bottle of chilled California chardonnay make a perfect weekend lunch.

Care for a taste of old San Francisco instead? The rooms and suites in the Archbishop's Mansion (1000 Fulton St.) on Alamo Square Park and the Hotel Majestic (1500 Sutter St.) in Pacific Heights are well-restored examples of the city's bygone Victorian splendor, complete with fireplaces, thickly swagged curtains, claw-foot tubs, and canopied beds.

From here, you embark on your evening plans—perhaps a night of Mozart or Prokofiev at the San Francisco Symphony (201 Van Ness Ave., 415.864.6000, www.sfsymphony.org) followed by a nightcap at the Paris-styled Absinthe (398 Hayes St., 415.551.1590) in Hayes Valley, or a classic flick at the fabulous Castro Theatre (429 Castro St., 415.621.6120, www.thecastrotheatre.com), an old-fashioned, single-screen movie palace in the heart of the Castro District.

Walk arm-in-arm over to local favorite Zuni Café (1658 Market St., 415.552.2522), whose lively bar and central wood-fired oven (and great oysters, Caesar salad, and roast chicken for two) have kept it on city top-ten lists for over two decades.

And of course, no visit to San Francisco would be complete without that aforementioned afternoon delight of a cable-car ride. Hop on the Powell-Mason line down to Columbus Street, and walk south along Columbus into North Beach, the "little Italy" that was once the hangout for the city's Beats and bohemians. Browse through the books at the famous City Lights bookstore (261 Columbus Ave., 415.362.8193, www.citylights.com), then wind down your night with a cappuccino at Caffe Trieste (609 Vallejo St., 415.982.2605, www.caffetrieste.com), where there's Puccini on the jukebox and philosophers and poets at the tables.

Cap off your visit with a hand-in-hand stroll across the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge to watch the sun sink over the Pacific horizon, then snuggle into one of the high-backed, sleek wooden booths at the popular new Myth restaurant (470 Pacific St., 415.677.8986, www.mythsf.com) in Jackson Square for Mediterranean-influenced Californian cuisine. Just another one of those everyday delights that make San Fran so special.

Published: 13 Jun 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in San Francisco

$315
Average/night*
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#1
Omni San Francisco Hotel
$144-$339
Average/night*
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#2
Hotel Abri
$449-$999
Average/night*
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#3
Fairmont San Francisco
$249-$419
Average/night*
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#4
White Swan Inn

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