Who doesn’t love San Francisco? This world-class city is arguably one of the most beautiful and revered cities in the world. Nestled along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, it is imbued with scenic splendor. There are brilliant architectural landmarks built upon famous hills. There are glorious bay views, charming ethnic neighborhoods, cable cars and magnificent iconic bridges! It is the gateway to the magnificent Napa Valley wineries. The city is about seven miles long by seven miles wide; 49 square miles packed with incredible sites and activities.
Here’s a video of my Glorious Vino con Vista Weekend in San Francisco: http://youtu.be/kf-GFK8dOyc
The gold rush of the mid 1800s transformed this small settlement into a boom town. Unfortunately, San Francisco had to be re-built after the devastating April 18, 1906 earthquake with a magnitude of 8.3 on the Richter Scale that ruptured along the San Andreas Fault. The earthquake and subsequent fire are considered one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States along with the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The death toll from the earthquake and fire were estimated at over 3,000 people. Approximately 50,000 buildings were destroyed.
Fortunately, some of the charming Victorian architecture survived. My favorites are the well-maintained Queen Anne Victorian row houses. They are called “painted ladies” and some of them have magnificent turrets!
I love the juxtaposition of the 48-story Transamerica Pyramid that symbolizes San Francisco and the copper-clad Columbus Tower, also known as the Sentinel Building that was completed in 1907. The Transamerica Pyramid is the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco.
In the Alamo Square Landmark District, admire the Victorian Era painted ladies.
The distinctive landmark copper-green Flatiron style structure is bounded by Columbus Avenue, Kearny Street and Jackson Street, straddling the North Beach, Chinatown, and Financial-districts of the city.
Francis Coppola‘s corporate headquarters are located in the Sentinel Building. On the ground floor, dine at the charming Cafe Zoetrope. This Parisian-style cafe sits beneath Coppola’s film offices in the sumptuous copper-clad Sentinel Building.
Here are my top picks for a glorious Vino con Vista Weekend in San Francisco California:
1. Visit as many of the distinctive and diverse vibrant neighborhoods as you can; including Haight-Ashbury. They are brimming with charming restaurants and eclectic boutiques.
I love Little Italy with about 100,000 residents of Italian origin and plenty of great restaurants and outdoor cafes. Go to “The Stinking Rose” if you like garlic.
Visit the twin towers of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Little Italy where Joe DiMaggio and his new bride, Marilyn Monroe posed for their wedding pictures on the steps of this church. I love this delightful North Beach neighborhood.
Chinatown’s grimacing “Dragon Gate” located at Grant Avenue at Bush Street welcomes visitors to a plethora of irresistable Cantonese, Szechaun and Mandarin Restaurants. This is the oldest “Chinatown” in the nation. Have some dim sum in Chinatown. This is also San Francisco’s quaint French Quarter.
The Haight-Ashbury district is notorious for its counter-culture role as the epi-center of the 1960s “Flower-Child” hippie movement and the 1967 “Summer of Love.” Remember the lyrics to the song written by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas that was sung by Scott McKenzie: “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. If you’re going to San Francisco, you’re gonna meet some gentle people there.”
I love the The Red Victorian, this historic hotel is located in San Francisco‘s Haight-Ashbury district, two blocks from Golden Gate Park. This charming Bed and Breakfast and cafe is a “social benefit” enterprise that supports a Peace Center whose mission is “Peace Education through Guided Conversation and Arts.” Check out the fish-net clad lady with the red pumps in Haight-Ashbury!
2. Go to the weekend Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building. The San Francisco Ferry Building is a terminal for ferries traveling across the San Francisco Bay. It has an up-scale shopping center and is located on The Embarcadero. On top of the building, admire the 245-foot tall clock tower, with four clock dials. Each dial is 22 feet in diameter.
You can take this ferry to Valejo and travel on the Napa WIne Train from there.
This land-mark building was designed by New York architect A. Page Brown in the Beaux Arts style in 1892 and it was completed in 1898. Brown designed the clock tower to resemble the 12th-century, 800 year old Giralda bell tower in Seville, Spain. This was the same inspiration for Miami’s iconic “Freedom Tower”, the former home of the Miami Daily News located at 600 Biscayne Avenue in Miami. The entire length of the Ferry Building has an arched arcade that resembles a Roman aquaduct.
3. Admire Daniel Burnham‘s planned Civic Center Plaza; an architectural Complex with a magnificent group of Beaux Arts Federal, State and City Buildings. Burnham’s dream was carried out by Arthur Brown Jr. who attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.
The massive gold-leaf covered dome of the majestic City Hall building at Carlton B. Goodlett Place, is taller than the U.S. Capitol Building. There is also a War Memorial Opera House, where the representatives from 50 nations signed the United Nations Charter in 1945. Visit the Davies Symphony Hall and the Asian Art Museum.
4. Spend some of your hard-earned money at the glorious palm-tree lined shopping mecca around Union Square. Union square is a 2.6 acre park in the heart of the Financial District. It is the central shopping and theater district. Explore the Westfield Center Shopping mall, packed with restaurants and shops.
There are outstanding hotels and upscale shopping opportunities in this area. Admire the Statue of “Victory” at the pinnacle of the granite column that commemorates Admiral Dewey’s triumph at Manilla Bay during the Spanish-American War. Then go to the Crocker Galleria glass barrel-vaulted arcade that resembles Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele brimming with boutiques and specialty shops. Neiman Marcus has a magnificent glass-encased property in San Francisco with an incredible dome.
5. Visit the Mission of San Franciso de Asis founded in 1776 by the Spanish Franciscan Monks. Mission San Francisco de Asís, or Mission Dolores, is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco and the sixth religious settlement established as part of the California chain of missions. The Mission was founded on June 29, 1776, by Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga and Father Francisco Palóu (a companion of Father Junipero Serra). They were both members of the de Anza Expedition, which had been charged with bringing Spanish settlers to Alta (upper) California, and converting the local Natives, the Ohlone. Go next door to the Mission Dolores Basilica built in 1919 in Wedding Cake/Moorish style.
6. Travel to San Francisco’s famous hills. Take a cable car up to the steep inclines of the summit of Nob Hill. When you arrive at the top of this elegant, residential Nob Hill neighborhood, go to the top of the Fairmont Hotel or the Mark Hopkins for a fabulous Vino con Vista on Mason Street!
Then visit the amazing Grace Cathedral at 1051 Taylor Street. Grace Cathedral is the third largest Gothic cathedral in the country. You can schedule a tour led by the Cathedral’s docents who are members of the Guild of Saint Martin. They will explain the history and architecture. You can admire the magnificent stained glass windows, the famous replica of Ghiberti Doors in Florence and the priceless icons.
Trace California’s colorful history through the fresco-style murals and learn the secrets of the Labyrinth! There’s even a cafe on the premises.
Here is a photo gallery from Ansel Adams: http://www.gracecathedral.org/visit/cathedral-history-art/Ansel-Adams.php.
Then travel to Telegraph Hill where the first telegraph station was placed in 1853. It is the home of the Coit Tower that was built to honor volunteer fire fighters. The 210 foot structure resembles a fire-hose nozzle. Climb the steps to Coit Tower for a 360 degree view of the city and the Bay. Then take a picture with Christopher Columbus.
I love Russian Hill which is the home of the beautifully landscaped, iconic crooked Lombard Street.
7. Have a Sour Dough bread bowl filled with decadent clam chowder at Pier 39 and then gaze at the comical barking Sea Lions on the docks. Check out the world-class Aquarium. Walk over to Fisherman’s Wharf and enjoy some fresh Dungeness Crab. Enjoy the entertaining street performers. Tour the 1883 historical Balclutha vessel; it’s a floating museum.
8. Take the ferry boat from the Embarcadero to the island of Alcatraz, the former federal penitentiary. Listen to the stories about the former inmates including Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd and Machine Gun Kelly.
9. Go to the former Del Monte Cannery and have a sundae at Ghiradelli Square or tour the factory and learn about chocolate.
10. Admire the Palace of Fine Arts that was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. There is a Roman Rotunda supported by Corinthian colums over-looking the swan-filled lagoon. This Palace of Fine Arts is the home of the Exploratorium, a popular hands-on Childrens’ Museum.
11. Go to Golden Gate Park. It is the largest man-made park in the world with a conservatory and Japanese Tea Room. Visit the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum that chronicles art in Western civilization. One of the wings houses the Asian Art Museum. There are boat rentals at Stow Lake.
12. Visit MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art with works by Matisse, Joan Miro, Jackson Pollack, Picasso, Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe and other notable artists. The Museum was designed by architect Mario Botta and has a distinctive cylindrical skylight.
13. Ride the Cable Car that was invented by Andrew Hallidie to Nob Hill. I love the view from the Top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel. It’s a great Vino con Vista destinaton with a fabulous Sunday Brunch. Take time to visit the Cable Car Museum at Washington and Mason Streets with historic exhibits and memorabilia.
14. Enjoy another breath-taking Vino con Vista at the Marriott Marquis rooftop bar called The View Lounge. Order a glass of Hangtime Wine from San Luis Obispo California and enjoy the magnificent 365 degree panoramic vista of one of the most beautiful cities in the world! There is a perfect view of MOMA with the circular skylight.
15. Drive on the 1.7 mile Golden Gate Bridge that was designed by Joseph Strauss. You can visit his statue if you park your car at the visitor center. This steel suspension bridge opened on May 27, 1937 to Marin County and visit Sausilito. The Golden Gate Bridge is preparing for a 75th anniversary Festival on May 26th-27th that will feature music and art exhibits.
Take a panoramic shot of the San Francisco Skyline from across the Golden Gate bridge. There is also an access point where you can walk the bridge to Marin.
16. In April, the San Francisco Vintners Market usually sponsors an event with about 200 wineries from Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and the Russian River Valley. They like to pour their new releases, special collections and hard to find vintages.
There is also an annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in April. www.nccbf.org
For outstanding Michelin Star French Cuisine, dine at Masa’s at 648 Bush or Fleur de Lys at 777 Sutter. These upscale restaurants offer prix fixe dinner only options. Gary Danko is also at the pinnicale of San Francisco dining with an all-encompassing list. Diners may select three, four or five prix-fixe courses or try the tasting menu with wine pairing.
San Francisco offers a plethora of ethnic dining as well. For Asian Fusion try Le Colonial at 20 Cosmo with a nice patio and nightly music. You will never be hungry or thirsty in San Fransisco!
I love to stay in Union Square at the Sir Francis Drake at 450 Powell Street www.sirfrancisdrake.com
17. If you are ready for some Touring and Tasting in the Bay Area, take the ferry from The Ferry Building at the Embarcadero at Pier One to the Wine Train and visit the wineries in Napa. Napa Valley is the main wine tourism region in the US.
There are plenty of gourmet restaurants like the Fench Laundry in Yountville or The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena; they both have 3 Michelin stars. Check out the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America www.ciachef.edu/california.and or Hurley’s in Yountville or Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen or Press in St. Helena.
Touring and tasting in Napa is easy with plenty of outstanding places to stay including Meadowwood, a fabulous Relais and Chateau Property in St. Helena www.meadowood.com. The Cade Estate Winery offers a “Wine and Cheese Tasting and Tour”; as well as, “Tour the Cave” where you can taste Cade and Plump Jack Wines www.cadewinery.com
Check out the Cakebread Cellar’s Visitor Center in Saint Helena with a culinary history of Food and Wine Exhibit www.cakebreadcellars.com. I like the behind the scenes tour of Mondavi production facility. Sterling has an outstanding tour where you ride on a ski lift to the winery. Raymond has an over-the-top winery with plenty of elegant tasting facilities. There are about 450 wineries in Napa.
Here’s a list of San Francisco Landmarks to visit:
Dr. EveAnn Lovero is a Travel Junkie and writes Travel Guides and Apps at www.vino-con-vista.com