If, as O. Henry, wrote, “East is East and West is San Francisco,” then we say, “Go West, young person, preferably with a cozy-chic jacket, several days to spare, and a pocketful of cash.” Known for its broad range of communities, vibrant arts and gay scenes, fashionable neighborhoods, endless shopping, and incredible waterfront views, San Francisco is a Cultured Eclectic dream.
Stay Here . . .
To say that the Hotel Diva, in the hub of Union Square, is ideally located is an understatement; you can’t get much closer to the action without pitching a tent in the middle of the street. Sleekly modern décor and a host of amenities—from the 24-hour fitness center to the complimentary evening sake hour—make it a worthy hangout, but venture forth only steps and you’ll find a variety of options for food, drink, and shopping. Bonus: the Diva is pet friendly, so your pooch can also vacation in style.
Hotel Diva, 440 Geary Street
Eat Lunch Here . . .
The justly hyped Naked Lunch is quite possibly the coolest sandwich joint we’ve ever seen. (And we’ve seen a lot. All in the name of bringing you the best travel recommendations, of course.) The menu changes daily, and you might find anything from the fried fish with sliced apple and fennel to the foie gras and duck prosciutto with heirloom tomato. Lines get long fast, so stop in early.
Naked Lunch, 504 Broadway
. . . And Dinner Here
If you’re out for a special-occasion meal—or if money is no object—then Fleur de Lys, home of famed chef Hubert Keller, is the place to be. Go for imaginative selections like the Seared Filet Mignon with Lobster Truffled Mac & Cheese or the Fleurburger, a sweet brioche filled with spiced chocolate ganache, plus “pommes frites” made of frozen fennel ice cream. Or put your fate in the hands of the culinary gods by asking for the chef’s tasting menu. You won’t be sorry.
Fleur de Lys, 777 Sutter St.
Go Shopping . . .
The Ferry Building is one of the world’s foodiest of foodie paradises, packed practically to the rafters with artisanal bread and cheese, coffee and tea, meat, fish, produce, sweets, and wine and spirits. While you could make a small meal just from the proffered samples, you can also take a load off at several cafes, and browse the cookware, tableware, and gardening supplies. For an altogether different (and less pricey) shopping experience, head for Daiso Japan, a “dollar or so” store that features a wacky mix of food, toiletries, stationery, decorative pillows, guest towels, seasonal decorations, party supplies, socks, and tools (yes, tools). We love the Japanese pottery and diminutive handbags, which make great gifts. What else do we love? Books, and tons of them. Check out City Lights, the iconic indie bookseller and publisher with three floors of selections and specialties in literature, the arts, and progressive politics—and where original cofounder and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti still holds court at 80-plus years old.
. . . And Then Take in Some Culture . . .
Sure, it’s a touristy thing to do, but a trip to San Francisco isn’t complete without a ride on the famed cable cars. (Warning: To avoid mocking, do not sing the Rice-A-Roni jingle while onboard.) Once you’ve ridden your fill, head over to the Exploratorium, a crazy-cool interactive museum that examines the intersection of art and science. A short walk from the Exploratorium’s main building is the Wave Organ, an ocean-activated acoustic sculpture that sits on a jetty in the San Francisco Bay. Go early, when the tide is high and the waves are at their most “musical.”
For a quieter day, make a detour at the DeYoung Museum, which boasts an eclectic collection of American painting and decorative art, African art, Oceanic art, textiles, works on paper, and photography—all in an oddly designed copper building (yep, copper). Or take a contemplative stroll through the Golden Gate Park Conservatory of Flowers, home to 2,000 of the most exotic blooms and one incredibly gorgeous architectural marvel of a building. The bargain admission prices—$5 for adults and $3 for children—can’t be beat. Or make like a shampoo ad and let the wind blow through your hair on the ferry between SF and Sausalito, guaranteed to be one of the most breathtaking ocean views you’ll ever see.
. . . And Take a Break
Now that you’ve wined and dined, arted yourself up, shopped yourself senseless, and communed with Mother Nature, it’s time to wind down. The Japanese Tea Garden, with its elegant monuments, scenic bridges, and ponds teeming with native Japanese plants and flowers, is probably the most perfectly peaceful place we’ve been. Stop at the tea house for a cup of top-notch Japanese green and some afternoon meditation. Need a caffeine pick-me-up? Get thee to Philz Coffee, which specializes in customized blends of beans from around the world—Red Sea, Brazil Dark, or Ethiopian Harrar, anyone?—made into incredibly fragrant coffee, one delicious cup at a time.
Now get ready to do it all again tomorrow.