Just spent a great long weekend in San Francisco with my fiancé. Wanted to share a bit about our experience.
I started the weekend with dinner at the Tadich Grill, while waiting for my fiancé to get in. It had been years since I’d dined there. I arrived about 7:30 on a Thursday night and it was packed. Wait for a table was at least an hour. I got lucky, and as a single, found an open seat at their counter – so I didn’t have to wait at all. It’s a good alternative for parties of 1 or 2. I started with their clam chowder, and it really was excellent. A lot of places, it’s too rich or too pasty. This was excellent! I also ordered one of their casseroles -- Dungeness Crab And Prawns a La Monza. Big chunks of crabmeat, 2 prawns and a really nice brown sauce (tomato based I think, but not overly tomato tasting) over rice. Was almost too rich. I enjoyed it, but couldn’t finish it. Service was good, even though I was at the counter. Dinner was nice. It’s all the different options in preparation that make this a fun place to go. Overall, it felt a little pricey. The big disappointment for me was the bread – their sourdough was so overcooked it was burned --- and it all looked that way. Overall, lots of other places I’d try in the area before I considered going back.
Stayed at the Stanford Court Hotel (a Renaissance property). It’s a great place --- I stay here on business all the time and have already written it up separately here: tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g60713-d8074…
Service was good, and we got a great rate for the weekend which included MUNI passes for 2. My only complaint was that even though the club lounge was closed for the weekend, they didn’t offer any alternate breakfast options to their platinum members. For people who stay there all the time, throwing in a couple of breakfast vouchers is an easy way to help loyalty --- especially since there are other Marriott affiliated options nearby.
We started our Friday morning with a 3 hour Postcard San Francisco Tour with Mr. Toad’s Tours. Our driver Don was great. He was fun, funny, and kept us engaged as he showed us the city. Tours were done in specially built vintage touring cars – which meant you could go where the big buses didn’t . There were only 10 of us on the tour – but at that, we were crowded. We were in the 1912 Rambler. Cars are open air, and although they provide blankets, you want to have a jacket. The closer you get to the Golden Gate, the colder it gets!
We saw North Beach, Chinatown, Pacific Heights, Nob Hill and Haight Ashbury to name a few. Seeing the various neighborhoods, hearing the stories, and learning about the history were just great. We only made 2 stops in the 3 hours --- one at Crissy Field, and one in Chinatown. Both were great stops, but I really came away wanting a little more. The Crissy Field stop let us get out and get some photos of the Golden Gate Bridge --- although we could only see about 2/3 due to the fog. The Chinatown stop was great. We stopped at the Fortune Cookie Factory for a sample and to see how they do it. We also made a stop for take-out dim sum (which was a really nice option on a 1030-130pm tour) at the House of Dim Sum. Don made some great recommendations and most of the group took advantage. We saw Lombard Street in the distance --- I was hoping for something a little more up close (or even driving down it!).
Overall, it’s a great overview of the city, and if that’s what you are looking for, it’s perfect. If you’re looking to do a little more exploring on your own, you might want use this as an intro and go back for more. Tour cost us $58 / person, and we booked on the web in advance. Only turn off was the comment from the guide at the end about tips. Most companies these days will discretely post a sign or something, but the way this was done was a little tacky.
After a morning of touring San Francisco, we were both ready for a quick bite to eat. Although terribly touristy, we stopped at Boudin at the Wharf. I love fresh sourdough, and my fiancé had never experienced this. After watching the bakers do their demos and making sourdough shaped like turtles, bears, lobsters and crabs, we had to have some. Rather than sitting in the restaurant, we grabbed something at the café in Baker’s Hall and sat outside to enjoy the weather. We got the chowder in a bread bowl --- great bread / ok chowder. We also got the shrimp salad sandwich which was fairly tasty. Overall was a good experience. Lunch for 2 with beverages was about $23. Couple of tips ---- there is a cooler of bottle beverages where they take your order --- they also have fountain beverages if that’s more your style. We didn’t realize that. Also, there are no restrooms on the main floor. Staff will send you out to the public restrooms. There are restrooms however upstairs. If you checkout the museum or the wine tasting upstairs with the restaurant, you’ll also find facilities. Not something I’d do regularly, but had to be done at least once!
While exploring San Francisco, a trip isn’t complete without a visit to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. Yes, it’s a tourist trap. Most things are overpriced. BUT --- the views from the end of the pier are amazing. They are either really ominous if it’s a cloudy day, and breathtaking on a clear one. It’s a great place to do a little people watching, and the sea lions are definitely the star of this attraction! Another stop that is worth making is to explore the Rodney Lough Jr. - Wilderness Collections Gallery down at the end of the pier. His wildlife / landscape photography is incredible – and it’s a nice escape from the craziness outside!
For dinner on Friday – we stopped in at one of my all time favorite places --Nob Hill Café. I’ve already reviewed it, and you’ll find that here. tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g60713-d3539… On this trip, we tried a few new things. We had the Melanzane salad -- roasted eggplant & roma tomatoes, baby greens & feta. I’m not a fan of eggplant, but this was excellent! The feta and balsamic vinegar make this! For mains, we did two of their pastas. The first was the Gnocchi Bolognese -- homemade potato dumplings with ground beef, sausage & pomodoro sauce. So often, gnocchi are chewy or tough. These literally melted in your mouth! The pomodoro sauce was also excellent. It was more meat than sauce, so this was a substantial dish. We also got the Tortellini Romana with romana cream sauce (they also do this with pesto if you prefer). The pasta and the sauce were both excellent! Pastas run in the $12-16 range, so they are incredibly reasonable for the portion size. I never get tired of this place!
On Saturday, we booked a trip to Alcatraz. Although we’d booked a couple of weeks in advance, the earliest departure we could get was at 11 am. It departed from Pier 33 which is VERY accessible using the F Line of Muni. We arrived a little early, which wasn’t a bad thing since they started lining you up about 30 minutes early. As you board, they take your photo (which of course you can purchase on return -- $22 for 2 5x7 which might be ok for a group, but is expensive for a couple that is only going to use one of the two copies). We sat outside on the middle deck which gave us great views of the city, the bay, Alcatraz, Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge. Trip over is about 12 minutes. Once you arrive, you do a quick orientation with a park ranger. There’s a movie available part way up to the cell house. It’s definitely worth seeing as it gives you some of the history of the island. After hiking up the hill, you get your audio tour. It’s definitely worth listening to --- you get the sounds of being there and hear stories from those who were there. For the most part, it also keeps the kids from running rampant and screaming so that everyone can experience Alcatraz. Make sure you take the time to go outside and take in the views of the bay and bridge when you get to the part of the tour about the warden’s house. You can stop the audio there (or anywhere) so you can enjoy it at your own pace. It’s a great tour – and definitely worth doing. With the ride over, boarding, the movie and the tour, plan for at least 2.5-3 hours. Tickets were $26 / person and included the audio tour.
Notes – bring a jacket --- if you sit outside, or walk around the island, you are going to need it! It’s a pretty steep hike up the hill to the cell house – so sturdy shoes are a must! Only bottled water is available on the island. You might want to consider throwing a bottle in your bag. All of the gift shops (main, movie bookstore and on the boat dock) basically offer the same things. The one on the dock is the busiest.
When we got back from Alcatraz, we were both really hungry. We didn’t think we’d find anything all that great nearby, but were truly surprised! Right between the Cruise ship terminal and the Alcatraz docs we found a great little Asian fusion place called Butterfly. I’ve done a number of similar style places in the area, but this is by far my favorite. I’ll definitely be back for dinner after experiencing their lunch menu. We started with an appetizer of Kalua Pig with Butter Lettuce Cups. This is a whole new take on lettuce wraps and it’s excellent. Think pulled pork with some extra seasonings with BBQ sauce served in lettuce cups. Once we tried that, we knew we’d made the right decision to stop in here! We had the Fried Snapper Sandwich on a Toasted Sweet French Baguette, Spicy Chili and Garlic Rouille, Pickled Onions and Cucumbers served with steak fries. Wow! This isn’t your normal fish sandwich! It’s fried lightly, isn’t greasy and is wonderful! I almost had to confiscate my fiance’s lunch ---- however, he wanted mine as well! I had the Turmeric Grilled Snapper with Sizzling Onions and Herbs --- it’s a great grilled fish with Cold Rice Noodles, Vietnamese Herbs Salad, “Nuoc Cham” Dipping Sauce served with Butter Lettuce cups. Again, wow! What really impressed me is how many times we saw the chef in the dining room. He stopped by most if not all tables, and visited with us no less than 3 times. He had some great suggestions, and truly asked what we thought --- it wasn’t just a hi – how’s your meal? He also gave us some of the history of some of the dishes and was very personable. We finished the meal with the banana bread pudding and the iron skillet cookie. Both were incredible. Our late lunch pretty much replaced dinner – but man was it worth it! Service was excellent, friendly and attentive. We were never rushed and it was fun! I can’t wait to go back for dinner!
For the weekend in general, we’d gotten MUNI passes with our hotel which we used to ride the cable cars and other public transportation. All the cable cars picked up at California and Powell – right outside our hotel. It’s a fun experience, and we found the operators interesting and fun. Overall, the cars were too crowded to get good photos, but was a fun experience. We noticed early on that one of the lines wasn’t running --- and they replaced it with a bus – the sign said cable car sub. It was a much quicker way to get from point A to point B, and since it held more passengers it worked much better. What we found throughout the weekend, is that it was easier and quicker to take the California line down to Embarcadero where we jumped on the F line instead of trying to take one of the Powell lines to the Wharf. Overall – the 3 day muni passport was great. It did what we needed, although there were a few times where lines were too long and we just jumped in cabs anyway.
The last big fun event of our weekend was going to see Beach Blanket Babylon. It was SO much fun. We both laughed so hard! The costumes, hats, wigs kept us giggling and the music was just fun! We got reserved box seats on the side, so we didn’t have to deal with the lines when the doors opened, and it was great --- having the bird’s eye view was really nice. All of the performers had wonderful voices! The content was current with things going on in the news. We’re both big theatre fans, and this was something truly different. It was a great way to finish the weekend!