“It’s all good!” is a phrase embedded into the Bay Area vernacular. It is used when deals are done, disputes are settled and to simply answer a typical greeting of “How’s it going?”

And good it is for business travellers lucky enough to be visiting San Francisco, a California city blessed with a good economy (some even say the city is in a “bubble” compared to much of the US), good restaurants, good hotels, a good (if not great) international airport and good public transportation.

The only thing that is not so good for visitors are prices. San Francisco ranks as one of the most expensive cities in the US. With the technology bubble and rising demand keeping top hotels and restaurants sold out (reserve early!), rates are naturally on the rise. For example, in February, San Francisco hotel rates rose 16% compared to the same time last year.

But despite higher prices, visitors keep coming back for more. Convention bookings for this year will increase 11% over last year according to the San Francisco Travel Association, and the city consistently ranks as one of the top destinations in the US.


Elegance has gone downhill in San Francisco, literally, not figuratively.

At one time, the city’s poshest hotels could be found perched atop Nob Hill, a steep climb uphill from the financial district and Union Square. But with the recent arrival of five-star contemporary favourites such as the St Regis and or the Four Seasons, located along bustling Market Street, the high end has come down to sea level and into buzzy SoMa, the acronym for the once-gritty-now-booming area south of Market Street.

Nearby, the new turquoise glass-sheathed InterContinental San Francisco, and with its popular lobby bar (Bar 888) and restaurant (Luce), frequently fill with crowds spilling out of the city’s newly re-vamped Moscone Convention Center. To counter the onslaught of contemporary hotel stylings, the old school Beaux Arts Ritz-Carlton recently modernized its famous lobby bar and dining room to mixed reviews. But its classy and exclusive club level remains unchanged and among the first choices of visiting CEOs and dignitaries. In the know celebs and CEOs also keep coming back to the casually elegant Taj Campton Place, tucked into a quiet corner of Union Square.

Technology titans with business south of the city on “the peninsula” or in Silicon Valley now flock to the see-and-be-seen Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park for meetings and meals, or sunset cocktails on the deck at its Michelin-starred Madera Restaurant. For an upscale, outdoorsy experience, check out the skyline views from Cavallo Point, a five-star luxury resort located under the Golden Gate Bridge about 15 minutes from downtown. The cosy resort, restaurant and spa are housed in a collection of impeccably restored buildings that were once an army base set up to protect the bay from invaders.

San Francisco is the headquarters for two of the trendiest hotel brands in the US: Joie de Vivre and Kimpton. Both are known for converting older buildings into hot, new reasonably priced boutique hotels and restaurants.

Joie de Vivre’s flagship Hotel Vitale, ideally located on the Embarcadero (the city’s waterfront), is the chain’s only new-from-the-ground-up hotel. It is frequently sold out, so book early, and if you feel like a splurge, ask for a “circular suite” with panoramic views of the bay, the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge, which connects the city to Oakland and the “East Bay”. Kimpton’s eclectic Hotel Monaco near Union Square wows business travellers with enthusiastic service, free wi-fi, 24-hour room service and popular complimentary wine tastings from 5 to 6 pm each day. 

While it is too early to tell if they will be hits or misses, adventuresome road warriors may want to check in at the sleek Mystic Hotel near the gates to Chinatown, or the intimate Inn at the Presidio, housed in a one-time bachelor officers quarters on the western edge of the city near the Golden Gate Bridge.

Expense account
San Francisco is a town filled with foodies with very high standards, which means you can expect a high quality dining experience nearly everywhere. But the food scene changes as quickly as the weather. To stay up to date with what is in or what is out, check in with the town’s top food critics and bloggers. See San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer’s annual list of the Top 100 Bay Area restaurants, the frequently updated EaterSF’s top Eater 38 listings and Tablehopper’s 10 Places to Eat Now.

For those out to impress guests with fine food, gorgeous atmosphere and prompt service (and a check that only an expense account could love) look into: Gary Danko, a restaurant with an enduring reputation for outstanding food and service that makes up for an its awkward Fisherman’s Wharf location; Michael Mina for Japanese-French fusion in the Financial district; Benu for its unforgettable 17-course, $180 tasting menu; Taj Campton Place Restaurant, which serves up California cuisine with a sprinkle of spices from India in an elegant dining room off Union Square;  or Waterbar where you can decide which is better, the sustainably sourced seafood or the view.

In-the-know locals tend to avoid the previously mentioned establishments, except when entertaining out-of-towners or clients, in favour of a more dynamic, experimental, fresh, local (sometimes very noisy) food scene in outlying neighbourhoods such as the Mission or SoMa. So jump in a cab and join the locals at Range, a consistent favourite on walkable Valencia Street; Bar Tartine for fresh local produce prepared in eastern European fashion; AQ, whose menu and décor change with seasons, Prospect for its quiet, contemporary space and prompt service; Foreign Cinema as a solid choice on a sketchy stretch of Mission Street;  and Zuni Café where locals have long loved its pricey-but-worth-it pizza-oven roasted chicken.

Off the clock
If you have a few hours or a full day free, rent a car and head north over the Golden Gate Bridge (celebrating its 75th anniversary this year) to Marin County. Just across the bridge and not more than 20 minutes from downtown, visit Point Bonita, a windy, rugged spit of land where you will find a lighthouse operated by the US Coast Guard, hiking trails and dramatic views through the iconic bridge into the bay (bring your camera!). Farther north, take a tour of the area’s booming artisanal cheese making industry on the Sonoma-Marin Cheese Trail, a collection of 27 cheese makers open for tours and tastings.

While on the San Francisco Bay, keep an eye out for regattas and competitive sailing in cutting edge boats as the city prepares to host the America’s Cup in September 2013. Trials and practice events leading up to the big race will take place in late August and early October of 2012. The best perches for viewing the competition are Fort Mason and Crissy Field.

Also, the California Academy of Sciences opens its much anticipated earthquake exhibit on 26 May, where you can experience a high-magnitude jolt in an earthquake simulator and learn more about the impact of the city’s great quake and fire of 1906.

Go local
For a truly local dining experience, forget about fine dining, locavorism or fresh produce. The quintessential San Francisco food, served up by hundreds of taquerias and food trucks all over town, is the San Francisco-style (aka Mission-style) burrito — a warm, foil-wrapped favourite so ingrained in the local culture that it even has its own Wikipedia page. Everyone has an opinion about which burrito is best. (My personal favourite: Pancho Villa on 16th St in the Mission.) So ask around and you are sure to get an answer… or at least an opinion.

Don’t do this!
Locals cringe when visitors call their hometown “Frisco”. They groan when they hear “San Fran”. In some cases, you might get by when writing or saying simply “SF.” But for most locals, there are only two ways to refer to the city by (never “on”) the bay: San Francisco or simply, “the City”.