“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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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”.