A long time ago, I had the good fortune to call San Francisco home. After I moved away, I returned several times a year to visit friends and wax nostalgia about my time in the Bay Area, the glory days, so to speak. It has been many years, and the city has changed a lot, but it always feels like home when I sneak down for a weekend away. As you read this post, keep in mind that my history with this city plays an important role in how I experience it, and what I write about is not necessarily what a first-time visitor is looking to read. When I visit San Francisco, I don’t play the role of tourist – I avoid Union Square and the trappings of Fisherman’s Wharf - but return to old haunts, and seek out new standbys that will hopefully stand the test of time in this constantly evolving metropolis.
San Francisco Proper Hotel: Proper Hotel is a beautifully restored and reimagined boutique hotel in the beating heart of Mid-Market San Francisco. The historic 1909 flatiron building, housing 131 guestrooms and suites, has been redesigned from top to bottom by renowned global interior designer Kelly Wearstler. Wearstler’s design aesthetic brings this historic decayed building back to life by layering bold upholstery and eye-catching wallpaper with vintage accents and excellently curated art. The public spaces of Proper are especially inviting with seating areas scattered throughout the lobby adjacent to the hotel’s main restaurant.
Speaking of food, Proper’s all-day restaurant, Villon, serves excellent contemporary American cuisine in a space that is as elegant as it is inviting, in that come-in-and-stay-awhile way that few hotel restaurants successfully pull off. Once you’ve finished ogling over the lobby, hop in the elevator and head up to Charmaines, the indoor-outdoor rooftop bar complete with outdoor firepits for warm nights, indoor fireplaces for blustery evenings, and excellent 360-degree views of the city. Charmaines is the perfect place to take in the sunset with a pre-dinner cocktail, but be forewarned that as of this writing, come late-night, Charmaines is one of the hottest bars in town. Lines snake around the corner from 8 pm until late into the night and while guests of the hotel have priority access, getting a drink can take some patience.
Given the popularity of Charmaines, request a guestroom on a mid-level floor facing McCallister Street to avoid the noise of Market Street and the chaos streaming down from the roof. Guestrooms, while not large, are supremely comfortable with down bedding, full mini-bar, and luxurious Aesop bath products. The only thing missing was a coffee machine, though complementary coffee is available in the lobby.
Lastly, a word about the neighborhood. Proper Hotel’s location is not for everyone. About ¾ of a mile away from Union Square and a stone’s throw from Civic Center, San Francisco’s Mid-Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods remain gritty and aren’t for everyone. If your purpose for visiting the city is to shop around Union Square and explore downtown then perhaps Proper isn’t for you. However, if you are using the hotel as a home base to explore other areas of the city, or have tickets to a show at one of the nearby theatres, then I would highly recommend booking a stay here. Plus, if the service is any indication of a hotel’s excellence, Proper is well on its way to becoming San Francisco’s premier boutique hotel.
Outerlands: Outerlands is definitely a haul to get to from the city center, but if you have the time, it is well worth the effort. Located in the outer-Sunset, near Ocean Beach, Outerlands is a lovely neighborhood restaurant that has rightfully claimed a place on San Francisco’s best places to brunch. Far from the hustle and bustle of the city, Outerlands’ warm, wood-paneled dining room serves up excellent California cuisine with an emphasis on using organic ingredients from local producers. Be sure to make a reservation in advance! $$
Tartine: I was first introduced to Tartine eighteen or so years ago as my friend’s neighborhood coffee and pastry shop in San Francisco’s Mission District. It was right down the street from her apartment, and an easy stroll to reach what has become one of the best bakeries around. Back then, Tartine definitely had a cult following in the city, but in 2010 when owners Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Pruitt decided to share their recipes with the world by publishing their first collection of cookbooks, the Tartine way of baking bread and pastries took off. In addition to opening Tartine Manufactury, a full-service restaurant, the duo has opened outposts in Seoul and plans to open a Manufactury in Los Angeles. Tartine has become a bit of a destination for travelling foodies, so you may have to elbow a few instagrammers to place your order, but I guarantee it’s well worth it. Tartine Manufactory takes reservations for dinner, where you can expect a menu of fresh, thoughtfully prepared dishes centered around the ancient grains and bread that Robertson is so famous for. But if you don’t have time for dinner, stop in for a quick pastry. You’ll find me in the corner sipping on a cappuccino and alternating between a morning bun and a jambon royale & gruyère. $-$$$
Frances: As soon as you buy your plane ticket to San Francisco, go on-line and mark your calendar 30 days in advance of your trip to remind yourself to go online and book a table at Frances. This tiny, elegant restaurant in the heart of the Castro neighborhood takes a personal, fine dining approach to cooking the best food that Northern California has to offer. The intimate space, (with impeccable lighting, I might add) reminds me a neighborhood restaurant that gets it right every single time due in large part to Chef Melissa Perello’s commitment to bringing great food to her community. Unfortunately, with food this good, the word has gotten out, making a reservation at Frances no easy feat. TIP: If you are dining with a group, order one of everything! $$$$
Smitten: Take your sweet tooth to this ice cream shop that churns your ice cream to order. With several locations in San Francisco, I like to hit the one housed in a shipping container in Hayes Valley – it’s a great place to break while window shopping. All the flavors are unusual and exceptional, so be sure to taste before you commit to just one! $
Zuni Café: Not far from Proper Hotel, Zuni Café is a San Francisco standby that will never lose its place among San Francisco restaurant royalty. As one of the founders of contemporary California cuisine (right along with Alice Waters of Chez Panisse across the Bay in Berkeley), Zuni is just as relevant today as it was the day it opened in 1979. While famous for its roast chicken, you can’t go wrong with anything on Zuni’s menu. Be sure to take advantage of the excellent wine list. $$$$
Che Fico: This huge upstairs loft space on Divisidero in the Castro is absolutely hot right now – from the pizzas coming out of the wood fired oven, to the bodies packing the expansive dining room. Italian is the name of the game here, with zesty, fresh salads and incredible handmade pasta. The trick to ordering at Che Fico is to eat family style, and to make your selections based on whatever dishes are seasonal. AND whatever you, be sure to order a pizza! Reservations are a must, otherwise, get there when they open, put your name on the list and plan to spend a couple of hours getting started at the dog friendly dive bar across the street. $$$
Bon Voyage: Billed one of San Francisco’s bars of the moment, this safari themed outpost is housed in the space that I knew years ago as the original location of The Slanted Door restaurant on Valencia Street in the Mission District. Millennials flock to this dark bar with disco balls and Chinese food for the inventive cocktails that seem to have been dreamed up somewhere between 1950’s Saigon and 1960’s Nairobi, a la the Singapore Sling and a series of Collins drinks – the Joan Collins being a favorite. Go early, go late, skip the Chinese food. $$
500 Club: Everyone loves a good dive bar. If you are new to San Francisco and don’t already have a favorite, the 500 Club should serve you well. It’s a neighborhood spot that has managed to maintain its gritty, Mission vibe despite the gentrification of its surroundings. $
Heath Ceramics: My favorite dishes come from San Francisco-based Heath Ceramics. Minimalist and time-tested, Heath has been designing and making ceramics in the Bay Area since 1948. If you are cruising around the Mission district, stop into the flagship showroom on 18thStreet. If you are hanging downtown, Heath has a small shop in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. However, if you have time, or intend to take a side trip to Marin County, be sure to make time to visit the Heath outlet in Sausalito where seconds and discontinued lines can be purchased for a fraction of the retail price.
March: As a cook and lover of all things kitchen and cooking related, it makes perfect sense that one of my favorite places to visit in San Francisco for a beautifully curated selection of kitchen ware is March on Sacramento Street in Laurel Heights. March carries several lines of tabletop, cookware and décor that will leave any self-proclaimed cook or interior designer dreaming of their perfect kitchen.
General Store: If you venture to the Outer Sunset to eat at Outerlands – or merely to stroll Ocean Beach – be sure to stop into General Store, a beautiful shop selling home goods, apparel, and jewelry made mostly by local craftsman. This shop is so well curated, you’ll want to bring everything home.
Cotton Sheep: I absolutely adore this little family owned shop in Hayes Valley, that has been there since long before Warby Parker moved in down the street. Cotton Sheep sells a beautiful collection of jewelry, clothing, and children’s items from Japanese designers and makers. If you are looking to bring back something special that you won’t find anywhere else, you’ll find it here!
Unionmade: Formerly Mill Mercantile, Unionmade is one of my favorite places to shop for apparel in the city. I found this excellent shop on the interwebs a few years back when I was looking for a pair of Mexican hurache sandals for the summer. In addition to hurache maker, Chamula, you’ll find brands like Rachel Comey, Chimala, Veja, and Golden Bear. If you can’t swing by to check it out in person, their on-line shop is the next best thing.
ON THE SIDE
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: I love nothing more than putting my headphones in my ears and taking a solo stroll through the SF MOMA. This museum doesn’t need a long description – how about the best selection of modern art on the west coast?
San Francisco Ferry Building: Though it has become a little bit touristy, I still love strolling through the Ferry Building. Grab a seat at the bar at The Slanted Door for excellent Vietnamese, or slurp down oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company. After eating, stand in (a long) line for coffee from cult producer Blue Bottle Coffee, grab cheese for the road from Cowgirl Creamery, and sample french macarons from Miete Patisserie. If it’s a sunny Saturday, take a stroll through the farmers market to see what the Bay Area’s best producers are growing. Don’t leave without walking to the end of the pier and taking in the Bay Bridge and the giant freighters gliding past. It may be packed with tourists, but on a beautiful day, a morning at the Ferry Building cannot be beat.
Delores Park: Did I mention it’s a sunny day? My alternate perfect morning to brunch at the Ferry Building would be coffee and pastries at Tartine, followed up a nice long hang at Delores Park in the Mission District. Watch the people, look at the dogs, check out the architecture, or just hang and enjoy the sunshine in one of San Francisco’s best parks.
When to Go: Anytime!
How to Arrive: San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport is a quick 20 minutes from downtown, assuming no traffic. SFO is connected to the city by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). BART may take a few minutes longer to get into the city, depending on whether you catch a train right away. No need to rent a car. Uber is all over San Francisco and is the best way to get around the city.
Whats to Come:
Montage Los Cabos ★ 2.19
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W A N D E R L U S T