San Francisco is one of those cities you have to visit a few times to even scratch the surface of its futuristic, patriotic, fun-loving, food-focussed culture. Often compared with Sydney, Sydney-siders (especially travelling families) will feel instantly at home in San Francisco’s urban landscape, while the surrounding bay area is the perfect place to step back from the city and clock some R&R hours. Plus, with Air New Zealand’s excellent fares there is no better time to visit this home away from home.
Where to stay:
Unfortunately we don’t have any Mandarin Oriental hotels in Australia, so you may not be familiar with this luxury hotel chain. With a fan base including Kevin Spacey, Sigourney Weaver and architect I.M Pei, the Mandarin Oriental suits sophisticated jet-setters who need superior, efficient service and world class rooms. The Mandarin Oriental San Francisco does not disappoint. Located in the heart of the city on Sansome Street, all rooms have magnificent views, and the Asian influenced décor instantly instils feelings of calm and harmony. With room furnishings inspired by the sea and sky, the spectacular views sit gracefully between plush chairs, a dreamy bed and an Italian marble bathroom. All itineraries are forgotten and it’s hard to leave the room at all! When you finally do reawaken, there is a bustling cocktail lounge and popular brassiere with contemporary, exquisite menus and service. From around $600 a night, this hotel is the perfect place to stay in the city. See www.mandarinoriental.com/sanfrancisco for more info and special offers.
Where to eat:
Waterbar sits proudly at the base of the Bay Bridge and is the perfect spot to soak up views of a working harbour. Popular for its seafood and $1 oysters between 11.30am and 5.30pm, Waterbar focusses on local produce and sustainably caught fish. Hakkasan, which is headed by Chef Ho Chee Boon who was awarded a Michelin star within nine months of opening his New York restaurant, is also worth a try. The menu includes sensational vegetable dumplings and crispy duck salad with pomegranate pine nuts and shallots. Complemented with a boutique selection of tea, Hakkasan has the perfect template for contemporary Asian dining.
Finally, Roka Akor is a newly established Japanese-style steakhouse that specialises in grills and sushi. Greeted earnestly by the eight chefs delicately creating masterful meals around a giant korubata grill – there is an instant warm and friendly vibe.
What to do:
The de Young Museum has both classic and contemporary exhibitions – the latter have included Bvlgari and Gaultier. A commanding building with gorgeous gardens worth exploring, the de Young Museum is wonderful way to experience both American and European art for just $10 entry.
Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts is a multi-disciplinary contemporary art space that goes above and beyond most contemporary art spaces. As a region that is obsessed with driving projects in research labs, biotech companies, social media organisations and entrepreneurial start ups, the gallery celebrates the profound impact technology has had on its artists. Artists have explored themes such as “nanofacturing” (matter being anatomically manufactured with nanotechnology), Afro-futuristic music and feminist cyborgs running genetics labs.
A tour of Alcatraz is vital. The award winning sound tour ensures you experience life as a prisoner and you are transported to a world of gangs, discipline, sadness and longing. Allow about 3 hours for the whole tour and book in advance as the tours sell out ($30 per adult).
A unique and highly recommended way to get an overview of San Francisco is to hop on an amphibian. San Francisco’s Ride the Duck tour is blaringly fun and fabulous. There are heaps of jokes and the locals clap and cheer you along. Yes you might feel like a bit of a tourist, but the soundtrack alone helps you abandon any shame. As you sing along to the Village People crossing construction sites and builders enacting YMCA, this is the only way to experience the real San Francisco. Duck central is at Fisherman’s Wharf, tickets are $35 per adult (www.ridetheducks.com).
Around San Francisco Bay and beyond:
Sausilito is a seaside town about 20 minutes away from San Francisco by ferry. Visiting this town is a must; not only do you have to depart from the historic ferry terminal (where you can buy fresh local berries, organic meats and local sustainable wine), you get to enjoy a delightful village only a few miles from the city.
By far the best place to stay is The Inn Above Tide. This hotel has so many great reviews on Trip Advisor with patrons exclaiming “Perfect”, “Our favourite”, “Treated like royalty” – and all of it is true. Every room has a sweeping view of the bay where you can practically dive into the ocean. This hotel is distinguished by detail. Every effort, no matter how small, has been made to positively contribute to a memorable experience. It will eclipse anywhere you have ever stayed. Guaranteed. Bvlgari toiletries, complimentary wine and cheese aperitifs, fluffy gowns, binoculars to observe the sea life, perfect bed with dreamlike pillows, sumptuous complimentary buffet breakfast that includes home made pear bread and local organic yoghurt with freshly picked berries, crackling cosy fire, a shower head that makes you feel like you are in a luxurious heaven of rain, deep pile carpet that caresses your feet, humongous bath, private deck, attentive staff and everything else you could think of that would be included in a luxury retreat. www.innabovetide.com
Carmel by the Sea is about a 2.5-hour drive south of San Francisco, and one of California’s most prestigious villages; a glorious place to meander amongst artisan shops and stroll along the sands of Carmel and Pebble beach.
Stay at La Playa Carmel, a restored luxurious mansion built in 1905 by an artist as a gift to his wife. Known as the Grand Dame of Carmel the hotel is romantic and blows you into an era of renaissance and beauty. With stunning views of the ocean, crisp comfy beds and well-manicured grounds and gardens, the hotel is warm, homely and inviting. The complimentary breakfast is displayed in a style that suits its European provincial countryside past. Freshly picked herbs, flowers and eggs, the smell of freshly baked sour dough, delicious poached fruits, freshly squeezed juices, waffles and more, complete a sensational hotel experience. www.laplayahotel.com
Why not venture west to some under-discovered wine trails in the Tri-Valley? Also known for superb wineries, golf, rolling hills and discount shopping outlet. Hotels include the San Ramon Marriott, which was warm and welcoming after some pretty hectic travelling. Efficient service and intelligent, responsive staff make for a pleasant stay. It is one of those honest hotels where nothing is too difficult and staff are well-trained in managing guest relations. The rooms are spacious and clean with surprisingly large bathrooms fitting a full size deep bath, plus good water pressure and coconut scented toiletries. The highlight was the king-size bed though, after a long hard day it is so comforting to recline on a five star bed. www.marriott.com
The Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito is set on an old army barracks site of 7.5 acres and has the spectacular backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. Focussed on igniting and advancing children’s creativity the centre thrills and delights children up to 12 years with tidal pools, mega blocks, ship wrecks, mazes, tunnels, art studios with fluorescent paint, slides, balls, puppets and more. Entry fee is a bargain at $11. www.baykidsmuseum.org
Just in front of the Yerba Buena gardens, the Children’s Creativity Museum is suited to kids 5 to 15 years. With a claymation, animation, singing and production studios plus innovation labs and imagination labs, the museum is a great creative hub and really gets kids focussed on innovative projects. $11 entry. www.creativity.org
The Academy houses a planetarium, aquarium, natural history museum, 2.5 acre living roof and wall insulated with recycled blue jeans. Informative exhibits on seismic shifts, insect evolution and underwater diversity mean the Academy is a fun learning environment that will keep the kids entertained for hours. Adults $29.95, and $19.95 for ages 4 to 11. www.calacademy.org
Formally a cannery, the Moneterey Bay conservation area harbours an abundance of marine life. The museum has remarkable interactive exhibits with live feedings, special seasonal guests like seahorses and loggerhead sea turtles, and is easy to navigate and explore. Children will be mesmerised by some of the jellies and will love coming face to face with some of the ocean’s more exotic creatures! Adults $39.95, and $24.95 for ages 3 to 12. www.montereybayaquarium.org
Air New Zealand flies frequently via Auckland, to San Francisco, with daily flights during peak travel times. In Economy seats are ergonomically designed and make the 14-hour flight seem like a 5-hour flight. The next class up is Premium Economy, which affords extra space, generous leg room and seat recline, while Business Premier allows for recline into a fully flat bed. Business Class travellers are also able to visit the Koru Lounge, a tremendous way to wait for a flight with full bar, delicious coffee and cool inner west celebrities like Benji Marshall!
The food on Air New Zealand is unbelievably good too, with a menu designed by award-winning chef Peter Gordon. Dishes like seared salmon with saffron rice, feel like they are straight out of a restaurant kitchen, not a compartment 14 kilometres above the sea. And the inclusion of New Zealand’s most famous wines ensure a truly satisfying culinary experience. For more information visit airnewzealand.com.au