The Perfect Day
People often ask how to spend time in magical San Francisco. With so many things to see and do, the list of possibilities is endless. For me, the colorful history of San Francisco and its historic and best-loved places are what make this city a vibrant world-class destination. My goal is to share a glimpse of the real San Francisco, behind the curtain, of places that have been great for decades. This is my perfect day.
The day begins with breakfast at the iconic Buena Vista Cafe near Ghirardelli Square. This cozy place invented Irish coffee, and they serve hundreds of them every day, for good reason because they are delicious. Crab is served daily, fresh from the boats down on the wharf. Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia were filmed here in When a Man Loves a Woman. After a leisurely breakfast, enjoy the beautiful bay views and things to explore along the waterfront.
Activities: Stroll along the water from Aquatic Park to Fisherman’s Wharf enjoying the sights and sounds of this commercial fishing village. Visit the Hyde Street Pier and Maritime Museum for a glimpse into San Francisco’s seafaring past. Walk back to Ghirardelli Square to explore the myriad of shops, including San Francisco’s original chocolatier, Ghirardelli Chocolates. Ride the cable car to Powell Street and a take a stroll around Union Square before lunch.
Lunch at the Palace Hotel’s beautiful Garden Court Restaurant is always an elegant affair. This historic hotel has shared San Francisco’s tumultuous history, rebuilt after the fire that destroyed San Francisco. Heads of state, presidents, and other famous people have been guests. A glass of champagne, the signature Palace crab salad, and house-made biscuits make a lovely lunch. They serve a lavish champagne Sunday brunch, and Saturday-afternoon tea is the antidote for a day of shopping. Pied Piper Bar and Grill also serves lunch and dinner in a classy pub environment. Read about what makes this hotel legendary.
Activities: After a delightful lunch, stroll to Yerba Buena Gardens, a few blocks away. The gardens are a designed to provide an oasis in the city. The waterfall is a focal point of the gardens, dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. Across the street, the Contemporary Jewish Museum has a plaza, also a nice place to sit and watch the world pass. Walking through Yerba Buena Alley toward Union Square, visit shops on Grant Avenue and surrounding the square. This is a shopper’s paradise.
Afternoon Tea or cocktails are extraordinary at the Top of the Mark in the iconic Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill. I prefer to ride the cable car, a piece of San Francisco’s history, uphill from Union Square. Panoramic views await us at the Top of the Mark, along with their menu of one hundred martinis or afternoon tea. They are celebrating their 85th birthday this year and have been part of countless special occasions. As the beautiful tea assortment is served along with a glass of champagne, I can’t help but think about all of the memories made here.
Activities: Walk across the street to Huntington Park perched atop Nob Hill. From the benches, you can admire some of the city’s top hotels and the beautiful fountains in the park. Stroll over to Grace Cathedral, where you are greeted by bronze Ghirberti doors. Enter the cathedral to admire the stained glass, architecture, and tranquility. A outdoor labyrinth is available to help inspire contemplation.
Hop on the cable car to ride down the hill toward the financial district for dinner at Alfred’s Steakhouse. This classic San Francisco dining establishment features elegant chandeliers and sumptuous red-leather booths. The classic bar is ideal for a pre-dinner drink, and martinis are their specialty. This restaurant has been delighting San Franciscans since 1928. The grass-fed, corn- and grass-finished beef, aged four weeks and cooked over Mexican mesquite charcoal, produces a mouth-watering steak. Relax and allow the ambiance to engulf you and feel glamorous just by being here. Linger over coffee and dessert and a post-dinner drink at the comfortable bar.
The evening is coming to an end, but there is time for a nightcap. The Big Four at the Huntington Hotel is another historic establishment. Named for the railroad barons who shaped San Francisco and California’s histories, this still feels like a gentleman’s club. The classic bar, dark wood and leather furniture provide an old-world charm. This is the best place for one last cocktail before the end of a perfect day in San Francisco.