WHERE TO STAY:
Kimpton Buchanan Hotel
A boutique property in the vibrant Trifecta neighbourhood, the Kimpton Buchanan brings together the chic boutiques of Pacific Heights, the best ramen joints of Japantown and Fillmore’s cool jazz clubs and indie cinemas. The location’s not the only draw – we love the décor throughout, from the dark, moody lobby through to the bright, big bedrooms which mix minimalist, clean design with bold prints and furnishings (complete with in-room yoga mats). We’re a big fan of the outdoor terrace, which offers drinks with a view, games of cornhole and lawn bowling.
1800 Sutter Street, San Francisco
More legend than hip hotel, the Phoenix has been a second home to generations of travelling bands, given its location near to a plethora of iconic SF music venues such as the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and the Great American Music Hall. The rock‘n’roll spirit of this weird and wonderful 1950s-era motor court hotel reflects the layers of history that have unfolded here. Although the Phoenix continues to be a pit-stop for musicians passing through, it’s also popular with intrepid travellers looking to have a good time in the centre of the city. Our favourite spot is the hotel’s secluded courtyard: the art-filled pool is heated to 29°C – perfect for early autumn jaunts.
601 Eddy Street, San Francisco
Lodge at the Presidio
New for 2018, this upscale lodge is the closest accommodation option west of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The historic property provides unparalleled views of the bridge, the Presidio’s lush 300-acre forest, San Francisco Bay and the city skyline. Guests are surrounded by an urban national park that offers 24 miles of hiking trails and 25 miles of bikeways that bypass restaurants, museums and the beach – perfect for exploring the city in an active way.
105 Montgomery Street, San Francisco
Boutique Hotel Zetta burst onto the San Fran scene at the centre of 2013’s tech boom – taking over the former Hotel Milano in SoMa and injecting a $13m investment into property. Now kitted out with a mezzanine gaming room, pop art prints and retro décor, the previous top-floor guest rooms have been transformed into urban lofts – perfect for those planning on making a week of it. Book one of these and you’ll have access to a wet bar, Crosby vinyl player and a stack of records.
55 5th Street, San Francisco
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK:
Sparrow Bar & Kitchen
Located in San Fran’s cool hippy district of Haight-Ashbury, Sparrow Bar & Kitchen is the ultimate spot for brunch. If this is the time you’re planning on visiting, then make sure to sample the cheddar grits, grilled broccoli rabe, poached egg and rustic toast. Coffee served any which way, from drip to cortados, is one of this restaurant’s main draws, although its attractive tiled exterior and prettily presented dishes also make this a must-visit on any Instagram-lover’s hit list.
1640 Haight Street, San Francisco
The sister restaurant to the LA original, vegan hotspot Gracias Madre serves some of the best Mexican food we’ve ever had – and that’s coming from carnivores. Located in the up-and-coming Mission district – the original Hispanic community – the restaurant’s name means ‘thank you mother’: photos of the staff’s mums are all over the walls in a fitting tribute. When it comes to food, must-orders include homemade tortillas tossed in a creamy chipotle salsa roja, cashew crema and coriander; followed by flash-fried cauliflower mixed with spicy cashew cheese. All produce comes from the restaurant’s own organic farm in Pleasants Valley, California, so expect plenty of seasonal ingredients alongside your tequila.
2211 Mission Street, San Francisco
The name says it all: Mission Cheese is an artisan cheese delicatessen and restaurant based in the Mission district. Launched in 2011, this cosy spot is often cited as one of the best places to dine in the Bay Area: we can attest that its regional cheese flights and the team’s Alotta Burrata sandwich (a baguette crammed with DiStefano burrata, cherry tomatoes, balsamic and basil) make this modern spot a superlative lunch destination.
736 Valencia Street, San Francisco
This is a true Californian restaurant – it’s both gluten-free and big on global influences. Those after something healthy will love Little Gem’s macro bowls (California brown rice, baby kale, purple cabbage, carrots, peas, pickled turnips, red bell pepper, cauliflower, sprouts, boiled egg and avocado), small bites such as glazed corn on the cob with sesame miso glaze, grated cashews and micro coriander; and Vahlrona chocolate pudding with vanilla coconut cream and toasted coconut flakes. If you want to make a beeline for brunch (think smoked brisket hash with poached eggs, diced potatoes, baby spinach, melted onions and red wine jus) make sure you pitch up early.
400 Grove Street, San Francisco
Craftsman & Wolves
After a decent coffee? Craftsman & Wolves on cool Valencia Street offers this – and more – within its polished concrete den in Mission. We love to start the day with a warm breakfast bowl of quinoa, coconut, toasted almonds, bananas, dates and frothed almond milk, while lunch takes in the team’s unusual pizzas of the day (Wednesday's honey and hot corn shouldn’t work, but totally does). Naturally, its homemade cakes and breads make this an ideal spot for an afternoon pick-me-up. The Valrhona sipping chocolate (like hot chocolate, but mega thick) served with a dipping mint chocolate marshmallow is the stuff of dreams.
746 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Le Marais Bakery
An Instagram sensation, Le Marais Bakery opened in Cow’s Hollow in 2011. Since then, this family-owned bakery and bistro has been serving quality interpretations of classic French dishes and artisanal pastries made only with organic and local ingredients. Focusing on macarons, tartines, brunch boards and croissants of all kinds (its Nutella roll is a constant sell out), this is a must-visit bakery that combines good looks with pastries that are so moreish, you’ll order one to take away too.
498 Sanchez, San Francisco
The Beehive is a 1960s-inspired neighbourhood cocktail bar that channels San Francisco’s more free-spirited times. Located in the centre of the Mission district, it offers a taste of the era via craft cocktails that exude modern Mad Men vibes. We like a ‘Beauty Spot’ – Tanqueray, tangerine, cacao, lime, cardamom and egg white. Don’t forget to check out sister bars Third Rail – which also has a jerky bar – in Dogpatch, and The Treasury on Bush Street.
842 Valencia Street, San Francisco
WHAT TO SEE:
The Castro Theatre is one of the few remaining ‘movie palaces’ from the 1920s that’s still in operation in America. A photogenic landmark from the exterior, it’s the inside that really makes an impact: picture original tapestries, chandeliers and a strikingly ornate ceiling. Each week, the cinema screens old classics (including a regular slot for Alfred Hitchcock’s San Fran-set Vertigo), plus singalong musicals using the old pipe organ.
429 Castro Street, San Francisco
For fun on a budget, head to Fisherman’s Wharf for the Musee Mecanique – a museum dedicated to old coin-operated arcade games. The collection would be an impressive haul on its own, but the best bit is that all the games are playable, from mechanical fortune tellers through to strongmen arm wrestling and coin-operated palm readers. Trust us, it’s worth a visit (especially when the city’s famous fog makes an appearance).
Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
Haight-Ashbury is crammed with second-hand and vintage clothing stores, but Wasteland is up there with the best. Each morning, the shop unlocks its doors to buy pieces from sellers (not everything makes the cut) – from midday, it opens up for those after a sartorial steal. Filled with discounted designer items in impeccable nick, don’t be surprised to discover retro Versace and 1990s Vivienne Westwood among its heaving rails.
1660 Haight Street, San Francisco
Surely the world’s most intriguing high-security prison, Alcatraz is a must-visit and offers a real eye-opening experience of what life was like for those who were incarcerated on the remote island. Top tips: make sure you book this one way in advance, as it always sells out; and opt for the night tour – nowhere near as creepy as it sounds, you’ll get a sunset view over the island and the city at large on the boat trip home.
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay
Aside from the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars, one of the city’s most famous emblems are the Painted Ladies – two streets’ worth of Victorian and Georgian wooden houses the are each painted in three or more pastel hues. Also known as ‘Postcard Row’, these brightly coloured homes have become a pop culture staple: those of a certain age should know that the houses from Mrs Doubtfire and Full House are located on these streets.
Steiner Street and Hayes Street, San Francisco
Smack in the middle between Mission Cheese and Craftsman & Wolves is Dandelion Chocolate – an artisan factory and store that makes and sells slabs of the good stuff. Focusing on a bean-to-bar approach, Dandelion offers a more intimate tour experience to SF’s more famous Ghiradelli experience down by Fisherman’s Wharf – with just as many tastings. A cafe within serves sweet treats, laced with its own wares.
740 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge
Last but not least, San Fran’s most famous landmark. Even the laziest (or most hungover) trippers should make sure to hire a bike from one of Fisherman’s Wharf’s numerous cycle hire companies (we recommend Blazing Saddles) to make the three-hour round trip over the bridge and back, where you’ll be rewarded with views and photo opps galore. Those wanting to make a full day of it should continue over to picture-postcard Sausalito over the bridge, have a drink by the water’s edge, then get the ferry back to the city.
2715 Hyde Street, San Francisco