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A SUEPUR DESTINATION: San Francisco

A City for Friends and Lovers

by Sue Purdy

 

San Francisco captures your heart like your first love. No matter how many times you return, your pulse seems to beat a bit faster and your eyes glow with the passion of rediscovery.

I recently spent several wonderful days exploring this beautiful city by the Bay with George Clark, my partner of nineteen years. The trolley rides were just as I remembered. Men hanging from the poles, women gasping at the steep hills, with their hair flying round their faces. As we rode the car from one end of town to the other, I kept singing to myself, Clang, clang, clang went the trolley, in a true Judy Garland moment. For a great cost-savings, we bought CityPass books of tickets for the trolley and other attractions like the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise.

There were many surprises on this adventure, with the primary one being the Hotel Majestic, located at 1500 Sutter Street. As we pulled up to this confection of Edwardian architecture, with its white icing exterior and big bay windows, George gave me a hug. Built as a residence in 1902, the hotel is tucked away in the most charming Victorian neighborhood, while being convenient to the shopping, and sightseeing areas. In fact, early risers get the free use of the hotel limousine to take you to your first stop of the day.

This was definitely our kind of hotel. We entered the lobby, filled with French Empire furniture, antique tapestries, and crystal chandeliers, and immediately felt at home. The service here is what I call sincere spoiling. Not the haughty manner of pretense found in some veddy posh hostelries, but warm professionals who really wanted us to enjoy our stay. And that we did. The suites are so beautifully appointed youll just have to go and take it all in yourself. This care and attention to detail is why actresses Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Haviland lived here for more than a decade, Nicolas Cage hangs out in the bar, and Julia Roberts orders ice cream from bed. At the Hotels Perlot Restaurant, Chef Christopher Steinbock has a stellar menu and a wonderful respect for food. No odd pairings here but a delicious influence from other cultures.

San Francisco is truly about other cultures. Visit Chinatown, browse the shops like Domo Oro, located at 518 Grant Avenue and you might see some of the beautiful cinnabar jewelry I purchased. Eat at the House of Nanking, 919 Kearny Street. Yes, it does look like a hole in the wall. And no, unless it was recommended you would never step foot inside. Just go in, order something wonderful, or have the waitress order for you and smack your lips in delight. I had the best sesame shrimp, served with sweet potato slices and snow peas. George couldnt get enough of his fish dish recommended by our server.

In San Franciscos famous Tenderloin District, eat at Johns Grill, at 63 Ellis Street. A tradition since 1908, this restaurant was a setting in Dashiell Hammetts The Maltese Falcon, and jazz is featured nightly in the Maltese Falcon Room. The dark paneled walls are covered with photos of well-known customers like Hillary Clinton and Johnny Depp. Taste the house drink, the Bloody Brigid made with vodka and lime juice, order a steak, and enjoy the delicious sour dough bread.

The Mission District is known for its wonderful Mexican food like Pancho Villa Taqueria on 16th street, but to dine out in elegant surroundings, where you wont find a sombrero on the wall, try Maya, located at 303 2nd Street. Here, the orange sponge-painted walls are filled with art, and owner and chef Richard Sandoval prepares a wonderful three-course prix fixe lunch for $19.99.

The shopping in Union Square is the best with fine department stores and chic boutique shops located here. I found a small store that was perfect for me. As a travel writer, it makes good sense to leave my good jewelry at home when Im on the road, but I still like to sparkle when Im out to dinner. At Imposters, makers of classic faux jewelry, located at 295 Geary Street, I found the perfect accessories. I bought a famous designer look-alike watch and ring for under $100.00 and a magnificent faux emerald and diamond ring set in 14 caret gold. Now I could shine like Liz Taylor for a fraction of the cost.

It wouldnt be a trip to San Francisco without learning more about the Victorian homes, many of which are now painted three or more colors and called Painted Ladies. We found the Victorian Home Walk tour company, owned and operated by Jay Gifford, a member of the San Francisco Victorian Alliance and owner of a Victorian home. Our tour began in Japantown, ventured into Pacific Heights and then ended in Cow Hollow.

Along the way we saw examples of the Victorian architectural styles and our guide explained that the Italianate homes were built from 1860 through the 1870s and have arched eyebrow bay windows, Corinthian columns on the front porch and false facades on the front of the roof to make the house look taller. The Stick style Victorian, built in the 1880s has rectangular bay windows, etched glass and gingerbread decoration made possible with the invention of the jigsaw. The Queen Anne style built from the 1890s through 1905 is what most of us think of when a Victorian home is mentioned with fish-scale shingles, wonderful whimsical turrets, and triangular roof gables. A perfect example is the Queen Anne Hotel on Sutter Street (www.queenanne.com).

Like Paris, this is a city that is unique and one that true travelers will always revisit.

Websites mentioned in the article:

City Pass Books: www.citypass.com
Hotel Majestic: www.thehotelmajestic.com
Domo Oro, located at 518 Grant Avenue: www.domooro.com
Johns Grill, at 63 Ellis Street: www.Johnsgrill.com
Victorian Home Walk tour company: www.victorianwalk.com
Queen Anne Hotel on Sutter Street: www.queenanne.com

 

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