San Francisco, California (Sabrina Eliasoph)
...order yourself a cheeseburger, and fries, along with your martini and you’ll feel super “adult.
- More about your oliver guide: Sabrina Eliasoph
- Trip type: Adult, City
- Activity level: easy
- Ideal length of trip: 3-4 DAYS/ NIGHTS
to & from
- I am a local living in Marin, so I usually access the city via The Golden Gate Bridge/ 101 South. From Marin, another option are the Tiburon or Larkspur ferries for quick access to downtown, the Embarcadero, AT&T Park, Pier 41 and Fisherman's Wharf.
- Non-Bay Area residents often drive along the majestic California coast, to reach San Francisco. Enter the city from the East via the newly updated (and architecturally impressive) Bay Bridge or from the South use 101 North or 280 North.
- SFO is the major largest international airport serving The Bay Area.
Where to Stay
- The Battery- Very chic and well appointed rooms; great location in an old charming part of downtown with cobblestone streets and smaller-scaled buildings; within close walking proximity to the city's Financial District, Union Square area, the Ferry Building, China Town, and Little Italy. Further, as The Battery is not only a hotel but also a private club, modeled like a SoHo House, hotel guests can still use the common restaurant area and House Bar. On any typical late afternoon/early evening, the spirit of San Francisco comes alive as the popular House Bar fills to the brim with the city's techies and cultural folks alike.
- The Four Seasons- While The Four Seasons San Francisco sits on Market Street, a totally commercial and not charming thoroughfare of the city, once you step inside, you’ll be charmed by the service and serenity. Of course, Four Seasons hotels are famous for offering a top notch stay, and while this one may not be my most favorite location, it is arguably still very close to a lot of the downtown action and close to the pulse of SOMA, including SF MoMA, Yerba Buena Gardens and other wonderful attractions.
- Hotel Vitale- This hotel is not only adult-appropriate, with its bustling bar / restaurant scene off the lobby called Americano, but also situated in a beautiful spot. It is right across the street from San Francisco’s foodie mecca, The Ferry Building and offers gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay (facing East) towards The Bay Bridge. It is stylish, fun, and very vibrant—a place even locals love to stay if they’re taking a weekend away from the kids.
- Hotel Drisco- This hotel is definitely for couples’ seeking something different than the hustle bustle of downtown. It is off-the-beaten-path, nestled in the quaint and quieter neighborhood of Pacific Heights, one of the most beautiful of all of the residential areas of the city. Sitting up high on the city’s hills looking out to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay, staying in this hotel offers you quick access to the beauty of the nearby Presidio, many restaurants that are locals’ favorites and the luxury shopping on Sacramento Street. The hotel is elegant and very much captures the “vibe” of sophisticated San Francisco.
- Cavallo Point- Note, this hotel is actually located across the Golden Gate Bridge, just on the other side of the city, in Sausalito. With no traffic, it takes about 10 minutes from city across the Bridge down into the Fort Baker, an old military fort, where Cavallo Point is perched. It is more of a full-scale expansive resort-type of hotel, with hotels rooms converted from old military homes, a huge green park in the center for strolling, a full-service spa, and lots of yummy food options on-site, including a world-class cooking school. Whether it's rainy or sunny, Cavallo Point takes the word charming to a new level and it can feel particularly romantic to sit inside the cozy Farley Bar, in front of a fire or on the porch, wrapped in a blanket, and just enjoy the views!
Where to Eat and Drink
This is hard to narrow down as most people know and appreciate the culinary sophistication of the Bay Area restaurants. That said, this list represents some of my very favorite places to go adults-only.
- Tosca- A legendary SF restaurant that has been sitting on Columbus Ave, the main street through Little Italy, for decades. A few years ago, it was closed and re-opened under the direction of chef extraordinaire April Bloomfield, the famous chef behind some of the great NYC restaurants like The Spotted Pig and The John Drory Oyster Bar. Tosca has an old-world charm that is not only romantic, but quintessentially Italian. The food is delicious especially the chicken which is served family style and should not be missed, as well as the incredible pastas. Secret tip: there is a private dining room upstairs that you can book for groups of 10 (max) that is one of the cozier and more private spaces in the city, making you feel like you jumped into the lyrics of Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant."
- Leo's Oyster Bar- Talk about glamorous! Sit at the gorgeous bar or in a table in the front of the restaurant which has now been famously photographed in just about every design magazine thanks to the vision of Bay Area celebrity designer Ken Fulk, and you'll immediately just feel the enchantment. The raw bar selection is incredible, the lobster roll is perfect, and the fries are to die for. Don't miss Leo's.
- Petit Marlow- This is a brand new restaurant, near AT&T Park, home of the SF Giants. It is part of the same restaurant group as Leo's, listed above, and also was partially designed by Ken Fulk. This sweet spot feels like a touch of Paris in San Francisco, and is small, quaint and so pretty! Also mainly a raw bar and seafood restaurant. A particular nod to the beef carpaccio and the burrata.
- China Live- A newcomer to China Town, sitting right in the heart of this historic part of San Francisco. The ambiance super vibey and hip, and the food is absolutely delicious. There are no real reservations so you can saddle up at the beautifully designed bar and taste from their awesome selections of wines while you wait for your table. The tables are communal so you can chit-chat with those next to you, or just the company of the person you're with. Really, the food is fantastic!
- Cotogna- A lively Italian restaurant that offers amazingly yummy food in a fun, always-packed setting. The wood-fired pizzas are incredible and the homemade pastas are to die for. It is always busy here so either walk-in and try to sit at the bar, after 9 pm, OR make an advance reservation to ensure a table. It is a beloved restaurant in the city by locals and tourists, alike.
- Kusakabe- San Francisco's sushi scene isn't my favorite, actually, compared to the sushi offerings in Los Angeles or NYC, however, Kusakabe is an amazing omakase experience. This is for the more adventurous eater as the chef is the one in charge of what you eat (they will make exceptions for allergies) but if you love sushi, this is a sophisticated, incredible place to go. Please note: it is on the pricier side.
- Ju-Ni- Another Japanese "omakase" style restaurant that is more of a neighborhood place as compared to Kusakabe. Ju-Ni only has 12 seats or so, all along the sushi bar. The chefs here turn out some of the very best hand-crafted sushi and the sake list is wonderful. It is so intimate in here. You must have advance reservations and it is very difficult to score a table for more than 2 people. Call long in advance--it is worth it.
- Spruce- This restaurant has one of the most most sexy bars in the entire city, except maybe for it's new sister restaurant The Saratoga (also highly recommended). I recommend sitting in the exquisite bar at Spruce, (which has been around for at least 10 years but still is a locals' favorite)-- order yourself a cheeseburger, and fries, along with your martini and you'll feel super "adult." The Saratoga, which recently opened in the gentrifying Tenderloin neighborhood, also has a beautiful, sexy bar downstairs that is simply to divine to sit at and the cocktails are amazing.
- Rose's Cafe - Lovely little spot for lunch (or brunch) at the end of the commercial section of Union Street. A great place to order a glass of Rose and take a breather among locals.
- Sociale- Another cozy spot for lunch or brunch on Sacramento Street in Presidio Heights.
What to Do
- Alcatraz- Absolutely an adventure worth taking -- get ADVANCE tickets out to Alcatraz. It is one of the city's most interesting things to do as you can't help but wonder what it was like to be imprisoned on an island in the middle of the Bay. The museum and guided tour there are simply riveting, and you'll enjoy the ferry ride out too (although can be rocky so if you get sea sick, be prepared!)
- SFMoMa/ de Young/ Legion of Honor/ Asian Art Museum/ Cotemporary Jewish Museum-- All 5 of these museums represent some of the largest and most significant art collections our city has to offer. Tailor your choices to your own interests but they ALL have so much to offer in terms of cultural enrichment and even architecturally, the spaces are all interesting and special in their own ways.
- Walk or bike within in The Presidio, the beautiful national park that sits on the northwest corner of the city, that has miles and miles of hiking trails and gorgeous walks. In fact, you can even walk right up to The Golden Gate Bridge (check maps for routes). With its old military style buildings, incredibly majestic Eucalyptus trees, and views of the Bay, you can't go wrong.
- Relive the grooviness of San Francisco's rich 60's musical history with a concert at The Fillmore, The Warfield or the Greek Theater. Check schedules and book tickets in advance.
- Take a break from shopping and visit The Simon Breitbard Fine Arts gallery. In the heart of charming Jackson Square, the gallery space alone is inspiring. The works represented are mainly local Bay Area artists, capturing a great range of the artistic works coming out of our city.
- Walk up and down the burgeoning design district of Sacramento Street, in the more residential part of the city, between Presidio and Walnut Streets. If you are into home decor and antiques, you'll love all of the retail shops with particular nod to Found by Maja. This little gem of a boutique is founded by a friend Maja Lithander Smith and she has filled it with artifacts, jewelry, furniture, and decor found on her travels across the world and often made by locals in whichever country from which the piece originates. The de Gournay San Francisco boutique is also worth a visit.
- Take an exercise class to work off some of the eating you'll be doing! San Francisco offers some of the best fitness classes in the country. Burn calories and sweat-out last night's martinis or margaritas Soul Cycle - (favorite instructors: Jenny Gaither and Heather Anderson); a yoga class at the beautiful Yoga Flow studio on SF (favorite teacher: Erin Gilmore) or train like a fitness model at Barry's Bootcamp (favorite instructors Erica and Chris). Or if you prefer to work-up a sweat outside, take a run along Crissy Field. There is a path there that will take you all the way out underneath The Golden Gate Bridge and back through the Marina. It is scenic, mainly flat, and beautiful. Another favorite is hiking/walking along the trails in the Presidio and at Land's End along the Pacific Ocean. You will not realize you are even exercising because the views are so incredible.
- Walk down Castro Street, off of Market, (and maybe even catch a performance at historic Castro Theater). You'll immediately feel inspired by the historical significance this neighborhood for the LGBT community and why San Francisco is such a groundbreaking place in it's legal landscape. Makes me proud as a local.
- Go to The Ferry Building on a Farmer's Market day (check schedule on Ferry Building website) and you will see why San Francisco has such a culinary spirit. The Farmer's Market changes seasonally, and it is a joy to see the amazing types of produce, flowers, and vendors inside the building, such as Heath Ceramics, selling some of the best of Bay Area products.
- While definitely touristy, I still recommend taking a trolley ride as they shuttle you up and down the long and steep streets that define our city. I personally love the Hyde Street trolley as it takes you through the quaint neighborhood of Russian Hill. Once you've taken your trolley ride, backtrack to one of the romantic little wine bars on Hyde Street and watch the trolleys pass.
- Coit Tower, Little Italy, and Columbus Square--Taking a 1/2 day or so to get up to the top of Coit Tower is worth it, in my opinion. You can walk from Columbus Square where you'll see people enjoying themselves (and often practicing Martial Arts) up to Coit Tower. From the top, you'll get some of the best views of the city. Once you descend, walk down the charming streets of Telegraph Hill (like Grant and Green) and pop into an Italian cafe for a cappuccino or a negroni, depending on your style. :-)
- Go to The Mission Dolores Basilica and nearby Mission Dolores Park, in the historic Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. This is truly one of the most significantly important religious Missions in California and its history and museum explain a lot about the settlers and religious order of San Francisco. Nearby in The Mission (as the neighborhood is called), you can walk down Valencia Street or Mission Street where there are lots of great boutiques, restaurants, and quirky shops that have true character.
- Catch Union Square as you are walking TO or FROM somewhere else but don't spend too much there. The stores are very commercial and the restaurants surrounding it can be high-priced tourist traps. One exception may be at Christmas time when it is pretty and you can ice skate in the center of it.
- While I appreciate the "hippie" movement that was founded in San Francisco, and totally love and appreciate the history of Haight/ Ashbury, I really find Haight street now to be more of a commercialized tourist trap than an authentic experience.
- Fisherman's Wharf is more for kids and families and definitely VERY touristy. If you feel you must see it, don't spend too much time there. It indeed has an old-world charm but it's mainly a total tourist trap.
What to Pack
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Bringing the kids? Check out this super guide from local, Jenny Mayfield.