Peachhead™ Approved Vacations: Vacation in San Francisco - Hotel Union Square April 2012
The last time I visited San Francisco I brought my kids and everything we did was child-friendly. This time I brought a girlfriend and everything we did catered to two women without kids. This vacation centered on food, entertainment, shopping, touring, and bike riding.
We flew to San Francisco from LAX, which is less than a 1½ hour flight. We then took BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to Union Square ($8.10 per person). We stayed at the Hotel Union Square, a boutique hotel located on Powell Street right near all of the shops. The rooms are nicely decorated with high ceilings and they even have a kids' suite with a trundle bed, computer, and a Wii. The hotel offers complimentary coffee and tea in the morning and a complimentary wine reception in the evening. They also offer free Wi-Fi service, which is so rare these days. The hotel is located in Union Square near all of the stores and right in front of the Cable Cars. Because it is on Powell Street it can be slightly noisy outside but I always travel with ear plugs and I slept like a baby. Hotel Union Square is part of the Personality Hotels. There are others nearby. The Diva hotel is just down the street from Hotel Union Square and that is where you can go if you want to use the fitness room. We took a walk down there and I thought it was really cute how they have little rooms that you can hang out in (the Perrier room is their newest one and it is so cool looking). I took a look at the kids’ suite in that hotel and it was incredible. A separate room for the kids with a bunk bed, chalkboard walls so the kids can draw on them, a desk with their own computer—every child’s dream room.
We arrived on a Friday just in time for lunch at Dobbs Ferry. This is a new restaurant that has only been open for 5 months. The setting was very nice; we sat next to a glass wall overlooking a lovely plant area (it almost felt like a green house). They have a very interesting drink menu and I had the most amazing Mai Tai. It wasn’t the typical Mai Tai drink that I normally get, but very good nonetheless. We started out with the most marvelous appetizers. The grilled asparagus in the goat cheese fondue was to die for, as well as the salmon over potato pancakes (I’m already craving this dish again). The chicken sandwich was amazing (fried, yet light and crispy) and the pizza frites were addicting (you can’t stop at one). Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, we discovered they had warm mini donuts with powdered sugar, caramelized Fuji apples, and toasted almonds for dessert….okay, it didn’t take much convincing as it sounded amazing and tasted incredible. The perfect ending to the perfect meal.
After lunch we figured we’d better walk off our meal so we hopped on a bus which brought us back to Powell Street in Union Square where all of the shops are located. This is every girl’s dream for shopping….stores lined up and down the streets, including a huge Macy’s store.
That evening we had dinner at O3 Bistro and Lounge. This is a very popular restaurant located right near the City’s symphony and opera houses, so they have pre-show service, as well as a wonderful happy hour. They have a very interesting drink menu so we started out the evening with the most unique drink, a bell pepper margarita. Unbelievable. It was so different and refreshing, with a little kick. We once again decided to share a number of appetizers and we had the Miso Caesar Salad (very different from the typical Caesar Salad); the Ahi Tuna Crudo, wonderfully layered and served with sesame taro chips; calamari with a wonderful chili aioli; and my favorite of the evening, the hoisin-glazed pork ribs with cilantro and toasted cashew nuts. I had never had nuts on pork ribs before, and I really enjoyed the combination. The meat fell right off of the bones and it was very tasty.
I love hearing live music (especially blues), so after dinner we went to Biscuit and Blues to hear Sista Monica and her band perform. What an entertainer. She has an incredible voice, but more importantly, she is an amazing story teller. You are captivated by her stories that then turn into songs. This is a great place to hear music and they serve dinner and drinks. There is a cover charge and I believe there are 2 shows on Friday and Saturday nights (not sure about the week nights). We ended up staying for both shows because we just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave. Definitely a place I would go back to.
The next morning we got up early to go bike riding. We walked a couple of blocks from our hotel to a bicycle rental place called Blazing Saddles. They have to be the most together bike rental company. They have a map on the wall showing the bike trail, which includes pictures of landmarks, so you know just what you are looking for. Then they give you a map that is highlighted with your route. On top of that, there are step-by-step instructions attached to the bike. They quickly get you set up on a bike, adjust your helmet, and they even put a rubber band around your ankle to make sure you pants don’t get caught in the chain. You can purchase ferry passes from them so you don’t have to wait in line once you get to the ferry. We started out by riding to Golden Gate Park. What a beautiful ride through the park. The scenery is magnificent. The flowers, colors of the leaves, and even waterfalls are stunning. Once we reached the end of the park we had lunch at a wonderful restaurant called Beach Chalet which overlooks the ocean. Gorgeous views. We started out with the most delicious tuna tartare with garlic-ginger soy, apple, sesame, and wonton chips. I had never had apples in my tuna tartare before, and it was quite delicious. Next we had the sticky pork spareribs in a honey hoisin sauce, very flavorful and tender. Our next course was the grilled Atlantic salmon in a vegetable risotto with sautéed broccolini. The salmon was incredibly moist and tasty and the risotto was quite flavorful as well. For dessert we had the brownie sundae and the crème brulee. Both were heavenly. To work off our lunch, we rode the bikes back through Golden Gate Park and across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. Sausalito is a charming town. We then took the ferry with the bikes back to Fisherman’s Wharf and then continued our ride back to Blazing Saddles to complete our day. What an incredibly fun and beautiful day.
Our last night we went to Little Italy to have dinner at Original Joe’s. This restaurant has quite a bit of history in San Francisco. It debuted in 1937, the same year that the Golden Gate Bridge opened to the public. Around 5 years ago there was a kitchen fire so they saved what they could and waited 4 years to find the perfect location to reopen their new restaurant. They found a great location in North Beach and the new restaurant was inspired by the original restaurant. They kept the ceiling, booths, and bar stools from the original restaurant. They even had beautiful mermaid art pieces from the original restaurant. I really enjoyed visiting Original Joe’s and learning about the history of the restaurant. I love family-owned restaurants so I was thrilled to see father and son (John Jr. and John Sr.) working together side by side, both walking around the restaurant, making sure everyone was taken care of. One thing I can say about this restaurant is the staff is amazing. Everyone walked around with a smile on their face and really seemed to enjoy their job. Pete, our server, took wonderful care of us. He spoke with such pride you would have thought it was his restaurant. He gave us some wonderful recommendations and made sure we had everything we needed. I had my first side car drink which was very refreshing. The Caesar salad was wonderful. The restaurant has specials every night and I was fortunate that Saturday night was their prime rib special night. The prime rib was very flavorful and it was served with a twice-baked potato. My friend had the sole piccata with capers. It was moist and very tasty and very rich in flavor. For dessert I had the warm lava cake which was cooked to perfection. The minute you put the fork through the cake, the warm chocolate filling started pouring out….heaven. It was served with pistachio ice cream. After our dinner, John Jr. showed me the pictures displayed on the wall that showed pictures of his family and the history of the restaurant. I especially loved seeing the menu from “the olden days” where $3.50 bought you a filet….my, oh my, how things have changed.
After dinner we had a couple of hours before our show so we walked around Little Italy with the cute shops and ended up in Chinatown. I used Siri (from my iPhone) to find a nearby foot reflexology place and found one a block away (662 Jackson Street). For $20 we had a wonderfully relaxing 30 minute foot soak and massage.
After our little massage we walked a few blocks back to see Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon. This is the longest-running musical review in theatre history (over 30 years) and I can understand why. The show follows Snow White as she searches for her Prince Charming and along the way meets everyone from Lady Gaga to President Barack and Michelle Obama, Justin Bieber, Oprah Winfrey and more. The costumes and head pieces are truly unbelievable and the music is non-stop entertainment. The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission and you will find yourself continually laughing for the full 90 minutes. Definitely a fun way to spend an evening in San Francisco.
The next morning we got up early as we were planning on spending our last day touring San Francisco in the GoCar Tours. What a wonderful invention this is: a miniature car that holds two people. It drives like a motorcycle but the greatest thing is that it has a navigation system set up to tour you around San Francisco and talk to you throughout the trip. It guides you across intersections, warning you to be careful if the cross traffic does not need to stop, it tells you informative facts about all of the places you are visiting, and will even tell you a joke or two. It has quite the personality. There are a number of different loops it will take you on and as long as you stay within the path she is taking you on, she will continue to talk to you as you drive. It was like having your own personal tour guide. We drove to Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Chinatown, through the Presidio and Inspiration Point, The Embarcadero, and Fisherman’s Wharf. My favorite was driving down Lombard Street in the GoCar. I don’t know what was getting more looks, the crooked street, or us in the GoCar. Everyone was taking pictures of us driving it as it is quite the sight to see. The car itself is fun to drive because it rides like a motorcycle. The only thing it does not do on its own is go in reverse so you actually have to get out and push it backwards to go in reverse. It is easy to push but every time I had to push it I would break out laughing as it was just so comical. The GoCar is a great way to tour San Francisco. You can rent by the hour and the more hours you book it for, the less it will cost per hour.
While driving down the Embarcadero we stopped to have lunch at La Mar Restaurant, a Peruvian Restaurant. I have to tell you this was quite the culinary adventure for me. First of all, the setting was breathtaking. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we sat outside overlooking the water. Our server was very warm and welcoming. I informed him that I had never dined at a Peruvian Restaurant before and would not even know where to begin ordering so he helped guide us throughout our meal. We started out by having a traditional Peruvian drink called a Pisco sour. It was so refreshing and so different. They begin your meal by bringing you fresh plantain chips and potato chips to dip in two wonderful sauces to start. Next we had the cebiche tasting. Wow, every cebiche was absolutely incredible. I am so glad they offer the sampler option as I would have a difficult time choosing just one or two from their wonderful assortment. Next, we had the Causa tasting. Once again, never having experienced Peruvian food before, I had no idea what to expect, and I was blown away at how wonderful the causa taste with the wonderful toppings of tuna tartare and Dungeness crab. For dessert we had their dessert sampler, which is a tasting of three of their desserts that were all divine. Being a chocolate lover, my favorite was the choco maracuya. This restaurant alone would bring me back to San Francisco. After our incredible meal, while walking to our GoCar along the Embarcadero, we actually saw a man rollerblading past us naked…wow, that was weird (but I guess not that strange for San Francisco).
Unfortunately our time was ending as we had to catch our plane so we took a shuttle from the hotel back to the airport and said goodbye to San Francisco. This truly was a wonderful girls' getaway weekend. Where else can you travel by plane, train, taxi, trolley, cable car, boat, GoCar, and bike in one weekend, eat incredible food, shop to your heart’s content, bike through incredible scenery and over majestic bridges? San Francisco!!!!
My meals, entertainment, and accommodations were hosted by the companies listed above.