Saturday, December 23, 2006

Good Seafood with an Ocean View

Finally there is a restaurant with seafood that's as good as the view. Sam's Chowder House in Half Moon Bay has top notch food along with nice views of the Pacific Ocean.

I had heard about the planning for this restaurant for many months but had missed news of its opening. Earlier this week, my wife and I had the opportunity to dine at Sam's. We are both East Coast natives, with West Coast sensibilities, who are picky about our seafood.

Upon arrival, we immediately noticed that Sam's has the ambiance of an East Coast seafood joint: nothing fancy and a bar with sports on the big screens. However, being on the West Coast, Sam's has a good wine list and some microbrews on tap. In addition, the menu tells you that Sam's "do(es) not thicken their chowders with tons of flour," fries their food in "cholesterol- and trans-fat-free vegetable oil," and "serves sustainably-fished seafood whenever possible and practical."

The real test, though, is the taste of the food; and we gave Sam's a tough test. My wife summered in Maine and is extremely picky about lobster rolls. I am a native of Baltimore and am the same way about crab cakes. We both felt that Sam's serves the best lobster rolls and crab cakes in the Bay Area. My wife believes a good lobster roll has three ingredients: fresh lobster, butter, and a roll. Sam's serves the mayonnaise on the side for those who prefer a little dressing on their roll and adds a fourth ingredient -- celery. For me, crab cakes should be all crab with just a little binder to hold the meat together. Sam's crab cakes passed the test but, not unexpectedly, are made with Dungeness Crab rather than my favorite Blue Crab. Excellent coleslaw accompanied both dishes. The crab cakes came with fresh, thin-cut fries and the lobster roll with house-made potato chips.

I highly recommend a visit to Sam's. On a nice day, dine outside so you can watch the waves while you eat. Sam's Chowder House is located on Highway 1, just south of Princeton Harbor. To make a reservation call (650) 712-0245. More information may be found at www.SamsChowderHouse.com.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Where to Stay in San Francisco: Part IV - Financial District

The Financial District lies between Union Square and the Embarcadero (waterfront). This district is home to banks, law offices, and many other businesses. On weekdays, this part of San Francisco is bustling. At night and on weekends, the Financial District is pretty quiet.

If you are coming to San Francisco to conduct business in this part of town, there are a few big hotels located in the heart of the Financial District: Omni, Mandarin Oriental, Hyatt Regency, and Le Meridien. These are all well-known international brands. The Mandarin Oriental is probably the most upscale of these and is home to a well-regarded restaurant Silks. On weekends, discounts may be available from these hotels as they tend to attract weekday business travelers.

Just outside of the heart of the Financial District is the Hilton Financial District. This new hotel is across from Portsmouth Square, where the Financial District meets Chinatown.

Just south of the Financial District, along The Embarcadero, are three boutique hotels: Hotel Vitale, Hotel Griffon, and Harbor Court Hotel. The Vitale has a hot bar scene in the Americano Restaurant. All three are close to Steuart Street's restaurant row, which includes Ozumo (Japanese), Boulevard (one of the top rated restaurants in the city), Shanghai 1930 (Chinese with jazz), and Chaya Brasserie (Japanese-French fusion). The Ferry Building, with its Marketplace, is just a block away.

I recommend staying in the Financial District if you are working in the area and proximity to your place of work is a priority. If you are willing to walk a bit, then try one of the hotels along The Embarcadero or in the Union Square area (see previous post). You will find more life in these parts of town after work and on weekends.

If you are planning a trip to San Francisco, let Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel do all the work for you. We'll make your hotel and restaurant reservations and suggest activities that might be fun for you. For more information, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Where to Stay in San Francisco: Part III - Union Square

Union Square is the principal shopping district in San Francisco. If you want to be near Saks, Macy's, Nordstrom, Nieman-Marcus, Bloomingdale's, Gump's, and hundreds of other stores, then Union Square is the perfect location for you to base your stay in San Francisco.

Staying in Union Square also lets you easily access the two Powell Street cable car lines and the F-Line streetcars to go to Fisherman's Wharf. The Moscone Center, where most conventions are held, is an easy 10 to 15 minute walk from most Union Square hotels. In fact, it's usually faster to walk to the Moscone Center than to take the shuttle bus that many conventions provide.

Numerous restaurants are close to Union Square ranging from casual lunch spots on Maiden Lane to the highly rated Michael Minna, Farallon, Masa's, and Fleur de Lys.

Hotels can be found in all sizes and at all prices. If you are on a real budget, Hostelling International has a location at 312 Mason Street. The Westin St. Francis has been gracing the west side of Union Square since 1904. Joie de Vivre Hospitality and Kimpton Hotels have a number of boutique hotels near Union Square. One of our favorites is the pet-friendly Hotel Monaco on the corner of Taylor and Geary Streets. You can bring your pet or, if you don't have one, the hotel will provide you with a goldfish.

If you want to be in the center of things, then Union Square is the place for you. If you want to take a San Francisco tour while staying in the city, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Where to Stay in San Francisco: Part II - Nob Hill

Nob Hill is where many of San Francisco's elite had their homes before the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. The Big Four, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Colis P. Huntington, and Charles Crocker, all lived here. The only surviving pre-1906 structures atop Nob Hill are the Pacific Union Club (formerly the Flood mansion) and the Fairmont Hotel. Both buildings were gutted by the fire, but their shells survived.

Today Nob Hill is home to some of the grand dames of San Francisco hotels. The Fairmont, Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, and Huntington Hotels all sit atop the hill. Just below the Mark Hopkins is The Stanford Court. One block further down the Hill is the Ritz-Carlton. All are luxurious hotels providing top notch service. The Ritz was the top-rated hotel in the recently published Michelin Guide. All of these hotels have many rooms with beautiful views of San Francisco and the Bay.

If you prefer smaller hotels or more modestly priced accommodation, Joie de Vivre Hospitality has three properties on Nob Hill. The Nob Hill Lambourne is just below the summit while the Petite Auberge and White Swan are further down the hill on Bush Street. All are very comfortable and provide a more intimate experience than the large hotels atop the hill.

One of the advantages of staying on Nob Hill is that this is a quiet part of town. You are less likely to be disturbed by street noise here. Also, many rooms have great views. Lastly, you have easy access to all three cable car lines.

The downside of staying Nob Hill is that you are a bit away from San Francisco's sights and activities. While walking TO Chinatown and Union Square is easy, the return trip is a steep climb back up the hill.

If you would like to take a private San Francisco tour that includes a visit to Nob Hill, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Where to Stay in San Francisco: Part I - Overview

San Francisco is small; approximately 7 miles by 7 miles for a total of 46 square miles. You can walk across the city, from the bay to the ocean, in about three hours. Despite this compactness, San Francisco is quite diverse. Each neighborhood has a unique feel and culture. Choosing the right location for your lodging helps ensure that you will make the most of your visit to San Francisco.

There are a few factors to consider when deciding where you want stay. The principal factor is the purpose of your visit. Whether you are here for pleasure, for business, or to attend a convention will help determine the location that will work best for you.

If you are here for pleasure, what do you want to see and do while you are here? Your answer may help you decide the best part of town for you to stay in.

If you have children, you may want to stay closer to activities they will enjoy.

A car can be a hassle in San Francisco as street parking is tough throughout the city and hotels may charge in excess of $40 per night for parking. Plus public transportation is pretty good and taxis are easily obtained. If you must have a car during your stay in San Francisco, lodging your car needs to be a factor in deciding where you will stay.

Lastly, your budget will determine where you will stay. San Francisco has accommodations ranging from youth hostels to luxurious, five-star hotels.

A hotel, motel, or bed and breakfast can be found in many of San Francisco's neighborhoods. However, lodging is most available in the following parts of San Francisco:
  • Nob Hill, where the wealthy folks lived prior to the 1906 Earthquake and Fire;
  • Union Square, the principal shopping district in the city;
  • Financial District, a great locale if you are here for business;
  • South of Market (SOMA), the area closest to the Moscone Center, where most conventions are held; and
  • Lombard Street, home to motel row, where many modestly priced motels are located.
In subsequent posts, I will discuss the pros and cons of staying in each of these neighborhoods. I'll finish up this series with some lodging suggestions that are outside of these locales.

If you are planning a visit to San Francisco and want some help in selecting your hotel, restaurants, and activities, Blue Heron can help you. For more information, feel free to call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Oldest Building in San Francisco

You can't believe everything you read. The sign outside the Officers Club in the Presidio says it is the oldest building in San Francisco. Yes, there is old adobe in some walls and in the foundation. But the bulk of the building is definitely 20th century.

The oldest building in San Francisco is Mission San Francisco de Asis, more commonly known as Mission Dolores. The original mission was built by the Spanish in 1776, along with the Presidio. The current building is about a block and a half from the site of the first mission building and dates back to 1791. Aside from the addition of electricity and some early 19th century furnishing, the mission looks little different from the way it did when founded. This sturdy building survived both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes with little damage; although, the more modern parish church next door suffered extensive damage in 1906 and was torn down.

Aside the mission is one of only two cemeteries remaining in San Francisco. (Most cemeteries were removed from the city in the early 20th century to make room for the living. The other cemetery inside the city limits is the military cemetary in the Presidio.) There are many tombstones marking the final resting spot of early settlers and officials. Not marked are the graves of thousands of Native Americans buried in the cemetery and under the adjacent parking lot.

Mission Dolores is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. A donation of $3.00 is requested upon admission. The church is located on the corner of Dolores and 16th Streets.

If you would like to take a San Francisco tour that includes a visit to Mission Dolores, call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Visit the Newly Restored Grounds Surrounding the Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts was the art museum in the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. This world's fair commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal, but also showed the world that San Francisco had recovered from the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

The Palace was the only building from the Fair that was allowed to stay in its original location after the fair closed. However, like all the buildings, the Palace was built with little more than chicken wire and plaster. So by the 1950s the Palace was in need of a major restoration. To save the Palace, the original was torn down and a replica was built of concrete. The replica opened in 1967.

Now the replica is in need of restoration. Recently the exterior of the dome was fixed. For the past year, extensive renovation of the lagoon and surrounding grounds was undertaken.

A few days ago, the chain link fence around the grounds came down. The end result is beautiful. No longer do you risk having the walkway crumble beneath your feet as you stroll around the lagoon, which looks great. Instead of green scum on the surface, their are birds swimming in clear water. Recently I saw migrating ducks taking a break in the lagoon.

Now is the perfect time to visit the Palace. Take a relaxing stroll around the colonnade and lagoon. Enjoy a picnic lunch on the lawn. The Palace sits along Lyon Street between Francisco Street and Marina Boulevard in the Marina District.

If you want to include a visit to the Palace of Fine Arts in a San Francisco private tour, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Beat Museum in San Francisco

Most folks seem to know about the 1967 Summer of Love and the hippies in San Francisco. But few remember their 1950s predecessors: the Beats or Beatniks. The latter term was coined by local journalist Herb Caen who said shortly after the Russians launched the first spacecraft, Sputnik, that they may have a Sputnik but we have Beatniks. Or something to that effect.

To inform the public about Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and other Beat writers is the mission of The Beat Museum. Located in North Beach, this new museum contains a nice collection of books and poems written by Beats and other Beat-related items that may be purchased. There is also a small exhibit of historical photographs and documents that trace the history of the beats in San Francisco.

The Beat Museum is located at 540 Broadway (near Columbus). It is open from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. from Tuesday through Sunday. Admission to the exhibit is $5.00. There is no charge to browse through the items for sale.

If you would like to take a private tour of San Francisco that includes a visit to North Beach, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Streetcars in San Francisco

While San Francisco is most famous for the cable cars that go up and down Nob Hill, we are becoming equally well known for our fleet of historic streetcars. Known as the F Line, these cars from around the country and the globe run from the Castro District (Castro and Market Streets) to Fisherman's Wharf (Taylor and Jefferson Streets) via Market Street and the Embarcadero.

Now you can learn about the history of streetcars in San Francisco and our historic fleet by visiting the new San Francisco Railway Museum at the Steuart Street streetcar stop (77 Steuart Street, between Market and Mission Streets). Operated by the non-profit Market Street Railway, the inaugural exhibit is "Vehicles of Recovery: How San Francisco├é’s Street Railways Led the City├é’s Response to the 1906 Earthquake and Fire." The museum also contains streetcar artifacts, videos on San Francisco's street railway systems, and a gift shop. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Admission is free; although, donations are appreciated.

The Market Street Railway is the City's nonprofit partner that does much of the restoration work on the historic streetcars. In addition, the group advocates for the expansion of the streetcar system. In the near future, streetcars may run directly from the CalTrain Terminal and AT&T Park to Fisherman's Wharf. Longer term plans call for expanding the streetcar line from Fisherman's Wharf through the Fort Mason tunnel to lower Fort Mason. You can learn more about this wonderful organization by visiting their website at www.streetcar.org.

If you would like to take a private San Francisco tour that includes a stop at the San Francisco Railway Museum, call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Diego Rivera Murals in San Francisco

The great Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera, painted his first commissioned mural outside of Mexico in San Francisco starting in 1930. "Allegory of California" was completed in 1931 and is located in The City Club of San Francisco, 155 Sansome Street, 10th Floor. The mural is usually open to the public from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. on weekdays, if there are no events scheduled.

Shortly after completing "Allegory of California," Rivera began work on "The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of A City." This mural is located in the Diego Rivera Gallery of the San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut Street (between Leavenworth and Jones). The most accessible of the three Rivera murals in San Francisco; the gallery is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. and is located just two blocks from the bottom of the "Crookedest Street in the World" (Lombard Street).

Perhaps the most impressive of the three murals painted by Rivera is "Pan American Unity." This mural is "about the unity of the North and the South on this continent," according to Rivera. Originally painted in 1940 at the Golden Gate International Exposition, the mural is now housed in the Diego Rivera Theatre at San Francisco City College. Hours to visit the mural vary from sememster to semester. You can check the mural's website, www.riveramural.com, for current hours. A guided tour of the mural can be arranged by calling (415) 452-5201.

Admission to all three murals is free.

If you would like to take a private San Francisco tour that includes stops at one or more of these murals, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Murals of Balmy Alley

One of my favorite spots to take people when I am doing my More of San Francisco or A Day in the City Tour is Balmy Alley. This small street is the birthplace of San Francisco's contemporary mural movement.

Murals have been a part of Mexican culture since the early twentieth century. In 1971, local muralists began creating beautiful paintings on the fences and garages of Balmy Alley. Many of the murals have political themes. The styles range from very traditional to cartoonish. Today there are an estimated 600 murals throughout San Francisco with many located in the Mission District, home to many of San Francisco's Hispanics.

Balmy Alley runs parallel to Treat and Harrison Streets between 24th and 25th Streets. Precita Eyes Visitors Center at 2981 24th Street is near the alley and has information on San Francisco's murals. They also sponsor mural tours, some of which include walks through Balmy Alley. You may call the center at (415) 285-2287 for more information.

If you visit Balmy Alley, stop in at one of the nearby restaurants for lunch. Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, 2817 24th Street (at Bryant) and St. Francis Fountain, 2801 24th Street (at York) are good bets.

If you would like to take a San Francisco tour that includes visits to Balmy Alley and other mural sites, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Chinatown and North Beach Restaurants

I frequently get asked for recommendations for dinner in both Chinatown and North Beach. In Chinatown, I have long recommended the R and G Lounge at 631 Kearny Street (between Clay and Sacramento Streets). However, many of my guests and many concierges have praised the Oriental Pearl at 760 Clay Street (between Grant Avenue and Kearny Street). I recently checked it out and will definitely include it among my Chinatown recommendations. Every dish we ordered was quite good, particularly the Peking Duck. Plus the service was friendly and informative. When you are in Chinatown, you will dine well at either the R and G or the Oriental Pearl.

In North Beach, I am harder pressed to name good restaurants. There are some that are good, like Calzones and Caffe DeLucchi on Columbus, but nothing exceptional. Recently some guests and friends recommended Trattoria Contadina on the corner of Mason and Union Streets. This past weekend we gave it a try. All of us enjoyed our meals, which consisted of well prepared typical San Francisco Italian fare. Trattoria Contadina's meals are not as refined as the Italian restaurants I have recently written about. However, the food is good and, if you are in North Beach, you won't go wrong by dining here.

If you would like to take a San Francisco tour that inclcudes visits to North Beach and Chinatown, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking
here.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Friday Night at the De Young

Looking for something to do on a Friday night? Visit the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. One of the two Fine Arts Museums, the de Young houses art from the United States, the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. (The other Fine Arts Museum, the Legion of Honor, is located in Lincoln Park and is home to collections of European Art.)

On Friday nights, the de Young stays open until 8:45 p.m. After 5:00 p.m., tickets cost just $5/person. While not all galleries are open, there are special music performances and docent-led talks. In addition, the cafe serves dinner until 8:00 p.m. and cocktails are served at a cash bar in the entry court. I was particularly impressed to see that supervised tables were available for young children to draw while their parents visited the museum.

This past Friday, the special exhibitions, "The Quilts of Gee's Bend" and "Chicano" were open. The latter consists of three related exhibitions: "Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge," "Chicano Now: American Expressions," and Chicano Now: Local Places and Global Encounters."

The de Young should be applauded for extending its hours so more visitors can enjoy some of the museum's works. The de Young is also open from Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Regular tickets cost $10, $7 for seniors, and $6 for youth (13-17) and college students with identification.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Point Reyes Lighthouse

I recently took some guests to Point Reyes National Seashore, one of my favorite spots in the Bay Area. We drove all the way out to the Point where we visited the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Opened in 1870, this lighthouse is home to a first order Fresnel lens.

The lighthouse is open Thursday through Monday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. To get to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, visitors must walk a quarter of a mile from the parking lot and then down (and back up) 308 steps. So the walk is not for the faint hearted. There are benches along the way if you want to rest while climbing back up the steps. Also, be warned that this is perhaps the windiest spot in California. Winds in excess of 40 mph are not uncommon.

If you do visit the lighthouse, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the Pacific and exhibits on Pacific maritime history. During the late fall and late winter/early spring, you may sea gray whales on the way between Alaska and Baja California. During whale watching season, you will need to take a shuttle bus to the Point on weekends and holidays.

To learn more about Point Reyes and West Marin County, visit the Blue Heron website and read "Rick's Tips" Numbers 11 and 12.

If you want to take a private tour to Point Reyes National seashore, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Major Changes in Alcatraz Tours

Effective September 25, 2006, a new vendor will provide ferry service between San Francisco and Alcatraz. Hornblower Cruises and Events through its affiliate; Alcatraz Cruises, LLC; will be the sole provider of tours to Alcatraz. All tours will depart from Pier 33, rather than the current location. Prices for daytime tours will be $18.75 for adults and juniors. Seniors 62 and over will pay $17.25. Children between the ages of 5 and 11 will pay $10.75. Toddlers under the age of five are free. All of these prices include the cellblock audio tour. More information is available at the new website for Alcatraz tours: www.alcatrazcruises.com.

The Blue and Gold Fleet continues to provide tours to Alcatraz through September 24, 2006. Tour information for these dates is available at www.blueandgoldfleet.com.

Combine a tour of Alcatraz with a private tour of San Francisco. Tour San Francisco in the morning and we'll end the tour at the Alcatraz ferry terminal. Or tour Alcatraz in the morning, have lunch near the ferry terminal, and we'll pick you up for a city tour when you are finished eating. To book a private tour of San Francisco, call (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Escape to Elk Update

Two years ago, "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron's free, quarterly newsletter of fun things to do in the Bay Area, focused on Elk, California. Elk is located about three hours north of San Francisco and overlooks a spectacular cove on the California Coast.

Recently we returned to Elk and found many things unchanged, along with a few changes. The spot is still lovely -- we had sunny skies and 70 degree weather. There is still little to do in town other than walk on the beach and sit on a chair overlooking the cove and watch the waves crash. Ledford House in Albion still breaks the rule that the better the view, the worse the view. Lisa Geer's food is still delicious. Service is friendly. Watching the sun slowly set while nursing a glass of wine is an experience that can't be beat.

Sandpiper House Inn appears to have gone out of business, at least temporarily house. Griffin House Inn has remodeled its cottages.

Mendocino, the coastside village about 30 minutes north of Elk, still has some interesting shops and galleries. There were a few newcomers, but many of the shops have been there for as long as we can remember.

The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, 2 miles north of Mendocino, has been restored and is open to the public daily from 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. A bed and breakfast will open any day in one of the restored lightkeeper houses.

If you are interested in a custom-designed vacation along the spectacular Sonoma and Mendocino coasts, call (866) 326-4237 (toll free). I would be pleased to work with you to plan a vacation that you are sure to enjoy.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Summer in San Francisco

When I woke up this morning the heat was on, the sky was gray, and the fog was blowing. Just an ordinary summer's day in San Francisco.

I'm consistently amazed how many visitors are shocked to find that San Francisco is cold in the summer. Every guidebook warns about our summer fog and advises to dress in layers. Of course, the many sweatshirt vendors are most pleased that tourists fail to prepare for our nippy summers.

The average low temperatures for the months of June, July, and August are 53, 55, and 56 degrees respectively. The average highs are 70, 71, and 72 degrees. The spring and fall usually have the nicest weather in San Francisco as these seasons have little summer fog or winter rain.

If you want a little warmth during your summer visit to San Francisco, just head to wine country. The average high temperatures in St. Helena -- in the heart of the Napa Valley -- are 86 degrees in June, 89 in July, and 88 in August. Fortunately, the low temperatures are in the low 50s. If it wasn't for the overnight cooling, the grapes would not develop enough acid and the wines would be flabby. Nobody wants any flabby wines!

The Bay Area is full of microclimates. Drive a few miles and the temperature will change. Take a custom, private tour with Blue Heron and experience this unusual weather phenomena. Book a tour by calling (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or by clicking here to send an e-mail.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower

Continuing with the vista theme from the last posting, I want to encourage visitors and locals to head for the top of Telegraph Hill. Here you will get a great view of the northern edge of San Francisco as well as the Bay from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge. Telegraph Hill is one of the City's 43 hills and is named for the telegraph station that was on the top of the hill in the 19th century.

Atop the hill is Coit Tower, which is named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit. Many people say the tower is a memorial to San Francisco's firefighters, but this is not true. Lillie Coit was a great supporter of San Francisco's fire department. She bequeathed one third of her estate (approximately $100,000) to beautify the city. In response, the city decided to build a firefighter memorial in Washington Square and this observation tower in honor of Lillie.

The tower is open daily from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. One can take an elevator to the top of Coit Tower for an even more spectacular view of the city and bay. On the first floor of the tower are murals painted in 1933 and 1934 that depict Californians at work. When completed the murals were not immediately opened to the public as the city fathers considered them too leftist. They were worried that San Franciscans' morals would be compromised by seeing depictions of known communist Charley Chaplin and communist newspapers. Cooler heads prevailed and, after a six-month delay, the murals were opened to visitors.

Descending the hill by either the Filbert or Greenwich Street steps provides a walk through beautiful gardens maintained by Telegraph Hill residents. Some of the houses you will walk by are only accessible by these steps. Perhaps you will also get a glimpse of the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill during your descent.

Avoid the parking hassles atop Telegraph Hill by letting me take you on a tour of San Francisco. I can drop you at the top of the hill, so you can enjoy the vista, and then meet you at the bottom while you take a walk down either the Filbert of Greenwich steps. If you want to take a private tour of San Francisco, call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Twin Peaks

No, I'm not talking about the old David Lynch television show; although, many of my guests ask if there is a link. San Franciscans may be crazy, but even this show was too weird for most of us.

Rather, I'm talking about the hills in the middle of San Francisco that provide a 270 degree view of the city. A drive to the top of Twin Peaks will let you see from the Golden Gate Bridge in the northwest, around the entire Embarcadero, to Candlestick Park in the southeast. (Yes, Candlestick has been renamed; but no self-respecting San Franciscan calls the home of the 49'ers anything but Candlestick or The Stick.) Your view includes a straight shot down Market Street, San Francisco's main street, where you will see the Ferry Building at the end. You will also be able to see the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, the twin steeples of St. Ignatius Church on the campus of the University of San Francisco, St. Mary's Cathedral, City Hall, and even Coit Tower. (You will need keen eyes to find Coit Tower, but it is in clear view between two white, high-rise buildings.)

Before you journey to Twin Peaks, check the weather. Many days the fog sits on the summit and the view is completely obscured. When standing on Market Street look southwest. If you see Twin Peaks, your view will be fine. If all you see is clouds, don't even think of going. But look again in an hour as the fog may burn off.

Twin Peaks is also an excellent place to see San Francisco lit up at night.

The summit parking lot sits approximately 920 feet above sea level. It is easily reached by driving out Market Street from downtown and continuing straight when the road changes its name and becomes Portola Avenue. Turn right at the stoplight at Twin Peaks Boulevard and wind your way to the top.

If you do not have a car at your disposal, you will need to take a tour to get to Twin Peaks as there is no public transportation to the summit. To book a private San Francisco tour that includes a stop on Twin Peaks, call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Italian Food One Last Time - For Awhile

Over the past few weeks I had the chance to dine at two more Italian restaurants. (Yes I've been on an Italian kick and I need to move on.)

The first, A16, has gotten rave reviews. I concur. Excellent wine list. Superb first courses; although, the grilled fava beans in the pod did not work. Terrific thin crust pizzas. We were pleasantly surprised that the restaurant was not overwhelmingly loud. I highly recommend A16. It's just too bad that reservations are usually needed as this would be a great place to just drop in on the spur of the moment. For visitors to San Francisco, A16 is very convenient if you are staying on motel row on Lombard Street. Otherwise, you'll need to take a taxi from Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf to get here.

The second, Vivande Porta Via, is a restaurant in Pacific Heights that we frequented with some regularity a few years back. Then we just drifted away for no particular reason. While the pastas we had were all good, they were not terrific. The appetizers were tasty, but not as finely prepared as A16's. I still recommend Vivande for those who find themselves on Fillmore Street, but it is not worth traveling from downtown to get here.

"Zagat" lists the following San Francisco Italian restaurants as their tops for food: Quince, Acquerello, Delfina, Tommaso's, Albona, Sociale, Incanto, Pesce, Antica Trattoria, Venticello, Ristorante Bacco, A16, and Parma. (The last 5 are tied with 23 points.) I have been to all in recent years except Tommaso's, a pizza joint in North Beach that I have not been to in years, and Parma, which I have never visited. I have no qualms with the list; although, I might reorder it. What I find interesting about the list is that only Tommaso's is in North Beach - San Francisco's Italian neighborhood - and only A16 and Tommasos feature food from the south of Italy.

So this is the last word on Italian food in San Francisco for awhile. Maybe I'll summarize French restaurants in the near future.

If you want to take a private, custom tour of San Francisco that visits the neighborhoods where these restaurants are located, call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Hiking Among the Elk

The rains seem to have ended for the season and the days are bright and sunny. Now is the perfect time to visit Point Reyes National Seashore; one to two hours north of San Francisco, depending on the part of the park you wish to explore. (For more information, read "Rick's Tips, No. 12."

This past Sunday we left a sunny San Francisco hoping to find an equal amount of sunshine at Point Reyes, where we planed to hike to Tomales Point, one of our favorite trails in the Bay Area. We were not disappointed when we arrived. The sky was bright blue with a few wispy and puffy clouds. The temperature was in the sixties with a fair amount of wind. Nearly perfect hiking weather.

The Tomales Point Trail starts at the historic Pierce Ranch, an old dairy farm, and ends 4.7 miles later at the northern most spot in the park - Tomales Point. The trail travels over rolling hills with breathtaking views of Tomales Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. After our heavy rains this winter, there were an abundance of wild flowers in bloom -- California Poppies, Queen Ann's Lace, iris, thistle, lupine, and others. Plus dozens of tule elk were easily visible from the trail.

As you start the hike, the Pacific Ocean, North and South Beaches, Point Reyes, and McClure's Beach are clearly visible to your left. Further down the trail the panorama moves to your left, where you can see Tomales Bay, the villages of Marshall and Dillon Beach, and Mt. St. Helena in the distance. As you climb what appears to be the last hill, you soon discover that you have not yet reached the end of your journey. There are two more false ends before you finally reach Tomales Point. Here your view includes most of the aforementioned sights, plus Bodega Head straight in front of you.

Prepare for the hike by dressing in layers as the weather at Point Reyes is usually colder and windier than anywhere else in the Bay Area. While it is windy on Tomales Point, you can sit in areas protected from the winds so a picnic lunch is a perfect reward for reaching the point. You can pick up supplies in nearby Point Reyes Station and Inverness. Lastly, there are no restrooms on the trail, but they are available at Abbott's Lagoon and McClure's Beach, which are near the trailhead at Pierce Ranch.

If you want to take a private custom tour that includes a visit to Point Reyes, try our Point Reyes Ramblings Tour. You may book a tour by calling (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mailing me by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Stunning Views from Mount Tamalpais

Recently some guests asked me to take them to the summit of Mount Tamalpais (affectionately known as Mt. Tam to locals). I had not been there for awhile and was once again awed by the 360 degree view of the Bay Area. The East Peak is approximately 2,600 feet above sea level and provides views of San Francisco, West Marin, the North Bay, and parts of the East Bay. Two trails depart from the parking lot. One is an easy, level walk around the summit. The second climbs to the observation tower atop the summit. Both offer incredible views.

We lunched at the Mountain Home Inn. This nearby bed and breakfast has an outdoor veranda with lovely views of Mill Valley. The menu includes sandwiches, salads, and other simple dishes. The restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday. I suggest you call ahead to reserve a table, especially on weekends. The Inn is located at 810 Panoramic Hwy. in Mill Valley. Reservations can be made for both the restaurant and lodging by calling (415) 381-9000.

If you would like to take a tour that includes a visit to Mount Tamalpais, our Oceanside Vistas Tour is the perfect fit. You can book a private, custom tour by calling (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or by e-mailing me by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Best Italian Restaurant in San Francisco

Over the years, I have eaten at many of the Italian restaurants in San Francisco. But I never made it to Acquerello, an extremely well-reviewed restaurant in Polk Gulch. Last Saturday night I did.

Acquerello is definitely, in my opinion, the best Italian restaurant in the City. Of course, you pay for it. Dinner for two, including tax and gratuity, was $200.

Nowhere on the menu is pasta with red sauce, so you need to think of Italian cuisine in the same light as upscale French cuisine. The extensive list of Italian and California wines will certainly contain one or more wines you will enjoy.

I had the five-course tasting menu and my wife picked from the regular menu. From the "Chef's Surprise" of an asparagus soup, through the sea bass carpaccio, raviolis, guinea hen, and semifreddo, everything was superb. Each course was paired with an interesting Italian wine. I have gotten into dessert wines over the past year or so, and particularly enjoyed the Muscato di Asti. My wife had the freshest mozzarella we have ever tasted. It was air expressed from southern Italy directly to the restaurant. Her duck was delicious. Since she had three fewer courses than I did, our friendly and knowledgeable server brought her a "Chef's Surprise". We were able to share the pasta and dessert courses so she didn't feel too left out.

Acquerello is located at 1722 Sacramento Street (between Polk and Van Ness). The restaurant is open nightly, except Sunday and Monday. Reservations may be made by calling (415) 567-5432 or though Open Table.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Wine and Food in SOMA

I wanted to go to Bacar, a well-reviewed restaurant South of Market, ever since it opened a couple of years ago. I put off visiting because I feared the restaurant would be overly loud with its nightly (except Sundays) live music. The perfect opportunity presented itself when we decided to see a show at the Golden Gate Theater and wanted to dine beforehand.

When we arrived at Bacar, we found a bright, open space with light coming in through the windows and skylights. As we were dining early, the restaurant was not crowded and music would not begin for a few hours. The food is described as Northern California cuisine. However, the menu takes its inspiration from France with foie gras flan and duck confit; Italy with risotto and woodburning-oven baked pizzas, as well as California with mesquite grilled mahi mahi and jumbo artichokes. We ordered a nice, lightly dressed salad of lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and bacon; excellent duck confit and pan roasted prawns; and a yummy chocolate mousse.

Bacar features an extensive list of wines by the bottle and the glass. For the latter, pours are offered in 2 oz., glass, 250 ml, and 500 ml sizes. Flights of three to four two-ounce pours are included in each of the wine categories.

We enjoyed our time at Bacar and highly recommend it. As for the noise, it was no problem while we were there. The waiter advised us that, once the jazz starts, the bar and front of the restaurant are noisy, with the tables in the back being the quietest.

Bacar is located at 448 Brannan Street (between Third and Fourth Streets). Reservations may be made by calling (415) 904-4100.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Two Excellent Photography Galleries in Carmel

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to take to two guests to the Monterey Peninsula. As always, the ride along the coast was beautiful.

While in Carmel, I had time to visit two of my favorite photography galleries: Weston Gallery and Photography West. The Weston Gallery usually features photographs by Edward Weston (see my earlier post on the Weston Exhibit in Oakland), Ansel Adams, and other great twentieth century photographers. If I had had an extra $50,000 with me, I could have purchased an original print of Adams' "Moonrise Over Hernandez New Mexico." There are always special exhibits of work by contemporary photographers. The Gallery is located on Sixth Avenue, between Dolores and Lincoln Streets, in Carmel.

Two blocks away is Photography West. When I visited, the Gallery had an exhibit of contemporary women photographers, as well as photos by Brett Weston (Edward's son) and Ansel Adams, Christopher Burkett, and others. On the side of a back room, I noticed an unsigned print of one of Edward Weston's most famous nude photographs of his wife, Charis Wilson. I was told the print was made by Edward's son, Cole, and I could by it for $10,000. Photogray West is located on Dolores Street, between Ocean and Seventh Avenues.

Unfortunately, I left both galleries empty handed. However, I did see some lovely photographs.

If you would like to take a tour from San Francisco to Monterey and Carmel, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Gold Rush Tour of San Francisco

Last week I received an unusual request for a tour. I was asked if I could provide a "Gold Rush Tour" to two visitors. My quick response was, "Sure." This was a chance to show off some sights that are not on my usual San Francisco Tour.

While gold was discovered by James Marshall on January 24, 1848 in Coloma, about 150 miles east of San Francisco, and the mining for gold took place in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, San Francisco was the port of entry for nearly all who came seeking their fortune.

A tour of San Francisco circa 1849 must start in today's Portsmouth Square in Chinatown. Portsmouth Square is the site of the plaza in the Mexican Village of Yuerba Buena. Captain John Montgomery captured the village of 300 people in 1846 for the United States and the following year the village changed its name to San Francisco. The square features a monument to the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson who came to northern California to ask the woman he loved to leave her abusive first husband and marry him.

Nearby is the Jackson Square antique district, home to the oldest surviving buildings in downtown San Francisco. Many of the buildings on Jackson and Pacific Streets between Montgomery and Sansome Streets were built in the 1850s and 1860s and survived destruction in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire three times. Here you can see the buildings where the Ghirardelli chocolate empire began and where William Tecumsah Sherman worked as a banker before rejoining the army and burning Atlanta during the Civil War.

Two nearby museums contain artifacts from the Gold Rush era. The Pacific Heritage Museum houses Asian art, but is on the site of San Francisco's first mint and subtreasury. The art is upstairs and the late 19th century artifacts are in the basement. The Wells Fargo Museum is on the site where the company was founded in 1852. Many Gold Rush era items, including a stage coach, are on display.


There are other Gold Rush era sights in San Francisco, including the Presidio and Mission Dolores. If you want to learn more about the Gold Rush in San Francisco, I would be pleased to customize a San Francisco Tour for you. To book a tour, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Excellent Italian Fare in Noe Valley

I go back and forth between my love for Italian and French food. I've been on a bit of Italian binge recently and revisited a favorite in Noe Valley - Incanto. This isn't your typical North Beach red sauce and pasta place. Rather, here you get interesting Italian-influenced California food featuring the freshest of ingredients. On the day we visited, the menu featured many "leftovers" from the restaurant's annual "Whole Beast Dinner." While duck tongue was too much for my fairly adventuresome palate, we did enjoy the Antipasto platter that featured house-cured meats. I also enjoyed the nettle papparedelle, which must be in season now as they were also included on Sociale's menu, which I discussed in a recent posting. Incanto's menu changes daily, so you are always in for a new treat no matter how often you visit.

Incanto also has a terrific list of Italian wines, as well as knowledgeable staff who can direct you to wines you are likely to enjoy. On my first visit, I said that we enjoyed Sauvignon Blanc and was directed to our first wine made from the Greco varietal. This time I told our waiter that we enjoyed medium to full bodied red wines with soft tanins He suggest we try a wine that is equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Nero d'Avola. (The latter was a varietal that I had never heard of, much less tasted, before.) Again the waiter's suggestion was perfect.

Incanto is located at 1550 Church Street. Dinner is served nightly, except on Tuesday. Reservations may be made by phoning (415) 641-4500.

If you would like to take a tour of San Francisco that visits neighborhoods, such as Noe Valley, that are not on the usual tourist route, call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Italian Food in Laurel Heights

Last minute plans found us dining with friends at Sociale Restaurant in Laurel Heights last Saturday night. This small neighborhood gem is found in a courtyard at 3655 Sacramento Street. Both indoor and outdoor dining are offered.

Sociale features Italian fare with a California accent. While we had to wait to be seated for 30 minutes beyond our scheduled reservation when earlier guests lingered, the staff at Sociale more than made up for the delay by offering us glasses of Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) and two appetizers on the house. We particularly enjoyed the deep fried olives.

We all had salads to start the meal. Two of us had delicious pasta with duck. One of my friends had nettle filled ravioli. I had never tried nettle, which is a green similar in taste to mint. Desserts included tasty goat cheese cake and panna cotta.

In addition to the Prosecco we enjoyed an Acorn Winery Dolcetto. Acorn is a small family-run winery in the Russian River Valley.

Call (415) 931-3200 to make a reservation at Sociale. Winetasting at Acorn is by appointment only. Take one of our Hidden Vineyards Tours and we can include a stop at Acorn. Tour reservations may be made by calling (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mailing me by clicking here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Terrific East Bay Winery

Not many people know that one of the great Northern California wineries is located just across the bay from San Francisco on the island of Alameda. Rosenblum Cellars is most noted for its 30 plus varieties of Zinfandel. I recently took a Zinfandel seminar at Rosenblum's winery and tasted four recent releases. My favorite was the 2004 Richard Sauret Vineyard, but my friend most enjoyed the 2004 Monte Rosso Vineyard. Rosenblum Zins consistently receive scores of over 90 points from "Wine Spectator" magazine.

The winery and tasting room are located at 2900 Main Street in Alameda. The tasting room is open daily from 11:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Rosenblum also has a tasting room, just off the plaza in Healdsburg, at 250 Center Street. This facility is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.

Join me on a Hidden Vineyards tour and you can visit Rosenblum's tasting room in Healdsburg. To book a tour, call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Winetasting in San Francisco

Yesterday, I joined some friends at Cav Wine Bar. This is a great after work spot. Cav has an interesting wine list as well as tasty small plates to accompany your wine.

I enjoyed a 10 year old Riesling from Germany, a full-bodied Oregon Pinot Noir, and a varietal from Australia that I had never heard of until yesterday. Wines are available by the glass and bottle. In addition, a special wine flight is offered each week. If you go with a friend who prefers fermented grain, beers are also offered.

To accompany your wine, Cav offers both small and large plates. We sampled an array of small plates and enjoyed each of them. We particularly enjoyed dipping bread, walnuts, and apricots into the Gratinee Fondue for two.

Cav is located at 1666 Market Street and opens at 5:30. The kitchen is open until 11:00 pm Monday to Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Literary San Francisco

San Francisco has long been considered a literate city. I have seen articles that say that San Franciscans read far more than the average American.

Authors started venturing here shortly after the Gold Rush. Mark Twain -- still using his given name of Samuel Clemens -- was a young journalist in San Francisco and Nevada. Brett Harte also made his name during the Gold Rush. Twentieth century luminaries include Frank Norris, Jack London (born in San Francisco, but raised in Oakland), Jack Kerouac, Amy Tan, and Dave Eggers.


My favorite bookstore in the City has long been
Green Apple Books at 506 Clement Street. Green Apple has a large selection of new and used books. I regularly take my old books to them for trade; enabling me to buy more books without laying out any cash.

City Lights Bookstore is 53 years and continues to thrive in North Beach at 261 Columbus Avenue. The nation's first paperback bookstore, City Lights gained fame as home to the Beat Generation or Beatniks. (The latter term was coined by longtime San Francisco journalist, Herb Caen.) Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and co-founder of City Lights, welcomed Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and other Beats to his new bookstore in the 1950s. 2006 marks the 50th anniversary of City Lights' publication of Allen Ginsberg's poem, "Howl." San Francisco police and US Customs found the book to be obscene and arrested Ferlinghetti. In a surprise verdict, the court found the poem had "redeeming social significance," a ruling that helped end book censorship in the United States.

A newcomer to San Francisco is Berkeley's
Cody's Books. Long a fixture on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, this year marks Cody's 50th anniversary. Late last year, Cody's opened its third store at 2 Stockton Street in San Francisco. (Cody's also has a branch on Berkeley's Fourth Street.) Cody's is known for its large selection spanning most genres.

While visiting San Francisco, take some time to visit these and other bookstores that have contributed to our literary tradition for so long.
Come on a private tour of San Francisco and I'll tell you about the real Tom Sawyer. To book your tour, call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Rains

As you have undoubtedly read, or experienced if you live in the Bay Area, we've been getting buckets of rain. While there was significant damage in the city of Napa and in San Anselmo in Marin County, San Francisco was pretty much unscathed. Heavy rain is normal for this time of year, but there are also many warm sunny days between the storms, such as yesterday. The clearest days of the year are often during the winter. Often you can see the Farallon Islands, which lie 30 miles off the cost, on a clear, winter day.

I did a few tours during the rains and my guests were able to enjoy many of San Francisco's wonderful sights in the dry comfort of Blue Heron's van. Coit Tower still provided one of the great views of San Francisco Bay. Old Fort Point, below the Golden Gate Bridge, is always a great vista point; however, on foggy or cloudy days it frequently provides the best view of the Golden Gate and the Bridge. I took one couple to see the beautiful murals on Balmy Alley in the Mission District. Rather than walking the block, we stayed dry and slowly drove this block-long treasure. Don't let the rains stop you, with Blue Heron you can stay dry and see the sights.

If you are traveling on your own, San Francisco's many museums are great activities on rainy days. In addition to the major museums -- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, De Young museum, Legion of Honor, and Asian Art museum, there are great small museums. I highlighted some of these small museums, along with other rainy day activities, in the December 2003 "Rick's Tips." The Museums of African Diaspora and Craft and Folk Art, which I discussed in my last post, are also good places to visit on rainy, and sunny, days.

If you would like to take a private San Francisco tour, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.