Monday, December 17, 2007

Pacific Heights

In September, I wrote about Sea Cliff and mentioned that it and Pacific Heights are probably the two wealthiest neighborhoods in San Francisco. This post will talk about Pacific Heights.

Pacific Heights includes the hilly part of San Francisco from Van Ness Avenue on the east to Lyon Street and the Presidio wall on the west. The north and south boundaries are Green and Bush Streets. Some of San Francisco's wealthiest and most influential residents make their homes in Pacific Heights. Many of them have spectaculr views from their houses. While you may not be in a position to buy a home with such a view, you can approximate the views by walking up the Lyon or Baker Street steps. You'll also get a good workout.

Some of San Francisco's largest homes are in Pacific Heights. Currently, there are two houses on the market in Pacific Heights with asking prices of over $50 million. 2901 Broadway is listed for $55 million, while the owners of 2845 Broadway are asking $65 million. The Spreckels Mansion, at 2080 Washington, is one of the largest homes in San Francisco. Built by Alma and Adolph Spreckels in 1915, its current owner is Danielle Steele.

If you are a movie buff, you can see the house that Sally Fields and Robin Williams called home in "Mrs. Doubtfire" on the southeast corner of Broadway and Steiner Street.

Fillmore Street between Post and Jackson Streets is the main shopping district for Pacific Heights. Along the street you will find many upscale shops and some very good restaurants. You can easily combine a stroll along Fillmore Street with a walk along the Union Street shopping district in Cow Hollow. Just make sure you visit Fillmore Street first so you walk down the steep hill to Union Street.

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

Monday, December 10, 2007

Fisherman's Wharf IV - Pier 39's Sea Lions

Pier 39 has little connection with San Francisco. It's a collection of tourist-oriented shops that could be located almost anywhere in the U.S. However, any visit to Fisherman's Wharf must include a walk to the end of Pier 39 to see the hundreds of California sea lions that have been calling the pier home since late 1989.

Prior to the Loma Prieta Earthquake in October 1989, most sea lions lived at Seal Rocks, just off Land's End in the Pacific Ocean. Starting in September 1989, sea lions began hauling themselves out of the water onto the empty boat docks at Pier 39. After the earthquake, even more found their way to Pier 39. Whether the earthquake contributed to the sea lions' migration, we do not know. We do know that at Pier 39 they found a plentiful supply of herring to dine on and protection from the killer whales and sharks in the ocean. So they decided to stay.

Most sea lions live at Pier 39 for about 9 months per year. During the summer all but a few sea lions travel to the Channel Islands, off the Santa Barbara coast, to mate. After all, even sea lions need a little privacy.

Watching the sea lions bark and push each other around is great fun. If you would like to take a private tour of San Francisco that includes a visit to the sea lions, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

This concludes my series on Fisherman's Wharf. San Franciscans tend to stay away from the wharf. However, I hope this short series has shown that the Wharf contains attractions for both locals and visitors.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Fisherman's Wharf III - SS Jeremiah O'Brien & USS Pampanito

Pier 45, where the Musee Mecanique is located (see November 12 post), is also home to the Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien and the World War II era submarine USS Pampanito.

The Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien transported soldiers and supplies during World War II. Most famously, it supported the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France in 1944. In 1979, the ship was rescued from the scrap heap and restored to its former glory. Of the 5,000 plus ships that participated in D-Day, the Jeremiah O'Brien was the only ship to return for the 50th anniversary celebration in 1994.

Today, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the ship. The ship welcomes guests daily, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, and when cruising. Admission is $8/adult, $6/senior, and $4/junior. Children under the age of six may tour for free. A family may tour the ship for $20. The ship also cruises the Bay from time to time. If you'd like to see San Francisco Bay from the deck of a World War II Liberty Ship, check the ship's website to see if a cruise will occur during your visit to San Francisco.

The USS Pamapanito is a World War II-era submarine that berths next to the Jeremiah O'Brien. This Balao class Fleet submarine patrolled the Pacific during the war, sinking six Japanese ships and damaging four more. Self-guided audio tours enable visitors to understand what life was like aboard the Pampanito. The submarine opens daily at 9:00 a.m. From October 14 through May 23, the ship closes at 6:00 p.m., except on Fridays and Saturdays when it remains open until 8:00 p.m. During the balance of the year, the ship is open daily until 8:00 p.m., except on Wednesdays when it closes at 6:00 p.m. Admission costs $9/adult, $5/senior, $3/children between 6 and 12, and $20/family.

Touring the Jeremiah O'Brien and Pampanito is great fun for kids, especially on rainy days when indoor activities are preferable. A family can easily spend a few hours at Pier 45 by visiting these two ships and exploring the Musee Mecanique.

If you would like help planning a vacation that includes visits to the Jeremiah O'Brien and the Pampanito, feel free to call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Fisherman's Wharf II - Hyde Street Pier

The Hyde Street Pier houses a terrific collection of historic ships. Formally known as the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, the Pier's collection includes the Balclutha, an 1886 square rigger; C.A. Thayer, an 1895 schooner; Eureka, an 1890 steam ferry boat; and many other artifacts from our nautical history. On the Pier is the Small Boat Shop, where visitors can talk with the boat builders. Be sure to walk to the end of the Pier for a nice view of San Francisco Bay and the City.

The Pier is located at the end of Hyde Street, near Aquatic Park and the Hyde Street cable car turnaround. There is no charge to walk along the Pier or to see the exhibits on the Pier. The cost is $5 per person to walk through the historic ships docked at the Pier. Children under the age of 16, if supervised by an adult, may board the ships for free.


Across the street from the Pier, in the Argonaut Hotel, is the park's Visitor Center. Here you can see permanent and temporary exhibits on San Francisco's and the West's maritime history.

The park also has a museum on Beach Street, across from Ghirardelli Square. However, it is closed for renovation until 2009.

The Pier and Visitors Center open daily at 9:30 a.m. The Pier closes at 5:30 p.m. between Memorial Day and September 30, while the Visitors Center closes at 7:30 p.m. During the balance of the year, both the Pier and Visitors Center close at 5:00 p.m.

If you are like me and enjoy old ships, then I highly recommend a visit to the Hyde Street Pier. If you would like to take a private San Francisco tour that includes a visit to the Pier and Fisherman's Wharf, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fisherman's Wharf I - Musee Mecanique

Fisherman's Wharf seems a world apart from the rest of San Francisco. Tourists love it, while locals only venture there when friends or family visit. While much of the Wharf is tacky, there are some gems worth visiting.

My favorite place on Fisherman's Wharf is one of its most overlooked attractions: the Musee Mecanique. Located at Pier 45, Shed A, at the end of Taylor Street, the
Musee Mecanique is home to one of the largest collections of mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade games.

Today's children are accustomed to playing video games. They can't imagine that their grandfathers and great-grandfathers played mechanical, rather than electric, games. A visit to the Musee will enable your children to play early 20th century arcade games, music boxes, and pin ball games. You will also get to see exhibits from San Francisco's old amusement park, Playland; the Sutro Baths; and Cliff House.

The Musee Mecanique is a great place to come with children, but adults also will enjoy seeing these old games. You are likely to go through a pile of quarters during your visit, but change is easily gotten from machines in the museum. The Musee Mecanique opens daily at 10:00 a.m. and closes at 7:00 p.m. on weekdays and at 8:00 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Lunch in Sausalito

Thousands of tourists visit the bayside town of Sausalito. Visitors love the views and enjoy strolling among the shops and galleries. Most folks usually include a stop in Sausalito with a tour of Muir Woods or take the ferry over from San Francisco.

Since most tourists visit during the middle of the day, they want to eat lunch during their stay. Unfortunately, options are limited. There are a few extremely mediocre cafes, a good burger place, and a few restaurants that are worth mentioning.

Many people want to dine with a view of San Francisco Bay and the San Francisco skyline. After all, that's why they came to Sausalito. Unfortunately, the basic rule of the better the view, the worse the food seems to hold in Sausalito. There are three restaurants in central Sausalito that have great views: Scoma's, The Spinnaker, and Horizons. All three restaurants feature seafood. I only have first-hand experience at Scoma's, where I believe the food is nothing better than acceptable. Some of my guests have eaten at Spinnaker, with a couple reporting excellent food and others saying the food was horrible. I have yet to talk with anyone who has eaten at Horizons. Only Scoma's is Zagat rated.

In central Sausalito, my favorite restaurant is Poggio, which features Italian food. Unfortunately, there is no view from the restaurant, but you can dine outside overlooking the street. Angelino's also has decent Italian fare. The Salsalito Taco Shop, 1115 Bridgeway, has good Cal/Mex food with outdoor dining.

My favorite restaurant in Sausalito is Fish, which features the freshest of local seafood. Located in the docks north of the town center, Fish is hard for visitors to get to. However, if you have biked to Sausalito, you can easily get to Fish if you travel about a mile north of the town center and turn right on Harbor Drive. At Fish, you can eat outside at picnic tables that overlook Richardson Bay. If you visit Fish, bring cash as it does not accept credit cards.

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Frank Lloyd Wright on Maiden Lane

Maiden Lane is an alley running between Kearny and Stockton Streets, just east of Union Square. Prior to the 1906 earthquake and fire, the alley was known as Morton Street and was one of the city's red light districts. Men would stroll the alley and select a companion from among the women sitting in their windows.

After the fire, the red light district moved to other parts of town and Morton Street became Maiden Lane. Today it is home to a number of fashionable stores, including Xanadu Gallery at 140 Maiden Lane. Take a good look at the front of the store and you will notice the absence of one feature that most shops have -- a picture window. Only Frank Lloyd Wright would design a street-level store without a window for the store to showcase its wares.

This building was constructed in 1948 and housed the V.C. Morris Gift Shop. Inside, you will see a spiral walkway up to the second floor. Wright was designing the Guggenheim Museum in New York at the same time and he is thought to have used the Morris Gift Shop as a test for the ramp he included in the Guggenheim. You can see the outside of the Xanadu Gallery at any time. To see the inside, visit the gallery Tuesday through Saturday between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. You will also get to see an excellent collection of folk art.

If you would like to take a private San Francisco tour that focuses on some of San Francisco's unique architecture, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Dim Sum and Murals

One of my favorite places for dim sum is Yank Sing. If you are not familiar with these delicious dumplings, include a dim sum lunch in your next visit to San Francisco. Dim Sim were originally served only to Chinese royalty. When the emperor moved south to Canton (Guandong) in the 13th century, dim sum went with him. Eventually, Canton became famous as the best place in China for dim sum.

Yang Sing is consistently rated as one of the best dim sum places in San Francisco. There are two locations, but I prefer the restaurant in Rincon Center at 101 Spear Street. This shopping arcade and office was built in 1939 in classic art deco style and served as the Rincon Annex Post Office. Today the building has been expanded and modernized. However, the beautiful murals depicting California's history remain. Russian immigrant artist, Anton Refregier, started painting in 1941 but suspended work during World War II. In 1946, Refregier began painting again and completed the murals in 1948.

Another unique feature is the "Rain Column" in the central atrium, just outside Yank Sing's entrance. This floor-to-ceiling water sculpture features 55 gallons of water falling 85 feet every minute.

Stop by Rincon Center on your next visit to see the murals and to east some of the best dim sum outside of China. If you would like to visit Rincon Center as part of a private tour of San Francisco, call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Alcatraz Update

I finally had a chance to visit Alcatraz and take the new audio tour. While the old tour was good, the new tour is even better. You now enter Alcatraz as the prisoners did -- through the shower room. The tour is slightly longer; about 40 minutes. It is still narrated by former prisoners, guards, and residents. When you are done with the audio tour, you can visit the expanded book shop in the cell block.

Don't limit yourself to just touring the cell block while you are on the island. If the Agave Trail is open, take a walk along the south and east shores for beautiful views of San Francisco.

The evening tour provides a more leisurely and less crowded way to see the island. You can check availability for the evening and day tours by visiting www.alcatrazcruises.com. Be sure to book your tour in advance as they sell out. During the summer, tours may sell out two weeks in advance.

Here are some answers to questions I frequently get asked about Alcatraz:

Has anyone swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco? Yes. One prisoner made the swim and was found hanging onto rocks under the Golden Gate Bridge. He was so weak from hypothermia that he could not lift himself out of the water. Earlier this year, some men celebrated their 500th swim from San Francisco to Alcatraz. Last year, the youngest person, a nine-year-old boy, made the swim. Two years ago the first dog, with his master, made the swim.

Are there sharks in the Bay? Yes. Leopard sharks are in the Bay. They are small and will not hurt you. Great whites do not enter the Bay. They are found in the ocean and WILL hurt you.

How big is Alcatraz? The island is 12 acres.

Did anyone successfully escape from Alcatraz? During the civilian period from 1934 - 1963, no prisoners are known to have successfully escaped. Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers did escape. Their flotation devices were found; however, they have never been seen. They are presumed to have drowned. During the military period, security was not as tight and prisoners did escape.

Private tours are prohibited on Alcatraz. If you would like to plan a visit to San Francisco that includes a visit to Alcatraz, Blue Heron Custom Tours can help. For more information, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Filbert and Greenwich Street Steps

The east side of Telegraph Hill was home to a quarry in the 19th century. The hillside was cut away without regard to people's homes and businesses. Often homeowners would find that their houses were no longer habitable as the land beneath them had been blasted out. The City would occasionally tell the quarry to stop dynamiting, but this never seemed to have much effect.

What remains of the east side today provides beautiful vistas of San Francisco Bay and Treasure and Yerba Buena Islands. Many homes cover the hillside and are only accessible via the Greenwich and Filbert Street steps.

These steep stairways run between Sansome Street at sea level at the top of Telegraph Hill (275 feet). I highly recommend a walk along both of these pedestrian streets. Not only will you get spectacular views of the Bay, but you will stroll among some of the prettiest gardens in San Francisco. Flowers seem to be in bloom nearly year-round. If you are lucky, you'll also get to see the "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" flying overhead.

You can ascend one of the steps and then descend the other. Beware; the ascent is steep and not for the unfit. If climbing the steps seems daunting, take a tour of San Francisco with Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel. We'll drive to the top of Telegraph Hill where you can walk down one of the stairways. When you arrive at the bottom, we'll be waiting to continue your tour of San Francisco. For more information, call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Seacliff

Seacliff (also spelled Sea Cliff) is perhaps the wealthiest section of San Francisco. (Pacific Heights is the other contender for the neighborhood with the most rich folks.) Located between the Presidio and Lincoln Park and north of the Richmond District, this neighborhood is home to some of San Francisco's largest homes. Many residents have spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate from their living rooms. There are also a fair number of homes built atop the cliff facing the Golden Gate.

If you visit Seacliff, you can walk by Robin Williams' home and see one beautiful home that is currently listed for sale for over $25,000,000 and another at the bargain price of $4,250,000.

If you like wandering through neighborhoods, add Seacliff to your list. It is not the easiest spot in San Francisco to visit. Large tour buses are prohibited from entering Seacliff. You can combine a stroll through Seacliff with a visit to the nearby Legion of Honor Museum, which is accessible by bus (MUNI line 18). MUNI lines 29 and 1 also go near Sea Cliff. Better yet, take a private tour of San Francisco with Blue Heron Custom Tours and travel, and we'll include a drive through Seacliff. For more information, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Breakfast in Dogpatch

Dogpatch is far from the usual tourist haunts. In fact, most locals never visit this part of San Francisco. Nestled between Potrero Hill and the southern waterfront, Dogpatch long was home to businesses servicing the port and its workers. Today this is changing. The port has long been in decline. Reasonable rents (by San Francisco standards) and sunny skies are luring new residents into the area. Now, the new Third Street Muni Metro (T Line) makes it easier to travel between Dogpatch and downtown.

I'd read about the tasty breakfasts at the Just for You Cafe so decided to head their yesterday. I knew I'd like the place when I saw the sign in the window, "We reserve the right to pour coffee on your cell phone." The decor is minimalist -- just some San Francisco-themed posters covering the walls.

But the food is quite good. I enjoy a Hangtown Fry, and Just for You makes a tasty one. For those of you unfamiliar with this Northern California delicacy, a Hangtown Fry is eggs scrambled with oysters, bacon, and onion.

This concoction supposedly got its name during the Gold Rush. Prospectors who wanted to show off their new-found wealth would order delicacies at restaurants. Oysters were not too common in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and, thus, were quite pricey. What better way to tell the world that you had struck it rich than to order an omelet with oysters. Hangtown was one of the principal towns in the central Mother Lode. Miners would come into town to buy supplies, have some fun, and show off any earnings. If you've not heard of Hangtown, it's now known as Placerville. The genteel citizens changed the name of their home town many years ago as they thought that naming the town after the nearby gold (placers), rather than their penchant for hanging folks, would be better PR.

But back to the Just for You Cafe. Beignets are a specialty of the house. We didn't have one on our visit, but they looked tasty. The menu also includes Mexican-influenced breakfasts such as a huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos, many egg dishes, and an assortment of pancakes.

Just for You is also open for lunch, so you could eat here and then walk to see the Giants play in China Basin.

The cafe is located at 732 22nd Street, just east of Third Street. The Dogpatch Muni Metro stop is at 20th Street. Just for You is open from 7:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. on weekdays and from 8:00 a.m. on weekends. We walked right in yesterday, but expect to wait on weekends.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Good Food on the Way to Muir Woods

If you are driving to Muir Woods and want to stop for breakfast or lunch along the way, the Dipsea Cafe is the perfect spot. The Dipsea serves some of the best breakfasts in the Bay Area. It's convenient location on Route 1 (200 Shoreline Hwy. in Mill Valley), makes the Dipsea a great place to stop for folks heading to Muir Woods in the morning.

Breakfast options at the Dipsea include a wide array of omelettes, egg dishes, pancakes, and specialties. Be sure to ask for a biscuit with your breakfast. You won't be disappointed.

If you're passing the Dipsea on your way back to San Francisco from Muir Woods, you can enjoy breakfast until 3:00 p.m. If you prefer lunch, the menu includes excellent sandwiches, salads, and other items.

The Dipsea is on the right side of Route 1, about 1/3 of a mile past the exit of US 101. The restaurant is located next to a canal and outside seating is available. (If you come to the traffic light where Route 1 turns left, you have gone too far.)

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

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dining in Glen Park

One of the things that makes San Francisco a great place to live is the number of high quality restaurants found throughout the city. It's nice to be able to have a good meal out without the fuss of going downtown.

Unfortunately, my neighborhood -- the Sunnyside -- continues to be a culinary wasteland. We've got a few mediocre Chinese joints and one bad pizza place. The next neighborhood, Glen Park, was only marginally better for many years. It had a couple of decent breakfast places, but not much else. Then a few years ago, Chenery Park opened. This restaurant serves very good American food in a casual setting. Tuesdays are kids nights, when families with children are welcomed.

A couple of months ago, the dumpy, old pizza place in Glen Park closed. The storefront was transformed, and Gialina Pizzeria opened. This new restaurant makes some of the best thin-crust pizza in San Francisco.

Finally, two weeks ago Le P'tit Laurent, a casual and very reasonably priced French restaurant opened. Owned by Laurent Legendre, formerly co-owner of Clementine in the Richmond District , Le P'tit Laurent offers French classics at a good price. In addition, the wine list contains many good wines with prices under $40/bottle.

More restaurants may be coming to Glen Park, including a sushi restaurant that has been in the planning process for a couple of years.


There is one downside to this growth of restaurants in Glen Park. The neighborhood is so desperate for good food that Gialina Pizzeria and Le P'tit Laurent are constantly packed. I suggest making a reservation if you want to dine at either place.

If you are visiting San Francisco and want to visit one of these neighborhood restaurants, Glen Park is on the BART system. It's a ten minute ride from the Powell Street station to Glen Park. The three restaurants are within two blocks of the Glen Park BART station.

Now, if some good restaurants open in the Sunnyside, I'll be a happy man. Perhaps the new Japanese restaurant will start a trend when it opens.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summer in Muir Woods

Summer brings the crowds to Muir Woods, home to the coastal redwoods -- the tallest trees in the world. Parking can be difficult, especially on weekends when visitors may need to park a half-mile away from the entrance. Here are three tips for avoiding the crowds and making your visit more enjoyable:

1. Visit early or late. In the summer, Muir Woods is open from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. If you arrive before 9:00 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m., not only will you avoid the crowds but you will not have to pay an entry fee. I recommend arriving before 9:30 a.m. or after 4:00 p.m. if you want to have a more peaceful experience.

2. Take a tour to the park. The scheduled tour operators all arrive around the same time, so you won't avoid the crowds. However, you will not have the hassle of finding a parking space. If you take a private tour, such as with Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel, you can time your arrival so you are not there when the big tour buses are at the park.

3. Take public transit to the park. Golden Gate Transit runs shuttle buses to Muir Woods from Sausalito, Marin City, and the Manzanita parking lot at the Route 1 exit of US 101 on weekends and holidays through September 30. Buses that stop in Sausalito meet Golden Gate Transit's ferries to and from San Francisco.

Blue Heron provides private, custom tours that include Muir Woods. You also can visit Muir Woods as part of a tour of San Francisco or a tour of Wine Country. For more information, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

"Stairway Walks in San Francisco"

When touring in San Francisco, my guests frequently comment about the hills and the steepness of the streets. They say how San Franciscans must be in good shape if we are going to climb up and down the hills.

One can easily plan a walk to avoid the hills; however, it's fun to take walks that include ascending and descending some of the hills. A great guide to help you enjoy San Francisco's hills is "Stairway Walks in San Francisco" by Adah Bakalinsky and Marian Gregoire. The 27 walks detailed in the book explore many of the City's hills and feature the stairways that facilitate walking from level to level. Many of the stairways were built where the hills are too steep for roads.

My favorite walks are on Russian Hill. Here you can see homes that escaped destruction in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire and explore Macondray Lane, a narrow alley that was the inspiration for Armistead Maupin's Barbary Lane in his "Tales of the City" series of books.

If you are planning to visit San Francisco, purchase "Stairway Walks in San Francisco" before you arrive so you can read about the various walks and then follow the routes that look like the most fun during your stay. If you would like help with planning your visit to San Francisco, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Angel Island

Angel Island is a locals place. Visitors to San Francisco flock to Alcatraz Island, but far fewer visit Angel Island. Angel Island never captured the public's imagination like Alcatraz did when it housed notorious prisoners like Al Capone and the Birdman (Robert Stroud).

Today Angel Island is a state park. However, it's rich history includes periods when it was a military base, home to a quarantine station, and home to an immigration station where thousands of Chinese were detained for weeks and months between 1910 and 1940.

Cars are prohibited on Angel Island, so the park is a peaceful place for biking, hiking, and picnicking. If you chose to picnic, you may want to bring food with you as options are limited on the island.

If you walk the perimeter road, you will pass many of the island's historical sights including the immigration station. You can also hike to the top of Mt. Livermore for a 360 degree view of San Francisco Bay.

The Angel Island Immigration Station is currently being renovated. When the Immigration Station reopens in 2008, visitors will be able to learn more about the lives of those whose first home in America was Angel Island.

Angel Island is accessible by ferry from both San Francisco and Tiburon. More information about the island is available from the Angel Island association's excellent website: www.angelisland.org. More information on the Angel Island Immigration Station is available at www.aiisf.org.

Monday, May 28, 2007

San Francisco's Best Restaurant

San Francisco is one of the best eating towns in the country. With over 3,000 restaurants, San Francisco is said to have more restaurants per capita than any city in the United States. San Franciscans talk about restaurant openings and closings like Bostonians talk about the fate of their beloved Red Sox.

One of the questions I frequently get on tour is, "What are the best restaurants in San Francisco?" Of course, the answer is subjective. My long-time favorite is Restaurant Gary Danko. However, I recently ate at Michael Mina and feel that it is a close second to Danko.

The "Michelin Red Guide 2007 San Francisco" gives two stars to only two restaurants in San Francisco: Michael Mina and Aqua. (Michelin reserves its top rating of three stars to only one restaurant -- The French Laundry in Yountville in the Napa Valley.)

The "2007 Zagat Guide's" top-rated restaurant in San Francisco is Gary Danko, which receives 29 points for its food. Fleur de Lys, La Folie, Michael Mina., Little Star Pizza, The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Quince, Masa's, Boulevard, Coi, and Tartine Bakery are all tied with 27 points. Aqua is one of many restaurants with 26 points.

The "San Francisco Chronicle's" top rating is four stars. Only three San Francisco restaurants get top marks from our local daily: Fleur de Lys, La Folie, and The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton. Aqua and Gary Danko get just 3.5 stars.

So what's the best restaurant in San Francisco? Come visit and pick your favorite. If you want some help planning your visit, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Fix for Chocoholics

Chocoholics can have a field day in San Francisco. Bakeries offer great chocolate pastries and cakes. There are a number of confectioners producing superb chocolate candies. One of my favorites is XOX Truffles in North Beach. This small shop produces over 20 different flavors of truffles. These are not the large, cream-filled truffles that we usually see. Rather, XOX produces small, bite-sized morsels. One or two of these rich, creamy delights is enough to keep any chocoholic happy for the day.

Truffles are sold individually or by weight. XOX is located at 754 Columbus Avenue, between Filbert and Greenwich Streets in North Beach. The shop is open from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. form Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, hours are 10:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

If you would like to take a chocolate tour of San Francisco that focuses on the city's many purveyors of wonderful pastries and candies, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"That's So Raven's" House

My last post told where visitors can see houses depicted on the television show "Full House." Young visitors are frequently fans of the Disney Channel's "That's So Raven" show. Like "Full House," most of the scenes in the program were taped in a studio. (The series is no longer in production.) However, the opening scenes show that Raven's home is at the corner of Page and Ashbury. The house is on the northwest corner of the intersection. It's address is 461 Ashbury Street. The high school that is frequently shown is not in San Francisco.

Two more San Francisco landmarks are just down the street from Raven's home. The intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets is one block away. This is the corner that gave the neighborhood its name. It became synonymous with the Hippies, when thousands of young people flocked to the neighborhood during the Summer of Love in 1967. Further south on Ashbury is the Victorian house, number 710, where the Grateful Dead lived during this time.

If you would like to take a private San Francisco tour that includes a visit to Haight Ashbury, or as it is known today -- the Upper Haight -- please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Full House" House

Many times when I take guests on tours of San Francisco I get asked where certain movies or television shows were filmed. One of the most frequently asked questions is where the house in the television show "Full House" was located.

Most of the show was filmed in a studio. However, the opening scene in many of the episodes pictures the family picnicking in Alamo Square with the Queen Anne Victorians of "Postcard Row" in the background. This location is easy to get to. Alamo Square sits between Hayes, Fulton, Steiner, and Scott Streets. "Postcard Row" is located on Steiner Street between Hayes and Grove Streets."

When I took "Full House" fans to Alamo Square they would frequently ask which house was the Tanner family's home in the show. This was difficult to figure out, but due to some good sleuthing by a fellow tour guide, Craig Smith, we now know that the Tanner home is the house at 1709 Broderick Street, near Bush Street.

If you would like to take a private tour of San Francisco that includes visits to these "Full House" sites, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Visiting Muir Woods

Muir Woods National Monument, a grove of old-growth coastal redwoods, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Bay Area. The coastal redwoods are the tallest trees in the world and are found only along the coast of northern California and very southern Oregon. A new "tallest tree" was found last year in a state park in the far northern part of California. It measured 379.1 feet tall. The tallest trees in Muir Woods are about 280 feet tall, but you won't notice the difference.

With the winter rains leaving us and summer just around the corner, more and more visitors are taking the lovely stroll through the Woods. This means that the parking lots are filling up -- particularly on weekends.

Here are a few tips to make your visit more pleasant:

1. Visit the park early or late and avoid the crowds. Many people visit the park by taking a scheduled tour from San Francisco. These tours generally arrive about 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Plan your visit so you are in the park before 10:00 a.m. or after 3:30 p.m. and you'll avoid some of the crowds.

2. Visit on a weekday. Locals enjoy visiting the park so weekends are often very busy. Both parking lots can fill up and you may have to walk 3/4 mile along the road just to get from your parking spot to the park entrance.

3. Bring a sweater. San Francisco can be sunny while Muir Woods can be shrouded in fog. Last week I left San Francisco, which was foggy but dry, and arrived in Muir Woods to find pouring rain. Rain is rare in the summer but cold fog is not.

4. Take a private tour with Blue Heron Custom Tours that includes a visit to Muir Woods. You will not have to worry about parking and we can time the visit to avoid the crowds. To schedule your tour, call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cable Car Museum

The Cable Car Museum is one of my favorite museums in San Francisco. Located in the powerhouse where the motors turn the four cables that run under the streets, this free museum has much to see. Not only can you see the mechanics of the system, but also historic exhibits.

The cable car traces its heritage back to 1869 when Andre Hallidie witnessed a horse struggling to pull a cart up Nob Hill. According to local legend, the horse collapsed and the cart dragged the horse back down the hill. Four years later, on August 2, 1873, Hallidie demonstrated his new-fangled contraption -- the cable car. They have been going up and down San Francisco's hills ever since, except from 1982-1984 when the system was closed for renovation.

In the 1890s, there were eight cable car lines in the City. Today there are three: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason, and California Street.

The Cable Car Museum is a must stop if you have children between the ages of 7 and 13. It is open daily from 10:00 - 6:00, except from October 1 - March 31 when the museum closes at 5:00 p.m. The museum has a gift shop with interesting books and souvenirs.

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mecca for Foodies

San Francisco has always been a mecca for food aficionados. With a predominately male population during the Gold Rush, restaurants began cropping up to serve the many men who were clueless in the kitchen. Today San Francisco has over 3,000 restaurants. That's a lot for a city with just 750,000 residents.

In addition to the many restaurants, there are numerous stores to buy great produce, meats, and other foods. However, no place compares to the Marketplace at San Francisco's Ferry Building. Here you will find more purveyors of fine food than any place in the city.

People who love sweets will want to visit Scharfen Berger Chocolate Maker, Recchiuti Confections for divine truffles, and Miete Patisserie.

If you want to pick up bread, cheese, and wine for a picnic lunch, stop by Acme Bread Company, Cowgirl Creamery, and Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. Acme is a local bakery that makes a variety of excellent breads. Cowgirl makes its own cheese and sells artisan cheeses from around the world. Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant has a large selection of wines from California and all over the world. They also have a nice tasting bar where you can sit down to have wine and cheese with friends.

Taylor's Automatic Refresher has great burgers, fries, and shakes, as well as a wine list.

I'm a big oyster fan. So I love sitting outside at Hog Island Oyster and lunching on raw oysters paired with a Sauvignon Blanc.

The list goes on and on.

On Tuesdays and Saturdays the permanent stores and restaurants are augmented by a large farmer's market. The Saturday market is the bigger of the two and runs from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. The Tuesday market's hours are 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. If you visit on Saturday, have breakfast at the market. During the summer, there is a market on Thursday evenings.

The Ferry Building is one of the few spots in San Francisco where locals and tourists mix in large numbers. Don't miss it on your next visit. If you want to take a private San Francisco tour that includes a visit to the Ferry Building, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Wells Fargo History Museums

If you are a history buff like me, you enjoy visiting history museums. Even the smallest of towns often has a local history museum. San Francisco, being a city of 750,000, has a few museums that feature our unique history. One of my favorites is the Wells Fargo History Museum.

This little museum is open Monday - Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Inside you will see a Concord Coach that was actually used by Wells Fargo. When you see stagecoaches today, it's hard to imagine that they seated up to 20 persons: 9 inside, 9 on top, driver, and shotgun. Imagine bouncing across the West in these vehicles; stopping only to change horses. While the Wells Fargo staff unhitched and hitched the horses, passengers usually dashed into a so-called restaurant to down awful to mediocre food. Mark Twain provides an excellent description of Western travel on a stagecoach in his book "Roughing It."

The museum also features exhibits on Wells Fargo's role in San Francisco's history from the Gold Rush of 1849 through the Earthquake of 1906. The museum is located at 420 Montgomery Street (near California Street). Admission is free.

There are also two Wells Fargo Museums in Sacramento. The larger of the two museums is at 400 Capitol Mall and also houses a Concord Coach. The museum is open from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on weekdays. A small storefront museum is at 1000 2nd Street in Old Sacramento, which is open every day form 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Admission to both museums is free.

If you would like to take a private tour of San Francisco that focuses on the city's rich history, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Point Bonita Lighthouse

There's something romantic about lighthouses. I know the real story is that lighthouse keepers worked long hours, performed gruelling tasks -- often in miserable weather, and received little pay. Nevertheless, whenever I see a lighthouse I immediately want to visit it, learn the history, and fantasize about the keeper's life.

One of my favorite lighthouses is located at Point Bonita on the north side of the entrance to the Golden Gate. The original lighthouse, built in 1855, was the third on the West Coast. The site was too high and fog frequently obscured the beam. As a result, the lighthouse was moved to its current site in 1877.

Point Bonita, on a sunny day, provides one of the area's special views. On one side the Pacific crashes against the bluff. On the other side sits San Francisco, just across the Bay. Docents are available to tell you about the lighthouse, its keepers, and the area's history.

The drive to the lighthouse, along Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands, offers spectacular vistas of the Golden Gate, the Bridge, and San Francisco. Stop at Battery Spencer and walk to the edge of the cliff for an up-close view of the Golden Gate Bridge. After arriving at the parking lot, you will walk along a half-mile trail through a hand-cut tunnel and across a narrow suspension bridge to get to the light. Unfortunately visitors hours are extremely limited. The lighthouse is open only Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays from 12:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.

If you visit, make sure you bring a sweater as Point Bonita is frequently swept by strong winds. More information on the lighthouse can be found on the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's website: http://www.nps.gov/goga/pobo.htm.

If you would like a private tour of San Francisco and/or Muir Woods that includes a visit to the Point Bonita Lighthouse, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Free San Francisco Walking Tours

San Francisco is a compact city -- just 46 square miles. With 750,000 people calling the city home, some of the neighborhoods are quite congested. Chinatown has the densest population in the United States outside of Manhattan.

My half-day tours of San Francisco provide a good overview of the City and the full-day tours enable visitors to see more of the city's neighborhoods. However, many of the neighborhoods are best explored on foot.

If you enjoy walking and want to see San Francisco up close, I highly recommend taking one or more walking tours during your stay. Commercial walking tour companies operate in some neighborhoods. However, City Guides provides free walking tours throughout San Francisco.

Operating under the auspices of the San Francisco Public Library, City Guides' volunteer docents will lead you on explorations of neighborhoods as diverse as Pacific Heights, Haight Ashbury, and the Financial District. Tours are offered seven days per week in both the morning and afternoon. The summer schedule is more expansive than the winter schedule. Regardless of the date you chose for your tour, you are bound to find a one of interest. Full schedules are available on City Guides' website: www.sfcityguides.org.

If you would like some help planning your San Francisco vacation, and want to include a walking tour, I would be pleased to assist you. Feel free to phone me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Restaurant Wines Starting at $25/Bottle

I seldom want to spend over $50 for a bottle of wine when I dine out. On a special occasion, that's OK. However, for a casual but nice dinner out, that's often too much. Increasingly I am leaving restaurants with my budget out of whack because of wine prices. So I was most pleased when I dined at Myth Restaurant last month and saw that they feature a selection of wines for $25/bottle or less. Plus there were a good number of wines in the $25 - $50 per bottle price range. More importantly, the wines weren't losers. We had nice Italian wine for $25 and a French wine from the Rhone River Valley for about $35.

Good wine alone does not make for a nice dinner out. But Myth's California/French menu does not disappoint. My group had an array of small plates plus one or two large plates. Everything was tasty.

I had been wanting to dine at Myth since the day it opened. I am glad I finally visited the restaurant. Weekend reservations can be tough, so try to book ahead of time. Myth may be reached at (415) 677-8986. The restaurant is at 470 Pacific Avenue, between Sansome and Montgomery. You can probably find nearby street parking after 6:00 p.m.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Where to Stay in San Francisco: Part VII - Lombard Street

As you enter San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge, you may find yourself on Lombard Street heading towards downtown. Yes, it's the same street that is called "The Crookedest Street in the World," but here it is a six-lane boulevard. As you drive east on Lombard, you will see a hill directly in front of you. That is Russian Hill and the crooked block of Lombard descends from the summit on the other side.

This busy section of Lombard divides Cow Hollow from the Marina District. Cow Hollow is just south of Lombard Street and got its name from the cows that grazed here many moons ago. Today Cow Hollow is home to restaurants, bars, and upscale boutiques on Union Street. Just north of Lombard is the Marina District. This area was built on landfill and homes fell in the Marina during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Today Chestnut Street, which is one block north of Lombard, has great restaurants, bars, and shops. Both the Marina District and Cow Hollow are fun to stroll through.

All of this makes Lombard Street a good part of town to stay in; although you are pretty much limited to motels along Lombard and adjacent streets. This is great if you have a car and don't want to pay the $40/night many of the downtown hotels charge for parking. The motels range from strictly budget places to some pretty nice ones, such as Hotel Del Sol.

If you prefer bed and breakfasts, there is at least one in the area -- Union Street Inn -- a quaint B & B in the heart of the Union Street shopping district.

While Lombard Street's motel row does not have the most upscale or charming accommodation in the city, the nearby neighborhoods are fun and parking is cheaper and easier than downtown.

If you are planning a visit to San Francisco and would like some help with lodging, restaurants, and activities, Blue Heron offers custom designed vacations. For more information, call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Where to Stay in San Francisco: Part VI - Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf is tourist central in San Francisco. Locals have a love/hate relationship with it. We value visitors as tourism is our number one industry. Fisherman's Wharf is a rich part of the city's history. But today there are too many tee-shirt and souvenir shops. This is not what San Francisco is about, so we say. As a result, locals tend to avoid the area.

However, Fisherman's Wharf is home to some great sights, especially for children. Ship lovers will enjoy visiting the Hyde Street Pier, home to historic ships, and the Jeremiah O'Brien, a Liberty Ship that participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Kids of all ages will enjoy playing the antique arcade games at the Musee Mechanique. Watch sourdough bread being made at Boudin Cafe and visit its intimate museum on the history of baking bread in San Francisco. Finally, everyone has fun watching the sea lions push and shove each other at Pier 39.

Fisherman's Wharf is a great place to stay if you have young children. They will enjoy all the tourist-related shops and activities in the area. Most of the major chains have properties here: Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Hilton, Sheraton, Best Western, Marriott, and Radisson. Kimpton has a very nice nautical-themed hotel, the Argonaut.

If you want to feel like you are in a real city, Fisherman's Wharf is not the place to be. But, if you have children, this may be the part of San Francisco that will best suit your needs.

If you want some help planning your vacation in San Francisco, Blue Heron can help you select your hotel, make restaurant reservations, and recommend activities. Get more information on our custom vacations by calling (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or by e-mailing me by clicking here.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Where to Stay in San Francisco: Part V - SOMA

SOMA (the acronym for South of Market) is the area of San Francisco closest to our convention center, the Moscone Center. This area is also home to some of the city's better restaurants and hottest clubs.

Aside from a few budget hotels, the area mostly includes properties own by the big chains. Marriott is represented by both a Courtyard by Marriott and the San Francisco Marriott. The latter hotel is San Francisco's second largest and can accommodate large meetings in its own convention facilities.

Two five-star properties are located in SOMA. The Four Seasons and St. Regis are both within two blocks of the Moscone Center. The St. Regis is home to the well-reviewed Ame restaurant.

The Palace Hotel, a Starwood property, is the oldest hotel in San Francisco. Founded in 1875 and rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fire, the hotel's Garden Court is a beautiful restaurant and a great place for Sunday brunch.

There are also two boutique hotels in the area. Kimpton's Palomar Hotel is a short walk to the convention center and houses the acclaimed Fifth Floor restaurant. The Milano Hotel is located on Fifth Street, next door to the San Francisco Center; home to Nordstrom's, Bloomingdale's, and many other stores.

If you are planning a trip to San Francisco and want some help with your accommodations, dining options, and activities, Blue Heron provides custom designed vacations. For more information, call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.