Thursday, December 18, 2008

Excellent Breakfast in North Beach

For nearly 50 years Mama's on Washington Square has been serving breakfast and lunch in North Beach. During the peak tourist season and on sunny, weekend days, a long line of hungry patrons stretches down Stockton Street.

To avoid the lines, visit Mama's on a weekday during the late fall or winter. That's exactly what I did earlier this week. I hadn't been to Mama's for over five years, so I figured it was time to see if the restaurant was as good as I remembered it. It was!

Mama's serves an array of egg dishes, a variety of freshly made French Toasts, and homemade baked goods. We had a chance to taste an omelette, corned beef hash, and a piece of coffee cake. All were excellent.

If you want a good breakfast with fresh ingredients, you won't find a better one than at Mama's. If you're visiting during the height of the tourist season, the trick to avoiding a long wait is to arrive right when Mama's opens at 8:00 a.m. Mama's stays open until 3:00 p.m. everyday except Monday, when it is closed. Mama's is located at 1701 Stockton Street, on the corner of Filbert.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Day in San Francisco

Visitors to San Francisco during the holiday season often wonder what to do on Christmas Day. Many attractions are closed, but there's still much to do if you're not unwrapping presents with your family.

Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco's number 1 tourist attraction. The walkway is open from sunrise to sunset.

See Lombard Street, the "Crookedest Street in the World." Visitors flock to Lombard Street to see its gardens and curves. Don't forget that two blocks away is the steepest street in San Francisco - Filbert Street.

Explore Muir Woods, where you can see the Coastal Redwoods - the tallest trees in the world. The park is located about 40 minutes north of San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Visit The Contemporary Jewish Museum, one of San Francisco's newest museums. Current exhibits include "Warhol's Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered" and "In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis." The museum will be open from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on Christmas Day.

Ride the cable cars. Travel over Nob Hill on America's first moving National Historic Landmark.

Eat. Many restaurants are open on Christmas Day, including a good number in Chinatown.

Take in a movie. Most movie theaters open around noon. If you are planning to go late in the afternoon or early in the evening, be prepared for crowds.

As you can see, there are a number of things to do on Christmas Day. So there's no need to spend the day in your hotel room.

Happy Holidays from Rick at Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Garden Lovers' San Francisco

Garden lovers will definitely want to visit Golden Gate Park. This man-made park shows how dedicated gardeners can transform the landscape. In addition to enjoying the full park, gardeners will want to visit three sights that are within easy walks of each other: the Japanese Tea Garden, Botanical Garden and Arboretum, and Conservatory of Flowers.

The Japanese Tea Garden was founded in 1894 as part of San Francisco's Midwinter Fair and is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. Visitors will enjoy a leisurely stroll through the garden. If you visit at the right time in the spring, you will see the cherry trees in bloom. You can also stop at the tea house for green tea, Japanese crackers, and fortune cookies. The Tea Garden opens at 9:00 a.m. and closes at 5:00 p.m. from November to February and at 6:00 p.m. during the balance of the year. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors age 65 and over and youth between the ages of 12 and 17, and $1.50 for children between the ages of 5 and 11. Children under the age of 5 may enter for free.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum is just across Martin Luther King Drive from the Japanese Tea Garden. The 55 acres of gardens feature plants from Mediterranean climates, mild-temperate climates, cloud forests, elsewhere. The Botanical Gardens are open daily and there is no charge for enjoying a walk among the diverse plants and flowers.

The Conservatory of Flowers is a ten-minute walk from the Japanese Tea Garden. This Victorian greenhouse opened in 1879 and is now North America's oldest public conservatory. The Conservatory closed in 1995 after suffering major damage during a severe windstorm. After extensive renovation, the Conservatory reopened in 2003. Today, the conservatory houses over 2,000 plants in its permanent collection. Special exhibits are displayed throughout the year. The Conservatory is open Tuesday - Sunday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The last admission is at 4:30 p.m. Admission fees are the same as for the Japanese Tea Garden.

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fortune Cookies in San Francisco

There has been quite a bit of controversy over the origins of fortune cookies. Thanks to the research of Jennifer 8. Lee in her book "Fortune Cookie Chronicles," it appears that these cookies are Japanese in origin.

Most accounts say the cookies were introduced to America at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Dates vary from 1894, when the Tea Garden opened during the Midwinter Fair, to the first or second decade of the 20th century. A few accounts say they originated in Los Angeles. However, this cannot be true since fortune cookies are tasty and nothing good comes from Southern California!

While most fortune cookies are made by machine, you can see them made by hand at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory at 56 Ross Alley in San Francisco's Chinatown. Since 1962, fortunes have been hand packed into the cookies as soon as they come out of the oven. There is no charge to enter the factory and you are likely to be offered a free sample. There is a charge to take photos, but a better deal is to just buy some cookies!

The factory is open from 9:00 a.m. until the last tourists go home in the evening. Ross Alley runs between Washington and Jackson Streets, just east of Stockton Street.

If you would like to take a private tour of San Francisco that includes a visit to the Fortune Cookie Factory, please phone me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Land's End Trail Update

In the second edition of "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron's free newsletter of fun things to do in the Bay Area, I wrote about the Coastal Trail at Land's End. This beautiful walk takes you from Sea Cliff and the Legion of Honor to the Pacific Ocean near Cliff House.

If you've not done this walk recently, there are many improvements along the way. Most recently, a large parking lot was opened at the west end of the trail, just above Cliff House. Now there are plenty of spots for cars and buses to park so visitors can enjoy the trail, walk among the ruins of Sutro Bath, or eat at Cliff House or Louis' Restaurant.

The trail is much better signed now, both with directional arrows and waysides that help interpret the area. You'll be able to learn more about the streetcar and train that previously ran along Land's End, the Native Americans that lived here, and the many ships that wrecked outside the Golden Gate.

There are also improved seating areas for walkers to rest and gaze out over the Pacific.

If you haven't visited Land's End, I highly recommend the walk I called "the most beautiful urban walk in America." If you haven't walked the trail recently, it's time for a return visit.

If you would like to take a private, custom tour that includes Land's End, Sea Cliff, and/or the Legion of Honor, please phone me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Best Restaurants in San Francisco - 2008/2009

Over a year ago, I summarized the critics' picks of the best restaurants in San Francisco. With the release of the "2009 Zagat Guide" and the 2009 Michelin guide, I'll update the listings.

According to Zagat, the five most popular restaurants in the Bay Area are Gary Danko, Boulevard, The Slanted Door, The French Laundry (Yountville), and Michael Mina. The restaurants with the best food are The French Laundry (Yountville) and Cyrus (Healdsburg) with 29 points, and Gary Danko, Kaygetsu (Menlo Park), Quince, La Foret (San Jose), The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, and Sushi Ran (Sausalito) with 28 points.

The San Francisco Chronicle awards its highest rating, four stars, to eight restaurants: Chez Panisse (Berkeley), Coi, Cyrus (Healdsburg), French Laundry (Yountville), La Folie, Manresa (Los Gatos), Michael Mina, and The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton.

"Michelin San Francisco, Bay Area and Wine Country 2009" gives its highest rating of three stars to only one restaurant: The French Laundry in Yountville. The guide awards two stars to six restaurants: Aqua, Coi, Cyrus (Healdsburg), Manresa (Los Gatos), Meadowood (St. Helena), and Michael Mina.

As you can see the critics disagree more than they agree. The only restaurants near the top of all three lists are Cyrus, The French Laundry, and Michael Mina. Having eaten at all three, I wouldn't disagree.

(revised 10/16/2008)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

California Academy of Sciences

On September 27, the new California Academy of Sciences opens to the public. Last week, I had a chance to preview one of the oldest science museums in the United States. Not all of exhibits were finished, but I got a good sense of the place.

The Academy continues to house an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum. I think the aquarium exhibits work best, including the Philippine Coral Reef, Water Planet, and Northern California Coast. These displays are the nicest to look at and contain much information.

The Planetarium was not showing one of its regular exhibits, so I can not critique this part of the Critique.

The Amazonian Flooded Rainforest will enable visitors to walk through the various levels of a tropical rainforest. It looks like a fun exhibit, but was not open for the preview.

The most disappointing exhibit continues to be the African Hall. While supposedly loved by San Franciscans in the old Academy building, it continues to look antiquated to me. Seeing stuffed animals amidst painted dioramas is neither educational nor informative. The dozen or so penguins trapped in their small water tank and fake rocks seem like an old-fashioned zoo exhibit that is neither kind to the animals or particularly informative for the visitor.

The roof of the Academy building has domes covered with native California plants. Visitors can access the roof for a close look at the plants and a nice view of the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park.

While I must confess that science museums are not my favorite, I was disappointed in the new Academy. Yes, it's a great piece of eye candy. However, I think they spread themselves too thin by housing three disparate attractions. Depth is lacking, particularly in the natural history part of the museum. Even the aquarium, which is pretty good, pales in comparison to the outstanding Monterey Bay Aquarium. For the millions that were spent, I think a better museum could have been created.

I suspect, though, that the Academy will be a hit, particularly for families. However, a visit is not cheap. Tickets cost $24.95 for adults, $19.95 for seniors (ages 65 and over) and youths (ages 12 - 17), and $14.95 for children ages 7 - 11. Children under 7 years of age can enter for free. Admission is free on the third Wednesday of every month and weekends for San Franciscans who live in selected Zip codes. The Academy is open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Two Chinatown Temples

Many visitors to Chinatown overlook some of the most fascinating sights -- the temples. Chinatown is home to a many Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist temples. Most welcome visitors; although, there may not be English speakers on staff to interpret what you are seeing.

Two that I frequently take visitors to see are Tien Hau Temple at 125 Waverly Place and Matsu Temple at 30 Beckett Street. They both honor and take their names from the same Goddess of the Sea; however, Matsu is Buddhist and Tien Hau is Taoist. Matsu is the more accessible of the two as it is on the first floor. Tien Hau is more ornate and visually interesting, but is on the fourth floor of a building with no elevator. There is seldom anyone who speaks English at Matsu. When Sally is at Tien Hau, she is happy to give you a quick explanation of the temple and its decor.

Both temples have handouts in English that tell about the life of Matsu/Tien Hau. You can also have your fortune told at both temples. It's a complicated process so you may need to ask for help.

You also can take a walking tour of Chinatown that will include a visit to one of the neighborhood's temples. I highly recommend All about Chinatown Walking Tours. Linda Lee, the owner, has been leading tours for more than 25 years. If you'd like to visit one of Chinatown's temples as part of a private tour of San Francisco, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Great Jazz Spot in San Francisco

After World War II, San Francisco had a vibrant jazz scene centered along Fillmore Street in the Western Addition. This all came to an end in the 1960s when the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency destroyed the neighborhood in the name of progress. Victorian homes were torn down and families displaced.

It took a long time for the neighborhood to come back. In recent years new condominiums and commercial spaces were built along the section of Fillmore Street just south of Japantown. To help reignite the old spirit, the Redevelopment Agency asked Yoshi's, the venerable Oakland Jazz Club, to open a club in what is now being called the Fillmore Jazz Preservation District.

In August, I had a chance to dine at Yoshi's restaurant and to take in three concerts at the club. I highly recommend both to visitors and locals. The restaurant has excellent Japanese-inspired cuisine. The staff knows that many diners will be taking in a show at the club and paces the service accordingly.

The club provides an intimate setting to hear nationally and internationally known acts. Yoshi's features a wide array of music including Jazz, funk, African music, and vocalists. Sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese appetizers can be munched on while you enjoy the show. Tickets may be purchased on the Yoshi's website. All seats are reserved. There's not a bad seat in the house.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lombard Street - The Crookedest Street in the World

The block of Lombard Street, between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, is one of San Francisco's premier tourist attractions. During the busy summer season, parades of visitors flock to Lombard Street to see its eight cures, hydrangeas, and bougainvillea.

Many people visit Lombard Street by car. On busy weekend days, there can be a one- or two-block long line of cars waiting on Lombard Street, west of the crooked section, for the opportunity to experience this only-in-San Francisco attraction. Here's an easy tip to avoid the lengthy wait. Ascend Russian Hill via Union Street. Turn north (toward the bay) on Hyde Street. Drive three blocks to Lombard Street and turn right to start your descent. There is almost never a wait in this direction. Approaching Lombard Street from this direction can easily save you up to 20 minutes of waiting in your car.

If you don't have a car, the Powell-Hyde cable car stops at the corner of Lombard and Hyde Streets, right at the top of the curvy part of Lombard. The Powell-Mason cable car stops at the corner of Lombard Street and Columbus Avenue, a short walk from the bottom of the crooked section.

None of the scheduled tour operators can take you within three blocks of Lombard Street, so take a tour of San Francisco with Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel. We'll take you down the Crookedest Street in the World as well as the steepest street in San Francisco -- Filbert Street, between Hyde and Leavenworth, a 31.5 degree angle. To book a private tour of San Francisco, call (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Muir Beach Ovelook & Pelican Inn

On Muir Woods tours I frequently take my guests to the Muir Beach Overlook. This old army lookout is located just north of the village of Muir Beach off of Hwy. 1. A short walk out to the point overlooking the Pacific will reward you with panoramic views of the ocean from San Francisco to Point Reyes. Here is one of the best spots to witness the dramatic meeting of cliffs and ocean that is the northern California coastline. On really clear days you can see the Farallon Islands, which are about 25 miles offshore. Be forewarned that the Muir Beach Overlook is often fogged in during the summer. The sun can be shining at Muir Woods while the Overlook, which is about five miles away, is shrouded in fog.

You can combine a visit to the Overlook with lunch at the Pelican Inn in Muir Beach. This quaint bed and breakfast serves classic British food along with some American favorites. The pub has some great beers on tap, including cellar-temperature Guinness Stout. The Pelican Inn's restaurant is open for lunch daily. On Sundays freshly carved roast beef, ham, and turkey are served. The pub serves snacks and light food throughout the day.

If you would like to take a private tour that includes a visit to the Muir Beach Overlook and/or lunch at the Pelican Inn, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here. (The big scheduled tour operators do not include the Overlook on their tours.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tips for Riding San Francisco's Cable Cars

San Francisco's cable cars are one of the city's signature attractions. Invented in 1873, cable cars have traveled up and down San Francisco's hills ever since, except for two years in the 1980s when the system was closed for repairs.

Three lines remain in San Francisco: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason, and California Street. Tourists flock to ride the cable cars resulting in hour-long waits at the cable car turnarounds. Here are some tips to help you avoid the long waits:

Ride the California Street line. If you just want to ride a cable car and don't care about the views or don't need to go to either Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf, ride the California Street line. There are almost never lines to board the cars at the ends of the line at California Street & Van Ness Avenue and California & Market Streets. Many visitors find themselves at the foot of Market Street, near the Ferry Building, so can easily get to the Market Street end of the California Street line. If you want to go to Fisherman's Wharf or Union Square from this end, take the California Street Line to Powell Street and transfer to one of the two Powell Street lines. You will have to pay the $5 fee on both cars unless you buy a Muni Pass ($11/one day, $18/three days, $24/three days).

Ride the Powell Street lines before 9:00 a.m. or after 8:00 p.m. The Powell-Hyde line runs from Powell and Market Streets to Aquatic Park, near the Cannery and Ghirardelli Square. This is the most popular line as it passes by the top of "The Crookedest Street in the World," Lombard Street. Long waits are not uncommon at the ends of the line. By traveling early in the day or in the evening, you may avoid a long wait.

The Powell-Mason line travels from Powell and Market Streets to Taylor and Bay Streets, near Fisherman's Wharf. This line too has long waits, so try to ride the car in the early morning or evening.

Take the Powell-Mason line from Fisherman's Wharf to Union Square. If you want to travel from Fisherman's Wharf back to Union Square, the wait for the Powell-Mason cable car at Taylor and Bay Streets is usually shorter than the wait for the Powell-Hyde cable car at Aquatic Park.

Board the Powell Street lines away from the ends of the lines. There is frequently a long wait to board the cable cars at Powell and Market Streets. Sometimes you can squeeze on the cars by just walking a few blocks up Powell Street. The further you get away from the ends of the lines, the easier it is to squeeze on a car. Many riders disembark at California and Powell Streets, Hyde and Lombard Streets (Crooked Street), and the Cable Car Museum at Washington and Mason Streets, so these are good spots to board a cable car.

I hope this information helps you to enjoy your ride on the only cable cars in an American city. If you want to take a private San Francisco tour that includes a ride on a cable car, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lunch with a View on the Monterey Peninsula

As I have mentioned often, one of the rules of dining is the better the view, the worse the food. However, there are exceptions and one of them is the Stillwater Bar & Grill at The Lodge at Pebble Beach. This restaurant overlooks the 18th green and Carmel Bay at one of America's legendary golf courses.

The Pebble Beach Golf Links and The Lodge at Pebble Beach were founded in 1919. The Links has hosted the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am (now known as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) tournament since 1947. The U.S. Open has been held at Pebble Beach four times (1972, 1982, 1992, and 2000) and will be held here again in 2010.

The Stillwater Bar & Grill offers dinner daily, lunch from Monday to Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. The restaurant offers an array of entrees but emphasizes fresh seafood. A leisurely lunch while gazing out at Carmel Bay and watching golfers celebrating completion of their round of golf is a great way to spend a couple of hours. You can make a restaurant reservation by calling (831) 625-8524.

If you would like to take a private tour of Monterey and Carmel that includes lunch a stop at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Burmese Cuisine in San Francisco

One of the benefits of living in San Francisco is being able to sample food from around the world. While there are a few gaps, some quite major, it seems like we have restaurants featuring the cuisine of nearly every member of the United Nations.

Burma lies between India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and China. Its food tastes like a mixture of the flavors you find in its neighbors' cuisines. A wide assortment of curries are featured on Burmese menus. Many dishes make heavy use of coconut milk. Dried or pickled vegetables are quite common ingredients.

One of my favorite dishes is tea leaf salad, a mixture of preserved tea leaves, dried shrimp, chilies, peanuts, ginger, dried coconut, lime juice, and other spices. The taste is exotic, but one that I love. My wife is a big fan of Burmese curried chicken noodle soup. It's one of her favorite lunch dishes.

San Francisco is home to at least four Burmese restaurants. Two of my favorites are in the Richmond District. Mandalay Restaurant has been serving Burmese and Chinese food in the Inner Richmond District since 1984. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner.

Pagan Restaurant is a new restaurant in the Outer Richmond, at the corner of Clement and 33rd Avenue, near the Legion of Honor Museum. Since January, Pagan has been serving Thai and Burmese cuisine for lunch and dinner from Wednesday through Monday; closed on Tuesdays.

Both Pagan and Mandalay are reasonably priced and good places to take children if they like Asian food. The easiest way to get to either restaurant from Fisherman's Wharf or Union Square is by taxi.

If you'd like to sample Burmese cuisine on a full-day tour of San Francisco, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here to make a reservation.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ocean View Restaurants in San Francisco

When you are out at the beach in San Francisco dining options are limited, particularly if you want a restaurant with a view. There are only two restaurants with ocean views: the Beach Chalet and the Cliff House.

The Beach Chalet sits at the western end of Golden Gate Park, across The Great Highway from the ocean. The building was designed by a famous local architect, Willis Polk, and opened in 1925. The first floor lobby houses murals and mosaics that were completed in 1936. The Beach Chalet makes its own beers, which are served in both of its restaurants. Upstairs is the Beach Chalet restaurant featuring typical bar food as well as American standards. The Park Chalet sits behind the main building with beautiful views of Golden Gate Park. The menu is the same for lunch and dinner and consists of a variety of small plates and a few other dishes. Weekend lunch and brunch are often crowded, so reservations are recommended at both restaurants. Getting a table on weekdays is easier, but a reservation, particularly at the Beach Chalet restaurant, can't hurt.

The Cliff House sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific and Seal Rocks. This historic restaurant has undergone many changes throughout its storied history. The third incarnation was renovated a few years ago and is now home to two restaurants: the Bistro and Sutro's. The Bistro is a casual restaurant that offers omelettes, sandwiches, salads, and other casual meals. Reservations are not accepted so expect to wait on nice weekend days. Sutro's is the upscale restaurant at the Cliff House. It's menu has a variety of fish, poultry, and meat dishes. Sutro's accepts reservations, which are highly recommended.

Both the Beach Chalet are Cliff House are great places to lunch during Blue Heron's A Day in the City tour. If you would like to book a private half-day or full-day tour of San Francisco, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Restaurants with a View

There is an old axiom in the restaurant business -- the better the view the worse the food. I alluded to this in my May 2007 "Rick's Tips," when I listed the ten best places to eat outdoors.

Restaurateur Pat Kuleto is bucking this rule with his two new eateries along The Embarcadero: Epic Roasthouse and Waterbar. The restaurants sit aside each other on the bay side of The Embarcadero about a quarter of a mile south of the Ferry Building. Both are beautifully designed and offer fantastic views of San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge, and Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands.

Epic Roasthouse features steaks and other hearty meat dishes. Not being my favorite food, I probably won't dine here.

Waterbar, as you can probably tell from the name, is a seafood restaurant. Yesterday my wife and I lunched at Waterbar and both enjoyed our meals immensely. From the lobster salad, which we split to start the meal, to the cheeses with which we finished our meal, everything was good. Waterbar has an extensive oyster bar and my wife tasted one of each of the eight varieties being offered. I dined on superbly prepared scallops served over delicious kale and artisan bacon.

Waterbar has a good wine list with a nice selection of wines by the glass.

Prices are not cheap at either restaurant but, if you want a good meal with a nice water view, Waterbar (and probably Epic Roasthouse) will be as good as it gets in San Francisco.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two North Beach Institutions

It had been over 20 years since I last saw "Beach Blanket Babylon," the only-in-San Francisco cabaret that spoofs modern culture. With my parents visiting, I decided to see how the show was holding up.

Beach Blanket Babylon has been running for over 30 years, so I probably last saw it during its first decade. The theme remains the same; the story of Snow White's efforts to find true love. About one-third of the show looked familiar. However, the majority of songs and skits were new since I last saw the show. The performance was completely up-to-date. There was even a musical number spoofing Hillary Clinton crying the day before the New Hampshire primary.

The singing is still good and the costumes are still zany. The satire is wacky and the hats remain the biggest you'll ever see. At least two of the performers, Val Diamond and Renee Lubin, were in the show when I last saw it. If you've never seen Beach Blanket, then I highly recommend seeing it on your next visit to San Francisco. If you've been before, you'll get a good laugh if you go again.

Beach Blanket Babylon performs at the Club Fugazi, 687 Beach Blanket Babylon Blvd. (Green Street) in North Beach. Shows are at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday and 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sunday matinées are at 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. and are the only performances that minors may attend.

While in North Beach, I decided to dine at another North Beach institution: North Beach Restaurant. I had never eaten here and figured, after living in San Francisco for 29 years, it was about time to give North Beach Restaurant a try. Walking into this restaurant was like time traveling back to the 1950s. Waiters were in tuxes and the menu looked like it hadn't changed since the restaurant first opened in 1970. While our waiter was very friendly and the food acceptable, I can't recommend dining at the North Beach Restaurant. There are far better Italian restaurants in San Francisco. Unfortunately, most of them are not in North Beach.

If you are planning a trip to San Francisco and want help planning your vacation, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

See Mating Elephant Seals

The largest mainland breeding colony of northern elephant seals can be found at Año Nuevo State Reserve. You have not seen anything until you see two-ton elephant seals battling over a prospective mate. The reserve is located about 90 minutes south of San Francisco on Hwy. 1 between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz.

Elephant seals may be found at Año Nuevo throughout the year. The breeding season runs from December through March. Adult males begin arriving in December and begin to battle to become dominant. The winners of these fights do most of the mating. By late March, the adult seals leave the park and only the weaned pups remain. In the spring and summer, adults return to the park to molt. During the fall, yearlings come ashore.

Año Nuevo is worth visiting at any time. However, seeing the seals breed is particularly fascinating. The breeding season runs from December 15 through March 31. During this time, visitors may only see the park on a guided walk. Advance reservations are highly recommended and can be made by calling (800) 444-4445. The molting season runs from April 1 to August 31 and the fall haul-out season from September 1 to November 30. During these seasons, you will need to pick up a free permit for a self-guided hike from the entrance station. Try to arrive early to make sure you get a permit and have enough time for the hike.

A visit to Año Nuevo is a uniquely California experience. If you would like a private tour that includes a visit to Año Nuevo, please feel free to call me at (866) 326 - 4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Haas-Lillienthal House

San Francisco is well known of its Victorian architecture. There are thousands of Italianate, Stick, and Queen Anne houses that can be seen from the outside, but there is only one home that is regularly open to the public as a museum.

Built in 1886, the Haas-Lillienthal House was a private residence until 1972. Today, the home is a museum, complete with period furnishings. A visit to the Haas-Lillienthal House includes a docent-led tour of the small garden and many of the rooms. You will also learn about the Haas and Lillienthal families who were (and are) prominent in San Francisco's Jewish community.

If you are interested in Victorian architecture and/or history, you will enjoy touring the Haas-Lillienthal House. The museum is open on Sunday, Wednesday, and most Saturday afternoons. More information is available on the museum's website or by calling (415) 441-3000. The museum is located at 2007 Franklin Street (between Washington and Jackson Streets).