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Staff Favorites: San Francisco

Cindy Loose

It's usually hard to compare apples and oranges, which is what you're basically doing when you compare cities. But to my mind, San Francisco is such a standout that I feel no compunction saying it's the best in the U.S. It's like you can't logically compare brussels sprouts to a fullcourse gourmet meal, but you'd pick the gourmet meal every time.

It's big enough to keep me entertained for days, perhaps years, yet small enough that I don't walk around feeling disoriented. Food is fantastic, views are amazing, it's on a human scale, and within a short drive or train ride to some of the most beautiful small towns and coastal areas on Earth. What's not to like?

Commence jaw-dropping at the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge.(Bloomberg News)

No matter how many times I visit, I never lose my enthusiasm about a repeat visit. My top three favorite activities:
1. Simply strolling neighborhoods, inlcuding Chinatown, Haight Ashbury, the waterfront.
2. Biking or hiking around Angel Island or Golden Gate Park and the Presidio.
3. Eating.

I'll need help with hotels -- who's got favorites? Basically I choose a different neighborhood for each visit and pick whatever hotel has a deal at that time. I do like Harbor Court Hotel on the waterfront, where rooms start at about $179 a night.

Restaurants: For dim sum, Ton Kiang (5821 Geary Blvd) is a bit out of the way and not in Chinatown, but amazing. The Slanted Door, a Vietnamase place that's more upscale and thus more expensive than your average Vietnamese restaurant, is not to be missed. Located on the water at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, it has great views and is a fun place to stroll around while waiting for a table.

I used to love several Cambodian restaurants but haven't had time to seek out that cuisine in the city since I lived near there in the 1989. Anyone had a great Cambodian meal in San Fran more recently?

Favorite places to stay and things to do? Share here.

By Cindy Loose |  November 6, 2007; 6:35 AM ET  | Category:  Best U.S. Cities , Cindy Loose
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The only time I was in San Fran was for a conference a few years ago. I did have some time to explore and try some great food. I loved my stay at the W Hotel. It was cozy and comfy and I felt spoiled the whole time I stayed there.

What I liked most about San Fran was the wine and the delicious seafood. One of the best meals I've ever had was at Kuleto's. If I ever make it back, I really want to be ultra touristy and rent a bike to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Posted by: LV | November 6, 2007 9:37 AM

Problems with San Francisco -- very high murder rate, very expensive hotels, overrun with aggresive homeless people. San Francisco tourism is riding on the fumes of its past glories. Even the restaurant scene is dying.

Posted by: Folger | November 6, 2007 9:59 AM

Stayed as always at the Hotel Monaco - the hotel is a great location and reasonable rates.

I disagree with the previous poster's assertion that the food scene is dying. We ate at Micheal Mina's, Gary Danko and Boulevard among others. Food was great everywhere we went.

The Asian Museum is well worth the trip down to that part of town. SFOMA continues to be interesting.

Posted by: Just Back from The City | November 6, 2007 10:26 AM

We've stayed several times at the Vintage Court on Bush. 1/2 block from the Powell trolley. Quaint and quirky with wine tastings in the evening that give you a chance to meet other travelers. It's a bargain around $140 a night.

Posted by: Baltimore | November 6, 2007 10:31 AM

For the budget traveler, check out the Hayes Valley Inn (417 Gough St. at the corner of Hayes). The rooms are clean and the rooms NOT facing the street are quiet. The baths are down the hall, but they are clean. The neighborhood is also a lot of fun. Hayes Valley has some of the coolest shopping and wine bars.

Posted by: Phoebesnow | November 6, 2007 12:11 PM

Spent the last weekend of September in SF and had an amazing time. Did the usual touristy stuff, bought a "GO-Card" to save a LOT of $$, ate at two VERY good restaurants (Masa's amazing price-fixe menu and Brindisi Cucina on Beldon Place), rented one of those Go-Cars (a shell "car" surrounding a tri-motorcycle...WHAT fun), and flew Virgin America both ways. SF is one of my top 5 US cities!

Posted by: VJ | November 6, 2007 12:13 PM

My husband and I went to SF two years ago. It was one of the loveliest cities I have ever seen, but so so COLD!!! The beaches in California are stupendously beautiful. We ended the visit with a trip down to Carmel for the weekend. I came back wanting to move there.

Posted by: Babywatson | November 6, 2007 4:40 PM

My husband and I enjoy the Marina Inn on Octavia and Lombard. We love walking around the city.On our last visit, we walked up Tank Hill. We also walked from the Cliff House around Land's End to the Golden Gate Bridge. It took several hours but the ocean views and mansions were well worth it.

Posted by: Peds | November 6, 2007 5:57 PM

Ok, so I'm 25, but I still love the Exploratorium. It's just so cool.

Mostly, I love the scenery of San Francisco. We drove in from the east, and the hills in the bay area have a totally unique look. The bay itself is beautiful. Love Golden Gate Park, the "Full House houses", Berkeley and Marin County...

Absolutely one of my favorite cities (and areas) in the US.

Posted by: Julia | November 7, 2007 9:17 AM

I actually just moved back East after living in SF for 3 years - I miss it! My favorite way to explore this city is to driving the 49-mile drive around the City and just explore when you see something you like. It takes you through almost all the neighborhoods and many of the "tourist" attractions.

I disagree with the poster who says that SF is dirty and dangerous. Murder rates are much worse across the Bay and I can't imagine they are any worse than DC - and I know that no one rec against visiting DC. SF can be expensive, but you can stay just outside the City in Daly City or elsewhere on the Peninsula and rent a car for driving around. MUNI, while unreliable as a basic means of transportation, is a fine way to get around for a tourist and it's way cheaper than any of the Metro trips you'd take in DC.

Posted by: Jenn in SF | November 7, 2007 12:00 PM

The SF area can be cold in the summer months, as the hot interior pulls the marine layer (and wind) in from the ocean. Always bring a sweater when you come. Good web place for info is SF

Posted by: Dena from Oakland | November 7, 2007 12:20 PM

I live on Central Coast of California and have visited San Francisco many times. It is a fabulous city. My favorite memory is four days in November, Thanksgiving. The weather was shirt sleeve (a bit unusual for that time of year) The Friday after Thanksgiving all the Xmas trees are lit and the department stores have their decorations in place. An absolute must do is Beach Blanket Babylon in North Beach. I cannot tell you how entertaining it is, you just have to experience it. The Handlery hotel in Union Square is great and close to trolley, Westin St Francis is beautiful but pricey. Buena Vista Cafe for Irish Coffee. Lefty O'Doul's for sports nostalgia. There are so many wonderful things to do and see there. I go to SFGiants' game every year also, great ballpark. I also recommend
DeAnne/Avila Beach CA

Posted by: DeAnne | November 7, 2007 1:25 PM

I just went to San Fran on my honeymoon! We had a fabulous time staying at the Hyatt at Fisherman's Wharf. A little pricey...but the service was excellent. We got free champagne & chocolate covered strawberries! Can't beat that!

We ate dinner at Butterfly which is at one of the piers on the Embarcadero. Great food! Would definitely go back.

Posted by: MD Girl | November 7, 2007 3:11 PM

My favorite place to wander is the Ferry Building. The Palais des Beaux Arts is beautiful (but don't be tempted to walk from Ghirardelli Square!). We had a great dinner at LuLu, which was near the SF Marriott, where we stayed.

Posted by: Alexandria, VA | November 7, 2007 3:49 PM

The Ferry Building--great place, I agree.
I don't agree about dirty, crime ridden etc. It has city problems, but overall, my impression, in neighborhoods tourists are likely to visit anyhow, that it's relatively safe and relatively clean.

Posted by: cindy loose | November 7, 2007 4:12 PM

I love it. All of it. The TA Pyramid dominated skyline; Climbing to Coit tower for beautiful vistas; Golden gate park; Walking along the coast from Boudin bakery, through the Crissy Field and over Golden Gate to Sausalito; Muir woods; Tartine bakery; Ferry building; Japanese center; streetcars... I wish if only I could have time to go again. And again...

Posted by: V from Balto | November 7, 2007 5:04 PM

I live across the bay in Berkeley, and one of my favorite places to show visitors is the Filbert steps and the special neighborhood there built on a steep hill. If you are up at Coit Tower for the view, start walking down the street (Lombard) until you come to a sign for Filbert, turn left and start walking down, and keep going all the way to the bottom, where you'll end up by the bay. Of course, then you'll have to trudge all the way back up to your car, so take the bus to the top of Lombard to Coit Tower first, or take two cars and park one at the bottom. This is a little "secret" place, and the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill add their noisy chatter to the charms of the place.

Posted by: M. Watt | November 8, 2007 2:16 AM

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