Liz Hamill Scott

The beautiful Crystal Springs Reservoir off of Interstate 280

One of the best kept secrets by Bay Area locals, Interstate 280 doubles as a fast commuter road and the most beautiful Interstate in the region. Start by puttering down 19th Avenue through the City. After you pass San Francisco State University and off the city streets, get your speed on. The speed limit on I280 is 65mph, but you’ll see locals driving much faster .

But don’t jet down the asphalt so fast that you miss the change from cityscape to rolling hills dotted with native oaks, elegant mansions, and the occasional herd of cows. The lovely views continue south until Cupertino, where the suburban industry of the Silicon Valley crowds in on the freeway until it becomes I680 and loops around to Milpitas, becoming less pretty and crammed with commuters.

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Crab Napoleon at Fringale

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Spicy Monterey Calamari at Fringale

Even the proud, well-fed people of Paris admit that the chefs of San Francisco produce some très fin food. These three restaurants combine fresh local ingredients with Old World techniques and recipes to bring the flavors of France to the City by the Bay. Bon appetit!

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San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge

[Flickr/vgm8383]

The most recognizable San Francisco icon this side of a cable car, the Golden Gate Bridge draws tens of thousands of tourists per year, and about that many commuters per day, despite the aggro $6 southbound toll. Walking and biking the Bridge are free both ways, but be sure you know what you’re getting into before you plow out into the fog!

Walking and Biking
The best way to get the great views from the Golden Gate Bridge is to walk or to roll the wheelchair-accessible footpath. Though the path is paved and nearly flat, the mile-plus hike (one way) can be a lot to take. If it’s foggy, the cold and damp can be bone chilling. With only the barest of divides between the path and the roadway, the noise deafens and the fumes…kind of blow away in the endless buffeting wind.

Driving Across the Bridge
If you’re not able to get across the Golden Gate Bridge under your own power, take a ride over the short sweet span. It’s best to take the bus or a taxi rather than drive yourself, so you can gawk at the Bay to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. In commute traffic, it can take up to 30 minutes to cross the short span—plan accordingly.

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Performers in The San Francisco Ballet

Performers in The San Francisco Ballet

Photo courtesy of Saturday Matinee

Known for its romantic possibilities, San Francisco is a city that encourages visitors (and locals) to dress up and head out for a leisurely evening out. One great location for a hot night on the town is the Civic Center district, where the opera house and the symphony hall vie for the patronage of classical music lovers. Here’s one of our favorite itineraries:

Start with an early dinner at Jardiniere, the first restaurant opened by local celebrity chef Traci des Jardins. You’ll be comfortable wearing evening dress in the two-tier art deco dining room. Live jazz slides smoothly through the air, enhancing the haute flavors of the French brasserie inspired California cuisine.

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Installation piece at the de Young Museum in San Francisco

Installation piece at the de Young Museum in San Francisco

[Flickr/CRASH:candy]

The youthful city of San Francisco is known for its wacky politics, creative spirit, and out-there artistry—the Burning Man festival started on a beach right here in the City. Here are a few museums that capture and display modern art that reflects San Francisco:

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Friends and locals call this downtown art museum – with an uptown reputation and collection – the SFMOMA (you’ll see the acronym on signs all over downtown SF). Its galleries full of funky furniture, colorful photos, splashy paintings, and bizarre yet beautiful multimedia installations have been known to delight and occasionally disgust visitors. Whether you love modern art or hate it, the SFMOMA’s collections and exhibitions are always entertaining. SFMOMA lies right in the midst of the Yerba Buena Garden art district, easily accessible from the W San Francisco hotel. 151 Third Street (btwn Mission & Howard)

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Biscuits & Blues

Biscuits & Blues

[Flickr/godutchbaby]

San Francisco isn’t like other cities, and we’re proud of it. We serve up unique food, unbelievable landscapes, and bizarre politics. So why see a plain ol’ show when you can choose an evening of live entertainment to match the inimitable style of the rest of the City?

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Spectacular night view from the top of Coit Tower

Spectacular night view of San Francisco from the top of Coit Tower

[Flickr/adamjackson1984]

To really see San Francisco’s charm, don’t look down. Look up and around, at the legendary views that spring up all over the City. Because San Francisco’s towers and monuments are built on a bunch of hills, it’s not hard to find someplace to gaze out over the Bay, the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate, or out into the urban sprawl and splendor of the whole Bay Area.

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The fun-filled Musee Mechanique

The fun-filled Musee Mechanique

[Flickr/Curious Expeditions]

Heck, let your actual children come along too! These three San Francisco museums, which range from expensive to free, totally bust the stereotype of museums as dusty and stodgy.

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The San Francisco Ferry Building

The San Francisco Ferry Building

Going out to Angel Island or Alcatraz for the day? Planning an all-day walk-around of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero? Pick up a picnic in the gourmet wonderland that is the Ferry Building. Here’s how: Read More »

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The Phoenix Hotel

The Phoenix Hotel

We’ll say it: Parking in San Francisco sucks. If you’re planning to stay inside the city limits for your visit, it’s better to skip the car and stick with ample (if slow) public transit. But if you’re visiting and you want to leave the city — say for a jaunt up to Napa? — it’s hard to avoid the need for an automobile. So where to put your wheels away?

Don’t count on street parking. It’s rare, it’s restricted, and it can require superhuman steep-hill parallel parking skills. The “parking packages” that many hotels boast will keep you from getting towed, but at $30 or more per night, they’re hardly a deal.

Fortunately, these five hotels offer that rarest of amenities—free parking: Read More »

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