Tis Hard to Leave
BY Andrea Stephens
“San Francisco has one drawback: tis hard to leave.”
These were Rudyard Kipling’s thoughts about thestunning city by the bay. Kipling’s drawback is accompanied by a note of caution; once you’re here expect Tony Bennett’s famous sentiment “I left my heart in San Francisco ” to quickly become your own. With its unique skyline diverse culture and iconic American landmarks San Francisco and its beautiful surrounding area is a truly wonderful place to experience.
As a transplanted North Carolinian and relatively new Bay Area “local ” I recommend some “must-sees ” those certain experiences that any San Fran vacation would be incomplete without. But I have also unearthed a few buried treasures that aren’t often highlighted in tour books. Though they are slightly off the beaten path I highly recommend these as well.
You won’t want to miss Fisherman’s Wharf where you can sample “right-off-the-boat” delicacies. And be sure to take a spin on San Francisco’s most unique mode of transportation the beloved cable car. Amble over to Pier 39 and check out its infamous resident sea lions and take a ferry to fabled Alcatraz. Your itinerary should also include a photo stop at the Painted Lady Victorian Houses some decadent treats at Ghirardelli Square chocolate factory and a drive down Lombard the world’s most crooked street.
If the city isn’t cloaked in low-hanging clouds (which it often is) take a drive up to Twin Peaks for a bird’s eye view of this enchanting city. The sweeping 360-degree views of the skyline the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge will take your breath away! It is located at almost the geographical center of the city and is named for the two identical summits at an elevation of 922 feet.
Next on the “must-see” list: Chinatown. When you enter Chinatown at Grant Avenue and Bush Street – at the gate embellished with a golden dragon (a gift from the Republic of China in 1969) – it is as if you are entering another world. The sights and smells of Chinatown are so distinct it’s as if the past and present melt together into one delicious stew. Be sure to sample some dim sum and check out a Chinese herb and tea shop. Also make time for a visit to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. You can watch them make the fortune cookies by hand and even sample some hot from the oven.
Undoubtedly San Francisco’s most recognizable icon is the Golden Gate Bridge. Its sienna spires (technically the color is International Orange) are one of our nation’s most photographed landmarks. On a jaunt around the city it will stop you in your tracks every time you turn a corner and see it in the distance. Take a stroll across – its 1.7-mile stretch will carry you from the city across the Golden Gate strait to the Marin Headlands (it’s less distance than walking “The Loop.”) – or plan an afternoon picnic at Crissy Field at the base of the bridge. This former military airfield and Coast Guard station has been restored as a lovely waterfront park and environmental education center. It’s a great place for a walk or picnic with astounding water views. Be sure to stop at the Warming Hut a former Army shed for coffee and sandwiches.
OK now that you’ve seen the area from the pages of a tour book it’s time to close the book grab a latte and your sense of adventure and head out! Many treasures lie north of the Golden Gate and are well worth an entry on your vacation itinerary.
The bayside towns of Sausalito and Tiburon are great for afternoon excursions. They both boast quaint upscale shops art galleries and fun waterfront restaurants.
Sausalito is home of the Bay Model a 1.5-acre hydraulic replica of the bay able to simulate its currents and tides which change every 3.8 minutes. Have a snack in one of Sausalito’s open air cafés and take a walk along the waterfront. The Bay Area Discovery Museum is a phenomenal stop for families. The museum features hands-on art science and environmental exhibits where the kids can romp create and explore all in the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Tiburon is a tiny gem that overlooks the San Francisco Bay. Spend the afternoon strolling amid buildings that date back to the 1800s shop on Main Street or on Ark Row and have a great meal on the deck of one of the town’s waterfront restaurants. Sam’s Anchor Café has been a crowd favorite since 1920.
Across the bay from Tiburon is lush mostly undeveloped Angel Island. The island a national park has been used over the years as a Civil War camp a quarantine station for immigrant ships an immigration station a missile site and a detention camp for Japanese and German prisoners of war. It is circled by more than 13 miles of foot trails and fire roads. Take the ferry over and either explore it on foot or take a tram tour with a guide who can piece together the details of the island’s rich past. Its unspoiled beauty is unmatched and the views of the bay the bridge and the city skyline are spectacular!
The rugged coastline of the North Coast is a must for any North Bay experience. Here you can take in the amazing scenery where the ocean waves are met by lush green hills that cascade down rocky cliffs to the water below. Start the day with a drive along Highway 1 and stop in the tiny treasure of Point Reyes Station. Grab the essentials for a picnic at Tomales Bay Foods being sure to try some of the Cowgirl Creamery artisan cheeses before heading to Point Reyes National Seashore for an afternoon hike. Then make your way north on Hwy. 1 for dinner at Tony’s Seafood in Marshall. Only open on the weekends Tony’s a rustic fishing shack has a relaxed timeless atmosphere and barbecued oysters that melt in your mouth. Remember to bring cash because Tony’s doesn’t take credit cards.
Wind your way north on Highway 1 and stop in the small fishing village of Bodega Bay and its close sister the tiny town of Bodega. Both Lucas Wharf and the Tides Wharf are great casual lunch options and offer lovely views of the bay. Stretch your legs a little and dip your toes in the Pacific at one of the state and regional parks that line the coast. Then take Highway 12 back through the town of Bodega and see the school and church where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his famous movie The Birds.
Layer upon Layer
As you plan your trip keep in mind that the Bay Area is made up of dozens of small “microclimates ” where the weather can change hourly from town to town. Even in the height of summer the weather can be chilly so plan to dress in “layers ” which can be peeled off as the day warms up or not as the case may be.
The only people seen walking across the Golden Gate Bridge shivering in shorts and T-shirts are the tourists!
Keep going a few more miles inland on Highway 12 looking for the delicious beacon that reads “Organic Brick Oven Sourdough French Bread.” Turn left on the Bohemian Highway to Wild Flour Bread which features organic scones biscotti and beautiful hard-crust breads that will make even the most loyal Atkins Dieter fall off the low-carb wagon! The warm right-out-of-the-oven cheese fougasse made with cheese garlic potatoes and fresh rosemary must be eaten immediately right out of the bag!
An old French proverb says “In water one sees one’s own face but in wine one beholds the heart of another.” Either way a trip to Northern California wouldn’t be complete without a visit to wine country. And when you hear the term “Wine Country ” people’s thoughts often turn to the Napa Valley. Yet the Sonoma Valley over the hills to the west is definitely deserving of equal attention. While an oenophile or wine connoisseur will be in heaven in either place the experience can be quite different. Generally speaking the wineries in Napa can be larger more elaborate more commercialized and the tasting rooms usually charge a fee. In the Sonoma Valley many of the wineries are family owned and operated and have a more relaxed atmosphere. Many still offer pours free of charge.
In a nutshell – go to Napa Valley and expect a great experience (that you may or may not share with a tour bus or two) and then go to the Sonoma Valley where you might even meet a winemaker in the tasting room. A few of my personal favorites in Sonoma are Ferrari-Carano in the Dry Creek Valley outside Healdsburg with its incredible gardens and Chateau St. Jean in Kenwood. In Napa I love Clos Pegase where you can sample both great wine and the owners’ extensive and eclectic collection of original art.
If you find yourself in Sonoma County on Highway 12 between Santa Rosa and Sonoma be sure to stop at Café Citti in the small town of Kenwood. Nestled in close proximity to a number of world-class wineries Café Citti is a true gem. Its façade is unassuming but the experience is far from ordinary. It is small but feels casual and other-worldly as you would expect a café in Tuscany to feel. The house-made ravioli is to die for as is the superb yet potent caesar salad. In the fall and winter grab a seat next to the fireplace and sip a Sangiovese from a tumbler Italian-style. Enjoy a spring or summer evening alfresco and dine on the patio.
The Sonoma County small towns of Windsor and Healdsburg are great North Bay stops. Windsor one of the county’s fastest growing towns boasts a new shopping and entertainment center the new Old Downtown Windsor with fun eclectic shops and great restaurants.
At first glance the Victorian buildings seem to have been there for generations. As you look closer you’ll see they are brand new. On Thursday evenings from spring until fall the area and its center the Town Green bubbles with the excitement of live music great food and wine and outdoor movies. Be sure to stop in Powell’s Sweet Shoppe featuring a dizzying and nostalgic array of candy sure to take you back to your childhood. They also have a Soda Shoppe where you can have an ice cream soda made from any soda you can imagine. Take a load off in the back of the store where the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory plays on a continuous loop.
Just down the road from Windsor is delightful Healdsburg a community that has evolved in recent years from a small agriculture town to a quaint yet posh wine country destination. Wineries unique shops and fabulous restaurants both upscale and casual line the Spanish-Style plaza in the town’s center. Grab a sandwich from Oakville Grocery for a picnic in the plaza.
With all of these nuggets you’ll have plenty of options to fill your itinerary and undoubtedly plenty of great memories to fill your scrapbook. It’s my hope that like in a great meal you’ll get a rich well-rounded taste of this incredible place I now call home. Many adventures await you both on and off the beaten path.
Where to Go
Tomales Bay Foods
4th and B streets
Point Reyes Station CA
Tony’s Seafood Restaurant
18863 Highway 1
Open Friday Saturday and Sunday only
Twin Peaks Boulevard
San Francisco CA
From downtown take Market Street southwest until it turns into Portola Drive. From Portola you will take a right on Twin Peaks Boulevard and follow the road up to the top.
Bay Area Discovery Museum
557 McReynolds Rd.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
56 Ross Alley
San Francisco CA
In the Golden Gate National Recreation Area:
603 Mason St.
San Francisco CA
Alexander Avenue off Hwy. 101
Tickets are limited advance ticket purchases required.
Bay Model Visitor Center
Sam’s Anchor Café
27 Main St.
Tiburon CA 94920
Angel Island State Park
595 S. Highway 1
Bodega Bay CA
Tides Wharf – Inn at the Tides
800 Coast Highway 1
Bodega Bay CA
Wild Flour Bread
140 Bohemian Hwy.
Sonoma County Visitor Information
Wineries Food Lodging – Windsor Healdsburg
Napa Visitor Information
Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery
8761 Dry Creek Road
Chateau St. Jean Vineyards and Winery
8555 Sonoma Hwy.
9049 Sonoma Hwy. (Highway 12 between the cities of Sonoma and Santa Rosa)
Powell’s Sweet Shoppes
720 McClelland Drive
322 Center St.
124 Matheson St.