For my birthday this year, I wanted to getaway. I did not want to fly somewhere or take a long drive. I just wanted to not be at home. Because we live in the SF-Bay Area and both grew up in San Francisco, a San Francisco Staycation was the natural go-to.
This post is part of a series on travel close to home. You can find more posts from this series on my page Getaways Near Me (or You)
My DH set the whole thing up. He booked a room at the Hilton San Francisco – Financial District, so we’d be close to North Beach (the Italian neighborhood in SF). Then set up dinners for Friday and Saturday nights. We pack our overnight bags and head west across the Bay Bridge for our touristy weekend.
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Planning a Weekend
There are so many things to do in San Francisco, and we only have Saturday and Sunday. We know we have to make some tough choices for sights. But also want to see some of our favorites places while adding in some new.
We’ve decided to indulge in a little nostalgia and hang out mostly in the neighborhoods where we grew up; Outer Richmond (me), Outer Sunset (him), and spend time in that lovely place in the middle of both, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco’s backyard.
After checking in to our hotel, we decide to take a walk through the Financial District, which borders China Town and North Beach, two of San Francisco’s many unique neighborhoods, to work up our appetite for dinner.
We head east towards the Embarcadero, a wide boulevard that sits right on Bay. At the foot of Market Street is the Port of San Francisco. Right, smack dab in the middle of the many piers that harbor ships visiting the City lies the Ferry Building. This iconic property has graced this location since its opening in 1898. Before the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay Bridges opened in 1933, the Ferry Building was the central transportation hub for as many as 50,000 people each day!
From this intersection, as you look east, you can see Alcatraz, the Oakland Bay Bridge, and Treasure Island. If you follow the sightlines across the Bay, and it is not foggy night, you can even see the lights of Berkley and Oakland.
It’s a clear night and just past dusk. The lights along the Embarcadero seem to lead right up to the Oakland Bay Bridge, which is also lit up along its span to Treasure Island.
This walk in the crisp February air has done its job. Our appetites are raring to go, so we head back to the hotel to get ready for dinner
Choosing a restaurant in San Francisco can be crazy. Last I heard there were something like 90 restaurants per square mile in the City. We picked our hotel location, as I mentioned above, so we’d be near North Beach and could walk to any number of our favorite restaurants.
The Stinking Rose, a must if you love garlic. Original Joe’s, the most traditional San Francisco Italian restaurant with its crazy red leather booths and tuxedoed staff. Trattoria Volare, an intimate dining establishment, serving fantastic Sicilian Cuisine. (Unfortunately, Volare has now permanently closed). These are just a few of the great Italian restaurants we’ve dined at over and over, and they never disappoint.
But there are so many restaurants in North Beach, and we want to try something new. After reading reviews and looking at pictures on Yelp and Open Table, we choose “Pesce e Riso.” We are intrigued by the restaurant’s website, which describes a new type of fusion cuisine, a neighborhood Italian restaurant with a Japanese twist.
Pesce e Riso
We are only the second diners to arrive at the restaurant this evening. It’s only 7 o’clock, and that is a bit early for most San Francisco locals. The host greets us graciously and allows us to choose our table as most are still open. We take a cozy table for two in the window, with a view of Columbus Ave. There’s a grand parade of people out there!
After being seated, a server brings our menus and asks for our choice of water; then, the host is back. He acknowledges my birthday and goes on to say he is surprised as it is his birthday also, and he doesn’t usually meet people born on the same day. As a treat for my special day, our host pours my husband and I a glass of sparkling prosecco.
After explaining the menu, we engage the host in a brief conversation about the restaurant, and where the idea for Italian/Japanese fusion originated. It turns out the Chef/Owner initially trained as a sushi chef in Japan, moved to China, met an Italian woman, fell in love, got married, move to the states, and well, this is their love child.
Pesce e Riso has unique and enticing cuisine. As usual, when trying a new place, everything looks delicious. We try not to order too much food, but we end up with quite a lot.
Here’s What We Ate!
We start with the simple Shishito Peppers in sweet aka miso and follow that up with the Tuna Tartare. The peppers are totally what we expect, but the Tuna Tartare is a “roll!”
We move on to our entrees, DH has the calamari, and I have the Yellowfin Tuna Tataki. The dishes are exquisitely presented.
The tiny calamari are individually stuffed with a rice stuffing and exquisitely presented over a spicy tomato sauce with micro greens and corona beans.
My tuna tataki is seared to perfection, served on top of bright green asparagus, with a delicate shiro miso dijon dipping sauce.
We can never stop at just enough, and we also order the Japanese eggplant and spring squash, served with green and red peperoni, capers, Kalamata olives, etc. because we need our veg!
It’s a good thing we have to walk back to the hotel. We need the exercise!
Saturday on the Presidio in San Francisco
We wake up bright and early Saturday morning, have a quick bite to eat in the hotel lounge, and then head out on the road. Our plan today is to sort of make a circle of the City. We start at the Presidio, which sits on the northernmost part of the City.
Things to do on the Presidio in San Francisco
This long-lived military base started life in 1776 under Spanish Rule, passed to Mexico, and eventually to the United States in 1848. The Army base was decommissioned in 1994, ending 219 years of military service. The Presidio is now the only self-sufficient National Park in the US. You could spend an entire day at the Presidio and still not cover half of the monuments and history. And never be at a loss for great “Insta” worthy photo opportunities
Some of the highlights at the Presidio that you should not miss:
- Chrissy Field – just inside the Golden Gate, is perfect for Kite Flying and Jogging. There are picnic tables and vast open grassy expanses perfect for a day in the sun watching the sailboats on the Bay.
- Golden Gate – Yes, this is where you find the “Golden Gate Bridge” And the “Bridge” sits right above the old Fort Point. The architect of the bridge designed it so that the fort nestles directly beneath the bridge’s southern anchorage. Visit both; you will be glad you did.
- The Main Post – The visitors center is located here at the Main Post. You can pick up maps and get loads of information on what’s happening throughout the park. You will also find the Officer’s Club, one of only two hotels in the park, the Inn at the Presidio, and the site we came to see the Walt Disney Family Museum.
Don’t Forget to Read the Signs
It is a gorgeous, sunny day in the City. We drive to the Main Post and get a parking space right in front of the museum, nice!
Before we head into the museum, I want to take a few quick pics of the views. Good thing I do, because I discover as I walk down the road, that the parking is “pay by the hour” all day every day.
I do my best to use the pay machine to book our space. But the machine keeps giving me only 10 minutes. Regardless, we put the tickets in the car in the event the parking control officer comes by. If we get fined, we will at least have the defense that we tried, and the machine did not work.
The point here is that while not readily discernable, you need to pay for parking in the Presidio, it is not free.
Walt Disney Family Museum
Changing family circumstances have re-ignited our interest in Disney, and we feel a need to learn more. One of the newer additions to the Presidio now that it is a Park is the Walt Disney Family Museum, just the place to start our education.
Located in one of the barracks that line the parade grounds on the post, the museum must conform itself to the historic building. There are ten galleries in all, starting with Walt Disney’s early life, moving to California, setting up his studios, creating feature films, and of course, Disneyland and Beyond.
This museum is about Walt Disney, not about the Disney corporation we know today. There is plenty of Disney stuff here, Mickey and Donald in all their incarnations and even a diorama of Disneyland. But, the museum focusses on the man and his family. A lovingly curated story of one of the world’s brightest stars and most prominent thinkers.
The Walt Disney Family Museum is open daily 10 – 6, except for major holidays
Admission is $25 for adults, $15 for youth, with children five and under free. There are discounts for Students and Seniors.
General admission is free year-round for active and retired military personnel, as well as their spouses and dependents with valid ID.
The museum also participates in the Blue Star Museums program, which grants free general admission to all military ID holders – active, retired, spouses, or dependents – and up to five of their family members between Armed Forces Day and Labor Day.
Fort Point, Chrissy Field, and the Golden Gate Bridge
After we tour the museum, we head for the outdoors. It’s still early, and there is much we want to see. We drive a loop around the parade grounds and past the National Cemetery on our way to Fort Point.
The fort was built between 1853 and 1861 by the US Army Engineers as part of a defense system planned for the protection of the San Francisco Bay. The exterior of the fort is open every day. The interior of the fort is open every day from 10 – 5, except for major holidays. There is no charge to enter Fort Point, and it’s easy to do a self-guided tour. There are interpretive panels throughout the facility to tell you about the fort and its history. Additionally, Park Rangers are around and happy to answer questions. On the way out, you will see a donations box, be generous if you can we need to support these historic sites.
We choose not to go inside the fort today, we’ve been there many times before. Instead, we walk over to Chrissy Field and the Warming Hut. It’s nice to have the time to enjoy the view, snap some pics, and take in the warm mid-day sun.
Leaving the Presidio and Heading for the Beach
Jumping back in the car, we head west to stop by some of my favorite places. The Legion of Honor sits on the edge of the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. While its name might not lead you to think that this is a full-on classical, fine-art museum, it is. Their permanent collections showcase paintings, ancient art, and more contemporary photography.
More than 800 European paintings from the 14th through the 20th centuries grace these walls. You can view works by Rubens, van Dyck, Rembrandt, Monet, Manet, Degas, and on and on.
In the Hall of Antiquities, there is everything from an Egyptian mummy to rare works of quality and importance from Egypt, the Near East, Greece, and Rome. Throughout the museum are sculptures (think Rodin), decorative arts, and more.
The building itself is a work of art and was a gift of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, wife of the sugar magnate, was built in the early 1920s. The design is a full-scale replica of the French Pavilion at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The French Pavilion was, in turn, a three-quarter version of the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur in Paris.
The location and property are so lovely; they are often the site of wedding photos. There is a photoshoot of this sort going on at least once a day. Just like we did on our wedding day.
The Legion of Honor is open Tuesday- Sunday from 9:30 – 5:15; closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $6 for students, and children 17 and under are free.
If you are a museum junkie, your ticket price for the Legion includes same-day general admission for the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. We’ve already toured two museums today, so it’s unlikely we will be heading over to the De Young.
The Cliff House = Next Stop on our San Francisco Staycation
It’s now late afternoon, and since we are out by “Land’s End,” we decide to have a cocktail at the Cliff House.
Four different versions of the Cliff House have blessed this westernmost edge of the City since 1863 (157 years)! It was such a popular locale, that in the late 1800s, Adolph Sutro had a streetcar line built to bring guests from the “Town” out to the beach.
1863 – 1894
The first version of the Cliff House had its ups and downs but survived! Even after the property was severely damaged when an abandoned schooner filled with dynamite ran aground on the rocks below the building and exploded! However, at Christmas in 1894, there was a chimney fire that destroyed the entire building.
1896 – 1907
Not deterred, Sutro spent what at the time was a small fortune $75.000 (equal to $2.1 Million in 2020 dollars) to build a bigger, more opulent version of the Cliff House in 1896. Fashioned after a French Chateau, this new Cliff House boasted eight stories and an observation tower 200 feet above the sea. This building survived the 1906 earthquake, only to succumb to a fire in September of 1907, making it the shortest-lived of the four.
1909 – 2003
In 1909, Adolph Sutro’s daughter, Dr. Emma Merritt, John Tait, and a group of investors rebuilt the Cliff House once more. They spent the same $75,000 that Sutro spent in 1896 but chose to use neoclassical design. This time the construction used steel reinforcing bars and poured concrete, ensuring the building would still be standing 100 years or more into the future.
And indeed, it was. This is the version of the Cliff House my DH and I chose for our wedding in 1998.
2003 – Present
The most recent remodel, completed in 2003, is the Cliff House we visit for our cocktails today. We are fortunate to get a table by the window in Sutro’s Bar & Lounge. As always, the views are fantastic! It’s a bright clear late afternoon (no fog or haze), and we can just make out the shapes of the Farallon Islands nearly 30 miles offshore.
You can take whale watching trips with the Oceanic Society out to the islands. But unless you are a researcher, you are not allowed on the islands due to the fragile eco-system. We talk about this as we sip our cocktails, but that will be a trip for another weekend.
Saturday Night Birthday Dinner
For dinner tonight, we choose a Persian restaurant, Lavash, on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset. When we arrive, I mention that we have a reservation for two, but my husband quickly corrects me and tells the host there will be four for dinner. The host lets us know that the other half of our party has arrived and takes us to our table, where our good friends are joining us to celebrate my birthday.
Lavash is an excellent choice for dinner. We decide to dine “family style.” Starting with a couple of appetizers, Sabzi Panir, a salad starter plate with fresh herbs, feta, cucumber, and tomato served with Lavash and Kashk-e Bademjam; roasted eggplant garnished with yogurt, onion, roasted garlic, mint, and saffron.
Next came out the entrees. Our first was the extravagant “Taste of Persia.” A dish meant for two; this platter comes loaded with four grilled skewers – Barg (filet of beef), Joojeh (chicken), Koobideh (mixed ground beef & lamb), and vegetables. Just in case that isn’t enough food, the dish comes with two basmati rice plates. And because we thought we might not have enough food, we also ordered Koresh Bademjan, a stew of beef with tomato and eggplant.
Yes, we ordered too much food, even for four people. But it was terrific. Dinner was so good; we had to order dessert
A great meal, with our best friends, was the best way to finish off our fun day in the City.
No San Francisco Staycation is Complete without Golden Gate Park
It’s Sunday, and we decide to spend it in the park. After a quick breakfast in the lounge, we pack up our overnight bags and check out of the hotel.
Golden Gate Park runs three miles in from the Ocean to the middle of the City. We plan to start near Ocean Beach and the old Dutch Windmill that sits adjacent to Queen Wilhelmina’s Tulip Garden. It’s February after all, and the tulips will be in bloom. We aren’t disappointed; the colors of the tulips are grand.
From here, we slowly move eastward on JFK Drive, stopping to say “Hi” to the small Bisson herd, passing Portal to the Past at Lloyd Lake, and Rainbow Falls, before arriving at our final destination for this weekend trip, the California Academy of Sciences.
The California Academy of Sciences
The Academy of Sciences has been in Golden Gate Park since 1916 after the 1906 Earthquake necessitated its relocation from Market Street. I’m pretty sure there is not one person who’s ever been to San Francisco and Golden Gate Park who has not been to the Academy of Sciences.
After the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, plans to reconstruct the Academy got underway. In 2008 an entirely new Academy emerged as one of the greenest museums in the world. From the solar panels and recycled steel and sustainable lumber to a living roof.
Here you can walk through a Rain Forrest, tour the aquarium, visit with some rare white alligators, and see the stars in the state of the art Planetarium.
The California Academy of Sciences is open Monday – Saturday from 9:30 – 5:00 and on Sunday from 11:00 to 5:00
Ticket pricing varies by date of entry but averages $35.00 for adults and $28.00 for children 3 – 17. There are discounts for Seniors and Students with valid ID’s.
San Francisco Staycation – Our Short Nostalgic Visit
The two days are over in what seems like a minute. We are happy that we have this chance to visit the places we grew up seeing.
We only toured a tiny part of the City. While “Famously” depicted as 7×7 (seven miles by seven miles), San Francisco packs a lot of history, architecture, museums, and fun into its 49 square miles. The City by the Bay is an excellent place for a weekend, a week, or longer if you have the time.