The vibe San Francisco has a rich history from its beginnings in 1849 when, due to the Gold Rush, the small village became the largest city on the West Coast of the United States. In 1967, San Francisco staged the Summer of Love revolution -- the biggest of its kind in the world -- whereby hippies, revolutionaries and politicos alike converged on the infamous neighbourhood of Haight Ashbury to explore sexual freedoms, music and a fair share of trippy drugs.
With its oft-recognized landmarks and idyllic rolling hills, the city is an interesting profusion of culture, fashion and haute cuisine. Their Vintage cable cars – which have been transporting city residents since the late 19th century – weave throughout the entire metropolis offering key views of The Golden Gate Bridge which spans a shocking 1.7 miles. In the Spring, people flock to The Embarcadero on the eastern waterfront; a pedestrian-friendly market square that boasts upscale eateries, cafes and, most notable, their California certified farmers market operated by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). Every Saturday over 15,000 shoppers descend on the Ferry Building to sample the best local meats, breads and produce. Where to shop: SanFran's chicest shopaholics can be found downtown at Union Square (www.unionsquareshop.com). The Mecca, surrounded by the Holy Trinity of shopping: Saks, Macy's and Neiman Marcus, has streets lined with the most recognizable designer brands: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Armani, oh my! Give your pocketbook a break by lunching at Scala's Bistro (www.scalasbistro.com) for their fresh market oysters and soft-shell crab risotto.
For your vintage fix, head to historic Haight Ashbury(known as the The Haight to locals). The epicenter of all things counterculture back in the '60s, the bohemian vibe of the village still resonates heavily today; you're sure to hear the tunes of The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin wafting out of storefront windows onto the rolling city streets. Here, classic Victorian homes are sandwiched between Head Shops and thriving local Bay Area designer boutiques. Pop into super-girlie Dollhouse Bettie (www.dollhousebettie.com) for their authentic vintage, retro and pinup lingerie. Also on offer is their Boudoir Photography; a session where you can sport their lingerie and then get your snaps taken in a fully outfitted Edwardian-esque studio complete with period furnishings and props. Fun!
Down the street is the Villains Vault (www.villainssf.com) a über-cool shop which carries a plethora of well-known designers such as Ben Sherman, Cheap Monday, Diesel and Splendid. Have a quick smoke of the vanilla hookah at the Middle Eastern café Kan Zaman (1793 Haight Street; 415-751-9656) before ending your day of shopping by chilling out at the oldest park in San Francisco: Buena Vista Park; a tranquil 36-acre park with great views of the San Francisco skyline. Where to stay: For the absolute in comfort and style, check into Hotel Vitale (www.hotelvitale.com). The 199-room boutique hotel – the first luxury waterfront property of the city – is located in the revitalized Embarcadero across the street from the historic Ferry Building. Expect modern and elegant designs with deluxe suites that offer panoramic views. The who's who of the city's finest can be found sipping cocktails at Americano Restaurant & Bar. You would be remiss not to book a treatment at Spa Vitale (www.spavitale.com). Services include The Bathing Ritual; rooftop bamboo garden baths to help soothe all that ails you with infusions of fresh, seasonal products made exclusively by SumBody.
Where to dine: The question is more where not to dine! San Francisco is renowned for their top-level cuisine, and with good reason. Whatever your gastronomic tastes, you're sure to find something to tempt your palette in this coastal city. Here, the list of our must-visit restaurants:
Foreign Cinema (www.foreigncinema.com):
Located in the trendy Mission District, this oh-so-chic resto is perhaps the best brunch spot in the city. Chefs and co-owners Gayle Pirie and John Clark have brought their travels from Europe and Asia to the table with their daily changing menu of California/Mediterranean cuisine. True to name, foreign films are screened in their quaint outdoor patio while stylish clientele munch on a selection of yummy oysters from their oyster bar or their most popular omelettes, like the late summer Champagne omelet complimented with golden chanterelles, crème fraiche, Fontina and crispy potatoes. But, a word of caution: Book early as tables fill up fast!
For the quintessential steakhouse experience head to Epic Roasthouse (www.epicroasthouse.com). The dining room, designed by world-renowned designer and restaurateur Pat Kuleto, is at once elegant and industrial in feel with its masculine furniture and floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering picture-perfect views of the Bay. The exhibition kitchen where Chef Jan Birnbaum prepares his sumptuous menu, has a custom-built wood-burning oven which offers signature dishes like their naturally raised Kobe beef, Carlton ranch pork and lemon rosemary garlic chicken with toasted brioche salad. The deserts are almost as delectable as the mains: Beignets with Bicern café au lait is the choice du jour with an espresso. Or, opt for the cornmeal black mission fig gallette with sweet summer corn ice cream. You won't be disappointed!
Yoshi's (www.yoshis.com): For lighter fare, head to Yoshi's. A delicious take on Japanese cuisine, the simple and seasonal menu offers the most mouth-watering sushi around. Try the Tsukiji Selection where Chef Sho offers 5 varieties of seasonal fish from Japan's coastal waters, hand picked by their buyers at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market. Or, share a selection of tasters with friends like their panko-crusted Ahi Tuna katsu with balsamic ginger sauce and their smoked Kobe carpaccio with tomato ponzu geleé. After dining, a few steps away is the jazz club where featured artists like The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Sheila E play to intimate crowds.
Oola Restaurant & Bar(www.oola-sf.com): This American Bistro is intimate, sexy and the perfect setting for a date. Chosen in 2005 by Bon Appetit magazine as one of the "Top 50 Hot Spots" in the United States, this quaint candlelit respite offers patrons rich tapas like foie gras torchon with brandied cherries or mouth-watering baby back ribs with soy ginger glaze. Finish off that bottle of Californian Pinot Noir with a selection of their artisan cheeses like chimay with walnuts, creamy Roquefort with caramelized pear and camellia with onion jam.
Poleng Lounge (www.polenglounge.com): Known as the college hangout for many San Francisco residents, this funky Balinese-styled, bar-cum-restaurant offers an eclectic dining experience. Led by a brave Chef Timothy Luym, starters include B.B.Q pork belly and – for the adventurous – their surprisingly appetizing poached marrow with coconut bread. Save some room for the nibble and share plates like Walu Kinlaw; a Filipino ceviche with butterfish cooked in sugar cane and thai chilies, or their sizzling sisig; a spicy pork medley with coconut vinegar and fresh calamansi (a fruit indigenous to Southeast Asia).
Local Tastes of the City Tours (www.sffoodtour.com): To experience La Vita Bella in San Francisco, book a Little Italy food tour with this local company. Set in the charming North Beach district (www.sfnorthbeach.com), tour guide -- and food impresario -- Tom Medin takes you on a behind-the-scenes gastronomic journey throughout the neighbourhood's best Italian eateries. Sample everything from fresh espresso coffee, to homemade foccacia and Parmigiano Regianno straight from the Italian countryside. Also of note is the luscious cannoli's from Victoria Pastry (www.victoriapastry.com) Tom won't let you leave North Beach without one!
Check out our slideshow of San Francisco on the next page!
For more on San Francisco and its many attractions, please visit: www.sfcvb.org
Also, to learn more about California, please visit: www.visitcalifornia.com