On and Off the Grid in San Francisco – A Two Part Series

photos courtesy of Howard Hian
photos courtesy of Howard Hian

Our guest post and monthly column comes from Howard Hian who was recently awarded a Gold Medal/First Place Award from the North American Travel Journalists Association’s annual international writing contest.  

On and Off the Grid in San Francisco – A Two Part Series

Travel decisions usually fall into well defined categories: where to stay, how to get around, what to do and where to eat, along with finding something different or “off the grid.” The definition of “off the grid” has morphed from living without public utilities to doing something out of the ordinary or unconventional.  Given that, here’s my on the grid guide to San Francisco.

Part One: On the Grid 

Where to Stay – Location, location, location.  I am a Kimpton groupie and San Francisco is where they opened their first boutique hotel.  There are nine Kimpton properties in “The City by the Bay.”   This trip we stayed at the award winning, newly renovated, four-star Hotel Monaco located in the Theater District just four blocks from Union Square.

How to Get Around – I highly recommend purchasing the San Francisco CityPASS discount booklet. This allows you to ride the world-famous cable car as well as the Muni (public transportation). Additionally, Blue & Gold Fleet and RocketBoat tours on the Bay are included. CityPASS is a great value.

photo-71What to Do – The San Francisco CityPASS also provides entrance to must-see attractions.  We visited the California Academy of Sciences, the Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the deYoung + Legion of Honor and The Exploratorium.

Where to Eat – Just as Kimpton is the leader in boutique lodging, so have they changed the perception of hotel restaurants.

Scala’s Bistro is the definitive San Francisco dining experience; sophisticated with attentive, knowledgeable servers and great attention to preparation and presentation.  Located inside the landmark Sir Francis Drake Hotel, its menu pulls from rustic Italian with French nuances, combined with the freshness of California cuisine.  As you would imagine, there is an extensive wine list, creative desserts and lively bar scene.

Puccini & Pinetti’s  is a long-time favorite of mine.  This reasonably priced Italian bar and grill is located just off Union Square and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It has an exhibition kitchen featuring Italian classics with novel twists. It could best be described as a neighborhood style restaurant that’s kid friendly, with an energetic and casual atmosphere. I usually end up grazing at their happy hour extravaganza, but this trip lunch was on my schedule. Try their 3-course “Working Lunch.”

SF muni-cablecar-5-1My two other meals were at the Hotel Monaco. Their Grand Cafe Brasserie’s setting is a turn-of-the-century majestic ballroom with soaring ceilings and art deco features mixed with contemporary touches. The food is regional French cuisine with local influences. A special weekend brunch menu combines imaginative breakfast items with entrees; don’t miss their take on the classic Croque Monsieur. Lunch is also a treat in this splendid room.  The mussel appetizer with freshly baked bread is enough for a meal. The adjoining Grand Cafe Bar features a happy hour and pre-and post-theater dining.

Safe travels and enjoy the journey…

Howard Hian