Victorian architecture and towering skyscrapers, 18th-Century Spanish history and cutting-edge tech innovation, local artisans and international culinary talent—San Francisco is an exciting cosmopolitan city grounded in tradition and laid-back Northern Californian charm. Just a two-and-a-half hour flight or a scenic 15-hour drive from the Lower Mainland, the city has long been a go-to getaway for Vancouverites. On our recent trip, we discovered that the pandemic only served to make The Golden City’s dining, hotel and culture scene even dreamier. —Lise Boullard
Stay: An array of new hotels have opened in San Francisco since the COVID-19 lockdown, and the boutiquey Kimpton Alton is a Fisherman’s Wharf must. One of the few hotels situated in the iconic tourist area, the property offers amenities designed to delight everyone from baby boom business execs to the Millennial set. We loved the record players and yoga mats in every room, and we never missed the Happy Hours in the lobby lounge where complimentary wine flows daily from 5 pm to 6 pm. We were happy to sample a selection of traditional Filipino dishes reinterpreted with California ingredients at the award-winning Abaca, the hotel’s on-site restaurant. Don’t miss the savoury Tocino Silog—pineapple marinated pork belly, garlic rice and fried eggs—that kept us going until lunchtime. We also suggest taking a coconut pastry to-go and blissfully devouring it as we did while strolling to the nearby waterfront and watching swimmers get their morning workout in San Francisco Bay.
See: New outdoor gathering spots, pedestrian-only streets and dining parklets emerged during the pandemic, bringing even more life and vibrancy to the city once known for its Summer of Love. After a lunch of tuna tostadas washed down with fire-roasted jalapeno and orange liqueur margaritas at The Presidio’s Colibri Mexican Bistro, we explored the recently built Presidio Tunnel Tops. This network of green spaces, playgrounds and viewpoints constructed on top of San Francisco’s Presidio Parkway tunnels offers myriad picnic spots and Insta-worthy panoramas of the vermillion-coloured Golden Gate Bridge. Just a few steps away is the Walt Disney Family Museum, run by members of the Disney family, some of whom live in the Bay Area. Here, we indulged in some childhood nostalgia, learning about the struggles and triumphs of the one and only Walt, and the stories behind our favourite cartoon classics—and that very cute mouse.
Dine: With restaurants serving up fare from around the globe, San Francisco’s culinary scene is inventive and world-class. One evening, we put on our best travel outfits and ascended to the sixth floor dining room of the ultra-glamorous Empress by Boon. The opulent Asian-influenced interiors and sweeping skyline views elevated our experience as we savoured every dish in the upscale Cantonese nine-course prix fixe menu (the perfectly seasoned Wagyu Beef and Lotus Root was divine). On our last night in the city, our group gathered around a live edge wood table at Greens restaurant for a family-style dinner featuring roasted brussels sprouts pizza, grilled polenta with roasted wild mushrooms, and roasted carrot hummus. While looking out at the panoramic views of the illuminated Golden Gate Bridge, we talked about life and imagined what it might have been like to dine at the institution when it originally opened in 1979.
Explore: Some of our most memorable San Francisco moments happened off of the tourist trail. On a WokWiz walking tour of Chinatown led by a lifelong resident—a woman named Gimmy in her 70s who seemed half of her age—we learned about the area’s culture and history. Despite facing many hardships since it was first established in 1848—from the 1906 earthquake to cultural prejudice—North America’s oldest and largest Chinatown has retained its culture and beauty as evidenced by many intricate churches and temples, tiny alleys decorated with teal storefronts and red lanterns, and culinary institutions like the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, which first opened in 1962. Afterwards, we hopped on a cable car that whisked us up a hair-raising hill, passing a kaleidoscope of pastel-hued row houses before pulling into the trendy Nob Hill neighbourhood. We could have spent all afternoon strolling past sleepy corner bistros, flower shops and boutiques, and people-watching. Walking back down towards San Francisco Bay, a cable car was quietly chugging upwards, and we noticed the sun was beginning to set behind Ghirardelli Square. We had the feeling that despite the pandemic, or maybe even because of it, San Francisco was going to be alright.
Kimpton Alton Hotel and Abaca Restaurant photos by Kimpton Alton Hotel; Boon by Empress photos by Boon By Empress; all other photos by San Francisco Travel Association