Author Sara Settegast Hare Photography Todd Pearson
DAY ONE / On your first perfect morning, wake up at the Fairmont Hotel, the grand dame of San Francisco’s Nob Hill. In April 1906, just days before its scheduled grand opening, this gleaming white hotel was completely gutted by an earthquake fire. One year later, the Fairmont finally opened, celebrating with a huge party. Historic black and white photographs in the lobby commemorate these early days.
After breakfast in the Fairmont’s airy Laurel Court, head west for a look at the city’s prevailing architectural style: the San Francisco Victorian. San Francisco was born in the Victorian era, and throughout the city you’ll catch glimpses of jewels such as the Painted Ladies, a block of picture-perfect Victorians along Alamo Square Park. After a gander at these brightly painted homes with a backdrop of San Francisco’s skyline, proceed to the meticulously preserved Victorian house museum Haas-Lilienthal House. This Queen Anne–style Victorian with Italianate details was built in 1886 and provides a good look at how San Franciscans lived at the turn of the century. Inside you’ll discover period furnishings, paintings, and Chinese ceramics. Since you called ahead, you’ve timed your visit to catch one of the San Francisco Heritage Society’s architectural tours.
Still pondering pre-earthquake San Francisco? Head down to the Old Mint at Fifth and Mission streets in the city’s South of Market area. This is the starting point of the Barbary Coast Trail, a 3.8-mile self-guided walking tour that leads past key historical sites. Celebrating the city’s past from the days of the Gold Rush, the tour winds through Union Square, Chinatown, Russian Hill, and North Beach (a colorful Italian neighborhood).
Fortify yourself with lunch before traveling too far back in time. East meets West (and caters to San Francisco’s burgeoning Asian-American population) at the E&O Trading Co., a pan-Asian eatery where the food is as interesting as the wall décor. The Indonesian corn fritters with chile-soy dipping sauce are a sure hit.
After lunch, continue on the Barbary Coast Trail to the financial district and the Wells Fargo History Museum to discover how the stagecoach settled the West. Then you’re ready to climb Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower, the city’s art-deco treasure. Even more breathtaking than the climb are the panoramic views of the bay and the enormous murals painted by dozens of artists, many of whom studied under world-renowned Mexican artist Diego Rivera.
If time is too short to finish your tour of the Barbary Coast Trail, cut over to Mason Street, stopping off at the Cable Car Museum at Mason and Washington streets. At this free museum, replete with clanking cars and groaning cables, visitors can see the machinery that operates the city’s cable cars.
Here, you are just a few blocks from the hotel. Stop in for a mai tai at the Fairmont’s Tonga Room before heading out for a San Francisco treat: dinner at Michael Mina. Hop the cable car down to Union Square and the Westin St.
Francis Hotel. Inside, Michael Mina beckons diners with its blend of understated sophistication and talk-of-the-town seafood. After a starter of the signature ahi tuna tartare, launch into the potato crusted John Dory with crème fraîche and truffle salsify while Union Square views and piano-bar music soothe your soul.
After a sumptuous dinner, hail a cab for the water-front. At the foot of the sparkling Bay Bridge, inhale the atmosphere of La Suite, one of San Francisco’s hottest French bistros. Enjoy dessert and espresso outdoors under a beautiful night sky.
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