Home to tech mavens, foodies, counterculture types and newcomers from all over the globe, America’s hilly, fog-shrouded Golden Gate is a city unlike any other.
DAY TWO Having transferred to the Hotel Des Arts (1), you awaken above the street sounds of downtown San Fran. A joint venture with the Mission District’s START SOMA gallery, this boutique hotel boasts rooms designed and painted by emerging artists (including Shepard Fairey, the creator of the Obama “Hope” poster) that might include anything from abstract gold leaf to screen-printed Mexican wrestlers.
Just down the hill on Market Street, the Palace Hotel offers one of the most spectacular dining spaces in the city. With its Gilded Age design, the Garden Court (2) restaurant looks like the ballroom of a Viennese palace. The food is great, but the main attraction here is the massive glass ceiling, which vaults three stories above your table. Enjoy a fresh- squeezed orange juice and some cinnamon brioche French toast while pondering the morning sky.
Sated, hop the 38 bus west. Your destination is Japantown, a network of indoor and outdoor malls, markets and shops. It’s the perfect place to fi nd obscure J-pop albums, luxe origami paper, futuristic cell phone cozies or action figures. Stop into New People (3), a five-story combination boutique, café and movie theater specializing in hard-to-fi nd Japanese fare. Pick up a papercraft robot for your desk and a box of Pocky for the fl ight home.
When you’re done browsing, walk a block over to Dosa (4), a world-class Indian restaurant right in the heart of Japantown. With its stylish décor and hyperauthentic South Indian cuisine, Dosa is a treat on every level. Order the spicy fish pakoras, cumin beet soup and a mini dosa (a crispy stuffed crêpe). The flavors are subtle and delicately layered.
You head to Golden Gate Park to relax and digest. After wandering through the Japanese Tea Garden (5), a 117-year-old complex of carp ponds, pagodas, bonsai trees and rock gardens, you head into the Academy of Sciences (6) to mess around with the interactive exhibits and gape at the neon colors of the aquariums. Take your time wandering, as both spots offer hidden surprises—Buddha statues, starfish petting pools—to reward the careful visitor.
As the afternoon shadows begin to lengthen, hop the Fulton Street bus west to Ocean Beach, a sparsely populated fi ve- mile strip of sand favored by dog walkers, picnickers and the odd surfer. Walk north toward the unassuming white concrete box of The Cliff House (7), a historic hotspot perched on a bluff above the water. Inside, you’ll fi nd a beautiful modernist space perfect for watching the sunset on the Pacific. You order the fl aky bacon-crusted salmon on celery-potato puree, and stick around until the last ray of sunset slips below the horizon.
A Whirlwind tour of S.F. Counterculture
First came the 49ers, who actually started arriving in 1848 in search of gold and increased the city’s population 25-fold in a single year. By the 1880s, writers like Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson had gathered here, helping San Fran develop its reputation as a hub for the arts. In the 1950s, many of the Beat writers called the city home, hosting readings and bop concerts in North Beach. Their presence helped bring about the Summer of Love in 1967, when hippies fl ocked to Haight-Ashbury, spawning a host of legendary rock bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
By the ’70s, the hippies had been largely replaced by an influx of gays and lesbians (partially fueled by the military, which often deposited its dishonorably discharged gay soldiers in San Francisco), which turned the Castro neighborhood into the engine of the gay rights movement. Today, the action is in Palo Alto, where tech nerds with million- dollar condos work to craft the technology that will drive San Francisco for its next 100 years.