A grand weekend ‘staycation’ in SF
The Happy Wanderer/Ginny Prior
Article Launched: 07/31/2008 10:56:00 AM PDT-Contra Costa Times
GIVE IT UP for high-priced gas. It has created a new pop-culture phenomenon — the “staycation.”
The idea of vacationing near home may not seem titillating to someone, say, in my birthplace of Eureka, S.D. “Gee — let’s hop in the family truck and see — more acres of soybeans.” But for those of us blessed to live in the Bay Area, a “staycation” is a way to reconnect with one of the most vibrant cities on earth.
San Francisco is a Mecca for tourists and the weak U.S. dollar (especially against the Euro) makes it seem more cosmopolitan than ever. Here are two ways to have a grand weekend in the city — one with frills and one without. The one constant is the hotel room. Never skimp on this. Always insist on a luxury room with a pillow-top mattress and high thread count on the sheets. You’re worth it.
DAY ONE — WITHOUT FRILLS: Pack one roller bag and have a friend drop you off at the nearest BART station. Get off at the Embarcadero station and take one of the popular antique street cars along Fisherman’s Wharf. You will meet people from around the world as the wheels of your luggage roll over their open-toed shoes. Use this as an opportunity to learn some colorful new words in a foreign language. Get off at Pier 41 and walk two blocks to the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf for check-in.
DAY ONE — FRILLS: Drive into San Francisco. (You may be surprised at how light the traffic is, as everyone else is rolling their bags on BART). Pull up to the Hyatt for check-in and pay for your car to have a “staycation” too.
Now here is where the itinerary melds, no matter what your budget. Walk west from your hotel to Ghirardelli Square for the happy hour from 3-6 p.m. at McCormick and Kuleto’s. Sit in the bar and sip a glass of wine while you sup on tasty $2 appetizers like sweet potato fries and chicken wings. They don’t skimp on the portions, either — so you come away feeling like the savvy traveler you are.
Speaking of savvy, before you left home, you went online to www.citypass.com and bought a San Francisco CityPass. For $54, ($44 for kids) it gives you six free attractions and unlimited Muni and cable car rides for seven straight days. People come from across the globe to ride San Francisco’s cable cars. You flash your card and ride them for free. So walk across the street to the Hyde Street cable car turnaround and grab a seat for one of the world’s best thrill rides.
Past the snug rows of painted Victorians, the neighborhood markets and tiny cafes, you climb Nob Hill to California Street, the transfer point for a cable car to the Financial District (Battery and Clay) — for your 8 p.m. show at the Punch Line Comedy Club. One of the best bargains in town, for $19 and the cost of two drinks, you get 90 minutes of side-splitting laughs from three top-notch comedians. At the intimate venue, you may find yourself sharing the room with the likes of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom or former Mayor Willie Brown. After the show, catch the cable car back to Hyde Street for an Irish coffee nightcap at the famed Buena Vista Café — then walk to the hotel for a night of dreamy sleep.
DAY TWO — WITHOUT FRILLS: Wake up to complimentary coffee in your room and a bagel at any café along your walking route. You’re headed to Pier 39 for one of your free CityPass attractions, the Aquarium of the Bay. While this isn’t the Monterey Bay Aquarium by any means, its still fun to see silver sardines swim in a vortex and giant rays skim over scuttling crabs. When it’s time for lunch, grab a bite here or walk back to the In-and-Out Burger, just a few blocks west. Then it’s back to the hotel for a nap. (Did I mention the pillow-top mattress?) See below for dinner.
DAY TWO — FRILLS: Wake up and head to the lobby for the breakfast buffet at Knuckles, the popular hotel restaurant/bar at the Hyatt. It’s a hearty offering that will probably hold you over till dinner. Here, you will head for the same attractions as above, since you already have your CityPass and aren’t afraid to use it.
Dinner is at the landmark Franciscan Restaurant, the building shaped like a ship at Pier 43½.
With an enticing menu that doubles as a cookbook, you can spend as little or as much as you want here, taking in a priceless view of the waterfront and Alcatraz. We started with a smattering of succulent appetizers including crab fondue with swiss chard and an order of lightly battered calamari. Then we split a chicken arugula salad and spicy seafood cioppino. The rest of our order was a gluttonous feast that I’m still trying to work off today. I hope you will have more will power.
DAY THREE — WITHOUT FRILLS: This is the day you cram everything remaining on your San Francisco CityPass into a few fleeting hours, so as to get the most for your tourist dollar. All the attractions — the Blue and Gold Fleet Cruise, the De Young Museum and San Francisco MOMA — are accessible by cable car or Muni. Be sure to leave plenty of time for transfers and try to secure late check-out on this day so you don’t have to use your car.
DAY THREE — FRILLS: Enjoy breakfast in bed (by day three you’ll be married to your pillow-tip mattress anyway) and ask for late checkout. Then catch an attraction or two on your CityPass before reuniting with your car for a drive across town to the Orpheum Theatre for the 2 p.m. matinee of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Hands down — this is the funniest Broadway play I’ve seen. Its clever storyline will have you cheering in the aisles.
There you have it — the San Francisco “staycation.” Simple, yet intoxicating, it’s the new way to travel. Best of all, you won’t have to shut off the mail and the paper before you leave.