The Happy Wanderer: San Francisco’s hidden treasures

HILLS NEWSPAPERS  August 21, 2009

Twilight is one of my favorite times. Like many hills dwellers, I love the way sunset paints the sky over San Francisco. But it occurs to me, as I take in this celestial sight, that I’ve been neglecting one of the greatest cities on earth. I spend time every summer in places that can’t hold a candle to San Francisco. Like a neighbor I’ve taken for granted, I see her – but don’t really know her.

That’s going to change. I’m spending the weekend in San Francisco, and using one of the city’s great hotels for my base camp.

The Palace Hotel ( has been a San Francisco jewel since 1875. Imagine a splendid seven story structure

The Garden Court at the Palace Hotel

The Garden Court at the Palace Hotel

rising up from the dusty streets of a town that still had wooden sidewalks. The Transcontinental Railroad was bringing travelers by the droves and The Palace rivaled the great inns of Paris and Vienna, according to a famous visitor of the time, General William T. Sherman.

When the original hotel burned down in a wall of fire that consumed Market Street after the 1906 quake, an even more spectacular structure replaced it in 1909. This is the Palace Hotel that stands, today, as a testament to San Francisco’s ingenuity and spirit. She’s 100 and fabulous – and the perfect place for a weekend  “staycation”, or even just lunch in the celebrated Garden Court.

Here are five fabulous things to do, in and around the Palace Hotel.

  1. Take a free hotel history tour, led by San Francisco City Guides ( Offered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays throughout the year, this 90 minute tour will transport you through time with tales of the people who stayed at the Palace. My favorite is President Warren G. Harding, whose death at the Palace was shrouded in mystery.
  1. Dine like royalty in the hotel’s Garden Court. Widely acclaimed as one of the world’s most beautiful public spaces, I still get goose bumps when I see the soaring glass ceiling and crystal chandeliers.  Take the City Guides tour and you’ll be able to order from the Garden Court’s anniversary menu, where Executive Chef Jesse Llapitan’s elegant two course lunch is just $19.09. (The cioppino is succulent and brimming with seafood).
  1. See and be seen in the Pied Piper Bar. The Pied Piper and its companion restaurant, Maxfields, have been
    The famed Pied Piper bar

    The famed Pied Piper bar

    headquarters for the hip and connected since the early days of the hotel. It’s all about the ambiance here, with the warm wood and marble mosaic floors and a priceless 1909 painting of the Pied Piper behind the bar.  Sip a vodka martini (Herb Caen’s favorite drink) and nosh on fresh sushi, (a deluxe plate made on site is just $20) giant prawns, oysters and one of my favorites – calamari French fries.  Everything is top notch at this San Francisco hot spot. There’s no need to dine anywhere else.

  1. Grab an antique street car or cable car and soak up the sights. The Palace is at Market and New Montgomery, one of the city’s transit hubs. Use the San Francisco City Pass ( to get around and get unlimited rides on Muni for a week.  In fact, one could spend hours just riding the cable cars and meeting visitors from around the world.
  1. Use that same City Pass to see the new King Tut exhibit at the de Young.  Tut at Twilight is especially eerie as you misc 3 008descend into the catacombs of one of the world’s great museums to see treasures from the tomb of boy king Tutankhamun.  (And if you haven’t already seen it, go early and visit the new California Academy of Sciences across the street. Your City Pass is good for both.) Then take in another must-see venue – Wicked at the Orpheum Theatre (  Launched in San Francisco in 2003, this is a mind-blowing production that celebrates the adage; “There’s no place like home”.

This summer, especially, I couldn’t agree more.


One thought on “The Happy Wanderer: San Francisco’s hidden treasures

  1. Hi Ginny, Are you the same woman who used to do radio here, oh so many years ago?? I wondered where you went. I met you once when a package meant for me ended up with you at the radio station. It was always so unnerving to hear you say “This is Ginny Prior”…One time my husband heard you being announced on a stage down at Union Square for some event and it really startled him – he couldn’t imagine what I was doing down there!! Hope you are well, Ginny

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