Happy Wanderer: City by the Bay’s perfect day


HILLS NEWSPAPERS: October 1, 2010

There are days when I feel like nothing is mine — not the towel on the rack, not the change on my vanity, not even the half a burrito I was saving for later. But when I visit San Francisco in autumn — I feel like I own the place.

Consider a city so loved, it’s practically strangled in summer. But as the days shorten, so do the lines at the cable car turnaround and other popular tourist attractions. That’s when I feel like Herb Caen. That’s when it’s my city, baby.

I grab my girlfriends and we find a good deal at a classic hotel like the Westin St. Francis. Our getaway goes something like this:

2 p.m.: Check in, freshen up, meet under the clock in the St. Francis lobby. From there we celebrate life’s little ups and downs with a ride on the hotel’s glass elevator — hands-down the best free ride in the city with panoramic views from the top.

2:15 p.m.: Hop on a cable car with 13 bucks in hand for an unlimited all-day pass. Hang off the sides and soak up the sights and sounds, talking with locals and dispensing free advice to tourists. We may even toddle over to the Tadich Grill for a drink. Wind up at Fisherman’s Wharf for the Alcatraz Night Tour.

4:20 p.m.: Tickets (advanced reservations necessary) and flashlights in hand, we board the boat for a chilling trip to The Rock. The night tour of Alcatraz makes the cell blocks so much spookier. The fog swirls and shadows cast long solemn faces on the weeping cement walls. It’s a creepy sensation, made even more poignant by the scars left behind — and the fact that you can stay on the island alone — until the last boat takes you away.

 9 p.m.: Take the cable car back to our hotel and change into evening wear for dinner and drinks at Michael Mina. Split small plates of lobster pot pie and ahi tuna tartar and sip luscious fruit cocktails with names like Chartreuse Swizzle. At least one of us orders a martini with olives — rumored to have originated at the St. Francis.

10 p.m.: In fine voice by this time, we walk over to Lefty O’Douls for a few songs around the old piano bar and then retire to our rooms for deep, restorative sleep on the hotel’s trademark Heavenly Beds.

10 a.m.: Ignore the alarm and get up when we’re ready. Walk up the block to the home of those little Swedish Pancakes at Sears. Sit at the counter like locals and order up the dollar-sized delicacies with warm maple syrup and Lingonberries, diets be damned.

12 p.m.: Check out of our hotel and have the desk hold our luggage while we grab a streetcar up Market to Gough for a $20 massage. This is not a typo. Monday through Friday until 5:30 p.m., the National Holistic Institute offers a “Recession Special” 50-minute treatment for 20 bucks.

Round out the day with a play or some shopping and we’re ready to return to our routines. And I, for my part, am more willing to share — my towel, my change and my burrito.

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