SF Guide
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Travel & Culture

San Francisco Travel Highlights – Feb 2019

This trip was almost what you would call “spur of the moment.”  I got a somewhat last minute opportunity (about 2 weeks notice) to go to a training for work at the Oracle corporate offices.  Thankfully, Rob was able to take some time off and fly out to meet me and have a long weekend in San Francisco.  We have been to the area several times (and will be going back for a more wine country focused trip this summer) and love the area.  We wanted to highlight some old favorites and some new finds as part of this short trip.

As is becoming our norm, we went into this with effectively nothing pre-planned.  The one aspect we did have planned was to go to Tyler Florence’s restaurant Wayfare Tavern (more on this later).  What was awesome was that we actually MET Tyler Florence at the airport!!!  It turns out, he was on the same flight back to DC as us and I felt like a bit a of a nerd, but its not everyday that you meet one of your biggest culinary inspirations.

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Tyler Florence @SFO

But back to the trip details after my food nerd interruption there. Like many of our recent trips, we haven’t made a lot of reservations or replanned itineraries prior to going.  Honestly, we have found that we have a lot more fun and it allows for flexibility to adjust for weather or how we are feeling.  On this trip, that really allowed us to take a few very impromptu adventures.

Itinerary

Our general itinerary looked like this:

  • Friday Evening: Evening in SF (Rob and I met up around 3pm)
  • Saturday: Union Square, Ferry Building Market, Chinatown, Wayfare Tavern
  • Sunday: Knob Hill Breakfast, Drive through Muir Woods, Napa/Sonoma, easy dinner to watch the Super Bowl
  • Monday: Breakfast in city, Fly Out

Hotel: StayPineapple, An Elegant Hotel Union Square

SF StayPineapple
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San Francisco StayPineapple

We decided to branch out a bit from our usual Marriott brand hotels for this one and checkout a new option.  StayPineapple is a pretty small chain based out of Seattle with maybe 10 hotels across the country.  The brand seems to focus a bit more a doing a few select amenities really well as opposed to offering a lot of okay options.  For example, there isn’t a restaurant or food really, they do have a breakfast bar and a regular cocktail bar which were well stocked with a friendly staff.  According the bartender, more food options are in the plan once the restaurant finds a chef.

From an overall vibe, the hotel and its branding is trendy with a heavy focus on yellow/gold and white. The hotel was decorated mostly with subtle pop-art that didn’t feel tacky or gaudy.  My favorite is a collection of penguin statues in the lobby.

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As far as the rooms, its more of the same; cleanly elegant with white, gold, and black accents.  We got one of the smaller rooms, which were objectively pretty small, but not to the point of feeling cramped.  The bathroom was actually rather large compared to the size of the bedroom itself and very nice; marble floors and a large walk-in shower.  The bedding set-up is a bit unique, called the “Naked Experience”.  They don’t default to putting a top sheet on the bed (there is one in the dresser though along with yellow striped robes) and you get two personal sized duvet covers, which does take a little figuring out.

Location wise the hotel is great.  We had actually stayed at a hotel next door the last time we were in SF so we knew the area pretty well.  Its located about 2 blocks up from Union Square and maybe another 2-3 to Market Street or Chinatown.  The Ferry Building and Embarcadero are about a 20 minute walk away.  So generally, its close to a lot of restaurant options and shopping.

Restaurants

Wayfare Tavern

This was definitely the food highlight of our trip.  Like I said earlier, last time we went here I had developed a migraine about 10 minutes after being seated and I just could not enjoy the dinner.  This time I had no such problem thankfully and we were able to enjoy the experience to its fullest.  Tyler Florence is easily one of my favorite celebrity chefs, I love his focus on basic technique and the educational aspect of a lot of his shows. My personal cooking philosophy is heavily molded by this; mastery of techniques and a little knowledge of food science allows you to create complex flavors fairly easily.

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Wayfare Tavern is really a throwback to the classic American tavern restaurant elevated by unique flavor combinations and expert mastery of technique.  The ambiance is very classic American: dark woods, hunting decorations, and a big bar.  It’s also really great because the restaurant, while clearly upscale from a food, perspective is not overly stuffy or formal like so many “fine dining” experiences today.

We had a few drinks at the bar before dinner and the cocktail list continues the trend of elevated classics.  The drinks are turn-of-the-century favorites like Old Fashioned, Sours, Mules, etc., but with unique twists that take them beyond the original recipe.  Rob had the Old Fashioned which used a mixture of bitters and Rye while I had my favorite: a whiskey sour, which used egg whites.

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Amazing Fried Chicken!!!

For dinner, Rob and I split a bottle of Syrah from Stolpman to go with our dinner.  I had the Fried Chicken, Rob had the Burger, and we split a side of Brussels Sprouts.  You may be thinking Fried Chicken and a Burger?  Hell Yeah!!! The fried chicken coating is light and crispy and absolutely packed with flavor.  It has hints of lemon, thyme, and sage and  doesn’t feel heavy.  As for Rob’s burger, he said it was the best he has ever had.  The patty was perfectly juicy, light, and rich all at the same time.  Its topped with a red onion topping which Rob would almost never eat normally but he loved the flavor it provided and how it just went perfectly with the rest of the flavor.  As for the Brussels Sprouts, overall a simple, classic preparation, but perfectly executed.

Sanraku on Sutter

Sanraku
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This was another revisit for us.  We first found this little Japanese restaurant on our last trip while wandering around trying to find a lunch spot.  Its not a big place but has been crowded both times we have been for lunch and now dinner.  They have an extremely extensive sushi menu included seasonal fish options sourced directly from Japan.  The list included things like Toro, Bonito, Hamachi, and Uni.  We split Gyoza as an appetizer to start along with some Japanese craft beers from Coedo Brewery. 

Sanraku
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For dinner I had a beef udon bowl, which was delicious and HUGE.  Rob went with a Tonkatsu (fried pork chop), which was similarly massive.  That’s what is great about this place, great food, large portions, reasonable prices, and clearly a local favorite.  That is often one of the things I look for when I try to find places for dinner, if it looks like it does a good local business its probably pretty good even if its not trendy or flashy.

Hitachino Nest Brewery Restaurant

Hitachino Nest
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We have not actually eaten here yet as its a little specialized and pricey (think Japanese small plates using really high quality beef).  That being said, Rob loves it because of the beer.  This is one of only a few Japanese craft breweries that can be found in the States and Rob has loved their beer almost as long as he has been drinking beer.  They make a very wide variety of beers ranging from a traditional Belgian Wit style to some very specialized beers using native Japanese ingredients like red rice and yuzu.  Its definitely a bit more experimental and will not be what you are likely used to unless you drink a lot of stuff from somewhere like Dogfish Head.  I highly recommend checking it out though and getting a tasting flight.

Things to Do

Ferry Building Market

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The Ferry Building Market is probably the ultimate foodie stop in SF.  With its combinations of restaurants, counter service dining, market options, and shopping there is something for everyone.  Its obviously very popular and can get crowded especially on a Saturday morning when its also hosting its 3x per week farmer’s market.  We wandered around the tents for the farmer’s market and was I jealous.  The selection, quality, and number of vendors was beyond anything I have seen in some of the Northern VA farmer’s markets.  There was one food truck set up selling rotisserie chicken sandwiches that had to have had a 20 minute wait.

Anyway back inside, there is a good mix of options.  There is a really good wine shop with a mix of CA and international wines along with a wine bar tasting area.  One of my favorite stalls is a shop specializing in mushrooms mainly because they were selling mini mushroom farms that you could take home.  There is also Cowgirl Creamery, which make some of my absolute favorite cheeses and can be found across the country now.  On our last trip we did get to eat at the butcher stalls quick service counter which memory serves was awesome, Rob got a lamb burger.

Heath Ceramics
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Where we spent a lot of time looking around was at the Heath Ceramics shop.  I thought for a few minutes Rob was going to want to buy everything he saw.  The mixture of style and color options had him going nuts from a food photography standpoint since it was exactly what he has been looking for.  The price point was really good too, given the quality.  For all of the blogger readers out there, definitely check them out!!

Chinatown

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San Francisco’s Chinatown is different than any that I have seen on the East Coast.  It feels far more authentic and condensed than either Philly or DC.  Many of the restaurants are small, inexpensive, and local favorites.  The food highlight is definitely Dim Sum though; because, who can say know to a tasting menu of Chinese food.

Also make sure to check out some of the tea shops if you are interested in that.  They have an extremely wide variety of teas in bulk to suit almost any taste at good prices

Muir Woods/Marin Headlands

What started out as a plan to drive to the Presidio and just take in some views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach or the visitor center turned into an impromptu decision to drive across the bridge and into Muir Woods.  Rob absolutely loves the driving around this area; its hilly, twisty, and brings out his inner F1 driver.

I will say that some of these roads are not for the faint of heart.  They are windy and narrow, many being blind hairpins; however, to Rob this was heaven.  While Rob may hate rollercoasters, he was grinning and laughing the whole drive.

We stopped a few times to get some pictures at overlooks and at Muir Beach.  It was pretty cold and rainy so we didn’t spend a lot of time on this trip, but you can get some absolutely gorgeous views that are unlikely almost anything on the East Coast (at least the mid-Atlantic).

Napa/Sonoma Day Trip – Oxbow Market, Goosecross, & Arrowood

After driving through Muir Woods we continued up into Napa.  Our first stop was at the Oxbow Public Market, which in many ways is like a smaller version of the Ferry Building.  Oxbow does have a little bit more by way of eateries many of which we have tried at this point.  To name a few of the options available, you’ve got: pizza, sushi, oysters, cupcakes, meat/sandwich, coffee, wine/cheese, actual sit-down restaurant, and a brewery.

We decided to grab sandwiches from the Five Dot Ranch stall.  They have an actual butcher shop section in addition to serving breakfast and lunch options.  I had an excellent French Dip while Rob went for a BBQ beef sandwich.

From there, we headed up Silverado Trail to Yountville and Goosecross Cellars.  We have highlighted their wine a few times before.  They have a fun staff, a great tasting room and view, and excellent wines.  It’s also nice because they have a good mix of white and red varietals, most of which are available for tasting.  They don’t really have a set tasting menu based on experience. They will largely just pour tastes of anything they have available, including some limited run wines.

From there we decided to drive down and around into Sonoma Valley and up to Glen Ellen and Arrowood Winery.  Again, this is another winery we have highlighted before.  The winery is located up a little bit onto the Mayacama range and the tasting room looks down into the valley.  The rain cleared up right as we arrived and the view as absolutely beautiful.  Arrowood definitely focuses more heavily on its red wines, but they do make a few really good whites.  One of my favorites is their Chardonnay that has a good balance to it; I will definitely be highlighting this in an upcoming wine pairing so stay tuned.

SF Coffee and Breakfast Options

Coffee Shop Options

If there is one thing SF has in abundance its great coffee and breakfast options.  Rob did a lot of research in this area to at least have a good list of options ready to go depending on where we found ourselves.  While we skipped them on this trip, Blue Bottle is probably the most well known SF coffee hop chain. Ritual is another excellent option.

Our first morning we went to a small place by our hotel called Scullery.  Despite an unassuming, almost tiny storefront, Scullery provides a good drink selection and a not insignificant food menu for things like toast.  Seating was pretty limit, so we just grabbed coffee to go and went in search of other food options.

Later that day, we found a Sightglass Coffee pop-up at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market.  They have a physical location in the SoMa area but were doing espresso and pour overs from the tent.  The coffee was really good and the tent was doing a heck of a lot of business.

Sunday morning we stopped in at Contraband Coffee in Knob Hill (Larkin & California).  We each got pour overs which were excellent.  They have multiple varietals, I really liked the El Salvador it had an interesting fruit note that was distinct unlike many coffees.  They have a pretty wide selection of pastries available in addition to some breakfast pie options. 

Sit Down Breakfasts

We also ended up stopping at a few places for a more traditional sit-down breakfast experience.  These were nice as it forced us to slow down a bit, which is often a struggle for us on vacation.  In our normal day-to-day life, we rarely do sit down breakfasts given our typical schedules.  So, when on vacation, it can be nice to stop and really enjoy a meal.

We made a random decision to stop at Cafe a la Presse, a French-style bistro right by the Dragon Gate into Chinatown.  It had a pretty legit feel to it despite what could be a very tourist trap location.  The portions were absolutely huge and the breakfast options were excellent.  I had a fairly standard egg-potato-toast plate and Rob had French toast.

For our Monday breakfast, we popped into Honey Honey Cafe & Crepery, which was right by our hotel.  They serve a pretty wide mix of food and are open pretty much all day.  Breakfast-wise they had most of the standard breakfast fare and they were doing good business for 10 am on a Monday.  Ambiance-wise, it wasn’t fancy or anything, but definitely has that local-favorite vibe that I love.  Plus when the food is good, no one really cares.

More Options

While we didn’t necessarily do all of these on this trip here are some other great options for things to do if you don’t have a lot of time or prefer exploring the sites:

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