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Long before Vancouver topped the cost-of-living index, San Fran-never Frisco-was the original place that begged the question, How can anyone afford to live here? Add in an iconic cable bridge, a long-running locavore food scene, and numerous enclaves loaded with bespectacled hipsters with no apparent means of support and it becomes clear that the City by the Bay is a brother-in-arms worth looking up again.
Lodging in San Fran skews more to the funky than the sedate, which puts the supremely refined Mandarin Oriental (from $395, 222 Sansome St., 415-276-9888) in an understated class all its own. How to win friends and influence people? Write letters to them on personalized stationery stocked in your room. To boot, the hotel’s downtown address is surprisingly quiet, its perch on the top 11 floors of a 48-storey office tower offering high-altitude respite from the bustling streets below-as well as killer views of the Bay, the Transamerica Pyramid, and pretty much everything else worth seeing.
Ordinarily, we wouldn’t direct you to San Fran’s number one touristy scene at the landmark Ghirardelli Square, but when this historic chocolate factory has been reincarnated as the Fairmont Heritage Place (from $460, Suite D100, 900 North Point St., 888-991-4300), we’d be doing you a disservice not to. Perfect for families or couples, these swanky condos come replete with full kitchen, dining room, and minimum two bathrooms per suite, and range from 850 sq. ft. (one bedroom) to 1,900 sq. ft. (three bedrooms). There’s also a complimentary on-site chauffeur.
The city is much more than the Union Square/SoMa/North Beach triangle, and it’s worth decamping to a neighbourhood where actual people live. The new Inn at the Presidio (42 Moraga Ave. 415-800-7356) occupies the former bachelor officers’ lodging at the famed military base turned national park and offers not only green space but access to the Marina District, Richmond, and Cow Hollow (vibrant, lively ‘hoods that see only a trickle of tourists).
Note to readers: The originally published version of this article stated that the rate at the Fairmont Heritage Place was from $460. The updated rate is now from $549.
The food philosophy that North American diners currently hold dear-local produce, organic butchery, artisanal everything-more or less came from these parts. Whereas rival food mecca NYC buys into its own legend (consider the frenzy foodies whipped themselves into over Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese opening on the Lower East Side, notwithstanding he’d already been open in SF for three years), San Fran chefs are too busy cooking and keeping it unpretentious to worry about self-promotion. (And Mission Chinese, while still good, has dipped precipitously in quality since Bowien’s NYC sojourn.)
Case in point: Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski’s State Bird Provisions (1529 Fillmore St., 415-795-1272), an unassuming little spot in the Western Addition ‘hood fresh off a James Beard nomination for best new restaurant in the United States. One part offbeat (half the offerings are served dim sum-style on carts), one part sincere (the focus and vision of the food), plus a great-value wine card (a glass of cult fave Kutch Pinot Noir sets you back only $13) equals a near-perfect culinary game. Book months in advance or show up early for the rare, coveted walk-in slots.
The Mission’s Flour + Water (2401 Harrison St., 415-826-7000) kicked off the nation’s Neapolitan pizza craze when it opened three years ago. The team next conceived of a casual deli and larder, Salumeria (3000 20th St., 415-471-2998), as well as a more elevated sit-down spot in the back, Central Kitchen (415-826-7004).
For the one place that works brilliantly against conventional wisdom, look no further than Chubby Noodle (570 Green St., 415-361-8850), a ridiculously cheap, crazy good Asian and Southern barbecue joint (because the two always go hand in hand) in back of the North Beach bar Amante. Here, they’re happy to dish up seven pieces of buttermilk-fried chicken for $7 to go with your $9 Korean pork tacos. This spot is twice as good and one-third the price of the increasingly overrated Slanted Door.
Josey Baker Bread and Four Barrel Coffee tag team at the newly opened Mill (736 Divisadero St., 415-345-1953), where getting your morning hit often means suffering a lineup out the door. But the cranberry-walnut loaves are worth every long minute.
From now until the end of summer the entire Bay-from the Ferry Building to the Golden Gate-has been transformed into a watercourse for the sport of the truly privileged-the America’s Cup. The finals go from Aug. 21 to 26 but pretty much every day until then you can spot the sleek 45-foot and 72-foot wing-sailed catamarans dispatched in practice and prep races: any point along the Embarcadero is fine (and free) for ogling.
Meanwhile, the SFMoMA shuts its doors on June 2 for a major multiyear expansion, in large part to better showcase the bequeathed collection of the late GAP founder Don Fisher.
The building won’t open again until 2016, which gives you a perfect reason to head to Golden Gate Park to check out the unsung Herzog & de Meuron-designed de Young Museum, which from June 22 to Sept. 29 will highlight works by Richard Diebenkorn, the legendary Bay Area painter.
Japanese retailing juggernaut Uniqlo recently made two shops in San Fran its West Coast beachhead, cementing the city as the thinking consumer’s antidote to its celebrity-obsessed cousin to the south.
Meanwhile, Gump’s (135 Post St., 415-982-1616) is to San Francisco what Harrods once was to London. Head to this venerable 150-year-old institution for a department store/gallery mix of jewellery, exotic rugs, antiques, décor, and fashion.
But to uncover the city’s shopping treasure, you have to leave the confines of Union Square and head west to Divisadero Street, where you’ll run into the curious The Perish Trust. If Moonrise Kingdom hosted a set sale in a museum, it would look like this: a weirdly and wonderfully curated selection of Warby Parker Rx glasses, vintage Remington typewriters, stuffed owls, as well as artist collaborations.
A few blocks away is San Franpsycho, the current nexus of merchant marine, skateboarder, and surfer garb.
And for when you have to shelve the deck for a grown-up job there’s Southwick for Taylor Stitch (596 Pacific Ave., 415-322-8773)-custom suits starting at $998 and classic made-in-Cali denim work shirts that look like they came off Neal Cassady’s back (but were laundered first).