24 Almost Perfect Hours In San Francisco

A pair of hairy middle-aged Chia Pets are blasting Wham’s “Careless Whisper” from a new age boom box. A cluster of Latino immigrants is fishing and drinking cans of Tecate just steps away from a male paddleball player in a tight speedo with a Taliban-style beard and his long hair pulled in a Samurai-style bun. A teenager with a map of Bosnia and Herzegovina tattooed on his chest is enjoying a joint, not that anyone cares. A tattooed guy in a San Francisco Giants hat is playing the bongo drums while just up the beach near the rocky foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, a bevy of bronzed men, and one eccentric old lady with bright orange hair stroll the beach in the buff. There is no better place to drink in San Francisco’s delightful eccentricity than Baker Beach on a warm, sunny day.

Muddy Waters once referred to San Francisco in song as “mean old dirty Frisco,” but my experiences with the City by the Bay over the last two decades have always been significantly more positive. I’m always looking for an excuse to visit San Francisco, so when the opportunity arose to tag along with my wife on a business trip, I jumped at the chance. Here’s how I spent 24 hours in the city with two little boys, ages 3 and 5.9 p.m.

At first I was a little bummed when my wife informed me that the company she was visiting booked us into an Embassy Suites in South San Francisco (which bills itself as the birthplace of biotechnology) near the airport, but it turned out to be a good place to explore the city on a budget. They have free parking, a rare treat in these parts, and the place is less than a mile from Grand Avenue, which is filled with a variety of tempting and cheap ethnic restaurants, including Mexican, Thai, Brazilian, Mediterranean, Chinese and Vietnamese. I picked up takeout from a little place called Ben Tre Vietnamese Homestyle Cuisine and we feasted on BBQ Pork spring rolls and a tasty Garlic Noodle BBQ chicken dish ($20 all told) in the bedroom while our boys crashed on the pullout couch in the living room.

8 a.m.

I love how Pacific Standard Time can turn a night owl like me into a morning person literally overnight. I was up at 6 a.m. but felt like I’d slept in, and after a mediocre but free breakfast at the hotel, the boys and I were on the road heading to Golden Gate Park, San Francisco’s bucolic 1,000-acre green heaven. The rub with staying in the burbs is having to endure traffic heading into the city; but we made it to the park by 9 a.m. and easily snagged a free place to park right near the park’s century old Japanese Tea Garden.

It was a glorious day, sunny and warm and the park was filled with joggers and Chinese senior citizens taking their morning constitutionals. I paid $7 each to wander in the sumptuous Botanical and Japanese Tea Gardens (the Japanese Garden would have been free if it had been a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, when it’s free from 9-10 a.m) and then let the boys chase after birds and ducks on the walk around Stow Lake. At their urging, we also hit one of the park’s playgrounds but never made it to the carousel, the Buffalo Paddock or any of the parks other attractions because I was too eager to hit the beach.

11 a.m.

We drove through the park and scored another free parking spot just across the street from Ocean Beach, which on this Thursday morning was gloriously empty, save a smattering of sun worshippers and frolicking dogs. James, my 3-year-old, took his shoes off, dug his toes in the sand and did a little happy dance, gleefully running around the beach in circles. With the sun out and the waves crashing in, it was easy to relate.

1:30 p.m.

After spending an hour digging tunnels and making sand castles, my sons immediately crashed as soon as we got back in the car, so I took the opportunity to take a slow, circuitous drive through Richmond, the Presidio, Pacific Heights and Russian Hill en route to North Beach, a historically Italian-American neighborhood that was once the stomping ground of San Francisco’s Beat writers.

North Beach is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the country for strolling, but somehow I’d never been to Molinari Delicatessen, which has been on Columbus Avenue since 1896. It’s a gloriously old-school place – their house-made salami and sausage links hang from the ceiling and the intoxicating aroma of meat and cheese hits you the moment you step through the door. I had a sandwich with prosciutto, Molinari salami, provolone and sun dried tomatoes on fresh focaccia bread that was out of this world.

4:30 p.m.

After a little siesta/work break at the hotel, we picked up my wife and drove to Baker Beach, which has to be one of the most picturesque city beaches in the country. Aside from the unparalleled people watching described above, there is the view of the ocean, the hills in the distance and the Golden Gate Bridge. On an unseasonably warm day, it seemed like the whole city was there, some clothed, some naked, many with picnics, wine and beer.

6:30 p.m.

The view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance from Baker Beach is alluring but the vistas get even better a mile north along the Presidio Coastal Trail.

7:30 p.m.

Even after taking walks on the beach and on the Presidio Coastal Trail, I still struggled to finish the massive, delicious grilled fish burrito ($7.95) at Nick’s Crispy Tacos, which is located inside a lively bar called Rouge SF that has $4 pints during happy hour.

9:00 p.m.

We worked off our dinners with a long walk through North Beach, which was alive with panhandlers, nice looking people dining al fresco and lots of motorists circling the neighborhood looking for elusive parking spots. (It took me a half hour to find a spot myself.) And when it was time to eat again, we repaired to Gelateria Naia, a gelato place on Columbus Avenue. I loved the offbeat selection but we thought that the gelato, which has nearly 700 glowing reviews on Yelp was overrated. But if the worst thing you can say about a place is that your artisanal gelato wasn’t creamy enough, and that you have a “Careless Whisper” earworm, you are in a very special place indeed.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

San Francisco World Series victory a total riot on FourSquare

Oh, how the times have changed …

It used to be that fame-whores would look for television cameras at riots. With all the beating and smashing and mayhem around them, these unique individuals would invariably find the news crews and get their 15 minutes.

Not this time around.

When the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, a riot broke out … and the check-ins began. The locals were looking for points. I strongly suspect a handful of people were trying to figure out how to become mayor. Riots began to pop up on social media site FourSquare, and there were even tips to help you figure out where the action was.

The most popular was on Polk Street: “Giants Riot On Polk St!!!” There were 208 check-ins and nine tips, including:

  • “Hide yo kids Hide yo wife”
  • “Swarm= 50 || Super Swarm Badge= 250 || Super Duper Swarm=500 || Epic Swarm=1000 … Can we get all of our swarm badges in one night?”
  • “After you get your super swarm badge remember to go vote”


[Thanks, @SceneByLaurie, via Gawker, photo by alecdet via yfrog]

How green is your hotel?

Not too long ago, any hotel that had one of those “please reuse your towels” signs in the bathroom was considered “green“. But with new hotels upping the ante by adding more features that reduce waste and environmental impact, it takes a lot more than that to truly be green. Here are some of the greenest hotel features to look for in an eco-friendly hotel.

Sheet and Towel Reuse Programs
Literally, this is the least a hotel can do. Asking guests to reuse towels and only changing the linens every few days or between guests no doubt saves water (and money for the hotel) but those positive contributions can easily be negated through other actions. If this all the hotel does, it might just be more frugal than green.

Bulk Toiletry Dispensers
Every time you check into a hotel, you’re provided with small bottles of face wash, body wash, lotion, shampoo and conditioner. Even if you’ve only used a minuscule drop, those bottles are tossed out and restocked at the end of your stay. This happens every day, for every room sold, at hotels all around the world. That’s a lot of tiny bottles clogging up landfills. The greener option being implemented in many hotels is to install bulk dispensers (similar to soap dispensers in public restrooms) that dole out small amounts of shampoo, soap and lotion without the extra packaging.

Local and Organic Cooking
Hotel restaurant chefs that use local, fair-trade, sustainable and organic ingredients get a gold-star for for being green. Using local products means that the food travels less to get to the consumer, which in turn means less energy is used and less emissions are added to the air from the planes, trains and trucks that transport food. Organic ingredients are created without the chemicals and pesticides that can harm the surrounding eco-systems, fair-trade products support local farmers, and sustainable foodstuffs are made in a way that doesn’t deplete the natural resources of the area. Hotels that employ these practices in their restaurants are doing something that is not only healthy for their guests, but is healthy for the community and environment as well. The hotel gets even more bonus points if some or all of the produce comes from the hotel’s own garden.

Green Lighting Practices
Replacing fluorescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR certified compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) means that a hotel will use 75% less energy per year. While hotel guests can do their part by turning off all unnecessary lights when not in the room, some hotels, like the LEED-certified Orchard Garden Hotel in San Francisco, make this easier by requiring the lights to be activated by key card. The key card, usually attached to the hotel key, must be inserted into a slot in order to turn the lights on. Since you’ll obviously need to take the key and lighting key card with you when you leave the room, there’s no way you can leave the lights on while you’re out.

Green Building Materials
The buildings at Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge in Alaska are constructed from scavenged driftwood, the mattresses and bedding at the Asheville Green Cottage in South Carolina are made from all organic materials, and the walls at Los Manos B&B in Colorado are built of local adobe and the ceilings are insulated with cellulose from old newspapers. All of these properties are using green building practices that help conserve precious resources. Using recycled, organic, scavenged and eco-friendly (like low-emission paints) materials in the building process makes a hotel green from the very beginning.

Reducing Water Usage
The El Monte Sagrado in Taos, New Mexico filters its wastewater into pure drinking water, but there are plenty of other ways hotels can save water that are a littler easier to do. Many green hotels install low-flow regulators in showers and toilet tanks, and some even put in automatic-timer showers that shut off after a certain number of minutes. (You can restart them with the push of a button, but the ticking clock serves as a powerful reminder to make it quick). Hotels in temperate areas have chosen to do their landscaping with tropical plants, which require less water to maintain.

Alternative Power
Many hotels are looking to alternative sources of power; the Alpine House in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, gets all of its power from wind turbines. Look for hotels that boast the use of solar and wind power for even part of their energy usage. Hotels that use shade trees and crosswinds to cool rooms, rather than air conditioning, also increase their eco-friendly factor.

Recycling Programs
All the paper used in the Hotel Triton in San Francisco, from napkins in the restaurant to stationary in the guest rooms, is made from recycled materials. Of course, after it’s used, it still gets tossed out. I’ve never seen a recycling bin in any hotel I’ve stayed in, and I highly doubt that housekeeping takes the time to separate recyclables from trash. As a result, plenty of paper, aluminum and plastic that could be recycled ends up getting tossed. Any hotel that offers recycling bins in the room is one step up on the green ladder.

Green Cleaning Products
Using non-toxic, all-natural cleaning products helps reduce the amount of dangerous chemicals that get into the water system and cause pollution. Look for hotels like Denver’s Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast which uses only baking soda to its clean tubs, sinks and toilets.

Other Green Practices
When combined with some of these larger-scale practices, the smallest acts can help make a green hotel even more eco-friendly. All Fairmont hotels offer free parking for hybrid cars, the Vancouver Hilton offers an alternative fueling station, and many hotels will provide free bikes for guests to get around on. Stocking guest rooms with glass drinking cups instead of plastic and relying on natural lighting as much as possible in public areas are two additional practices that make a big difference.

I doubt there’s any hotel that employs every single one of these practices. But it’s a safe bet to say that the more of these strategies a hotel uses, the greener it is. No hotel will have zero impact on the environment, but choosing a hotel that take does its best to use environmentally-friendly policies will help make your travels greener.