This is a continuation of my out-of-print guidebook--WEEKEND ADVENTURES IN SAN FRANCISCO & NORTHERN CALIFORNIA. It features travel destinations throughout Northern California and presents them in small, easy-to-digest chunks along with plenty of photos so you get the picture. Even more great weekend adventures await you at my BERKELEY AND BEYOND website at www.berkeleyandbeyond.com.
Rooms at sleek, sophisticated Hotel Valencia (355 Santana Row, (866) 842-0100, (408) 551-0010. 7 stories; 213 rooms; $$$-$$$+. Heated pool; hot tub; fitness room; full-service spa. Continental breakfast; restaurant; room service. No pets. Self-parking free, valet $24.) are appointed with a stainless steel bathroom sink, a faux fur bed cover, and stylish furnishings. Mattresses are among the most comfortable ever, and a pillow menu allows for personal fine-tuning. The Indian-inspired Ayoma LifeSpa is colorful with rich Indian fabrics and antiques and offers pampering treatments (including traditional Indian Ayurveda treatments). Hand and foot treatments include pressure point massage that makes it possible to once again carry shopping bags and walk the row.
Ultra-hip Vbar sports metal-bead doorway curtains and is the
place to be each evening when it serves up a Red Hot Mama (Bacardi silver,
cranberry juice, club soda) that is especially delicious with salmon and caviar
on corn blinis. Cielo Wine Bar (On 7th floor. M-Sat 5:30pm-9:30pm.) faces
west for a great view of the Santa Cruz Mountains at sunset; cocktails, wine,
and light food service are available. Citrus restaurant
(B-L-D daily.) serves creative tapas that include Vietnamese-style caramel ribs and pulled pork sliders, and grassfed
beef from Uraguay makes for a super-tasty main course of dry-aged rib-eye that
only gets better with Absinthe sauce and a topping of onion rings. Sweet consclusions come from the in-house
pastry chef in the form of delicious signature beer-battered donut balls with
Elmwood CafeCLOSED 2900 College Ave./Russell St., (510) 843-1300. Daily 7am-10pm; $. In the space formerly occupied by the beloved Ozzie’s Soda Fountain, this more refined cafe serves up a limited menu. Hot drinks include cafe au lait in a bowl, lattes, hot chocolate, chai, and apple cider, and cool drinks include fresh-squeezed lemonade and orange juice, seltzer water, and Ozzie’s soda with housemade syrup. Both a bank of 1920s wood banquettes and cafe tables offer a super view of the street, and sidewalk seating or counter seating on red vinyl-covered swivel stools are also an option. Breakfast choices include a whole-grain waffle, house-made granola, breakfast sandwiches, and a variety of pastries. Sandwiches and salads join the menu at 11 a.m.
Boasting the Guinness Book of World Records’ largest atrium lobby, the Hyatt Regency SanFrancisco will be home to a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!Odditorium exhibit featuring several San Francisco-influenced displays. The free exhibit includes a model of the Golden Gate Bridge (which celebrates its 75th birthday this year) made of toothpicks, a model of San Francisco’s iconic cable car made from matchsticks; and sculptures of two of the City’s most prominent musicians--Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Carlos Santana--made of wire. They will remain on display through June 30.
Though cramped and lacking atmosphere, this spot turns out delicious Pakistani dishes that make these drawbacks seem minor. Especially delicious items include the don’t-miss house specialty--spicy tandoori fish—as well as aloo begun (potatoes and eggplant) and crispy garlic nan.
La Mar Cebicheria Peruana 328 The Embarcadero/Washington St., at Pier 1½, (415) 397-8880. L-D daily; $$-$$$. Reservations advised.
Here, authentic Peruvian cuisine is the focus and small plates-sharing is the format. You’ll do well to order a selection of plates from the cebiches (Peru’s national dish of marinated seafood), causas (assorted kinds of potatoes, whipped and topped with something tasty), ensaladas (Peruvian-inspired salads), empanadas (delectable little pie turnovers with various fillings and dipping sauces), and anticuchos (traditional grilled skewers of fish or meat). Larger main courses and vegetarian and glutton-free items are also available. My favorites are the complimentary “bread” course of fried plantain, sweet potato, and regular potato chips served with two dipping sauces, and anything with the big kernels of chewy Peruvian corn in it (the crispy-crusted crescent empanadas filled with a mashed sweet corn-cilantro mix are to-die for). A dessert trio is perfect if you can’t make up your mind, but the word is the traditional picarones consisting of warm pumpkin and sweet potato fritters with spiced honey is a winner. A full bar serves an impressive selection of pisco cocktails (it is Peru’s national drink), and I can vouch for the punch packed by both the Pisco Sour and the tasty and beautiful passion fruit-based Maracuya Sour. A few Peruvian vintages are among the wine offerings, and beer and sake are also options. The best water view is available on the tent-enclosed dockside patio, but the vast interior room with its high ceiling, banquettes, attractive minimalist décor, and exhibition kitchen (you might get to see Executive Chef cutie Diego Oka in action) has its own charms.
Sanraku 704 Sutter St./Taylor St., near Union Square, (415) 771-0803.
I'm happy to report the food here is as delicious as ever. It is a great spot for a pre-theater dinner, usually with at the worst just a short wait. Gyoza (like Chinese potstickers) are illustrated in the image. More (scroll down).
Nong Thon 10086 San Pablo Ave., by Cerrito movie theater, (510) 647-8038. L-D W-M; $-$$. Reservations accepted.
The perfect spot for a pre-movie meal, this spacious, clean Vietnamese restaurant features a rustic natural-wood interior with high ceilings and comfy banquette seating. Should there be a wait, children and adults alike are entertained by an indoor turtle pond and children’s play area. Lunch specials come with rice and soup and include a tasty bo luc lac shaking beef-style salad. Stir-frys, clay pots, and rice plates are always good choices, and many people praise the shrimp cake (shrimp paste is spread on bean curd skin then deep-fried) and egg noodles with grilled beef. More exotic items include banana flower salad (shredded banana flower with chicken and mint), wild boar grilled at the table and served with sides to wrap in rice paper, and morning glory stems stir-fried with garlic and ginger. Thai ice tea is a primo drink, but durian, avocado, and jack fruit milkshakes are also options.
Situated inside a vintage 1901 building, this classy spot serves up dishes prepared with locally sourced ingredients. Chef-owner Amy Murray says, “We butcher our own goats, pigs, 1/4 hinds of beef, produce our own charcuterie, sausage and bacon, make our own jams and ketchup and may soon be able to keep bees on our roof to harvest our own honey.”
Perhaps the best way to fully enjoy this varied menu is to share. Especially tasty options include tender goat meatballs amid chickpeas and mint, flatbread topped with a veritable salad of romanesco broccoli and olives, and a grilled pork chop with roasted fingerling potatoes and baby artichoke hearts. Desserts—perhaps a Meyer lemon-and-chocolate mousse cake or a rich, rich sticky toffee pudding—and cocktails—maybe a Port au Prince (rum, pineapple, pomegranate) or Silk Road Sour (tea, bourbon, orange, lemon)—are highlights, making this a popular after-theater destination. The large open dining room has a high ceiling and oversize windows yet exudes a romantic atmosphere with plenty of reclaimed wood, antique mirror panels, and zinc-topped tables. Banquettes add comfort. Live music is a complimentary enhancement on Thursday nights from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m.