Less than an hour flight (or 6-hour drive) from Los Angeles, you can change your scenery and flee LA for an extended getaway with a completely different feel – the San Francisco Bay. Down and around the Bay, mix up your geographic and cultural flavor by staying in 3 distinct locations for an unforgettable trip – Berkeley, Chinatown, and the Presidio. Get to know each area’s personality.
Fourteen percent of the periodic table may have been discovered in Berkeley (16 elements) but ‘California Cuisine’ put the area on the map thanks to the Chez Panisse Restaurant anchoring a neighborhood with high quality artisanal fresh local products in the 1970s. With the longstanding academia of University of California Berkeley having been present for more than 40 years before the city of Berkeley was established (1909), UC Berkeley is considered the world’s number one public university by U.S. News & World Report. And a foodie town has grown up around it.
Meandering the streets dubbed the “Gourmet Ghetto” in the 1970s, the term currently is causing controversy where local petitioners are fighting to change the name due to its insensitivity, so is now known as “North Berkeley.” But this neighborhood bloomed when Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 across the street from Cheese Board Bakery and around the corner from the original Peet’s Coffee – where today visitors can learn about Peet’s history and check out the old coffee packaging and equipment from the 1960s and 1970s.
Every few blocks in this area, signs that promote inclusivity are visible on storefronts – one with a smiling Muslim woman with the words “Everyone is welcome Here” to bathrooms signs celebrating all gender types. This subtle evidence is a gentle reminder Berkeley is a progressive welcoming small-town community with big-city ideas.
Stay down by the Bay
Lay your head at the newly renovated Doubletree by Hilton Berkeley Marina where soft sheets and balcony views of the marina make for a peaceful slumber. A front walkway winds you around the sailboats with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Stay for a sunset dinner at the hotel’s new Berkeley Boathouse where waterfront dining features scrumptious dishes like Lobster Crab Shrimp Roll, Cast Iron Seared Scallops, Brussel Sprouts with Kung Pao sauce, Housemade Ricotta Cavatelli with mushrooms, and Filet with goat cheese mousse and truffle butter. Save room for their petite cone gelato flight from local Almare or sit under a heat lamp outside with a glass of Pinot Noir from nearby Sonoma County or a Tamarind+Smoke cocktail. Soon the pet-friendly deck will come with a dog menu too.
The Doubletree’s marina location is an easy Uber into town, although a complimentary hotel shuttle is available for your explorations anywhere in a 3-mile radius.
Come for the Culture. Stay for the Food.
Meander the restaurants, shops, bakeries, flower stands, and fine food purveyors around Shattuck Avenue and Vine Street. Grab a slice of pizza (only one option offered each day plus a gluten-free and vegan option upon request) over live music at Cheese Board’s Pizzeria where the line moves quick. Meat lovers can rejoice at Saul’s Delicatessen, a Jewish deli that’s been around since the 1950s. Order a pastrami sandwich on rye with house-made celery soda and pickles. At the Local Butcher, sustainably raised meats produce some tasty beef jerky sticks, specialty bacon, made to order sandwiches, bone broths, pates, and fresh cuts of lean meat. A small sign tucked in their window corner divulges animal killing is inhumane while the sign placement we learned limits picketing to two times a year. However, the negative backlash has only increased sales.
Power walk North Berkeley and pop in French take-out spot Gregoire for fried potato balls with dip, then slide on over to sample vino at Vintage Berkeley Wine Shop, where most bottles are $20 or less at this former Vine Street Pumping Plant established in 1930. Feeling more food curious? Don’t miss the Epicurious Garden Food Hall that popped up three years after San Francisco’s popular Ferry Building. Gourmet takeaway options include sushi bites from Kirala Restaurant and Lush Gelato. Inside, The Soop serves comforting soup varieties like Thai red lentil soup with coconut milk, chicken noodle, Swedish yellow split pea soup, Tom Kha, and clam chowder.
If you have only a day or two to explore, book a walking food tour with Edible Excursions to learn the stories and secret nuances of the “Gourmet Ghetto”. For a memorable night, consider a dinner at famed Chez Panisse on a Monday when their 3-course set menu is priced lower at $75.
At the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive spend a few hours admiring thought-provoking exhibits like Surrealism across many cultures and time periods and black and white photography from 1960s America. To gain an appreciation of Berkeley’s masterworks of design, take an Architectural Walking Tour where you can admire the city’s rich historic legacy – from the 1909 Thorsen House and the Church of Good Shepherd built in 1878 to the Holbrook Building/Pacific School of Religion from 1925.
On Fourth Street, explore this upscale neighborhood with a stop at Zut! Tavern for lunch with loaded smoked salmon tartine, a tavern burger with garlic fries, crispy brussels sprouts, and a local beer from Fieldwork IPA. For dinner, check out Berkeley’s most sustainably designed Gather Restaurant for local seasonal farm food and West Coast wines. Located at the David Brower Center, one of the “greenest” building in CA with LEED platinum rating, the casual environment is packed with guests sharing pizza, mussels, salads, and salmon and heirlooms grain risotto.
In Northwest Berkeley or the Gilman warehouse district, a burgeoning wine and beer scene can be found around the Donkey and Goat Winery and Tasting Room where natural wine is crafted in small lots and fermentation continues in the bottle. Made by hand from biodynamically farmed vineyards, visit the first Friday of every month for live music, art, and food trucks from 6 – 9 PM and of course, wine! Picnic tables, a bocce court and yard games in the back make this a family-friendly affair. For the adults, sip the 2018 Pet Nat, a sparkling Pinot Meunier from a 53-year-old vineyard in the Russian River Valley.
Early January, Berkeley Restaurant Week rolls in with special value lunch and dinner deals citywide.
Did you know the latte was invented in Berkeley’s Caffe Mediterraneum on Telegraph Avenue in the late 1950s?
Did you know artisanal coffee began here at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in 1966 – while Starbucks was birthed from Pete’s?
Skip San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions for first-time visitors and dig deeper by staying in a few different areas. While we think you should, at some point in your life, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, sail around Alcatraz, ride a trolley, see Lombard Street and peruse Fisherman’s Wharf and Sausalito, consider getting to know Chinatown and the Presidio by staying in these neighborhoods.
Stay on the gates of Chinatown
Historic Hotel Triton located at the Grant Avenue Corridor and the corner of Chinatown’s iconic Dragon Gate has had a recent glamourous six-million-dollar makeover. The remodeled cozy lobby peppered with dramatic art and cultural artifacts make a pleasurable respite after hours of walking, especially over complimentary wine hour. The pet-friendly boutique hotel offers rooms in fun hues donned in patterned drapery, bespoke artwork, and comfy deluxe Frette bedding. Next to a gelato shop, the adjoining alley will soon become a sitting area for various chic restaurants.
Hotel Triton is centrally located and an easy hop to explore America’s first and oldest Chinatown, that often feels like going back in time. Admire the colorful pagoda-style buildings, brazen street murals, dragon lampposts, red lantern alleyways, and imitation clay warriors on a first-floor landing. Browse the Chinese knickknack souvenir shops and watch through a window at Dragon Papa as old-style dragon beard candy is concocted from white wispy powder. Take some warm mochi home that is rolled with crushed peanuts, sugar, and sesame seeds. Add in savory dim sum, tea shops, and boba (bubble tea), as this fascinating district is a visual feast for the senses.
San Francisco’s biggest draw is its culinary landscape, so to gain a better appreciation for an area, take a food tour with Local Tastes of the City Tours. Our nighttime food tour started at the gates of Chinatown and winded to North Beach (Little Italy) while learning the historical tidbits of the neighborhoods and restaurants’ stories. The tour dips you into spots you may have otherwise passed by like alleys with movie history and an old fortune cookie factory in business since 1962.
From Hotel Triton, it is an easy walk to the Financial District for dinner at The Vault at 555 California Street, a grown-up suit-wearing restaurant built into an old bank vault. Come for the worker bee ambiance but stay for the exceptional food. Share baked red-hawk cheese fondue, a raw bar feast, heirloom tomato salad, scallop crudo, and veal and pork meatballs topped with a cheese crisp. Exquisitely prepared main dishes include lobster pasta with smoked trout roe, wild mushroom risotto, and truffle stuffed chicken roulade.
Just a ten-minute walk from Hotel Triton, spend a weekday morning at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) where the façade was inspired by the waters and fog of San Francisco Bay. Eye opening exhibits include the ongoing pop, minimal, and figurative art from the 1960s, American abstract art, German art after 1960, Calder’s mobiles, and dynamic sculptures. Thought-provoking curations include Don’t! Photography and the Art of Mistakes exploring the dos and don’ts of good photography and the rule breakers who challenged those norms while new exhibits are always coming. Don’t miss Far Out about space exploration showcasing suits, labs, and 50 years since we landed on the moon.
No experience is complete without sampling traditional dim sum (steamed dumplings) – from rolling carts to take-out. Check out hole-in-the-wall Good Mong Kok Bakery for take-out dim sum or Great Eastern where Obama ate in 2012. Chubby Noodle, City View Restaurant, or multi-story China Live with its food emporium are great options. Pricier Yank Sing is a fun place to select dishes rolling by your table on carts, especially their iconic Shanghai dumplings, shrimp dumplings, deep fried stuffed crab claws, and Peking duck.
Did you know there are 41 alleys in Chinatown? Forget those bygone days of Opium dens, gambling, and prostitution, today the alleyways are often gathering spots for locals, front doors of homes, and playgrounds for children.
Did you know most of Chinatown was destroyed in the 1906 fire by the Great Earthquake?
This 2.8 square mile former military base was reborn as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This national urban park site and recreational paradise feature beautiful hiking trails, vistas, a golf course, and historical architectural treasures. The refurbished red brick military buildings are now restaurants, hotels, and visitor attractions.
Sleep in view of the Golden Gate Bridge
At the 42-room Lodge at the Presidio, book a stay with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and make sure to return for the hotel’s wine Happy Hour where a magical sunset includes unparalleled views of the Bridge from a porch rocking chair or firepit area. The historical boutique hotel is next to a sprawling green lawn and is the closest hotel in San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Next door, the Walt Disney Family Museum deserves a few hours of your time as Mickey Mouse is celebrated with a vast collection of artifacts, images, original artwork, and nostalgic merchandise. Witness the fascinating story of Mickey’s evolution from an animated character to a cultural icon. Housed in a historical building, Mickey is featured in contemporary interactive galleries, early drawings, and cartoons and movies, plus a spectacular model of Disneyland.
Stroll through Chrissy Field for more Bridge views and the majestic Palace of Fine Arts on a lagoon. In 2020 visitors will be able to meander through the Presidio’s new Tunnel Tops (once highways tunnels and defunct railways) or raised plateau with gardens, 360-degree scenic overlooks, a 3-acre play space, picnic areas, and a drop-in environmental learning center where a ranger will shed light on the area’s history. Designed by the same architect who created New York City’s High Line, the 14-acre park will link the waterfront Crissy Field park with the main grounds of the Presidio for the first time in 80 years.
The Presidio is now home to a 600-seat Presidio Theatre, Presidio Bowl, and WWII Japanese American incarceration exhibit at the Presidio Officers’ Club. Restaurants in the Presidio include The Commissary in an old Army barracks with a Spanish influenced menu, the Presidio Social Club, and Arguello with MexiCali cuisine and over 120 agave spirits all helmed by a two-time James Beard award-winner. For stunning ocean edge eating, head to the Cliff House Restaurant.
Did you know a pet cemetery dating back to the 1950s with hundreds of animals can be visited in the Presidio? While there are no official records for the site, it most likely began with families who were stationed at the Presidio and allowed by one of the commanding officers.
Did you know the only overnight campsite in San Francisco is located in the Presidio’s highest point above Baker Beach in a eucalyptus grove? It is called the Rob Hill Campground.