A Tourist-Eye View of San Francisco

Newly Opened Garden Court at Palace HotelCushy King-Sized Bed at Palace HotelIndoor Swimming Pool, Photo: Palace HotelGolden Gate from deck of Hornblower CruisesCalifornia Hornblower, Photo: Hornblower CruisesLove Tour VW busLove Tours at base of Golden GateLombard Road from Love Tour VWHalf and half Calimari at Alioto\'sSunset from our table at Alioto\'sAlioto\'s Creme BruleePied Piper painting in Pied Piper Restaurant at Palace Hotel, Photo: Palace Hotel

5:47 pm | August 25, 2015

When I go to my favorite city by the bay I never play tourist, I’ve got that special little pizza place in North Beach, Dim Sum in China Town and a walk-away cocktail by the pier. But this time around I decided to play tourist and I had a ball!

First up was the hotel. We stayed in the Palace on New Montgomery and Market Street, and it is. Originally built in 1875, the Palace was said to be the largest luxury hotel in the world. Alas it did not survive the 1906 earthquake, but was rebuilt in 1909. It has always operated as a hotel and recently has  been renovated. We were so lucky to be in the hotel when they unveiled the newly decorated Garden Court. But a little about our room first.

We were ensconced in a Deluxe Room with a King-sized bed, high ceilings with crown moldings and a modern marble bathroom. The window actually opened-loved it, and the bathroom had one of those multi-function toilets-interesting. The bed was one of those luxurious cushy beds, that seem to swallow you up and swaddle you in comfort.

They’ve even got an indoor pool. On the fourth floor there is a fitness center and the best-looking indoor pool I’ve seen since Hearst Castle. It has a dome of glass above it for the feeling of being outdoors, with a spectacular view of the cityscape. Take a dip, lounge around or enjoy the whirlpool and if you must, do some squat-thrusts in the fitness center.

But first we were off to take a bay dinner cruise on the Hornblower cruise line. I’ve never actually cruised on the bay and I was excited to take a leisurely two and a half hour tour while enjoying dinner and wine. The Hornblower takes off from Pier 3 of the Embarcadero. We were greeted with a glass of bubbly at our table in the bow of the ship, on one side of us was a couple from Denver celebrating the wife’s birthday, on the other side was a couple from San Antonio celebrating their 46th anniversary. At a table not too far away was a bride and groom and their wedding party. What a great way to party!

We cruised under the Bay Bridge, around Angel Island, along the Sausalito shoreline, to the Golden Gate just in time for sunset. We were blessed with calm waters, delicious food and great wine. There was music and dancing, but all I wanted to do was enjoy the sites. It was a magical evening and we really had a wonderful time.

Back at our Palace, we settled ourselves in the cushy bed because we were going to have breakfast in the newly-opened Garden Court and I was expected to be alert and awake by 9:00 a.m. (I am not an eager early-riser).

The area was hidden behind a board wall when we arrived on Sunday, but Monday morning when we came down from our room it was revealed in all its splendor. There were beautiful domed ceilings that let the light in and changed the atmosphere of the room with every movement of a cloud or setting of the sun, and Austrian crystal chandeliers that are original to the hotel. Marble columns outlined the room and the walls were ornate with lovely molding. The tables and chairs were modern but in a style that enhanced rather than detracted from the overall feel of the room. An enchanting setting to enjoy breakfast, lunch a cocktail or two or the hotel’s signature tea, offered on Saturdays.

After breakfast we were off on a city tour, but not just any city tour, this was an intimate ride on the Love Tour. Refurbished VW vans painted in wild colors and patterns make up the fleet of  “tour buses” so there are only a maximum of seven passengers on each tour. Our very informed tour guide, Monika, was more than just a guide she was a walking history of San Francisco, from the early settlements of the Spanish to current day. We drove all over the city with views of the Golden Gate, Presidio, the Haight, Golden Gate Park etc. We even got to drive down Lombard Road and all along the route we learned tidbits of San Francisco history I had no idea about.

You will also get noticed on this tour, as everyone stops to gawk or take pictures of the colorful vans. “I’m ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille.” The two hours just flew by!

Our next appointment wasn’t until the evening so we walked around downtown looking through shops and exploring the hotel a bit. We just had to stop into the Pied Piper Grill in the hotel with it’s beautiful Maxfield Parrish painting of the Pied Piper that sits over the bar. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to dine there.

We were headed to Alioto’s on Fishman’s Wharf for dinner. Alioto’s has been in operation since 1925 and is still run by the family. Fresh fish is their specialty with an emphasis on fresh Dungeness Crab. They have an enviable location overlooking the boats and the bridge which is perfect for watching the sunset over the bay.

Our very friendly waiter suggested we started with half and half calamari: Sicilian style and fried. The Sicilian style was lightly batter, fried and then tossed in a spicy marinara, the fried was well, fried. They both were very tender, just kissed with batter and a crispy exterior. Served with traditional cocktail sauce and one of the very best tartar sauces I’ve ever had, the dish was a wonderful meal starter.

Next we had a dinner salad topped with crab meat and served with an assortment of Alioto’s housemade dressings: house creamy Italian, vinaigrette, Louie and Bleu Cheese. I liked all of the dressings but I am partial to Louie dressing when it comes to a salad with crab. As for the crab, what can I say but yum.

My companion decided on the Petrale Sole, which came recommended by our waiter and I had the Swordfish Involtini.

The Sole was griddle fried and topped with a sauce full of bay shrimp and garlic. It was served with pasta tossed with the restaurant’s tasty marinara sauce. The Sole was delicate in texture and mild in taste and the shrimp sauce added a bit of richness.

The Swordfish was stuffed with crab and then baked to a golden brown. It was served with some of Alioto’s excellent tartar sauce and that tasty pasta. The crab stuffing was plentiful and the swordfish meaty.

We were going to skip dessert but were talked into sharing a crème brulee with strawberries and a cafe latte. Creamy with a perfect burnt sugar topping, the crème brulee was studded with fresh strawberries and served with Italian cookies. So tasty.

All during dinner we got to watch the sun make its slow dip beyond the bay and the lights of the Golden Gate steadily get brighter. Just what I like: dinner and a show!

The next day we were leaving but we left enough time to walk to the Ferry Building at the end of Market Street to walk among the market stalls and buy little gifts for family and friends.

The 411:

The Palace Hotel, 2 New Montgomery Street, San Francisco
(415) 512-1111, www.sfpalace.com

Hornblower Cruises, Pier 3 on the Embarcadero, San Francisco
(415) 788-8866, www.hornblower.com

San Francisco Love Tours, 2899 Hyde Street, San Francisco
(888) 419-5454, www.sanfranciscolovetours.com

Alioto’s Restaurant, #8 Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
(415) 673-0183, www.aliotos.com

San Francisco Travel, 900 Market Street, San Francisco
(415) 391-2000, www.sanfrancisco.travel