It’s no secret around here that I make any excuse to travel to San Francisco a few times a year. Sometimes it’s baseball, sometimes it’s a new hotel offering, and sometimes there is no reason.
It’s that kind of place.
The great thing about The City is that it knows no calendar. A trip to San Francisco in early September offers as much bounty as a trip in the chill of a windy winter, or one in the bright summer, all of which I’ve experienced.
On this particular weekend, stars aligned, the highway unwound, and doors opened all over the City. This was the final weekend of the baseball regular season, and three hotels were booked, three restaurant reservations made, and seats in the Giants press box at Oracle Park awaited.
Arriving on a Thursday to be sure to arrive at the game early enough on Friday (press box seats get occupied quickly), that afternoon was crammed with arrangements.
First, find a place to park. The few hotels that offer parking will be costly, and street parking is a roll of the stingiest dice. I actually ended up using a parking app, which took care of my needs for the first evening. I found a place on teeming Market Street miraculously, and made my way to the Yotel, one of San Francisco’s new “micro” hotels, part of a growing national chain.
In the modern lobby, guests check themselves in on a series of digital screens, eliminating any standing in line at a front desk, of which there isn’t one. Once issued a digital key, grab your bag and head up stairs. Baggage help is available if you need it, but few check into the Yotel with an abundance of luggage.
Yotel rooms range from pretty small to really small, though they don’t appear that way at first. They are cozy and practical. To be honest, you better be pretty good friends with your partner, because the accommodations can require a little trust. There is only some frosted glass separating you from the facilities, for example. I’ll just leave that right there.
The futon-like couch bed automatically unfolds to a pretty good-sized bed. (I’m 6’2”. Such things matter. ) Some of the rooms offer an overhead loft bed for a little more perspective, but these are rooms where you stage your plans, not necessarily where you carry them out.
If you actually need a place to sit and work for example, several of the hotel floors have meeting rooms, but they’re not conference rooms. They’re more like Starbucks with picnic benches.
If you need more privacy to mount your San Francisco conquest, there are tiny closets, like oversized phone booths, with USB chargers, a literal desktop and a door.
In fact, such was my hectic schedule that weekend that as I dined magnificently at Bob’s Steak and Chop House Thursday evening at The Omni, I watched and took notes on the PUSD school board meeting. Gee,that wasn’t disconcerting at all.
And then I happily returned to one of those little Yotel booths after dinner, coffee in hand, and filed my school board story for the morning edition.
Dinner at Bob’s was a shame to have to spend with the school board members (Nothing personal, folks. Thank you for your service.) There was a sizzling Atlantic salmon steak topped with an herb butter, a baked carrot the size of a stick shift lever, and perfectly lumpy mashed potatoes with bits of peel in the mix.
Dessert was key lime pie–at a really fancy restaurant in one of San Francisco’s finest hotels. And that’s how it tasted. Fork in one hand and pen in the other, I completed both assignments.
And then it was back to the Yotel for the aforementioned meeting room for one.
As with most hotel rooms that I’ve stayed in over too many years, the Yotel bed was more than comfortable, my size notwithstanding. With no companion during my stay, I could linger in the frosted glass shower right alongside the bed as long as I wished.
In a city that costs a small ransom to live in, The Yotel can be a terrific alternative to dozens of other luxurious beds throughout this fabled burg. It’s centrally located, just a walk down Market Street to the sights of the Embarcadero, and far, far beyond.
The Yotel offers a lot of little to like, in the best way.
So, let me do this part quickly: The Dodgers swept the Giants on a weekend when the home team said farewell to longtime manager Bruce Bochy. The weather was sky blue, the Giants were going nowhere, and the Dodgers sent a lot of Dodger fans home happy.
Throughout the weekend, I saw Giants fans with bittersweet smiles, and Dodger Blue everything everywhere else, trolling the streets of San Francisco. A perfect late summer evening game, and a perfect late summer afternoon game, along the China Basin coast.
Meanwhile, I officially checked into the Omni on California, in the financial district early Friday afternoon, and the staff let me check in just a little bit early to get to the ballpark on time.
The Omni is a lot of quiet, traditional luxury, with large, comfortable thickly carpeted rooms, featuring a large overstuffed reading chair and lamp, a good-sized everything desk with USB chargers, a mural-sized flat-screen TV that never got used, and the now-ubiquitous single-cup coffee maker.
The Omni staff was gracious and helpful with the fistful o of tiny requests I had, from holding luggage to offering smart directions.
It’s one of those hotels where staying for an evening feels like staying for a weekend. The bustling lobby feels like a tiny center of the city itself, filled with travelers and locals, and I was legitimately sad to leave.
But Saturday brought the Palace Hotel.
The Palace Hotel, part of Marriott’s Luxury Hotel Collection, is one of those places in the world you may only visit once in your life.
It might be a wedding, a graduation party, a celebratory dinner of some sort, but the visit will linger with you for the rest of everything.
The historic landmark hotel was built in 1875, and then updated the first time in 1909. It was updated twice more, in 1989, and in 2015.
My room was actually an adjoining living room and bedroom separated by a long hallway—a fact I didn’t realize until hours after checking in, when I opened that door, and found two glasses, a bottle of wine, and a coquettish fruit and cheese plate.
I can only imagine what stories this suite might hold.
It was a shame to spend the afternoon at the game, but an undeniable pleasure to know that this was my destination.
Later that evening, I strolled against a bracing wind to Le Colonial, a chic French-Vietnamese restaurant nestled down a long alley near Union Square. Once a kitschy Trader Vic’s, the glamorous hideaway is a reflection of colonial Vietnam, with a vaulted pressed-tin ceiling, and rattan furniture, evoking another faraway era.
Scanning the bountiful menu, I opted for the Ca Kho To, a Clay Pot salmon, served with bamboo shoots, cherry tomatoes, and scallions, in a caramel sauce. It was something completely different, sweet and savory at once.
The Colonial menu features a wide range of traditional Vietnamese dishes, but if you must have a steak, they can do that as well.
Dessert was a green tea-infused cake with a scoop of green tea ice cream for good measure, served with a sliced strawberry in a strawberry sauce. Traditional Vietnamese coffee, served in a phin, with sweet condensed milk at the bottom of the glass, rounded out the meal. (Where oh where can one find Vietnamese coffee in Pasadena? I’ll keep you posted.)
That bracing wind on the way back to the Palace wasn’t quite so bad after all that.
On Sunday I called a friend to drive into town from Mill Valley to join me for City Brunch at the Garden Court. The spacious, and frankly, breathtaking dining room with its glass-dome ceiling, Italian marble columns, and rows of Austrian crystal chandeliers, could not have been more perfect.
The City Brunch is pretty wondrous with lots of traditional brunch dishes, and just enough chic. We opted for the Dungeness crab toast (more than once,), a Belden Place omelet, and a pair of the criminally good Pecan Sticky Buns. The fresh-squeezed orange juice and hot coffee just somehow kept arriving as well.
I lingered at the Palace with a late-checkout nap, before stowing my luggage and walking down to the Embarcadero, for well, more food.
An old work friend met me at the Ferry Building, one of my favorite spots, for a stroll through the markets and stalls of the landmark building. The 75,000-square-foot market holds more than 50 food shops, eateries, along with a Farmer’s Market. And it’s a pretty great people-watching spot for a Sunday afternoon.
After admiring the view of the East Bay from the ferry landings, we stopped at Fort Point Beer Company for some seriously good hot dogs with a mustard relish. My friend had a craft beer of some sort, one of the many Fort Point offers, and he couldn’t have seemed happier.
We watched happy Dodger fans make like tourists after the Dodgers’ Sunday victory, and wondered who in the world could possibly have had it better than us at that moment. At least, that’s what I was thinking. He might have been thinking about that beer.
Early Sunday evening, I drove the long way home, or maybe it just seemed like that.
And I can’t wait to come back.
Yotel San Francisco
1095 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
The Omni Hotel
500 California Street
San Francisco, CA. 94104
20 Cosmo Place
San Francisco, CA 94109
The Palace Hotel
2 New Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Fort Point Beer Company
The Ferry Building Marketplace
The Embarcadero at Market Street