OT San Fran recommendations?

mindimooSeptember 15, 2008

Hi all!

I am trying to surprise my husband for his 40th birthday with a trip to San Francisco. Would anyone be willing to give me hotel recommendations for the downtown or wharf area?

Also, love to hear ones you wouldn't recommend also.

Details, we will be taking our son, but I do want to stay somewhere nice where you can actually get some sleep - not too noisy. We will be doing all the tourist-y stuff, including Alcatraz, I'm afraid!

Thanks in advance!

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try tripadvisor.com for hotel recs and
fodors.com for various travel info in the "Travel Talk Forums"
Do a search for info from Stu Dudley on fodors...his info on San Francisco is wonderful!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 5:38PM
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Alcatraz is a great trip !

Hard to give a recommendation without a pricepoint, but yelp will help you identify potentials.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 6:22PM
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First -- man, you guys are young! Second, the places which immediately popped into my head immediately changed when I read you're taking your son with you. You know, the bijou romantic boutique hotel on Union Square isn't really the same with a child in attendance .... Ahem.

I love doing touristy things and one of the things we made a point of doing before we left San Francisco was doing precisely that: the touristy stuff. Alcatraz Island is fascinating for any age, and I bet your son (& husband) will LOVE it! Walking through Chinatown, riding the Cable Car, poking through the wharf and eating the obligatory chowder in sourdough "bowls," driving / walking down Lombard Street, visiting the colorful Castro & Haight-Ashbury, walking the Golden Gate Bridge (I could go on and on!) are all so much fun, Mindi. I know people often look down on the "touristy" things but I guess I'm one of the great unwashed because I adore all things touristy!

I'll give the hotel a good think and ask my husband, too. Hmm. Can you give us an idea your (nightly) budget?

In general Union Square is a bit of a waste these days as it resembles every other place -- chain stores! Macy's, Neiman-Marcus, Prada, Cole-Haan, etc. No offense, but you can see those anyplace. However, if you're at all interested in textiles there's a great fabric place on Union Square called Britex. Um, maybe in Seattle you have a superb fabric store, but I'll tell you here in Colorado I miss Britex .... Thank you, internet!

When is your husband's birthday? Don't forget that October tends to be quite warm in SF -- something like "the coldest winter I ever spent was summer in SF," right flatcoat?

You'll have a wonderful time!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 6:40PM
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Great questions!

Actually, I would pay anything up to or over about $1000 for two nights I think, but it would depend on what we get for the money....i.e., less for a noisy hotel, more for a great bed and quiet, great service, quite a range, huh?

Yes, we are taking our son, we don't really travel w/o him, but he's nine now and pretty happy, easy to travel with and can entertain himself with a good book, gameboy, etc.

LOL Brooke - like we really had very little summer here, but it's 86 degrees outside today! Yes, SF has a lot of the same weather as we do so....

We are also not really shoppers - together anyway so history and touristy things are best!

Looking for firsthand information, not travel guides! I havent' been to SF since about '89 or '90 and stayed out of town.

Thanks much!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 6:48PM
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DD1 went to college and lived in downtown SF so we've been numerous times. When you see one recommended (here or at TripAdvisor) Go to the hotel's website to see website specials.

Also know if you are reserving a hotel room NOT through their own website, you are NOT guaranteed exactly what you ask for even if it's prepaid and they say you are guaranteed (such as asking for a room on the back of hotel so that you are not overlooking Union Square - too much noise).

We've only stayed in a hotel a few times (if I go to see her alone, I stay with her but if DH and I both go, we get a hotel), but one of my favorites is the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental. It's up Nob Hill, so I don't think you'll want to be dragging DS up the hill.

The Fairmont is on Union Square and very nice. As for a quiet room. Also The Westin or the Crown Plaza. Both have great beds.

At the Wharf, the Holiday Inn Express is nice for their price range. If you're splurging, the Argonaut is wonderful.

Be sure and check for specials/discounts using AAA card, etc too.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 6:53PM
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I went to SF last year for MY 40th birthday, too!

i highly recommend www.vrbo.com, You will be able to rent a beautiful apartment for that price.

Please do not forget restaurants! SF has some seriously good eating.


    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 6:55PM
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I live in SF (east bay actually) so can't really help on a hotel advice. One thing to pay attention to (especially if you're planning on walking - which I highly recommend) is the hills between your hotel and where you want to go. Some of them in the downtown area are killer (I know, I've walked them).

Some things to check out while you're in town:
Yerba Buena Gardens - they have some really fun cultural activities here and a really rad kid's exploratorium. The burger joint there makes some tasty burgers, too.
Golden Gate Park - Near Sharon Meadows is the site of the first child's playground in the US. It now has tons of fun things.
When I fist explored SF as an adult (we lived here when I was a toddler) I took the ferry in from Marin County (where I was staying) and then just walked up and down the pier area with a detour to Ghirardelli Square. It was an incredible day and made me fall seriously in love with SF.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 7:08PM
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Meant to say, if you think you'll be taking public transportation a lot buy a day pass. It will work out better than paying $ every time you get on something and can be used on everything (cable car, F Line, bus, etc)

I love going to Britex.

Oh, a neat place to stay would be the recently opened Cavallo Point, across the GGB. Convenient to Sausalito, Muir Woods, etc on the North Bay. You could do downtown/Fisherman's Wharf one day and the North Bay the second day.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cavallo Point

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 7:09PM
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rmkitchen is right ! October is my favourite month here, but be sure to bring layers and take them with you everywhere. The stores on Fisherman's Wharf make a fortune selling sweatshirts to poor unfortunate freezing tourists who thought that the weather looked perfectly fine ... :-)

I stayed at the Campton Place hotel a couple nights last year and it was lovely. Close to Union Square and the shopping district (if that's what you're into), lots of great restaurants etc.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 7:37PM
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HA HA Brooke, you just didn't know I am the "older woman" by 3-1/2 years that is!

OK, I guess I should have said $300 to 500+ a night seems to be about right. If I spend more than that, DH might pop a blood vessel! (But, of course, he won't because it's my money!)

allison - thanks for the tip the Cavallo looks interesting. DH would love the historical value...

Also, we are not planning on renting a car, seems more pain than it's worth. Our friends are picking us up at SFO and we are spending first day and night with them. They will spend the next day in the City with us and then drop us to our hotel. Does that make anyone think differently? The way I see it, we can spend $ on cable cars, cabs, etc. to make it anywhere we want to go, still cheaper than renting a car.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 7:39PM
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I never drive in SF. Occasionally Hubby drives but the vast majority of the time we use public transportation / walking. It's a much saner way to go. OTOH, a dear friend of ours is a long-term SF resident. She drives everywhere. Of course, she has a handicap parking permit (rightly so) so it's much, much easier for her parking-wise.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 7:56PM
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Hi - happened to see this in Sunday's NY Times (you may have to sign up to see, but that's free). It's an article about spending 36 hours in SF, specifically the Mission District with restaurant, hotels (including the Intercontinental which is not in the Mission), and some things to do. Also check the SF Travel Guide link on that page with recs for dining, etc. in other areas of SF AND read comments on the guide page from recent visitors. Have fun!

Here is a link that might be useful: NYTimes article on SF

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 8:25PM
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Try the Argonaut Hotel -- you can't get much closer to the Fisherman's Wharf area. It's part of the Kimpton Hotels group. They have several hotels in SF. (I've had especially good service from their Palomar Hotel, but it's location and small room size probably don't fit your needs.) There's also a Holiday Inn Express near the Wharf that can be a good value.

Be sure to visit the food market in the Ferry Building (esp Acme Bread). Greens is a well known restaurant sitting on the Bay at Fort Mason. It's a short walk up a (steep) hill from the Argonaut. Enjoy!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 10:30PM
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mustbnuts zone 9 sunset 9

If you want to stay downtown, I would recommend the St.Francis. Very nice older hotel. Cable cars are near by if you can get on them.

Don't forget the Embarcadero--in fact the Hyatt at the Embarcadero is also quite nice. On Saturdays, you can shop at the Farmer's Market at the old Ferry Building. It is amazing. Great food vendors there too.

I would also recommend for breakfast, Sears. No it is not the Dept. store but near the St. Francis hotel. Delicious for their Swedish pancakes and their omlets are also really good. Expect to wait in line on a weekend up to 45 minutes to get in. So go early.

Another really funky place to go with GREAT food for breakfast is Dottie's Blue Plate Cafe. It has about 10 tables in it and the atmosphere outside is...interesting, but the folks in line are very nice. Food is FABULOUS! Expect to wait 45 minutes to an hour to get in.

For a "fast" place to go, there is a large mall downtown. That mall has a food court on the bottom floor to die for. Incredible. Oh, and I would also recommend Tartines in the Mission District for breakfast pastries. Don't forget Boudins for the best sourdough. You can smell it baking outside the place.

Best deal on the net for hotel prices would be to go to Priceline and put in that you want a four star hotel and see what they come up with. My boyfriend and I have gotten some great deals on there.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 10:57PM
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If you'd like to be close-by Chinatown and North Beach - and I mean CLOSE, like 1/2 block - I'd recommend the Hilton San Francisco Financial District, at 750 Kearny Street. Stop in at Molinari's Deli (373 Columbus Ave), or Victoria Pastry (1362 Stockton St) which are nearby the hotel.

Make restaurant reservations at least 2-3 weeks in advance - Opentable.com is an easy way to do it. People in SF eat out more than any other place in the US and weekends are especially difficult. Earlier is better; most people in SF eat late.

You are wise to take public transportation, but it can be difficult and crowded at commute hours. Put the numbers for the taxi services in your cell phone as a backup. Cabs do not cruise in SF, they only come when you call them. When parked they stay at the taxi stands found at all major hotels.
Desoto cab: (415) 970-1300
Yellow cab: (415) 333-3333

Cold and windy in SF unless we're having one of our rare high-pressure system heat spells (which last 3-5 days before the fog comes roaring back in). Layers are essential; a backpack will hold jackets and knit hats when not needed.

All major hotels have clean public bathrooms but you usually have to go to the mezzanine level or above. SF has a serious homeless problem, BTW. For a first-time tourist I wouldn't recommend following the NYTimes SoMa trip, especially with a kid along. It would be fine if you were already familiar with the city and looking for something different to do, but that doesn't sound like what you're looking for.

Be sure to visit the Exploratorium, your son will love it. More fun and cheaper than Yerba Buena Gardens, although I admit the view of the SFMOMA building is fab and the waterfall at YBG is a perfect gem in the middle of the city. When you visit the Exploratorium, the walk along the Marina allows a fabulous view of the GG Bridge and on a nice day there's nothing more perfect to give you an idea of why all of us live here despite the earthquake hazard [grin].

Have fun!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 11:01PM
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I would highly recommend the new Academy of Sciences, which opens for the first time to the public on Sept. 27. It will have an aquarium, a planetarium, an enclosed rain forest and a "living roof", among other things. I can't wait to check out the sneak preview next week!

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 11:02PM
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Stayed at a nice place near the Ferry Building - Hotel Vitale. Quiet, modern decor, good restaurant in the hotel, a short walk to the Ferry Building and the Embarcadero waterfront. You will still need to take a cab or trolley car to the pier for Alcatraz. The Palace Hotel in downtown is nice, with a spectacular dining room (The Garden Court). They have a big and pricey buffet spread on the weekends. The food was good, but not as nice as the dining room. The desserts were great however. The location is on Montgomery and Market. Not quite in the center of things, but close-by.

Here is a link that might be useful: Hotel Vitale

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 11:46PM
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Try to make it to a few of these places:
Sony Metreon, Grace Cathedral - walk the labrynth, Cartoon museum, Cable car museum, another vote for the Exploratorium (plan a picnic lunch outside the Palace of Fine Arts)
I've stayed in many of the hotels in SF and have never paid more than $175 a night - kayak.com is a useful site for comparisons with little effort. For the price you're willing to pay, you should get true luxury - try the Ritz-Carlton

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 1:15AM
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You might grab a show, or go to the opera at night. You might walk out the
Golden Gate bridge if it's clear, or rent bikes and ride over to Sausalito for lunch. If you take the ferry back you'll avoid the uphill from Sausalito.

BTW, the Fairmont is not on Union Square, it's on top of Nob hill.

Myself, I'd have your friends drive you over to the top of Mt. Tam., or Muir Woods for the afternoon, and then maybe eat over there (Sausalito or Tiberon), or grab a bite at The Pelican Inn (Muir Beach).. Then you'll be mellowed out for the fast city tempo that follows.

I also like the Legion of Honor (museum) it's such a beautiful place, esp near sunset. Of course your son will love the Exploratorium. The Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park is a great destination if you're taking a stroll in the Park.

North Beach is nice for dinner and another stroll. Bimbo's is a good bar in the area. You might visit City Lights Bookstore instead.

Since you're not shopping, I would avoid spending too much time downtown, although if it's Sunday morning, the best entertainment is going on at Glide Memorial Church. They have 2 services, at 9 and 11.

All the other suggestions were great as well. I don't think much of Fisherman's Wharf or Pier 41 but I suppose, if you have to... (I think a visit to the Mission District and China town is better) Oh and check out the various Japanese Hotels. Some are very nice, one, Tomo is more 'fun/pop/video' oriented.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 1:51AM
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The Garden Court at the Palace hotel is beautiful (one of the holdovers from the Gold Rush days, when it was originally the carriage entrance). The food is so-so and expensive.

If you are REALLY serious about the best breakfast buffet in town and willing to pay the $100+/person price, there is nothing better than the Ritz Carlton weekend brunch. We have tried virtually every expensive breakfast place in SF and the East Bay, and nothing else compares to it. They smoke their own trout and salmon in house and it is fabulous! They are also one of the top-ranked restaurants for dinner, although there are better ones - Gary Danko and Michael Mina, amongst them.

For a great breakfast or lunch however, my favorite is the Eclipse Cafe in the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero. Hardly anyone knows it's there, but the chairs are comfy, the waiters are experienced, the atmosphere relaxing, and the food almost rivals the Boulevard/Slanted Door/Cosmopolitan competition but is slightly cheaper - not inexpensive, but not quite as expensive. And your little one will be much more comfortable than at Boulevard and its ilk. Just don't go there for dinner; the cook at dinner is not as good.

For a relatively inexpensive and healthy lunch hit any of the many salad bars in the downtown area, but go before 11:45 or after 1p to avoid the lunch rush.

The Bay Area is Chocolate Central. We have more gourmet chocolatiers than almost anywhere in the world. Recchiutti and Scharffenberger are just two of the better ones. If you visit Mission Dolores make sure to stop by Josef Schmidt's store just down the street, his chocolate turtles and chocolate-covered orange peel will make you swoon. If you like Leonidas - I don't, since I prefer my chocolate dark and bittersweet, not dark sweet - they just opened a shop downtown in the Crocker Galleria on Post St.

If you are a coffee addict - this does not mean Starbucks' oversweetened liquid desserts - we are the home of Peet's, whose Italian Roast beans can keep you going for hours on a single shot.

For an unbeatable free walking tour, you can't do better than the CityGuides, where a guide will impart history and fun stories of the local neighborhoods:

Here is a link that might be useful: City Guides free walking tours

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 2:10PM
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I always stay at the Mark Hopkins Hotel Intercontinental on Nob Hill (across the street from the beautiful Fairmont). These are 2 of the classic SF hotels. Half a block from the Powell/Hyde cable car line and the California line stops almost in front of the hotel.

I will stay there (Hopkins) again in February for a meeting that lasts 5 days, but I will stay the first 2 nights at Cavallo Point - what a location. You would want a rental car if you stay there, but you are close to many sights (e.g., Muir Woods. Sausalito [the town], wine country, and across the bridge all that SF has to offer.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 4:26PM
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I am usually in SF every few months. My favorite place to stay is the Hotel Nikko, on Mason St, near Union Square. Very clean, reasonable rates, close to BART, Trolley system, walking distance to Chinatown, North Beach, etc. Plus, they have a Starbucks downstairs for my morning fix.

My favorite restaurant in the City is Farallon (Post Street): coastal seafood, wonderful blown glass lighting and ambience. It's not cheap but DH & I usually manage to get there once a year.

Have fun!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 6:26PM
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Ghiradelli Square ice cream will delight a 9 yo boy (and his parents). It's touristy and crowded, but do I need to explain the appeal of chocolate? IIRC, very very close to the touristy pier (36?). My other SF recommendations are too lost in the mists of time and/or too inappropriate for a child.

Or, if you have time and a car, Monterey Bay, East Bay (Berkeley, Mt Diablo, Jelly Belly factory tour), Point Reyes, Napa, Sonoma...or wait til next trip.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 6:50PM
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Don't forget that you need to make your Alcatraz reservations in advance - the tours fill up often a couple of weeks in advance, especially for the weekends. Allow yourself plenty of time and wear good walking shoes - it's steep. But the audio tour is the BEST.

I don't recommend Ghiradelli Square anymore. When I was there as a kid you could watch them make chocolate but they don't make it there anymore and it's just a big stupid store.

I do recommend Exploratorium - very fun science museum, unless your son has been to lots of other science museums (they kind of all have most of the same stuff). They have this weird sensory deprivation thing in there that I bought advanced (inexpensive) tickets to - really freaked out some of the kids I was with, but others thought it was great. (The secret: close your eyes)

My favorite restaurant in SF is Capp's Corner on the edge of North Beach (1600 Powell St @ Green). Wonderful Italian served family style. My kids loved the experience and friendly staff. We walked there after spending HOURS on Alcatraz.

On the steep way up Nob Hill there's a fancy schmancy Chinese restaurant on a corner with the gilded curved Chinese architecture - it looks like a really fun, authentic-in-a-tourist-kind-of-way restaurant. The food is awful.

Have fun!

Here is a link that might be useful: Capp's Corner

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 8:51PM
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Sorry, I was thinking about The Westin when I typed The Fairmont, then didn't go back and correct.

I'll second eating at Sears for breakfast. I've never had a bad meal there. The Ferry Building is very cool. Lots of places to eat. Could buy picnic food for the day there also.

You've gotten a lot of great advice - maybe you should go for a week instead! lol

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 9:45PM
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I miss going to SF once a year (on business). I always loved staying at the Argonaut and recommend them to everyone. And, no trip to SF is complete (or it never was for me) without dinner at North Beach Restaurant. North Beach is an easy taxi ride from almost anywhere, especially right down town. It is in an area called North Beach, but don't be mistaken...while there are good restaurants IN north beach, North Beach restaurant is one of the best in the city. It's Italian, traditional style, and you see a lot of locals there...it's fancy, but also family (as a good italian is) so your son will enjoy it as well. The food is devine, and I've twice been seated next to the Mayor of SF while there, as well as a sportscaster and a major news guy...the local celebs like the place too :) (Don't droll on them...I had to beat an assistant for that once) :oP

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 10:08PM
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I live near SF.

The place we go for brunch on really special occasions is the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel at the top of Nob Hill (across the street from the Fairmont Hotel). It has a great view and a wonderfully amazing brunch -- the best I've ever seen and I have travelled a lot.

For drinks, lunch or dinner, I would also recommend the revolving restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Embarcadero. I have taken out of town guests there several times. I don't remember much about the food but the view is wonderful. Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge is also fun (and still free, I think) (you will need a car or cab to get there, though, and getting a cab for the ride back could be tricky).

If you decide to get a car (and San Francisco is not THAT hard to drive in) I would also recommend Guaymas restaurant in Tiberon or a stroll in Sausalito (across the Golden Gate Bridge from SF). Both have great views of San Francisco and are only a short drive from SF (assuming traffic is OK across the Golden Gate).

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 10:43AM
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But, especially allison0704 for recommending Cavallo Pt.!!!

I just booked us a King bay view suite for the two nights we are there! I think it's a perfect solution for my husband especially, he loves historical stuff, especially military and we will be staying in one of the retrofitted officers quarters! Also, I think it fits us all better and will be a more quiet and peaceful accommodation instead of downtown.

Another great point was that they will shuttle us to the ferry dock in Sausalito and from the ferry we get dropped off right downtown - no need for a rental car and off for great fun! We are used to the ferries and walking hills up here in the Seattle area _ so, I hope it will be as good a fit as I think!

Thanks again everyone for all the suggestions, I can't wait to give him his present now! Oh, I didn't mention that I included tickets to the Niner's football game too!

    Bookmark   September 18, 2008 at 1:42PM
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>>the revolving restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Embarcadero.The revolving restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero was closed quite a while ago. It has now reopened as a bar and cafe, but no longer revolves. It has a limited view, now that so many tall bldgs have grown up around it.

One of the great views is from the Bankers Club at the Bank of America bldg on Kearny & California. It is a private club until 3p, then opens for drinks (the best bet) and food (so-so). However, it isn't a place I'd take children. Next time you are there with your DH, however, it is a great place for a drink to watch the sunset illuminate the entire East Bay with color.

If you go to Ocean Beach - the surf is dangerous so do NOT let your son run around unattended - eating at the Park Chalet restaurant is much more relaxing and low-key than its sister the Beach Chalet in front, with the same good small plate menu.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2008 at 10:38PM
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The revolving restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero was closed quite a while ago.

Really? I have fond memories of eating there. In fact my family stayed at the Embarcadero Hyatt 3 years ago and ate in the revolving restaurant. When did they close it?

    Bookmark   September 23, 2008 at 11:10AM
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That's great! - glad I could help. Please post back and let us know how you liked staying there. Since DD1 has moved to the North Bay, it would be a nice place for DH and I to stay when we visit together. I'm headed out in November but will be staying with her - helping paint the bedroom and cooking a pan or two of my mother's dressing that she loves.

Have a great trip.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2008 at 3:29PM
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I have to echo the recommendation for the new Academy of Sciences - especially with a 9 yr old. It just opened yesterday & based on reports I am DYING to get there! If you go (it's in the middle of Golden Gate Park) you can spend a whole day in that area - go to the De Yong museum, & even if you don't visit the art gallery, DO go up to the view area (it's even free!) & it's The Best 360 degree View of San Francisco. You can also go through the Japanese Tea Garden, or stroll through the Arboretum, or take a paddle boat around Stowe Lake. These are all fabulous places with a kid, & all walking distance from each other.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2008 at 10:08PM
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Please check on www.Fodors.com Talk Forum, San Francisco posts. There are tons of fun ideas above, but how many hours will you be here? You want to have fun, not run from place to place trying to get it all in or feel disappointed you miss some. Try to clarify what will be the most fun for you three as a family making memories and come again when you have more time. Do I understand you will be with your friends one day and a half? This is a very exciting place, too much to take in well in two days, so please slow down to really appreciate what you choise to do with the time you have. Cavallo Point is an excellent hotel and location. I bet you will all love it! I too was going to rec Hotel Vitale when your friend drop you off, and enjoy grazing through the Ferry Building, but the Point will be beautiful! Have fun and eat well!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2008 at 11:40PM
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Did you go already?
If not, I can recommend a number of hotels....somehow I didn't ever see this post!

    Bookmark   December 19, 2009 at 10:39PM
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She went in 2008.....but maybe she's going back! ;D

    Bookmark   December 22, 2009 at 8:02PM
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