Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Most Romantic City in the World

I wrote this for Valentine's Day, but could not post it because I was traveling and had internet issues.

Not Rome, not New York, not even Paris, for us San Francisco is the most romantic city in the world.

Every single time we have been there, we come back happy and more in love. San Francisco casts a spell and seduces you with its Victorian style homes, historic cable cars, waterfront promenades, landmark bridges and laissez-faire attitude. The city encourages everyone to make choices that make them happy and does not judge in any way. You will find couples (gays, lesbians and heterosexuals) walking hand in hand, kissing and celebrating their love in public. Except the odd tourist, nobody will turn their heads.

Pic: Victorian Homes on Alamo Square

For the most perfect experience (comes with my personal money back guarantee), take a ferry from Oakland / Alameda. Stand on the deck and hold each other tightly for warmth (it is freezing cold all year round) when the boat goes under the bay bridge and watch the city reveal its skyline. Not as imposing as Chicago or as intimidating as Manhattan, this skyline is a charming mix of heritage buildings and new age skyscrapers.

When you get off the boat, the newly renovated Ferry Building beckons you with its European style bakeries and stores. You can get everything here from a freshly baked French baguette to Italian ham to Russian caviar to lavender scents from Provence. If you happen to be there on a Saturday, walk out into the hallways to the best farmers market of the area. Farmers and artisans from Napa, Sonoma and central counties setup shops to sell local grown certified organic fruits and vegetables and dairy products. Stop by the farmers market band and watch an old couple dance (there is at least one couple every single time).

Pic: San Francisco Ferry Building

San Francisco is a foodie's haven with the most authentic Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Italian and California cuisines. You won't go wrong with most restaurants, but my suggestion is to have lunch at the ‘Slanted Door” which serves the best Vietnamese fusion cuisine I have eaten anywhere in the US. Take the historic trolley or the F line to the corner of Powell and Embarcadero. Walk to Union Square which is San Francisco’s premiere shopping district with upscale boutiques and brand name shops.

Pic:Union Square, Aude, Wikimedia

Check out the art that is usually on display or cheer the high school kids who often give free music and dance performances. Get on to the long line waiting to board the original San Francisco cable car. Experience the thrill of foot boarding the cable car and scream as loudly as you can when you come within inches of the opposite car while climbing the almost vertical road at Nob Hill. Enjoy the ride while you pass through some of the most charming neighborhoods of the city. The cable car museum is an interesting place to stop if you have an hour to spare. We won’t be doing that today, because we are shooting for romance and understanding how metal cables move is not.

Pic: San Francisco Cable Car, Christian Mehlführer

Get off at Russian hill and walk down Lombard Street, the world’s most crooked street while admiring the dahlias and French hydrangeas. As cheesy and touristy this place is, I still love this place because this is quintessential San Francisco with beautiful Victorian homes, Mediterranean style gardens and steep roads that go up and down. As you get to the bottom, take a deep breath and look to your left. You will see the most glorious view of the Pacific Ocean with Alcatraz and Angel Island in the background. Look in front and you will see an equally beautiful view of Coit Tower and the San Francisco bay.

Pic: View of Lombard Street from Coit Tower

Pics: Views from Russian Hill (Wikimedia)

Pic: View of GG Bridge from another hill

Walk to Ghirardelli square that has San Francisco’s signature chocolate factory. Sample the freebies or sit in their café and check out a display of their chocolate making process. Share their humongous banana split ice cream with hot fudge.

Hang out at Fisherman’s Wharf and watch street performers. For my money, I would settle down on the grass and take a power nap. If you have time, walk towards Pier 39 while checking out the fares of roadside vendors. This is the best place to buy all your San Francisco souvenirs. If the pungent smell of Sour Dough bread pulls you in, walk into the famous Boudin Bread shop. You can buy fresh sour dough bread (an oxymoron because the starter dough is from 1849!) or pay $5 to enter the bread museum and check out the history of San Francisco and Boudin Bakers.

A little ahead on the road is Blazing Saddles, a bike shop. One of the best excursions is to rent a bike and cycle along the coastal trail, on the golden gate bridge all the way to the charming sea side town of Sausalito. It is an 8 mile ride that takes 1-2 hours. Have lunch there, check out the art galleries and when you are ready to come back, take a ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf. Saru and I and a couple of friends did this and it was one of our best experiences in the city. The only sour spot was that on the way back, our car got towed for illegal parking (all 4 of us missed the sign) and we spent $360!! We never took our car to the city again!

Back to our romantic date. Pier 39 is famous for its souvenir shops, eateries and Sea lions. These sea lions are residents in the bay and make quite a ruckus attracting tourists. Don’t forget to treat yourself to hot mini-doughnuts and coffee at the pier. By now it must be sunset time. Take a cab and get dropped off at the entrance of the golden gate bridge. If it is not too windy, walk on the bridge while checking out the magnificent views of the city and the Pacific Ocean. Views are great on clear and foggy days.

Pics: Views of Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands

Get to the Marin Headlands vantage point. Sit down, cover yourself with a shawl and snuggle with your partner while watching the sunset. When the sun sets ,the sky turns a deep blue color and the lights come on the golden gate bridge. This is one of the best views in all of United States and even the world.

Pic: Resplendent Golden Gate Bridge as seen from Marin Headlands

Have dinner at Greens, near Fort Mason. This is a very famous organic vegetarian restaurant. Sit next to their huge french window with a view of the Marina. Order some bio-dynamic wine and raise your glasses to toast the most romantic day of your life. On your way back home, don’t be surprised if you start singing Tony Bennet's song

I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me.
To be where little cable cars
Climb halfway to the stars!
The morning fog may chill the air
I don't care!
My love waits there in San Francisco
Above the blue and windy sea
When I come home to you, San Francisco,
Your golden sun will shine for me!


  1. Oh Vam...what a nice post. I felt like I was on a SF tour while reading...brought back very nice memories.

  2. This was the first time I felt so nostalgic after I moved back to India.
    Saru wants to pack his bags and move!

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  4. As always, top-class writing. Would make any one want to move to SF after reading this.

  5. Kudos Vamsee!!
    We should enjoy the city much more than we do..

  6. Vamsee, As Tara mentioned, I wish we had enjoyed the city much more when we were living there. I remember taking the ferry from Oakland / Alameda and standing on the deck but don't think I remember holding Arun tightly for warmth as you suggested.Next time we are there , will give it a shot :-) but thanks for the blog though. It did bring back a lot of great memories.

  7. As always, great post Vam. We should make it a point to visit and enjoy SF more often while we are still here !!

  8. Nice post to read. Never been to this place but cable car reminds me of Amsterdam.
    Awesome pictures, I especially like Lombard street. :-)

    My most romantic city would be Venice. :-)

  9. After the San Francisco visit one should end the night in Sausalito. Brought back nice memories. Its very lively out there.

  10. Anand,
    Your first comment on my blog!! Yay!!

    I so envy you. It must be great to work in San Francisco. Go for a picnic to Crissy Field once the weather gets better

    You are so sweet. I say that for anything you write:)

  11. your love for the city comes out right through..I had no idea that sanfrancisco is so beautiful..blame it maybe on a colonial hangover, i always preferred europe to US

  12. Aru,
    Thanks. You should go to the city more often.

    Thanks. I don't remember seeing a cable car in Amsterdam...just trams.
    I have never been to Venice....but I am sure it is on the romantic city list of most people who have been there.

    Yes, It would be nice to end the day in Sausalito.

  13. Vamsee : The sheer variety of images is the indication that you guys are in love with this place. And your writing as always gives a vivid portrayal.

  14. I read this multiple times in the last 2 days. Each time I read, I want to go back and live in SF. SF is just too special.

  15. Hmm looking at your pictures I have to agree!

  16. You guys definitely loved it there! We visit SF at least once a year to see family. It definitely is beautiful. Loved the foggy bridge picture.

  17. Missed San Fransico during my years stay in USA...I always wanted to drive in Lombard street...And of course i wished to have a similar iew of the Golden gate, decked in cloud. :-( May be next time.

  18. Thomas,
    These are pictures from several trips to the city. When I wrote this piece and started combing through my folders, I was dismayed to find out that I had not taken many pictures of the city. We always ignore the place we live it.

    Your very first written comment on my blog!!! Yay!! It took San Francisco to make you write a comment.

    These pictures don't do justice to the place. I am kicking myself for not taking better pictures of the place where we lived for so many years.

  19. Excellent post Vamsee, you should send this to NYT travel series, this is very similar to the frugal traveler article they do, except that this more of a frugal romantic traveler.

  20. Bindu,
    Thanks. You are lucky to be able to visit SF once a year.

    Yes, Definitely go there next time. You will thank me.

    Thanks, but I am going to start small. Clean it up more and send it to a magazine here.

  21. Vam, this is one of your best posts ever. It's obvious how much you love SF, and your post makes me want to visit it. I havent been to San Francisco, but for me, California in itself holds some pretty romantic memories too. ;)
    Oh, and lovely photos as always, my favorite is the view of Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands...beautiful!

  22. I was reading ur comments and I can see what ur saying abt taking more pics. :) I wanted to send some snaps to friends and realized I have countless snaps of the same things, but not enough abt the city by itself.

    I love, love, love the place.Love walking aimlessly thru the streets getting lost, love the ferry rides, love the bay, the buildings :)(but hate the driving) Lifts my spirits up whenever I go there. That, is what I call a city with a character :-)


  23. Lakshmi,
    US might not have many historic attractions like Europe, but has a lot of natural beauty. There are some very beautiful national parks here. SF has a lot of history / money from the gold rush era and a very happy location!

    Thanks. That comment made my day!! Write about your trip to California.

    I know EXACTLY what you are saying! The city always....always makes us happy!

  24. frisco it is!!!

    luved some of the pics ... especially the crooked street (isnt it same as lombard?) and the golden gate bridge covered in fog. hope, i'll get the right vantage points next time i am in sfo

  25. I am so impressed. It was really nostalgic. I agree 100% to your thoughts. I think it is the most magical place. Everytime we have gone there we have been very happy. I will make Iyer read this too. I would like to read more.......

  26. Sandeep,
    Thanks. My favorite is the gg bridge in fog.

    Welcome to my blog. It took San Francisco to bring you here. It sure is a magical place.

  27. Yes, yes, I am with you! Absolutely! You wrote an excellent post (well, what’s new J – thanks. And thanks for those excellent pics. I lost my heart to (not in) Frisco. We visited on our honeymoon and I begged my (now ex-) husband for a fight so I could stay there…and send him home alone. He wasn’t ready then… and later, oh well... But I plan to go back. One day!

  28. Hi Vamsee,
    Very beautiful and romantic indeed, I hope to visit some day. Might hop over this year during Pride (June).

  29. Fida, are crazy!!It is so good to have you back. You are the best!!

    It is a lot of hopping from Toronto to SF:) Just remember what Mark Twain said "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco".
    The best time to visit is in the fall. I used to have a window office opening out to the view of the city and in September it was almost like somebody wiped the glass clean to show the most beautiful views. Weather is warm, skies are clear and the ocean is blue - absolute best time to go to San Francisco.

  30. Lovely post!
    The misty Golden gate bridge shot is terrific.

  31. oh... how lovely!! makes me want to plan my next holiday... to San Francisco.... WOW!!

  32. Great post and lots of info. Shall make use of it when I visit SFO.

  33. Hi Vamsee!
    Sorry I couldn’t visit you for the last two weeks! I’m trying to catch-up and see the wonders you have around!

    OK! I don't discuss the degree of romantism; question of taste... ;)) But San Francisco is a wionderful city, you got it in the sun and I'm truly happy to see it... ;))

    Meanwhile, one of the most beautiful Forts in India waits you and your comments at Blogtrotter: – The Amber Fort! Enjoy and have a great weekend!

  34. Vamsee, After reading this I feel like visiting SF again. I like Golden gate bridge mist picture a lot.

  35. Lovely post and pictures! I hope to reach there someday.:)

  36. Awesome post on SFO Vam..reminded me of the first time we came there and u guys took us to a tour of the was just a few months after our marriage, and it was very romantic...i can see how it would be in your hearts after living there for so long...just consider yourselves lucky to have lived for so long in one of the most beautiful cities:)

  37. Vamsee, great post. Brought back grat memories of the time Umesh and I vidited San Francisco and stayed with you and Saru.

    My most romantic city would be Rome, where Umesh and I traveled for our honeymoon.

  38. I dont agree, everyone feels his own city to be most beautiful.

  39. Oh, I absolutely agree with you. The first time I was there was on our honeymoon 32 years (oh, did I just write that?) ago. I even asked my now ex huspand to pick a fight with me so I would have a reason to stay and send him home. He didn't to me the favour back then (haha). Since then I was there two more times and I intend to revisit again. Love the Red Vic to stay in when I am there:)
    Gosh, Saru's pic of the Golden Gate bridge in the fog - brilliant!

  40. Beautiful pictures of the Golden Gate bridge.

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