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!