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Please Critique My San Francisco Itinerary

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Hello fellow hounds.

My travel companion and I will be visiting the bay area from FL during the week of aug 31 2014 to sept 6 2014. We'll be staying in the Westin Union Square. Based on my research on this board using the search feature, I've put together a list of restaurants that I believe will work. We're both in our mid 30s. She's never been to the bay area and I've been once 8 years ago for one day for business but that doesn't count. This will be our third trip to the state in the last 1.5 to 2 years as we've been to San Diego and LA each for a week at a time on separate trips.

I'm hoping to get your opinions on the itinerary with suggested changes. Monday night dinner is the one area that we're still up in the air about. We'll be coming back from hiking in Big Sur and I originally planned for us to stop in Monterey and have dinner on the way back to San Fran. However, I wasn't sure how rough of a drive, terrain wise the trip from Monterey to San Fran is. Can someone provide some insight in regards to that drive? The itinerary is as follows:

Day Activity Start End
Sunday Aug 31
Take BART to Powell St Station 12:47pm 1:17pm
Check-In at the hotel 1:32pm 2:00pm
Leave for Lunch 2:10pm
Lunch - Lers Rors Thai 2:30pm 3:30pm
Alcatraz Tour 4:20pm 8:45pm
Return to Hotel 9:30pm 9:50pm

Monday Sept 1
Leave to Pick-up Rental from SFO 7:20am
Pick-up Rental 8:00am
Drive to Big Sur - JBurns State Pk 8:15am 11:15am
Hike 11:20am 3:20pm
Drive to 17 Mile Drive 3:30pm 4:40pm
Drive 17 Mile Drive 4:40pm 5:40pm
Drive back to San Francisco 5:40pm 7:50pm
Arrive at the Hotel 7:50pm
Leave for Dinner 9:15pm
Dinner- The Slanted Door 9:30pm 10:30pm
Hotel 11:00pm

Tuesday Sept 2
Breakfast - Dottie's Café 7:30am 8:30am
Walk back to the hotel 8:35am 8:50am
Drive to Rutherford Hill Winery 9:40am 11:00am
Winery Tour - Rutherford Hill 11:30am 1:00pm
Lunch- Farmstead 1:20pm 2:20pm
Drive to San Francisco 2:25pm 3:45pm
Walk around Chinatown 5:00pm 6:55pm
Dinner - Z&Y Chinese 7:00pm 8:00pm
Hotel 8:30pm

Wednesday Sept 3
Return Rental Car 6:30am 8:00am
Take BART to Powell St Station 8:45am 9:15am
Breakfast - Dottie's Café 9:30am 10:30am
Cable Car to Hyde & Lombard Sts 10:42am 11:00am
Take Pics at Lombard St switch-bk 11:05am 11:20am
Fisherman's Wharf 11:20am 11:30am
Take pics between piers 43 & 45 11:32am 11:40am
Walk to Ghirardeli Square 11:40am 12:00pm
Walk around Ghirardeli Square 12:03pm 12:13pm
Kara's Cupcakes 12:18pm 12:30pm
Lunch - Blue Barn Gourmet 1:00pm 2:00pm
Golden Gate Bridge 2:25pm
Take Pics at the Golden Gate 2:35pm 3:35pm
Hotel
Dinner - Nopa 7:30pm 8:30pm
Taxi to Hotel
Hotel

Thursday Sept 4
Breakfast – Can’t Decide 7:30am 8:30am
Hotel 8:45am 11:30am
Alamo Square - The Painted Ladies11:55am 12:25pm
Lunch - Zuni Café 1:05pm 2:05pm
Hotel
Dinner- La Ciccia 7:30pm 8:30pm
Hotel

Friday Sept 5
Breakfast – Can’t Decide 7:30am 8:30am
Hotel
Take BART to Berkeley 10:00am 10:24am
Walk around Cal-Berkeley 10:35am 12:35pm
Take BART to 19th St BART St 12:45pm 12:55pm
Lunch - Stag's Lunchette 1:00pm 2:00pm
Dinner - Gitane 8:00pm 9:00pm
Hotel

Saturday Sept 7
Take BART to Airport 6:55am

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  1. You may want to check Dottie's website. It shows they're closed Tuesday and Wednesday and have moved to 6th between Market and Mission. Why not have dim sum breakfast?

    3 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      I'll have to revisit Dottie's website. I'm more of a traditional eggs and bacon breakfast type of guy and i love french toast.

      1. re: playboy

        My favorite breakfast during my vacation in SF was Brenda's French Soul Food.

        My hotel was in Union Square and I walked. Although it is a bit of a hike

        frenchsoulfood.com/

        652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102, United States
        (415) 345-8100

        1. re: tatuaje68

          Both Dottie's and Brenda's are superb choices for breakfast, but Dottie's offers a more varied menu than Brenda's, so if it were me, I would go to Dottie's twice (not necessarily on consecutive mornings) and Brenda's once (be careful -the beignets are so good they are addictive). Also, you may encounter a wait in line at both spots so you may need to budget a bit more time than you have indicated in your schedule.

    2. Kara's Cupcakes and Blue Barn both seem pretty meh to me but people do line up. Otherwise all seems solid.

      1. Disappointing that Chowhound doesn't even allow actual reports about restaurant closures by the health department. These are not rumors but actual news stories.

        I'm going back to review sites which are more concerned about people's health than the restaurants reputation.

        2 Replies
        1. re: RBCal

          That policy makes sense to me. Health department issues are usually resolved quickly and up-to-date reports are available online for those who care. Posts here stick around forever.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            frankly I'd rather hit a place newly re-opened as they are most likely on their best behavior at that point in time.

        2. Did Cafe La Presse on Grant at Bush close? They website doesn't work. I had a quite good breakfast there about a year ago.

          5 Replies
          1. re: c oliver

            No, the web site is just down.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Thanks. @OP, I can't give you a link but I enjoyed it quite well and IIRC they may have had French toast.

              1. re: c oliver

                I've seen people mention Cafe La Presse here, but I'd need to see the menu before adding to the itinerary.

                1. re: playboy

                  Not the adventuresome sort, eh? :) If it's not up before you leave, why not just walk by it and check it out.

                  Here it is from menupages and it's how I remember it.

                  http://sanfrancisco.menupages.com/res...

                  On your Big Sur etc. you're going to have rush hour traffic going and returning. I think once when I was still in my 20s a friend and I went to Carmel and back in a day and it was a monstrously long day. I can't even imagine what you're planning. That could easily be a long weekend trip.

                  You're only allowing an hour for dinner but you don't have anything else scheduled after that.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    his big sur day is labor day
                    not rush hour, but holiday return to the city traffic

          2. Did you make any allowances for traffic on your driving days? That Big Sur schedule looks really tight. Not sure about the Napa schedule.
            I'm also a meh on Kara's cupcakes, but I don't really like cupcakes anyway.

            5 Replies
            1. re: joycebre

              We have this thing where we like to try cupcakes in each city we go to; that is why Kara's is on the list. But if you guys have any other cupcake shops to try we'd be open.

              I did build in extra padding to allow for traffic. How is the drive back from Monterey to San Fran at night? I'm just wondering if we should have dinner in Monterey and then make our way back to the hotel.

              1. re: playboy

                The best cupcakes are probably at bakeries that don't do only cupcakes. Maybe DeLessio, BiRite, or Pinkie's.

                Monterey to SF would be painless at night if you didn't do it on Labor Day.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Sibby's cupcakes in San Mateo are better than Kara's ... maybe OP could grab them on the way down to Big Sur. I think you have to preorder.

                2. re: playboy

                  traffic on weekdays in the Bay Area during rush hour (6am to 9 am, 3pm to 7pm) the average freeway speed is about 25mph.:) it's somewhat better out of area, like in Monterey, and on weekends. Since this is a holiday weekend, there will be a lot of tourists in Monterey, all doing the same things as you. So I'd stay as flexible as possible - you never know. If you hear traffic reports are bad, it might be worth it to stay in Monterey for dinner. I'd also recommend the aquarium, if you're waiting things out.

                  1. re: playboy

                    Lots of recommendations for Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur can be found on the California board. The drive on Highway 1 can take quite a while, but you have the alternative of going over to the 101 freeway and that makes the drive a bit easier and faster at night.

                    You are visiting over Labor Day weekend so expect crowds, delays and extra traffic everywhere. Unless you are getting a really great deal on the rental by picking it up at the airport, you can pick up a car at several downtown locations, and save a lot of time and an extra night of expensive parking.

                    To keep it food related, you have made all of solid restaurant choices. Give you self time to walk around and explore the neighborhoods, SF has a lot of hidden gems

                3. Monterey topics on the California board:

                  http://www.chow.com/search?q=monterey...

                  Monterey to SF is not rough. Much of 1 is a two-lane road so you can get stuck behind a slow vehicle. 101 you might hit rush-hour backup from San Jose to SF but that usually dies down by 7. 9/1 is Labor Day so there will be a lot of traffic. You might want to do that some other day.

                  If you're not driving into the city on your arrival or to the airport when you're leaving, picking up the rental car at the airport is wasting a lot of time. St. Francis to the rental agency will probably take over an hour door to door.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    To amplify your comments, as I've driven Salinas (20 mins east of Monterey) to San Francisco repeatedly for many years at all times of day and night, northbound traffic on 101 has no rush hour back-ups until you reach San Jose. Then one cuts over to Hwy 85 and can cruise north readily in the middle of rush hour until reaching Palo Alto. With two people in the car, they can take advantage of the car pool lane. But on Labor Day, traffic will be at a standstill trying to head north from Monterey at the proposed hour. If the schedule can't be changed, I suggest stopping for dinner along the way to get out of traffic.

                    Since the OP is arriving mid-day on Sunday, I suggest picking up the car on arrival at SFO and driving straight down to Monterey. The area deserves an overnight, as there's so much to Big Sur for exploring and relaxing. Then they can leave earlier on Monday to stay ahead of traffic.

                    Or pick another day for that side trip. The City empties out on holiday weekends, especially during Labor Day weekend and Burning Man. It's one of the best times to explore San Francisco.
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9144...

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      I especially agree that it deserves an overnight.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        and it takes advantage of already being down the peninsula, even if flying into Oakland, there are always the San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges over to 101

                  2. If you're going to get off the Bart in downtown Oakland just for lunch, I'd pass on Stag's and instead stop over at Miss Ollie's. I like Stag's fine, but really it is just a sandwich shop --IMO not worth a special trip. The other benefit of Miss Ollies (besides that the food is unique and great) is that it gives you the chance to stroll around Old Oakland, and walk on to Jack London Square.

                    I agree with those who suggest that it is a bit ambitious to try to get back to SF for dinner after Big Sur. The drive back is not awful (unless you get unlucky with traffic), but that is not the point. The point is that you should enjoy the trip without rushing back. Stop in monterey or Half Moon Bay for dinner, perhaps.

                    You do not have the Embarcadero/Ferry Bldg on you list (except that Slanted Door is located there). Make that one of you breakfast choices while you explore the various food stalls.

                    I think Ghirardelli Square is nicer from 12:08-12:18 rather than 12:03-12:13 :-)

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: MagicMarkR

                      Stag's buys the best meat, cures and smokes its bacon, pastrami, etc. in house, and makes its own pickles and sauerkraut. There are a handful of other sandwich shops around here that do that, but you won't find that most other places.

                      Miss Ollie's is great.

                      1. re: MagicMarkR

                        We're not making a trip to Oakland just for Stagg's, but we'll need lunch while we're over there. I looked Ms. Ollie's menu last week after seeing it suggested here and I decided to go with Stag's for the reasons Robert mentioned. We will definitely stroll around Jack London Square.

                      2. I'd suggest throwing out your by the hour scheduling to avoid stress, and frustrations. Tuesday's timing sticks out as one you'll want to play by ear. Walking around Chinatown for 2 hours before dinner doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

                        I wouldn't make a special trip to Kara's. If you do, Blue Barn isn't really notable for a tourist to go out of their way for. It's good for takeout to bring with you and split on a drive, in case you'll need a snack. You can pop over on the way out of the city. Kara's has a truck, as does Cupkate's, so maybe if you check their schedules, it will line up, or you can always get a cupcake at Cako locations around Union Square if you don't stumble on a nice looking one during the rest of your time in the Bay.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: sugartoof

                          I second Cupkates - their current schedule has trucks in East Bay on Thursday, so it might work out in your favor.

                          Another more convenient alternative is Miette if you prefer not-as-sweet cupcakes. Locations at the Ferry Building and Jack London Square for instance. I like their butter cream, but the cake is not as moist as Cupkates.

                        2. Couple of places to add, Bi-rite ice cream on 18th. My wife makes us stop every time we are in SF. We are also really like Pizzeria Delfina.

                          I second the part about Kara's and Blue Barn being meh, Blue barn is not bad, but can think of many other places on chestnut.

                          THe drive from Monterrey to SF is not bad at all.
                          but that is a really packed day.

                          My biggest problem with your plan is something my wife and i find out about our own trips. We try to cram to much into it. There is so many great things to see i have to see it all. Lots of our best experiences come by accident. but i am not much of an itinerary follower.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: MTBright

                            What are the names of the other places on Chestnut?

                          2. HI There! I'm a foodie who lived in the Bay Area for close to thirty years. I work in the arts and special events and have hosted lots and lots of people during visits.

                            Looking at your schedule, I would say that you haven't provided enough time getting to and fro and the pace doesn't allow for some leisurely dining or just enjoying the City. Leave some time to just wander around and take in the sites. I noticed that you have left out some great places -- North Beach, the Mission, Golden Gate Park, drive from Presidio to the beach.

                            Also you didn't mention your price point and how much you're prepared to spend on dinner.

                            From all of the places you've listed, I think you can do much, much better. Of all of the places, the for sure selections would be Slanted Door and Zuni, but otherwise, I'd reconsider.

                            Day 1, not sure where you're having lunch, are you taking boat to Alcatraz from the Ferry Bldg or Fisherman's wharf? Make sure you have enough time. I'd recommend leaving for Alcatraz from the Ferry Plaza and allocate some time to walk through the Ferry Plaza, because it's a great food destination with shops, wine bar, and places to eat. Or arrive for your Slanted Door reservation with enough time to explore.

                            Day 2 - Since you're driving all the way up to Napa, you might want to plan to spend some quality time.

                            Day 3 - the 17 mile drive, while beautiful is grueling and you'll probably be very tired by the time you get back to SF.

                            Not enough time to get to Oakland from Berkeley. I'd walk from campus or take the bus to North Berkeley and have lunch at The Cheeseboard for Pizza and stroll up to Walnut street. Or walk around downtown Berkeley after you're done visiting campus.

                            I'd consider an afternoon in the Mission, burritos followed by coffee and a pastry at Tartine. You could spend an entire afternoon at the SF Marina, including Fort Mason and walking along the path toward the Golden Gate bridge.

                            There are also some great eating places around Valencia and Mission between 16th and 24th. Also, Hayes Street near War Memorial Opera House has wall to wall great bars and eating places. Check out the SF Guardian weekly site for local eating suggestions and the SF Chronicle Top 100 list.

                            Use 511 Trip Planner to check times on public transit.

                            Here are some of my favorites:

                            Town Hall - south of MIssion/downtown
                            Wayfare Tavern - Finance District
                            Absinthe - Hayes Valley
                            Jardiniere - Hayes Valley
                            Cafe Delle Stelle - Hayes Valley
                            Hayes Street Grill - Hayes Valley
                            Tartine and Bar Tartine - Valencia Street/Mission
                            Noir Lounge - Hayes Valley
                            Sauce - Hayes Valley
                            Grand Cafe - Union Square

                            Have a great time!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: artsguru

                              The BART ride from Berkeley to Oakland is ten minutes and that time of day the trains are eight minutes apart, so that part of the schedule is spot on.

                            2. you have some great ideas, but it's so scheduled, it sounds like an exhausting fun-suck (I know I wasn't asked or invited).

                              1. Ok. Below are the changes I've made to the food schedule.

                                Sunday
                                Added Slanted Door for lunch

                                Monday
                                Removed Slanted Door for dinner
                                Added Passionfish in Pacific Grove for dinner on our way back to San Fran

                                Tuesday
                                Added Cako for cupcake

                                Wednesday
                                Removed Kara's Cupcakes from the list

                                19 Replies
                                1. re: playboy

                                  Passionfish is a great addition. I just ate there last month. Make sure you have reservations and enjoy!

                                  1. re: playboy

                                    Where are you coming from and why Slanted Door? It's really not destination worthy and there are countless better and more uniquely San Francisco options, if you want my 2 cents. You haven't explored any of the Asian restaurants in the Richmond, most of which are far more interesting.

                                    1. re: OliverB

                                      Hello. We're coming from Florida. I put Slanted Door on the list bc of some of the things I read here and it is convenient. I looked at the menu and was somewhat disappointed bc it didn't read as authentic Vietnamese to me. I'm open to any other suggestions that would be convenient for us on Sunday afternoon.

                                      1. re: playboy

                                        Slanted Door is Cal-Viet fusion rather than authentic. I have to disagree with OliverB somewhat though. The food is quite good, it is unique and the setting is very San Francisco. It's also extremely popular and therefore gets as much "under-hype" as it gets hype.

                                        However if you are looking for authentic, then you would be better off with many of the viet hole-in-in-walls around town.

                                        1. re: Civil Bear

                                          What about Bodega Bistro? I read the menu and it seems more like authentic viet to me.

                                          1. re: playboy

                                            No, not really. It has some authentic dishes but it is mostly fusiony. It is kind of known as the cheaper version of Slanted Door. Still darn good food though.

                                            Do you know which dishes you are looking for. There are some good more authentic places in that area known as little Saigon.

                                            1. re: Civil Bear

                                              I just looked at Turtle Tower. It has a lot of Pho dishes, which I like.

                                              1. re: playboy

                                                Turtle Tower is probably the consensus #1 for pho ga in the City. Their style is northern however, so some folks (me included) find the pho bo a bit uninteresting and prefer the more flavorful southern style. The pho ga broth at TT is light, bright, and flavorful.

                                          2. re: Civil Bear

                                            Slanted does have a nice view...

                                            1. re: hill food

                                              Most restaurants on the Embarcadero do... but the food is just OK. That's not to say I don't like SD; I had lunch there last week. It's perfectly servicable but nothing more and I would never consider it a destination or recommend it to out-of-towners. I feel the same way about Turtle Tower btw. It's a fine local restaurant, but unless you were spending an extended amount of time in San Francisco, I see no reason to prioritize either place.

                                              1. re: OliverB

                                                Without any geographic limits, what's your fave Vietnamese place please?

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  Vung Tau in San Jose. Finer Vietnamese food. The dish recs from this board are awesome.

                                                  I found Kim Long's (near great mall) pho ga better than turtle tower. Though neither of them worthy for out of towners unless u really want pho.

                                          3. re: playboy

                                            If it's authentic Vietnamese food you seek, then stop in San Jose for a meal on your way to or from Monterey.

                                            Here are recs for pho in the San Jose area, which is the city with the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam.
                                            http://www.chow.com/search?q=san+jose...

                                        2. re: playboy

                                          If you have dinner on Labor Day at Passionfish and are done at around 7pm, you're facing a five to six-hour drive to get back to San Francisco. Your bodies will still be on East Coast time, so it will feel like 3am to you by the time you get back or later. Yes, that's right, it will take double the normal amount of time. Is that really what you want to do on the second day of your vacation? You're going to wish you had a hotel room in Monterey.

                                          When I said stop for "dinner along the way" assuming you're hell-bent on making the longest drive of your trip on the worst travel day of the year, what I meant is make some headway by driving two hours or so north. Take a break for dinner, and then slog the rest of the way back to the City just so you don't go crazy in the car. I can tell you that there will still be considerable traffic after 11pm at night on Hwy 101. You would be wise to bone up on back roads and alternative routes. And if there's an accident, and there usually is, you'll be delayed even longer. Eating at Passionfish in Pacific Grove, a few blocks from 17-mile drive, is not advancing you traffic-wise.

                                          If you're locked into the car rental already, have you considered reversing your days for Big Sur and Napa? Take the shorter day-trip to Napa on Monday, then go to Big Sur on Tuesday when traffic will be less severe.

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            @OP, I highly recommend that you pay close attention to Melanie Wong. She is extremely knowledgeable about the whole food (and obviously traffic) scene the in SFBA and beyond.

                                            Sorry, MW, not sucking up - it's true.

                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                              I have thought about reversing the Napa and Big Sur trips. I may end up doing that. You're right in that Labor Day traffic will likely be an issue.

                                              1. re: playboy

                                                Others will reply, I'm sure, but traffic from Napa/Sonoma back into the city on any weekend much less a holiday will be a nightmare :( A midweek commute can be easily doubled (tripled?).

                                                1. re: playboy

                                                  Why not do the out-of-town trips on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday?

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    would make a lot more sense than fighting the weekenders

                                            2. Skip The Slanted Door and enjoy dinner at Deetjen's in Big Sur. It's not nearly worth the rush or drive back. In fact, an overnight in Big Sur if there's any last minute vacancy would be far more enjoyable. Drive back the next morning. The surroundings are incomparable and your day/road trip will be far more enjoyable than if you were to rush back to an overrated and frankly mediocre restaurant at the Embarcadero.

                                              1. I lived and worked on the west side of SF for 20 years so I tend to encourage visitors to venture out of the FiDi and the Mission a bit.

                                                Two long-time food favorites are a ride on the N-Judah Muni line away.

                                                Breakfast/brunch: Zazie in Cole Valley. http://www.zaziesf.com/index
                                                Get off at Carl and Cole, half block up Cole.

                                                My favorite breakfast was Eggs Mexico, perfectly scrambled eggs w/white cheddar, chorizo, roasted peppers, and salsa. Excellent coffee drinks. Very good value, no big crowds during the week.

                                                Lunch: Cha Cha Cha on upper Haight
                                                http://www.cha3.com/cha-cha-cha---hai...
                                                Get off at Carl and Cole, walk 3 blocks down Cole to Haight, turn left, Cha Cha Cha is 1 block up.

                                                Crowds and prices are MUCH better at lunch than dinner.
                                                I eat and share a lot of small plates there -- musts are Cajun shrimp, fried new potatoes, platanos with black beans, calamari, chicken paillard in Dijon sauce, sauteed mushrooms, mussels. Not expensive. I avoid sangria but many love it.

                                                I think these are truly great SF places, esp for the price.