On and Off the Grid in San Francisco

Travel decisions usually fall into well defined categories: where to stay, how to get around, what to do and where to eat, along with finding something different or “off the grid.” The definition of “off the grid” has morphed from living without public utilities to doing something out of the ordinary or unconventional.

Given that, here’s my on and off the grid guide to San Francisco.

On the Grid

Where to Stay – Location, location, location.  I am a Kimpton groupie and San Francisco is where they opened their first boutique hotel (www.kimptongroup.com).  There are nine Kimpton properties in “The City by the Bay.”   This trip we stayed at the award winning, newly renovated, four-star Hotel Monaco (www.monaco-sf.com) located in the Theater District just four blocks from Union Square.

Hotel Monaco and the Grand Cafe

How to Get Around – I highly recommend purchasing the San Francisco CityPASS (www.citypass.com) discount booklet. This allows you to ride the world-famous cable car as well as the Muni (public transportation). Additionally, Blue & Gold Fleet (www.blueandgoldfleet.com) and RocketBoat tours on the Bay are included. CityPASS is a great value.

Muni Option

What to Do – The San Francisco CityPASS also provides entrance to must-see attractions.  We visited the California Academy of Sciences, the Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the deYoung + Legion of Honor and The Exploratorium.

Where to Eat – Just as Kimpton is the leader in boutique lodging, so have they changed the perception of hotel restaurants.

Scala’s Bistro (www.scalasbistro.com) is the definitive San Francisco dining experience; sophisticated with attentive, knowledgeable servers and great attention to preparation and presentation.  Located inside the landmark Sir Francis Drake Hotel, its menu pulls from rustic Italian with French nuances, combined with the freshness of California cuisine.  As you would imagine, there is an extensive wine list, creative desserts and lively bar scene.


Puccini & Pinetti’s (www.pucciniandpinetti.com) is a long-time favorite of mine.  This reasonably priced Italian bar and grill is located just off Union Square and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It has an exhibition kitchen featuring Italian classics with novel twists. It could best be described as a neighborhood style restaurant that’s kid friendly, with an energetic and casual atmosphere. I usually end up grazing at their happy hour extravaganza, but this trip lunch was on my schedule. Try their 3-course “Working Lunch.”

My two other meals were at the Hotel Monaco. Their Grand Cafe Brasserie’s setting is a turn-of-the-century majestic ballroom with soaring ceilings and art deco features mixed with contemporary touches. The food is regional French cuisine with local influences. A special weekend brunch menu combines imaginative breakfast items with entrees; don’t miss their take on the classic Croque Monsieur. Lunch is also a treat in this splendid room.  The mussel appetizer with freshly baked bread is enough for a meal. The adjoining Grand Cafe Bar features a happy hour and pre-and post-theater dining.

Grand Cafe Brasserie


Off the Grid

How to Get Around – When I made hotel reservations, I noticed that www.phlimo.com (www.phlimo.com) handled transportation for the Hotel Monaco.  I called and realized that PHL’s private car service was not much more expensive than travel by taxi to/from the airport.  Plus, the door-to-door personalized service and spotless vehicle made the decision a winning one. It is well worth the extra few dollars. We also used PHL for a driving tour.  Note: their vehicles are all hybrids.

Pacific Heights Limo Service (All-Hybrid Fleet)



Where to Eat – The Ferry Building’s Farmers Market (www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com) features local farmers and artisan food products every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It’s festive and the opportunities to buy gifts, snacks or a meal are mind boggling.


What to Do – For an evening to be entertained and amazed, head to Peter Morrison’s Marrakech Magic Show running Thursday through Sunday (sanfranciscomagictheater.com).  It begins in the Sultan’s Oasis lounge where you can order drinks and appetizers along with a “meet and greet” with the affable Peter Morrison.  His sleight of hand and illusions will confound you throughout the 75 minute show.  The intimate showroom accommodates 40, so there are no bad seats.  Kids of all ages will have a magical evening.


Peter Morrison in Action

I would highly recommend an off the grid day trip.  Take the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf, walk to Pier 41 and catch the Blue Gold Fleet ferry to historic Angel Island State Park (www.angelisland.com). Reminder: CityPASS includes vouchers for the transportation.

Blue Gold Fleet


Once there, take the tram tour or rent a Diggler Mountain Scooter or Segway for a fascinating exploration of this remarkable place. It was formerly an immigration center, prisoner of war camp, military post and Nike missile defense site. It is currently an active Coast Guard station. The island, the largest in the Bay, offers miles of hiking and bike trails, including one to its highest point, Mt. Livermore.  On a clear day you can see all five Bay Area bridges.

The Diggler on Angel Island

Plan to eat at the Angel Island Cove Café featuring an eclectic menu with daily specials. Much of the produce is from their organic garden. My favorite was the pulled pork sandwich. The Angel Island staff in the restaurant and at the park are friendly, helpful and well-informed.  It’s a travel experience you won’t forget.

Angel Island Cove Café



Information & Contacts

For San Francisco area information, logon to www.sanfrancisco.travel.com

The Hotel Monaco (www.monaco-sf.com)  features complimentary coffee and tea service in the morning and a hosted wine hour in the afternoon. Other goodies include a pet friendly policy, free high speed Internet and a 24 hour fitness center. Their onsite spa was a perfect end to a day of hiking on Angel Island.  The hotel was a 2012 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Award Recipient. Note: join Kimpton’s InTouch loyalty program.

Safe travels and enjoy the journey…

Howard Hian

Thanks to the various websites for information, photos, etc.

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