10 surprising reasons it's time to revisit San Francisco

There is so much more to see than the bridge

By Lois Alter Mark,

You’ve driven over the Golden Gate Bridge, eaten at Fog Harbor Fish House on Pier 39, taken the boat over to Alcatraz. You probably even rode a cable car, walked around Fisherman’s Wharf and had lunch in Chinatown.

But, oh, there is so much more to see and do in San Francisco

These may not be the first things that come to mind when you think about the city, but they just may turn out to be your favorites. 

Tenderloin National Forest

Tenderloin National Forest — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark

If you want to see what hope looks like, pay a visit to the lovingly-named Tenderloin National Forest, an oasis of nature and art in the middle of the Tenderloin, a neighborhood traditionally laden with drugs and crime. 

Darryl Smith and Laurie Lazer, co-founders of the Luggage Store, a non-profit arts organization, reclaimed adjacent Cohen Alley and began to transform it into a common area for the community. They planted trees, vegetables, herbs and flowers, had murals painted on the walls and produced and presented hundreds of performances and cultural events. As one might expect, this has also transformed the neighborhood.

Spending time there gives you a powerful sense of how real change happens. (Note: Before you go, check the website to make sure the gates will be open.)

San Francisco Love Tour

San Francisco Love Tours truckin' down Lombard Street — Photo courtesy of San Francisco Love Tours

Start your vacation with a ride on the VW hippie bus for two hours of peace, love and sightseeing. Travel to spots that the big buses can’t get into, and learn about the only gold fire hydrant in the city, the history behind the rainbow flags of the Castro, and the houses in Haight-Ashbury where Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and the Grateful Dead lived during the Summer of Love. 

With only six guests and a guide straight out of the sixties, this is the way to see San Francisco, baby.

Chugging around the hairpin turns on Lombard Street as pedestrians smile, take photos and flash you the peace sign is a trip in itself.

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

The award-winning Margherita pizza at Tony's Pizza Napoletana — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark

I didn’t expect to find great New York pizza 3000 miles from its roots, but there’s a reason Tony Gemignani is a 12-time World Pizza Champion. This is the real thing.

With seven ovens working at a variety of temperatures, Tony’s serves 13 types of pizza, featuring everything from coal-fired and Sicilian to Grandma’s and gluten-free. It’s no surprise that the Margherita, which won the World Pizza Cup in Naples in 2007, is the most popular; it's outstanding. If you want to try it, get in early because they only make 73 of them a day. If you order late, well, fuhgeddaboutit. 

Sketchfest

Comedian Brooke Heinichen at Sketchfest at Doc's Lab — Photo courtesy of Marcie Rogo

San Francisco is funny. Not funny as in "ironic," but as in "ha ha" laugh-out-loud funny. With top comedians appearing regularly, and clubs like Punch Line, Cobb’s and Cheaper Than Therapy presenting dozens of up-and-comers, you can pretty much always find someone to make you laugh. 

Come for Sketchfest, the city’s annual Comedy Festival, which features two weeks of non-stop sketches, improv, live readings and hilarious performances by a new generation of comedians. Pay attention to Brooke Heinichen, Emily Catalano, Hoodo Hersi and Jill Maragos, funny women likely to be the next big names in comedy. 

Hotel VIA

Room 1205 at Hotel VIA has an amazing view of the ballpark — Photo courtesy of Hotel VIA

The first hotel to open in South Beach in 12 years, Hotel VIA is full of impressive surprises. It’s the first hotel in the neighborhood with a rooftop lounge, providing panoramic views of the city along with cabanas, fire pits and communal tables to encourage socializing. 

Hotel VIA is directly across the street from AT&T Park, consistently named one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country. Book room 1205 for a bird's-eye view of this legendary stadium, then click the privacy button, settle in with your in-room tablet and watch the game on your Smart 4K HDTV. With Hotel VIA steps away from must-see attractions and every method of transportation to get there, the biggest challenge will be finding the motivation to leave your room.

The Speakeasy

Audience members at The Speakeasy — Photo courtesy of Peter Liu

Buy your tickets to this innovative theatrical production, don your flapper dresses and three-piece suits, then head off to a secret location where the man with the orange hat will give you further instructions. 

Eventually you end up back in time in a Prohibition-era speakeasy, where 35 characters act out their stories in different rooms from the bar to the casino to the cabaret, giving you the opportunity to follow – and sometimes become part of – whichever ones you choose. It should be prohibited to visit San Francisco and miss this truly unique theatre experience. 

Recchiuti Confections

San Francisco Icons from Recchiuti Confections — Photo courtesy of Recchiuti Confections

Sure, everyone knows there’s a big chocolate maker headquartered in San Francisco. But connoisseurs know there’s also a smaller artisan chocolatier taking the medium to a whole new level.

Located in the Ferry Building Marketplace, Recchiuti uses the highest quality Valrhona Chocolate and blends it with bold notes like smoky tobacco and citrusy red fruits for a rich, truly satisfying taste. This is the kind of chocolate you eat slowly so you can savor every delicious bite.

We would suggest bringing home a box of San Francisco Icons or Landmarks as a souvenir, but who are we fooling? Once you’ve tasted these chocolates, there’s no way they’ll even make it to the airport.

Clift Rooftop Bee Sanctuary

Beekeeper Roger Garrison tends to the honeybees at the Rooftop Bee Sanctuary of the Clift Hotel SF — Photo courtesy of Clift Hotel SF

Considered one of the best small hotels in the world, the iconic Clift welcomes A-listers to its Philippe Starck-designed rooms – but devotes its rooftop to the bees.

General Manager Michael Pace, who also serves as Chairman of the Sustainability Committee for the Hotel Council of San Francisco, is committed to saving honeybees from becoming extinct and he created the initiative which has encouraged other hotels to follow suit.

One hundred thousand bees now make their home on the Clift’s 16th floor rooftop, and the hotel recently installed a BEEcosystem made of observational modular honeybee hives to give guests a glimpse of the pollinator process and raise awareness of the bees’ importance to our food supply. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, you can come in any time and request a private tour.  

In Situ at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The Michelin-starred In Situ at SFMOMA. Rosana Castrillo Díaz, Break This Heart, 2016. Commissioned by SFMOMA; courtesy of the artist and An — Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger

With a generous expansion, SFMOMA tripled its space, now housing more than three football fields' worth of art, with almost 45,000 square feet devoted to free art-filled public-access space.

Most surprising, though, is that it also houses a Michelin-starred restaurant. Three-starred Chef Corey Lee curates and executes a rotating menu of dishes at In Situ, located on the museum’s ground floor. More than 80 chefs around the world have contributed recipes, and commissioned artwork by Rosana Castrillo Díaz and Tucker Nichols provides a reason to look up from your stunning meal.

In Situ is proof that, in the right hands, the dining experience can be a work of art.

SPiN

At SPIN, lunch comes with a side of ping pong — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark

San Francisco may not be the ping pong capital of the world – yet – but it’s one of only seven cities in the country with a SPiN.

SPiN is a wide open, welcoming space where you can play ping pong against friends or strangers, or watch others play while you eat and drink. The menu is surprisingly extensive, and the food and drinks are simple and good. Hang out, listen to music and practice your technique. You'll have a ball. Or a dozen.