If you’ve ever been to San Francisco in late spring/early summer, you know it’s a marvelous time to be in the city. Temperatures hover around 70 degrees and excitement levels ride even higher. But this year, things are looking exceptionally bright, what with new art exhibits opening around town and preparations for America’s Cup, the world’s premier yachting race, in full swing. To get the scoop on everything going on, we chatted with the one person who might love the Bay Area even more than we do, Marianne Wong, concierge at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco.
What are some must-do activities at Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco for first-time visitors to the hotel?
The bar offers a wonderful and amazing gin program. We do our own tonics. We’ve curated some of the best gins from all over the world. I’d have a cocktail there, maybe some sliders, too, to cushion your tummy a little bit. Afterwards, walk down to the waterfront just to get some fresh air. If you want to nibble, the Ferry Building is fantastic. Take the short walk back and hit the spa. We just opened a brand-new spa at the hotel that’s all en suite. I don’t think there are many spas in the Bay Area that are en suite. It does afford a sense of privacy. Locker rooms are okay, but once you experience the en suite, it’s really the way to go. Then enjoy the views from your room, of course. We start at the 38th floor [of the 345 California Center building] and go to the 48th floor, so every room affords us magnificent views. There are some with views of both bridges as well as the entire sweep of the bay. With America’s Cup coming up, you can’t get better than that. You can have a nice champagne cocktail in your room and watch them compete for the best yachtsmen in the world.
Speaking of the America’s Cup, it’s just one of the big events happening around the area over the coming months. What else are you excited about this summer?
The America’s Cup is going to spend three months in San Francisco — July, August and September. Prior to the finals, it will have round-robin races in July. That’s very, very exciting for San Francisco. This is the first time that the world will be able to view it because it will be so close to land. All of the prior Cups have been in the middle of the ocean, and it’s been so difficult to get out there. Around the Cup, there have been activities developed in San Francisco. For instance, the Legion of Honor is bringing together impressionist paintings that have to do with water and mariners. The “Impressionists on Water” exhibit is starting in June, and it’s going to go through the entire summer. It’s getting masterpieces from J. Paul Getty Museum. I think it’s really interesting how it’s able to translate this amazing art form and skill on the water to painting.
How would your perfect San Francisco day play out?
Food is so much a part of our culture in San Francisco. At the Ferry Building, start with a shot of really amazing Blue Bottle Coffee to get you rolling. I would take a stroll up to North Beach and stop at any of the cafés there for whatever your stomach is crying for — if you want a pastry, you can get a pastry; if you want a panino, you can get a good panino; if you want a good old American breakfast, go to Mama’s and get a biscuit and some really good omelets.
Then walk the city — put on good walking shoes. Go up Coit Tower; enjoy the beautiful murals that were painted there and the magnificent sweep of the bay. Come back down and walk through Chinatown. If you feel like having some dim sum, that’s the best place to have it.
Then take the cable car up to Nob Hill. Visit the beautiful Grace Cathedral. Walk Huntington Park; enjoy the open space, sunshine and the tranquility up there. But then, walk down to Swan Oyster Depot and enjoy some really amazing fresh crab and seafood with a nice glass of sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, of course. Wine is a part of this region, so why not indulge a little bit there?
Afterward, I would definitely take a little nap back at the hotel or do a little spa to rejuvenate. Afterward, plan on attending some of the amazing evening entertainment that’s available. The San Francisco Symphony has a full range of things on the calendar this summer. The San Francisco Opera has a summer series. There are free concerts at Stern Grove on Sundays. The American Conservatory Theater has performances.
Or if you don’t feel like being indoors, head over to Fillmore Street. It’s a lovely commercial area of Pacific Heights that’s chock-full of great cafés and people-watching. It’s anchored by Yoshi’s Jazz Club, so take in a performance there. Or walk into Rasselas Jazz Club & Restaurant and enjoy a show there without having to purchase a ticket, just drop in.
A lot of people know about Chinatown, Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf. What are a few underrated attractions in the Bay Area?
I think walking the neighborhoods is really part of what San Francisco is all about — just the integration of the different neighborhoods and the different societies. For instance, in the Mission District, the mural walks are just amazing. There are three destinations of the murals that I think are notable, and they are free, which is just fantastic. The Women’s Building, which is on 18th Street, is completely covered in murals. Down the street from that is Balmy Alley on 24th, and it’s just the most amazing, fantastical mural you can even imagine and really relevant. Some of them are really political; some of them are about personal journeys. Lastly, Clarion Alley, the entire alley is painted with murals. Enjoy that neighborhood; it boasts many new restaurants and cafes now. The cocktail culture is alive and well there.
Photo Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group