There’s a ‘power’ look in San Francisco – young professionals in black-rimmed Paul Smith glasses wearing sharp designer suits. They’re the billionaire Apple, Uber, Google execs, the hot new designers and fashionistas at the cutting edge of ideas.
San Francisco has always been that special avant-garde place. If Rome is the city of grandeur and civilisation, Paris of boulevards and patisserie, San Francisco spawns ideas, movements and big change.
I’ve always dreamt of visiting because at times it lit up my life, a beacon where hippies had flowers in their hair, gay rights took off, beat writers congregated and big artists such as Richard Diebenkorn gave us breathtaking canvases.
The place to stay is at Clift on Geary Street, the oldest boutique hotel in the city, which Philippe Starck has turned it into a style haven.
There’s a real wow factor as you enter the surreal, dimly-lit lobby with its oversized chair, Salvador Dali lamp and coffee table and lavender-hued corridors. Even the lift lights up orange to reflect the Golden Gate Bridge.
Our room on the 14th floor, with its big windows and soft colours, was a peaceful haven in this energetic, vibrant city.
In San Francisco you walk, especially on warm evenings. It reminded me of Cape Town, with its hills and dips, never-ending views of the pounding ocean and even the strangeness of gazing out to ‘the Rock’, what was America’s most notorious penitentiary, Alcatraz, rather like looking out to Nelson Mandela’s prison, Robben Island.
We tramped through Chinatown to the financial district, one area leading into another like colourful scene changes, as we looked for Quince restaurant.
Every time we asked for directions, people looked envious and raved about it. We realised why immediately. Quince envelops you with its artistic, calming atmosphere – the classy chandelier, vases of exquisite flowers, dark sophisticated colours. Here every detail is perfect.
As restaurants get brighter, louder and more crowded, Quince gives you space, comfort and the exceptional. The fish is so intensely fresh, vegetables so creamy and sweet and the wine pairing exciting.
The only other place that lived up to that, and increased my lifelong fascination with food, was Saison San Francisco, holder of two Michelin stars, where food really is “art”.
Between Saison and Quince, you find Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Hollywood stars hanging out. But it all comes at a price.
Saison’s open kitchen is like a stage set, each course producing a rallying call, lights shining down on the intriguing dishes sent out, all 13 of them, checked for perfection by head waiter Scott. It’s a steel-and-brick setting, with well-groomed waiters looking like Prada models, an easy atmosphere, and an air of exuberance. We never got bored or tired of the stream of dishes. I also had the best bespoke cocktail of my trip, smokey and pungent, just hitting the spot.
We shopped on groovy Fillmore Street and spent hours in the spectacular San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (known simply as SFMOMA to natives). It’s probably the most wonderful gallery I’ve been in, even captivating my ever-distracted 20-something daughter.
We also enjoyed walking along the coast above our hotel so we could gaze out at the glittering Golden Gate Bridge, and went up Coit Tower, with its collection of colourful murals depicting the city’s history.
Over in Mission Street, Daniel Libeskind has created an outstanding place to visit in the shape of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, dedicated to L’Chaim – life. It’s a thought-provoking, intuitive place and a touching reflection of American-Jewish identity.
Libeskind said he wanted the design to serve as a homage to the past and survival of the Jewish tradition. “You discover the old and the new in a constant conversation with each other,” he said. “I think that is also part of the Jewish tradition. To do new, but always in conversation with an age-old history.”
Jews have lived in San Francisco from its early boom days, streaming in with the Gold Rush and today forming a community that is 200,000-strong.
Back at Clift, there was a jewel in the crown, the Redwood Room. Unbelievably beautiful, the bar is carved from a single redwood tree with a Murano glass top, art deco wall carvings and moving digital art images – a cave of beauty. It’s everyone’s favourite bar in San Francisco and the light bites are superb.
What better way to say goodbye to this glittering city?
Where to stay:
Sharon booked into the Clift boutique hotel, San Francisco.
For more details and rates, visit clifthotel.com.