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Getaways by the Bay

The American Riviera is home to big-name celebrities, fabulous galleries, great wining and dining, and a luxury hotel renaissance that will help you enjoy it all in style.


Photos courtesy of sunvalley.com

The disappearance of San Francisco Bay’s summertime fog has left us with days warmed by the sun and nights sparkling with stars and city lights. October is an especially lovely time to be on or at the water. Whether you choose to spend your day hiking on Angel Island, your evening touring Sausalito’s famed houseboats, or your nighttime snuggled up at the hip Hotel Vitale, you’ll get a much-needed break without the hassle of traveling far from home.


Sea Trek Ocean Kayaks
Photo by Paul Downey 

what to do

Charter the Gas Light, a replica of a 19th-century Bay schooner built by captain Billy Martinelli, who spent much of the 1970s cruising the seas with Age of Aquarius drifters like David Crosby and Sterling Hayden. Aside from some modern touches, the Gas Light is identical to the working scows that hauled Mt. Diablo coal and hay to burgeoning San Francisco between 1850 and the early 1900s. Now the only cargo are the starry-eyed passengers who drink wine and nibble strawberries while Martinelli steers around the Raccoon Straits, past the Golden Gate, and along the San Francisco Marina.

Charters cost a minimum of $2,300 for three hours, depending on the season, so you might want to round up some pals—up to 45 of them—for the voyage.

The next morning, get in on the secret happening on the waterfront at Heath Ceramics, where the bauhaus-inspired pottery that’s been one of Marin’s most fabulous exports for decades goes for as much as 80 percent off. Then veer inland and attack one of Sausalito’s hillside staircases, so you can ogle some of the Bay Area’s most outrageous yachts and stunning homes.

Returning to sea level, treat yourself to Sea Trek Ocean Kayaks’ starlight tour of the famous floating community started by the Beats. The once-ramshackle houseboat encampment is now home to pricey abodes and the ghosts of erstwhile residents Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and Otis Redding, who wrote his classic “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” while doing just that here in 1967. Tours are $65 per person; reservations are required.

Gas Light Charters, 60C Liberty Ship Way, Sausalito, (415) 331-2769, www.gaslightcharters.com; Heath Ceramics,400 Gate Five Rd., Sausalito, (415) 332-3732; www.heathceramics.com; Sea Trek Ocean Kayaking Center, Schoonmaker Point Marina, Sausalito, (415) 488-1000, www.seatrekkayak.com.

where to eat

In the morning, stop in at the Bridgeway’s North Point Coffee Shop for a cappuccino with a million-dollar view. After kayaking, refuel with tacos de pescado and a cool glass of agua de jamaica (hibiscus flower juice) at the Salsalito Taco Shop. Or visit the piscatorially obsessed restaurant from Chad Callahan called, appropriately, Fish. For appetizers and drinks, Cork Enoteca pairs salads, cheeses, and meats with terrific wine selections. And for finer dining, the in crowd packs Poggio, a Cal-Ital stunner located beneath the Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa.

North Point Coffee Shop, 1250 Bridgeway, Sausalito, (415) 331-0777, www.northpointcoffee.com ; Salsalito Taco Shop, 1115 Bridgeway, Sausalito, (415) 331-5595; Fish, 350 Harbor Dr., Sausalito, (415) 331-3474, www.331fish.com ; Cork Enoteca, 317 Johnson St., Sausalito, (415) 332-2975, www.corksf.com ; Poggio, 777 Bridgeway, Sausalito, (415) 332-7771, www.poggiotrattoria.com.

where to stay

Invest in The Inn Above Tide when you absolutely must have Hermes toiletries, Frette pillows, and soft silk robes—plus Bay views to die for. The inn’s accommodations are impeccable: Most rooms have working fireplaces, hot tubs for two, and balconies hovering over the Bay. An elegant and extensive continental breakfast (delivered to your room if you desire), daily wine and cheese receptions, and, best of all, parking are included with your room.

Room rates range from $295 to $950. The Inn Above Tide, 30 El Portal, Sausalito, (415) 332-9535, www.innabovetide.com.

Angel Island
Photo by Terrence Chay


what to do

Pick up to-go sandwiches at the small, homey New Morning Café and take the ferry to Angel Island. Hike the moderately strenuous incline (about 1.5 hours) to the peak of Mt. Livermore and enjoy 360-degree views of San Francisco, Sausalito, and Tiburon. Then mosey down the western side of the island and discover Perles Beach, a sandy, windswept stretch with a spectacular Golden Gate vista. ⁃ ⁃ Before the last ferry leaves, head over to the Immigration Station, where thousands of Asian immigrants were detained and (sometimes) processed in the first half of the 20th century, earning Angel Island the nickname “the Ellis Island of the West.” Don’t fret if your legs are tired: You can check out the Immigration Station and other historical landmarks by taking the new Segway (motorized scooter) tour around the island’s paved perimeter trail.

If you’ve still got a bit of strength in your legs when you get back to the mainland, grab a corkscrew, two glasses, and a bottle of wine, and detour a few miles to the eastern side of the peninsula on Paradise Drive to the Tiburon Uplands Nature Preserve. Hike about a mile up to the edge of the Old St. Hilary’s Open Space Preserve. At the top of a steep hill, you’ll be rewarded with a postcard panorama of the arabesque Marin waterline to the north and west, the sprawling San Francisco cityscape to the south, and the top of Mt. Diablo, peeking over the Berkeley hills, to the east.

New Morning Café, 1696 Tiburon Blvd., (415) 435 4315; Angel Island, www.angelisland.org ; Angel Island Ferry, 21 Main St., (415) 435-2131, www.angelislandferry.com ; Angel Island Segway Adventures, (415) 435-3392, www.segwayangelisland.com ; Tiburon Uplands Nature Preserve, (415) 499-6387, www.co.marin.ca.us/depts/pk/main/pos/pdtibupprsrv.cfm.

where to eat

The must-visit hang-out in Tiburon is the funky Sam’s Anchor Café, which sports the biggest deck in town. Spend at least a few daylight or nighttime hours having beers and pub food at Sam’s, but beware of the french fry–stealing gulls.

For a vibrant scene at dinner, try the nouvelle Mexican restaurant, Guaymas. It makes tasty fresh corn tortillas and features stunning waterfront views—along with killer margaritas.

Sam’s Anchor Café, 27 Main St., (415) 435-4527, www.samscafe.com ; Guaymas, 5 Main St.,(415) 435-6300.

where to stay

Waters Edge, the only waterside hotel in Tiburon, is squeezed in among the restaurants and shops on quaint, pastel-toned Main Street. Rooms are brightly lit and—as is the rage with today’s boutique hotels—minimalist in decor. Score one of two “grand suites,” and you can start your day with a head-on view of the water.

Room rates range from $169 to $229. Waters Edge Hotel, 25 Main St., (415) 789-5999, www.marinhotels.com.

an Francisco

what to do

Take a day and be a tourist! If you love pop culture and dark chapters in American history, get on the boat to Alcatraz. The island’s key attraction is the cell house, once home to Al Capone, Robert “Birdman” Stroud, and other famous bad guys. A 42-minute audio tour, dramatized by testimonials from former prisoners and guards, takes you into the infamous “hole” and past the cell of Frank Lee Morris, the criminal mastermind whose disappearance from the Rock inspired Clint Eastwood’s 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz. You can also tour Alcatraz in the evening; once darkness falls, you’ll get a good sense of the isolation the inmates endured.

For a less haunting nighttime-on-the-Bay experience, sign up for an evening kayak tour with City Kayak along San Francisco’s shoreline. This paddle includes a cruise beneath the Bay Bridge and a visit to McCovey Cove, the watery grave of many of Barry Bonds’s home runs.

A quirkier (or maybe “quackier”) jaunt through the city is the San Francisco Duck Tour. This 90-minute tour aboard a Duck (DUKW), a refurbished World War II amphibious landing craft, takes you through Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown, and Union Square, and then onto the Bay for views of the skyline.

If your taste runs a little more to the sophisticated side, take a self-guided tour of the sculpture at the Embarcadero Center. Starting at the Park Hyatt Hotel, this public art collection features 19 treasures, including Louise Nevelson’s imposing Sky Tree, Jean Dubuffet’s La Chiffonniere, and Charles Perry’s Eclipse.

Alcatraz Island, Pier 33, San Francisco, (800) 700-3151, www.alcatrazcruises.com ; City Kayak, Pier 39, (415) 357-1010, www.citykayak.com ; San Francisco Duck Tours, 2800 Leavenworth St., (415) 431-3825, www.bayquackers.com ; Embarcadero Center Art Tours, (415) 772-0753, www.embarcaderocenter.com

where to eat

Sticking with an aquatic theme, grab a marina-side table at Hog Island Oyster Co. at the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace, and order one of the “raw deals”: 12 sweetwater oysters and a glass of Muscadet. Or munch your way through the gourmet vendors, from wedges of sinful cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery to baguettes dipped in olive oil samples from McEvoy Ranch to Miette’s chocolate cupcakes and lemon tarts.

where to stay

At one end of the Embarcadero, there’s the Hotel Vitale. The Vitale, which opened in 2005, features sleek, modern interiors straight out of the pages of Dwell. Book one of the hotel’s Panoramic Suites—with 180-degree views and a window-side tub for two—and spend your vacation soaking up the bubble bath while you watch the Bay Bridge traffic you’re not sitting in. ⁃ Just past the touristy strip of Fisherman’s Wharf is the upscale Argonaut Hotel. Located in the old cannery building, this boutique hotel overlooks the Bay and the Maritime National Historic Park, and is very close to walking paths that can take you all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Hotel Vitale, room rates range from $219 to $1,500, 8 Mission St., San Francisco, (415) 278-3700, www.hotelvitale.com . Argonaut Hotel, room rates range from $199 to $1,149, 495 Jefferson St. (at Hyde St.), San Francisco, (415) 563-0800, www.argonauthotel.com.


Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Ferry Bldg.,San Francisco, (415) 693-0996, www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com.

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