Tips & Ideas

Tips & Ideas


submitted by: Sheila Sobell and Richard N. Every ©2011

From a finishing school for upper-class girls to an exclusive gentleman’s club to a haven for young working women, every antique, painting, and photograph in the Queen Anne Hotel, a voluptuously alluring painted lady, tells a story of Victoriana. How gorgeous she must’ve been on February 15, 1890, when the city’s elite young ladies first breezed through the doors to be groomed for their future roles as the grand dames of San Francisco society.

The Queen Anne’s elegant “gingerbread,” central grand staircase and stained glass earned kudos for design originality, quality construction and innovative features.

One hundred twenty-one years later, the old girl may have discarded her corset and bustle, but she has as much sass and class as ever.  All of the 48 rooms and suites have been modernized, but some more so than others.  While our romantic canopy fireplace room was majestically sized with an imposing four poster canopy bed and fabulous floor to ceiling windows, the bathroom was short on storage for toiletries and the blinds didn’t quite fit.

But when you’re enjoying sherry in the parlor, a complementary limousine ride to a city attraction, or stowing your car for just $16 a day, none of those little details matter much.  When the chauffeur is off duty in the afternoons, the bus stop is just 10 yards away, making this Pacific Heights Hotel a great base for sightseeing.

Touring with Mr. Toad

welderGoing vintage is addictive! In keeping with our goal of exploring the Victorian side of San Francisco, we booked a tour with Mr. Toad’s Tours, a fleet of pre-1930s vehicles complete with costumed guide.  It made such a statement that at every light or stop sign, tourists asked to pose with us or join the fun.

By the end of our 90 minute drive, we felt ready to take first prize in a game of San Francisco trivia, thanks to guide Don Rea, a true history buff and raconteur par excellence!

Question: What effect did the women’s movement have on San Francisco cable cars?

Answer:  Prior to February 2, 1965, it was actually illegal for women to stand outside the cable car. That bit of misogyny was challenged by 19-year old University of California coed Mona Hutchin, who police forcibly removed from the steps of car No. 521 (now 21) on the Powell-Hyde line. When they discovered that their sexism had no legal basis, the 92 year ban on female outside “hangers on” was finally lifted!

Question: What was unusual about actress Kim Novak’s driving in the film Vertigo?

Answer:  She didn’t actually know how to operate a car!  Hitchcock hired a “little” person to hide under the dash board out of camera range and operate the gears and the peddles for her!

A Trio of Dining Delights

Someone told us that food-obsessed San Francisco has more restaurants per capita than any other US city. Here are three of our favorites:

An Urbane Urban Tavern

Urban Tavern main dining roomWhen we arrived for dinner on a Tuesday night, the place was hopping, not surprising for a Hilton’s in-house restaurant. But it isn’t only the convention crowd that makes getting a table competitive.  Actually forty per cent of dinners aren’t hotel guests. After spending an evening there we can see why.

We love making a dinner from small plates and soups, rather than basing our entire culinary impression on a single entre. The Tavern’s menu of starters was impressive;  vegetarian mulligatawny soup (a delightful variation on an Indian standard), meatloaf sliders featuring Kobe beef; house made soft pretzel with a spicy Caggiano beer sausage, and Buffalo style frog legs with a blue cheese chopped salad.  A beer flight of three area brews (Pliny the elder, Anchor Steam, and Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout) selected by the sommelier provided the perfect balance.

We always ask which dessert a restaurant can’t rotate off the menu without causing a local rebellion. At the Urban Tavern, it’s their peanut butter cup – sea salt brittle with peanut ice cream. Of course, you can always share the four variety pack snack cakes – red velvet Swiss roll, lemon poppy seed whoppee pie, coconut custard snowball and Ho Ho for a very 50s finish.

The wait staff lets you know they are committed to providing a memorable experience, and they do.

We’ve got a crush on you

Firstcrush halibutDon’t judge a book by its cover, or in this case, the excellence and extensiveness of a wine list by the restaurant’s square footage.  First Crush Restaurant, Wine Bar & Lounge may only seat 100 over two floors,  but it has the largest all-California wine list in the city. With over 300 wines by the bottle and 30 by the glass or flight, it’s not surprising that it has consistently earned the Wine Spectator Award of Distinction for almost a decade.

We preferred the ambiance of the street level restaurant, though we found the tables a bit too close together . Framed by a wall of windows, the long room features a small wine bar and seats 40. Downstairs is better for lounging on sofas, and sipping wine while your “nose” does all the work.

The Asian-American chef infuses American favorites like seafood and comfort food with Oriental and Italian flare. We started with a smoked tofu and organic sesame soba noodles salad, progressed to an all natural lamb alla Bolognese with rigatoni, truffle fries (truffle oil, parmesan, parsley) and finished with the house-made granny smith apple pie – walnut-almond crumble crust, caramel sauce and vanilla gelato.  A three-course prix-fixe dinner is available Sunday through Thursday for just $32 per person.

First Crush is open only in the evenings.

Café Divine

Cafe Divine muralHoused in the old Spaghetti Factory, this small North Beach café served us the best fresh tuna sandwich and side salad at extremely reasonable prices!

When You Go

The Queen Anne Hotel is close to Japantown and Fillmore street shopping.; 415-441-2828

Mr. Toad’s Vintage Car Tours;; (877) 467-8623

Urban Tavern; this downtown restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers five hours of free parking;; 415) 923-4400.

First Crush;; 415.982.7874

Café Divine;; (415) 986-3414

CityPass saves you 47% off the combined cost of the included five attraction tickets and offers 7 consecutive days of free transportation on cable cars and municipal railwayfor just $69 per adult and $39 for kids.

For assistance in planning your trip,


Sheila Sobell and Richard N. Every are professional worldwide travel photojournalists. See what they recommend at Photo of Urban Tavern courtesy of John Benson. All other photos are courtesy of Richard N. Every.