Sometimes a romantic getaway is in your own backyard. This is especially true if you happen to live near one of the worlds prettiest cities like San Francisco. While San Francisco can mean crowds and events, parades and festivals, it also has its quiet corners, its romantic B&Bs, and its sunsets sails. Come explore a getaway right in the middle of the city.
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Golden Gate Park
If you are looking for a quiet place to spend a romantic afternoon, Golden Gate Park was practically invented for you. You can find boat rentals, large green fields for picnics and even a small herd of buffalo, but I am going to recommend one of the gardens in the park. There are 3 gardens in the southeast corner of Golden Gate Park, one right next to the other.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
The largest of these 3 gardens is the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Here you can explore the world without even leaving the city. The parks 55 acres features 8,000 plants from around the world arranged by region of the world. You can see the plants of Temperate Asia and continue on to a Mesoamerican Cloud Forest.
The last time we were there, a wedding was being held in the gardens. You can rent out areas like the Redwood Grove for a beautiful outdoor ceremony. Or just find a bench in an out of the way corner like in the Ancient Plants Walk (above) or at the edge of the Waterfowl Pond (below).
Entrance to the garden is $10 for adults, but think of the money you can save by bringing your sweetheart to flowers instead of flowers to your sweetheart.
And even a dozen roses are not as spectacular as some of the amazing plants you will see like this bloom from South Africa.
If you are just looking for a tiny free garden to sit on a bench and read love sonnets then what better place than the charming Shakespeare Garden across the street from the San Francisco Botanical Garden. The parks department does rent out this garden for weddings of up to 200 guests. It is the most popular wedding location in Golden Gate Park.
Japanese Tea Garden
The 3rd garden in this area is the fabulous Japanese Tea Garden which has been a favorite of mine for many years. Consider adding tea at the tea house to your Golden Gate Park itinerary on a romantic weekend.
When you are ready for a meal then head just north of the park to one of San Francisco’s best culinary neighborhoods. If I ever move to San Francisco it won’t be to Nob Hill or the ritzy houses of Pacific Heights, it will be near the many great ethnic restaurants of Clement Street in the Richmond. The Richmond is that band of city north of the park and south of the presidio. The Mission is known for its Mexican Food, North Beach for its Italian food, Fishermans Wharf for its seafood. For everything else, come to the Richmond. The Richmond is nothing to look at but has a great variety of food.
Just on the block between 4th and 5th on Clement you can find Korean, Burmese, Mexican, Vietnamese, Turkish, Thai, Hotpot, Japanese and a Creperie. That’s just one block. I had never eaten at a Burmese restaurant before eating at Burma Superstar (try the tea leaf salad) but The Richmond has at least 3 Burmese restaurants.
On our most recent romantic weekend in the city we had brunch at the popular Eats restaurant at Clement and 2nd Ave. Be prepared to wait in line and know that the restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch and closes at 2pm. I had a breakfast burrito and homestyle potatoes roasted with whole cloves of garlic. Garlic may seem a bit risky for a romantic weekend, but I stand by my choice with 40 years of marriage to back me up.
While you are in the Richmond checkout one of the two best bookstores in the city… in case you left your book of sonnets at home. Green Apple Books has shrunk in recent years but is still worth a stop for bibliophiles. Whether you are looking for a cheap used book or the latest bestseller.
If you are looking for more architectural charm than one would find in the Richmond, may I recommend the Victorian and Edwardian style homes in the area around Alamo Square. The most famous of these are the “Painted Ladies” which are a series of 6 Victorian houses built in the 1890s. The view from the hill in Alamo Square over these lovely houses on into the skyscrapers downtown is one of the more famous and beautiful views in San Francisco. Consider this spot for a picnic, but also take time to stroll around the neighborhood. While the “Painted Ladies” are lovely, they aren’t even the prettiest houses in a 1-2 block radius.
San Francisco at one time had about 48,000 Victorian or Edwardian houses. but not all survived the 1906 earthquake. 16,000 or so were torn down after WWII for redevelopment, but in the 1960s not long before the summer of love people started painting them bright colors and highlighting the architectural details of these beauties.
I bring up the beauty of the neighborhood because you can stay in one of these old houses and not just admire the outside. We were invited to stay for a night (at their expense) at Chateau Tivoli just a block and a half down the hill from Alamo Square. This charming old house at the corner of Golden Gate and Steiner Avenues has a history “almost as impressive as its 17 paint colors”. The building was built in 1890 for a lumber and shipping magnate from Oregon, Daniel B. Jackson.
The name of the Chateau Tivoli B&B comes from the second owner of the house which was Mrs. Ernestine Kreling. Her first husband Joseph Kreling and his brother William (Ernestine’s second husband) built first the Tivoli (Beer) Gardens and later the Tivoli Opera House which was the first opera venue on the west coast. Some of the rooms in the house are named after famous opera singers, some of who also stayed with Ernestine (and her 3rd husband who managed the Tivoli).
In the first half of the 1900s, the neighborhood became a Jewish neighborhood including many who fled Russia after the 1917 revolution. During that time the Chateau Tivoli was a home for single girls, a restaurant, and a cultural center. It was later a rooming house, and a New Age center where you could get training in “rebirthing” and “pelvic release”… I am afraid to ask. It underwent a major renovation in the late 1980s and was named the “Best Landmark Restoration of a Home in California” in 1990. Finally, in 1997 it became what it is today, a welcoming, charming and… if I may say so… romantic B & B.
We stayed in the AimÃ©e Crocker room which was named after the rather scandalous daughter of Judge Edwin B. Crocker who was one of California’s “Big 5”, the men behind the Union Pacific Railroad. The room came with a book written about the colorful wanderings of the “American Princess”. She might have found the furnishings familiar although I suspect the internet access was much faster than she would have been used to.
Please request your dining time. We will assign dining times based on first request.Please choose one per guest per day. Coffee, tea, juice & milk are available at 8am daily.8:00am 8:30 9:00 9:30 10am (Sat-Sun)
Served on house-made sourdough!
Optional additions: soft-boiled egg or a slice of ham
Served with Canadian bacon & fresh fruit.
Italian Baked Eggs
Served with house-made sourdough.
This cheesy marinara bake is perfect for dipping.
House-made Granola or simple Cheerios
Served with your choice of milk (nonfat, whole, or almond).
Shanghai Sweet Potato
Vegan and gluten-free! A lovely blend of sesame, citrus & spice served with salad.
Served with a green salad and chicken sausage. The house classic!
Champagne available Saturday & Sunday
Vanilla yogurt fresh berry parfait and biscuits will be served unless canceled when submitting order.
Breakfast is included in the stay. Before our stay we received a breakfast menu and chose our order as well as our serving time in advance. My wife had the French Toast and I had the wonderful Italian Baked eggs, eggs and a wonderful cheesy marinara sauce.
For locals who are planning a last minute trip in the slower winter months ask about the discounted last minute rates (less than 48 hours before your stay) through the Chateau Tivoli website.
Red and White Fleet – Twilight Cruise
Even a local like me can enjoy some of the experiences that the tourist enjoy like a classic ride on the Red and White Fleet. The Red and White Fleet has been doing boat tours in the San Francisco Bay since before the construction of the “Painted Ladies”. It has been family owned since 1892 and is a San Francisco institution. The San Francisco Tourism Board connected me with the folks at the Red and White Fleet who offered to take us on their twilight cruise sailing (at their expense). I had done their normal tour more than once but had not done the twilight tour before.
This tour departed as the last tour of the day at 5:30 pm on the early December weekend of our visit, just as the sun was going down.
All Red and White Fleet tours start from Pier 43 Â½ which is a stones throw from the famous Fisherman’s Wharf sign. The normal route takes it out through the golden gate bridge, around Alcatraz, under the light displays on the Bay Bridge and then back to Pier 43 Â½.
Along the way you will get to practice your night photography which I found works better with my iPhone than it did with my SLR camera. The guide to night photography for my Canon camera starts with, stabilize your camera with a tripod… but… I am on a moving boat.
San Francisco is a beautiful city in the daytime but is also beautiful by night. You will want to spend time out on the deck taking pictures or at least enjoying the view so dress warm for this cruise no matter what time of year you take it. See if you don’t want to book the night tour of Alcatraz for your next trip after cruising by the island in the dark.
There are a variety of drinks on sale from alcoholic drinks to hot chocolate, but only light snacks like chips and cookies. The policy on the Red and White Fleet is that outside food is not a problem on this cruise so consider stopping by the Boudin bakery across the parking lot and picking up some sourdough bread sandwiches to eat on the cruise. The normal twilight cruise is an hour and a half long.
I say on a “normal cruise” because sometimes there are special event cruises and the second Saturday in December was such a day. We happened to time our cruise for the same night as the Sausalito Boat Parade and fireworks show. So instead of the usual route we had an hour longer cruise as we went under the Golden Gate Bridge and then sailed near to the town of Sausalito to watch the parade of boats light up with Christmas lights. The boat parade ended with a fireworks display. The only downside was that we did not sail under the Bay Bridge which is better illuminated than the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Red and White Fleet has a list of special event cruises on their website which happen throughout the year. They include Fleet Week cruises, fireworks cruises (4th of July and New Year’s Eve) and an upcoming series of Cinema on the Bay cruise where you can watch the scenery and watch a film on the boat.
Red and White Fleet has day time cruises as well. Can you really say you have been to San Francisco if you have not taken one?
San Francisco is a city that warrants more exploration. Cruise around it, hike through it, eat your way through it or snuggle into it and see why so many people have left their heart in the city by the bay.