Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

SF Is Still the Home of Free Spirits; San Francisco Has Already Celebrated 50 Years since the Summer of Love, and There Are Still Plenty of Good Reasons to Visit, Says Laura Chubb

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

SF Is Still the Home of Free Spirits; San Francisco Has Already Celebrated 50 Years since the Summer of Love, and There Are Still Plenty of Good Reasons to Visit, Says Laura Chubb

Article excerpt

Byline: Laura Chubb

BIG BREAK SAN FRANCISCO laura chubb IT COMES as a surprise to many that San Francisco is such a tiny city, given how heavily this influential trailblazer punches above its cultural weight. Farm-to-table restaurants, speakeasy bars, gay marriage rights, multi-billion-dollar tech start-ups, the hippie movement -- you name it, it all started here in this seven-byseven mile block of land.

But SF's diminutive size is somewhat accountable for the spiralling rents pushing bohemians out in favour of Silicon Valley types; without enough apartments to go round, this bastion of alternative culture has been accused of losing its edge. And yet, from the flamboyant sunbathing crowds in the Mission district's Dolores Park, to grown men riding motorised skateboards up Downtown hills, the city by the bay remains weird and wonderful, a free spirit. Just one tip: want to fit in? Don't call it "San Fran".

Bed down New hotels are like gold dust in San Francisco -- there's barely anywhere to put them. So there was some excitement when independent upstart Hotel VIA (001 415 200 4977; hotelviasf.com) opened last summer, directly across from AT&T Park, home of baseball team the San Francisco Giants. The first hotel from Bay Area property developer David O'Keefe, it was literally designed from the ground up; he has turned what was a single-storey cafe into 12 floors, with 159 rooms.

VIA's fresh, airy looks are inspired by its neighbourhood, South Beach: all-white, loft-style bedrooms echo the area's chic warehouse conversions (it's one of those up-andcoming places where you can't shift for tech companies). The piece de resistance is another San Francisco unicorn, the rooftop bar: this one proffers fire pits and views toward skyscrapers, the waterfront and gorgeous green hills. Chummy staff lend a casual air; ground-floor Bar VIA serves on-point small plates (sample dish: beetroot with goat curds and pistachio dust). Doubles from $310 (PS228), room only.

Fed and watered The central Tenderloin neighbourhood is reputed to be the city's seediest but locals know it's also the best place for brunch. Join the lines outside Brenda's French Soul Food (001 415 345 8100; frenchsoulfood.com) for Louisiana-born Chef Brenda's revelatory crawfish beignets -- cayenne-dusted and oozing cheddar, they're worth the wait.

In a city that seems to have a world-class eatery on every block, it can be tough to decide what's for dinner. The latest must-do, though, is scoring a booking at the eight-table Khai (001 415 724 2325; chefkhai.com), in techie SOMA, where a $95, nine-course tasting menu offers a compelling fusion of Vietnamese and regional flavours. The cooking all happens behind a black curtain, from which chef Khai Duong emerges to present the food, explaining how he foraged for the matsutake mushrooms in Oregon and such. …

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