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A long weekend in San Francisco
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A long weekend in San Francisco

by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN A&E Writer

During a recent trip to California, I punctuated my travels with a long weekend in San Francisco. There were lots of things to see and do with the little time that I had, so I decided to incorporate a few activities and can't wait to return to do more exploring.

I wanted to try out an economical and reliable hotel to report about. A friend in Pacific Grove told me about one that was fairly new, economical, and noted for its use of recycled materials in its blankets, bed frames, etc. - a "green" hotel called The Good Hotel. That sounded pretty well intentioned, so I went to try it out.

This is what The Good Hotel (www.jdvhotels.com) says about itself: "The Good Hotel is intended to be the first hotel with a conscience. Our philanthropic and positive approach is designed to inspire the "good in all of us." Hotel staff and guests are encouraged to get involved with local philanthropic projects. On the green side of things, guests have access to the use of free bicycles to get around San Francisco, and if you have a hybrid car, your parking is free. Non-hybrids can be parked in the lot for $20 per night. Guests are encouraged to conserve energy by choosing (only if they wish) not to have their sheets and towels changed every day. There are also small recycle-dedicated wastebaskets in each room. Other features are access to an outdoor heated pool across the street at sister hotel, The Americania, and availability, if reserved ahead of time, of a complimentary three-hour walking tour with a San Franciscan native called a "Golden Gate Greeter" who can give you educated pointers on what to see and do around town, depending on your interests. The hotel has 117 rooms divided between the main building and motel-style rooms with outdoor entrances.

The hotel is located in the area called "SOMA," for "South of Market Street." This is a neighborhood of San Francisco that is in "transition." There are a number of artists' lofts and developers have speculated and built a number of new condo buildings in hopes of gentrifying the area and attracting hip, affluent, young professional San Franciscans to buy homes here. The new green Federal Building is located a block away from the hotel. There are also still a lot of folks who are down and out, panhandling and struggling to survive out on the streets. There were also some questionable groups of young men hanging out on the corner of 7th and Market at night, but they didn't seem to be bothering anyone.

The Joie de Vivre boutique hotel chain decided to take a chance with the changing neighborhood, and bought up three hotels (two were formerly Best Westerns) across the street from one another. They have done major renovating and updating, providing relatively inexpensive hotel rooms, by San Francisco standards, and each hotel has its own theme and focus. The Good Hotel, starting at $109 a night, offers the lowest cost per night. Here you can get a small and simple - yet comfortable, clean, safe and quiet - room, with a little bit of a contemporary theme. The lobby is small and unassuming, with bright, contemporary colors and design. It is obvious that the hotel was renovated with young, happy-go-lucky travelers in mind, who don't demand much in the way of amenities or grand, sweeping, opulent lobbies. Guests can take pictures of themselves in a photo booth and post them on one of the lobby walls, where there is a collection of hundreds of faces. A lot of single travelers stay at the Good Hotel, especially foreign travelers from Europe. If you are looking for something for a special occasion or have more highly aesthetic tastes, this isn't the hotel for you. But if you want something utilitarian and straightforward that serves its purpose, and has been sincerely redeveloped and maintained to give the guest a positive experience, then this place works out just fine. If you want something just a little bit more upscale, but still not too costly, you might try one of the other two Joie de Vivre hotels across the street, especially the Carriage Inn, mentioned below.

At first, I wasn't sure how comfortable I felt in this marginal neighborhood, especially since I was given one of the motel-style rooms which was directly accessible to the outside, but it proved to be a pretty safe bet. The location is incredibly convenient, on 7th and one block from Market St., where there is easy access to public transportation, including BART trains, subway lines, trolleys and buses, and very close to the piers and ferries to destinations, including Sausalito. The PR person for Joie de Vivre took me on a tour of the other two hotels, both costing slightly more per night than the Good Hotel. The Americania, where the pool is, has been designed to attract families, including a play and game room to entertain the kids located securely right next to the restaurant/pub, so that the adults can enjoy some food and wine or beer while still being able to keep an eye on their children. The third hotel, the Carriage Inn, features rooms that are each dedicated to a local luminary, celebrating the characters who have made up the San Francisco counterculture, including prominent Gay citizens. Each room features a profile and photos or drawings of the particular celebrity that the room is named after. The rooms here are the largest of the three hotels and attract lawyers and judges in town to do work at the new Federal Building.

I spent part of one lovely day taking a ferry to Sausalito with a friend and we wandered the streets, checking out the art galleries and enjoying lunch in the sun. A harbor seal surprised and delighted us by swimming around near us. The trip to Sausalito is easy, short, inexpensive, and easy to squeeze in for several hours with other activities in the same day. At the ferry pier, one can find interesting restaurants and great specialty boutique food shops, which carry everything from a variety of fresh gourmet mushrooms to foods imported from Italy and fancy handmade chocolates.

One evening, my friend and I went to Yoshi's jazz club in San Francisco (www.yoshis.com), a place that I've heard so much about for years but had never been to. Yoshi's was originally opened in 1973 in North Berkeley, and then moved to Oakland, where it has been an internationally celebrated jazz fixture since 1977. The San Francisco branch just opened in November of 2007. Yoshi's in San Francisco is a beautiful performance room, modern and elegant, with great acoustics and lighting and delicious and surprisingly reasonably priced food that runs the gamut from sushi to succulent, perfectly cooked salmon burgers. I had the salmon burger and it was delicious and fresh. Yoshi's also features a large, dramatic, separate restaurant dining room with clean, spare lines, tranquil Buddha statuary, a water feature, and a very Asian modern design aesthetic, as well as a sweeping bar area. We heard the popular San Francisco jazz trombonist Wayne Wallace (www.walacomusic.com) and his exciting Latin jazz quintet, who were celebrating the release of their new CD, Bien Bien!

Another evening, we decided to check out the San Francisco version of Teatro ZinZanni (www.love.zinzanni.org) which has been running concurrently with the original Seattle Teatro ZinZanni for over nine years now along the San Francisco piers, in the original spiegeltent which housed Teatro when it first started in Seattle. I was excited to see that an old Seattle friend, the delightful and spunky singer/actress Duffy Bishop (www.duffybishop.com), was the star of the then-running T.Z. incarnation, playing the Gypsy Queen with relish. Her husband, guitarist Chris Carlson, plays in the T.Z. band, and they've both been involved with the show for over nine years in San Francisco and Seattle. Bishop and Carlson lived for years in Seattle and were very popular entertainers with their group "The Duffy Bishop Band." They now live in Portland when they are not performing in Teatro ZinZanni. The spiegeltent in San Francisco feels smaller and more intimate than the current spiegeltent being used in Seattle. The show was lively, fun, colorful, wacky and entertaining, with a talented and diverse cast, including the breathtaking Seattle aerialists Duo Madrona, who are famous for their appearances at Seattle's annual vaudeville/burlesque event, the Moisture Festival. I found, however, that the dinner food that was served during the San Francisco show was a bit disappointing and not as tasty or interesting as the multi-course meal that is served during the Seattle performances, designed by great Seattle chef Tom Douglas. The current production at Teatro ZinZanni, San Francisco, is Hearts of Fire, playing through May 16, 2010, staring the incomparable disco diva Thelma Houston, the bodacious Christine Deaver, and the one and only El Vez.

I found a couple of galleries near Ghirardelli Square that were worth the long trek by all the ticky-tacky, schlocky tourist shops along Fisherman's Wharf. I was actually quite appalled by the low quality of businesses along this picturesque strip - I expected more from this sophisticated city. The galleries, however, were like striking a vein of gold, especially the Franklin Bowles Gallery (www.franklinbowlesgallery.com), where I was given a personal tour of the most magnificent suite of vibrantly colored lithographs by Marc Chagall, all based on the myth of Daphnis and Chloe. They had just been hung for sale after being painstakingly collected and secreted away by the owner of the gallery for years. The colors were so fresh and alive! I had not seen anything like these before. It turns out that the person who mixed the vibrant, enduring inks was one of the last specialists in his field, and took the secret of creating these very special inks to the grave with him. The gallery also was showing some stunning and unusual pieces by Salvador Dali and wonderful works by many other great artists. This gallery is a highly recommended stop for art lovers and collectors.

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