The Ferry Building & Bay Bridge as seen from the Hyatt Regency.
“If you’re alive, you can’t be bored in San Francisco,” William Saroyan once said. “If you’re not alive, San Francisco will bring you to life.”
It’s still true today — “The City” perennially ranks among the favored towns in the world. If anything, the enticements have multiplied. Precincts once shunned — the seedy old Embarcadero is a prime example — find themselves reborn as magnets for entertainment, shopping and tourism.
I recently spent a spring weekend on the Embarcadero, where the new era was delightfully confirmed. Nowadays wharf side at the foot of Market Streetis a far cry from the nether region I recall when, having arrived in town broke and bent on going to sea, I was directed to a seedy flop under the BayBridge. But that was 1961.
A lbay view room at the Hyatt Regency.
Today a number of spiffy hostelries have sprung up along the Embarcadero. Tiara among them is the Hyatt Regency, where I was able to obtain a room with sweeping views across the Bay toward Oakland. Since my last visit they’ve completed renovation of the top two floors, which has included turning the former revolving restaurant with its panoramic views into a new Regency Club featuring hemispheres for dining, business, entertainment and relaxation.
Notable for its John Portman design with soaring atrium, the Hyatt Regency has been geared to a business/convention clientele. Although the nearby financial district continues to dictate commercial appeal, there is new emphasis on leisure travel.
Why not? Surface rail, subway and ferry are literally on the doorstep. The F-line street car, Fisherman’s Wharf, the entertainment complex at Pier 39 and Giants baseball at AT&T Park are minutes away. Ditto China Town and Nob Hill via the California Street cable car. Trendy restaurants and jazz clubs have sprung up, morphing film noir nighttime streets into a colorful bazaar.
A balcony bay view suite.
For Hyatt weekenders a stroll over to the refurbished FerryBuilding is a kick. Of course you can still catch ferries there, but the Saturday Farmers Market draws the big crowds. Growers from as far away as Sacramento and Fresno truck in fruit, preserves and veggies; regional wineries, cheese makers and bakers display their wares on the plaza. In just a few years this market has become the largest of its kind in California, while the shops and restaurants inside the Ferry Building do a brisk business as well.
A primal force generating the makeover of wharf side San Francisco has been the soaring Embarcadero Center — a complex of six towers 20-45 stories each given over to nearly five million sq.ft. of office space, two hotels (including the Hyatt), and over 100 retailers, including restaurants, cinema, galleries, and parks. Controversial enough while it was being built — the modernistic grey phalanx took nearly 20 years to complete during the ’70s and ’80s — the Center is now a characteristic part of the downtown skyline. Meanwhile a key element of de-construction was elimination of the Bayside Expressway, thus opening up the waterfront to easy pedestrian access.
San Francisco Fine Dining.
The Hyatt Regency’s Kitchen and Bar for casual dining.
Of course San Franciscohas always been a great dining town, from the Italian trattorias of NorthBeach to Chinatown and the pier side seafood restaurants. It’s interesting, however, that a number of the new hot spots have cropped up around the Embarcadero.
I had a chance to try Sens Restaurant, next door to the Hyatt, serving superb Mediterranean cuisine to accompany refreshing Bay views. Ready to eat ethnic? Excellent reports on a number of restaurants within strolling distance around the Embarcadero: Mexico DF (Mexican); Shanghai 1930 (Chinese); Ozumo (Japanese); The Slanted Door (Vietnamese); Il Fornaio (Italian); Kokkari (Greek); Chaya Brasserie (East/West); Butterfly (California Asian). Of course there are a number of fine seafood houses (Waterbar; Sinbad’s; the venerable Tadich Grill). Steak and American victuals are notable at Pat Kuleto’s EPIC Roadhouse; Bradley Ogden’s One Market Restaurant; and the bustling Delancey Street Restaurant.
Beautiful views from the Garden Room.
Dread the thought of all those calories? Run them off, by jiminy! Apart from the workout and spa facilities offered inside the Hyatt, Bayside jogging and bike paths are an arm’s length away, as is Golden Gateway Tennis & Swim Club, where you might drop in for a quick match.
Or you’re invited to join the traditional Bay to Breakers Race, as I did recently on a fine May morning. This competition has been run since 1912, just a few years after the Great San Francisco Earthquake, and lays claim to being the world’s oldest annual footrace. Be that as it may, Bay to Breakers is surely among the most curious of sporting events.
Exterior view of the exclusive Regency Club.
A fair number of the 70-80,000 participants run stark naked (apparently in keeping with ancient Greek tradition). Others impede the progress of fellow competitors by flinging tortillas at them. Then one must navigate the upstream “salmon runners” who insist on covering the 7 1/2 mile course in reverse. For those who prefer team effort, the “centipede” division provides for groups of thirteen runners tethered together—something like a marathon three-legged race.
Modern equipment is in the gym.
The majority opt to walk most of the distance, starting from the Embarcadero (the “Bay”) then meandering through city streets to Golden Gate Park and finally the Great Highway of the Pacific (the “Breakers”). Outrageous costumes are de rigueur. So too copious imbibing of alcoholic beverages. The race is held the third Sunday in May and begins at 8 a.m. If you wish to actually run at the head of the mob, plan to arrive promptly at the start line.
The course is not particularly steep except for a half mile grade in the Hayes Valley segment. When fighting off exhaustion in San Francisco it is always useful to recall the words of an anonymous visitor (or perhaps native?) of one of earth’s hilliest cities: “When you get tired of walking around in San Francisco, you can always lean against it.”
For reservations, plus details on amenities and rates at the Hyatt Regency go to www.sanfranciscoregency.com (tel. 415-788-1234). General tourist information about “The City” is available from the superb San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com.
San Francisco fun at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero.
— Feature by Jerry Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine Luxury Travel Editor.