Scoring Alcatraz tickets on short notice remains a challenge year-round. But from now through September 15, S.F. visitors and locals have another option: cruising through “Alcatraz: Life on the Rock” and “Alcatraz: The Last Day,” free exhibitions from Alcatraz Cruises, on display at both the Parc 55 Hotel and Hilton Union Square. While a scale model and numerous vintage photos set the scene and movie posters highlight Alcatraz’s portrayal in cinema since closing in 1963, items such as a mysteriously bloodied baseball and a rare surviving novel from the 12,000-tome prison library reveal intriguing details about the lives of inmates, guards and other residents. Fun fact: prisoners’ reading material may have been censored, but they still each pored over an average of 75 to 100 books per year. After reading up on the artifacts, head up to the Hilton’s 46th-floor Cityscape Bar and contemplate a distant Alcatraz view.
From Beefeater-uniform-clad doormen to posh Prohibition-era finery, the Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel is a playfully elegant icon in San Francisco’s Union Square. But as performers at its long-running “Sunday’s A Drag” brunch can tell you, even icons need to update their act sometimes. Kimpton’s recent $11 million renovation brings a contemporary sheen, including custom mahogany beds, slate-gray wingback chairs and newly tiled bathrooms in the 416 rooms. Book the new “High Tide Tea” package (from $204) for bath time with afternoon tea, or try “Suite Slumber” (from $289), a suite stocked with San Francisco–themed onesies, games, movies and pizza.
The recent $30 million renovation at the Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf brought a new Club Lounge to a part of the city not known for business meetings and a new eatery, Northpoint Bar & Restaurant, to the hotel’s expanded lobby experience. The menu, from executive chef Robert Lyman, is inspired equally by the region’s bounteous (and sustainably harvested) seafood and historical-cultural intersections. The Dungeness crab cake is 100 percent crab, the guacamole is whipped with edamame and served with crisped wontons, and the ramen, when served without meaty additions, is truly vegetarian (no pork bones to make the broth). Up the street at Bistro Boudin, tourists flock to the downstairs shop to purchase sourdough boules and loaves pulled from the overhead baskets that deliver the piping hot bread straight from the oven, but those in the know head upstairs to the restaurant, with food by chef Misael Reyes, bar and museum. Take a moment to walk through the small museum. It is here that you can meet Boudin’s sourdough “mother,” the starter bread culture said to have been kept alive since the original Gold Rush in 1849.
Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her childrens’ schools, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.