Feed Your Muse:
The Designer's Guide to San Francisco
HOW magazine/conference, May 2001

If you need a culture fix:
It goes without saying that any designer worth her druthers will wouldn’t miss the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art . You’ll find arguably the best collection of modern art west of Manhattan, and an inspiring permanent collection of architecture and design items. Be sure to bring some spending money for the tempting gift shop (be certain to check out the expansive book selection and unique jewelry designed by local artists). Stop for lunch in the museum cafe (the salads and pizza are to die for) or just grab a latte and watch the world go by from one of the outdoor tables.

A magnificent spot that’s underrated only because it’s across the street from SF MOMA is the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. More than just a gallery, Yerba Buena represents a wide variety of artistic expression, with cultural offerings from paintings to film to pop culture. Located in a grassy oasis in the middle of the city, the surrounding park is a great place to chill out with a newspaper or to gnosh that deli sandwich you picked up on the corner.

If you’ve got a wad of cash:
There’s a reason why San Francisco is so expensive—there’s a lot of good stuff here. The conference space is temptingly close to a shopping Shangri-La—Union Square. The very nature that so many fantastic shops are concentrated in one place means that each retailer has created a kind of theatrical experience in a bid for your dollars. Check out the Levi’s store (with a hot tub upstairs where you can shrink-to-fit your jeans), and browse the creative window displays at Tiffany’s. Get a pair of kicks you’d kill for at Gimme Shoes, and lunch in Neiman Marcus’ elaborate rotunda that overlooks Union Square (models wearing the latest fashions make the rounds to each table). Get lost in the cavernous Macy’s and marvel at the eccentric fashions in Versace. Stay between Powell and Market, Geary and Post for the best stores.

Although it’s not in Union Square, Flax Art & Design is well worth the short cab ride. Here, you’ll find an almost overwhelming selection of papers, paints, frames, and virtually any other instrument of the creative mind.

If you need to chill out:
Maybe you had a stressful flight into town, perhaps you overbooked your schedule. Do as the San Franciscans do and hop a cab to Japantown for the zen-like Kabuki Springs & Spa. This Japanese-style spa serves the complete host of services—from basic facials to the exotic “Javanese Lurur Body Treatment.” If you’re on a budget or just want something low-key, check out the communal baths, with saunas, steam rooms, and hot and cold pools. Grab some cucumber slices for your tired eyes, sip some herbal tea and you’ll emerge hours later a new person.

If you have a hot date:
Maybe your eyes met with his across the room at the creativity session, perhaps you picked her up in the line at registration. The fact is, you’re in one of the world’s most romantic cities—there’s no excuse for a lame date. Start by walking to Market Street and hop the F train, public transportation exclusively comprised of vintage street cars from the U.S. and abroad. Take it West a few blocks to Castro Street—they don’t call this vibrant, area gay for nothing! Walk South on Castro Street to Nirvana. Noodles and Asian fusion cuisine are the specialty here—and the prices are incredibly reasonable. Start with the house cocktail and you can’t go wrong. Bellies full and buzzed on great conversation (right!), head back down the street to the Castro Theater. This historic art-deco cinema is a haven of classic and cult films. Each film starts with a rousing organ rendition of sing-along favorites. After the film, hail a cab back and prepare to be ravaged by your dazzled date.

If you want to bar-hop like the hipsters:
NOTE: at press time, the following were red-hot clubs. However since San Francisco is teeming with ardent hipsters angling for the next fix, we make no promises that these places will maintain their ultra-hip status come June.

The Red Room is like Alice in Wonderland for anyone over 21. Oversize martinis beg “drink me” and the red-lit lounge casts a dramatic glow on the beautiful people who congregate here. By all means, don’t let the spinning martini glass behind the door make you dizzy—leave that to their famous Cosmo.

You’ll have ample material to use as conversation for the hotties you’ll meet at 111 Minna. This art gallery-cum- bar combines two vices of design—culture with beverages.

If you’re looking to hang with some divas, look no further than Asia SF. It’s so much more than a drag bar, dah-ling. This South-of-Market hotspot has a little something for everyone: Beautiful women, ahem, men, decadent drinks, inventive food, and a big dance floor downstairs when you become inspired to shake it to “Ooops, I Did It Again.”

If you feel like a tourist:
There’s no shame in going the tourist route—a well-kept secret is that most San Franciscans love the well-tread parts of town every bit as much as the tourists do.

Start by hopping the Hyde/Powell cable car. Go ahead and stand on the running boards—the views at the hilltops are some of the best in the city. Take it to the end of the line and walk down to Fisherman’s Wharf—although this part of town is an unapologetic tourist trap, if you stay focused, you can avoid becoming disenchanted with the chain restaurants and overpriced tchotchke stores.

Follow the barks of the sea lions to Pier 39, and watch these Homer Simpsons of the marine world belch, laze about and clumsily plunge into the Bay. From here, it’s a short walk to Pier 41 to catch the ferry to Alcatraz, and be sure to call ahead for tickets. The ferry ride to Alcatraz alone is worth it—on a clear day, you’ll get magnificent views of the Bay, Golden Gate Bridge and the skyline. Once you hit The Rock, make sure you’ve specified that you want the audio tour (it’s narrated by old prison wardens).

By the time you ferry back to the city, you will have worked up an appetite fit for a fugitive. Be sure to get a warm bowl of clam chowder (in a bread bowl) from one of the restaurants lining the sidewalk and an Anchor Steam (sold in a brown paper bag). This is a great way to end your day and take in all the activity of the wharf area.

If you have a whole weekend:
One of the best parts of San Francisco isn’t the city at all—it’s the beauty surrounding it. Take some extra time to explore the environs, and you’ll be rewarded with magnificent views, crashing surf, rolling hills, and picture-perfect vistas at every turn. Start by renting a car (splurge for a convertible—it’s worth every penny) and get on 101 North. This will take you over one of the greatest rides the country has to offer—the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway 1. Honk going through the rainbow tunnel into Marin (everyone else does).

Stop off first in Sausalito. This sleepy artist colony is charm incarnate. You can rent kayaks at Sea Trek and paddle between the houseboats docked along the shore. Or you can just walk through town, stopping in art galleries and grabbing lunch in one of the restaurants right on the water.

After lunch, get back on 101 North and follow the signs to Mount Tamalpais. The hiking trails and twisty roads produce fantastic views emerge at every turn. Pull off and explore—and keep your eyes peeled for elk and mountain lions.

If centuries-old forests are more your style, Muir Woods is a must-stop. Take the Stinston Beach/Mill Valley exit off Highway 1 and follow the signs. This is awe-inspiring nature at its best—these 200-ft. trees will make your head spin.

By now, you’re probably consumed an overwhelming joie de vivre. There’s no better place to further stoke these fires than wine country. Rolling hills, peaceful two-lane roads, and some of the best food and wine in the world is the perfect place to sample The Good Life. Some choice wineries include:

* Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves. It doesn’t get much better than sipping sparkling wine on the terrace of this gorgeous winery. A perfect place to toast your perfect day.
* Artesa Vineyards and Winery. Built into one of the rolling hills, this winery’s architecture is spectacular, its atmosphere first-class, and its wines, sumptuous.
* Neibaum-Coppola. You won’t just find fantastic wines here, but nostalgic movie memorabilia from owner/director Francis Ford Coppola.
* Cakebread Cellars. This winery is an enduring favorite with wine enthusiasts. With its relaxed atmosphere , friendly pourers, and cellar tours, this is a must-stop in Napa.