IT’S NO MYSTERY why the city’s A-list chooses to live here, in stately rows of elaborate and unnaturally tidy mansions at the crest of the hill that shoots up from the Marina into Pacific Heights. The view is all open sky and sparkling bay and (far, far below) pastel cubes of stucco that look like candy in a case. It’s the kind of vista that reminds you why you fell in love with the Bay Area in the first place. If only it didn’t take a deal with the devil or a major inheritance to land a piece of real-estate heaven here. Sigh... The good news? With the right hotel reservation and a few tips on the neighborhood, you can be a local here too... at least until checkout time.
Your key to the neighborhood is the key to a room at the Hotel Drisco (from $209; hoteldrisco.com or 415/346-2880), which, from the street, passes discreetly as an elegant apartment building. By choosing the Drisco over, say, the Ritz-Carlton or the Four Seasons downtown, you get a tasteful, comfortable room with lovely views on one of the city’s most covetable blocks, far from the Union Square hordes.
On a clear day, let the shimmering bay draw you down the Lyon Street steps and through the eucalyptus-scented Presidio to Crissy Field, where you’ll join a migration of cyclists, joggers, and dogs all headed toward the Golden Gate Bridge. The Warming Hut ($; Building 983, Marine Dr. at Long Ave.; 415/561-3040) is a sunny cafe next to a pier that makes a scenic perch for watching sailboats glide by.
No matter which direction you walk from the hotel, you’ll stumble upon a strip of one-of-a-kind boutiques that think way outside the department-store box. Head four blocks north, and you’ll hit Union Street; five blocks east, and you’ll find Fillmore Street. And a few blocks south, Sacramento Street in Presidio Heights, which harbors some seriously upscale consignment stores. Places like Goodbyes Consignment Shops (3464 and 3483 Sacramento St.; 415/674-0151 or 415/346-6388) are packed with your temporary neighbors’ castoffs, like that John Varvatos shirt he wore only once and the like-new Coach purse that proved to be just one too many in her closet.
Don’t bother with a cab―plenty of the city’s new favorites are a stroll from the hotel. Just inside the Presidio, the Presidio Social Club ($$; 563 Ruger St.; 415/885-1888) is a swank retro diner where ordering a Pisco punch with a brunch of biscuits and gravy can make a funny sort of sense. On sunny days, soak up the scene on the front patio at Nettie’s Crab Shack ($$; 2032 Union St.; 415/409- 0300), an instant hit with its bright cottage charm and killer lobster roll. Over by Fillmore, the second outpost of Mission icon Pizzeria Delfina ($$; 2406 California St.; 415/440-1189) has opened, and locals line up into the night for blistered pizzas with a judicious toss of, say, prosciutto, arugula, and fresh mozzarella.
Not much beats a vacation―except for maybe a vacation from your vacation. To hide out for a while, duck into the Presidio’s SenSpa (1161 Gorgas Ave.; senspa.com or 415/441-1777), a sophisticated retreat that’s all curved bamboo walls and trickling water walls. After hiking up and down the city’s hills, your tingling legs will be ready for a serious deep-tissue massage (from $70).