At left, the Golden Gate Bridge at dawn in San Francisco, and at right, sunset… (Golden Gate Bridge by Robert…)
WHERE TO STAY IN SAN DIEGO
Old: The U.S. Grant Hotel, 326 Broadway; (619) 232-3121, www.usgrant.net. Built in 1910, the 270-room Grant stands in the middle of downtown. It got a $60-million face-lift between 2004 and 2006. Its dignified public rooms befit a place that has hosted 14 presidents; lobby displays extol the heritage of the current owners, the casino-operating Sycuan Indians of San Diego County. Upscale features include the Grant Grill restaurant. However, if you want to swim, you have to use the Westin's pool across the street. Doubles start about $159.
New: The Residence Inn San Diego Downtown / Gaslamp Quarter, 356 6th Ave.; (619) 487-1200, www.marriott.com. Handy to the night life in downtown's Gaslamp Quarter, this hotel opened in November with 240 rooms. Rooftop pool. All rooms have kitchens and free Wi-Fi. Standard room rates usually $129-$229.
Renewed: 1906 Lodge at Coronado Beach, 1060 Adella Ave., Coronado; (619) 437-1900 or (866) 435-1906, www.1906lodge.com. This former boarding house, about two blocks from the beach and the Hotel del Coronado, was revived in June as a stylish B&B, with Craftsman design touches (wood floors, antiques, leaded glass windows)and a clever collection of old photos and other references to local history. Six rooms in the redone old building and 11 in a new neighboring building. Breakfast included. Local shops and stores within walking distance. Doubles from $199.
WHERE TO EAT
Old: The Waterfront, 2044 Kettner Blvd.; (619) 232-9656, www.waterfrontbarandgrill.com calls itself the city's "oldest tavern" and claims it scored the first liquor license in town after Prohibition ended in 1933. Nowadays, the bar and grill draws bikers, lawyers, you name it. It's better known for drinking than eating, but staff serves breakfast beginning at 6 a.m. Lots of old photos and maritime curios on the walls. It gets a big lunch rush and typically stays busy into the wee hours. Leave the kids home. Fourteen beers on tap. Fanciest item on the menu: the blue cheese bacon burger, $10.25.
New: Cucina Urbana, 505 Laurel St.; (619) 239-2222, www.urbankitchengroup.com, is a big, loud Italian place but elegant in its way too, with stylized graffiti on one wall; a long, gracefully curving bar; and a menu full of fancy antipasti, pizzas and pastas. It's close to Balboa Park and Hillcrest; locals know the location as the former space of Laurel, a longtime favorite that closed last year. Reservations firmly recommended. Wines from the Americas and Italy sold at retail pricing. No entrees over $20. Dinner daily, lunch Tuesdays through Fridays.
TO LEARN MORE
San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.sandiego.org.
WHERE TO STAY IN SAN FRANCISCO
Old: The Westin St. Francis, 335 Powell St.; (415) 397-7000, www.westinstfrancis.com. The St. Francis, which first went up in 1904, in 2009 completed a $40-million renovation. It has 1,195 rooms, and it's a mainstay in the Union Square shopping district, with a lobby full of historic displays. ( Al Jolson died on the 12th floor, while playing poker, in 1950.) Two restaurants, coffee bar, and in 2008, the Clock Bar cocktail lounge was added. Doubles from $269.
New: InterContinental Moscone Center, 888 Howard St.; (888) 811-4273, www.intercontinentalsanfrancisco.com. Opened in February 2008. This is a 32-story, 550-room blue behemoth neighboring the Moscone Center. Business travelers, be ready for a few extra fees. (Parking about $53 per day.) Doubles from $305.
Renewed: The Good Hotel, 114 7th St.; (415) 621-7001, www.thegoodhotel.com. This 117-room hotel in the gritty SOMA district emphasizes its charitability, eco-friendliness and affordability. It was created in late 2008 by merging the Britton and Flamingo hotels. Free Wi-Fi, free bikes to borrow, atmosphere by Ikea. A pizza parlor on-site delivers to rooms. Doubles, often $109-$129, can dip to $76 (which is what I paid).
WHERE TO EAT
Old: Tadich Grill, 240 California St.; (415) 391-1849, www.tadichgrill.com. This place claims to be the oldest restaurant in California, established by Croatian immigrants in 1849 as a coffee stand. The restaurant, which now specializes in seafood, moved to its current location in 1967 but seems older, in a good way. Try the cioppino ($26.25). Long bar, private booths, no reservations, long-serving waiters in white coats. Lunch and dinner. Main dishes about $18-$33.
New: Don Pisto's, 510 Union St.; (415) 395-0939, www.donpistos.com. Dressed-up Mexican street food (tacos, tortas, ceviche, tortilla soup) in largely Italian North Beach. Brick walls, heavy wood tables and chairs. Opened in December and still no sign, just three red lights. Dinner only. Short menu, with sides $6-$8, main dishes $9-$18.
TO LEARN MORE
San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com.