Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lots on Tap for San Francisco Visitors 2012

There's always lots going on in a city like San Francisco but this year seems especially exciting. First on everyone's list is the 75th anniversary celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge. Year-long festivities and revitalization of the plaza areas on the south end are in full gear. The big party will be on Sunday, May 27 when the entire Crissy Field and nearby area (but not on the bridge itself -- no one wants a repeat of the 50th anniversary squishfest) will be transformed into a festival devoted to celebrating the famous and beloved city icon. (Click here for the SF Chronicle's really cool old bridge opening photos).
This week, San Francisco's tourism industry gathered for a day-long forum on the outlook for the city's travel industry. It turned into a bit of a celebration in itself with good news for the industry: San Francisco tourism is up and the forecast is rosy.
Some 16.35 million visitors spent the night in the city in 2011, up 3.1% from 2010. Those figures are not at the same level as the pre-recession and pre-dot-com bubble "glory days" of 1997-2000 when the city drew 16.7 million overnight visitors each year.
But it's close and no one in the room was complaining, especially since hotel occupancies are over 80% and average daily room rates are creeping higher (projected to be $171 this year, a 10% hike from last year -- good news for the industry, not such good news for travelers and their pocketbooks).
Mayor Ed Lee said that the data "shows we are on a very good track for recovery." Tourism is San Francisco's number one industry, with $8.3 billion in economic impact.
Mayor Lee also noted all the excitement in the city this year. Not only is the big bridge celebration planned, but there's 100 years of MUNI to celebrate (April 5 with the relaunch of the historic No. 1 streetcar), the opening of the Lands' End visitors center above the old Sutro Baths and, of course, the start of the America's Cup.
That international sailing race in 2013 has been pared down a bit in its ambitions, he said, but it is still going to be a thrilling event that will put San Francisco in the worldwide spotlight and draw thousands of visitors to the waterfront.
San Franciscans and visitors will get a taste of that excitement Oct. 4-8 when the city's annual Fleet Week festivities will be combined with a sample of the America's Cup so that we'll have the Blue Angels soaring overhead and those sleek multi-million dollar yachts sailing on the bay below.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Calaveras County Spring

About this time last year I took a short road trip with a friend to Murphys in Calaveras County where early spring is a beautiful time for a visit, California's golden poppies providing splashes of color along the sides of Highway 4. The quaint little Gold Rush town is quiet, its sidewalks almost empty. Only locals seem to be around, going about their daily errands.
Murphys Hotel
I've always loved Murphys, which is one of California's best-preserved 19th century towns. The streets are lined with towering oaks and cedars. Handsome buildings from the late 1800s have been restored, but not to the point that they are unrecognizable from their Gold Rush days. The Murphys of today is a tourism destination, there's no doubt about that. It is full of wine tasting rooms, shops and boutiques. But they are tasteful and the town is not overrun with kitsch.

Several historic buildings have been turned into good restaurants, including Firewood, which has wonderful wood-fired pizza and Mexican food.

California's golden poppies
The saloon at the funky old Murphys Hotel is always fun, its creaky wooden floors where Mark Twain once walked are steeped in history, and no doubt more than one spilled beer over the decades.

For a little bit of Europe, there's Milfiori, an inn just outside of Murphys in the old mining hamlet of Douglas Flat. The atmosphere is more like Provence or Tuscany than hardscrabble mining town. There are lush, wide lawns and comfortable chaise lounges, hanging wisteria and pots of lavender.

Owner Willi Krauss, a Silicon Valley refugee, has created a haven in the restored 1860s farmhouse with three bedrooms and a wide front porch made for idling away a sleepy afternoon. A cozy little cottage rests near the barn in the back. Next door is the historic Pioneer Schoolhouse that dates from the early 1850s.
Milfiori Inn

The Italian Store
A couple of times a year, Willi unshutters the rustic stone building at the front of the property, the "Italian Store." Built in 1861 to sell goods to the legions of Italian and Welsh miners that flooded the area in search for gold, today it's a storehouse for antiques and collectibles.

This spring, the store's old iron doors will be opened April 28 and 20 for the twice-annual sale -- and chance to peak inside one of Calaveras County's many historic treasures.
Pioneer Schoolhouse, early 1850s