Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tour Guide Michelle Gagnon!

by KJ Howe

Getting ready for National next week? Do you know the sights of San Francisco? We're lucky to have talented author Michelle Gagnon here today, a resident of SF, to give us a tour of the city. Enjoy!

I wasn’t born in San Francisco, but have made it my home for the past decade so here are a few suggestions regarding what to see while you're in town.

Getting out and about: What makes San Francisco so unique is its proximity to breathtaking natural settings. If you get a chance, slot in an excursion to Muir Woods, the redwoods really are astonishing. Or head just across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands for a quick, easy hike and tour of WWII bunkers. Alcatraz is also definitely worth the trip (take the audio tour, it’s great), and offers unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge. But be forewarned, you usually need to book a spot on the ferry a few days in advance.

Closer at hand, one of my favorite spots in the city is Crissy Field. Great views of the bridge from here, too, and there’s an easy walk along the shore where you can watch kite-surfers jetting across the Bay. (Also, there’s a hot dog vendor in front of the warming hut that sells organic all-beef hot dogs: delicious, and a far cry from your average sausage). If you keep following the road around the warming hut, it ends at Fort Point, where in Vertigo Kim Novak jumped into the frigid waters. Sticking to the Hitchcock theme, take a cable car up Mason Street from Union Square. At the top of the hill you can visit Grace Cathedral, our miniature version of Notre Dame. And at the intersection of Mason and California is The Brocklebank, a historic building featured in both Vertigo and Bullitt (any other Steve McQueen fans out there?)

San Francisco Landmarks you won’t find in any travel guide: Keep your eyes peeled for “The Twins,” elderly twin sisters who dress in matching hats, dresses, and wigs, frequently spotted strolling arm-in-arm around Huntington Park (across the street from Grace Cathedral—also a great place to see Chinatown locals practicing Tai Chi in the morning).

If you’re in the mood for a more serious walk, head to Coit Tower. Interesting art exhibits inside, and great views of the city. Afterwards, walk down the east stairway (on the Bay Bridge side). Halfway down, keep your eyes peeled for the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, a flock of birds that have escaped their owners (there’s wonderful documentary and book about the birds available).
My Favorite Restaurants: I love all the restaurants in the Ferry Building, which range from cheap eats to more highbrow fare (there’s a fantastic independent bookstore here too, Book Passage). Try Mijita for the best fish taco you’ve ever had in your life, or the Slanted Door for upscale Vietnamese. Lulu Petite sells delicious sandwiches, and Taylor’s Refreshers has milkshakes and burgers. Or grab fixings from the Farmer’s Market and stroll along the Embarcadero to picnic at the base of the Cupid’s Span (Embarcadero and Folsom Street—tough to miss, it’s a sixty-foot tall bow and arrow. What could be more perfect for romance fans?) Houston’s along the Embarcadero has fantastic ribs and a cute outdoor patio in back. And granted it’s touristy, but no stay here is complete without eating chowder from a sourdough bread bowl at Fisherman’s Wharf.

North Beach is the place to go for Italian. My personal favorite is Da Flora, a bit pricey but very romantic with its muted lighting and fabulous food. A cheaper option is Steps of Rome, the food is decent but the real treat tends to be the handsome Italian men packing the place. If you’re in the neighborhood, grab a drink at Vesuvio, an old beatnik hangout, and check out Jack Kerouac Alley which runs along the side of the bar and features an amazing mural.

For French food, try local favorite Café Bastille. This restaurant is located on a cobblestoned alley with a slew of other wonderful restaurants, and they close off the street on Bastille Day for a major fete every year.

Best fish restaurant (and one of the oldest eateries in the city to boot) is Tadich Grill. They don’t accept reservations, so there might be a bit of a wait, but the food and atmosphere is worth it.
Best breakfast: line up at Sears Fine Foods (Powell Street and Post) for a terrific and reasonably priced breakfast. Order the Swedish pancakes, you won’t be disappointed.

I’m more of a foodie than a shopper (in case that wasn’t already apparent) but the best department stores are all located around Union Square. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, right behind City Hall is Hayes Valley, where there are a number of boutiques stocking local designers (most of them are located on Hayes Street itself). Union Street (oddly enough, not located anywhere near Union Square) also has high-end boutiques, but you’ll need to cab there (this would partner well with a Crissy Field excursion!)

Safety: Not the most fun topic to close with, but it bears some discussion. As Candice said, the streets of San Francisco are filled with characters, homeless and otherwise. And there’s generally safety in numbers. That being said, 6th Street is to be avoided at night at all costs. Just a few blocks from the hotel, it’s one of the most dangerous spots in the city (as is Market Street for a block before and after it). Then, when 6th Street crosses Market, you’re entering The Tenderloin, so named because in the past cops who worked that beat received a higher salary, enabling them to bring home a better cut of meat in exchange for putting their lives at risk. And not much has changed. The safest bet at night is to stay fairly close to the area around Union Square, or stick to the streets between the hotel and the Ferry Building. And I recommend taking cabs after dark if you’re going more than a few blocks.

I think that’s everything, but if you have any other questions fire away! I’ll draw from the pool of comments, and the winner will receive a signed edition of my first thriller THE TUNNELS. If you don’t win, console yourself by signing up for my newsletter at and I’ll toss your name in the hat for an Amazon Kindle, iPod Shuffle, Starbucks gift certificates, and other fabulous prizes.

Looking forward to seeing you all next week!

Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller The Tunnels was an IMBA bestseller. Her next book, Boneyard, depicts a cat and mouse game between dueling serial killers. In her spare time she loves to eat out.
Michelle, thanks for the tour! See you next week! I know I'll be in good hands for a fantastic meal. LOL


Helen said...

Is he coming to my place for a visit

Have Fun

Carol said...

yes helen...I've just missed!!!

Carol said...

Well done Helen...he's been snaffled back to aus.

Kim Howe said...


The GR is all yours today! Congrats!


Carol said...

Thanks Michelle.
I'll cut and paste and print the blog to give to my D.Daughter (who is going to interesting!
And as a mum I really like your advice about safety etc.
Cheers Carol

Helen said...

Great post Ladies

San Francisco sounds like an absolutley wonderful place I wish I could be there.
I would love to see Alcatraz and Fishermans Wharf I have seen lots of these places in movies and heard about them but to visit them would be awesome.

Congratulations on the book Michelle you have certainly done a lot with your life a lot of experiences to write about.

Have Fun

Helen said...

Carol sorry I got him by 3 mins I was just about to go to bed and thought I would check first.
Lucky me.

Have Fun

PJ said...

Great travel guide, Michelle! I especially enjoyed the tour of the restaurants. Sure wish I was going to be there next week to enjoy some of them. I've only been to SF once, and I was 12 at the time. Even though it's been many years since then, your beautiful city made an impression on me that lingers still.

Dina said...

I've never been to SF, but sounds like a nice place to visit.
Thanks for the tour. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the great restaurant recommendations, Michelle! I think the one with all the handsome Italian men sounds particularly promising...

And as a resident of Oregon and frequent visitor to the Bay area, I would second the recommendation to visit the Marin headlands. I would say it is one of the loveliest places in all the world.

terrio said...

I'm figuring out two things from this blog. 1) I should have gone early for sightseeing and 2) I'm going to want to move to San Fran.

Thanks for all this great info. I know I won't get to see nearly enough of the city on this short trip, but that just gives me a reason to have to go back.

I know the weather is calling for temps in the mid-60s. Is that a comfortable 65 or 65 with a cool wind blowing that makes it feel colder?

Louisa Cornell said...

You got him, Helen! Congrats. He is loving that Aussie weather!

Thanks, Michelle, for such a great tour! I am definitely printing this for my conference file.

I'm with Kirsten. I think the restaurant with the handsome Italian men sounds like must see. I love your description of the natural sights as well. I should have booked more days for this trip. But it DOES give me an excuse to come back. This will be my first trip to San Francisco and I am really looking forward to it. Any suggestions on something uniquely San Francisco to pick up for my teenaged niece and nephews?

I am staying at the Pickwick so I will check the Google map I printed and mark those areas we should avoid.

I love the sound of your books. My late DH was a prison shrink and serial killers was an area he researched extensively. SHUDDER!

Donna MacMeans said...

Helen - Congratulations! That rooster is loving that Oz hospitality.

Michelle - thanks for the tour. We're arriving a few days earlier so I'm hoping to get out to see some of the city. Seems once the conference starts, it's hard to get out of the hotel. Thanks expecially for all the restaurant info. Purchased tour guides are one thing, recommendations from a local another. Thanks for sharing your expertise with us.

Cassondra said...

Great post ladies, and congrats on the GR Helen!

I've never been to San Francisco, so I'm looking forward to it!

C.J. Redwine said...

Thanks for the excellent restaurant recs! I can't wait to try a few. =)

Anonymous said...

Interesting tour. I haven't been there since I was about 14 years old. Time I revisited, I think. I'm reading Boneyard now, and enjoying it immensely. Would recommend it to anyone who likes getting the creeps and shivers when things go bump in the night.
Good job, Michelle.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Hey Michelle! Thanks for coming to the Lair and giving us your tour of places to see or eat at in San Francisco. I already have the Alcatraz tour set up, tickets and all.

This is my first trip to SF, so I'm hoping to cram lots of things into the few days I have free before the conference hits full swing!

Jennifer Y. said...

Congrats Helen on the GR!

Great post! I have never been to San Francisco and I am really looking forward to my trip next week. These tips are great.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Oh, yeah! SF tour stuff and a new author to add to the TBR pile as well. Velda, thanks for the "bump in the night" rundown on Michelle's books. Love me a good thriller! :>

Okay Louisa, I'm shuddering right along with you at the thought of your late DH being a prison shrink. I took my training in psych and all the tests said I'd be a good prison shrink. I am SO not sure what that says about me, but the thought just never appealed! Maybe THAT'S what turned me off the field...hmmm.

I'd love to know about the same thing Terrio questioned - is it a warm 65 or a brisk, cool 65? I've been to SF several times, but at all different times of the year. Also, it's been several years least 6...since I was there for a family thing.

I got to do some sightseeing and that Grace church is worth the walk. OMGosh, the doors alone...fab. u. lus. Had to laugh about the little old ladies.

Can you join the Tai Chi workout?

Trish Milburn said...

Wow, I think I need a month in San Fran to do all this stuff. :) Thanks for all the tips, Michelle.

Jane said...

Hi Michelle,
What did you do as a Russian supper club performer? Did you sing or dance? San Francisco is beautiful. I would love to drive down Lombard Street again.

Congrats on the GR, Helen.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Thanks for all the kind words, everyone! And one thing I messed up on- the trolley car goes up Powell street, not Mason (they're a block away from each other). oops!
Now for the questions: the trick with San Francisco is layers layers layers. I always take a sweater of a fleece with me everywhere, you might need it in the morning, then by noon the fog (usually) burns off and it's t-shirt weather. The top of Nob Hill where Grace Cathedral is tends to be windy, in the rest of the city it varies. But definitely don't come expecting shorts weather (now watch, next week we'll have one of our rare heat waves and I'll look like a fool!) A pair of jeans or chinos with a t-shirt and sweater should meet most occasions- we dress fairly casually out here compared to New York.
Keep the questions coming, I live to serve!

Michelle Gagnon said...

Oops- almost forgot. I'm actually posting about my Russian Supper Club stint on killer hobbies tomorrow, so for the full scoop check that blog out (
But I was a dancer in a cabaret show there(I love to sing, but other people don't appear to love listening to me do it!)

Kate Carlisle said...

Hi Michelle -- thanks for visiting the Lair today! A fellow foodie! I'm so psyched!

I so agree with your Ferry Building recommendation and urge everyone to stop there at some point during their trip to SF. I love going there on a Saturday morning when the farmer's market is hopping. You can shop and taste all sorts of goodies, and it's all outside on the pier overlooking the gorgeous Bay (besides the usual fruits and veggies, they've got grilled oysters, sausages, all kinds of fresh jams and marmalades, it's wonderful!).

After grazing outside, I like to go inside and wander around, stop at Cowgirl Creamery for some incredible cheese, grab some pate and bread and find a seat at the wine bar, order some champagne and people watch. Is there anything better? :-)

Oh yeah, chocolate. Gotta stop at one of the chocolate kiosks. And Peets coffee, then wander around Book Passage for awhile...

Can't wait to get there!

P.S. Guess I got carried away with the food! Almost forgot to mention that I can't wait to read your latest book. It sounds fabulous!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

WTG Helen! Have fun with the chook. Are the grandkiddies coming over to play with him?

Michelle, are the twins still alive?!?! I saw them once, had to be a dozen years ago, outside Neiman Marcus in Union Square. They had matching Jackie O pill box hats and white gloves! They looked at least 80 then so they must be in their 90s now.

I love the area around Chrissy field too. There's a wonderful stylized sculpture of a Madonna but the artist's name escapes me at the moment. Fort Point which is beneath the end of the Golden Gate is also fascinating to visit. It was built during the Civil War to repel an imagined Confederate naval invasion and manned in all subsequent wars until WWII but I don't think a single defensive shot was ever fired from it.

Coit Tower has great views inside and out! The murals inside were painted by the WPA during the Great Depression of the 30s.

I've eaten at Steps of Rome, imagine that. ;-) But my favorite places to eat are in Chinatown.

thanx for visiting us today Michelle and for all you GREAT TIPS!


Kate Carlisle said...

Oops, almost forgot to say congratulation to Helen! I know the GR loves to visit you Down Under. Hope you have a fun day!

Susan Seyfarth said...

Hi, Michelle--

Thanks for the tour of SF! I'm more foodie than shopper, too, and your restaurant recommendations sound fantastic! Can't wait to try a few!

Keira Soleore said...

Thank you for this, Michelle and KJ. I have copied all the recommendations and saved/printed them for my Tuesday morning jaunt.

Helen, w00t! Carol, oops! There's always tomorrow. :)

Keira Soleore said...

Caught the Powell St v. Mason St for Grace Cathedral.

I've read about the F-line Streetcar that runs right outside the conference hotel. Where's the Cablecar station? How do you distinguish between the two? Thanks.

Michelle Gagnon said...

As far as I know, you can just jump in on the tai chi exercises. And I can't believe I forgot to mention Chinatown! Naughty tour guide. Definitely worth a stroll through (start at Grant Street). And my favorite restaurant there is R & G's, their salt and pepper crab is to die for (if you go, make sure to ask to sit upstairs where the lighting is better). Also try a stop at the Imperial Tea House, it's very cool on the inside.

Michelle Gagnon said...

The F-line street car goes up and down Market street: good for getting around, and kind of a cool faux-old design, but not the same as cable cars. There's a cable car stop at Market and Powell, but there's usually a long line. Sometimes you'll have better luck (and less of a wait) climbing aboard a few blocks up Powell Street.

Joan said...


Thanks so much for the info. I'm REALLY excited and trying not to feel overwhelmed at all the choices.

We've booked tours for Sunday for the city/Muir Woods/Salsalito Monday for Monteray/Carmel (I've longed to visit there since seeing the area in movies)

I'm SO there at the Steps of Rome resturant or I might go to the one with the Italian guys and rub their...heads for good luck with my Roman boys :-)

What about the "crookedest street"?

And where's the best place for me to stick my toe in the Pacific Ocean? :-)

And wow, your book sounds very, very good.

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Great restaurant recommendations. I'm looking forward to trying some out next week!

Michelle Gagnon said...

You can stick your toe in the water at Crissy Field (though it's technically the Bay, not the Ocean, it's close enough and just as cold!) And the crookedest street is supposedly Lombard, though an SF secret is that the REAL crookedest street in a section of Vermont in my neighborhood (Potrero Hill). Lombard is more scenic, but I recommend walking down the side path, the wait to drive down it is a serious buzz-kill.

Helen said...

Wish I'd read this (and the comments) last month before my trip to SF. I'm still going to send this link to my daughter who's been living there for a year now.

Shelley Munro said...

Thanks for all the wonderful info on SF. I'm looking forward to my visit.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Helen, he's been in Oz a bit lately! Congratulations!

I get my shuttle to the airport in a couple of hours and I'm SOOOO excited. San Francisco is one of those places that has been on my must do before I do list. And now I get to cross it off. Except the problem when I fall in love with a place is that I have to go back!

Thanks, Michelle, for all those great hints. Nothing like local knowledge, is there? If ever they have an RWA in Sydney, I'll be able to help! ;-) Congratulations on your writing success. The books sound fantastic! I'm on a bit of a romantic suspense jag at the moment after reading Jeanne Adams's fantastic DARK AND DANGEROUS.

Oooh, I'm going SF! I'm going to SF!

Keira Soleore said...

Oooh, Fo's coming to the west coast! Fo's coming to the west coast!

Helen said...

Aunty Cindy
He will be seeing the grandkids today he hasn't seen them for a while.

The GR and I are going to have a very busy day cooking today it is my grandaughter Hayley's first birthday and I am making her birthday cake I hope he doesn't want to eat all the smarties that I will be using to decorate the cake I am making my little princess a castle cake.

It is cool and rainy today there won't be much time outside but I am sure he will enjoy cooking with me.

Anna enjoy your flight and time in SF and good luck with the RITA

Have Fun

Keira Soleore said...

Thanks much, Michelle. One final question: How do we get to Lombard St from the hotel (without a car)?

Michelle Gagnon said...

Hi Anna! Funny, I was just received the Australian edition of Boneyard in the mail today! Hope your flight goes smoothly...and yes, the twins are still alive (though possibly, not still kicking :) ) It would be a fairly intense walk from the hotel to Lombard Street, I'd recommend taking a cab. I'm sure there's public transportation (our bus system is called "MUNI" there too, but must confess I'm a true Californian and drive everywhere. But check out this site, it includes a "trip planner" :

Joan said...

Oooh, I'm going SF! I'm going to SF!

And the Odessey begins....

From the four corners of the world, the Banditas begin their journey to their sacred ground...the bring together immense published (and publishable)powers. Look to the sky for the "Bandita" signal....

Joan said...

Huh? What? Who WAS that?

Anyway, safe journey Anna. Take your aspirin, do your ankle pumps, watch for hunky Aussie male flight attendents (we can ALWAYS use new cabana boys :-)

jo robertson said...

Michelle, wow! What a great tour guide for us plus all the wise advice. Thanks so much for visiting us today in the Lair.

I love the idea of "dueling serial killers." Can you tell us more, along with something about your first book?

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Oooh, yes, tell us more about the serial killers, Michelle! (What JT said! Grins!)

Safe journey, Anna-bannana-fo-fanna, and thanks for the shout out for Dark and Dangerous. Grins.

Safe journey to Mme Christine Wells too! The Oz Gals are on their way...wooooohoooooo...

Joanie, I don't know who you were channeling, but I'm going to be looking for that Golden Rooster icon in the evening sky...or in the feather in the bar (Farrrr more likely!)

Michelle Gagnon said...

Ok, so as far as my books go:
My debut thriller "The Tunnels" was about a series of ritualized murders in the abandoned tunnel system under an east coast university. As my heroine Kelly Jones investigates, she stumbles across evidence that the killer is obsessed with neo-paganism, Norse runes, and an ancient text with a dark history. Plus along the way she's partnered with a handsome security specialist who she finds attractive and maddening, and who threatens to break down her defenses...
"Boneyard" takes place nearly a year later. A series of old remains have turned up on the Appalachian Trail, strewn across the border between MA and VT. Kelly is called in to advise a team of homicide investigators, none of whom can stand each other. She needs to keep them focused in the face of evidence that they might be dealing with not one but two killers. In the background, the two killers are engaged in their own game, one-upping each other while they both try to evade law enforcement. And love interest Jake Riley shows up, further complicating Kelly's life.
Whew, that was a mouthful :) Thanks for asking!

Beth said...

Hi, Michelle! Thanks so much for all the great info about San Francisco! I can't wait to get there *g*

Your books sound fabulous! How do you manage your writing time vs your researching time? Do you do both at the same time or research first then start writing? What was the most interesting thing you discovered while researching?

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

If you ride the cable car to the end of the line, near Pier 39, the foot of Lombard is in easy walking distance.

I really do not recommend taking a car down that section of Lombard. I did it once and it was darn scary, plus very hard on brakes!


Pat Cochran said...

I'm trying so hard not to be jealous,
but it is down right difficult! I
wish all of you the best of times
at the Conference! I look forward
to seeing all the photos and hearing
all the great stories! Have fun!!

Pat Cochran

Keira Soleore said...

Yay! Fo's in the air, and Ms. Wells soon-to-be.

AC and Michelle, many thanks for all the trip-planning help!!

Pat Cochran said...

So sorry! I forgot to thank Michelle
for the great job of providing hints and recommendations for the SF trip!

Pat Cochran

Caren Crane said...

Wow, thanks, Michelle! What great recommendations. It's one thing to read a bunch of review sites and another to hear it from a local. I adore San Francisco and can't wait to get there!

And Helen, it's been a while for you and the chook, hasn't it? I hope you've had a nice day!

Caren Crane said...

Helen, Deb Marlowe, Claudia Dain and I will be going to Alcatraz on Tuesday. I'm sure it will be great fun! Then we plan to head to Fisherman's Wharf and take in the sights (and smells). *g* I hope to get to China Town, but it looks as if I may not have time!

I'll miss all the Bandita Buddies while I'm gone. You'll have to hold down the fort and laugh when we post candid pictures from the conference. It should get...interesting, to say the least.

Caren Crane said...

Oh, Michelle! I got carried away by the food, too. *g* I plan to pick up Boneyard for my next thriller/suspense binge. I get on a roll and need a good chill every now and then. I can't wait to read it!

Caren Crane said...

Pat, we'll miss you terribly! And when you're going on a fabulous trip, please be sure to taunt us with all the fun you are having that we're not. *g*

Michelle, LOVE the dueling serial killers! And I find it interesting that with your love of the west coast, your books are set in the east. There's no ordering a muse around, is there?

Caren Crane said...

Keira, have you packed the Nutella yet? I'm off to find my phone charger and iPod charger and am trusting YOU to bring the Nutella. I just wanted to make sure that was a matter of public record. *g*

Michelle Gagnon said...

Hi Beth! As far as research goes, I usually spend a few months at the beginning solely doing research, then fill in some blanks as the writing progresses. But I have to say, after two books dealing with serial killers, I've promised myself that with the next one I'm steering clear of both them AND of anything underground!
You all are so sweet to say such nice things! Can't wait to meet some of you live and in person next week!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Oh man, Michelle, I'm going to have to get signed copies of your books at the conference for my sister Sami, who keeps telling me to put serial killers in my books! The girl will adore your books!!

Thanks for all the fun information about SF...I wish I had the entire week to sight see, instead of just 2.5 days. :(

Hey Caren, some of Texas girls are going to Alcatraz on Tuesday morning, too!

Nancy said...

Michelle, thank you for the super thorough tour tips for SF!

Nancy Haddock