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Hotel We Love: Hotel Zoe, San Francisco

By Liza Weisstuch
June 15, 2018
Outside of hotel Zoe
Courtesy Hotel Zoe
This centrally located, nautical-themed hotel delivers a thoroughly local experience.

San Francisco is the kind of city that offers such an overwhelming bounty of things to do, eat, drink, and see that you'd almost feel the FOMO start to set in if you spend too much time in your hotel. In the City by the Bay, location is a premium and Hotel Zoe, situated front and center in the Fisherman's Wharf district, delivers just that at a supremely excellent price. Go for the location, stay for the way this locally-minded hotel offers a distinctly local experience.

THE STORY

Given its waterside locale, It makes sense that the $17 million renovations that were completed in 2017 transformed what opened as a Best Western in the early 1990s into a nautical-themed haven. Its tasteful subtlety gives the space a luxurious yet casual feel. Browns, blues, and cream colors infuse the lobby with an oceanic feel, the couches, chairs and table resemble classic nautical furniture designs, and decorative touches evoke undulating waves. It's a conceptual extension of the mesmerizing bay just outside.

THE QUARTERS

That nautical theme extends to each of the 221 rooms, but still only subtly. The desk chairs, for instance, resemble captain's chair. Otherwise it's all stark minimalism, brown and grey tones, blonde wood, and rounded edges, calling to mind a yacht's cabins. Except for one thing: this being San Francisco, and all, there are delightful technological accents. The rooms, which range from single queen to double queen to single king, are equipped with Cubie radios, which can charge four gadgets at once, complimentary high-speed wifi, and streaming capabilities for Netflix and Hulu. All the rooms without a city view feature an interior courtyard. It's also worth noting that the hotel is right in sync with the eco-mindedness that pervades this city, opting for giant bottles that dispense shampoo and conditioner instead of small disposable sizes. The local love is also evident in the mini fridge, which features Sierra Nevada and San Francisco's own Anchor Steam beers and Simi Cabernet.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD

If central location is your top priority, this is your spot. Lombard Street, the notoriously steep and twisty road, is a quick walk away, as is the other waterfront attractions, like the Buena Vista, known the world round as the bar that created Irish coffee, Also in walking distance is the city's epic Chinatown, North Beach, which is chill during the day but livens up at night, and the Embarcadero, the scenic three-mile thoroughfare that runs along the water and ends at the famed circa-1898 Ferry Building.

THE FOOD

Pescatore is the hotel's restaurant, an Italian affair that's sophisticated yet laid-back, with huge windows overlooking the street, patio seating, and dark wood and tiled accents. The's a wood-fired oven, but the menu is far more than just gourmet pizzas. Charcuterie, local seafood, and homemade pastas are just a few other options. Breakfast and lunch are also offered here. The hotel's chill lobby becomes a bit more buzzy around 4PM each day, when Bar Zoe opens across from the front desk and the cocktails start flowing, imbuing the space with a lounge-y vibe.

ALL THE REST

There are quite a few added bonuses offered to guests, like a complimentary glass of wine upon arrival and free bike rentals. Helmets are available upon demand. An outdoor seating space off the lobby in an inner courtyard features firepits that invite extended sessions of loitering before hitting the town.

RATES & DEETS

Starting at $229

Hotel Zoe
425 North Point Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 561-1100 / hotelzoesf.com

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Inspiration

Hotel We Love: Thunderbird Lodge, Redding, CA

Just a few hours north of Sacramento and a couple hours south of Oregon, tucked away among protected parkland, volcanoes, redwoods, and more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at, northeastern California’s Shasta Cascade region is a veritable haven for outdoor enthusiasts. But you don’t need to be a card-carrying member of the REI Co-Op to appreciate the area’s natural beauty—there’s a ton here for all skill levels to explore. With clean, freshly appointed rooms, reasonable rates, and a convenient central location, the Thunderbird Lodge in Redding, California, makes a great base of operations, especially if you’re planning to spend most of your time on the go.   THE STORY This classic roadside motel was originally part of the mid-century Thunderbird chain; today, there are only a few left in existence, and they’re all independently owned and operated. An immigrant couple from Zambia bought Redding’s Thunderbird Lodge nearly 20 years ago, and their sons and daughters-in-law took over operations in 2010. (Thankfully, the vintage sign remains the same.) THE QUARTERS The property was completely remodeled in 2015, and its 58 guest rooms now feature contemporary dark-wood furniture, white linens with pops of color via accent pillows, throws, and bed skirts, and flat-screen TVs, refrigerators, and microwaves, all in various configurations. Book a king, queen, or double-queen room for a short stay; if you’re planning on sticking around a bit longer, consider a kitchenette room, which comes equipped with proper cooking facilities. The ground-floor accommodations are perfectly fine, but if you can handle the stairs, book a room one flight up, where the vaulted ceilings and exposed beams offer an airier, much more spacious feel. THE NEIGHBORHOOD Located right in the middle of downtown Redding, the Thunderbird is walking distance to landmarks like the Cascade Theatre, a circa 1935 nonprofit venue that hosts concerts, dance performances, and free summer kids’ movies; there’s also an array of independently owned restaurants, breweries, and shops within a few-block radius. The motel isn’t far from the freeway either, so it’s easy to get out of town to explore the region’s outdoor attractions—it’s a quick drive from downtown to Lake Shasta Caverns, Whiskeytown Lake, the immense, 602-foot-high Shasta Dam, and waterfalls upon waterfalls upon waterfalls. THE FOOD There are a few vending machines on the property, and the motel offers a basic continental breakfast, but other than that, you’ll have to look elsewhere for sustenance. Luckily, there are some solid options nearby. For a no-frills, pre-hike diner meal, Corbett’s should do the trick—it’s right across the street and opens at 7:00 a.m., so you can fuel up and be on the trail nice and early. The motorcycle-themed Coffee Bar is a little further, but it’s worth the walk for the consciously sourced caffeine and tidy selection of pastries and small bites. (You’re in California, after all, so be sure to try the avocado toast.) Open only for lunch, Wilda’s Grill is infamous for its Buddha bowl, a heaping helping of beans, rice, and protein under a shower of avocado, cilantro, and shredded cabbage, a steal at $7.50. With a cheap lunch, you can treat yourself to a fancier dinner, and Moonstone Bistro serves pretty plates of seasonal, organic fare at the price point to match. Grab a table in the intimate, dimly lit dining room or take seat on the patio (the strip-mall view is terrible, but on a nice evening, the fresh air is worth the sacrifice), have a cocktail and a few appetizers, and don't pass on the bread plate. To keep things casual, beer-drinkers would do well to commandeer a spot at the bar at the family-owned Woody’s Brewing Co., order a round of tater tots—or, as my bartender more accurately described them, fried mashed-potato balls—loaded with blue cheese and bacon, and enjoy with a pint of microbrew. Final Draft Brewing Company is another local favorite within walking distance. Finally, awesomely, there’s a branch of Heavenly Donuts, a mini-chain with six locations in the western United States, just two doors down from the Thunderbird. The drive-thru window is open 24 hours, and they serve a ridiculously good strawberry-jelly donut. Consider yourself warned. ALL THE REST The Thunderbird is Fido-friendly, with a charge of $15 per pet per night. Parking is included with the room rate, but the space is tight and can be tough to navigate, especially on weekends. WiFi and continental breakfast are also free, and there’s a small pool on the premises that’s clean and well-maintained. RATES & DEETS Starting at $65. Thunderbird Lodge1350 Pine StreetRedding, CA530.243.5422thunderbirdlodgeredding.com

Inspiration

5 Reasons Why We (Sort of) Love NYC’s Public Transportation

Ah, the MTA. With subway stations that beg to be cleaned and bus and train service that often keeps commuters waiting (and increasingly infuriated, as in 2017's "summer of hell"), New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority has, of course, earned its bad reputation with New Yorkers, right? But... From Monday to Friday, more than 8 million of us choose the MTA to commute to our destinations. Perhaps it's the 665 miles of track that allows us to go practically anywhere, or the (relatively) reasonable price of $2.75, but whatever it is, the MTA has remained our number-one travel resource. And while most of us have reason to curse NYC’s public transportation (and if you're reading this while waiting for a delayed train, maybe you're cursing it right now), here are five reasons to appreciate the maligned MTA. 1.  NYC HAS 24/7 PUBLIC TRANSIT In cities around the world, the midnight chimes signal the end of train service for the day. For the city that never sleeps, that is just unacceptable. Although the MTA’s service can be sparse after midnight, apps like Transit help commuters track the next bus or train, and I can always count on the MTA to get me home (in just about any kind of weather). So, dare I call the MTA “reliable”? Yes, but before New Yorkers raise their pitchforks at me, it is “reliable” in the sense that you can rely on it to get the baseline job done.   2. THE FARE IS REASONABLE Hear me out on this. NYC taxicabs start at $2.50, with a meter that hikes up unbelievably fast in traffic, and car services like Uber and Lyft are subject to price surges based on demand. The MTA is one of the few sources of transportation that offer unlimited-ride Metrocards, free transfers, and a one-fare subway zone. Cities like Singapore and Hong Kong charge you based on how far you go and transferring from line to line, making the MTA’s $2.75 price a pretty good deal. The MTA also rewards your spending: If you put $5.50 or more on your card, you get a 5 percent bonus, essentially earning free rides over time. 3. THE SYSTEM IS IMPROVING (REALLY!) Those fares go to good use. Free Wi-Fi, countdown clocks, and new and improved trains have made a positive impact on the commuting experience. By adding foldable chairs and removing tail-end seats on some trains, the MTA has made room for additional passengers. In addition, the MTA is considering installing platform doors, which would follow the lead of public transportation in some European and Asian countries, limiting train track litter and delays caused by passengers. The MTA will test this out during the (dreaded) L train shutdown in 2019. 4. THE SUBWAY IS A CITY INSIDE A CITY First, the people. We’ve all witnessed it: The red-carpet-ready riders, the hipsters, the business folks, and the rest of us ol’ regulars all ride together in the same subway car. From the far ends of four of the city’s five boroughs, we join together, at least for a few minutes, to ride the MTA. The result? A mini melting pot that is relatively rare in many cities around the U.S. and the world. 5. THERE’S A LOT OF GOOD THINGS TO SEE If you’re on a train that runs aboveground or on a bus, getting a view of the NYC skyline and iconic landmarks can be a much-needed reminder of why you’re putting up with all the other stuff. And for those of us who take the underground trains, the artwork that adorns some subway stations provides a taste of NYC culture, often carefully curated to suit the neighborhood and institutions served by that station. The classic West 81st station at the American Museum of Natural History welcomes visitors with playful mosaics that include dinosaurs and other fossils, while the new 2nd Avenue subway line's stations offer a series of portraits by Chuck Close to entertain passersby (nycgo.com).

Inspiration

Hotel We Love: Jupiter Hotel, Portland, OR

Log cabins are to the Pacific Northwest what skyscrapers are to Manhattan and adobe houses are to Arizona, but if you think a hotel in the center of Portland, Oregon, is gonna offer classic log-cabin lodgings, think again. The city known for its creativity and eccentricity has accommodations that are true to form, and Jupiter Hotel is perhaps the most representative of Portland's originality and zany energy.  THE STORY Originally opened in 1964 as a motor lodge, the building was bought in 2004 and spruced up in a style that hints at a log cabin motif but also flies in the face of it, thanks to rooms appointed with creative, modern furniture. With all the rooms' entrances lined up along outdoor corridors, it has a distinctive retro charm, but that's where the vintage element ends. The sweeping, airy window-lined lobby doubles as a 24-hour gallery, with works by local artists changing every two months. If your visit falls on a first Friday of the month, partake in the neighborhood's art walk-around, when the hotel and many other nearby venues offer free wine and bites.   THE QUARTERS In standard Portland fashion, creativity reigns supreme. The rooms have an underlying Scandinavian minimalism about them, all clean lines and bright colors down to the turquoise remote control, but a Pop Art vibrancy ensures that a stay here is an engaging affair. For instance, giant chalkboards hang from the doors, with signs encouraging you scribble a masterpiece and post a shot of it on Instagram. Just don't forget to tag it: #jupiterhotel. Sleep options include one bed and two, and each of the 81 rooms is adorned with its own unique, colorful mural. And in a cute nod to Portland's all-inclusive attitude, there's a copy of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide To Personal Freedom, a treatise on creativity and happiness based on ancient wisdom, in the bedside nightstand's drawer.  THE NEIGHBORHOOD  The hotel is located in what's locally known as LoBu (shorthand for Lower Burnside) and more technically referred to as Central Eastside. It's something of a destination for foodie types, as it's home to the celebrated Le Pigeon, which offers French-minded fancy food in a decidedly informal setting. It's the flagship restaurant from two-time James Beard Award-winner Gabriel Rucker, who opened Canard, an equally French-inspired cafe-style eatery, right next door to Le Pigeon in April. The Jupiter's sister property, Jupiter NEXT, which opened in June, features Hey Love, a casual all-day/late-night restaurant/bar/lounge specializing in warm-weather-inspired food. And for quick convenience, Plaid Pantry is just three blocks away. Vintage shops and a handful of design-minded businesses also keep the neighborhood buzzing.  THE FOOD The hotel doesn't have its own eatery, but it sits adjacent to Doug Fir Lounge, a bar/restaurant/music-venue hybrid that's open from 7:00 a.m. until "late," with a 3:00 p.m. happy hour in between and live music every night in the downstairs performance space. (Concerts are ticketed.) The restaurant dishes out elevated pub fare made with seasonal ingredients as well as craft beer and cocktails. Call in an order for takeout and relax in your room, or stick around and mingle with locals, as it's a popular hangout with a lively patio scene. It's worth noting that there's a delightfully stylish, slightly kitschy log-cabin-meets-lounge look to the place. Expansive logs make up the bar-top, the walls and even some of the furniture.   ALL THE REST Of the hotel's 81 rooms situated in several sprawling buildings, 41 are located on the "chill side," out of earshot of Doug Fir's many patio revelers. Those rooms fetch a slightly higher rate than the bar-side rooms, so be sure to note your preference when making reservations. Also, to help you feel like a local during your stay, you can rent one of the hotel's bicycles and see the city on two wheels, alongside the many, many other urban bikers occupying the streets. Rates are $35 per day or $10 an hour.  RATES & DEETS Starting at $139 for the bar-side rooms and $149 for the chill-side rooms.  Jupiter Hotel500 E. Burnside Ave.Portland, OR 97214(503) 230-9200 / jupiterhotel.com

Inspiration

#BTReads: ‘Eating My Way Through Italy’

Say the word travel. If the first image that comes to mind is a table exquisitely set with heaping bowls of pasta, bottles of wine, and, ideally, a field of cornflowers in the distance, then Elizabeth Minchilli’s Eating My Way Through Italy: Heading Off the Main Roads to Discover the Hidden Treasures of the Italian Table may be the book you’ve been waiting for all your life. ENJOY AN ENTHRALLING FOOD MEMOIR - PLUS RECIPES! (Ermess/Dreamstime) Elizabeth Minchilli is perhaps the only food writer working today who could have pulled off this miraculous hybrid, a book that belongs in your carry-on the next time you fly to Italy, and on your kitchen shelf the next time you want to whip up an authentic taste of, say, Umbria (you must try the white bean soup recipe in the chapter on olive oil). Because Minchilli has spent decades studying, celebrating, and writing about the food cultures of the Italian peninsula, most recently in her masterful memoir-cookbook Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City, and on her website elizabethminchilli.com and bestselling app Eat Italy, she brings a depth of experience, wit, and contagious enthusiasm to each chapter. Open Eating My Way Through Italy to any page and dive into an anecdote, recipe, or travel suggestion and you know you are in the hands of a writer who starts with your best interest at heart, a writer who wants to educate you even as she enthralls you, and, in a media world increasingly dominated by food writers who seek to amass an audience before they actually have anything remotely interesting to say, a writer who knows her subject so deeply and brings such love to her work, you simply can’t stop reading. TRAVEL ACROSS ITALY IN 289 PAGES (Giuseppemasci/Dreamstime) I confess, I tend to read travel and food books (and hybrids like this one) with an eye toward my favorite destinations or foods, so I went straight to “A Crash Course in Parmigiano Reggiano,” in which Minchilli sorts out the rules under which the cheese is made, plus tips for how to buy the best and use it well. Spoiler alert: Never, ever, buy cheese labeled “parmesan.” For more, you’ll have to read the book. From Parmigiano, I moved right to “A Sense of Place and a Bowl of Farinata,” which not only delves deeply into the Tuscan polenta-beans-and-kale recipe but also divulges locals-only secrets of my favorite Italian city, Florence, from the point of view of a lifelong Roman (Minchilli lives in a rooftop apartment in Rome), which, frankly, is a little bit like a native New Yorker explaining how much they’ve genuinely come to appreciate Boston. (Toldiu74/Dreamstime) Basically, Eating My Way Through Italy allows you to drop in on Italy’s many culinary regions. We Americans often forget that what we think of as the country of “Italy” is a relatively new, 19th-century entity, and its centuries-old regions, from Emilia-Romagna in the north to the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia, encompass a variety of flavors, terroir, dialects, architecture, and style that cannot possibly be reduced to a single adjective, no matter how alluring the word Italian may sound. With Eating Rome and Eating My Way Through Italy on our nightstands, kitchen counters, or in our carry-ons, Budget Travelers will always be just steps away from an authentic Italian feast. What a gift Elizabeth Minchilli has given us.

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