MT Business Travel: Frequent Flyer

Adrian Cox's Guide to San Francisco

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

HOW TO GET THERE
I usually fly from Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic - I'm more successful at getting upgrades with Virgin than with BA. The plane arrives in San Francisco International after a 10-hour flight.

AIRPORT TO TOWN
A cab into the centre takes about 15 minutes and costs $25-$30. It can take longer in the rush hour. There's a monorail service between the airport and the car rental companies.

BEST HOTEL
I always stay at the Clift hotel (495 Geary Street, tel: 00 1 415 775 4700, www.morganshotelgroup.com). It's a modern boutique hotel, designed by Ian Schrager. It's central, close to the theatre district and so very buzzy, especially at the bar in the evenings. The service is good, particularly the concierge, who will always sort you out if you want to see a show. The hotel is close to Union Square, so it's great for designer label shopping.

BEST ROOM
Ask for a room that's high up, and with a view over the bay area. Otherwise, you could end up facing a concrete wall.

BEST BUSINESS RESTAURANT
I like Postrio (545 Post Street, tel: 415 776 7825). It does modern American food, with French waiters who don't hassle you. The entrance is part of a hotel and you enter by going down a steep staircase. Once you're in, it's full of modern art, including glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. If you want a discreet conversation, ask for a booth. If you like seafood, another good restaurant to try is Aqua, in SF's financial district (252 California Street, tel: 415 956 9662). The thing to be aware of in San Francisco is that people tend to eat very early. I've sat down to an evening meal at 6.15 before. It would be frowned upon if you arrived in a restaurant after 10pm, and bars tend to close early too.

BEST BARS
Suede (383 Bay Street) is good if you want to sit down and relax. The Lone Star Saloon (1354 Harrison Street) is always busy. Classically, people go back to their hotel bar for after-hours, although even that will close around 1 am.

A FEW HOURS TO KILL?
Alcatraz prison (San Francisco Bay, www.nps.gov/alcatraz/welcome.html) is worth a visit. It's one of the few places you can go to that makes you feel very uncomfortable. You reach Alcatraz by taking a ferry from Fisherman's Wharf, but I wouldn't recommend wandering around there - it's like Blackpool on acid, all kiss-me-quick and candyfloss. The Golden Gate Bridge is beautiful, and worth a trip to admire the view, although there's not much else to do once you're there. If you've got half a day to spare, try to go to Napa Valley. It's brilliant. It's also fun to travel around the city on a tram on an all-day ticket. You literally hang off the back of them as you go up SF's steep streets and you get to meet some great characters - especially the tram conductors who are full of stories.

BUSINESS ETIQUETTE
Californians dress casually. Even 'smart casual' doesn't exist. You don't need to wear a suit, and that goes for all industries, not just the dot.com sector. Chinos and a blazer would be considered very smart. Californians rarely eat late and they don't drink much. Two glasses of wine with a meal would be the maximum. And although Californians are laid-back, they are very business-focused. If you're at a meal, 90% of the conversation will be about work.

HIDDEN GEMS
Driving down Route 1 9, the coastal highway, is a fabulous thing to do if you can hire a car and you have the time. You can also do the trip on a bus, if that's what you prefer. I took a Mustang last time, which was fun.

SECRETS OF THE JET SET
San Francisco has its own micro climate, which means that even on a hot summer's day inland it can be misty and cold in the city. It's worth packing a jumper even if you're visiting in August. More generally, I'd recommend buying noise-cancelling headphones if you travel a lot. It reduces all the background noise, particularly on planes. They're quite expensive, but worth it.

- Adrian Cox is CEO of Ask Jeeves (UK).

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