Miniature golf and alcohol, together at last. New lights on the Ferry Building. Fire pits and picnickers on the Presidio's parade lawn. Screaming scarlet walls on Nob Hill. A clamorous neo-Hawaiian feast on Sutter Street and a muted neo-Mexican repast in the Mission District. These things are happening in San Francisco. I found them, and a few other recent changes, on a recent trip. Here's the lowdown.
The Presidio, which covers 1,491 acres that begin at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, has experienced several upgrades since the National Park Service took over the historic property from the Army in 1994. In an April-through-October custom that began in 2014, the Presidio's grassy parade ground comes alive from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays with Twilight at the Presidio, when hundreds of picnickers queue up at food trucks and a pop-up bar, huddle near cabanas and temporary fire pits and listen to live music. Cost of a fire pit with eight chairs for the night: $150. Or you could wear a parka and flop on the grass. And if you arrive on PresidiGo bus (www.lat.ms/1BbBAZZ) from the Embarcadero area, the ride is free. If Thursday doesn't work, there's Picnic at the Presidio every Sunday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
While you're in the Presidio, have a look at the old Officers' Club, which reopened in October after renovation. The historic building features museum-quality exhibits on the site's history, especially the Spanish colonial years of the late 18th century. Consider a stay at the Inn at the Presidio (another historic building, reopened as a hotel in 2012). Grab a bite at Arguello (at the club) or the Commissary (a short stroll), both opened in the last year. As you're prowling the territory, keep an eye out for the sly, nature-based works of artist Andy Goldsworthy, who has made four site-specific pieces in the Presidio since 2008. (The most recent, Earth Wall, is just behind the Officers Club and Arguello restaurant.)
The Scarlet Huntington, 1075 California St., better known as the Huntington Hotel until a change of ownership and name in 2014, has long been a Nob Hill lodging with great snob appeal. Grace Cathedral looms across the street, and the hotel's restaurant, the Big 4, pays homage to the 19th century railroad titans who built their mansions atop Nob Hill. Now you'll see a splash of, yes, scarlet on this hotel's lobby walls and couches, and a whole rainbow of colors on pillows in the bedrooms. When I checked rates, rooms for two began at $300 a night. The new look felt a bit Vegas to me (except for the unchanged Big 4).
Info: (415) 474-5400, http://www.lat.ms/1JKFNXQ
The attractive Hotel G now does business where the Hotel Frank once stood at 386 Geary St. near Union Square. It's neighbored by new restaurant Three 9 Eight Brasserie. Both opened in 2014. The G's rooms are subdued but stylish, with a great use of space and light in the bathrooms I saw. Most units have wood floors. When I checked, rooms for two in mid-June were about $250 and up. In the brasserie, columns and walls have been roughed up to look like ruins, and someone has scrawled provocative city quotes high on the wall. Apparently John Steinbeck said, "San Francisco is a golden handcuff with the key thrown away," and John Lennon said, "Los Angeles? That's just a big parking lot where you buy a hamburger for the trip to San Francisco."
Info: (844) 986-8017, http://www.hotelgsanfrancisco.com
For years, the most commanding hotel-room views in the city have been from the guest rooms of the upscale but almost invisible Mandarin Oriental, occupying the 38th to 48th floors of a Financial District skyscraper at 222 Sansome St. Through the big picture windows, you get a panorama of the TransAmerica building, Alcatraz, Coit Tower, the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Then early this year, Loews swept in and bought the place. Now the hotel is called Loews Regency San Francisco. Neither the views nor the rates have changed appreciably (they start about $430 a night). And the rooms (subdued and beige) are still outfitted with binoculars in case you want to do your sightseeing without standing up.
Info: (844) 271-6289, http://www.lat.ms/1QtCckF
There are more hotel changes afoot in Fisherman's Wharf, where the 361-room Radisson on Beach Street has become the Zephyr, with snazzier rooms aimed at younger, more prosperous guests who want to be close to the bay. (There's a lot of red, white and blue in the new design, and a magnetic dartboard in every room.) The hotel is still largely surrounded by the T-shirt shops and oddity museums that have gobbled up the wharf. Doubles from $310 a night.
Info: (844) 617-6555, http://www.hotelzephyrsf.com
Hungry? BDK Restaurant & Bar, another casual eating option near Union Square, opened in March adjoining the Hotel Monaco at 501 Geary St. The site used to be the Grand Café. The dining room, much-renovated since then, has high ceilings and black-and-white tile floors, and the staff lays out four newspapers for your breakfast-time perusal. (The initials BDK are a nod to the late Bill Kimpton, a pioneer in the boutique hotel trade.)
The Mission District's Californios, barely identifiable as a restaurant from its 22nd Street façade, is a bold, rigorous experiment: a Mexican fine-dining establishment in a longtime Mexican neighborhood known for grit and zest. The hushed restaurant, which opened in January, seats about 25 at tables and seven or eight at the bar, and there's no real menu. You submit to chef Val M. Cantu's wishes, and for $75 you get 11 small-plate courses of remarkable food: peas, grits, egg yolk, halibut, seaweed, sourdough tortillas, fennel, at least three kinds of potatoes. The chefs use tweezers a lot. It was a bit precious, but it was also the best meal I've had in months.
Across the street from Californios is Urban Putt (1096 S. Van Ness Ave.), which just celebrated a year of mini-golf, booze and food. In the bar's rooms and hallways, owner and chief greenskeeper Steve Fox has arranged 14 eccentric holes (there wasn't enough room for 18), many of which are more interactive art than tests of athletic prowess. (Cost of a round of golf is $12 for everybody age 13 and older, $8 for kids 6-11, free for the younger ones.) There are holograms and an homage to Jules Verne. Kids are welcome in the golf area until 8 p.m., when the minimum age becomes 21. Upstairs there's a pleasant, pubby restaurant serving California comfort cuisine (and poutine, for some reason). Next time my family is with me and the hour is right, I'm steering us to Van Ness and 22nd Street.
Liholiho Yacht Club, a playground of Pacific cuisines, opened in January at 871 Sutter St. The dining room is deep and narrow, the kitchen is wide and open, and the floor is a modernist pattern of blue and white, with tiles spelling "ALOHA." The night I visited, a tuna poke dish (very Hawaiian) shared the menu with beef tongue, lamb ribs and marinated squid. I sat at the bar and chose the ribs. Tremendous.
The Market, just downstairs from Twitter's headquarters at 1355 Market St., is a burst of affluence on the long-troubled middle stretch of Market Street near the Civic Center. The core is a way-upscale grocery store (Spanish ham, $27 a pound; French cheese, $20 a pound) with eateries around its perimeter — a tapas bar, taqueria, coffee merchant, wine shop, juice vendor, pizzeria, sushi and oyster bar — everything you wish you had in the building at your job but don't. The Market opened in January (except for the restaurant and bar Dirty Water, to open this month) and seems to be making peace with its neighborhood. I arrived around 4:30 p.m. and saw three security personnel before I spotted a customer, but the servers and security were friendly and adept. And my $3.75 carne asada taco was tasty.
The Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street dates to the 1890s. But through Dec. 4, its clock tower is devoted to 1915. Since early March, a string of lights has spelled out that date, paying homage to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition the city staged that year. Because that expo signaled the city's re-emergence after the quake and fires of 1906, there's a lot of expo nostalgia in its centennial year, including an image-rich exhibition, "City Rising," at the California Historical Society (678 Mission St., http://www.californiahistoricalsociety.org, through Jan. 3).
The Museum of the African Diaspora at 685 Mission St. was born in 2005, then born again in December after a six-month makeover. Through Oct. 11, it's showing "Portraits and Other Likenesses," a collection of about 50 works borrowed from the nearby San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (which is closed for expansion until 2016). It's a fascinating show.