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San Francisco Top 10

Explore the season’s best within 10 minutes of  The St. Regis San Francisco. – By Tiffany Carboni

San Francisco, a city famous for its diverse cultural activities all year-round, offers even more excitement during the holidays. Though there isn’t any snow to mark the occasion, the flurry of liveliness makes the season festive and bright in its own West Coast way.

No matter how visitors choose to celebrate the holidays, they’re sure to find exactly what they’re seeking in San Francisco … Much of which is conveniently located within 10 minutes or less of The St. Regis San Francisco. With all the nearby offerings, it’s time to set the map aside and leisurely find holiday happiness in and around the hotel.

Celebrate With the Chef 

Romuald Feger, executive chef at The St. Regis San Francisco, understands the importance of family traditions, especially around the holidays. While the French expatriate can’t spend the entire season with his own extended family back in Alsace, he does enjoy bringing one of his favorite holiday customs to his restaurant guests: bredele.

Similar to what those in the U.S. would call a biscuit or small cake, bredele is a holiday staple in Feger’s native homeland that dates back countless generations. “Bredele is such a large part of my holiday memories,” he says. “In our society today, everything is so rushed. But when I was growing up in Alsace, life was slower and things were done to follow a certain cycle dictated either by the season or tradition. As a chef, the foods you cook tell a story. This is a way for me to tell my story, figuratively, to guests and give them a chance to slow things down and take in the holiday spirit, even if it’s just for a few moments over a cup of coffee.”

For Feger, the lifelong joy of bredele began with his grandmother baking up to 20 varieties starting in mid-November each year. The four Sundays preceding Christmas would have family members gathering in the afternoon for coffee, Glüewine (mulled wine) and of course bredele for the weekly candle-lighting ceremony. “The making and eating of bredele marks a really special time of the year for me,” Feger explains. “We kids knew that once my grandmother started baking her first batch, Christmas was close.”

The baking process would take the family about two weeks in order to complete the coveted desserts. The tasty treats are made from a combination of flour, sugar, eggs and special ingredients like spices and fruits. One of the reasons the process took so long was to allow for extra batches. “I’ll admit, I’m one of the biggest reasons my grandmother had to keep finding new hiding places for the bredele,” Feger says.

His favorite variety is anisbredele, which is made with green aniseeds. As a boy, Feger lived with his extended family on his grandparents’ farm. When his great aunt came over with a fresh batch of anisbredele, Feger and his grandfather would lock themselves is his grandfather’s bedroom until the cakes were all gone. “This could take a whole afternoon,” he says.

Today Feger happily shares his family’s tradition with Vitrine restaurant guests by serving three of his favorite varieties: anisbredele, cocosbredele (dried coconut) and basler leckerli (candied orange, lemon peel, almonds, ground cloves and cinnamon). Typically served with coffee at the end of the meal, these complimentary delicacies are Feger’s personal holiday gift to diners.

Sugar and Spice

During the busy season of holiday cheer, the St. Regis’ Remède Spa offers an oasis for self-pampering with its signature spa services that promise to delight the senses.

“The spa contains unique components that reflect the local flavors of the region, some as local as our own terrace garden,” says spa director Deborah Larsson. “The range of ingredients are hand-selected by our associates and used as treatments designed to bring our guests into a tranquil state of well being.”

The spa’s holiday menu provides an extra special experience thanks to an assortment of seasonal treatment options. The Sugar ‘n’ Spice Ritual leaves the skin radiant with the help of organic virgin coconut, plus avocado, sunflower and red mandarin essential oils combined in a sugar scrub. The hydrating “aphrodisia” body oil used next is a delight to the senses thanks to its blend of blood orange, sweet orange, mandarin, nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon essential oils in a base of organic sunflower, jojoba and grape seed oils. The soothing six-jet Vichy shower removes the scrub before the body is gently wrapped to keep fragrant essential oils close to the skin for further hydration. The 90-minute Sugar ‘n’ Spice Ritual wouldn’t be complete without a tasty selection of spice cookies and tea.

The Peppermint Pedi is the ultimate pedicure with a softening treatment that includes a minty scrub to exfoliate and coconut mint oil to massage, hydrate and perk up tired feet. Peppermint oil is focused on the acupressure points of the feet to restore balance and energy. Just as with the Sugar ‘n’ Spice Ritual, the 60-minute Peppermint Pedi is served with artisanal peppermint truffles and peppermint tea.

“Our spa associates offer the highest level of professionalism. All of our treatments have been customized by the therapists based on the feedback we’ve received over the years from guests,” Larsson says. “These holiday spa treatments are especially important to our associates who understand the demands our guests have during this busy time of year. Our job is to provide much-needed relaxation in inspired ways.” (415-284-4050)

A Spirited Holiday

Located less than five minutes away by car from The St. Regis San Francisco, the American Conservatory Theater presents Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 24. The holiday classic is a Bay Area winter tradition, providing audiences with a sparkling production that tells the timeless tale through music and the performances of the lively cast of dozens. (415-749-2228; act-sf.org)

Dancing Through the City

Over in nearby Civic Center, the historic War Memorial Opera House is home to the San Francisco Ballet’s world-class show, “The Nutcracker.” Adding its own San Francisco twist on the classic ballet, the company draws inspiration from local neighborhoods and landmarks. Take in dinner at one of the many nearby restaurants and then join Drosselmeyer, Clara and the rest of the colorful cast of dancers for one of the Bay Area’s most cherished, time-honored traditions. Performances of this special production of “The Nutcracker” run from Dec. 7 to 28. (415-865-2000; sfballet.org)

Artistic Expression

Across the street from the St. Regis, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts offers seasonal entertainment and visual arts that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Adults are invited to create their own choreography at the “Dance-Along Nutcracker” performance on Dec. 8 and 9, while everyone can delight in Smuin Ballet’s contemporary performance of “The Christmas Ballet” from Dec. 14 – 23. One of the Bay Area’s most beloved holiday traditions, however, is ODC Dance’s enchanting interpretation of Margery Williams’ classic children’s book, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” With performances through Dec. 9, “The Velveteen Rabbit” brings to life a timeless tale of love and imagination with creative choreography, engaging narration and an uplifting musical score. (415-978-2787; ybca.org)

Seasonal Satire

Just a six-minute drive up to the city’s lively Italian district called North Beach, “Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon” graces the stage at Club Fugazi as the world’s longest running musical revue in theater history. This hilarious Christmas version tells the tale of Snow White as she travels the world in search of Prince Charming, encountering a star-studded line-up of pop culture characters. The holiday show, featuring tap dancing trees and parodies of holiday songs, runs through Dec. 31. (415-421-4222; beachblanketbabylon.com)

Shop the Square

All the upscale retailers in nearby Union Square turn holiday window-shopping into an art form. Nearby department stores Gump’s and Macy’s, just a 10-minute walk from The St. Regis San Francisco, up the ante with mesmerizing, large-scale displays that have delighted folks of all ages for decades. This year Gump’s presents a “Nutcracker” theme that’s sure to impress, while Macy’s hosts its 26th annual SPCA dog and cat adoption fair to help find homes in time for the holidays for the Bay Area’s four-legged friends. (Gump’s, 415-982-1616. Macy’s, 415-397-3333; macys.com)

Sounds of Symphony

Just ten minutes by car from the St. Regis, guests and locals can get into the holiday spirit by way of festive concerts with the San Francisco Symphony, an organization that sets the standard in musical excellence around the world. From Dec. 10 to 12, join the renowned symphony and Grammy Award-winners Peabo Bryson, Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis Jr., James Ingram and Stephanie Mills at the Davies Symphony Hall for an evening of pop hits and Christmas favorites. Or, ring in the new year in lavish fashion with the New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball with the San Francisco Symphony, where shrouded guests in gowns and tuxedos create a seductively mysterious occasion combining music, masks and merriment. Partake in countless other seasonal events this winter with the San Francisco Symphony running throughout December and beyond. (415-864-6000; sfsymphony.org)

Take to the Ice

It may not snow in San Francisco, but there’s plenty of ice to go around thanks to two nearby ice rinks that pop up only for the holidays for 90-minute skating sessions. Take a 10-minute walk from the St. Regis to Union Square, where you can lace up a pair of skates and soak in the energy of the world-famous shopping district with its beautiful historic buildings and 80-foot fir tree adorned with an estimated 21,000 LED lights. (unionsquareicerink.com)

Hop in a car and ride about a mile east to Justin Herman Plaza, where the Embarcadero Ice Rink boasts itself as the Bay Area’s largest outdoor rink. With views of the plaza’s oversized fountain and historic Ferry Building, the rink is a popular holiday destination for people of all ages. (embarcaderocenter.com)

Sweet Treats

Spread holiday cheer with a sweet hostess gift from Yigit Pura’s Tout Sweet Pâtisserie, recently opened on the third floor of Macy’s just a short walk from the hotel. The Turkish native, who won the first season of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef Just Desserts,” returns to San Francisco where he began his formal culinary training. Using his worldly inspiration, Pura and his patisserie promise to help satisfy the sweet tooth of gift givers and receivers alike with French macarons, petits gâteaux (“small cakes”), verrines (layered parfaits) and a rotating menu of seasonal offerings. (415-385-1679; toutsweetsf.com)