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CITY PROFILE: BURLINGAME

 

Not without reason, Burlingame is often the first stop visitors make after their planes land at San Francisco International Airport, and their last stop before leaving. Those who follow this advice will ­enjoy one of the Peninsula’s most charming and diverse shopping and dining environments, ideal for grabbing a gift, stocking up on gourmet goodies for the flight home or savoring a last meal with friends or business associates.

This century-old city originally sprung up around the Burlingame Country Club, founded in 1893 as an opulent playground for San Francisco nabobs. The historic Burlingame Train Depot, a striking Mission-style structure built in 1894 to greet San Francisco’s elite in grand style on their weekend jaunts to the club, is still in use at the foot of Burlingame Avenue. (Ironically, when Burlingame’s boundaries were later redrawn, the club mysteriously migrated to Hillsborough, the city next door.)

Burlingame still draws the socially and economically elite, who flock here to browse, dine or simply enjoy an espresso or a slice of homemade cake with marzipan frosting from one of the exceptional bakeries. The crowds come not just from Peninsula and Silicon Valley cities, but also includes visitors staying at nearby Peninsula hotels. Their reward is a profusion of fun-to-browse local shops mixed with brand-name stores, along with myriad dining options ranging from casual cafes to sophisticated restaurants.

The downtown’s shops and restaurants are spread out along three or four blocks of Burlingame Avenue and its cross streets between California Drive and El Camino Real, while uptown’s Broadway offers its own distinctive mixture of smaller specialty shops and boutiques along with several popular restaurants. Both areas sit just west of Highway 101, across from the signature high-rise airport hotels that line Burlingame’s shoreline on San Francisco Bay.

Burlingame bills itself as the “City of Trees,” and if you cruise along the shaded streets of its residential areas west of El Camino Real, you’ll soon realize how it earned its nickname. The quiet neighborhoods—a colorful mosaic of historic California bungalows, tile-roofed Mediterraneans, English Tudors and even a few post-Victorian mansions—are graced with heritage trees of all types, from stately redwoods to oaks, cypress, maples and even Iberian cork trees.

The city also offers a variety of opportunities to stretch your legs. Because of its convenient proximity to several large hotels, the Bay Trail is a popular running and cycling route for visitors. This asphalt path meanders for more than two scenic miles along the waterfront, from the hotel district on Old Bayshore Road to the office complexes of Airport Boulevard. From the trail you’ll have a close-up view of jets landing and taking off at the airport, and you can glimpse the San Francisco skyline beyond.