I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the City by the Bay numerous occasions and most recently visited my brother and sister-in-law over Easter weekend. As Rudyard Kipling said, “San Francisco only has one drawback: ‘tis hard to leave.” I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more, especially after I experienced a more local guide to the city, which I am happy to share with you all today.
San Francisco is an amazingly eclectic city with a rich history. From the infamous hills to the gorgeous bay, San Francisco is one of the top tourist destinations in the United States. Only 49 square miles, San Francisco has a myriad of neighborhoods that each have their own distinct personalities. From the hipster vibes in the Mission to the financial Union Square to the spirited Castro, San Francisco has become a destination for foodies, artists and fitness enthusiasts.
Biking the Golden Gate Bridge
Possibly the best way to see the Golden Gate Bridge is to bike right over it! There are numerous tourist bike companies, such as Blazing Saddles, conveniently located at Fisherman’s Wharf where you can rent a bike for the day or attend a tour. If you want a better quality bike to help navigate the hills, check out Bike Connection – these guys know everything!
I would recommend going out on your own as the bike paths from the Wharf to the Bridge are fairly simple to navigate. We took our bikes in the morning and headed over the bridge to Sausalito, the first town you hit. I fell in love with the quaint, almost beach-like town quality of Sausalito and is worth a stop for lunch. We enjoyed Bar Bocce where we had some delicious pizza and sangria on the beach. If you are feeling adventurous, you can continue on to Tiburon. Both towns offer ferry rides back to the Wharf if you don’t feel like riding back – but be forewarned, they fill up fast on weekends so be sure to give yourself time.
The infamous prison is located just 1.25 miles offshore. The tour is fascinating, explaining the history of the location as well as some of the legends of escape attempts. There are numerous tours that you can book depending on how long you want to spend and again, be sure to do this in advance as tickets often sell out weeks in advance. Check out all tour options here.
Walk the Neighborhoods
As much as possible, I would stroll through the streets, crossing from one neighborhood to the next to explore them all. Or catch an infamous cable car ride to get around for just $6 a pop!
- Pacific Heights is the neighborhood I would most want to live in if I were in SF with breathtaking views and great shops and restaurants along Fillmore Street.
- Be sure to stop at Alamo Square Park where you will find the Painted Ladies row of Victorian houses. For you Full House fans, this actually isn’t where the house is located although the opening credits make it seem so!
- The Mission District is so distinct with a Latin vibe and one of the best places to grab a cheap bite. Check out Dolores Park for some great views of the city.
- San Francisco has the oldest and second largest Chinatown in North America and is a protected historic district.
- Russian Hill has the “crookedest street in the world” on Lombard Street that offers some nice photographs at the top.
- While Fisherman’s Wharf is a bit too touristy for my taste, I couldn’t pass up seeing the sea lions on Pier 39!
Golden Gate Park
Over 1,000 acres, Golden Gate Park is the most famous in the city with numerous museums, gardens and events (including the Outside Lands music festival). Be sure to visit the Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden, then take in a pedal boat ride at Stow Lake. Visit the California Academy of Science museum, one of the largest natural history museums. If you continue west, you will reach the Beach Chalet restaurant steps from the Pacific Ocean. There are tours offered but a nice walk or bike ride is preferred.
Additional, if time permits:
- Palace of Fine Arts: The terra-cotta dome structure that is in every SF wedding photo
- Twin Peaks: Drive up here for sweeping views of the city
Eats & Drinks
There really is no way to pair down this list as San Francisco has become one of the best foodie destinations. Including some places I visited on my last trip:
The Ferry Building offers an unrivaled marketplace on the Embarcadero. Mainly a food hall, the Ferry Building also houses a farmers market every Tuesday and Saturday.
Located just off Alamo Square, The Mill is a temple to toast with bread baked fresh daily. A great place to stop in for breakfast and a coffee.
Probably the most well-known burrito joint, La Taqueria in the Mission is a no-frills restaurant that opened in the 70s.
An amazing bakery in the Mission, you will need to get to Tartine before they open to avoid lines.
Foreign Cinema is a dining experience, with the restaurant a converted old movie theater that shows foreign films each night with delicious Mediterranean fare. The bar adjoining, Laszlo, is a great place for a pre or post cocktail.
If you find yourself heading to a Giants game or are in the area of AT&T Park, be sure to check out Lord George. They have great specials and keep a great Prohibition-era vibe where they aim to treat everyone as “Lords and Ladies.” They often host guest mixologists and have some of the best cocktails in town.
While I fortunately have a family member to stay with, I have also stayed in the Westin in Union Square. The hotel is definitely in the center of it all and is a convenient location for a visit. The lobby is breathtaking.
Stay tuned for Thursday’s post where I break down the 3 vineyards we visited on this most recent trip in Sonoma!
Have you ever been to San Francisco? What was your favorite part? Did I miss anything?
I’d love to hear from you!
xx Jet Set Steph