As I mentioned before, I often felt like I was the last person to visit California – so this trip to San Francisco was long overdue. We were in San Fran at the beginning of our California trip, before Sonoma, and again in between Sonoma and Tahoe, yet it still didn’t feel like enough time to truly explore the city. I got a taste, but I will 100% have to make another trip back at some point (convincing me to go back out to California won’t be hard and luckily we have another trip out there in March 2019).
3 DAYS IN SAN FRANCISCO
All in all, we ended up with three full days in San Francisco, two of which were spent working remotely on East Coast hours, which meant that we got to soak up the coffee shop scene during the morning and early afternoon, but our exploring the city was relegated to the afternoon and evening. Adam has been to San Francisco several times before, so he was able to guide us away from the super touristy things while still making sure to hit the must-see spots.
HOW TO GET THERE AND WHEN TO GO
We flew Alaska Airlines out to San Francisco, which was my first time flying that carrier – I would 100% recommend. We had a comfortable and direct flight out Tuesday evening which, while delayed, still got us into San Francisco around 9 PM (isn’t it so great heading from East to West?). As soon as we got into the SFO airport, I noticed the Yoga Room in the terminal and thought to myself, “Yup, we’re now in California.”
San Francisco weather doesn’t vary much throughout the year, so while you ideally want to go during the summer for the warmest weather, winter won’t be that much different. You’re looking at highs around 60 in the winter, and around 70 in the summer. It’s always going to be wet, foggy, and a bit cool. As I noted in my California packing list post, prepare for the weather by bringing layers and you’ll be fine.
WHERE TO STAY
While in San Francisco, we stayed in two different neighborhoods. Both were walkable to restaurants, bars, and more. As long as you’re within walking distance of landmarks, you really can’t go wrong. For two nights, we stayed with friends in Nob Hill, which was perfect for a long stroll before exploring Chinatown and the Ferry Building. On our other night in San Fran, we had a fabulous stay at the Clift Hotel right near Union Square.
MUST SEE SAN FRANCISCO LANDMARKS
San Francisco has so many of those iconic images that you’re used to see in movies, pop culture, and art, so I’ll go over the ones that we were able to squeeze into our 3 days in San Francisco.
- Ferry Building Marketplace: If you’re looking for somewhere to sample a variety of vendors, including lots of food, and take in views of the bay, head to the Ferry Building.
- Painted Ladies: These are the houses (see above image) that everyone thinks of as the Full House houses since they were featured in the intro. The row of Victorian houses is one of them most photographed spots in the city, and that’s why they were featured in Full House – not because the family was presumed to live there!
- Mission Dolores Park: We grabbed some baked goods at Tartine, an iced coffee, and spent an afternoon soaking up the sun on a gorgeous 65 degree day. People and there dogs were out and about on this Wednesday, and I wondered if perhaps the work-life balance is just a bit different out west.
- Cable Car: Okay, okay, I had to ride the cable car. I mean it’s such a classic piece of San Francisco history, right?! It costs $7 to go in a straight line, one way, up a hill, but that’s basically what an uber would cost, right?
- Golden Gate Park: We spent a sunny afternoon wandering just a bit of the expansive Golden Gate Park, including the San Francisco Botanical Gardens and its redwoods (which is free on certain days, including the day we were there!). If you’re a runner, I’d imagine that would be an ideal way to take in the scenery, but, of course I’m not, so instead we just enjoyed what we could in a few hours.
- Japanese Tea Garden: Located in Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the entire United States. While we didn’t actually dine at the tea house there, we did spend some time strolling around the gardens and taking in the serene surroundings. I imagine this could be a place that gets overtaken by photo shoots, but it wasn’t bad while we were there.
- Golden Gate Bridge: And, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. The iconic landmark we all think of when someone mentions San Francisco. We actually had an unbelievable, if a bit windy, view of the Golden Gate Bridge when we ended up taking it in via convertible (hint: if the rental car company asks you if you want to “upgrade” to a convertible and keeps pressing the issue while lowering the daily “upgrade fee” with each offer, wait it out – it probably means they have nothing else in inventory and will have to give you the upgrade for the economy price that you already paid!).
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK IN SAN FRANCISCO
I’ve already said it, but it’s worth repeating, we didn’t have a bad meal while in California, and some of our best meals were in San Francisco. From a tasting menu splurge to trendy small plates to cozy coffee shops and no frills dim sum, we had amazing food at every price point.
- Liho Liho Yacht Club: This restaurant came highly recommended from several different people, and, honestly, I kept thinking, “A yacht club? Really?” Well, it’s actually a hip, Hawaiian spot with inventive dishes. Don’t miss the duck liver toast with jalapēno and pickled pineapple.
- Sons and Daughters: An excellent choice for a special meal out, we went to Sons and Daughters to celebrate Adam’s birthday the night after we arrived in San Fran. I thought it was one of the best tasting menus I’ve ever had and the ambiance, with a crackling wood-burning fireplace, was perfect for the cold, foggy evening. My mouth is watering just thinking about the squid ink hush puppies.
- Lolinda: If you like meat, you’ll love this Argentinian spot. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling great while we were here, but everyone else at the table raved about the food, so I felt that I had to include it. If I’d been up to my normal eating self, I would have been all about the tartare de carne, the maduro (this I actually did gobble up!), the humita, and, of course, all the steak.
- El Techo: Apparently there aren’t many rooftop bars in San Francisco, but this one is a winner. This spot in the Mission District is great for grabbing a margarita, some guac, maybe an empanada or two, and taking in the skyline before heading downstairs to Lolinda for dinner.
- Tartine: If it’s a nice day and you happen to have a sweet tooth, pick up a cookie, maybe a pie, and definitely an iced coffee, and take a short walk over to Mission Dolores Park for a lovely afternoon picnic.
- Native Twins Coffee: So, funny story, we parked ourselves in Native Twins Coffee in Lower Haight for several hours to work. But, it wasn’t until we’d been there for at least an hour that I realized the two women working were twins – and the place is called Native Twins – and, oh!, they must be the owners. My iced coffee was refreshing, but it was the sunflower butter toast with honey and strawberries that was a home run for me.
- City View Restaurant: This was my first true dim sum experience – and is there a better place to have that than Chinatown in San Francisco? My eyes were certainly bigger than my stomach as the cart came by again and again with delicious carb-laden Chinese goodies. If you’re going to stop by City View, you’ll definitely want to get there as soon as it opens to avoid the crowds.
- The Saratoga:We stopped in the Saratoga for a drink en route to Liho Liho Yacht Club for dinner, and were totally into the swanky vibe that would be perfect for a dimly lit late night date spot. According to the internet, this cocktail bar also has delicious food.
NEIGHBORHOODS TO EXPLORE
During my three days in San Francisco, we only barely dipped our toes in exploring the neighborhoods of the Golden Gate City. I know there’s so much more to explore, but here are a few of the neighborhoods that caught my attention as we knocked out our 20,000+ steps each day.
- Chinatown: This was our first stop as we set out on our first morning from our friend’s condo in Nob Hill. While we have a Chinatown in DC, it doesn’t compare to the one in San Fran – the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. I quickly realized I had never had authentic dim sum and now my life is forever changed – and I’m also now craving buns.
- Haight-Ashbury: Our reasons for visiting Haight-Ashbury were two fold. First, Adam thought I’d like the artsy vibe. Second, I knew this had been Janis Joplin’s home while in San Francisco, and for anyone that doesn’t know, I’ve been a huge fan of Janis Joplin since a brief hippie stage in high school. Well, I wouldn’t say I loved Haight (it’s definitely dirty and doesn’t smell fantastic), but it’s great for some vintage shopping and Lower Haight had several cozy coffee shops and hip restaurants.
- Hayes Valley: So, Hayes Valley is one of those neighborhoods that’s too hip for its own eclectic good. But, that means it has great (over-priced) shopping, pop-up food trucks housed in Airstreams, and the like. And I’m totally a sucker for this vibe. You could walk around its street for hours, popping in industrial-hipster-chic shops and grabbing matcha lattes when you get thirsty.
- Mission District: A gritty neighborhood with amazing food and my favorite park from our visit, Mission Dolores Park, Mission District is an old-school melting pot of cuisine, people, and walks of life. We ended up here twice throughout our stay, once for an afternoon snack at Tartine and walk to the park, and the other for a night out at El Techo and Lolinda.
WHAT’S ON MY AGENDA FOR NEXT TIME
So, what’s on my agenda for my next trip to San Francisco? A few of the tourist spots that everyone should see – Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square, and the Palace of Fine Arts – are on my list. Adam wanted me to get a more “hip” view of San Francisco, but I would like to at least knock off these iconic landmarks that everyone should at least see on a trip to the Bay area.
I also want to spend a bit more time exploring Sausalito, right across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. We stopped for breakfast at the Lighthouse Café and strolled down to the water for just a few minutes before hitting the road to Sonoma, but I would love to have an entire afternoon to wander this adorable town of shops, restaurants, unbelievable views, and absurdly priced real estate.
What are you must-do’s for San Francisco? I know so many of you have been there, so what do you think I should add to my list for next time I find myself out in California?
It looks like you had the best time in SF – it really is such a great town! I would love to spend time in Sausalito next time I get back to the city by the Bay, too!