TOP FIVE FOR SAN FRANCISCO
- Walk – anywhere and everywhere. This is one of the most walker-friendly cities I’ve ever been, and it’s a great way to see the sites.
- Visit the sea lions basking on Pier 39, and of course, stop by Ghiradelli Square & Fisherman’s Wharf on the way.
- Spend an evening in the Castro district, dancing the night away at one of the many rainbow-friendly bars/clubs.
- Visit Alcatraz prison
- Take a trolley car ride . . . because you have to 🙂
- Taco Bar – a tiny little gem in Japan Town – delicious & cheap tacos, salads, and margaritas, and to-die-for homemade chips & salsa.
- The Wine Jar – just down the road from Taco Bar, this cute little wine bar offers weekly Tuesday night wine tastings and an extensive wine list.
- Cha Cha Cha- Cuban food & fun in the mission district
- Hog & Rocks- upscale & unique fare with a friendly atmosphere and fantastic service.
- BREAKFAST: Brenda’s French Soul Food, La Boulange
I’ve been lucky enough to get to San Francisco twice, once in January and once in July. Surprisingly, my January experience was much warmer & sunnier, however I fell in love with the city during both visits 🙂 My first visit was spent at Hotel Kabuki – a fantastic little boutique hotel in Japantown, and with three of us sharing a spacious room the price was very reasonable. My second visit, my friend and I gambled and used Hotwire- which if you’ve never tried is a great tool for last minute hotel deals. Although you can’t see the name of the hotel before you book, you do get to see its amenities, star rating, area of town, and customer rating based on past experiences. I’ve booked ~5 Hotwire hotels and all were as good or better than expected. This case was no different; right in the action of downtown, with nothing special in terms of amenities but had everything necessary.
Four days in San Fran
DAY 1: For breakfast, I highly recommend Brenda’s French Soul Food– an Urbanspoon recommendation, and voted the best Cajun/Creole in the Bay Area in a 2012 review. The restaurant is beautifully designed- open and bright with sleek counters and funky paintings on the walls. The classic Two Eggs Any Style, served with potato hash or grits, and toast or a cream biscuit, is huge and delicious. The Granny Smith beignets are roughly the size of an infant’s head but devilishly good. Bring your appetite!
After breakfast, marching around the city can be done independently, however I also recommend one of the many free walking tours offered, starting from a variety of locations with a variety of themes. We tried “Billionaire’s homes”- as the name suggests it was a tour of the priciest neighborhoods in San Fran, and a who’s who of the most prestigious locals and a few world famous celebs thrown in as well. Highly entertaining and informative.
Next you can make your way around the waterfront, stopping at Ghirardelli square, Fisherman’s Wharf, the sea lions at Pier 39, and poking heads in various shops along the way. For dinner, try venturing to the Mission district. Here is where you will find authentic Mexican fare (including the famed Mission-style burritos), however we tried Cha Cha Cha, a Cuban restaurant, and Hog & Rocks, both Urbanspoon recommendation. Cha Cha Cha is a hopping funky hotspot with a great atmosphere and food to match. Tropical flavors and refreshing drinks will warm you from the inside after a day of walking in the (often) windy and chilly San Francisco weather. Hog & Rocks, much smaller, upscale, and catering to a totally different crowd, is fantastic. This restaurant, as the name cleverly implies, is a ham, oyster, and whisky bar. Many other delicious items are on offer as well. We ordered a drink at the bar waiting for a spot to open up, and eventually were seated at the communal table across from a lovely couple. We started chatting with them over appetizers and ending up spending the next 3 hours laughing and getting to know each other. In terms of food, it was buck a shuck oyster night, so we of course ordered a plate of those. We also got the Tumalo Farms “Fenacho”- goat gouda with fenugreek, apricot-habanero jam, salted almonds, and flatbread. It was the best combination of good things. We also tried the stuffed piquillo peppers, which were filled with salt cod and accompanied by sweet corn puree and salsa verde. We both agreed we could have eaten bowls of the sweet corn puree on its own. Everything was totally unique and delicious.
For a funky bar around the corner, try the aptly named “Elbo Room”. While it was not busy enough on a Sunday for elbow room to be a problem, they had great margaritas and it was the ideal place to meet some local people.
DAY 2: If you’re up for another day of walking, the Haight/Ashbury district and the Castro district are the place to be for making some “out-there” new friends and experiencing life in the hippie lane. Haight/Ashbury is full of funky shops, and you’ll be sure to find some unique souvenirs here. The general atmosphere of this neighborhood conjured up that famous lyric “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”. Nowhere else in the city is that song so applicable! Numerous coffee shops and pubs allow you to while away the afternoon in a lazy fashion, if you’re so inclined.
Next up – The Castro. This district certainly lives up to it’s reputation of being gay-friendly, loud & proud. We had a great time here, meeting incredibly friendly people everywhere and having some damn good martinis at a bar, made by a rather good-looking tanned and waxed bartender in a fishnet shirt. It all added to the ambiance 🙂 If you’re up for trying out one of the many dance clubs here, I guarantee you will have a fun night!
DAY 3: Try one of the many La Boulange locations spread about the city – while I normally like to avoid chains this one offers exceptional service, beautiful decor, and delicious breakfast choices, both hot & cold, small & large. After breakfast, hop on a trolley car for the quintessential San Francisco experience – while I can’t say this was as “exciting” as I thought it might be, it is unique to the city. If you get off at the Embarcadero, it’s a pleasant stroll to the San Fran Museum of Modern Art, housing a really interesting collection of pieces.
Back in Japantown, Taco Bar is a great choice for a casual and inexpensive dinner. They have killer homemade chips & salsa and a great variety of tacos & snacks – I recommend the Jicama Ensalada & Baja Pescado tacos. A short walk away is the Fillmore Auditorium, generally showcasing local musicians and bands.
DAY 4: A must see in San Francisco, which ironically I still haven’t been to (sold out BOTH times I’ve visited!) is Alcatraz prison. Everyone I know who has been has highly recommended it. But clearly, you need to book tickets in advance.
Overall, I can’t recommend San Francisco enough. An incredibly diverse city with something for everyone, I could spend weeks there just taking it all in. As a complimentary side trip, check out Sonoma for some beach time and wine tasting – more here.