Heading to San Francisco?
Paul and I headed up to Nor Cal this past summer and had a blast exploring San Francisco on our way back from our trip to Napa. The last time I was in this fair city was during our Highway 1 road trip back in 2011, so it was great to be back and to have some quality time to properly explore San Francisco.
Where To Stay – I always recommend and stay at Hotel Vitale whenever I can. It’s right on the water and across the street from The Ferry Building (for great eats). The design is modern and warm with easy access to major tourist attractions.
Getting Around – I’ve been craving efficient public transportation and being able to walk everywhere since moving to LA. Getting around San Francisco is a breeze with an extensive bus, trolley and BART system to get you around. We often took the bus, walked and uber’d our way through the city.
We only took our car out when we were traveling further out of the core or if we planned to do a bunch of different things that were spread out. Do note that parking is almost $45/night in the city! Book a parking package with your hotel if you can.
Eat Local – The Ferry Building is usually my first stop. I like to get a cup of Blue Bottle Coffee, grab edible gifts at Miette Bakery and down a few oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co. Come hungry and eat your way through all the local artisan goods! Other favourites of mine include Cowgirl Creamery and a salami sampler from Boccalone Salumeria.
Go for Vietnamese Food – We opted for a seated lunch upon our arrival to SF and headed straight to The Slanted Door for their famous Vietnamese cuisine. I’ll be doing a full blog post soon about our experience here. But DO make reservations well in advance and you will have better luck securing a table during lunch service. The restaurant is also located inside The Ferry Building.
Try Indian-Hawaiian-Chinese Fusion Food – My parents are Chinese, but they were born and raised in India, so when a friend told me about the heritage-driven cuisine at Liholiho Yacht Club, I was totally on board. We had a great night working our way through their innovative small plates menu, that I will have a longer dedicated blog post about our experience up on the blog soon! But definitely put this place on your list.
Drink an Authentic Irish Coffee – Go for coffee at the historic Buena Vista Cafe where the Irish Coffee was perfected and introduced to the United States in 1952 – see this video I made. If the shot of Irish whiskey doesn’t wake you up, then a plate of their Crab Benedict most definitely will. The cafe serves all-day breakfast and is open until 2 AM for late-night eats, 7 days a week.
Visit a Fortune Cookie Factory – Head towards Chinatown and visit The Golden Gate Cookie Factory, a small shop in an alleyway that has been pumping out cookies since 1962! It’s free to visit, just make sure you tip the workers $1 for photos and grab some cookies to go.
Explore Chinatown – While you’re there, do set aside some time to wander the oldest and largest Chinatown in North America. Local favourites include Good Mong Kok Bakery for quick-serve dim sum and Great Eastern Restaurant.
Japantown – My past trips to San Francisco have always been so fast, that I’ve never had the chance to visit Japantown until now. Spend an afternoon here wandering thourgh all the Japanese shops and malls and plan dinner at one of the many restaurants in the district. We ended up at Udon Mugizo for a big bowl of handmade udon noodle soup.
The Nob Hill Masonic – We were in town to catch a concert and The Nob Hill Masonic Center did not disappoint with its fantastic accoustics and perfect views. I truly don’t think there’s a bad seat in the house and it’s an intimate venue to see some live music. Do check their calendar to see if any of your favourite bands are in town.
Grab a Drink – San Francisco knows how-to serve up a handcrafted cocktail. The best drinks we had all weekend was at a hidden away tiki bar called Smuggler’s Cove. There is no sign out front and the windows are black – just look for a bouncer on the street. They’ve won all sorts of rewards and have authentic recipes on their menu that are true to the original. It does get crowded, so go early!
One of my all-time favourite places in San Francisco is the Tonga Room, located in the basement level of Fairmont San Francisco hotel. This tiki-themed restaurant is built around the hotel’s old swimming pool and a band floats out on a boat and performs. A rain machine replicates a tropical storm in the restaurant. This place is not to be missed.
If you’re looking to take in the views of SF, Top of the Mark gives you a look at the city skyline over their extensive martini menu. Head to the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel and take the elevator to the top.
Play Mini-Golf. Prepare yourself for the BEST mini-putt round of your life. Urban Putt is a whimsical course designed by some very cool engineers. I was amazed and in awe at all the creativity and thought put into each hole. It’s nothing you’ve ever seen before and I don’t think I’ll ever mini-putt a better course ever again. This is the PEBBLE BEACH of mini-golf courses!!!
See The Palace of Fine Arts – We hopped in our car one morning and drove over to see The Palace of Fine Arts. This gorgeous structure was built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Expo and subsequently rebuilt and renovated. I recommend grabbing a coffee, finding some street parking and going for a nice morning walk around the lagoon.
Drive Down a Curvy Street – Since we were already in our car, we decided to drive down the very curvy Lombard Street with every other tourist in SF. Since the street was so incredibly steep, the city decided to make it a switchback road down to the bottom.
Fisherman’s Wharf – Last but not least, I do recommend taking some time to wander through the shops at Fisherman’s Wharf, visit the seafood counters and eat a bowl of chowder in sourdough bowl at Boudin nearby. Tucked away at the end of all the seafood counters is Musee Mecanique, a delightful arcade full of vintage games.
All in all we had a wonderful time in San Francisco and can’t wait for our next visit!
Do you have any favourite things to eat, see or do in SF? Any hidden gems to share?