Jun 21, 2013

San Francisco Favorites

San Francisco was honestly the trip of a lifetime for me. I loved absolutely every moment of it, except maybe all the tourists (myself excluded of course). We were gone from roughly 8am to 10pm every single day and even with jam packed days, I still feel like we missed so much. We spent about a year planning our trip to celebrate my sister's college graduation and in that time we learned a lot of tips that made our trip a lot smoother. While I can't give you pointers from a local's POV, I'll give you the vistor's view and some of the places and things we absolutely loved. Consider me your travel guide for the rest of this post.

Places to Eat:

Hollywood Cafe: We had the most amazing breakfast here and went a few times. I could eat their bacon and egg bagel every morning and never grow tired of it. We also shared the fresh fruit plate sans any melon and that was absolutely amazing too. I don't think I've ever had such fresh fruit in my life. If you can't finish large portions or want to try it all, you can definitely share. My mom and I shared the bagel sandwich and the fruit plate one morning and both of us had more than enough to eat. Tip- get there before 9am or you're gonna be waiting in a pretty long line. If you see people standing in a line on the curb, go in and put your name on the list and if you want to be seated quicker, tell them first available on your seating preference.
Boudin Bakery: Sourdough french toast. Need I say more? Just like the cafe, go early. The later it gets, the longer the wait and there aren't that many tables available, especially inside where it's warm.
Fisherman's Wharf Street Vendors: You have to order food from the street vendors at the wharf while you're in S.F. I couldn't get past the fresh Dungeness Crab Cocktail, but all of the food looked amazing. Tip- get a large dungeness crab cocktail, then walk over to Boudin Bakery and get a small loaf of sourdough bread and a drink, then sit out on their patio seating by the huge fireplace (if you can get it) and enjoy. Better than standing on the street trying to balance food and eat.
Buena Vista: Famous for being the first to serve Irish coffee, definitely put it on your list of places to get to. The restaurant's interior is also famous for being the opening scene in "When a Man Loves a Woman" with Meg Ryan. Their Buena Vista burger and sweet potato fries are a need not a want.
Pier Market: I'm not going to lie. We ate here three times on our trip because the food was that good and I can tell you the consistency of the food is amazing too (remember, three times). Each time I ordered the teriyaki salmon with a side mixed greens salad and all the sourdough bread you can eat. If you go, you have to order the salmon. You'll thank me when you're done. Also, their Dungeness crab cocktail is fantastic. You can get it to share as an appetizer or pile it on top of the sourdough bread and make a meal out of it.
Lou's Fish Shack: I can only vouch for their dungeness crab bisque in a bread bowl, but I had to get their twice because once just wasn't enough.
Peet's Coffee and Tea: This is an extra; if you like Starbucks, you will love Peet's. Take my word for it.
Ghiradelli: Another S.F. staple. You can't go and not taste some chocolate or enjoy a fudge sundae with a window view of Alcatraz.

Things to Do:
Alcatraz: You definitely want to buy tickets online and far in advance for Alcatraz. Most days sell out, so don't try to walk up to the ticket box and purchase tickets for the day of. Also, plan to go mid-week. The weekends are swamped with people from what we've heard and can make the self-guided audio tour difficult. The tour leaves from Pier 33, so we picked up the streetcar on Jones Street since we stayed down by Fisherman's Wharf and rode it all the way to the stop at Pier 33; much easier than walking the whole way. Make sure to eat something before you go and pack a snack or drink because there's nothing once you get to the island. Also, plan to be on "the rock" for at least 2 1/2 hours at minimum. They also added a night tour, which we are planning on doing our next trip.
Pier 39: This is where the sea lions can be found. The pier itself is nothing more than a souvenir mecca, but if you walk all the way down the left side behind the buildings, follow the barking and you will find the sea lions. We must have visited them at least three times during the week and probably have close to 700 pictures. You can literally watch them for hours and never grow tired of watching them. They were most playful in the afternoons, but the crowd wanes around dinner time.
Cable Car & Streetcar: The cable car is the epitome of "touristy", but you have to ride it while you're there. This is another thing you'll want to go early to do. Like before 9:30am early. Otherwise, the line grows to be about 2 hours at times during the afternoon. I would highly recommend the Hyde & Powell line. You can pick it up on Hyde Street, which is where The Buena Vista Cafe sits and ride it all the way to the Financial District. The streetcars are another must. We used the F-line the most, which runs along the Embarcadero all the way to the Castro District, but we never took it farther than the Financial District (just a tip). Tip- The great thing about S.F. is all the public transportation. Don't let the stigma of public transporation ruin your opinion. Everyone uses it in S.F. and there are several options. They have the Muni (buses), the Cable Cars, Streetcars and the BART (subway system). I highly recommend purchasing a multi-day pass if you're there for several days. It works on all modes of public transportation, which everything is $2 except the cable car; those tickets are $6 and only valid one-way.
Bay Bridge Lights: The lights turn on around 8pm every night and run until 2am. No show is ever the same and I believe they said the light show is running until 2014, but I can't remember. Anyway, the Ferry Building is a great place to see the lights.
Aquatic Park: This is located near the Hyde Street Pier. It's a little beach area where you can just sit and enjoy a break from the day. Oh, and watch several swimmers take on the freezing cold temps of the bay. This is a great place to stick your toes in the bay and cross it off your bucket list.
Financial District: Known for it's shopping and also where the mall is located. Everything you could want is here. The Michael Kors in the mall had the absolute best customer service we experienced on our trip.
Union Street Shopping: Another great location for shopping. You'll want to check out the Alex and Ani store while you're here.
Crissy Field: Famous as the backdrop for the soccer game scene in Mrs. Doubtfire and offers one of the best up close views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fort Point: This fort actually sits underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and provides some awesome views of the Bay as well.
Lombard Street: Misnamed the steepest street in the city, but it's actually the crookedest street in the city. Everyone drives the street when they visit S.F. If you take Hyde street up from the Cable Car depot, you'll eventually come to Lombard Street on your left. Once you get to the bottom of all the switchbacks, you can usually find street parking and can walk back and take all the pictures you want. Make sure to look out over the city too. You'll get a great view of the Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge.
Chinatown: While the touristy Chinatown is a necessary visit, you'll also want to visit the real Chinatown, which sits on Stockton Street, past the North Beach District. Peek down all the alleys to find a local secret. I would mention it on the blog, but they go to such great lengths to protect it's secret that I'd hate to broadcast it to the world. If you're making a trip though, email me and I'll give you some details.
Hyde Street Pier: While you're here, tour the small little house boats. It's crazy to think people purchased barges and build houses on top of them.
Fort Mason Municipal Pier: We stumbled upon this accidentally, but offered some great views of Ghiradelli Square, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge etc.
Ghiradelli Square: Make sure to stop in Elizabeth W. and shop all local, handmade items from S.F. I picked up a really cute typewriter notecard that I have framed on my bookshelf and some S.F. hangtags.
Presidio: Location of the old officer housing for the fort.
Pacific Coast Highway: I highly recommend renting a car for the day and driving south on Pacific Coast Highway toward Monterey and Carmel. We rented a car on a Tuesday, took it up to Lombard Street first thing, so we could drive down it before it became a parking lot, which we've heard happens later in the day. Then, we headed out to the P.C.H. The views are absolutely breath-taking. The first stop we made was Pacifica Beach. You can't miss the parking lot. It's shared with a Taco Bell. Another great stop is the Gray Whale Cove State Beach and comes a little bit after Pacifica Beach. The parking is on the left side of the road, but if you walk back a couple hundred feet on the road and cross over, there is a steep, trail/road that leads to the cliff view of Gray Whale Cove.
Movie Tour: I highly recommend this San Francisco Movie Tour. The tour guide was fantastic. We saw everything from the house used in Mrs. Doubtfire to the Painted Ladies used in the opening credits of Full House. They show something like 70 clips from 60 different movies in 3 hours and you make four stops. City Hall, Alamo Square, The Doubtfire House* and Fort Point. (*This stop sometimes changes I believe, but you do always see the house)
Wine Tour: With Napa and Sonoma so close to the city, we knew we had to make a day of it and visit some of the wineries. While you could make it a 2 day trip and rent a car to get out of the city, we decided we only wanted to make a day trip and didn't want to drive ourselves. So, we found this Wine Country Tour and we just did the "Napa Experience Tour", which the only difference from the other tour is that it doesn't stop at the Robert Mondavi winery. I would highly recommend this tour for first timers who just want to get a lay of the land and have someone drive you around to the wineries. We made four stops and our group was only 20 people total for the day. The V. Sattui winery was my favorite location and favorite wine. They only sell their wine on the premise or online, so of course I brought a bottle home. The tour provided a fantastic picnic lunch once we arrived at Andretti Winery. Tons of deli meats, cheeses and bread to make sandwiches accompanied by fresh fruit and water or a glass of wine. One thing to keep in mind, tasting costs are not included in the ticket purchase. Each winery charges $10 for the tastings and it ranges from 4-6 tastings at each location.
City Tour: Another very touristy thing we did was the Double Decker Bus city tour. We chose this city tour company because it had more stops and went across the Golden Gate Bridge. You'd think with all the tours we did that we'd start to see the same things over again, but each tour had their own locations they highlighted for different reasons. The views are the best from the open top of the bus; no obstructions blocking your view or pictures, but it is very cold going across the bridge, so definitely have a jacket on hand.

We chose to stay at the Holiday Inn at Fisherman's Wharf. It was centrally located to everything including public transportation stops. We were able to walk to the rental car location, which sat on Beach St. (runs right behind the hotel), we walked to Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square, the Hyde & Powell Cable car, the Buena Vista etc. The hotel has a concierge, which is great for directions and which public transportation route to take. They'll lock your bags away if you have a later flight and aren't ready to leave the city when you check out.

I would highly recommend moving hotels the last night of your stay, so you're closer to the airport. We heard the traffic could be a nightmare in the mornings; upwards of an hour or more to get from downtown to San Francisco International. We had a town car take us from the Holiday Inn to one that was 2 miles from the airport, which made the morning of our flight a breeze.

Wow, that was a lot of information! Email me if there's something I didn't cover in this extremely long post.

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