9 Things to do in San Francisco
With eating and drinking our way through San Francisco being a top priority, we needed a way to burn off some of the calories we’d been consuming. In my opinion there is no better way to see a city than to simply walk it and luckily San Fran is a fantastic walking city. We spent three full days in San Francisco and walked 27 miles (thanks Fitbit!). Here are some of my favorite touristy highlights from our self-guided walking tour of San Francisco.
Ferry Building MarketplaceThe Ferry Building Marketplace reminded me a lot of the French Market in Chicago. There are a great variety of local San Francisco shops showcasing small regional producers of everything from mushrooms to cheese, ice cream and more. Several restaurants at the Ferry building offer patio seating with a great backdrop of the bay. I of course honed in on the local cheese shop Cowgirl Creamery, and tried out a creamy truffle-infused cheese.
The Mission Neighborhood Named for Mission Dolores founded in 1776, San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood has some of its hottest new restaurants and galleries, reminding me a bit of a mix of Pilsen, Logan Square and the West Loop in Chicago. We went to an amazing Argentinian restaurant one night called Lolinda where we feasted on shared plates of empanadas, ceviche, plantains, octopus and steak. In addition, we also tried La Taqueria declared to have America's Best Burrito by ESPN's FiveThirtyEightcom. We chose the winner, a riceless carnitas burrito filled to the brim with meat, beans, fresh tomato salsa, onions, cilantro, sour cream and cheese. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. Although the burrito was huge, it was so tasty Taste Tester #1 claimed he could have eaten another one by himself.
City Lights BookstoreInconspicuously nestled between bars, strip clubs and Italian restaurants in the North Beach neighborhood, City Lights Bookstore has been a literary meeting place since 1953. In 1955 owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti launched City Lights Publishers in order to feature the work of the Beat poets, who were having difficulty finding publishers for their unique style of thought and writing. Over the years, City Lights Pocket Poets Series introduced writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, and Jack Kerouac. Being a writer myself I loved being able to stand where these literary giants once stood. Plus I love the smell of a good old-fashioned bookstore!
Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood If you’re a hippie at heart you won’t want to miss stopping by arguably the birthplace of America’s counter-culture, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Although it’s still filled with many tie-dye filled head shops, it boasts several little hip cafes and restaurants. It’s pretty cool to be able to walk past the doors that Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Jimmy Hendrix and The Dead once lived behind.
Fisherman’s WharfFisherman’s Wharf is basically San Francisco’s more interesting version of Chicago’s Navy Pier. It’s filled with touristy restaurants like Bubba Gump’s Shrimp and Hard Rock Café and you’ll need to be aware of dive-bombing seagulls if you’re eating outside. But it’s a worthwhile destination for little ones as for a small fee, you can board and tour old ships docked in the water. Or if you’re an animal lover like me, head to Pier 39 where a whole pod of sea lions are located. Pier 39 is about a full mile walk from Ghirardelli Square.
The Tonga RoomOur first attempt to get to the Tonga Room tiki bar in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel was thwarted by a visit to San Francisco from President Obama who happened to be staying at the same hotel we were looking to get our fruity drink on. If I were the President and had my choice of posh places in a city with many, I would also go with the hotel that has an underground tiki bar complete with a floating stage in the middle of an old swimming pool. Determined to experience one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite San Francisco haunts we returned later that evening and persevered through metal detectors and being frisked by hotel security in order to claim our strong, umbrella-topped beverages. For our first drink we shared a lava bowl for two with both dark and 151 rum, fresh lemon and lime juices and local handmade orgeat. We also decided to try the Singapore Sling, which had Tanqueray, Cointreau, Cheery Heering, fresh lemon, pineapple juice, and angostura bitters with a Benedictine mist. It was the perfect destination for TT#1’s birthday beverage! Plus we felt a little special that the whole bar was under secret service surveillance.
Swan Oyster DepotWe couldn’t pass up another Anthony Bourdain recommendation or great west coast seafood so we made our way to the famous Swan Oyster Depot around 10:00am anticipating a long line for the 11:00am opening. Unfortunately we were just two people away from being in the first seating (bar stools only) and had to wait another half hour until customers from the first round started finishing. This did give me some time to take photos and soak up the ambiance of the whole shop. After being sat we didn’t waste any time ordering a cup of chowder, the crab cocktail, and a dozen oysters. Everything was so fresh you could almost taste the ocean in every bite. The oysters were perfectly briny and the crab sweet and plentiful. You can tell this is the kind of place where the employees take pride in their work, there were no shells to be found in the crab and each oyster was opened with care.
Golden Gate Park and the Beach ChaletNo trip to San Francisco would be complete without a drive through Golden Gate Park. The park is home to 1,017 acres of gardens, playgrounds, lakes, picnic groves, trails, and monuments, plus an array of cultural venues, events, and activities. Being an animal lover, we made sure to stop by the parks local bison paddock. Yes, Golden Gate Park has its very own herd of buffalo! Unfortunately they were pretty far away so we didn’t get a very close look. The Golden Gate Park is home to the botanical gardens, several museums, a golf course, archery fields and so much more! You could spend a whole week exploring the park and not see it all. Unfortunately we only had a few hours and settled on spending some outdoor time at the Beach Chalet at the western end of the park directly across from the beach. The 1925 Spanish Revival-style building hosts a full-service restaurant upstairs with great views of the ocean, and downstairs there is indoor and outdoor access to a bar and picnic area. Due to the gorgeous weather the Beach Chalet was packed and we were lucky score a table to hang out, drink some beer and people and dog watch.
The Buena Vista CaféAt the corner of Hyde and Beach Street sits a little bar/café known as the Buena Vista Café. This place was all my Mom could talk about when I told her I was going to San Francisco. My parents do a lot of traveling and usually have pretty good suggestions about where to visit. With that being said I had put the bar on the backburner of my personal “must do’s” and to be honest, I kind of wrote it off as one of my mom’s travel rants. But strangely enough on our second night in San Francisco TT#1 mentioned wanting to get a night cap at place near where we were staying, the Buena Vista Café! They actually are famous around town for having the best Irish coffee this side of Ireland, and the place was hopping upon our 12:00 am arrival! Because it was past midnight TT#1 and I both opted for decaf Irish coffees and they were absolutely delicious. Sweet, creamy and just enough sass from the whisky it was the exact nightcap we were looking for. After returning home, I later found out that it was at the Buena Vista that my Dad told his best friend that he was planning to propose to my Mom! I’m so happy I ended up visiting a little piece of Callahan history!
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