I was recently asked by a good friend for recommendations on what to do while she was in San Diego. Then I was asked by another friend for recommendations on what to do in San Francisco. Thus spawned this series, Live It In A Day. When recommending places, I often think about trying to give someone a true feel for the place. I am aware that time is usually a factor. I also know that impressions of an entire city, state, country can stem from just one day with those limited interactions. I was fortunate enough to do a lot of cruising with my family while growing up and thus my impression of entire countries is based on the few interactions and locations of one day. Since I have been fortunate to live in five different cities for long enough to be called a local and have traveled to many more in whirlwind style, I thought it would be fun to bring you the following segment: Live It In a Day. Enjoy!
This may sound silly, but if you only have one day in San Francisco and you could only do one thing in that whole day...you have to go to a Giants game! Seriously! You get to see the bay, the bridge, you can do some of the best people watching, you can eat some of the best food from one of the greatest foodie cities, and see the 2010/2012 World Champion team! If it is baseball season and the Giants are playing a home game...you must go! No ifs ands or buts about it!
If you are not in town during baseball season or a home game or if you happen to have more time, then the following would be my recommendations. Yes a lot of these locations are touristy, but sometimes being touristy is ok. Sometimes it's still really fun, especially in a place like San Francisco. Keep in mind that while I consider San Francisco one of my most well known cities and my home city, I actually grew up twenty minutes south of the city (which to local urban true SFians, might as well be as far away as New York.). It was always a dream of mine to live in The City (as we locals call it) and while that live in a sweet SF apartment ship has pretty much sailed, I did kind of get to cross live in SF off my bucket list when I lived in a hostal in the Tenderloin district (one of the skechier parts of town) for three weeks in 2007 while working at a school in Japan town. Here is what I like to do when a friend or family member visits with me (especially if they have never been to SF before):
1. Start out with a morning drive on 19th Avenue, to Brotherhood Way, and over to the Great Highway. Take a brisk walk along Ocean Beach and then drive up to the Cliff House and the ruins of the Sutro Baths. Yes, even San Francisco has ancient ruins! Ok, so they are mid-twentieth century ruins, but I've always been absolutely fascinated by stories and pictures from the hey day of the Sutro baths and Playland By the Beach. There are photos and explanations of the history to look at while you are there.
|Watching the turtles at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park|
2. Drive through Golden Gate Park. After Balboa Park down in San Diego, this is one of my absolute favorite parks in the world. Just like Balboa Park, Golden Gate Park is a hub for culture, museums and nature right smack in the middle of the city. If you only have the one day in SF, just take a short walk around Stow Lake and by the exteriors of the DeYoung Museum and the Academy of Sciences. If you have more time, definitely go to the Academy of Sciences and if you like art museums, you won't be disappointed with the DeYoung.
|View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point|
3. Next I like to head up for the view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, you can walk/run/bike/rollerblade it, however if your time is limited there are plenty of amazing locations to just snap some photos and enjoy gorgeous views (even if it's foggy). One way is to find the old bunkers located just south of the bridge and take short little strolls snapping your typical shots of the bridge (which, my ancestor Joseph Strauss was in charge of building! You can visit his statue if you do decide to get out of your car and walk across.). I have two other ways that I love to view the bridge and the city. One is from Fort Point, directly below the bridge, and the other is by driving across the bridge into Marin and taking the first exit down to Fort Baker (if you have kids and have extra time there is a fun Children's Discovery Museum located here too that I would recommend).
|Palace of Fine Arts; Home to the Exploratorium|
4. By now, it is likely around lunch time and so after you drive past the Palace of Fine Arts (again, if you have an extended trip and especially if you are traveling with children, I would absolutely recommend going inside the Exploratorium museum for a few hours of fun.) and drive past the Marina, you can silence your growling tummies a bit longer in order to see the ever so famous Lombard Street, the world's curviest steepest street. Don't worry about not being able to drive it as I have successfully made it down in a limo on prom night! If limo's can do it, you can too!
|The Mexicatessen in the Mission District|
5. There are so many amazing restaurants and foodie neighborhoods in San Francisco. My families go to whenever relatives come into town is Chinatown. My dad loves a lot of the smaller restaurants, but I've been going to R & G Lounge for a long time since I am still in love with their Salt and Pepper Crab (although it can be quiet pricey) and then we always walk around and visit the Fortune Cookie Factory too (which is down a very small back alley and you'll have to ask around to find it). North Beach is great if you love Italian food. There are so many amazing cafes and restaurants in areas like Noe Valley, Pacific Heights, and the Castro. My other favorite area to grab lunch in The City is the Mission District. Aside from San Diego, it is by far the best Mexican food you can get outside of Mexico. There are tons of places to choose from, but my favorite is the Mexicatessen. I love their blue corn tamales and their guac is unreal! And if you end up going to the Mission district, you have to walk around and tour the amazingly colorful murals that are scattered throughout the area. But, if this is your only stop in California, you just may need to do In N Out Burger instead!
It seems like you could stumble in to most restaurants in SF and be completely satisfied with the quality of food and service. My parents are constantly venturing into The City just to try new places. I know I am not helping with your decision for lunch time, but I feel that you really can't go wrong (as long as you find a small local restaurant that is...you are in SF, so my best advice is No chain restaurants!)
6. So, SF is such a large city, with so many unique neighborhoods, that you might feel like you are driving all around. There really isn't a great logical trajectory of how to see SF in just a day. I would head down to the waterfront next. Pier 39 is the touristy place to go, but I would skip it (or walk through super quickly) and head over to Fisherman's Wharf, the Gharridelli Chocalate Factory, and my favorite...the Musee Mecanique (it has old arcade games and videos mostly from Playland by the Beach). It is a good break from such a busy day, especially if you have children. Don't forget to snag a sundae at Gharridelli, but I recommend sharing because they truly are huge!
7. At this point your feet are starting to get insanely tired, but you've got to keep on truckin! If you are female, a trip to SF is not complete without a little shopping, of course. Union Square is fun to walk around, but if you are limited on time and want to find the best stores all in one place, head straight for San Francisco Center. I am not big on shopping, but this mall is like two malls in one! It seems to have every store you could want! And, the food court is pretty tasty with some local restaurants and healthier choices, so it's great for a midday snack.
8. For dinner, refer to my #5. Too many great places. Something for every budget too!
|The fun found at Slide|
9. Nightlife in SF has a wide variety as well and is pretty fun. I think that even though it's touristy, the Starlight Lounge at the top of the Sir Francis Drake is super fun. That's in the Union Square area. Also super fun (assuming it is still a happening place since I went there way back in 2008 for my bachelorette party and in 2010 for my best friend's bachelorette party!) is the club, Slide. Back in my early 20's (haha!) my live-in-the-city friends took me to the Dragon Bar in the North Beach area a few times and that whole area was poppin off! I haven't been here yet, but I am dying to get to ______ a speakeasy style bar. Another fun place is the bar at the Redwood Room. It's more of a lounge than club.
|49ers Football on Sundays!|
10. If you are in SF on a Sunday, I highly recommend a visit to Glide Memorial Church. They have an amazing choir, wonderful diversity among their community. and inspiring sermons. When you are done at Glide, don't forget to head to a local sports bar to cheer on the 49ers during football season. Hopefully you'll be watching the 2013 Super Bowl champions! ;-)
Do you live in or near The City? What else would you recommend that people see and do? I was very vague about restaurants...what are your favorites? Have any of you done something so totally touristy in SF and just loved it? What about any favorite secret local spots? Let us know in the comments section! Thanks!