Monday, October 13, 2014

A Fabulous Week in San Francisco

Recently, friends of mine were visiting San Francisco.  Although I have always prided myself in being the city’s aficionado and have seen most (if not all) of San Francisco’s highlights, pinpointing them to merely few days for tourists was a task I was not prepared for.

Then, when I started to research places to go and things to do, I was surprised to learned that most of the recommended tourist sights listed in travel guides and websites really didn’t give the visitors an authentic feel for what San Francisco was all about and hardly showed off what this complex and diverse city has to offer. 
Also, with all the extraordinary things to see and do, every travel guide and website recommended day trips outside of the city after spending merely 2-3 days in the city. Seeing San Francisco in 2-3 days?!? That’s hardly enough time to taste all the wonderful foods!

Unlike some of the locals who look down upon touristy spots (which applies to people everywhere, New Yorkers, Berliner, Parisians – especially the Parisians), even after living in San Francisco for 7 years, I love doing touristy stuff. However, in order to truly see and experience the beauty and eclectic culture of this city, you must go off the beaten path beyond the city’s iconic landmarks.

So, for those of you who are interested in experiencing San Francisco and all its diverse culture, sights and foods, here are my recommendations of the places to visit and things to do to - and have a fabulous week in the city by the bay. 

Day 1: The Conventional Highlights
  • Grace Cathedral 
  • Lombard Street 
  • Coit Tower Don't miss the newly restored murals depicting California agriculture, industry and the city’s leftist leanings.
  • lunch @ House of Nanking or House of Xian Dumpling
  • coffee break @ Réveille 
  • City Lights Book Store – definitely one of San Francisco’s institutions and one of the few truly great independent bookstores in the United States that specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics; quotes and photos of Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg are displayed throughout the store; it’s not just a bookstore – it's a legacy.
  • Chinatown
What to expect: Stunning views and photo opportunities, hilly streets which San Francisco is famous for, introduction to the diverse ethnic groups that has become an integral part of this city – this country.

What to avoid: Chinese restaurants on Grant Street, most of which are mediocre. Instead, head over to the restaurant in Inner/Outer Sunset for great Chinese food.

Day 2: Golden Gate Park

What to expect: Over three miles (4.8 km) of sublime nature & beauty; Golden Gate Park stretches between Haight-Ashbury and the Pacific Ocean and encompasses 1,017 acres of gardens, walking paths, lakes, recreation fields, museums, a Japanese tea garden, and innumerable areas for music events and recreational sports.

Day 3: The Mission District
  • Mission Delores
  • Delores Park
  • lunch @ Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen, El Toro Taqueria, Limón Rotisserie 
  • check out more than 200 colorful murals that reflect the area’s Hispanic heritage and the immigrant experience displayed all over the neighborhood, especially around Clarion Alley, Balmy Alley and 24th Street
What to expect: Illustration and reflection of the rich history and heritage of Hispanic immigrants, a GREAT selection of Hispanic, Central and South America cuisine, trendy boutiques, a spectacular view from the top of Delores Park

What to avoid: Overpriced restaurants that are more hype than substance; You can usually spot them by a block-long line outside – trust me; they’re NOT worth the wait and the hassle!

Day 4: San Francisco Treat
  • F line trolleys – Rice-A-Roni may have made San Francisco’s Cable Cars famous, but F line trolleys will forever be my favorite mode of transportation in the city and the best way to see the city’s highlights. 
  • Fisherman's Wharf
  • Pier 39 Seals
  • lunch @ La Boulange Metreon  or Tropisueño 
  • Union Square (view from Cheesecake Factory inside Macy's)
  • V.C. Morris Gift Shop on Maiden Lane – Fashioned in 1948 by Frank Lloyd Wright, a precursor to his famous spirals for the Guggenheim Museum in NYC is definitely worth a visit.
What to expect: A fun trolley ride along some of the most scenic part of the San Francisco, especially along Embarcadero

What to avoid: Restaurants inside the Ferry Building, which tend to be overpriced tourist traps

Day 5: Spectacular Views & Nature
What to expect: Absolutely breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the Bay with the majestic Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop, all around great photo opportunities, great picnic spots

Day 6: The Heart of San Francisco
  • Alamo Square Park & the Painted Ladies
  • Haight-Ashbury – The birthplace of America's counter-culture, which was born during the summer of 1967, a.k.a. The Summer of Love.
  • lunch @ Parada 22 
  • Hayes Valley – a great selection of one of a kind stores and boutiques
  • Castro
  • Twin Peaks
What to expect: Although Haight-Ashbury has become one of favorite spots for tourists, it still is the best reflection of what San Francisco – and San Franciscans are all about, eclectic bohemians at heart.

Day 7: Experience Fahrvergnügen, the Joy of Driving
Drive along HWY 1 to Pacifica & catch the sunset at Fort Funston
What to expect: Pure exhilarating driving experience along the coastal road that was declared by National Geographic Magazine as being one of the world's greatest “drives of a lifetime”, and it doesn’t disappoint! It’s without a doubt one of the most unforgettable sights in North America, filled with towering cliffs, gorgeous secluded beaches, and spectacular nature with every twist and turn revealing the most breathtaking scenery.  Although Highway 1 goes down all the way down to central California coast, the drive to Pacifica will give you a nice glimpse of the spectacular scenery.
I recommend you skip:
  • Renting a bike – Have you seen the size of the hills in San Francisco?  Why would anyone recommend renting a bike to tourists is incomprehensible.  Unless you have the stamina of Lance Armstrong, there are much better and easier ways to get around the city. Also, San Francisco has some of the most aggressive bikers in the entire country. We’re like New Yorkers on two wheels. Therefore, I don’t recommend that you take this mode of transportation to tour around the city unless you want to feel like you’re auditioning for the urban version of “Survivor”.
  • Segway Tours – There’s nothing that is more disruptive to the idyllic scenery and local life in San Francisco than a group of Segway tourists. I get that it's a “fun” way to see the city, but just be warned, it definitely annoys the locals. 
  • Museums are subpar in San Francisco, and the only museums worth going to are the ones that cater to children, as listed in my blog, Fun Things To Do with Children in San Francisco.

I grouped my recommendations by neighborhood, as seeing them by neighborhoods will not only give you a better understanding of the city and its community, but it will save you a lot of time and energy – I was surprised to learn that one guidebook actually recommended seeing Fisherman’s Wharf in the morning and Golden Gate Park in the afternoon, which is located in complete opposite part of town.

There are a lot of great things to do and see in San Francisco, and whether you’re visiting the city or just looking to entertain guests, I hope this list provides plenty of inspirationenjoy!

For more of my recommendations in San Francisco, check out: 


  1. Sharon, Your blog is great! I agree with so many things you said about San Francisco. I am excited to try all these great suggestions. Thank you for sharing this :) ~Mandy H

    1. Thanks Mandy! I hope it's helpful to you & Josh ... wish you wonderful travels!