We’re wrapping up our Road Trip series and heading up the West Coast…to San Fran.
The City by the Bay is definitely a must see—I’ve been a few times and each time I find a new reason to love this city. It’s a quirky place, lots of great neighborhoods with tons of personality. This barely scratches at the surface of what San Francisco has to offer—Chinatown, the houses of the Presidio, Lombard Street, Golden Gate Park—all are great places. This list straddles the must-sees with a little off-the-beaten path, just to keep things interesting—because really, isn’t it better to see a city as a local would, and not a tourist?
WHERE TO STAY
I’m happy to report that the rooms are pretty big—yes, it’s a city…but your typical room is comfortable. All your usual hotel chains have places in the city, but my best suggestion is to find one near a BART line (if you don’t plan on renting a car and you really don’t need one). BART is a great way to get around the city and riding the cable cars is part of the San Francisco experience.
WHAT TO DO
Pier 39: Much of it is a tourist trap (but where else are you going to find an “I love San Francisco” mug?)—however, the best thing is completely free: viewing the sea lions. They first took up residence at Pier 39 back in 1990. They lounge around all day and loudly bark out amongst themselves. Get there in the morning or early evening to avoid the crowds. Better still, take the cable car to see them and scratch two San Francisco treats off your list.
Alcatraz: Some of the best views of the city are seen from The Rock! A word of caution–– there is only one ferry service, Alcatraz Cruises, that can take you to Alcatraz where you actually get to step foot onto the island and tour the facility. The others will simply tour the bay and allow you to see the island from afar. It’s best to reserve your spot ahead of time, as tours often sell out weeks in advance. Wear comfortable shoes, you’ll do a bit of walking here—just like the rest of San Francisco, the island has some steep inclines (there is a tram to ride that will take you from the base to the prison, but there are also some great views to be had on the walk). If you do walk, there are benches along the way if you need a breather.
Channel your inner hippie and head to the Haight-Ashbury section of the city…full of quirky shops and still holding onto that Summer-of-Love vibe, it’s certainly worth a visit. You can find some great record shops (if vinyl is your thing) or visit Loved to Death, the store that is featured on the Science Channel show “Oddities—San Francisco”.
Where the Haight was the epicenter of peace and love in the 1960s, North Beach was the center of the Beat movement in the ‘50s. If you’ve ever read Jack Kerouac, you’ll enjoy the Beat Museum. Continue your trip through the late ‘50s with a visit to City Lights Books—the nation’s first paperback bookstore and home to many of the Beat Generation’s writers.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Tenderloin isn’t for the faint of heart (not recommended if you’re traveling with the kids) but the area does boast some of San Fran’s coolest hangouts. One stand-out is Chambers Eat + Drink at the Phoenix Hotel—this hotel has seen its share of rock stars (the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam have both used the hotel as home base) and it was rated Travel + Leisure’s Hippest Hotel. Chambers Eat + Drink takes comfort food to a new level, but the atmosphere and the comfortable bench seating (with room to spare) will make any guy a happy camper. So channel your inner rock god with a visit.
Farmer Brown: Just on the outskirts of Tenderloin/Union Square. It could be described as a hipster place…but one that serves the best soul food around. Collard greens done to perfection—and all locally sourced, too. This place gets busy and the atmosphere is quite lively, but you’ll find the tables are big and seating is comfortable—definitely make reservations before going (I overheard some really long wait times for those without a reservation). However, in the Union Square area, this is the perfect escape from the sea of chain restaurants.
The Haight-Ashbury section is your go-to for eclectic tastes. The Embarcadero Center near the Pier is also a great choice and combines independent and mainstream shops in one location.
Visit Union Square for the typical mall madness—Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom are here, plus you can find Tony Bennett’s heart (if you look carefully, I believe it’s high on a hill) in this section.
While not directly in the city—DXL’s San Bruno location is under a 10-minute walk from the San Bruno BART station, so if you discover you didn’t pack your favorite shirt (or worse, there was an airline mishap) you’re still covered.