Hi all! It has been a minute since my most recent post. Not for lack of travel, but for an abundance of homework. I have a hard time delegating my time the way I want to, so it’s a good thing I’m almost done with school!
Anyways, on to my topic for today:
Of all the places I’ve visited in the U.S. so far, San Francisco has to be my… second favorite. In California. But only because my guy is from Orange County! Before I started my career as a flight attendant, I worked for Virgin America, a San Francisco-based airline. I think SFO was the first solo air trip I ever made, and I’ve been back a handful of times. I love San Francisco because there’s tons to do, it’s a multicultural area, and downtown has excellent walkability. Being there more than a few times as a tourist, I feel like I have some insider insight on how to make the most of a trip there, and am going to share all of my tips and tricks right here!
I think the most important advice I can share is that renting a car is definitely NOT needed. Everywhere I went started and ended at the airport and the BART, the bay area’s train system, took me everywhere I couldn’t walk. The BART’s route goes from SFO to downtown SF, jumps to Oakland and past Oakland International Airport, and I saw recently that plans are being made to extend service to San Jose! One gripe I have is that it’s pretty spendy to ride, because fares are distance-based. However, it beats sitting in traffic in a Lyft. Once you get into SF proper, you can ride one of their famous vintage streetcars and cable cars for a unique street perspective you can’t get anywhere else. Rides on these are much less expensive and give you some great photo opportunities!
Now for the attractions. I want to make it clear that, for the most part, my time spent in San Francisco has consisted of a series of day trips. Could you do every one of my recommendations in a day? Probably, but shoving everything in would cause you to miss out on the benefit of taking it slow and truly enjoying each area. Every spot has a lot to see!
First, I recommend walking south down the row of piers. I started at AT&T Park. You’ll pass good restaurants, a science museum I have yet to check out (but will at some point because it looks so fun!), and good views.
The ferry to Alcatraz Island is at Pier 33. Being the expert planner I am, I always get there the day of and can never buy tickets because they sell out at peak times pretty early on. And when I do go, that will be a whole blog post on its own. People I know who have gone say it’s an all-day experience.
If you’re looking for something to do other than take in the scenery, start at Pier 39. Pier 39, and the adjacent Fisherman’s Wharf, is a tourist hotspot. You can walk through a ton of kitschy shops, restaurants, and activity areas. Pier 39 also hosts different events year-round so you’re bound to stumble upon something pretty!
Past Fisherman’s Wharf you’ll get to Ghirardelli Square, a former chocolate factory now filled with retail space and, you guessed it, a Ghirardelli Chocolates restaurant. here it’s acceptable to indulge in all the fancy chocolate your heart desires. There’s a grass area and small stretch of beach right in front of the square that’s well-loved. I’ve always seen it populated with a lot of families and groups of teenagers.
That’s about it in this area so I rented a bike from a Fisherman’s Wharf shop and biked to the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a little under four miles and very hilly (like the rest of San Fran) so the ride was exhausting for someone as out-of-shape as I am, but SO worth it. If nothing else, do this. The exhilaration I felt standing at the edge of the bridge after doing something so physically rewarding is an unparalleled experience. One thing I do regret passing up is biking on the actual bridge, but I was monitoring my by-the-hour rental price very closely ;P. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed landmarks in the U.S. and all of the good pictures are taken from the Oakland side!
If you don’t cross, and go back to downtown SF, I recommend visiting Chinatown. San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the oldest, most established Chinatown’s in America. It’s also the biggest! Here you will find retail, restaurants, a fortune cookie factory, you name it! Plus, everything is reasonably priced. If you like to do grocery shopping out of town, this is a great place for cheap fruits and vegetables, or pastries if you’re more like me. It’s very busy and very picturesque, and I consider it a “must-visit” location.
If you walk farther inland you can visit Japantown. Japantown is much smaller and much emptier than its Chinese counterpart, but the components are basically the same. There’s a mall with Asian-centric goods for sale. I bought a lot of Korean beauty products at a skincare store here. The reason for my pilgrimage was to get my hands on a serving of Dragon’s Breath: Cereal puffs dipped in liquid nitrogen. You can get these at Chocolate Chair. When you eat them, the vapor from the nitrogen escapes and you look like you are breathing smoke! Or vaping. Whichever scenario you think is cooler. Honestly, eating the Dragon’s Breath made for some cool Instagram stories at the time but I wouldn’t visit again. Japantown is a one-and-done place for me.
From Japantown it’s about a mile to Alamo Square Park, home of the Painted Ladies. I recommend timing your visit to arrive before sunset, because the park tops a hill and watching dusk’s arrival is truly beautiful! Make sure you have some daylight to take pictures of the Ladies. Also dubbed “postcard row,” these Victorian houses are popular because they provide a visually stunning contrast to the city below. They also have some tie to the TV show “Full House” but my five seconds of research told me that none of these houses are the actual “Full House” house, so I’m not sure where the connection lies.
The Painted Ladies are breathtaking, but the whole park is surrounded by older, Victorian-style houses that I would say are just as stunning! It took me a few trips to get here and I wish I had visited on day one. A friend advised me to pair a bottle of wine with the sunset and I’m excited to follow his suggestion next time I’m there.
Finally, if none of these suggestions sound appealing because you’re just not interested in tourist traps, San Fran is a nice place to relax and hang out. The city is filled with a good mix of new high-risers and older, eclectic buildings. The residential areas are built for steep hills which results in some really unique architecture. I had a good time just looking as I walked. There are a ton of great restaurants to try for a foodie, and two MLB parks are within reach. Because SFO is big spot for international destinations I suggest taking 24 hours to explore even if you’re just passing through on your way to somewhere else. The airport has a yoga room and it’s not the worst place I’ve ever been stuck.
That’s all I’ve got! If you need any more recommendations regarding how to plan your trip, you can always reach out via email or Instagram and I am happy to share more of my ExPeRt advice with anyone who asks.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a mocha, try Sightglass Coffee. I was very pleased with my pit stop.
If you got this far, tell me about your favorite coffee place you’ve ever been! Is it worth travelling to if you’re a big coffee fan like me?