San Francisco is one of those cities I knew I’d love well before I ever visited. Not only is it perfectly situated with stunning harbours, its dynamic food, art, and cultural scenes make it all the more appealing.
After dreaming of visiting Northern California for years, Nick and I finally spent three days in San Francisco on our way to New Zealand and Australia. From local cafés to must-see sights, here are my recommendations for exploring San Francisco and the Bay Area:
Hotel prices tend to be very steep in San Francisco. If you can, opt for an Airbnb instead! We stayed in the Financial District and Chinatown, which proved to be lots of fun. There seemed to be endless events, including a parade for Lunar New Year.
Foreign Cinema: An old converted cinema with ample outdoor seating in The Mission, FS is popular among locals. We ventured here with our friend, Brooklyn for a delectable brunch. The inventive and locally sourced menu is a huge draw and the service was also on point. I couldn’t resist the organic poptarts: pink apple and blood orange!
The Mill: The foodie trend of artisanal toast began here. Complemented perfectly by delicious Four Barrel coffee, The Mill is a San Francisco institution.
Sightglass Coffee: Hands down, the best coffee in San Francisco. Settle in for a flat white and a freshly baked pastry.
Alcatraz Tours: We were lucky to have caught Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition when we visited Alcatraz. A worthy attraction on your first visit to San Francisco, the audio self-guided tours will help familiarize you with the grounds.
General Store: Located a couple steps from the beach, this eclectic store is a dream! Filled with an array of locally-made California treasures, it’s easy to spend hours perusing the shelves. There’s even a secluded garden oasis behind the shop that’s worth checking out.
Outerlands: Next door to The General Store is Outerlands, a café that serves local, organic fare in a darling setting. Frequented by surfers and beach bums, it’s a wonderful spot to while away the afternoon.
The Painted Ladies: If you’ve ever seen Full House, you’ll recall that it was filmed in San Francisco. Be sure to check out Alamo Square and the six colourful houses that overlook the park.
Golden Gate Bridge: We ran out of time and didn’t cycle across Golden Gate Bridge, but we did enjoy the stunning views from the harbour.
Ferry Building: Don’t miss out on the Ferry Building and the weekend markets! If you can, coordinate your visit here with your trip to Alcatraz.
The Castro District: The first gay neighbourhood in the United States and one of the most lively. Harvey Milk moved here with his partner in the early seventies before embarking on his political career. Also noteworthy is the old Castro cinema.
University of California, Berkeley: If you have time to spare, be sure to check out the UC Berkeley campus. With Spanish Mission-style architecture, it’s a beautiful campus. The surrounding community is worth visiting as well!
Coit Tower: A must-visit for the best, most expansive views of San Francisco.
Lombard Street: You need to do it.
Palace of Fine Arts: In the Marina District (near The Golden Gate Bridge), be sure to visit The Palace of Fine Arts. Built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, it is host to various events and weddings today.