San Francisco, U.S.A.
I visited San Francisco in April of last year to catch up with some old college friends. While I love Southern California for its beautiful sandy beaches and authentic Mexican food scene, I've always been more of a city girl. San Francisco is the perfect combination of urban living mixed with California’s infamous west coast cool vibe. The city is home to hipsters, techies, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and an array of amazing restaurants. We spent our weekend eating, drinking, doing a bit of sight seeing, followed by even more drinking in Napa Valley, which is another benefit of living in San Francisco. If you ever feel trapped in the hustle bustle you can jump in your car and go for a day trip to the surrounding wine country.
WHAT TO DO
Explore The Mission: This is one of my favorite neighborhoods in San Fran. A decade ago, The Mission was home mostly to working-class Latin American families, but now younger locals have started moving here for the cupcakeries, music shops, authentic taquerias and an all around cool vibe. If you come for an afternoon, make sure you visit Dolores Park where the young and beautiful come to tan and explore Clarion Alley, the famous outdoor art gallery full of vibrant murals.
Wander around Chinatown: San Fran is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and it’s one of the top tourist attractions in the city. Spend the afternoon wandering around the streets and taking in the sights and smells. If you’re in the market for some Asian kitchen imports try The Wok Shop on Grant Avenue or pop into Imperial Tea Court for some steamed pork buns and traditional Chinese green tea.
Photo op at the Golden Gate Bridge: You can’t visit San Fran and not get a picture in front of the iconic bridge. It’s basically a right of passage. But be warned, most of the time it's covered in clouds. If you do get lucky, here are a few of the best spots to snap a photo: The famous, postcard view - Battery Spencer (Marin County), view from below - Fort Point, secret swing - Kirby Cove.
Lombard Street: Known as the “most crooked street in the world” this place will take your breath away. Not for the views exactly, but because you’re so out of breath by the time you get to the top.
Fisherman’s Wharf: Most locals avoid the Wharf like the plague. Kind of like how New Yorkers stay as far away from Times Square as they can. Not because it isn’t great, but because it’s packed with tourists. But, you are a tourist, so grab a plate of crab at one of the fresh seafood stalls, watch the sunbathing seals in the harbor and browse the waterfront marketplaces.
Explore North Beach: Best known as San Francisco's Little Italy, this neighborhood has a lot more to offer than pizza restaurants. Wander up and down Grant Avenue and check out the small boutiques carrying handmade clothing and imported goods, visit Washington Square Park where you can watch walking locals practicing Tai Chi and take a walk down Broadway Street, which known as the city’s red light district full of buzzing neon signs and strip clubs.
Picnic in the park: Pack a blanket, bottle of wine, lots of snacks and learn how to blend in like a local at Fort Mason Park. Full of cute puppies and frisbee playing frat boys, this is a great spot to come for an afternoon and hang with friends.
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK
El Techo: Located in The Mission district, this rooftop hideout has one of the best views of the city. Come for happy hour on Monday - Friday from 4 - 6 pm and order a couple of margaritas (with a side of chips and guac).
The Slanted Door: The food here is not cheap and you have to book weeks in advance for a reservation but the overall atmosphere is incredible! This trendy Vietnamese style eatery uses fresh, organic produce and ecologically farmed meat. Located in the popular Ferry Building, the floor-to-ceiling windows offers a great view of the Bay. They the caramelized pork belly and ahi tuna confit spring rolls.
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse: It’s been a few years since this place first opened and it still has a line out the door every morning. Known for it’s famous “I got baked in San Francisco” neon, pink sign, it also has some pretty tasty treats like the Cruffin, which is nicknamed the unicorn of all pastries.
Tacolicious: If you’re in the North Beach area then should stop into Tacolicious for some traditional Mexican food. As you may have guessed from the name, the go-to menu item here is tacos (with a side of margs). Try the baja-style pacific cod or traditional carnitas.
Sam’s Anchor Cafe: Take a day trip to Tiburon (located just north of San Francisco - 20 minutes by ferry) and head to Sam’s for some fresh seafood and amazing Bloody Mary's. Situated right on the waterfront, you can lounge on the outside patio and enjoy the views of Angel Island, Alcatraz and the San Francisco skyline. Try the tuna salad sandwich or fish and chips.
Coqueta: Serving up the prettiest cocktails with a modern interpretation of traditional Spanish tapas, this place is full of SF locals for post work happy hour.
Wine tasting in Napa Valley: California is home to some of the best wineries in the country, so a day trip to Napa Valley is a must if you’re visiting San Francisco. Rent a car and head north out of the city, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and make a pit stop at The Fremont Diner for brunch. This cute roadside spot has patio seating out back and serves up down-home comfort dishes like chicken and waffles, mac n’ cheese and homemade cheddar jalapeño cornbread. After brunch drive to Mumm Napa and enjoy a little bubbly on the outdoor terrace. For a stunning view nestled among estate vineyards head to Clos Pegase Winery, followed by a visit to Sterling Winery, where you can wander around the grounds from bar to bar for a unique tasting experience.