A Bay Areanative, I’ve spent many hours of my life making the trek across the Bay Bridge to the glorious city of San Francisco. While many seem to want the “exclusive” and most “hip” places to be, I’m an advocate for doing all of that along with the super touristy spots. Touristy spots are popular for a reason, so I’m always for “sightseeing” even as a local.
Today, I’ve got some tips for San Francisco tourist-ing/traveling/eating:
Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf
Probably my favorite touristy place since childhood. How can anyone say no to sea lions, salt water taffy/candy, and clam chowder bowls (albeit over priced)? Close by, you’ll find the Ghirardelli Square, where you can shop for chocolates, eat a bunch of ice cream sundaes and shop in cute little boutiques.
If you want to incorporate a fun day with lots of walking, I suggest you start out at Ghirardelli Square for a lunchtime, icecream stop, travel on down to Fisherman’s Wharf for some snacks, and take a pause at Pier 39 for sea lion watching. Then, walk all the way down to the Port of San Francisco and the Ferry Building Marketplace, where you can satisfy your local/organic/hipster market needs. My recommendation: the Stonehouse California Olive Oil. Their olive oils are delicious, and if you get one of the standard ones, you can bring back the glass bottle once you’re done and get it refilled for a discounted price! 🙂
Columbus Ave + Little Italy
The Little Italy neighborhood is the perfect mix of touristy + local. While a bunch of tourists come here, you’ll also find a lot of old school cafes and restaurants as well as unique little shops. Sure, things might be a bit overpriced, but let’s be real, everything in SF nowadays is too expensive. I enjoy going to Caffe Greco and Trattoria Pinocchio. For antique books and maps, visit Schein and Schein!
This neighborhood is about a thirty-minute walk from union square/market street, so you could always start here for lunch, and shop/walk around in the afternoon.
Mosaic Steps I’d always seen pictures, but I’d never actually visited the famous steps until a few weeks ago! It’s a great little hike up the hilly streets of SF, and you’re treated to a magnificent staircase of mosaics! Have some lunch on Irving Street (we got Korean food at Manna, but I’ve also heard Perilla is great for Vietnamese!) and walk to the Hidden Steps on the way to the main attraction!
Hayes Valley is yet another one of those “bougie” neighborhoods, but it’s been that way for a while. The area is perfect if you see a show in the area (ballet, opera, symphony, jazz, etc.), but great for exploring on its own! There are some wonderful cafés, restaurants, ice cream and shops! My favorite bakery in this area is Hayes Valley Bakeworks – they have AMAZING BAKED GOODS. I mean, of course, you’d hope so given their name, but really, so good! Moist, scrumptious pound cakes, delicious, unique cookies. Good coffee, too. An extra plus: they’re also a non-profit “social enterprise” (their description) that hires people with disabilities and those who find themselves at-risk or homeless, providing employment as well as training so that they can continue developing skills to carry with them through Bakeworks and beyond. I first went in for their baked goods, and I keep going back for their baked goods and their important work!
Other places to try: Lers Ros Thai, Chantal Guillon macarons/café, Arlequin Café. I’m also going to put a plug in for the SF Ballet. I may be biased since I interned in the dance education department several summers ago, but the company is AMAZING! Go for the Nutcracker or any of their other repertoire! The cheaper tickets in the back of the theater are my favorite because you can see the beautiful choreography formations from above.
I had more to say than I thought, so stay tuned for the second edition of San Francisco tips! The next one will feature more food and neighborhoods.