The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco

The song lyrics “I left my heart in San Francisco” played on repeat in my mind as our plane lifted off the tarmac to head for home. It has been playing in my mind pretty much ever since. Minnesota has been home for my entire life, but San Francisco takes a close second. If a city could describe my personality, San Francisco does it well. It has a sunny disposition, lots of quirkiness, good fashion, a love for good food, lots of energy, with a little bit of brokenness mixed in (let’s just be honest… none of us are sunshine and rainbows all of the time). I identify so strongly with it, it’s no wonder that it feels like home!
I had been asking my husband to go back from the moment we left our first trip, and he made that dream come true last month (side note… I married a really good man, and I’m so thankful he makes such amazing gestures of love for me…. All my single ladies, wait for a fella like that). Anyway, having just returned home from our second trip, I decided to finally write a blog about my favorite city. I could go on and on, but I’ll keep it simple by just naming a few places you HAVE to go while in San Francisco!

 

The Top 10 Things to do in San Francisco

 

10. The Western Addition Neighborhood:

This neighborhood is located in central San Francisco, and has easy use of public transportation. This is where we always stay when we are in San Francisco. On this last trip we found a hidden gem called the Chateau Tivoli Bed & Breakfast. I HIGHLY recommend staying here. Although they are off the beaten track from where all of the other tourists stay, they are close to public transportation, in a safe neighborhood, and two blocks from Alamo Square park and “the painted ladies” AKA the Full House houses. If you like soaking in vintage claw foot tubs, sleeping in beds that look like they belong in a palace, eating AMAZING breakfast (they do smoked salmon and capers), and chatting with amazingly friendly staff, stay here.

 

 

Neighborhood highlights:

9. The Wharf

Yes, it’s touristy, but part of the reason why we all love San Francisco is because it sits on that beautiful bay! This is a bustling area on the bay filled with street performers, tourists, sea food stands, shops, trolley cars, restaurants, museums, and seaside beauty.


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Neighborhood highlights:

  • The municipal pier for great views of the Golden Gate
  • Pier 39 for the heart of the action. Jam packed with restaurants, museums, and fun! You can book city tours and adventures here.
  • Boudin, for their famous sourdough bread
  • Ghirardelle Chocolate Factory
  • The Ferry Building for food and boutique shopping. Also take a ferry to the sleepy little towns of Sausalito or Tiburon from here.

8. North Beach neighborhood

This neighborhood borders Chinatown and the Financial district. You can sit and enjoy a cup of espresso while pretending you are in Europe here. Sidewalk cafes line the street in this neighborhood with Italian food, drink, and people.


Neighborhood highlights:

  • Columbus Tower/Sentinel Building – 900 Kearny St. – Visit this historic building if you love architecture.
  • Caffe Greco – have a traditional Italian espresso on the outdoor patio while watching the people walk by
  • Washington Square park – Pack a lunch and enjoy this green space that faces the beautiful St. Peter & Paul church
  • Grant Ave. – Wander in and out of the shops on Grant Ave. which is the oldest street in San Francisco. There is a great shop with vintage maps and prints where you can get a unique keepsake from your trip to North Beach. We took home a reprint of a poster drawn by a local North Beach artist. He drew the poster for the neighborhood in the 1990’s and makes prints just for that shop.

7. Chinatown

This Chinatown is the BEST in our country. I love that it’s a place for tourists to hang out, but that Chinese people actually live in the neighborhood and do life there. Walk down some of the side streets to see their laundry hanging out their windows, and visit their grocery stores to see the unique items that they eat. You can’t go wrong with pretty much any of their restaurants for some authentic Chinese food.

6. The Haight

Step back in time to a neighborhood that’s stuck in the 1960’s free love era. This neighborhood is a great mix of everything. See old hippies, several vagrants, but also some of the most well kept homes in San Francisco, and upscale shops all mixed together in this eclectic neighborhood.

Neighborhood highlights:

  • Amoeba Music – If you like to spin the vinyl, check out this huge record shop.
  • Parada 22 –  Serves the best Puerto Rican food you will ever eat. Their most popular dish is a simple meal that is eaten in Latin America everyday, but they cook it the way that everyone else wishes they could. Think about pork so soft that it melts in your mouth, a hot red bean salad with the perfect mix of seasonings, fried plantains, and fresh greens. Please, do yourself a favor and go here. I have dined at many wonderful places in my lifetime, and this is still my favorite restaurant. They prove my theory that something doesn’t have to be complex to be good.

5. Hayes Valley

This is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in San Francisco right now. It’s still small, but is lined with independently owned restaurants, and pop ups. The vibe is small town charm meets the city.

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Neighborhood highlights:

  • Patricia’s Green park
  • Blue Bottle Coffee – This small coffee shop is moving worldwide. Their flagship shop is in a small alleyway filled with plants and murals. Try their iced coffee with roasted chicory for something new.

4. Japanese Tea Garden

If you love tea, architecture, and Japanese plants, pay the small fee to get into this section of the Golden Gate Park. They have an open air tea room where you can have traditional tea and sandwiches.

3. The Mission

This neighborhood still has some dangerous spots, and so you want to be careful about where and when you go, but it also has some of the most vibrant murals, people, and food in the entire city. During our first trip, we completely missed the Mission, and after our second visit we realized that this area is where we should have actually been spending all of our time.


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Neighborhood highlights:

  • Mission Dolores Park – This park sits on a hill and has some of the most spectacular views of San Francisco
  • The murals – Take a walk down 24th St. between Potrero Ave. and Mission St. to see some of the most vibrant and lively murals in the city. It’s not so cut and dry that all of the murals will be on this exact street, so be willing to veer off course a little bit, or walk through some of the alleys!
  • Dynamo Donuts – This shop has made from scratch donuts and an amazing outdoor patio in the back
  • La Palma – This Mexican restaurant will provide you with some of the best Mexican food in the city. Take it to go and sit in Mission Dolores Park

2. Muir Woods

The Muir Woods are about a 30 minute drive on 101 N over the Golden Gate bridge. If you are interested in getting outside in the beautiful nature surrounding San Francisco, this is a quick drive. There are miles of trails in this young redwood forest. Pack a lunch, put on some hiking shoes, and enjoy the tranquility here.

1.Marin Headlands

On your way back from the Muir Woods, take the last exit before you cross back over the Golden Gate for some of the best views of the bridge and bay area. There is a road that climbs the side of the cliffs next to the ocean where you can park at several stops to take pictures of the bridge and San Francisco. This is my favorite place to stop in the entire bay area. You will not regret stopping to enjoy the view.

 

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