We kicked off our Cali adventure with some days in windy and hilly San Francisco. As it was our first time visiting the city the list of things we wanted to see and do was very optimistic some might say. Meeting up with a friend from the UK who was touring the US with Out of The Blue and running into some cool local people on the fist day didn’t exactly make the list shorter. Not that we were complainig.
Our guide to the city is a healthy mix of cocktails and coffee, baseball and bike rides, sightseeing and shopping. Welcome to SF!
DOS & DONTS:
Many guidebooks recommend not driving in SF and by the sounds of it you’re thinking about a European capital with good public transport (and not a smaller version of LA). Yeah, that’s not exactly how we would describe it. SF is very hilly and the public transport is not amazing. In other words, renting a car is not a bad idea or alternatively, use Uber, which will take you anywhere in the city for $5 (with carpool). Of course you shouldn’t miss the Cable Cars – they’re even more fun than they look. Remember that you don’t have to queue at the start/end stop,- you’re probably better of hopping on along the way. Look for the brown cable car sign and remember to have exact change. More info about the routes and prices here!
Do go sightseeing in Chinatown – it’s the biggest one in North America. So if you fancy some Chinese food, you know where to find it. It’s a pretty cool part of town, with sights, sounds and smells you won’t find elsewhere in the city.
Photo credit: Romain Reglade
FINANCIAL DISTRICT // FiDi:
The Finicial District in SF is so much more than tall glass buildings and suit-dressed bankers. Here are some of the places we enjoyed in this area:
Jamba Juice (several locations)
Looking for a healthy brekkie or just something refreshing, this is the place to pay a visit. Freshly made smoothies and yummy açai bowls are exactly why we love this place. They’re dotted around the city (and elsewhere in California), so you’re sure to find one nearby.
Ferry Building Market Place (One Ferry Building)
This plays is pretty great to say the least, being a hub for SF’s artisan food community. Inside the building you’ll find plenty of small food shops, taunting you with everything from oysters to chocolate, tacos and coffee. Take your pick. On selected days, food vendors will flock to the area just outside of the Ferry Building, popping up food vans serving the loooong queues of people who turn up for their favourite lunch. You might want to take a little stroll out on the pier, to get a decent view of the FiDi skyline.
The Plant Café (several locations, this one on Pier 3)
If you’re conscious about your food being organic and sustainable, this is the place to head for lunch or dinner. They’ve got all the usual stuff – from pizza to salads, sandwiches and burgers – only in versions that are better for you and the environment. Add to that a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and we don’t really know what more you can ask for?
Uno Dos Tacos (595 Market Street)
Fancy a couple of tacos and some Dos Equis (XX) beers after a long day of sightseeing? Head to Uno Dos Tacos for quick service and some decent Mexican fare. They have a cocktail bar serving up margarita after margarita, and you can take your pick between indoor and outdoor tables.
Mazarinee Coffee (720 Market Street)
This no-fuzz coffee bar serves that caffine fix you need in the morning, along with some light snacks and pastries. It’s conveniently located on Market St, close to some of the big department stores, which brings us to the next area of this city.
UNION SQUARE // DOWNTOWN (covering parts of Nob Hill and Tenderloin)
This can be seen as the city centre of SF, with a mix of shopping, resturants, bars and clubs, not to mention all the tourists waiting in line for the Cable Cars.
Cheesecake Factory (rooftop of Macy’s, 170 O’Farrell Street)
This might be the most cheesy tourist attraction we went to. Rooftop cheese cake in the sun just sounded too tempting to miss. This wouldn’t be our top priority for a short visit, due to the longe queue, but if you’re a cheese cake fan, well, you know where to head.
On Market Street you’ll find anything from cheap high street stores to international luxury brands and department stores. A typical shopping street that you would find in most big cities. We suggest you walk along this street when heading to Ferry Building Market Place or Plant Organic, if not for shopping then at least for people watching.
Redford bar (672 Geary Street)
After an amazing dinner at Sabrosa (more about this place further down), we simply couldn’t say no when the owner Hugo suggested we try out another of his place, Redford Bar. After two cocktails, there is no point not having a third, right? From the outside it looked quiet, but as soon as the door opened we could see the place was buzzing with people. The grand windows, skylight and high celings combined with the laidback and welcoming atmosphere of an American bar, makes it a really cool place to go for a drink. Not to mention the super cool lamps and the music, which was a fun mix of old classics and newer songs. We would definitely come back here and enjoy another one of those absolutely delicious Hibiscus Margarita.
Hawthorn (46 Geary Street)
We were planning on heading to another place when we got invited here for a drink. Hawthorn is a basement cocktail bar goes club. Get a drink in the bar, relax on one of the sofas or show off some moves at the small dancefloor. It wasn’t too busy when we went, but we enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere, the company and the drinks ofc.
It’s Jane café (2123 Fillmore Street & 925 Larkin Street)
Finding a gluten-, dairy- and egg-free breakfast is easier said than done. Celina was more than happy when we found this place. Try the glutenfree bread with avocado and jalapeños, or the chia pudding bowl – both amazing and healthy! Two happy girls walked out of this cute little joint, ready for another day of SF adventures.
SOUTH OF MARKET STREET // SoMa:
The area South of Market St, or SoMa if you like, covers a fairly large part of the city. The distance between some of these places might be larger than in other areas, but they are all worth checking out. We’re starting off this area the way we like to start off our day, with a good cup of coffee.
Sightglass Coffee (270 7th Street)
This is hands down one of the best coffee bars we’ve been to. The space is cool, the coffee amazing and the pastries delicious. There was a long queue, but the baristas were efficient and friendly – making the wait bearable. There’s plenty of spacing both on the ground level and upstairs – we recommend sitting upstairs and looking down on the baristas in action. It’s pretty impressive.
AT&T Park (24 Wilie Mays Plaza)
Okeeey you might be slightly surprised to hear that we went to a baseball game, but when we were offered free tickets we couldn’t refuse. And boy, we had a great time. With hot dogs and chocolate fudge sundaes, we cheered and screamed and felt part of a proper American experience – the amotsphere was eclectic. Definitely not to be missed.
Harlot (46 Minna Street)
This intimate lounge and club features cool design, burlesque dancers and a packed dancefloor. The DJs are playing mostly tech-, indie- and deep-house. Some say it’s like being transported to a club in Paris… Though this might be taking it a bit too far in our opinion (unless you’ve been to a different Paris), it’s still a good club and fun place to go out. We enjoyed a glass of champagne and danced in the sofas.
Wheter you like to spend hours in museums or usually skip them when visiting a new place, we would suggest you check out SF MoMa (151 3rd St) and Contemporary Jewish Museum (736 Mission St), if only from the outside. The architecture is fantastic and they are conveniently located very close to each other!
Yerba Buena Gardens
We hadn’t acctually heard of this park before we came across it when passing by on the way to the museums we just mentioned. Next time we’re in SF we’ll be relaxing on the grass or getting a drink at the terrace of one of the bars in this park.
The Mission is SF’s oldest neighborhood, but it’s far from old and boring. Head here for a chilled day of vintage shopping and art gallery hopping, not to mention the street art of Clarion Alley. Apart from a visit to La Taqueria we would avoid Mission Street, and instead head up Valencia street and stop by some of these places:
Buffalo Exchange (1210 Valencia St)
An organised mix of second-hand and vintage clothing, funky sunglasses and bags, we definitely found some cool things in here. It’s not too expensive either.
La Taqueria (2889 Mission St)
We already had breakfast and it was way too early for lunch, but we just couldn’t help but check out this place that seems to come up every time we mentioned Mexican food. We didn’t regret our choice, that’s for certain. La Taqueria makes the absolute best tacos you will find in SF. Try the chorizo filling!
Ritual Coffee Roasters (1026 Valencia St)
This is were you should get your daily dose of caffeine! Like our NYC fave Blue Bottle Coffee Company, Ritual Roaster are considered to be a part of the “third wave of coffee”, which means that they consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff (like our also very much loved wine) instead of a commodity. Consequently, and more importantly, this means that the coffee is amazing.
Afterlife Boutique (988 Valencia Street)
This cute and intimate shop features a whole series of well-kept secondhand clothes, mainly focusing on 80s and 90s t-shirts and accessories. They’ve also got some new stuff such as the renowned Cheap Monday jeans and display upon display of seriously cool jewellery.
Clarion Alley (between Valencia and Mission St and 17th and 18th St)
Since 1992 this alley has been covered in mural painted by the volunteer street artists of the Clarion Alley Mural Project. Clarion Alley stands as a symbol of the true art and street culture in this area. Enjoy a stroll trough this alley on a sunny day.
Lots of small delis/grocery stores (along 18th Street)
If you’re staying in the Mission or simply want a snack to bring back to the hotel, stop by one of the small delis and grocery stores on 18th street. Organic and locally produced food that both looks and smells amazing.
The Women’s Building (3543 18 Street)
This is a women-led non-profits arts and education center, which is also big in advocating for important issues such as gender equality and social justice. However, what you as a tourist probably come here for is simply to admire the art decorating the building. It’s an impressive mural, both when it comes to size and the vibrant colours, depicting mythic female ancestors of African, Native American, Asian and European origin. No better place to get some goddess vibes.
Public Works (161 Erie Street)
Okay, so it was the last night in San Francisco and we weren’t going to stay out late. Suddenly, it’s 2am and instead of beeing fast asleep, we’re dancing on the stage of an underground club in the Mission. This is what happens when you run into fun people inviting you to see the Tel Aviv-based DJ Guy Gerber live. It would be stupid to say no. A diverse crowd, cool music and even better company, what a way to finish off our time in SF!
This is the northern part of SF where people head to see some of the most famous sight of the city: The Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard Street. The Cable Cars also turn around here, which doesn’t exactly make it less touristy or crowded. This is what we suggest doing here:
After the Golden Gate Bridge and possibly the Cable Cars and Alcatras, this is one of the most iconic sight of SF. Wouldn’t mind driving in SF, but this street might be an exception.
Fancy driving down here?
Rent bikes and cycle along the sea to Golden Gate – the world’s most famous bridge. Do like we did and pick up picnic supplies from Trader Joe’s (401 Bay St) beforehand. Sushi at the beach with the view of the Golden Gate isn’t too bad. We rented our bikes from a place along the Marina Blvd and it took us about 2h to go to the bridge and back, including a quick lunch and taking some (okay a lot) of pictures .
This is arguably the main street of Fisherman’s Wharf, with access directly to the piers and lined with plenty of restaurants, cafes and touristy shops. It’s crowded with tourists, so if that’s not your scene we suggest you head straight to the Golden Bridge or towards the more local and trendy Marina area.
On the first night out we ran into the owner of several restaurants in SF so we couldn’t help but try out some of his places. They each have their distinctive vibe and different kitchens, but what they have in common is truly lovely staff, cool decor and delicious food an drinks. Think mouthwatering tacos, delicious cocktails, young and trendy people and a relaxed ambience and you’re getting there.
The Brixton (2140 Union Street)
Named after the Brixton Academy in London, this was the first place we stoped by. Some spicy peppers, ceviche and wine in the sun was exactly what we needed after a day of shopping and sightseeing, and before heading to watch the SF Giants.
Sabrosa (3200 Fillmore Street)
We both love and know our Mexican food, so Sabrosa was definitely a place for us. Not only do they serve all the Mexican specialties you can imagine (plus some really good guacamole), paired with cool interior and attentive staff, they also have a cocktail bar. If you go, you definitely have to inquire about their margarita specialty which involes lots of chilli and spices – not for the faint-hearted but something we highly recommend you try. They’ve also got some great happy hour deals hat are worth checking out – for instance a shot, draft beer & taco for $10.
And many thanks to the amazing people we met who were willing to show us everything SF have to offer – from amazing food to baseball and underground clubbing. We had a fantastic few days – what a way to start our holiday in Cali.