48 hours is never enough time to properly experience a city, particularly one as diverse and diverting as San Francisco. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying.
As part of an ongoing Herb and Lace series, I’m honored to present a few of my favorite quintessential San Francisco experiences. Every local has their list and no two lists are alike. The Bay Area is packed with some of the most amazing art and culture, music, food, nightlife, nature and outdoor activities, whatever your flavor, you can find it.
As I don’t have a car (this is quite common), my recommendations are all within our little 7×7 mile wonder. You can easily get around via Bart, MUNI or taxi – though if you’re not keen on walking, I might suggest you make friends with Uber.
Assuming you arrived on Friday, and have recovered sufficiently, start your Saturday off at the Farmer’s Market at Embarcadero. It starts from 8am to 2pm and is one of the best places in the city to gaze and gawk at the abundance of California fresh produce. You’ll understand why we’re so obsessed with organics.
After wandering around and trying samples of fresh fruits, grab a bite to eat at one of several food vendors and sit along the pier and enjoy the view of the Bay Bridge. My personal favorites are Blue Bottle Coffee, Hayes Street Grill & Hogs Island Oysters.
Before you leave, head inside the Ferry Building and visit the boutique grocers, including local highlights Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bread Company, and Scarffen Berger Chocolate Maker. A little bread, cheese, fruit and other treats will make a perfect picnic snack later on in the day. There’s also a delightful selection of food-related goodies that make perfect little gifts for anyone back home, including freshly made jams, honey, body salts, and olive oil.
Next, walk north along the water to Pier 39 for an iconic bayside experience. You’ll pass by the Alcatraz entrance (depending on the season, you might be able to pick up tickets for a visit the next day); turn right when you see the Hard Rock Cafe and you’re there: a delightful collection of tourist shops and restaurants, nestled in with an amusement park. Walk down to the end and visit the candy store for salt water taffy and sit along the water and appreciate the view of the Bay. You may even see sea lions.
Leisurely make your way west. Stop for lunch for delicious fresh seafood. Visit the Aquarium by the Bay or, my personal favorite, the Meccanic Museum for old fashion arcade games.
Whatever else strikes your fancy, be sure to end up at the Buena Vista Cafe for a late afternoon Irish Coffee. Be warned, it’ll be crowded but the tables are shared, so if you find an open seat, settle in and in no time at all, you’ll have made new friends.
Dinner is one of the facets where San Francisco shines the brightest – and I find it almost impossible to narrow the selection to a mere few. If you’re passionate about food, it’s worth doing your research. And by research, I mean a search on Yelp or Zagat.
If you simply need a great place without breaking your budget, consider Gitane in the Financial District for Spanish/French tapas, AQ in Soma for fresh, seasonal cuisine, 5A5 in the Financial District if you prefer a classic steak house.
Breakfast on Sunday mornings was one of my family traditions and as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate the spirit of brunch to mean good food with good people. If you’re craving more than the simple continental and want classic American fare, consider Dottie’s True Blue Cafe or Citizen’s Band, both in SOMA.
Afterwards, spend a few hours walking among the beauty of Golden Gate Park. It is a beautiful landscape right within the city, comparable to Central Park, as you’ll see other hikers, and bikers on any given day.
Want more than trees, check out the De-Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, or the Japanese Tea Garden.
Afterwards, for a late lunch, go to Ike’s Place in the Castro and have a picnic in Delore’s Park for a view of downtown that cannot be beat. I highly suggest getting an ice cream from Bi-Rite – and even though it may be chilly out, there is almost always a line! Yes, it’s that good.
If you still have a few hours before heading to the airport, go have a drink at the Cliff House and watch the sunset down over the ocean.
I couldn’t end without mentioning there are so many adventures I didn’t include, such as a wine tour in Napa/Sonoma Valley or venturing across the Golden Gate Bridge to a charming little sea town, Sausalito, or taking a cable car down California Avenue or eating Dim Sum in China Town…. all tempting invitations for your next visit to our beautiful city. Until then!
Golden Gate Bridge, @wallyg