Pack your layers for the bay breeze and your best California casual style to get ready to spend a weekend in San Francisco. If you go slow and soak up the California vibes, it’ll be just enough time to get a taste of the 49 square miles.
Arrive on a Friday afternoon and drink in the views of mountains, and homes stacked on hillsides as you drive into the city. Drop off your luggage at your home base in trendy, if somewhat sketchy, Mission. Late afternoon is a good time to stroll the neighborhood and soak up its flavor – make sure to keep an eye on the sidewalk so you don’t step in anything nasty.
When you decide it’s time for dinner, turn yourself towards the Castro neighborhood and get your name on the list at the tiny Sushi Zone. Don’t stress about the two hour wait – it’ll fly by while you whet your appetite at Destino around the corner. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the chicken hearts. When you head back to Sushi Zone, start with the baked sea bass and then ask your neighbors for their recommendations. Catch a lyft to take a drive around the neighborhood, then head back to Mission if you’re up for some more nightlife. Afterwards, head home to rest up for a long day of being a tourist.
Wake up early and get in line at Tartine Bakery for breakfast. Let the smells wafting out of the doors entice your appetite, and try to catch a glimpse of what’s baking fresh through the windows as you move closer. Make sure to keep an eye on the street while you wait for your pastries, you may see some interesting things. When you finally get up to the coutner, order morning buns, the quiche, or a banana cream tart and remember to take plenty of photos for the ‘gram (unlike me, who was so hungry that there are no pictures). Be careful not to fill up though, because your next stop is the the Ferry Building Marketplace. While you side step chef carts and strollers to peruse the stalls overflowing with flowers and fruits there, be adventurous! Don’t be afraid to try the Nepalese buffalo dumplings, or the super fresh Hogg Island Oyster Co. oysters- everything’s delicious.
Once you’re stuffed, make your way to Pier 39. Take a few moments to appreciate the sea lions’ hilarity. The best view is from the upper deck. Peruse the stalls hawking San Francisco branded hoodies and other curios. When you’ve taken in all the tourist attraction you can handle, make your way to the docks to find the yacht you chartered for a sail. Throw on your jacket as you board, and prepare for an exhilarating afternoon on the bay. Once you’ve rounded Alcatraz and Angel Island, sailed along the Golden Gate and Oakland bridges, and spotted tiny watercraft sailing almost perpendicular to the water, it’s time to head back to shore.
Get your land legs back and walk up to Coit Tower for panoramic views of the city and the bay. Skip the trip to the top if the line is long; the view from the base of the tower is almost as good. When you’re done, take the long walk down (and back up) to Lombard Street. Meander a bit, and explore the parks and municipal buildings along the way. When you arrive, marvel at the crowd of tourists standing fearlessly in the intersection, and don’t forget to give the most crooked street in the world a glance too. After all that walking, you deserve lunch, so head to Sotto Mare for the best cioppino in town. Don’t fill up on the bread, because you’ll need the space for all the seafood that comes packed into the bowl sized for two. When you just can’t eat another mussel, head back to your home base. If it’s a nice day, make your way over to Mission Dolores for the best people watching in San Francisco. It’s an immediate lesson on SF demographics – plenty of young, well-off people cavorting, cops paying no attention, and elderly people collecting cans to try and make their rising rent. Serendipitously run into an old friend and discuss all the high and low points of the city.
Slip into your best California cocktail casual for your dinner reservations at one of the many Michelin starred restaurants in the city – Mourad is a solid choice, with Moroccan fusion food and a stunning dining room. Don’t skip the foie gras, and opt for the family style dinner. Walk off the decadent meal by exploring the financial district. This part of the city is so beautiful at night; the sidewalks sparkle. Continue exploring, and find yourself in China Town. Make friends with a group of locals, and see where they’ll take you.
The next morning, get a late start. Grab some cash and use it in China Town to buy a boba drink and all your souvenirs. If you’re looking for an authentic Chinese food experience, skip this – do yourself a favor and go to inner Richmond.
When you’re done shopping, catch a lift over to the Sunset neighborhood. It’s a long drive but you’ll get your first chance to see what life in San Francisco’s suburbs are like. Head to Hook Fish Co. for lunch – it’s a restaurant that serves locally sourced, sustainable fish – in fact, they can tell you exactly where the boat caught the fish you’re eating, and how they caught it. Start with the poke and chips, and finish with a burrito for a real California meal. Eat outside so you can enjoy the weather and watch the surfers walk by, black sand coating their bare feet.
Now that you’re fueled up, walk the two blocks to the beach. Dance with the icy tides, then warm your feet deep in the sand while you watch locals and their dogs run along the beach. Breathe in the sea air and feel the cool breeze on your face. Walk along the waterline and observe all the wildlife. Spend hours here, but it will feel like minutes.
If you decide to leave sooner rather than later, you can make one more stop at Golden Gate Park. Walk along the main road until you reach the Japanese Tea Garden. Amble through the park and take in the perfectly manicured greenery mingling seamlessly with wilder components, showcasing various monuments to Japanese culture. If you’re feeling peckish, grab a seat overlooking the pond. Get tea and sandwiches from the restaurant, then finish with ice cream mochi and pocky sticks.
It’s finally time to leave the bay. Collect your luggage and head home, but dream about it your first night away.