I love San Francisco. I always feel at home when I’m there. It helps the climate – the cool summers and warm winters – is similar to my home town of Vancouver , BC. It helps the city feels homey since I can walk or take transit to most places around town. And, it also helps my brother-in-law actually lives IN San Francisco (and not just the so-called “Bay Area” a.k.a. “everything else that is NOT San Francisco”) and is open to hosting a couple of squatters for 2 weeks.
The San Francisco Blitz
I do all those things that are native to San Francisco and cannot be found in any other city. I avoid the tourist traps like Alcatraz, which I've seen many times before (in movies) and I avoid the things that would either have a long line up (like brunch at Mama's) or take a while to get to (like going any where outside of San Francisco). I'd maximize my time, and do the things that's always made me feel connected to the city.
So, what do I do in my last 2 days in San Francisco? I do what I set out to do in my original post titled “Last 2 Days in Vancouver”: I do all those things that are native to San Francisco and cannot be found in any other city. I avoid the tourist traps like Alcatraz, which I’ve seen many times before (in movies) and I avoid the things that would either have a long line up (like brunch at Mama’s) or take a while to get to (like going any where outside of San Francisco). I’d maximize my time, and do the things that’s always made me feel connected to the city. Here are just a few things that have made it on my list.
The Hamburger Place: Super Duper Burgers
I would eat a Super Duper hamburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I love the basic menu of hamburgers, fries, shakes, and ice cream, and I love the fact that although the menu is basic, the food is not (hamburgers, fries can all come with your choice of toppings) Unfortunately, I need to model some restraint and good eating habits to my children (and pickles and a slice of cabbage cannot be considered a daily serving of veggies). On the plus side, Super Duper also has one of the best vegetarian patties I’ve ever eaten too. Yes, there may be better burgers elsewhere, but for what it is – a fast food restaurant serving a gourmet burger without the gourmet prices – I’m a big fan.
The Food Court: Embarcadero
When I’m not at Super Duper burgers (or perhaps right after I eat at Super Duper), I dine at the Embarcadero. With lots of selection and a nice, busy atmosphere, it’s a great place to grab a quick bite. Personally, I like to grab a sandwich from Acme Bread Company, 2 cups of Earl Grey panna cotta from Cowgirl Creamery, and finish it off with a nice drip coffee from Blue Bottle. Take my food outside and find a nice spot outside to sit in the sun while overlooking the Bay Bridge is my idea of a nice lunch. After lunch, I may just talk back up Market Street to feel the buzz of Financial District while burning off my lunch. Lucky for me, there’s a Super Duper on Market Street too.
The Homey Neighbourhood: Hayes Valley
I usually take my dog with me to San Francisco, and on most mornings, I take my dog on a walk in Hayes Valley. We’ll order an open faced breakfast burrito from Arlequin and eat it on their patio. We’ll walk up to Ritual Roasters and grab a nice cup of coffee and sit at the park while watching the bus tours drive by (and me feeling like a local). Sometimes, the Juice Shop Truck will be around and we don’t even mind paying $12 for a juice (ok, maybe that’s not a thing a local would do, but hey, I’m on vacation). If Smitten Ice Cream is open, we’ll grab a freshly made treat (they use liquid nitrogen and a ice cream machine that looks like a KitchenAid Mixer to make individual servings on the spot) and walk back towards the Civic Centre and back to what real life in San Francisco feels like.
The Scenic View: Observation Deck at the DeYoung Museum
Unless it’s the Louvre or the MOMA, I normally don’t go to museums when I’m on vacation. However, I go to the DeYoung Museum every single time. Besides the fact that it’s an awesome structure designed by rockstar architects Herzog and De Meuron (a fact you can bring up to your snooty friends in the future), the observation deck gives you a 360 degree view of San Francisco. You might not get a view of the Bay or the Golden Gate Bridge, but it’s a view of the city that is a must. Oh, and it’s free.
The Long Walk: Dolores Park to Valencia Street
This is another foodie inspired walk my wife and I do every single time we’re in San Francisco. We take the Muni along the Church line and stop right at Dolores Park and 18th Street. We walk east along 18th Street and start grabbing snacks: ice cream at Bi-Rite and pastries at Tartine. When we get to Valencia, we’ll head north a block to El Toro Taqueria for some shrimp tacos, then double back towards 18th and Valencia for some more pastries and coffee at Craftsmen and Wolves. On my own, I’ve walked down to Ritual Roasters (yeah, the same coffee label at Hayes Valley) to grab a coffee and sit with the hipsters. With my wife, after all that food, we’ll likely head back to Dolores Park to sit on the grass or we’ll continue walking to Mission Street to catch a bus back towards the Civic Centre. A note if you’re a tourist: Mission street may be rough looking for those of us from Canada, so you may want to double back to Dolores Park and take the Muni back the way you came.
The Other Scenic View: Union Square
Every city has a central location in downtown where every tourist likes to go. Union Square appears to be it for me in San Francisco. And although I’ve said I would avoid the touristy centres, I get an odd sense of oneness when I’m in the middle of the crazy crowds of Union Square during Christmas while trying to do my shopping (like everyone else). The view I enjoy so much is in the Macy’s building. The Starbucks on the 4th floor overlooks Union Square and, during Christmas holidays, it’s strangely cathartic to look down at all the activity: the crowds, the shopping, the rush, the Christmas Tree, and the ice rink. An even higher view can be achieved from the top floor of the Macy’s building, where Cheesecake Factory is located.
The Tea Spot: Samovar Tea Lounge
I come here for the tea, but mainly, I come here for the view. Overlooking Yerba Buena Gardens by the Metreon, this tea house is set back into the park and is deeply calming. I like to buy myself some Chai, sit out on their patio, and relax. You’ll soon forget that you’re actually in a park that’s in one of the busiest areas in downtown San Francisco and that is why I love this tea spot.
There are other spots I have left out that will have to be included in another post. What would you have to do in San Francisco before leaving? How about in your hometown? I would love to know.