Navigating San Francisco
FAT Scale (Food, Attractions, Transportation): 8.1/10
- Food: 8.7/10
- Attractions: 8.7/10
- Transportation: 7/10
HAPPY Scale (Hotels/Lodging, Ample Period of Time, Price, Population, Yearning to Return): 8.5/10
- Hotels/Lodging: 9/10
- Ample Period of Time: 3 Nights, 4 Days
- Price: $$$
- Population: Media Gurus, Tech-Driven, Yuppies, Art-Inspired, Young Families
- Yearning to Return: 8/10
San Francisco, the most cosmopolitan city in the state of California, is a bustling metropolis that breeds modernity and innovation, while still balancing that bright California charm and relaxed west coast pace. This is reflected in both the people and culture, as well as the physical landscape where suburban-like neighborhoods back up against skyscrapers and large seaports.
With a very odd and very real micro-climate, “Karl the Fog” washes over the city consistently serving iconic gloomy days with random outbreaks of sun. Describing this city as hilly is an understatement, but walking up and down those steep inclines will be well worth the hike. Even further, I think my favorite part of San Francisco has to be its proximity to equally jaw-dropping surroundings like wine country slightly north, the quaint seaside Sausalito just a short boat ride away, or the natural breathtaking beauty that is Muir Woods.
So bring a coat (no matter what season it is, you’ll need one), a good pair of sneakers, a large appetite, and get ready to explore this very diverse and interesting place.
The food scene in San Francisco is quite excellent. Diverse in nature, you’ll find a myriad of options including Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Hawaiian, Filipino… the list goes on. Work through the various neighborhoods and explore foodventures that way. Go to the Mission for sensational Spanish burritos, Chinatown for superb Chinese food, Daly City for authentic Filipino, and dare I say it, Fisherman’s Wharf for some seafood. Locals will tell you it’s touristy, but guess what, you are a tourist and I do think it is worth visiting at least once to grab a nice Bread Bowl filled with Chowder.
The attractions in the Bay Area seem endless because they extend past the metropolitan city itself. You’d be remiss not to get past the Golden Gate or San Mateo Bridge to see what’s outside the foggy walls. Some highlights in and out of the city:
Golden Gate Bridge
- Obviously. But don’t plan a day to go to the Golden Gate Bridge, rather plan your visit around when there is no fog surrounding the bridge. Think of this gorgeous and iconic attraction like a seasoned diva, unpredictable and slightly fussy to deal with but worthy when we’re graced with an appearance.
- In my opinion, the most gorgeous view you can get of the whole city. It’s a bit of a hike to get up to, but the panoramic cityscape and seascape are simply outstanding. And a perfect ‘for the gram’ opportunity.
Alamo Square/Painted Ladies
- A cozy park and hangout spot in front of the famous Painted Ladies houses; walk up a bit past most of the tourists, and plant yourself above where you’ll still get a nice view without the claustrophobic atmosphere.
- Sausalito has all the small-town charm and appeal without being gimmicky. It is only a short drive or ferry ride, but I’d recommend taking the ferry from Embarcadero, which will allow you to explore the Ferry Building beforehand and see the city, Alcatraz, and the beautiful bay by boat. If it’s an extra foggy day in SF, then it will most likely be a great day to venture to Sausalito, where you will encounter how leaving the city means leaving the mysterious microclimate and entering the light.
- While you’re here, grab a Burger from the very nondescript, tiny spot with patties enticing you on a circling rotunda. Afterwards, go to Lappert’s (the only location outside Hawaii), and grab scoop a Kona Coffee or Kauai Pie Ice Cream.
- The air just smells different here. Inhaling the crispness of it makes you feel more connected with nature. Being surrounded by trees at least 100x your size and hundreds of years older is not only breathtaking, but it’s an inexplicably humbling and soothing experience. Going to Muir Woods National Monument seems so devoid of any man-made structure, and it refreshes you. This is one of those places that makes you stand in wonder and savor God’s creation.
Sonoma and Napa Valley
- This deserves an entirely separate article all together, but if you’re remotely into wine, you need to go to either Sonoma and Napa, both equally beautiful in landscape and flowing with delicious wine. I’ll leave it at that. For now 😉
Other notable mentions: Alcatraz, Golden Gate Park (Conservatory of Flowers and Botanical Garden), Lombard Street
- San Francisco has public transportation, and while the BART is easy to use to and from the airport, it doesn’t necessarily go everywhere you need to get to in the city. There is also the MUNI which you can use for buses, street cars and cable cars, but the bus system can be slightly confusing for tourists and those cable cars are flocked with tourists. The most convenient way to get around is by car and by walking.
- This city is crawling with hotels. It can be a little difficult to decipher where to stay. As a first timer, I’d recommend staying near Union Square or Nob Hill to be central to all the spots you’ll want to hit. I recently stayed at The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel, which is conveniently located. While it’s in the Union Square area, it’s a perfect distance away from the chaotic tourist hub, offering a relaxing sanctuary. The hotel itself is also the embodiment of artistic, supporting San Francisco’s commitment to displaying elegant and creative art. The entire space is glamorously renovated by the famed Philippe Starck, and the lobby jointly tells the story of other artists and their works.
- One of my personal favorite touches of The Clift is the amount of living/room space you get, a luxury in a tightly compact city. My absolute love though: their Redwood Room (entirely made of one redwood tree), a cozy and classy lounge for a nightcap. I went every night of my stay.
Ample Period of Time
- While 5-6 days would be an ample amount of time to explore everything, I think 4 days and 3 nights is sufficient for a fulfilling long weekend. If you plan it right, you will get to see most if not all the attractions in the city itself, but this may not be enough time to discover other parts of Northern California.
- San Francisco’s major flaw: it is super expensive. Point blank, I won’t sugar coat it. The cost of living for locals is steep, which is reflective of how you will spend as a tourist as well.
- This is especially bothersome to me because the rate of homelessness is so high. In such a high-class, expensive city, why is this the case? Questions like this are for a separate article for another day, but this fact truly saddens me. Everyone deserves to be fed, and my heart breaks to see so many people struggling and hurting. So for people visiting, I encourage you to at least always take out your leftovers and give it to someone in need. You won’t be able to save or eat it again anyway since you are tourists. Of course, if you can do more, please be kind and give back to those that could desperately use it.
- Depending on where you are in San Francisco, the community will feel very different. One thing’s for sure – you will run into a lot of affluent young people that work in something tech or media related. That’s just the nature of San Francisco. But you’ll also find a lot of people involved in art, as this city has its own individual style and scene. Regardless, most people are cordial. They may not be as generally nice or polite as in Southern California, but this is a major city after all.
Yearning to Return
- I’ve been to San Francisco about five times and it is a great city, but what brings me back is the overall Bay Area and beyond. If you get the chance to go back more than once, explore Sonoma. Explore Napa. Explore Sausalito. Explore Marin and Muir Woods. Explore Monterey. Maybe even make it up to Lake Tahoe. Hopefully, I can get back to these places soon and share them with you. Regardless, I’m yearning to get back to Northern California and discover new and exciting gems.