Inspired by my best friend Selina’s West Coast road trip and the What to do in LA in 48 Hours guide I compiled for her, I present to you a list of must-do’s in San Frncisco, as recommended by a local and executed by yours truly.
BEFORE WE GET GOING
- Layer up – weather in San Fran is very precarious. One minute it’s raining, the next it’s sunny and hot, then it rains again. Here is what I wore:
The main building blocks of my outfit are a pair of jeans, a super light shirt, leather jacket (so I don’t get soaked), a scarf for warmth, a designated travel hat (saves my hair in the rain and keeps it under control in the humidity) and even though I hated the idea of wearing sneakers I did, because otherwise I could have never climbed the steep San Francisco hills and completed the impromptu hike successfully. You should opt for some prettier sneakers if you’ve got them. Mine are Asics running shoes.
- Water – do yourself a favor and bring some hydration in a bottle. You’ll need it during the long day and zillion hills you’ll have to climb.
Good, now that essentials are settled, let’s move on with the activities.
WHERE WE STAYED
My travel buddy and I were fortunate enough to stay with friends who used to live in Boston and moved to San Francisco a few months ago. They live in a studio on Leavenworth Street which is right around the corner from many awesome bars and restaurants. (Fun fact: I woke up to a text “Dee, I fell off the roof” from my friend who had gone up there to take photos of the sunrise. He was fine.) If we didn’t know anyone in San Francisco, we would have definitely opted for AirBNB (save $20 off your first night using my code, DIANAA162)
Unlike LA, you can walk everywhere in San Francisco. No need for a car here, plus you’ll see a lot more if you use your legs and walk down streets that look enticing. If you need to go somewhere far, get an Uber or a Lyft.
In-N-Out – had to try it, since we don’t have it on the East Coast and all my California friends rave about it. We got French fries animal style and a burger. Pretty damn good, plus it’s open late (when the munchies hit).
Another Cafe – most places that we went to for coffee were great. After all, the West Coast prides itself on its delicious coffee; that’s where Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks started, after all. This place was right around the corner from us and had a really chill atmosphere with tables both indoors and outdoors and cool work space on the second floor. Cozy up with your thoughts and a laptop if you’ve got pending projects or just want to read the paper.
Calzone’s – quick lunch stop in Little Italy. I got the roasted cauliflower colore, which was just ok, nothing spectacular, but my friend got the mushroom, bell pepper, artichoke hearts, eggplant sandwich with mozzarella and fontina cheese + fries on the side. That one was a winner. (It took me an hour and a half going through credit card statements, Yelp and Google maps to find out the name of this place! Do yourself favor, guys, and keep notes of what you ate where.)
Blue Barn – this place is on the healthy side and perfect for a light lunch. Their sandwiches are bomb and so are the salads. I had the Beets & Greens salad and my friends got the Clubber, Rooster and Turkey sandos – all f*ckin scrumptious and nutritious. Blue Barn will leave you satisfied, yet feeling recharged and take on the rest of your day.
Nick’s Crispy Tacos – this bar is poppin’ yo! But seriously, Nick’s is a lot of fun with a club vibe, delicious Mexican food and great margaritas. The only issue is getting in on a Tuesday night because guess what – everyone else has the same idea.
It’s hard to get a good grasp of San Francisco in only 24 hours, but I think we did pretty well. Here’s our route:
Yerba Buena Gardens – a nice outdoor park right downtown where you can chill as you watch the little waterfall until you find yourself in a zen-like state.
Chinatown – everything you’d expect a Chinatown to be – a myriad of shops selling fans, little Buddha statues, lotions, seafood and bok choy; cool street art and lanterns gracing the narrow street between the shops. What makes this Chinatown special is that it’s the largest one outside of Asia. Once you cross the wide, pagoda-like gate that is the entrance, you immediately get immersed in the dynamic atmosphere, overhearing conversations in Mandarin and watching neighbors chit-chat from the high, compact balconies of their homes in the tightly-squeezed apartment buildings.
Coit Tower – “It’s worth the hike,” our friend Johnny said. We crossed Chinatown and went up the steep hill leading to the 210-foot, Art Deco structure atop Telegraph Hill. Since you’ve gone through the whole sweaty ordeal of getting up there, go ahead and pay the $7 ticket fee to head up to the top with the elevator. The 360 degree view of Bay Bridge, Ferry Building, Financial District, Russian Hill, Golden Gate Bridge, SF Bay and Alcatraz is definitely worth it. I used my iphone to take a panorama shot, as opposed to a DSLR. Ask who Lillian Coit was while you’re at it. The lady whose name the tower bears is quite the badass.
Unexpected hiking trail – We decided to walk all the way from Telegraph Hill to Baker Beach because I’m a nut when it comes to long walks and my friend was stupid enough to go along with it. (Walks are the fountain of youth, people!) The entire trek took about 2 hours. We crossed the fancy Pacific Heights neighborhood, watching nannies pick up children from their private schools and admiring the tiny mansions guarded by inanimate yet impressive lion statues at their entrances. About a half a mile before reaching Baker Beach, we stumbled upon a muddy, forest area, which seemed to be a piece of a larger hiking trail. We immediately dropped everything and spent a good half an hour frolicking between the trees and playing in the mud. (Being an adult is overrated)
Baker Beach – if surfing is your thing, you’ll definitely enjoy this area. If you’re into other hobbies which don’t entertain the possibility of drowning, such as photography, you’re in the right spot, too. Baker Beach gives you a front row view of the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the opportunity to splash around in the ocean. We caught it on a misty day, but it was still beautiful.
Haight-Ashbury – “What’s a cool, hipster place to see around here,” I asked my friend Annabelle, a Santa Barbara native who’s lived in Frisco for the past year (don’t ever call it “Frisco”). The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was her immediate response, and it turned out to be exactly what I wanted. Picture this: funky hair, ripped jeans, tattoo shops and dark bars galore. I shit you not, after I posted a few images from San Francisco on my Instagram account, 3 tattoo studios from that area started following me within 10 minutes. If you’re looking for some brick-a-brac, graffiti or a punk band to join, this is your spot.
Union Square – buzzing with people and twinkling lights shining from every corner, this is a nice spot for a break before your friend makes you climb your way up to Nob Hill. If you’re into shopping, there’s a Macy’s here, begging you to open your wallet and dig them out of the retail hole they’ve fallen into.
Grace Cathedral – “You guys had a long day, didn’t you!” Johnny said and then made us climb another 20 minutes worth of hills to get to Grace Cathedral at night. I honestly wouldn’t have had it any other way. I thought this spot was way cooler to see at night, soft lights and tranquility radiating from the beautiful Gothic structure.
Tenderloin – Johnny told us to stay away from this area at night no matter what. Well, we totally forgot and endured a 10-something block walk through “the bad part of town” while returning home at 9pm. We didn’t have any trouble, but it did look intimidating and dangerous, so try not to be there after dark.