Start the day in the perhaps most unusual and upcoming district in SF – the Mission. Traditionally home to Latin Americans, gentrification is full speed on. Streets are now filled with chic boutiques and cold-brew single drip coffee houses popping up next to traditional Mexican groceries offering avocados for half the price hipster locales are selling them for. I like the rough and real character of the Mission. Wander around between 20-26th Streets along the Mission and Valencia main thoroughfares and grab a bite to get you going for the day. A breakfast burrito perhaps? Or a traditional taco? There are many good ones, including an upscaled fusion version (note many are closed on Sunday afternoon). The Ahi taco at Loló’s is my favorite one
When in the Mission, two other sites worth visiting are the Mural mecca and Dolores park. The Murals on the Balmy alley were initially an expression of outrage over human right violations in mid-1980s Central America. Today’s themes cover city’s gentrification (with anti Silicon Valley notes), and many universal messages on humanity in the modern times.
Dolores park is where you go to dance, drink cerveza (tolerated), or get high. It attracts a colorful and cheerful crowd, and there’s usually someone skillful getting an open-air party started. Home to the original site of the San Francisco de Asís Mission (and the city’s namesake), the hill-based park offers a bonus: a beautiful vista panorama of the Financial District’s high rise skyline as well as the Bay Bridge.
Public transportation network isn’t the most efficient to get you around the city hence take a Uber/Lyft to the Ferry building. Foodies will thoroughly enjoy the Farmers market offering local produce that’s not to miss! For non-foodies Embarcadero offers a beautiful walk along the city shore. Bay Bridge (a.k.a. the other SF bridge) is an absolute must see (it’s worth a return after sunset to see its artsy illumination). You’ll also get to see the Alcatraz from the distance (or even depart to the island if you book a tour). I love walking down Embarcadero – gives me the maritime feel I yearn for when living in this coastal city. A perfect stop for a coffee or a mimosa break (the latter one being a very SF drink – orange juice with a sizeable shot of prosecco; or the other way round) – for example in the Plant Cafe Organic.
Walking along Embarcadero will bring you closer to the Coit Tower and don’t shy away from going up the hill. The view is beautiful (and you’ll get a grasp of the Golden Gate bridge if there are no ‘low hanging clouds’, the local equivalent of fog). Queues to go up the tower tend to get long but it’s worth going inside even if only to see the New Deal era murals local artists were commissioned to do during severe unemployment time in the 30s. Till this day the murals transmit the spirit and hope of the city in the crisis times.
When you step out Coit Tower you’ll almost at the door of both the Italian quarter as well as China Town. Go for either – it’s a nice stroll along character-rich streets. You’ll likely get a nice bite or dinner too (consult your trusted sources for the best Italian or Chinese as there are many!).
Finally, the last stop of the day, is the Grace Hill Cathedral on Nob Hill. Regardless if you are spiritually minded or not, its architecture is a landmark in itself. The somewhat intimidating concrete interior shows illustrations of the city’s history including the United Nation founding meeting mid last century. And the interfaith AIDS chapel is a true testimony of the what the city is striving to believe in – equality in diversity. It’s really powerful. If you decide to skip this one there’s a place not to miss just around the corner. The Mark Hopkin hotel hosts a Top of the Mark lounge with stunning views of the city from its 19th floor (that is on top of Hill). Close the sightseeing part of the day sipping a cocktail and watching the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean.
The day of the classics! In the morning, go to Alamo Square to hang around the Painted ladies, a row of Victorian- and Edwardian-style houses that are a big architectural jewel in themselves. Sadly, there are no coffee/breakfast places adjacent to the square, but the nearby Haight street offers many – just a 10 min walk away (for before or after).
From there, get a ride to the Russian Hill. It’s worth walking a couple blocks – not only for a little workout offered by the hilly sidewalks, but also for countless stunning views of the city and the bay. Make sure to get a grasp of the Lombard street – the said world’s most crookedest street and running down a hill (imagine movie-like car chases if they were allowed!).
An easy walk down the hill will bring you to the bay shore. Now get ready for a longer stroll leading up towards the Golden Gate bridge (it’ll take about two hours to get really close; it’s already beautiful from the distance but if you wanted to get a close up you may want to grab a bike – rentals are available in near). Depending on the amount of time you want to take, the baywalk offers a lot. To me, it paints a picture of the idyll San Francisco we ‘know’ from countess movies and songs. Life happens along the shore and you’ll see San Franciscans playing on the beach, working out at Marina sport stations, walking their dogs, running their errands in yoga pants and with coffees-to-go. If you’re okay with cutting the walk down to couple hours it’s worth visiting the Golden Gate park and its central de Young museum. The latter one is home to American fine arts collection from last four centuries, and always offers other exquisite temporary exhibitions.
You’ll now have seen my most favourite landmarks of the city. Finish off the day with a glass of Californian wine (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the local favorite from the nearby Napa/ Sonoma valleys). The choice of cuisine is unlimited so pick what you like (just remember you usually need to book in advance – most places are on Open Table). Lean back and relax – you deserve a really nice treat after this eventful and, hopefully, enriching weekend!
This article has been put together by my friend and local resident Magda Wust
If you’d like to read more about the US, check these posts…
- Check if you need a visa, get help processing it at iVisa.
- Never ever leave without travel insurance. Get affordable coverage from World Nomads or long term insurance from Safety Wing.
- I find all of my flights on KAYAK. Check their Deals section too.
- Search for all your transportation between destinations on the trusted travel booking platform Bookaway.
- I book all my day trips and tours via GetYourGuide, they are the best and their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- Get USD35 off your first booking with Airbnb.
- Compare hotels EVERYWHERE at HotelsCombined and book with Booking.com. Or swap your home with Love Home.
- Compare car rental prices at Rentalcars.com