A San Francisco Travel Guide
Our family took a trip to San Francisco in late July and had a great time! If you are headed to “The City” for the first time, check the weather and don’t assume that summertime will be warm. Locals will tell you it’s not summer there until October. We wore sweaters and jeans and sweatshirts the entire time but the we loved every minute of it. We stayed in an Air B&B in the Sunset district which is more of a quiet neighborhood. We had a great experience. (Air B&B actually got it’s start in San Francisco!)
We highly recommend:
Vantigo tour! This is the original VW bus tour of San Fransico. Such a great tour full of interactive history and stops along the way so you can get out and walk around. They have a fleet of VW buses and the owner of the company was actually our tour guide. Super nice guy. This was the most fun way for us to see all of the major parts of town we wanted to cover while we were there. From the bus, which seats only 6 so with our family of four it was basically a private tour, we got a great overview of the city and made notes of areas we wanted to return to for further exploring on our own. My teens even thought the tour was the one of the highlights of the trip which is probably the best recommendation I can give!
Muir Woods was beautiful and totally worth the drive. Not to mention, you get to drive across the Golden Gate bridge! The redwoods are truly spectacular. The drive into the mountains to get to Muir Woods is scenic and if you are there in the summertime, roll your windows down because the air even smells good! Wild eucalyptus is growing along the road.
Alcatraz. Note: go online and get your tickets way in advance because these tours can book up months in advance. Watching Escape From Alcatraz before the trip actually helped me enjoy the prison tour more than I would have otherwise. The movie is filmed in the actual prison and based on a true story. The views of the city and the bay from Alcatraz island are terrific and there are a surprising number of flowers on the island too.
The Panoramic Highway is another highlight for me. Such gorgeous coastline with quaint towns and fruit stands along the way.
Sausalito is a fun place to visit with a lower buildings and a little slower pace than “The City.” Get some ice cream, lay down in the grass and watch the boats in the bay. Then stroll the streets and do some shopping in the local boutiques.
The Mission District has some fun spots and many colorful murals depicting Hispanic culture and history.
Mission District is also home to the St Francis Fountain, the oldest soda fountain in the city. Milkshakes yum!
Some of our favorite food wasn’t found in the restaurants everyone is talking about! For example, we ate at the famed Nopas restaurant but we were sadly underwhelmed. We ordered by the recommendations and yet I think maybe we still all ordered wrong.
The Sunset District is full of more quiet streets with interesting residential architecture, local shops and restaurants. Our Air B&B was just down the street from the Hidden Steps which are a super steep set of stairs taking you from one street, up to another. A few years ago, some artists in the area decided to create handmade tiles for the steps as a community collaborative art installation. It’s beautiful, but making it to the top is no easy job.
The restaurants up in the Sunset District are known by locals to be terrific even though this district is much more of a neighborhood than a tourist area. San Fransisco likes to brunch so therefore: plan ahead and make reservations if possible, be prepared to wait or take advantage of the time zone change that is working in your favor and show up bright and early before the 10:30 rush of brunch-goers arrives.
Outerlands –in the Outer Sunset neighborhood. Go here for an amazing brunch! We went back for a second time in one week. Tip, they put out the wait list at 9AM even though they open at 10AM. So put your name on the list early and then wait otherwise…well, no avocado toast for you. (for more on this, see this blog post)
Arizmendi Bakery for thin crust pizza and bakery items like fresh croissants! I walked there several mornings for coffee and croissants and figured the walk back up the hills to our Air B&B would help justify all those calories. But who am I kidding, I was going to enjoy them anyway. It’s vacation, no justification needed.
Nopalito–for fabulous upscale Mexican. Even their nachos are like none other I’ve ever had before or since!
San Tung–The most Yelp reviews I have ever seen for one restaurant! It’s a tiny little Chinese place famous for their wings which I still dream about.
My husband and son took off to find the water one day and stumbled upon the Hook Fish Co. restaurant which had just opened. It was so good they sent for my daughter and me to join them. Some of the best casual seafood we have ever had!
I took in the Summer of Love exhibit at the de Young Fine Arts Museum. A beautiful museum in the center of the Golden Gate Park. The exhibit celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Such great history was in the exhibit of the state of the country that summer, the youth of the time and the fashion. The exhibit included the story of how one female San Fransisco vintage shop owner developed the bell bottom jean and then had the idea to go downtown to the headquarters of Levi’s Strauss and (convince the executives after a few times of being told no) create the style with them.