I'm back! Ok, I've been back for a few days now, enjoying Summer in Wisconsin with my In-Laws. In-Laws that were here babysitting while Hubby and I got to enjoy a week (almost) of wonderful time in San Francisco. What a great trip. San Francisco has so much to do and see, that I feel we only brushed the surface in the 4 and a half days we spent there.
Today I want to give you a bit of an overview of what I learned during my time in San Francisco - what to do, where to eat, where to stay and how to get around. It most certainly isn't a comprehensive guide, but hopefully it will be helpful for anyone who is going to be spending a few days there. Here we go:
Where to Stay:
Okay - it's true that I only stayed in one place, and therefore don't know if it's the "best" place in San Francisco. However, I did my research before booking a room, and chose a place that met my picky criteria - affordable, centrally located, rated well and "nice" enough for a romantic getaway. I chose The Parsonage B&B. It's located at 198 Haight St., very close to public transit and with many great restaurants and bars within close walking distance. The B&B is in an old Victorian home and is furnished with antiques. Our room was clean and spacious with a very comfortable bed.
The hospitality at this B&B was exemplary. Joan and John are the hosts, and I felt they went above and beyond to make sure we were comfortable. They were always helpful in giving recommendations, and accommodating our needs when our schedule didn't match with their regular breakfast schedule. And the breakfasts were great - several courses and we were always full of homemade food after.
Where to Eat:
San Francisco is definitely a food city. You can get any food you can think of - from Ethiopian to Burmese to Sardinian to Chigaco deep dish pizza and of course Japanese, Chinese and Mexican. Again, since we were there for such a short period of time, we barely made a dent in the options available. However, here is a list of the meals that especially stood out to us (please keep in mind that Hubby and I are more "hole in the wall" type people when it comes to restaurants - no 4 star, white tablecloths for us most of the time).
Swan Oyster was our first stop in San Francisco, right after we dropped off our bags. I had read that there is always a lineup for the place, and that going right when they open (at 10:30AM) can minimize the wait. So off we went for a seafood brunch. We got in line somewhere between 10 and 10:15AM. We didn't quite make the first seating, and had to wait until a few people finished their meals before we could be seated. It was worth it. The place is an institution - one of the oldest restaurants in SF. And the seafood was great! So fresh! It was the first time I had ever tried raw clams, and they were the highlight. We also got a sashimi platter, which is not actually on the menu. It was basically just a plate of whatever fish they had (ours was tuna, salmon, scallops and....I don't remember) with olive oil, chopped red onion and capers. So good! We also got raw oysters, and clam chowder with bread.
Oh, and the highlight of the meal: we (ok, Hubby to be exact) was sitting right next to Eric Ripert! Yes, one of the most famous seafood chefs ever was rubbing elbows (literally) with my Husband at a seafood restaurant. AND, he ate his raw oysters the same way I do! With Tabasco and lemon. He also seemed to really like the crab backs, as he ate 3 whole ones to himself. And no, we didn't talk to him or take his picture, as we didn't want to disturb his meal. But so awesome anyway!
Good Luck Dim Sum, 736 Clement St. (CASH ONLY)
We loved the Dim Sum at this place so much that we actually made a special trip there on our last day to get a box full of delicious dumplings to take with us to the airport. This place was definitely not what I expected: it is basically just a takeout counter with a few tables at the back, and you just point to what you want through a glass counter. But everything was so great, the shu mai was definitely the best I've had. And their hot sauce was particularly good. And cheap! We got an overflowing large takeout box, plus a couple of sweets in a bag for only $17!
Sushi Zone, 1815 Market St., (CASH ONLY)
We had sushi at a couple of different places, and this was the better of the two by far. It was much, MUCH better than even the best sushi restaurant I've been to anywhere in the Midwest. The place is tiny, with maybe 10 seats at the sushi bar, and a couple of small tables. There was no kitchen to speak of - only the sushi prep area, with a couple of toaster ovens, a small pot of hot oil over a portable gas burner and a rice cooker. So be prepared to fill up on sushi - no hot food in sight here!
Okay. I didn't technically eat here, but I wanted to talk about their bread. It was served for breakfast at our B&B, and it was the best bread I've ever had. By far. We did walk by the place, and it was lined up at 3PM. So I'd definitely recommending to try it out. Maybe get a sandwich on their famous, delicious bread.
Where to Drink:
We made the short walk to Toronado from our B&B on our first night to try Pliny the Elder, a beer that is impossible to get in Wisconsin, and very good. It's a small pub that specializes in beer. If you love beer, and are looking for a beer that might be hard to find, try Toronado.
I had heard that this was THE place to go to try really good, local beer. We almost didn't make it here, but I'm glad we did. We arrived at around 4pm on a weekday, and the bar was already packed. We tried a flight of 7 of the beers they currently had on tap and enjoyed most of them. The Turpene Station double IPA stood out. It was very good.
Another place for beer lovers. There is a small bar and short (but wonderfully curated) tap list. Many coolers full of a large variety of beers to purchase and take home.
I had been wanting to go to this place after seeing it on a couple of different TV shows several years ago. It's a tiki themed bar and restaurant, with and indoor "lagoon" (which apparently used to be a swimming pool), and thunderstorms that occur periodically. We went for happy hour (Wed-Fri 5-7PM) for reduced price drinks and the option to buy a $10 appetizer buffet. The bar was standing room only at about 5:30. The drinks were very tasty, with the Pina Colada being particularly good (no syrups here - only real juice, coconut milk and booze). We skipped the buffet. Overall, it's a fun place to go if you like fruity drinks.
What to Do:
If you want to spend your vacation doing things other than just eating and drinking, don't worry, San Francisco has got you covered. There are lots of tourist attractions catering to every interest. Here are the things we enjoyed:
Alcatraz Tour: Seeing Alcatraz was definitely interesting. If you like history even a little bit, you'll probably enjoy heading over to the island. You'll probably learn a lot. Even if you don't like history, you'll at least enjoy the views of the city from the island. Note that there is only one tour company that is actually allowed to take guests onto the island (in link). The tours can book up weeks in advance during busy times, so make sure to book ahead.
Wine Tour: If you like drinking wine, consider taking a tour to Sonoma or Napa valley to try some wine. Sure you could rent a car, but then you'd need a designated driver. We toured through Incredible Adventures, and I was happy with the guide. I wasn't thrilled with the wines we tasted, but I may just not have the palate for wine that I used to. Keep in mind that a wine tour will likely take up a whole day.
Muir Woods: I LOVED going to Muir Woods to see the giant redwoods - it was one of the highlights of the trips for sure. If I ever go back to the San Francisco area, I would love to take a picnic there and spend the whole day. We went here as part of our wine tour, and spent about an hour wandering around, taking pictures of the huge trees. Getting here from downtown takes about 45 minutes. It will involve taking a shuttle bus or tour, or possibly driving yourself along the very windy road up. However, parking is very limited, and it was already full when we got there at around 9AM.
Exploring the city and parks:
One of my favorite things to do anytime I'm in a new place is to just walk around and take in all the new places. San Francisco has a lot of beautiful and historical neighborhoods and landmarks to see. And the parks - you could spend a whole day or more exploring Golden Gate park. Not to mention the Presidio and the areas around Golden Gate Bridge. Walking feels safe, and cars are generally courteous to pedestrians.
We used various modes of transportation to get around San Francisco. We started out with Uber. We planned to take the BART from the airport, but found that for two people, Uber cost almost the same, and got us right to the door of the B&B. This turned out to be a common thread. Later that day we did take the historic cable car, because we're tourists and because one end of the California line to the other happened to be right where we were headed. This was a pricey ride - $14 for two people. But when in San Francisco...
The only other public transit we did was the F-line - refurbished vintage train cars that ride along the Embarcadero and Market Street. A fellow Whisk member, Erin, posted on her blog a few weeks before we left that transit was a challenge. I thought "how bad can it be?" Turns out she was really right. We tried taking the F line several times, with limited success. The first time, 2 or 3 cars drove right past us full to the brim - we took Uber instead. The second time was a success with minimal waiting, and the third time we waited close to an hour before actually getting on a car. Schedules seem to be pretty meaningless. For the most part, Uber and Lyft worked out to be better for us - reasonable fares and minimal waiting around.
Your other options are walking and cycling. We did some of both. As I said before, walking seems very safe, with drivers being courteous to pedestrians. The city is fairly geographically small, and it is generally easy to get from one area to another. However, there are some bad areas, some of which I think we may have gotten close to during the day. I never felt unsafe during the day, but I think you would have to be more careful at night. I would recommend talking to a local that is familiar with the area to give you the lowdown on areas to avoid.
We rented cycles for one day from CityRide bike rentals, which was very close to our B&B. We got slightly higher end (hybrid) bikes, which is what we're used to riding at home, and because we were anticipating the hills. We found cycling to be a great way to see the city. It lets you get around much faster than on foot, but still at your own pace with a chance to stop anywhere, anytime you want. CityRide provided us with cycling maps, that had bike routes highlighted, and even indicated the degree of hills you would be required to pedal up (or down). Though I initially really wanted to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, by the time we got there it was getting late and we were both getting tired, so we decided against it this time. However, it would make for a great ride.
So, what did I miss? What are your favorite spots in San Francisco?