As you can have probably guessed by now, I like to eat, and drink and explore new places. Our own Bay Area never ceases to amaze me with the number of unique opportunities it proffers; there are a multitude of magazines devoted solely to things to do, see and eat in this area. Since I have been asked so often by visitors for a list of my own personal favorites of “characteristic” SF places to go and stay in this wonderful area of ours, I thought I would just put them here. (Yes, I LIKE to plan).

 

But don’t miss the other links on Pacifica, and points north and south of “The” City.

 

P.S. Bring layers, layers, layers.

 

Two Days in San Francisco

 

TO DO

Museums

Even if, maybe especially if, you are travelling with children, don’t overlook these!

 

The DeYoung Museum is my favorite, if only for the building itself: the spiral tower with a 360 view of the city is hard to beat; the simulated earthquake crack that kids can follow from the front sidewalk, through boulders, to the entrance; the incredible, permanent exhibit; and the I-have-never-been-disappointed rotating exhibits ranging from Chihuly to YSL gowns.

California Academy of Sciences- A perfect stop if you have kids, though be forewarned that the crowds can be off-putting. (We have dropped our membership for this reason). But if you can stand it, the aquariums, albino alligator, live penguin exhibit, and butterfly jungle are bound to be hits (and YOU will like the living roof!). The cafeteria will floor you for cafeteria fare: wide choice, healthful concoctions and kid-friendly… plus, you can sit outside!

 

SF MOMA and Legion of Honor museums are both wonderful, too (opposite sides of town), for many of the same reasons as the DeYoung. There is a GREAT group of galleries, too, downtown, not far from Union Square, if that is more your speed. These are my favorite just for sake of ease- over 20 in one building, and some of the most stunning photography collections: Minna Galleries.

 

Outdoors Near the CAS and DeYoung are the Golden Gate Park Botanical Gardens and the Japanese Tea Garden- both are worth a stroll, if you have time. There is a lake where boats and bikes can be rented, as well- you choose whether you are looking for romantic or kid-style fun!

 

Alcatraz is a great way to experience San Francisco- audio tour is a must (voices of prisoners and guards). Yes, you need reservations in advance!!

 

Rice-A-Roni aside, the trolley really is a San Francisco treat! For the biggest bang for your buck, start at the turntables on Market Street (yes, there will be a line, but it goes quickly). {But you can also hop on at Union Square if it’s not a busy day, and buy a pass on the car. Park at the Sutter Stockton and walk a block}. Buy a pass with on/off privileges so you can hop off at the Cable Car Barn- downstairs you can watch the cables run through their paces, below the streets. Incredible. . At your destination (near the Wharf), you will be hit hard with the feeling that you have stepped into a trap, and you have- a tourist one. But since you are there, have a stroll down the water, visit the seals, and grab a soup bowl at Boudin Bakery (home of the Sourdough) after showing the kids how they make the bread out front.

 

What NOT to See PLEASE skip the Wharf/Pier 29, unless you are doing Alcatraz . The only other exception is the Bay Aquarium, which is especially delightful for its underwater tunnels.

EATS

 

It has been said that if everyone in SFO went out in dinner at the same time one night, there would be enough seats for everyone. Restaurants, good ones, are a dime a dozen. I have TONS of faves, here are just a few for a very San Fran/ beautiful experience:

 

In the Mission, is one of our consistent go-to's, Garcon.  The chef is from New Orleans, and adds a few Southern twists to his otherwise traditionally French fare.  Restaurant is small, drinks are some of the best in town, and we have never been disappointent with the service, atmosphere or food.  Great for a casual date-night.  Don't miss the Black and Basil.

Epic Roasthouse or Water Bar for a drink and beautiful view of the underrated Bay Bridge.

 

Cliff House- for brunch- enjoy a bit of SF history, overlooking the Pacific- near the zoo on the far West side of city.  Note: car break-ins are frequent here.  Do not leave anything of value in your car!

 

Also nearby is the Beach Chalet and Brewery for an outside, very casual lunch/ beer (near the DeYoung, CAS, Japanese Tea Garden and Botanical Garden).

 

Café de la Presse- Union Square- I love the location, I love the food, I really love the atmosphere. But be forewarned, this feels, truly, like stepping into a corner of Paris, not necessarily San Francisco.

Farallon- just down the street from the Clift Hotel, higher end meal, fresh raw bar, glass squid light sconces make you feel a bit “under the sea”. Good stop for a quick oyster fix (or dinner).

FERRY BUILDING

When my girlfriends and I want a special treat, we spend the whole day here. You can choose to hop from food stand to restaurant, or just buy enough for a picnic and sit outside on a bench to watch the boats and people go by. Start at the Hog Island Oyster Company (get there when it opens) for a quick 6, work your way to Boulette’s Larder for a European-kitchen-inspired lunch at the community table (a must), go by the wine store for a tasting and to browse their stacks, relax outside to people watch at MarketBar (backup for breakfast if you get there early) and have a cocktail (or dinner) at Slanted Door (rsvs recommended). While strolling, don’t miss the Beekind honey tasting stand if they happen to be there, and, Happy Girl Kitchen (pickled dilly beans and zucchini will make your eyes roll in delight), the macarons at La Miette (organic and they give even Laduree a run for their money), and the Cowgirl Creamery, a local cheese maker Alice Waters style.

ACCOMMODATIONS

 

SFO is full of neighborhoods with distinct characteristics. Union Square, in the middle, is downtown, lots of restaurants, tourists and access. SOMA is a bit more eclectic, the waterfront (Hotel Vitale) has great scenery, markets. You will not have trouble finding food or restaurants. My knee jerk response is: Kimpton Hotels- they are very kid friendly, and I have had absolutely lovely experiences with them in other parts of the country (mind you, I don’t stay in hotels here). The Prescott , Hotel Monaco, The Triton, Hotel Sir Francis Drake are all in fab areas, and have great character. Have a poke through the Kimpton site.

NEARBY

RENT A CAR and drive the coast down to at least Half Moon Bay for a walk around (small, quaint little town- pretty drive- takes 30 minutes).

 

If you have a day or two to spare, Carmel-by-the-Sea IMHO is not to be missed. It can be done in a day, but should really be two, with an overnight (see other links for more recommendations). Please note: holiday booking will be tricky- most places require a 2-3 night minimum and book early. That said, here is a link to a number of smaller B & B type places that might have affordable/available rooms… http://www.carmelshotels.com/. Keep in Mind that Carmel By the Sea and Carmel Valley are different places… One inland, the other on the ocean. Both are wonderful, but only Carmel by the Sea offers walkable reach to town. More here: Carmel-By-The-Sea

POINTS FARTHER SOUTH

If your kids don’t get sick in the car, I would highly suggest doing a drive down our coastal Highway 1. Between here and LA is Santa Cruz (you could do a day at the amazing Boardwalk/amusement park), Pismo Beach, San Clemente, Isle Vista- or if you want a more, LA-style beach (nutty, star-studded), try Venice or Manhattan beaches. I just did a drive down the coast to Paso Robles wine country and stayed in a teeny, beach town called Cayucos. The beach stretched for miles, sand dollars underfoot, seals, dolphins, fish and chip shack, 3 antique stores and 1 hotel…. it all just depends on whether you want that laid-back, old west feel or a more modern, bustling area.

 

NORTH SAUSALITO is another wonderful, little town to visit, too- just north of Golden Gate Bridge… its view of the City is hard to beat. Take the ferry (or drive, and stop to gawk on the GG Bridge) for a real Bay Area experience (catch at the Ferry Building or at the Wharf)… If you don’t have kids with you, a stop at the new Cavallo Point resort for drinks (or dinner) might be in order! And then there’s wine country…..

© 2004 by Jody Holman Webster

jody @ holmanphotography.com    • 650.430.5225     •Based in Pacifica, CA   

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