San Francisco is often described as the commercial, cultural and financial center of Northern California. It’s the most densely populated city in the U.S. and a major tourist destination, known for its famous Golden Gate Bridge, the former Alcatraz Island jail, Victorian architecture and its manual cable car system. The city is surrounded on three sides by water (the Pacific, the San Francisco Bay, and the San Pablo Bay) and close to the warmer climates of inland California. Mixed with the cool winds from the water, the city is often submerged in a deep fog. San Francisco is a whirlwind of culture and attractions, and it’s tough to see it all in just one weekend. Decide how to spend your time in The City by the Bay with our Q&A with San Francisco local, Sinead.
THE LOCAL: Sinead
WHY YOU SHOULD TRUST HER: Sinead has spent five years living in San Francisco and is a buyer for Williams Sonoma. She loves trying new restaurants, enjoying the amazing weather all year long, and experiencing the international culture and diversity of the city. Most of the friends she’s met there are transplants! She also spends many weekends in the surrounding areas of SF- including Napa Valley, Sonoma Country, the South Bay, and Tahoe. Read on for tips on what to do on your trip to San Francisco from this SF local!
TRIP TO SAN FRANCISCO QUICK FIVE
1. Favorite Street to Wander/Stroll in SF: When I first moved to San Francisco, I loved Union and Chestnut Streets in the Marina district, but I later discovered Pacific Heights. I feel truly connected to Fillmore Street, as it has more high-end boutiques, great yoga studios and delicious small bistros. I HIGHLY recommend La Mediteranee. The Mediterranean menu is inspired by Armenian and Lebanese family recipes and there are three locations- on Noe, Fillmore and Powell Streets. If you’re a foodie, the Mission district will be your spot- there are several Michelin star restaurants in the neighborhood. I love Foreign Cinema for brunch and dinner (and foreign films during your meal!)
2. Best Coffee Shop or Bakery: I have to say I love Blue Bottle Coffee, which I get at the Ferry Building Farmers Market on the weekends. You can also visit on weekdays, as they have a stall inside the building. My favorite drink is the Mocha flavored with local TCHO chocolate.
3. Best Area to Shop Local: If you want high-end, luxury shopping, definitely go to Union Square and visit the Westfield Mall on Market street. If you want more unique boutiques, I would venture to the Marina and walk along Union Street & Chestnut Street. Or, visit Hayes Valley for both local restaurants and shopping (and make sure to stop into Miette for a sweet treat while you wander!)
4. Favorite Sunny Day Agenda: On a sunny weekend morning, I love going to the Ferry Building Farmers Market. If you’re in the Bay Area long enough, it’s worth the whole day trip*. My ultimate sunny day activity in the city would be to take a ferry ride out to Tiburon and dine at Sam’s Anchor Cafe (an outside seafood spot with great cocktails). I would also recommend taking the same ferry to Sausalito to roam the streets filled with cute shops, art galleries and restaurants.
My favorite all-day getaway for your trip to San Francisco would include reserving a car service and traveling up to Napa/Sonoma for wine tasting. You can see a lot in a day, but it’s better to stay the night and do wine country over a minimum of two days, because there’s so much to do.
Tips for your Napa or Sonoma Trip
Hotels I recommend include Hotel Yountville, Meritage in Napa, or Indian Springs Hotel and Resort. Airbnb is also an option if you’re with a larger group. The breakfast at Model Bakery, just outside the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa is great. There are many options inside Oxbow as well. For lunch, try Fremont Diner in Sonoma, a roadside diner serving locally sourced country cooking in a casual atmosphere. For dinner, try Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller’s casual American restaurant in Yountville, with a daily-changing four-course menu. Ad Hoc is closed on Tuesdays & Wednesdays.
BEST WINERIES IN NAPA VALLEY
Make sure to reserve your tastings ahead of time at these spots!
- SCRIBE– sustainable winery in Sonoma; the young owners restored the land on this run-down turkey farm into the laid back, hipster haven that it is today. Try the Chardonnay.
- Frogs Leap– in Rutherford, cute and girly.
- Alpha Omega– In Rutherford. Go for their beautiful patio!
- Ram’s Gate– This winery is on your way out of Sonoma, and is definitely worth a stop before leaving wine country. Great architecture (very Restoration Hardware), fun atmosphere, and amazing Pinot Noir.
- Paraduxx– near Yountville; tastings here by appointment only
- Rombauer– in St. Helena; you can bring a picnic lunch here!
- Silver Oak– in Oakville. Go if you’re a Cabernet Sauvignon snob:)
- Duckhorn– Stunning grounds in St. Helena; requires reservations for groups of five or more.
- Sherwin Winery– winery in St. Helena. The winery has a comfortable, homey feel and the tasting room overlooks the Estate’s vineyards and lake.
5. Most Essential San Francisco Tip: It’s expensive! All of the activities above are super fun but pricey (especially Alcatraz!). Even my favorite Blue Bottle coffee is a weekend treat, not an everyday purchase, so budget wisely. It’s also very hilly, so if you plan to walk a lot, make sure to bring comfortable shoes. Another packing tip for your trip to San Francisco: bring a jacket, even in the summer! The microclimates of San Francisco create changes in weather even neighborhood by neighborhood- the variance tends to be most noticeable in the summer. Two fun tips I just learned are that the subway train is called “BART” not “The BART”, and locals hate when people say “San Fran” or “Frisco”. If you want to shorten the name, say “SF”.
TRIPADVISOR’S TOP FIVE SAN FRANCISCO ATTRACTIONS
1. Alcatraz– Thumbs up if you are traveling with young children… but thumbs down for adults only. My fiancé and I went one weekend, just to say we had, and we were quite underwhelmed. However, there are beautiful views of the city there.
3. Segway Tours– From what I hear, thumbs down. I’ve actually never done a bike or Segway tour, but I’ve heard if you’re set on doing a tour, do the bike tour over Segways. If your heart is set on tours in San Francisco, try a food tour like this one or check out Detour– a company that leads tours in famous areas of San Francisco and in one to two hours, offers secrets from the locals who know it best.
4. AT&T Park– Thumbs up if you’re a baseball or sports fan. The only downside is that there isn’t much around that area other than the ball park, so it’s not ideal for walking around.
5. San Francisco Bay– Well… I’m surprised this is listed as an “attraction”. The great thing about San Francisco is you can see the Bay from most areas of the city. It is worth walking down in the Marina through the “Marina Green” to get a good view of the bay (and for photos).
*If you can’t find a car service, UberX is an option to get to wine country as well. Depending on where you are in the city, it can cost as little as $75 to get to Sonoma. So, if you have more than one person, splitting the fare both ways is actually quite reasonable.