We spent the holidays in San Francisco and did what I’m calling the “San Francisco Sample” because we didn’t spend a ton of time at each attraction but we crammed a lot into a short stay. It was a relatively quite time in the city and felt like we had the place to ourselves.
Clayton’s brother, Austin, was our trusty tour guide and he did a fantastic job of showing us the city from a local’s perspective. Of course, we did a few cliche tourist activities, but for the most part got to see the city through the eyes of a local dweller by hitting up secluded restaurants, hidden bars, and traveling through neighborhood by neighborhood.
Our brief stay was no where near the time we needed to experience everything, having friends who have lived in the city for years has shown me that. My first and only visit to SF prior to this was chalked full of traditional activities – cable car ride, walk through Chinatown, stroll down Lombard Street, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, and even a ferry ride by Alcatraz on our way to brunch.
If you’re planning to visit San Francisco, don’t worry – you can’t go wrong. Everything that I’ve experienced in and around the city has been fantastic but if you need a few ideas, here’s a list to get you started. As Austin would say, “Choose your adventure.”
DAY 1: Exploring the City
We started the day with brunch at the Deem Sum restaurant, Yak Sing. We feasted family-style on steamed BBQ pork buns, hot tea and dumplings of every flavor. After getting our fill, we took the train to City Hall for a tour and viewing the World Tree of Hope. The tree hosts thousands of origami cranes inscribed with wishes for the future of the world from world leaders to school children.
That evening, we had dinner at Tosca Cafe, a boutique Italian restaurant just down the street from Austin’s apartment in Telegraph neighborhood. For dessert I encourage you to try their famous “house cappuccino” but please note, the drink does not actually include any espresso, though it can be added. We toasted to an incredible day exploring the city at a the (potentially self-dubbed) #1 dark bar in America, 15 Romolo. My cocktail recommendation: Pimm’s Cup.
DAY 2: Parks, Beaches, and Cliffside Views
Despite what it looks like in the photos above, the first day was rainy and cold so when we saw sun on the forecast we knew that we wanted to get outside. In the morning, we took an Uber to Mission Delores Park. It’s the perfect spot to post-up for a few hours and enjoy the sunshine – people were playing football, dogs running blissfully leash-free, and we even spotted a few musicians playing for the surrounding crowds.
After the park, we tried to visit Boba Guys for artisanal bubble tea but they were closed for the holidays so we ventured over to Dandelion Chocolate. Most San Francisco visitors know of Ghirardelli because it’s a highly-popular square featuring shopping, dining, and tours located in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. However, if you’re looking for more of an off-the-grid experience then check out Dandelion Chocolate. They offer small-batch bean to bar goodies and decadent hot chocolate.
After getting our chocolate fill, we grabbed sandwiches and headed to Baker Beach. Luckily we were able to find a sheltered area in the dunes to shield ourselves from the wind and grab a bite before exploring. If you visit northern California in the winter like we did, bring layers. I was consistently cold all weekend despite having long pants, multiple layers/jackets and a hat – especially when we stopped at waterfront lookouts, of which there are many.
We caught the sunset at the northwestern corner of the city, Lands End, while overlooking the historic Sutro Baths ruins. There are multiple trails, a visitor’s center, gift shop, and cafe for exploring. Two other attractions here are the Labyrinth and Mile Rock Beach – we didn’t have enough time or daylight to check them out but I’d definitely like to see them on our next visit.
DAY 3: Day Trip to Palo Alto
The third day of our trip was Christmas day so it was relatively quiet around the city. We relaxed in the morning and then ventured out to Redwood city for a tour of Austin’s work. On the return trip home, we stopped in Palo Alto and drove through Stanford’s campus before stopping for a late lunch at Cafe 220, a Mediterranean cafe in downtown.
DAY 4: Red Woods and Red Wine
Our last day was a whirlwind. We grabbed breakfast at Noah’s New York Bagels and made our way over the Golden Gate bridge to the Marin Headlands. The view of the city and bridge was incredible. There is also a famous swing near the overlook that makes for a killer photo but it’s a bit of a trek to get to so we added that to the itinerary for the next trip.
We made a reservation for wine tasting in Napa at 3:30 pm so on the way, we had enough time to stop and quickly check out Muir Woods. The National Monument site is filled with towering redwoods that practically reach the clouds. Well-kept trails and the boardwalk allow for easy exploration of the dense and foggy forest floor. There are multiple hiking trails and we could’ve easily spent all day here. Alas, wine was calling our names so we ventured on to Napa.
A quick 50-minute drive later we made it to downtown Napa. Not knowing what would be open with holiday hours, we decided to park and walk the main drag. We decided to check out Napa Palisades Saloon and it turned out to be a delicious spot with a lengthy beer list. Their Mac and Cheese and Garlic Fries were my favorite but if you’re looking for something a little lighter, they have plenty of salad and sandwich options.
We checked in with the hostess at Darioush Winery at 3:30 pm on the dot, were each poured a sampling of the 2013 Chardonnay and led to our private table. The next couple hours were filled with quite the wine education as we sampled five of their 2013 wines – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Our host, Edgar, was a wealth of knowledge as he had grown up in the area and his father worked as a local farmer, cultivating vineyards for winemaking.
Again, we could’ve easily spent the entire day exploring Napa Valley, tasting wines from all of the local vineyards but this trip was the San Francisco Sample. Each day we experienced attractions just enough to whet our appetites and leave us wanting more – needless to say, we’ll definitely be back to SF sooner rather than later.