Finally being able to come to San Francisco was like meeting a celebrity crush. I was overwhelmed with excitement, and I wanted to learn everything I could about one of my dream destinations.
Two things that were immediately evident: San Fran loves bubbles and is essentially the NYC of the west.
When I took the BART into the city, I walked right into a cloud of bubbles that eventually unveiled all sorts of Pride festivities. Having one of the largest gay communities in the country, it was a treat to be welcomed into San Francisco with one of their most famed celebrations. As I walked the dirty and graffitied streets to my hostel, I was picking up all the resemblances to New York. San Fran has the hustle factor with the essence of California sunshine.
Much like all of the people walking around, each neighborhood has it’s own character. Because Asia is the neighboring contient, there are an absurd amount of Oriental people which, on some level, gives me comfort and is a dose of what to expect when I arrive in that part of the world. What surprised me most was the number of homeless people. That was something I definitely didn’t expect, and it’s sad to see.
Union Square is great for grabbing a coffee and people watching. As I aimlessly walked around, I encountered a naked man walking down Market St. and a college student wishing people a Happy Sunday. I also witnessed a mother in hot pink tights kick her daughters off the bus for trying to sneak off to Pride without permission. Ironic? A bit. Unfair? Yes.
I had my first real hostel experience since 2007, and I met people from the UK, a ton of Australians, Germany, NYC, and all parts of Asia. Talk about diversity.
Downtown is packed to the brim with Thai, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, and Mediterranean restaurants, and San Fran has one of the best Chinatowns I’ve ever seen. The city is like a mecca of delicious food.
Little Italy is fantastic at night. There are a lot of cheap pizza and pasta joints, and it’s wonderful to sit outside for dinner amongst all the lights. It can get racy at night with the nearby strip clubs, but despite that, it’s a quaint part of town. You can even hang out at the pubs at which Marilyn Monroe and Jack Kerouac were regulars. For more of a latino flavor, visit the Mission District, and don’t forget to try the clam chowder bread bowl at Fisherman’s Wharf. For dessert, pick up some chocolate at Ghiradelli Square. Cow Hollow also has a lot of cafes, small restaurants, and stores. It’s just a few blocks away from the water and Fort Mason, and you have a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
My favorite restaurants were any hole-in-the-wall dives, House of Nanking (Chinatown – 919 Kearny), Crossroads Cafe (699 Delancey Street), Honey Honey Cafe (597 Post St.), and Plutos (3258 Scott).
House of Nanking
They really set the bar high for me, in terms of great Chinese restaurants. The sesame chicken with sweet potatoes is something to brag about. It’s a small but very popular joint so go there on the off-peak hours (11am, 2pm-3).
If you eat at Crossroads Cafe, try the Caribbean Chicken Salad. It has oranges and avocado on it, and it’s a light but filling meal. Anything you eat there is delicious and cheap, and you can eat outside in their enclosed garden. It’s situated near South Beach Harbor and AT&T Park so it’s right on the water, and there isn’t a bad view in sight.
Everything at Honey Honey is superb as well. Can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. They have breakfast, crepes, sandwiches, soups, and salads in true organic, California style. It’s really cheap compared to most SF restaurants, and they give you full portions for your money. During the last half of my stay, I ate nearly every meal at Honey Honey.
You can make your own salads and sandwiches as well as select from a short list of pre-made sandwiches. This place is cheap and delicious, and they have a variety of fresh vegetables to choose from. Balsamic onions? Yum.
Taking it Slow
During my first week, I went and saw everything. I didn’t stay true to my own advice of taking it slow and burned out in the first 6 days. Half way through my time in SF, I became bored. Luckily, it was nothing that putting on my orange Raybans and walking down the streets to whatever song was playing on my ipod couldn’t fix. The days I spent getting lost in SF with my music were some of the best. Everywhere I turned I was reminded of how lucky I was to be there.
There’s so much going on in SF. If you visit, take it slow so you maintain your energy to tackle the big city. Use my lesson as motivation not to overwhelm yourself by cramming too much in.
The more time I spent in SF, the more I missed NYC. With such a resemblance between the two, you’d think I’d settle in well, but every time I looked at a map, I was reminded that I was on the other side of the country. I won’t be back in NYC until next summer, but like many have told me, it will always be there waiting for my return.
What to do
The first day of exploring, I walked all around Golden Gate park and saw Boys Like Girls and Adam Lambert play a radio show. Because the bus route I needed to take to get there wasn’t running due to Pride, I walked nearly 6 miles from my hostel to the park. It was great exercise, but I ended up finding another bus back to my hostel. Definitely do not miss Golden Gate park. Rent a bike and ride around San Fran’s equivalent of Central Park.
Ride a bike across the Golden Gate bridge and into Sausalito. Don’t walk, it’s much more enjoyable to ride a bike whether it’s on your own or with a guide. Biking, as a recreational lifestyle sport, isn’t as common as it is in Denver. It’s definitely more of a tourist thing and a great way to see a majority of the city in a short amount of time.
Walk down to the corner of Hayes and Octavia where you can have a gourmet breakfast at Stacks and do some shopping along the boutique shop lined streets. If I had all the money in the world, I’d spend it at Azalea and Flight 001.
- Take a 2-3 day tour to Yosemite or go out to Muir Woods for a day
- Go on a wine tasting tour in Napa Valley
- See the San Francisco Giants play at AT&T Park
- Go kayaking at South Beach Harbor
- Attend a concert at the Fillmore in Japantown
- Visit the museums
- Walk from Ghiradelli Square on North Point down Embarcadero through Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building
- Watch the sea lions sleep all day at Pier 39
- Walk up the gravity-defying hill that is Lombard Street and through the crooked pathway up Russian Hill
- Take a picture in front of the “Full House” house at 1709 Broderick
- Walk through Alamo Square and see the Painted Ladies
- Head to the top of Coit Tower for the best view of the Bay Area. Not worth $7, but it’s something to do.
- Buy a Muni pass that allows you to ride all the buses and cable cars around the city
- Take a tour of Alcatraz (advance reservations recommended)
- Spend a day in San Jose
- Take a day off on the beach, go skydiving or zip lining in Santa Cruz
There’s so much to see, do, experience in California’s 4th largest city, and after 2 weeks, wouldn’t you know, I really did leave my heart in San Francisco.