Last week, I visited San Francisco, California for a few days of holiday to take a small break from the Big Apple and breathe in that Pacific air.
I had never been to the West Coast. Quite frankly, I didn’t know too much about San Francisco - aside from the Golden Gate Bridge, hills, and Full House.
Friends had plenty of nice things to say about the city, so it was finally time to discover it for myself.
When people tell you "San Francisco" has a lot of hills. Do yourself a favor and please believe them! My SF ignorance had me thinking there was just a one or two areas will these renown hills. They are EVERYWHERE throughout the city. These hills have eyes and they will watch your dinky calves get put to work while walking up their goliath slopes.
The Mission District would be San Francisco's equivalent to the Greenpoint/Williamsburg of NY. It is full of young people, trendy bars, restaurants, and shops. I guess you can say it's a happenin' place.
Fishermans Wharf reminds me a lot of Coney Island - by the water, smelly (Pier 39), and full of tourists. It's a nice stroll, but I prefer walking around the Marina District or Russian Hill where you'll find beautiful streets and breathtaking views of the Bay Area.
The real Chinatown puts the one in NY to shame. It was definitely one of my favorite areas to visit. Be ready to battle your disorientation because you really feel you're in a different country. From the buildings, street deco, and shops - you'll be left wanting more from this little taste of China.
There is plenty to see and do in San Francisco. The list below is only a short-list of suggested sights I'd recommend. Of course, there are many more - but I'll leave it up to you to explore and do your own research. That's half the fun!
- Palace of Fine Arts
- Ocean Beach
- Lombard Street
- De Young Museum's Observatory Deck
- Mission Dolores
- Balmy Alley
If you decide to spare your legs from biking (eventhough you should do it anyway), you will find comfort in knowing that SF has a decent public transportation system. Given that there are only 6 MUNI metro lines (which also overlap each other), there are plenty of buses available.
No, the cable cars don’t go everywhere. Sorry.
The BART trains have different routes and stops that extend further than the MUNI, much like our Metro-North. It’s helpful, especially getting to Downtown SF from the airport.
FOOD / DRINK
I didn’t have any expectations about food in SF prior to my arrival. All I knew was it HAD to have some of the best damn Mexican food, well…after Mexico of course. It is California after all, right? You should have no trouble in finding a taco spot. There are as many “Taquerias” as there are coffee shops.
After some research, I came across Tacolicous (2031 Chestnut Street) as an option. They have locations scattered all throughout the city. It will NOT disappoint.
I didn’t expect to find a great deal of French spots for coffee, brunch, or dinner. I had some great meals at Zazie (941 Cole Street) and Bar Tartine (561 Valencia Street).
If wine and small plates are your things, I’d recommend checking out Bocadillos (710 Montgomery Street) or District (216 Townsend Street).
However, a craft-beer lover like myself - Zeitgeist (199 Valencia Street) wins the award! With over 40 beers on tap, this punk-style bar and beer garden also has arcades, a pool table, and a BBQ menu. Their scorching, yet delicious, Bloody Marys is a bonus, too. You can’t go wrong!
Bike infrastructure in San Francisco is a few steps ahead of NYC. There are plenty of bike lanes and several for some long stretches, like on Marina Blvd, the Embarcadero, and the Great Highway. You will find riders of all ages and styles. However, I have to give a little extra credit to the single-speed/fixed gear riders for dealing with those hills. SF would be an ideal for any cyclist to train for a century or marathon (so I assume).
I got the impression that the city takes care of cyclists. Parking is not much of a problem, but there is definitely room for more. I found the Mission District to be the most bike-friendly when it comes to parking. Meanwhile the trains, like the BART, are considerate enough to make a small space available for bicycles.
Even though, SF offers the Bay Area Bike Share - I don't recommend it. Don't get me wrong, a bike share is better than none at all. However, their use is limited to locations, such as Tenderloin, South of Market, China Basin, and Telegraph Hill areas. If you want to use a BABS, then you are better off just renting a bike. In 5 days, I only saw 2 people using these bikes. It seems like a lot of people don't use them. For the sake of a more bike-friendly future, I hope I am wrong about that.