In light of Superbowl 50 this week, an article highlighting things to do in 50 Hours in San Francisco recently came across my desk. It offers some well-known, Travelocity-like tourist spots but most people visiting SF for the Superbowl will be here for longer than two days, not to mention part of which will be occupied by the game itself. That being said, I have to vehemently disagree that 50 hours is anywhere near a sufficient amount of time to see, taste, and do everything this incredible city has to offer. Further, there are so many attractions outside of the confines of the city itself, from Napa Valley wineries to the cliffs of Big Sur to enjoying the magnificent ski season Tahoe is finally experiencing this winter. Without deep-diving into these potential half-day and day-long excursions, this is a first-timer's guide to spending 4 full days in San Francisco, including local favorites, options for all ages and tips to making the trip as seamless as possible.
Stay in an airbnb. Trust me. Avoid the Tenderloin at all costs. Actually, try to stay in a real SF neighborhood - not at a hotel in SoMa. If you prefer quaint, quiet and family friendly areas, look at Pacific Heights, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and the Marina. Looking for trendy spots with a little bit of an edge and excellent food/shopping? Try to find accommodations in the Mission, the Haight, Hayes Valley or the Castro. North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf will be touristy. But if you're into that kind of thing, there are tons of options for hotels and Italian or seafood restaurants in both neighborhoods. Try Scoma's or L'Osteria del Forno (cash-only).
Public transportation in San Francisco is less than ideal. However, one of the selling points of Silicon Valley is its abundance of venture-backed startups catering to every human need. Most attractions are walkable but take an Uber Pool or Lyft Line to save a little dough while trekking across town. Alternatively, renting a car is a great way to see a lot of the city in a short period of time. I suggest using the app Getaround. Keep in mind that parking can and will be an expensive challenge.
Ocean Beach is a great spot to take a walk (fully clothed - bring a jacket and scarf! This isn't Southern California). The Japanese Tea Garden inside Golden Gate Park is a perfect, family-friendly or romantic date spot option. This is a great way to start the day before heading toward the trendy Mission neighborhood for the afternoon.
Unless you've been to Mexico (or perhaps San Diego), you haven't really experienced excellent Mexican food until you've dined in the Mission. One of the best spots in the city is La Taqueria (2889 Mission Street). Take your burrito to Dolores park, bring a blanket and a portable speaker and relax amongst the thousands of locals enjoying music, picnics, Frisbee and friends. Post-park, walk over to the famous BiRite Creamery for a scoop of the best of ice cream you'll ever refuse to share. If you're feeling adventurous, BiRite Market around the corner offers a plethora of high quality baked goods, produce and artisanal sandwiches. This local favorite is a popular stop for park staples such as StumpTown cold brew, fresh blueberries and La Marca Prosecco.
Looking for the perfect “cup of love” to start your day? Try the iced Mint Mojito at Philz Coffee. This popular SF coffee staple is now venture-backed (notably with Snoop Dogg as an investor) and is expanding to the east coast this year. Once you've had your fix, head to the famous Ferry Building and catch a boat to beautiful Sausalito (~30 minute cruise, passing Alcatraz with gorgeous views of Golden Gate and Bay Bridges). Stop at Bar Bocce for brunch on the water, relax and enjoy excellent pizza with a view. If you're stuck with a wait, which is likely, the town of Sausalito offers magnificent views of the city, quaint boutiques and plenty of souvenirs. There's also a Philz here in case you were in a rush earlier..
Return to the city in the afternoon full, refreshed and ready to explore. If you’re an art buff, head to the de Young museum located in Golden Gate Park. Or, if you plan to visit after may 2016, check out the newly reopened SF Museum of Modern Art. If you’re more interested in science, visit the California Academy of Sciences, also located in Golden Gate Park, which houses an aquarium, natural history museum and planetarium under one roof.
On the quest for the perfect wine and pasta pairing, SPQR offers a delightful culinary experience in a low-key, romantic setting in the city’s Pacific Heights neighborhood. Reservations fill up far in advance but if you can get a table, I recommend the 5 course pasta tasting. If you’d like something a little more casual, Fresca’s down the street is an excellent Peruvian restaurant with delicious paella and ceviche in a slightly more bustling, vibrant atmosphere.
Leave this night open for popular attractions such as The Exploratorium, a Giants game, a visit to the Symphony, The San Francisco Zoo, or be on the lookout for performances at Yerba Buena. Check The Fillmore or Audio for their lineup of shows or stop into famous SF Giants bar Harry’s for a refreshing Moscow Mule.
The urge (almost pressure) to be outdoors is one of the most common characteristics shared by San Franciscans. Urban hikes are a popular way to start the day – particularly in the summer months. Grab your trainers and your Philz and take a walk around the neighborhood. The Lyon Street Steps are an excellent workout and visiting famous Lombard Street is always fun (though, admittedly it’s even more fun to ask your Uber driver to drive down the windy street prior to stopping for a photo opp at the bottom.) Take a walk down to the Marina Green Park or visit the Presidio for breathtaking views of Golden Gate Bridge. On the way, stop into Davids Tea on Chestnut and take a stroll past local boutiques, restaurants and bakeries (for the indulgent, grab a mini cupcake at Susie Cakes. For the healthy at heart, stop into Salt and Seed for the best gluten-free chocolate chip cookie in the world.)
Take a Hike! While urban hikes are wonderful for exploring different neighborhoods, getting out of the city for a short daytime hike is the best excuse for fresh air and quality time with friends. Go to Twin Peaks or Bernal Heights for a short stroll with a great view. If you have more time to plan, skip your morning hike and make it a full day outdoors. Head to the Coastal trail across Golden Gate bridge or drive a little further to Mount Tam for a more strenuous hike through the woods down to Stinson Beach.
Dinner and a movie doesn't get better than the newly opened Alamo Drafthouse in the Mission. Enjoy an Old Fashioned and a full meal while watching a blockbuster film. Don’t skip dessert – their truffle parmesan popcorn and milkshakes are unforgettable.
If you’re dying to see what all the fuss is about, take a boat to Alcatraz for a tour around the island. This will take a sufficient portion of your day, so be sure to plan ahead.
Brunch: Should you choose to skip Alacatraz, go to North Beach's famous Mama's on Washington Square. If you're lucky, the line will be short. If you're not, it may still be worth it. Take a trip up to Coit Tower for breathtaking 360 degree views of the city.
Being that this is your last day, being a tourist for a few hours isn’t a bad idea. If you haven’t already visited the playful sea lions Pier 39, you should. While you’re there, visit the Ghirardelli factorh and stock up on chocolate squares. If you love museums and think those little red cable cars are adorable, visit the Cable Car Museum and ride one down California St or through Union Square. While you're there, slip into the park for ice skating in the winter or slip onto the patio above Macy's for a slice of cheesecake with a view. Enjoy a famous Sushirrito in SoMa for lunch. Walk through the oldest and largest Chinatown in North America and buy things you won’t find anywhere else. Take a photo in front of the Full House house (often confused with the quaint yellow one among the Painted Ladies).
Enjoy a spectacular sunset and have a cocktail at the Top of the Mark or the View Lounge at the Marriott Marquis. Have a nightcap at the understated Bourbon and Branch speakeasy in the Tenderloin (only time I’d recommend visiting here – take an Uber).
There are thousands of opportunities to make the most out of your stay in San Francisco from museums and parks to speakeasies and music venues. But you’ll find that the most incredible part of San Francisco is its culture. The people here are welcoming, inclusive, interesting and creative. Have a conversation with your Lyft driver or a stranger at the coffee shop and you’ll understand pretty quickly how easy it is to fall in love with this little town.
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Article by Andee Gardiner, Marketing Manager @ C100