San Francisco, California, USA (Feb 2016)
I was fortunate to be invited to a work conference in the USA in Feb 2016, so decided to arrive a few days early and take a detour to San Francisco for the weekend, with the hubby in tow. (We left the children at home in Australia with my mum for this trip)
Now you might think there’s too many sites in a big city like SF to fit into two days, but with some research and planning it’s amazing what you can accomplish.
Here’s my run down and recommendations:
Where to stay
There seemed to be plenty of options to choose from in different parts of the city – SF is a big place! Wherever you decide, you will end up having to travel across town to see some of the sites as not all are within walking distance from one part of the city. We elected to stay our 2 nights by the Bay Bridge at the Harbor Court Hotel, which turned out to be the perfect spot for us. We arrived from Sydney (via L.A.) late Saturday morning, checked into our hotel, which had a room ready for us earlier than expected and we pleasantly discovered it was virtually across the road and a very short walk from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (gorgeous building, lots of activity and market produce outside and good places to eat). There was a tram stop nearby and a few cafes and restaurants around for breakfast, lunch or dinner if you don’t want to venture too far. The location of this hotel also provided the perfect opportunity for taking lots of photos for a novice hobby photographer like me, as you can walk out the back door of the hotel and cross the road to see the Bay Bridge. From there it was an easy (flat) stroll along the waterfront (Embarcadero) towards the Bay Bridge.
Places to visit
You can’t visit SF and not go to Alcatraz Island. We took a night tour (4pm ferry departure), which was not only informative and interesting in terms of the history and stories but had the added bonus of enabling us to experience the sun setting behind the Golden Gate bridge, as well as the SF city lights while taking the ferry back after dark. Book your tickets well in advance to avoid disappointment – they sell out – and if you want a good spot on the ferry going over (for photo opportunities) get to the Pier to line up early (at least an extra 10 mins or so).
Other highlights in SF aside from Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and strolling along the Embarcadero (near Bay Bridge) at sunset, were Coit Tower for amazing views (think- Dirty Harry “Do I feel lucky?”), the Cable car museum (hubby is into engineering so had to drag him away) and catching an old cable car (hold on tight) to Lombard Street (the famous zig zag street).
Fisherman’s Wharf, Musee Mecanique and Pier 39 are popular tourist attractions and good to visit in the evenings for some people watching, souvenir shopping and dinner.
If you like architecture and cathedrals, Nob Hill and Grace Cathedral are also worth a visit.
There are several options and as most of the sites are spread out you will need to take a taxi, bus, tram or cable car at some point. It’s worth buying a day pass (or they have longer options too) which means you can basically jump on any bus, tram or cable car.
After visiting the cable car museum we hopped on a cable car to Lombard St, got out and walked down the windy road and back up again, then took another cable car back to Nob Hill. Fascinating watching the drivers steer them and brake and hanging on in the open air took some getting used to but was a fun experience.
If you are celebrating or after a fancy dinner, Scoma’s near Fisherman’s Wharf is highly recommended. It’s definitely not cheap, serves delicious Italian food (plus the clam chowder was amazing) and can be hard to get in without a booking (we were lucky).
Another notable mention was Original Joe’s on Union St in Telegraph Hill. We stumbled upon this restaurant after visiting Coit Tower and had an amazing brunch in a great atmosphere.
There are lots of tiki bars in SF too – we visited Smugglers Cove on Saturday night, which was heaving with all ages. Don’t expect to get a seat and there’s a line at the bar but worth the wait for a rum cocktail or two.
Also, a special mention about the coffee in SF – Australians are known as coffee snobs and find it difficult to get a decent cup in the US – without doubt SF has the best coffee I have had anywhere in the US.
The only negative was the number of homeless people, which made us a bit sad. Apart from that, SF had a really great atmosphere to the city, felt safe, had beautiful food and we had a great experience all round so we will definitely go back.
Not enough time to fit in the Golden Gate bridge from up close, although we did see it from afar from Coit Tower and Alcatraz Island.