When I was a little girl, I visited San Francisco for the first time. I remember being enchanted by the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, the densely packed crowds on the city streets, and the rumbling below my feet signaling the proximity of the classic cable cars racing down the iconic San Francisco hills.
I’ve ventured back handfuls of times throughout the years, and every time, I’m delighted to find that I can still experience something new, try a brand new restaurant, finding tiny nooks and crannies within the city.
During this visit, I was so excited to be staying in the heart of it all, Union Square, with the Sir Francis Drake Kimpton hotel. Many of the city’s hotels are relics of the past, with their antique elevators, old-fashioned (but still functioning) mail chutes. Yet these buildings have been modernized, giving you a one of a kind feel somewhere between quirky and classic. The hotel, especially those insanely comfortable beds are perfect for when you’ve come back to rest after a full day on the move.
I love the details of the Sir Francis Drake. Particularly the artistic details that personally appeal to me like the tile mosaics in the entryway, Art Deco style arches and ceiling design, the retro furniture featuring classic starburst mirrors and wallpaper reminiscent of the roaring 20s.
How fabulous is this hotel?
Even the top-floor Starlight Lounge has epic 180 degree views from 21 floors above, and lush, decadent design with red velvet furniture, teardrop chandelier lighting and dark lighting, creating the perfect atmosphere.
If you visit during the holidays, you’ll get to experience it California style. Palm trees light the square, and Christmas wreaths and lights out you in a festive mood the moment you set foot inside the hotel. It was quite gorgeous and definitely put me in the holiday spirit!
Don’t forget breakfast at the adjoining Scala’s Bistro. The eggs Benedict were delicious. The hollandaise was perfectly creamy and rich, and the latte was just what I needed to fuel me as I walked throughout the city exploring for the day.
Nearby Union Square comes alive at night, especially around this time of year. Congregate with throngs of tourists at the giant Christmas tree, marvel at the numerous wreaths adorning the Macy’s facade, or feel like a kid again, and ice skate to your heart’s content.
On Powell St., next to Union Square, one of the major cable car routes runs up the steep inclines of the city. If you’ve never experienced a cable car ride before, you must hop on and experience the exhilarating ride down one of the city’s iconic hills. How awesome would it be if that was your daily commute? I wouldn’t complain!
When you visit the Bay Area, don’t forget all the major hotspots in downtown San Francisco. The Ferry building, in addition to being extremely photogenic, has every type of vendor imaginable from cheese to produce, coffee, ice cream, Mexican food, empanadas, you name it. Especially in the summer this is an enjoyable walk, about 1-2 mi to/from the center/Union Square.
Mission Dolores Park is another must-see location. This is more of a locals spot, so you’ll get a relaxed vibe from residents taking it easy on the lawn, playing catch with their dog, picnicking with friends, or if you get lucky, you’ll be entertained by a group acro-yoga class practicing their balancing skills.
The Golden Gate is an obvious choice and clearly the number one spot for newbies and repeat visitors alike. I can never get enough of this view, and there are many places to see it. Whether you’re in the Marina neighborhood, up high on the streets of Nob Hill, a boat to Alcatraz, or one of the lookout points on both sides of the bridge, each view is unique. It is truly something to marvel at, with its vivid red-orange color and iconic design.
Chinatown is another classic spot to wander around and get lost. Did you know that San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in the country? Whenever I’m walking through the streets, I really feel as though I’ve transported to a small town in China. Signs are written in Chinese and it is spoken primarily throughout the streets, blending in with the occasional tour group. This area is fairly large with lots to discover. I’d suggest visiting the Fortune cookie Factory, treat yourself to a tea tasting at one of the local stores, buy souvenirs, get a cheap foot massage or try one of the many dim sum restaurants or bubble tea shops. You’re certain to have a unique experience.
Don’t forget to wander the streets and just enjoy the views. This is a very compact, dense city, and there is something new to be discovered around every corner and inside every small alleyway.
One of the main reasons I made the trip to San Francisco was for the newly opened Museum of Ice Cream. I’m all about sparkles and pink, so this was a must visit on my list. I had already visited the Color Factory, but this was sure to be another fun experience including, you guessed it, lots of ICE CREAM!
The sensory overload of scratch and sniff wallpaper, sprinkle pools, selfie stations and ice cream treats did not disappoint. This was insanely fun, and something I’d highly recommend to bring out that inner 13 year old.
Another artistic experience is seeing all of the colorful Victorian houses, which are a San Francisco trademark. They come in all shapes and sizes, and I’m constantly on the hunt for the coolest houses on the block.
Let’s talk food. The city is well known as one of the best dim sum scenes in the country, as well as Asian foods in general. In other words, it is foodie heaven.
Dumpling Time has affordable yet beautiful dishes, and it’s almost impossible to not order the entire menu. I also loved that they offer a wide selection of teas on the menu, my favorite being Jasmine. It did not disappoint!
One of my other faves was Garden Creamery. They specialize in unique flavors such as black sesame, Japanese coffee & tea, Ube (purple sweet yam), Guava li hing mui & Thai tea, and many many more. Hands down one of the best ice cream shops I’ve ever visited and some of the nicest employees I’ve seen.
Farmhouse Thai was a sleeper that I didn’t expect to love so much. We walked in, were greeted by a man in festive Thai garb, saw large groups having a great time, while loud music blared and videos about Thailand were projected on the walls. The atmosphere was fun and inviting, even seated at the bar. I ordered the Tom Kha coconut soup with tofu, and added on noodles. It was one of the best Thai meals I’ve ever had. The depth of flavor, tropical yet comforting, blew my mind. I can’t wait to try the Portland location.
Tartine Bakery is a well-known, local staple, and morning buns are a must for a quick snack or pre-brunch treat, because that’s how you gotta roll. The taste of sugar, (I think) lemon zest, and perfectly buttery pastry dough made for one of the better pastries I’ve tried, in my unofficially official pastry tasting career. If only I could have one every single morning for breakfast with my coffee!
Literally the choices in San Francisco are endless. There are so many places to try, and so little time.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely left my heart in San Francisco, and will leave it over and over and over again. But, I don’t mind going back often to find it and leave it there for rediscovering, as it is one of my favorite places in the world.
Have you visited the city by the Bay? Let me know below if you have, and if you have any suggestions for my next visit!