San Francisco, California is a popular tourist destination famous for it’s tech savvy start-ups, Pacific Ocean views, colorful neighborhoods (each with their unique spin), immigrants (thanks to the “Gold Rush”of 1849), fog, steep inclined hills, gravity defying houses and delicious FOOD! “The City By The Bay” as it is also called, boasts of world-famous landmarks including The Golden Gate Bridge, The Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Warf, Chinatown District, Lombard Street and The Painted Ladies to name a few. Traveler’s paradise, San Francisco sure does have so much history, culture, facts and food to offer.
My traveler’s dream of visiting “The Fog City” came true a few weeks back (November 10th, 2017) when my husband was invited over for a business trip to attend an all “data-scientists” conference in San Francisco. (Thanks to the “dot-com bubble!”) With a flight change and a layover at Dallas, Texas – it took us 7 hours to reach SF from Memphis, Tennessee. (Total distance covered – 2,091.6 miles/3363.53 km!)
Note – San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the US. Book early to find good deals!
Fun Fact – San Francisco is also the headquarters of five major banking institutions and various other companies such as Levi Strauss & Co., Gap Inc., Fitbit, Salesforce.com, Dropbox, Reddit, Square, Inc., Dolby, Airbnb, Weebly, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Yelp, Pinterest, Twitter, Uber, Lyft, Mozilla, Wikimedia Foundation, Craigslist and Weather Underground. It is home to number of educational and cultural institutions, such as the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the De Young Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the California Academy of Sciences.
Our abode for the trip was Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport – colossal, magnificent and terrific! (Though, $4 for a water bottle seemed a little up the rate card!) Conveniently located in Burlingame, situated between downtown San Francisco and near many Silicon Valley industries, it is the perfect starting point for vacationers to explore the Bay Area or for executives on the go. With a 24-hour fitness center, a heated outdoor pool with a whirlpool, in-house 3SIXTY Bistro, Bar & Market and ample options of fresh grab-n-go items made it a preferential place to stay.
Since our trip was segregated between the conference days and the extended weekend plans, the first 3 days were concentrated on exploring the local cuisine at the near-by places. (And boy, San Francisco sure does have a LOT of extraordinary FOOD choices to offer!)
Day 1 –
Considering that we were a little exhausted with the travel and weren’t that keen on exploring SF just yet, we settled for the famous in-house 3SIXTY Bistro, Bar & Market in the hotel itself. The place offers a diverse culinary and cocktail experience in a contemporary, upscale ambiance. With a motto of “farm to fork”, the bistro’s menu is quite interesting and refreshing.
Food/Drinks Ordered – Impossible (TM) Burger (Impossible Veggie burger patty, arugula, tomato, Swiss cheese, gochujang mayo in brioche bun) and Passion Fruit Creme Brulee (coconut cream with shaved coconut and passion fruit). Pinot Noir Canvas, Napa Valley, CA was our downright choice for drinks.
Day 2 –
Post my husband’s busy day at the conference, with an overflow of hi-tech information, we headed out to a Peruvian eatery called Limon Rotisserie. Owner and Executive Chef Martin Castillo created Limon’s culturally blended dishes in homage to his family’s Peruvian Roots. Authentic to the T, this place is a must visit for anyone who is visiting the town! Tho it was a tad confusing to read and decipher the menu at first, thanks to our wonderful cordial waiter, we were eventually able to order and devour the superb food!
Food/Drinks ordered – Papa Fritas (our o’l spiced up finger fries), Quinoa Salad (red quinoa, frisee, spinach, cancha, queso fresco and mint tossed together in a lime based vinaigrette), Leche de Tigre Cocktail (Red Snapper, Calamari and Shrimp Ceviche), washed down with the famous Limon Margarita (Arete Reposado Tequila, fresh lime juice, and agave nectar).
Day 3 –
Following another hectic day, our next target to visit was an acclaimed bistro called Rasoi Restaurant and Lounge. An award winning Northern Indian and Pakistani cuisine haven in the Bay Area, it was a perfect choice for us “Hindustanis!” Keeping aside the waiting time, the menu and the taste took us back to our roots for sure!
Food/Drinks ordered – Assorted pakoda platter (with Samosas), Chicken Tikka, Kashmiri Pulao (laden with dry fruits and pineapple), Paneer Makhni, Raita and an assorted Naan platter. (4/5 on spice level, as requested!) Also, they serve Kingfisher Beer – which is the most preferred beer for any “Desi”.
Day 4 –
With only 2 days left to explore San Francisco (Thank God, the conference was a success!), we were all gung-ho and ready early in the morning (with so much to sight see!) Uber was an optimal choice for transportation across the city – quick, safe and economical. Our first stop in SF’s exploration was Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Located in Fisherman’s Wharf, it celebrates “The Spirit of San Francisco” with wax figures of local artists, musicians and activists from the city’s past in addition with famous figures from movies, music, politics, popular culture and sport. With 270 wax figures in total (for a first-timer like me!) you have a lot of stuff to get bonkers about!
The next stop was the famous Boudin Bakery. This beautiful building located at the Warf is the place – to see the bakers at work, dine with a view or in a casual cafe and learn the full fable of the famous sourdough bread.
Food/Drinks ordered – Rustic Tomato Soup (with sourdough croutons, Parmesan cheese served in a sourdough bread bowl) and Beer.
San Francisco Fisherman’s Warf and PIER 39 – were the next stops in our touring itinerary. As San Francisco’s most popular visitor destination, Fisherman’s Wharf offers a wide range of places to eat, shop and look around. With an era of history to talk about, Warf is a must-see tourist amalgamation point. At a walking distance from the Warf is PIER 39, which is famous for it’s sea lions (depending on which season you visit), a far-sighted view of The Alcatraz and free daily shows by local street performers at the Carousel Stage, as well as musicians in the Pier 39 Entrance Plaza. With a perfect “downtown” ambiance, a walk on the Pier is both, fascinating and electrifying!
Our dinner stop for Day 4 was the legendary Fog Harbor Fish House. It is the “world-famous” local PIER 39 restaurant offering the quintessential San Francisco waterfront dining experience. Created by the family who developed PIER 39, their history spans over three decades and includes three generations! It is the first restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf to serve 100% sustainable seafood. Appetizing, flavorsome, succulent – the food here is to die for! The ambiance is warm, comfortable and intimate. (Be sure to call ahead with a reservation as it gets quite popular after five.)
Food/Drinks ordered – Blue Cheese Garlic Bread (fresh sourdough, topped with garlic, Pt. Reyes blue cheese and herbs), Salmon (grilled, served on a bed of roasted corn, arugula, red peppers, fingerling potatoes and tarragon, with a citrus butter), Shellfish Platter (a 1/2 crab, mussels, clams, shrimp and fingerling potatoes, oven roasted with butter, garlic and herbs) and a bottle of Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma Coast, California ’14.
The day ended with our tummies full, hearts appeased and some “good-looking” selfies!
Note – San Francisco is famous for its micro-climates and the summer fog. Hence, always dress in layers and be prepared for some chilly weather, even in the summer!
Day 5 –
With just one day left to explore the entire city, we agreed upon booking our seat on the Big Bus Sight Seeing Tour. The ticket booked was the “Classic Ticket” costing us $46.80 per person if you book online (with an on-street cost of $52) – which is the easiest and the most convenient way to go around the city in the comfort of open-top buses, English-speaking guides and recorded commentary in 10 languages! Starting from Fisherman’s Visitor Center and covering 20 hot-spots like Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf, Washington Square / North Beach, Embarcadero Center, Ferry Building, Union Square South, Hilton Hotel, Civic Center, San Francisco Jazz Center, Alamo Square, Haight Ashbury, Golden Gate Park (Monday – Saturday only), Golden Gate Bridge North, Palace of Fine Arts, Marina/Cow Hollow, Lombard Street, Union Square North, Chinatown Gate, Portsmouth Square Chinatown, Pier 35 / Cruise Terminal, Pier 39 Fisherman’s Wharf, hopping-on and hopping-off the tour bus is the best way to run around SF (especially if you are short on time!)
Pro Tip – You have the freedom to hop-off the tour at any of the conveniently located stops, and rejoin when you’re ready. With more than 20 stops, there are plenty of opportunities to hop off the bus and explore the landmarks and attractions that appeal to you the most.
Note – Cable Cars are synonymous with San Francisco. Riding the cable cars is an excellent way to tour the city and experience various neighborhoods in San Francisco. Must do for the sake of an experience!
Our first hop-off was at the Golden Gate Bridge North. Once called “the bridge that couldn’t be built,” today Golden Gate Bridge is one the seven wonders of the modern world! Undoubtedly, this magnificent span is San Francisco’s most famous landmark, since 1937. A work of art, an engineering marvel, and an American icon, the Bridge is a “must visit” in your SF itinerary. (Know all here)
Lombard Street was our next hop-off stop of choice for obvious reasons! (Thanks to Hollywood movies like Vertigo, Sweet November, Full House, Love Bub, Dr. Dolittle 2 to name a few). It is an east-west street in San Francisco that is famous for a steep, one-block section with eight hairpin turns. The famous one-block section, claimed as “the crookedest street in the world”, is located along the eastern segment in the Russian Hill neighborhood. Surrounded by colorful mansions and perfectly manicured landscaping and flowers, it is also one of the city’s most scenic streets.
Fun Fact – It may look treacherous but Lombard Street’s switchbacks were actually built to increase the safety of the street. The natural steep grade of Potrero Hill was thought to be too dangerous. In the 1920s a property owner suggested creating a series of switchbacks which not only added to the street’s scenic appeal but made it safer for pedestrians.
Our next stop was the famous Chinatown District. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America! It is one of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco and hence a “go-to” destination for people wanting to experience history and culture of ethnic Chinese immigrants in North America.
Our lunch break for the day was at a snug-comfy eatery called Piazza Pellegrini. It is an elegant, casual restaurant with a warm atmosphere, exceptional service and fresh trattoria food in the heart of North Beach’s little Italy, offering an exciting array of menu choices inspired by Roman Italian classics.
Food/Drinks ordered – Garlic bread with olives and Penne All’ Arrabbiata (in spicy tomato sauce) with Peroni Itallian Beer.
Fun Fact – One of the most popular destinations for gay tourists internationally, the city hosts San Francisco Pride, one of the largest and oldest pride parades. San Francisco Pride events have been held continuously since 1972. In 2013, over 1.5 million people attended, around 500,000 more than the previous year!
Our next halt was at The San Francisco Chocolate Factory. Known for using only the finest quality cocoa beans, gathered and imported from three different continents and selected for consistently superior flavor, this joint is a perfect place to pick up “chocolate souvenirs” to take back home. (Toothsome!)
Note – San Francisco is best enjoyed by foot. So be sure to pack comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk up a few hills. Though the distances look short on a map, it could involve negotiating some steep hills, so take that into account! (Experienced, suffered and then bought myself a new pair of walking shoes from the Macys at The Union Square!)
Our day ended with our last stop being The Gold Dust Lounge. Established in 1933, this is an extremely popular spot for both tourists and locals alike! Gold Dust Lounge brings a feeling of warmth and luxury to all who pay a visit. The highlight – they offer a choice of 24 beers on tap and 14 wines by the glass!
Food/Drinks ordered – A Garlic Parmesan Flatbread (Flatbread lightly brushed with seasoned garlic butter & Parmesan cheese served with marinara sauce), A Margherita Flatbread (Fresh basil & tomatoes, mozzarella, Parmesan, garlic oil & sea salt) and a bottle (or two) of Pinot Noir Canvas, Napa Valley, CA.
Day 5 ended with us being a little tipsy, gratified and indulged! San Francisco unquestionably made us fat dumb and happy! (Hic!)
San Francisco definitely offers a lot of things to do, attractions to see, and places to eat. Undoubtedly, it is the easiest city to love and the hardest to leave! (Clearly enough, our journey back home to Memphis was quite, dazed and sleepy). San Francisco’s vintage old-world charm successfully captures the hearts and minds of holiday-makers from all over the world! A foodies “dream-house” and a traveler’s “delight”, SF will leave you wanting and asking for more. San Francisco has its icons, its landscapes, its architecture but it also has its unique personality, which leaves you in awe of this diversified metropolitan. No matter who you and where you are from, there is always a part of you that can fit in here comfortably. It’s a stunningly beautiful city where anything and everything is possible and yes, everyone is accepted! Indeed, our trip to SF was an experience to cherish and treasure! (And we shall be back for more!)
Here’s to travelling, discovering new places and witnessing history! Cheers!