With our combined love for the outdoors and delicious food finds, San Francisco feels like our spirit animal. There’s such an exciting entrepreneurial vibe and always something new to discover, but there are also few classics you just can’t miss. Pete and I have been to San Francisco several times now on business trips and always manage to sneak in a “bleisure” day or two to go sightseeing. When it comes to food recommendations, I’m definitely going to leave those to the locals as the culinary landscape in the bay area is constantly growing and evolving. However, if you’re a first-timer, here are our recommendations for things to do (and taste!) when visiting San Francisco for the first time.
1 – Grace Cathedral
I never see this one on travel lists and never figured out why because it’s a definite must-see! The architecture and stained glass windows are breathtaking and there’s a meditation labyrinth inside Grace Cathedral that’s modeled after Chartres Cathedral in France. I highly recommend their yoga in the labyrinth or one of the candlelight walks if you can plan your schedule around it. Also, if you’re in the mood for a little walk and conquering San Francisco’s impressive hills, nearby the cathedral you’ll find Chinatown which is a great spot for grabbing dim sum and souvenirs.
2 – The Golden Gate Bridge
This one is obvious, but take some notes here from our tips for the best viewing. The Golden Gate Bridge is such an icon, it just beckons you to walk closer and closer to it no matter where you are in the city, and before you know it you’ve walked 10 miles for a bettter picture. Ha! (Don’t do as I did the first time which was log 7 miles wearing my wellies. Talk about sore feet!) Here’s three spots sure to get you that postcard view you’re looking for. I recommend taking an Uber to get to a good starting point, capture your pictures, and THEN going for a walk.
- Battery Spencer at Fort Baker: This is actually on the other side of the bridge, opposite the city, and will give you a different perspective of the icon with panoramic views of both Golden Gate & San Francisco.
Address: Conzelman Rd, Sausalito, CA 94965
- Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center: If you’re on a time crunch, or just don’t want to walk too far, this is the address to plug into your GPS. It will take you right to the edge of the bridge where you can walk the short paths around the historic artillery batteries, see both sides of the bridge, and even walk up on the bridge if you’re feeling brave!
Address: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA 94129
- Fisherman’s Wharf: This area can be very crowded and touristy, so I recommend going for a walk here in the peace of the morning when it’s more quiet and serene. If you’re wearing the proper shoes, you can walk all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge (It’s about 4.5 miles/1 hour walk, 2 hours if you’re stopping to take pictures), and then just Uber back. Stop by Boudin Bakery to grab a quick breakfast to-go and taste some of San Fran’s famous sourdough bread.
Address: Boudin Bakery & Cafe, 160 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94133
3 – The Tonga Room
While the food here might not be worth writing home about, cocktails at the legendary Tonga Room in The Fairmont are a must! It’s a quirky tiki-themed bar reminiscent of the 1950s and it’s kitschy to the max. One of MGM’s leading set director’s from the 1940’s designed it, and because of it’s history, no visit to San Fran would be complete without sipping a cocktail here. If you want to follow that up with dinner and a view, head over to The Cliff House to watch the sunset in another eclectic historic building.
4 – The Mission District
This area definitely a bit off the beaten path and can look a little rough around the edges (though it’s perfectly safe), but it’s worth a visit if you’re into food. Our favorite place there is Mission Pie for a cup of locally roasted coffee and a seasonal sweet treat. Everything is handmade from scratch with locally sourced seasonal ingredients. When we were there, we couldn’t get enough of their rhubarb pies!
5 – The Ferry Building Marketplace
This is a must-stop for any foodie. From artisan cheese shops to a village market with local produce and fresh baked goods, the Ferry Building Marketplace is the perfect place to stop and pick up edible souvenirs for home or to pack a picnic on your way to Napa Valley.
6 – Coffee Houses
As the hub for a lot of creative companies like Twitter, Timbuk2, and AirBnB, you better believe these young entrepreneurs demand a daily dose of amazing coffee. From Blue Bottle to Stumptown, Ritual Coffee Roasters, and Sightglass just to name a few, San Francisco is definitely a city for coffee-lovers. Be sure to pop in and try some of these locally roasted grounds and check out Thrillist’s list of Best SF Coffee Shops for a few more to add to your list.
7 – Muir Woods
Technically, Muir Woods isn’t in the city, but it’s a short enough drive that I think it’s a must-see when visiting San Francisco. Over the Golden Gate Bridge and about a 35 minute drive away is a redwood forest worth exploring. The fresh scent of pine, the towering shade of ancient trees, the the soft roar of the Pacific makes this the perfect afternoon digital detox as once you get on the trail you won’t find much of a cell signal, but you wont be looking for one either. Pack a lunch to-go and spend the morning here before it gets to crowded, then stop by Fort Baker (mentioned above) to see the Golden Gate Bridge on your way back into the city.
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