The first time I went to San Francisco was in the summer of 2003, with my parents. Just did all the tourist-y things and went back to the sweet home, India. It was only when I visited again recently that I was able to see it the way it should be seen!
Travel Tip: Take another trip to every place that you have already been to (but without your family this time)! Trust me it’ll be different.
My company had put me up in Hotel Nikko in SF Downtown. It is a great location because it at walking distance from Market Street, where you can ride the famous trolley and it is just a short cab ride away from Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39.
Travel Tip: Visit bars rather than clubs. Each bar is very different from another and is unique in its own way.
Right down the street from Nikko is the Johnny Foley’s Irish Pub. On Saturday nights, they have a night of dueling pianos down in the cellar. I had never been to an event like this before Jonny Foley’s. The cellar was full of enthusiastic people young and old that were seeming to be more and more fun as we got deeper into the night! One thing I realized about the culture in San Fran is that although it is extremely slow moving, people are not uptight and are a lot of fun! If you are in the area and want to do something chill on a Saturday night remember Johnny Foley’s!
I remember it as the newspaper bar. As the name suggests, the bar is under popular historical Hearst building and the theme is inspired by print media. It is really interesting the way it has old typewriters and newspapers all over the walls and tables and seats. Not only does it have a unique theme but also the cocktails are great. Out of the 2 I had there, my favorite one was the Rosebud. If you are into spicy drinks then you will most probably like it. The menu is printed in the format of a newspaper too! Check out the website to begin with…
The German Bar! My friend took me to this place. It is apparently ‘his hangout place’.
Travel Tip: Try and get locals to take you around or suggest places to you if you know people. It will probably be more reliable than just online reviews.
The famous 8% alcohol beer is Aventinus, for which we had come to this place. I am not a biggest beer drinker and enjoy cocktails more but and when I do choose to have beers, I like something light. Although this isn’t light, it is yummy for a change! It is a must try!
The light colored light feeling beer here is Schneider Weisse, which is light on the stomach and I guess light on the calories too. The drinks here are rather big so a couple should be good based on your capacity.
If you necessarily want to go to a lounge/club type of setting try out:
The place where a girl dances all night in a hula hoop ! I decided to check out what the ‘party’ scene in SF is like and my local friend suggested going to Monarch (walking distance from Hotel Nikko). As soon as we entered, it was extremely loud like any other club in NYC but then there was a circular hole in the wall, where they had fixed a movable hula hoop. You have to see it to believe the skills of the girl rotating the night away in that hoop! It was great and I spent most of my night wondering how she was balancing. It was almost like how I felt when I first went to a circus in my childhood!
While walking around Fisherman’s Wharf, I had to try out the seafood! If lived in the sea, I could have caused a problem in the underwater ecosystem! I LOVE SEAFOOD! My colleague who I was traveling with is vegetarian and I felt bad going to a seafood place where she would not get anything. It was this Sangria that you see in the picture below that brought us to Lou’s Fish Shack.
We did order food there but I was not a big fan of it. The drinks were fab and big and yummy if you are looking for some summer cocktails!
The Pier 39 is one of the nicest places by the water. There are little shops selling souvenirs, candies, apparel and lots more. In the midst of these stores I found this beautiful store, Del Sol that sells all kinds of products that become colorful in the sun. Right from nail paint to t-shirts to hair clips. They are all plain and glittery before they are exposed to the sun. The moment these products are exposed to the sun, they become colorful and sparkly! Check this store out if you are at Pier 39.
Of course, you may have already heard about the Sea Lions that lazily lay at the Pier all day long. They are so lazy, playful and nice to watch. I remember how this one sea lion wanted to be king of his ‘raft’ and he was pushing any other sea lion that tried to get on it. It was really funny and cute. I definitely did not enjoy the smell that was lingering around the area in which they are but it was great watching them. I love how they can just be there and eating fish and swimming all day all night without having to worry about Monday mornings. You can hear them almost all the way on the street before you enter the pier area.
Travel Tip: Remember to carry a light jacket for the evenings. San Francisco slyly starts getting chilly in the evenings even if it is hot in the day.
The land of the delightful Ghirardelli chocolate. It is a walkable distance from the Fisherman’s Wharf. You could make a stop here either for your dessert after lunch or dinner or both. I had visited back in October 2013, right around halloween when they were giving out pumpkin flavored chocolate samples. It was a treat for my tastebuds. Try it if they have it. The last time I had had a chance to go into one of their cafés was when I was in windy Chicago. In a place as cold as that, Ghirardelli hot chocolate had to be on the menu at least every hour!
Everyone who goes to San Francisco has to see this. There are no 2 ways about it. If you told me that you went to SF and did not see this, I would not count it as a trip to the Bay. I thought driving through it would feel different from what it feels like on any other bridge, but I was wrong. Once you are on it, it makes no difference where you are. One of the best ways to see it is on the ferry from Pier 39. If you choose the tour that goes under the bridge and around Alcatraz before bringing you back ashore, you will see what I am talking about. You can click pictures of the bridge from all kinds of distances even under it.
If you like walking you could take the trail along the Fisherman’s Wharf, past the little ‘beach’ area and walk up towards the bridge. You could get some great shots of the bridge there too. Here is a picture from the walk…
Once you have seen everything you can, be sure to drive up to the Twin Peaks on a clear day or night. It will always be scenic and worth lots of photos. San Francisco can get really foggy at times and that would not be a good time to go up. You can see the entire city from up there, from the Golden Gate bridge to the new Bay Bridge and everything in the middle.
Lombard street, better known as crooked street was cool but I felt like it was more hyped up and was not as exciting as I thought it would be. Or may be I just wasn’t feeling it because none of my pictures came out as good as the ones I had seen online before going there 😛 There was garages on each of the turns of the zig-zag. The apartment buildings on this street were beautifully decorated with pink bougainvillea flowers.
There is a lot more San Francisco has to offer like the 360 degree view from the Coit Tower, the trolley across the city, Sausalito, etc.
If you have some time in hand you could drive to nearby places like Napa Valley for a wine tour, Yosemite if you like trails, water falls and a lot of natural beauty or even Lake Tahoe for scenery. I have been to all 3 of these. You will find more on these in later posts.