Here is a trip review of my wife and I's third trip to San Francisco. We did a little bit of everything. Filling in things we haven't done, going back to some spots we really like, and checking out some new neighborhoods. I'll give as many tips as I can think so hopefully someone will find this useful. Fair warning, I'm kind of long winded. Let me know if you have any questions or need more detail on anything.
We flew from Billings>>Salt Lake City>>Oakland and arrived around 9:30 AM. We've flown into Oakland before and it's super easy to get to SF, just hop on the AirBART (just a bus) that takes you to the Coliseum BART station. The AirBART costs $3/person and you need exact change so keep that in mind. We road the BART to the Montgomery station and walked a few blocks to the Baldwin Hotel on Grant. This is the second time we've stayed here and think it's reasonable for the area, the rooms are very clean, but nothing fancy. It's a no frills place, but I think it's on the cheap end so you get what you pay for.
It was way to early to check in so we dropped our bags off and headed to La Boulange on Sutter for a cup of coffee. We love these places, they have great coffee and pastries.
After waking up a bit, we headed down to Powell & Market (I think) and bought our MUNI passes for the trip. We just bit the bullet and got 7 day passes for the 6 days we were going to be there. We always get these passes when we come here and rely totally on the MUNI system for transportation. We're able to cover a lot of ground very quickly using the different types of transportation. Not to say there isn't a learning curve and you might get on a wrong bus, but if you're not sure ask the driver, they are usually very friendly and know every route. Getting the MUNI pass just makes it that much easier. Just hop on and go, and it includes cable cars which are $6/ride, so it can pay for itself pretty fast.
It was lunch time so we headed for Castro for a sandwich from Ike's Place. This place is obviously pretty popular, we got there a little early and didn't have to wait in line. The hardest part was deciding what to have, they have a ton of sandwiches on their site. I had a hollywood cheese steak and it was excellent, would definitely go back.
By this time we hoped that our room would be ready, but it wasn't so we headed over to the Golden Gate Tap room by Union Square (conveniently located just a few blocks from our hotel). For beer lovers this place is great, they have literally like 100 beers (50 on tap). It was the afternoon so it wasn't very busy and bartender was great. She let us try different things until we found something we liked.
After a couple of beers we checked into our room, and got cleaned up. We had great aspirations of heading to Alamo Square and then going to dinner at Suppenkuche in Hayes Valley for dinner. I think being tired and hungry made us impatient waiting for a bus, so we skipped Alamo Square and went straight for dinner. We've ate at Suppenkuche every trip to SF and it's been great every time. It's a German restaurant with great food and beer. We never did make it Alamo Square, this spot has been on my list every time we've gone and we just haven't made it. Hopefully it's overrated, but it's on my list for next time.
I'm sure you locals can remember this day because it was the first day you had rain in quite a while from my understanding. We looked at the things we wanted to do and thought about adjusting our schedule to account for the rain, and we did a little, but for the most part we left it alone. First you can't predict the weather, plus it's only rain, it doesn't have to ruin your day if you're prepared. We had rain coats and umbrellas, so today we set out for Golden Gate Park. Second we came from below zero temps and snow.
First we grabbed some breakfast at La Boulange and then hopped on the bus to to about Lincoln Way and Cross Over Dr, which is on the south side of the park. We started with a walk around Stow Lake and up to Huntington Falls. I was really impressed with the part of Stow Lake we walked around. The old bridge was cool. The waterfall was neat, but maybe it was wasn't running full because of the drought and it being winter. But for free, this was awesome.
Next we went to the Japanese Tea Garden. We planned on getting there early to get in free but it didn't happen so we paid $7/person to get in. I thought it was well worth the money. It was bigger than I thought and it was beautifully landscaped and very clean.
Next we walked through the Botanical Garden. I think we had bad timing here, the Magnolia trees were blooming, but it was raining and windy so it knocked a lot of the petals on the ground. I would like to go back another time where some different things were in bloom. But still a nice walk.
After the walking we went to Haight/Ashbury for lunch at Cha Cha Cha's. This is another staple of our SF trips. All the food is good (they serve tapas) and the sangria is great. If anyone knows a copy cat recipe for the sangria I'd love to hear it.
After lunch we headed to the west side of the park and checked out the windmills (we didn't get very close) and stopped in the Beach Chalet for some beers. They brew there own so we tried a flight, some of them tasted pretty good.
To finish up the park we took a walk along Ocean Beach and then it started pouring rain, but we didn't let it bother us and continued on, and we were able to find a couple of sea shells for the kids. After that we found the N line and it took us back to our hotel.
After getting cleaned up we got dinner at Chez Maman which is, oddly enough, a french and mexican restaurant. It's a small place so we put our name and number on the board when we got there and found a bar next door to have a drink while we waited. I had escargot to start and mussels and fries for the main course. I'm not a huge fan of mussels but they were recommended to me by several people so I tried them and wasn't disappointed. My wife had the french onion soup and thought it was very good. We also shared a carafe of sangria.
Today started pretty good weather-wise, so we headed over to MyMy Coffee shop (on Larkin and California). You have to climb some big hills to get to this place so we hopped on the California cable car line. We got right in, it wasn't busy at all, and I thought this place rocked. I have the crab/shrimp cake eggs benedict and it was really good. A lot of food, would have shared but my wife isn't into seafood.
After this we headed to the Mission district which we had never been to. It seemed a little rough compared to the other neighborhoods we'd been to, but nothing that would deter me from going back. We went to took a self guided tour of Mission Dolores which is a church and happens to be the oldest building in SF if I'm not mistaken. We went through the chapel, basilica, and cemetery. Crazy to see such old stuff in the middle of of the city.
Next we head over to the Balmy Alley Murals. They were just OK for me, not as many as I thought there would be. If you were in the area it's not a bad walk, but I wouldn't make it a point to go over there just for those.
For lunch we went to the Southern Pacific Brewery. I had read mixed reviews on this place, but we didn't have any complaints, but it was a dead afternoon. We got a flight of beers, I had the bahn mi sandwich (awesome) and my wife had the mac and cheese. The mac and cheese had fried pork belly on top, just that alone was worth the trip.
That wrapped up our Mission walk, I think there is a lot to see here and we wanted to try some other places to eat like Taqueria Cancun and Bi-Rite Creamery but we were just too full.
We made our way back to our hotel and got cleaned up and then headed back to the Golden Gate Park for Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences. For those of you not familiar, Nightlife is when they open the academy up for 21 and over people only. They serve drinks and food, and have a DJ. After we got in we headed to the planetarium to get tickets. If you want tickets you better get there right away because they go fast. We went to the first showing and it was the first planetarium I'd been to. The show was great, I even got a little motion sickness from the movie. It's very realistic, I'd highly recommend it. After that was over we grabbed a drink and walked around the exhibits. We had been here before during the day but this was a cool way to see it.
After we left, we stopped by the Golden Gate Tap room for beers and snacks.
We slept in a bit today and then went to the Ferry Building for some coffee and breakfast. Couple of highlights for us were getting coffee at Peet's and watching the bay, getting some olive oil at the Stone House, and getting a meat cone at Boccalone.
Next we went to Pier 39 and found some souvenirs for our kids and walked down the wharf. We've stayed at the wharf before so we don't usually hang around there very much, but I wanted to try some chowder at the Blue Mermaid. Full disclosure here, this is a wharf restaurant and it's more expensive than usual. I got a chowder sampler and I thought they were good, definitely had some seafood in them. So I thought it was money well spent.
Before going back to the hotel we wanted to stop at the Palace of Fine Arts just to see the dome and what not. I didn't have much expectation, but this place is awesome. It's way bigger than I imagined and reminds of something you'd see in Rome. We didn't go inside, but it was worth going to. I'd love to see it at night.
For the afternoon we headed to SOMA (another place we hadn't been to) to check out a couple of breweries. First on the list was 21st Amendment. We had a hard time finding beer that we like here, but it's winter so they still have more of the heavy and hoppy beers out, but I found a raspberry beer I liked. They didn't have traditional flights of beer where you taste everything, you have to pick and choose We shared a pizza that was pretty good. This place was really busy, but the staff was very nice. Next was Thirsty Bear Brewery, this place is huge and was very busy. Again staff was great, we had another flight of beers and some tapas. The bacon and brussel spouts were amazing.
For dinner we went to Fino Ristorante by Union Square. We called and made a late reservation. This was a pretty fancy place for us and for the price the food was just OK for me. Nothing you can't get anywhere else and when I'm on vacation I like stuff I can't get in Montana. So it was perfectly fine, just not a place I'd go again.
Today was our last full day in the city and we wanted to go on a little hike. We'd been out to the Sutro Baths before and I wanted to continue along that trail. We got some breakfast and then headed out. I believe we were on the Lands End Coastal Trail, which we started above the Sutro Baths and headed north. I had a great plan in place of hitting Eastern Coastal Trial overlook, Eagle Point Labyrinth, Holocaust Memorial, Legion of Honor (just the building), China Beach and then Baker Beach. Well after we got to the Eastern Trial Overlook I didn't see any obvious trails going to the other things on my list, and by this point my wife was about walked out. So we followed the trail until we hit Lincoln Hwy/El Camino Del Mar. From here we followed the streets (Sea Cliff Ave I believe) and looked around at all of the fancy houses which were impressive to see. After we followed this long enough we ran into the entrance for Baker Beach where we took in some sun and relaxed for a while.
Luckily a bus stop isn't too far from Baker beach and took a short ride up to Tommy's Mexican Restaurant. We had seen this place on TV and wanted to try their margarita’s. So we had a pitcher of the classic Tommy's margarita’s and shared some food. I'm not a fan of tequila, but these things were very good. The entire staff was very nice, but especially the guy running the place. Him and I had a really good chat.
We knew we had an early flight so we didn't get too carried away the rest of the night, just dinner at Millers East Coast deli. I had the pastrami, corned beef, and latke's and it was some great food.
Our flight was at 6:00 AM so we knew we couldn't take the BART to SFO, so we had arranged with our hotel to have a private car take us for $50. The car showed up right on time at 4:30 AM and gave him $60. I think this is comparable to a cab ride, so I thought it was a good deal.