This article is obviously part of our “Weekend In” section but I highly recommend visiting San Francisco for more than just a weekend if you can! There is just so much to do and see there! San Francisco has a little something for everybody. No matter your interest, I’m pretty sure you can find something that speaks to you in this city! I recently had the pleasure of visiting the SF area for a girls’ weekend and we stayed very busy taking in all the sites and sounds of the city and the surrounding area. Here are some of our top recommendations for the Bay Area:
What to do
We booked tickets on this Hop On/Hop Off Big Bus Tour. There are lots of different types of tours, but we decided on the Classic Ticket + Wharf Explorer, which included both the city bus tour and a boat tour around the bay. Although you will definitely feel like a complete tourist doing this, it’s actually one of the best ways to see the city if you only have a short time to do so.
The tour takes off from Fisherman’s Wharf and takes you to some of the most popular spots in the city like: Chinatown, the Financial District, Union Square, City Center, Asian Art Museum, Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies, Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts, Lombard Street, the Ferry Building Marketplace, and then back to Fisherman’s Wharf. The boat tour of the bay was definitely worth the add-on! We cruised right under the Golden Gate Bridge and around the notorious island of Alcatraz, while having some great glimpses of the SF city skyline amidst the fog.
Make sure to bring a jacket, especially in the summer! That’s right, I said especially in the summer because it gets very foggy, windy, and cold here due to the cold ocean currents coming down from Alaska colliding with the hot, arid air from California’s central valley. In true California fashion, locals even gave their fog a fun nickname, Karl the Fog. If you visit in the summer, you’ll definitely get to meet him!
Drive Highway 1 to Monterey/Carmel
We only had 1 day for this trip but I highly recommend spending a few days if you can because there is just so much to see along this world-famous highway! Here are some places we stopped that I highly recommend:
Pigeon Point Lighthouse – this lighthouse sits on land that juts out into the Pacific, giving you some of the best vantage points of the dramatically jagged coastline. It’s always windy here so make sure to bring a jacket!
Santa Cruz – Our next stop heading south was this eclectic hippie surf town of Santa Cruz. Make sure to stop at the unassuming little corner bodega called Point Market in the Pleasure Point neighborhood. Here, you can grab a mouth-watering burrito, walk across the street, and sit at a picnic table overlooking the Pacific. Chow down on your burrito while you watch the surfers catching waves all afternoon. Santa Cruz is just a mood and a vibe I would channel every day if I could!
Monterey – Do some shopping along Cannery Row and visit the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Make sure to book your tickets ahead of time!
Carmel-by-the-Sea – Our last stop along our drive south was this charming little town. We pretended we were wealthy travelers, stopping in to shop at some adorable boutiques (yet bought mostly t-shirts). As you’re shopping along Ocean Avenue, just follow the street down the hill until you reach the beach. Stick your toes in for an icy refreshing blast!
Visit Wine Country
Napa and Sonoma Valley are about 1.5 hours north and east of San Francisco and besides offering you a chance to taste some of the best wines in the world, you will most likely get sunny, warm weather and a nice respite from the fog of San Francisco.
Mumm Vineyards – Napa Valley is most well-known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, and we tasted some good ones, but if you’re looking for something a little different, check out Mumm Vineyards. Mumm specializes in sparkling wines and has a fun, party-like atmosphere on their patio, which has stunning, sun-drenched views of the vineyards, the valley, and the Mayacamas Mountains beyond.
Frog’s Leap Winery – just a 4 minute drive from Mumm is Frog’s Leap Winery. This was my favorite winery! You will be seated on a gorgeous shaded deck with views of some of the most lush and plentiful gardens you can imagine! After tasting the delicious all-organic wines, you can take a splash of wine to-go and walk around the orchard and gardens. There are apple trees, peach trees, rows of corn, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and flowers. They make jams and spreads out of whatever is fresh and in season from their garden. They also have bees and chickens!
Where to Stay
Pacifica Cliff House – We stayed in this little town about 20 minutes south of San Francisco called Pacifica. I HIGHLY recommend staying here, especially if you’re like me and love being close to the city but just a little bit outside of all of the hustle and bustle. Driving south from San Francisco on the world famous Highway 1, Pacifica is the first beach town you will reach and we were lucky enough to stay in this Airbnb on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Every morning we would drink our coffee while watching the surfers tackle the waves! Another plus about this quiet little surf town is that it’s only about 20 minutes from the San Francisco airport.
Hayes Valley 1 Bedroom Victorian, San Francisco – If you want that city experience, check out this light and airy Victorian house in the Hayes Valley of SF. It’s a 1 bedroom, sleeping 2, for only $184/night, in a GREAT location! Hayes Valley is a quiet neighborhood, close to everything, with some adorable little retail and coffee shops!
Napa/Sonoma Cottage – doesn’t the view from that patio look gorgeous?! I would do a wine tasting, then buy a bottle of my favorite Cabernet, and come back to this patio to drink it with my friends!
What to Eat
I’m sure anyone who visits the city could write for days about all of the most delicious places to eat. After all, this city is known as one the best cities for foodies in the world! For now, we’ll just highlight a few of our faves:
Soul Grind Coffee Roasters Pacifica – We stopped here for our coffee every morning! Try the Cubano or Cliffside Lattes. I don’t know what we saw more of here, surfers or dogs, either way, it’s amazing coffee with a chill, laidback surfer vibe.
Santa Cruz – I’ve already mentioned this place once but it deserves another mention! Any one of their breakfast burritos is to die for! Grab your burrito, head across the street, and chomp down while you watch the surfers catching waves!
1428 Haight Patio Cafe & Creperey
Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood of San Francisco – Try a savory Crab Cake Crepe and don’t forget a mimosa! Head out to the courtyard patio for a sunny, warm oasis in the middle of the windy/foggy city!
St. Helena near Napa Valley – This is a fresh take on an old-time burger hut. It’s a family-friendly environment with tons of outdoor picnic tables and even a dog-friendly zone!
Mission District of San Francisco – Some of the best Thai food you will find, specializing in large, shared plates. Fun selfie opportunities await, including a flower wall and a clawfoot tub in the bathroom!
Napa- This was the best food of the whole trip for me! Every dish was delectable with a powerful blend of flavors in every bite! This is a Tapas restaurant so we shared our dishes. My favorite was the shrimp ceviche and corn chowder!
That’s just a very BRIEF overview of some must-see spots and some of our favorite things to do in San Francisco! If you’ve been here, let us know what else you recommend!