My bittersweet weekend in San Francisco happened on a whim. My birthday weekend was rapidly approaching and I had no idea where I wanted to spend the weekend. Until a friend of mine brought up the idea of San Francisco, it just so happened that the city was the first stop on his whirlwind tour of the USA. This was a perfect opportunity to make good on my offer to take him to In – N – Out burger, a institution dearly beloved by Californians such as moi. I packed my bags, and departed for the city with wide eyed naivety, enthused for the chance to revisit the city with someone new. However, in the two days that followed, it would bring to light the unsettling reality of long distance. Knowing that these two days would be it, it would be the only chance we had to hang out in person for a very long time as he was moving abroad. Such are the perils of being nomads, always jetting off to somewhere new, seeing wherever the wind takes us. The dissolution of an almost romance over the weekend left me feeling dejected for a little while but I digress. That is not to say, that I didn’t enjoy San Francisco, if anything it made the city all the more special to me.
Since I only had two days this time around, I thought I would indulge in the geeky, artsy side of the city. Despite all the hype for the upcoming Super Bowl game in town, the unique, quirky side of San Francisco appealed to me more than football (sorry football fans). Even with all of the cable cars, taxi’s, buses, or even the metro, you’d be surprised how walkable the city is. Perfect for wandering around aimlessly with a special someone or with a group of friends. Ever since I got my fitbit at Christmas, I was obsessed with meeting my daily step goal of 10,000 and taking the crown in the weekend warrior challenge. With my brand new mint colored fitbit strapped on my non dominant hand, come rain or shine – I was ready to tackle the city.
Our first mission was to seek out In – N- Out Burger, which was not far from Fishermans Wharf. We made a dash for the burger joint in the pouring rain, unsurprisingly the place was packed with soaked customers seeking refuge from the torrential downpour. We quickly ordered, snatched up seats in the corner of the bustling restaurant and ate our double double burger with a side of animal style fries to boot. “Well?…What do you think?” I asked him, hoping that he would think it was the best burger in existence. “It is pretty good” he would reply nonchalantly after taking a bite. Okay, maybe the best burger in existence is a bit of a stretch but honestly I think it is. With people standing next to us, crowded, hovering and sopping wet – we quickly scarfed down our meal, and once again braved the storm.
Fisherman’s Wharf boasts a laid back vibe, with it’s quirky little touristy shops and cafes lined up with sailboats bobbing peacefully in the water nearby. There is just something about boats that I love, the serenity that washes over me as I watch them rock back and forth in the ocean. In the rain the city takes on a different atmosphere, with smoke billowing out from food stalls boasting rainy day delicacies such as crab soup, and a thousand pardons as people with umbrellas bump against each other as they walk by. However I was on another mission though, somewhere around in this wharf were seals…
Pier 39 is known for its Sea Lions lounging around in the sun, tucked away in a sleepy little corner you can spot up to 20 or 30 Sea lions on any given day. However, we kept walking around the wharf, trying to find the spot where they were, but the rain persisted. Keeping us at bay, the sea lions would have to wait another day. It was worth the wait when we gave it another shot the following day and finally found the corner tucked away down an alley. This time with the clear blue sky as far as the eye could see as the backdrop and what seemed like at least 50 sea lions basking in the afternoon sun. Barking as they try to make room for themselves on the already crowded pier. My day was made right then and there, when I got to see them up close. I’ve lived in California most of my life, and never have been this close to them before so this was a personal achievement of mine.
Once I turned the corner from a residential neighborhood and saw the Palace of Fine arts; I was blown away. I couldn’t help but feel transported to Europe with its grandiose design, towering pillars and statues perched on their pedestals. It was quite jarring to see this huge monument nestled in the middle of the city, hidden away from buildings, cars and trees. Nonetheless, tucked away in a corner was serene sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the city, with it’s lovely garden and pond in the center. Filled with families, couples either taking a lazy afternoon stroll through the park, or having a quaint little picnic by the lake. The palace was built in 1915 with the idea of it being a temporary location for an art exhibition, but it was beloved by the city that they decided to keep it up. Today it is still used for art exhibition, and you might even spot a couple partaking in a wedding photoshoot. I personally loved the palace for its serenity, it almost felt like an oasis in the middle of the city.
In a land far far away, there lies a Yoda fountain… As a Star Wars fan, I had to make a pit stop to see the statue at Lucasfilm headquarters. We reveled in all of it is geeky glory, and quoted lines from the film. He had beaten me to the punch by snapchatting “You shall not pass”- Jon Snow with the Vulcan “Live Long and Prosper” hand sign in the hopes of enraging fellow fans for the heck of it. It may seem odd you that in all of the famous tourist attractions San Francisco has to offer, that this would be the one that I was the most excited to see. Yet, it earned a place on my favorites.
Riding a cable car is as touristy as it gets, but I couldn’t resist this time around. Sometimes you just have to have fun and roll with it, in this case quite literally! Despite living in California for most of my life, I was ashamed to say that I had never ridden a cable car, no matter how many times I had visited the city. I hopped on for a couple of stops, to take a short break from all the walking. Call it a cheat if you will, but I loved every second of it and made up for the lack of steps afterwards.
Make sure you bring the exact change of $7.00, they don’t take cards, or larger bills. The driver will love you for it, you won’t be holding up the line and taking them away from their busy schedule. You can easily hop on at any one of the stops (pictured above). This particular stop was on Powell Street, in which there conveniently is a Starbucks on that very spot. We took refuge from the rain in the coffee shop, got some change back for the ride, and waited until the cable car arrived. Perfect.
You may recognize this famous bridge from such films like Alfred Hitchocok’s Vertigo, “Escape from Alcatraz”, or even as recent as “Ant – Man”. The Golden Gate Bridge has become synonymous to the city of San Francisco, one cannot help but think of the iconic landmark when the city is mentioned. Since I had already seen the bridge before in subsequent visits in my childhood, I opted out this time around. However, I couldn’t pass up a good photo opportunity to take some snapshots. I took this snapshot right before Fort Mason, but if you want to keep walking towards the Golden Gate Bridge from there, it would take about an hour… I would either take a cable car, or take a bike tour such as the one from Viator and bike across the bridge! Fun fact, in 1937 at its opening the Bridge held the title of the longest suspension bridge in the world, until it was beaten by the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Kobe Japan.
Ghirardelli Square – I was a bit sad to discover that they do not produce chocolate in this place anymore. Originally it housed the Ghirardelli chocolate factory, but in the late 60’s the company relocated to a different venue. Currently it is a shopping center lined up with several restaurants, and hosts several fun events over the year – such as firework celebrations and the upcoming chocolate festival in September (yum!)
The Pier 43 Ferry Arch, if you frame it right, you can get a perfect snapshot of the navy ship. It wasn’t until I looked it up afterwards, that I discovered the arch is one of fourteen buildings in San Francisco that is over 100 years old. This particular pier would help railcars board the ship back in the
Where to Stay:
With Super Bowl weekend happening on the following week of my visit, hotels were scarce and incredulously expensive. I spent days searching for a budget friendly hotel that was close to most of the attractions I wanted to check out. No easy feat, hotels within Union Square were upwards of $200 a night! But I found a little gem just only a block away from Union share, and within walking distance to all the locations I wanted to go to – The Hotel Carlton. It was a charming boutique hotel, very budget friendly, with colorful bohemian designs, and the delicious Saha restaurant nestled in the corner of the lobby. The restaurant had a large selection of delicious arabic food, most of which were gluten free which sealed the deal for me. For $80 dollars a night, I was able to walk to Union Square, to Pier 39, and so many other locations making this hotel my personal favorite. Want to know more? Check out my review of the hotel (coming soon).
It is a city that I’ve visited countless of times when I was a child, it is also a city where I experienced heartbreak, a city where I wandered aimlessly as the step count crept higher and higher towards 10,000. San Francisco will always have a special place in my heart, each time I visit I am reminded of how Tony Bennett’s ” I left my heart in San Francisco” still rings true. For the many reasons, the city has such a hold on me, and I didn’t want to say goodbye to him just yet, knowing the possibility of ever seeing him again was very rare. Holding back the tears as I got in the taxi, I couldn’t help but think this was such a cliche moment that could only happen in a film. But here I was, stifling back the tears as I waved goodbye and told the driver with a cracked voice, “San Francisco airport please” watching the city and the guy fade from view behind me.
Have you ever planned a spontaneous weekend with a friend of yours? Where did you go? Do you also enjoy experiencing a new city by foot?
BONUS: I’ve curated a list of apps to help you plan your trip to San Francisco.
Tripadvisor: Download the San Fransciso offline guide – this is an essential app for any city really, you can get the inside scoop on hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, and receive tips that you would have not found otherwise. Note: Sometimes the file can be big, I would highly suggest downloading the guide before you depart so it’s ready to go.
TripWolf Travel Guide & Offline Map: Premium Guide $1.99 – You can create an ideal itinerary day by day, and it will map out the entire day for you. Just create a list, and add all the places you want to visit that day, and it will guide the way! Even though there are in app purchases, I loved being able to organize what I wanted to do each day, and not worry about getting lost going from one place to the next. Not only that there are guides for over 500+ cities around the world!
CityMapper: Select San Francisco in the options and save your hotel, and it will direct you to the closest transportation available. Not to mention, you can also map your destination, and it will direct you on how to get there (you can even use it offline). This is my personal favorite app for when I am traveling, they have a multitude of cities transportation info available, this has helped me out so many times in London, so when I found out that they had the San Francisco option, I was elated!
Gateguru – San Francisco Airport (SFO) is a really large, and albeit confusing airport, so having a layout of the airport itself was very handy.
Ulmon San Francisco Travel Guide and offline City Map: Free offline maps, no roaming, it also allows you to save locations you want to visit, and receive insider tips.
Disclaimer – All apps above I’ve personally tested and absolutely love. Not to mention some items are affiliate links, which gives me a small commission to help keep this blog running 🙂