San Francisco

San Franciso! Nobody told us that there would be hills, mini mountains that we would hike daily just to get to the nearest Whole Foods or corner shop from our hotel

But we were high on a plan to discover San Francisco, the city almost everyone made sure to emphasize that we visit.

The itinerary

The plan was a two week coastal road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles for our 8th anniversary. The highlight of the trip would be a stop at Big Sur. However, a few weeks before the trip, major flooding closed off some of the routes. So we decided to forgo the road trip idea and take in as much of San Francisco as we could.

So here we were, mounting complimentary bikes in Japantown, on a mission for staples at Whole Foods. The list including gallons of water and copious amounts of snacks and fruit. The first two minutes were leisurely, stopping to admire the architecture and waving to the Japanese locals. And then, there it was – the steep descent to Whole Foods! Letting the bike glide down was an exhilarating experience but riding the back uphill with groceries in tow – nope! Let’s just say we walked the bikes (and groceries) back, making a mental note to take the car next time.

Why San Francisco?

San Francisco is an eclectic city known for sweeping picturesque views, culture, start-ups, diversity, independent boutiques and so much more. There’s a lot to do and much to tease the tastebuds. This is just a guide to give you ideas in creating your itinerary. However, if you can, don’t leave San Francisco without trying these 5 things.

San Francisco earns a special place in my heart for its proximity to mountains and beaches. You can go hiking in the morning and relax on a beach in the evening. 

I’m always a fan of the ocean and it’s beaches. However, San Francisco sparked my love for hiking and mountain/forest views. 

5 things you must do when you visit San Francisco

When you hear of San Francisco you probably think of the Golden Gate Bridge. And while San Francisco has more to offer than a collection of tourist attractions you definitely want to make sure to include some of them for your trip.

Whatever you do, don’t leave San Francisco without doing these 5 things –

1. Get the lay of the land with a hop on hop off bus tour

to orient you to the highlights of the city. Then make a list of the top 3-4 areas that you want to immerse in. When you’re on a short trip, it’s tempting to cram your itinerary, but it’s better to pace yourself. You can get a true taste of what a city to offer through smaller neighborhoods. Our favorite highlights on our bus tour included: 

A close up view on the iconic "Painted Ladies"

The Painted Ladies – A row of Victorian and Edwardian houses from the 1960’s in a kaleidoscope of colors. You’ll recognize them from the opening scene of Full House. Park yourself on the hill adjacent these homes to catch the glow of sunset across the city and “the ladies.”

Fisherman’s Wharf – a waterfront community with an extended family of lions who love attention. Just follow the sound of the barking to find them or head straight to Pier 39. The Wharf also houses souvenir shops and the most clam chowder filled restaurants in the city.

If you’re married to my husband, no trip is complete without a chocolate (or coffee) experience or shopping trip. So a stop at the Ghiardelli Marketplace was necessary. I had one of my best tasting hot chocolates from there.

Some of the wares at Heath Ceramics

The Ferry Building – go on a self guided food tour of the building on the bay with stops for shopping in between. That gives you time to let the food digest. The Ferry building teases all the senses with cafes, restaurants and shops featuring groceries, home goods, artisansal foods, wines and so much more. Plan to spend a few hours here. 

Our fav shops/stops: Heath Ceramics, Far West Fungi & Urban remedy.

Golden Gate Bridge – The views of San Francisco’s brick red bridge from the top deck of the tour bus is a must, trust me!

Sausalito – four miles outside of San Francisco just across the bay is the charming coastal town of Sausalito.  With an uninterrupted skyline it gives some of the best views of San Francisco and the the Golden gate. When you’re done with the jaw dropping views, take a visit to the quirky floating village alongside Richardson Bay.

2. Wander the towering reds of Muir Woods National Monument

One of favorite experience was hiking the Muir Woods Forest. We had wanted to visit the Redwood Forest but it was a little too far and we didn’t want to overnight there. However, Muir Woods happens to be a subsection of the Redwoods and features many of these towering trees. There’s an accessible paved trail for an easy walk with offshoots to tiny dirt trails for the adventurous spirit. We were feeling adventurous and ended up spending 6 hours in the park. Half of that time we were lost and loving it! Not bad for our first hike! This was also the trip where I was able to move from point A to point B without feeling throughly exhausted from anaemia but something was in the works, so this hike holds a sentimental place in my heart. 

Creek in Muir Woods Park
A hidden trail in Muir Woods National Monument

If you can, head over to Mount Tamalpais in the evening and you just may catch the fog rolling in with the sunset.

3. Answer the call of sandy coastal trails

Lavender colored blooms line a coastal trail in San Francisco

From mountainous trails to seaside hikes, San Francisco has a few gems that you should definitely wander. Marshall, Baker and China Beach trails will give you all give you access to shore level views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Each beach will give you its own introduction and perspective of the bridge and are worth the climb over sometimes rugged terrain. Be sure to check on the tide before you head out and please be mindful of the marine life.

4. Take a trip to China for a few hours

You don’t even need a plane ticket for this one. Chinatown, San Francisco is one of the oldest established neighborhoods outside of Asia and as close of an experience as one will get to its namesake. It is a bustling maze of streets bursting with dim sum shops, noodle bars and a smattering of heckling Chinese people peddling bright trinkets in souvenir shops.

Cascade of lanterns decorating the facade of a tenant building

5. Let your head hang out along the scenic highway to Monterey and Carmel by the Sea

Hop on Highway 1 to hug the coast for a scenic 2 hour trip to Monterey and Carmel by the Sea. However, be forewarned that the trip may take a little longer with all the stops to explore small farms, shops and monuments along the way. Don’t worry, you won’t even notice the time slipping by.

Lonely monument off the Skyline Boulevard

When entering Monterey take the 17-Mile Drive – one of the most picturesque drives in Pebble Beach for sweeping views of coastal bluffs, golf courses, forests, elaborate mansions, and the iconic lone cypress. 

Then journey on to Carmel by the Sea to grab dinner and stroll the intimate and romantic seaside town of art galleries, old Spanish architecture and missions.

The Lone Cypress in Pebble Beach, Monterey
Trolley cruising the streets of Monterey

Be sure to hit the road just before sunset to catch some stunning views off the highway and stop off at one of the beaches along the road like we did.

So what do you think? Which of these would you want to explore first when you visit San Francisco?