Two Action-Packed Days In The City By The Bay
Welcome to Caffeinated Excursions! This is an exciting post for the blog since it’s my very first one covering a West Coast city! The last time I was in the Bay Area was in 2012 (before I was 21, I might add), so when I found $300 last-minute tickets from Mexico City to San Francisco, I couldn’t resist!
It’s a unique challenge to write about popular travel destinations that a lot of readers are probably familiar with. After all, who hasn’t heard of the most famous attractions in cities like San Francisco, New York, or Chicago?
So instead of my typical format, I’ll try to provide an hourly play-by-play of what I did. For whatever reason, San Francisco was perfect for a non-stop, action-packed weekend where every waking hour was filled with something new and exciting! I flew in on Friday night and went straight to bed so I could get up early on Saturday. This is what I did…
Saturday: A Day of Solo Sightseeing
First of all, check out my Google Maps timeline! I wasn’t kidding around when I said San Francisco was non-stop!
I don’t think I actually walked 17.6 miles like it’s claiming, but I did walk a lot. A few things are far enough to take an Uber, but much of the beauty of San Francisco is best appreciated on foot. So bring comfortable shoes (and remember, there’s hills)!
A quick look at the Transamerica Pyramid
After spending Friday night at the Hotel North Beach, a no-frills hotel right in the heart of downtown, I walked a few blocks over to check out the Transamerica Pyramid. There wasn’t a lot going on, but it’s still a cool structure to see up close.
After that, I headed up Columbus Avenue and stopped for a latte at one of the many hip coffee shops along the way.
My next stop was Washington Square, a park that was filled with groups of elderly Chinese people doing tai chi and synchronized aerobics. This is clearly a place where the local community comes together; it was heartwarming to see people walking through the park and waving to one another!
There is also a huge church on the park’s northern side (the Saints Peter and Paul Church) which was open to visitors. Pop your head in for a quick look before heading to…
There happened to be a Mid-Autumn Festival going on that morning, so I spent an hour checking that out. Even if there isn’t an event, Grant Avenue is a cool street to walk up and down because of its unique Chinese architecture and shops.
My favorite store was probably Old Shanghai, a massive, two-story gift and antique shop that was fun to meander through.
A dim sum detour
By this time, I was getting pretty hungry so I decided to stop for a bite to eat. I ended up at Ma’s Dim Sum & Café, an authentic hole-in-the-wall place that was great for a quick snack.
Why Lombard Street was kind of a let-down
After eating, I decided to walk over to Lombard Street to get a perfect picture for Instagram. This is San Francisco’s famous winding street, and I was definitely expecting it to look like this:
Unfortunately, it ended up being disappointing for a number of reasons. As you can guess, there were hordes of people all around the street, so it was hard not to capture them along with the street itself. But more importantly, there was really no angle that you could fully see the beautiful, winding brick road. I’m not sure if it was because the flowers were overgrown or what, but from both the top and the bottom, it ended up just looking like a garden on a hill.
The other issue is that the road is still a fully-functional one-way street that cars use. At least when I went, there was a constant flow of traffic which probably didn’t help with being able to actually see the road. In any case, visit if you must, but you’d probably need a drone or something like that in order to get a truly breathtaking photo.
For verified amazing views, head to Coit Tower
From Lombard Street, I could see the following concrete tower off in the distance:
A quick Google search revealed that Coit Tower is one of San Francisco’s main observation towers, so I decided to walk back towards Washington Square to check it out. It was refreshing to find a tourist attraction that wasn’t ridiculously crowded, and the wait time really wasn’t too bad. There is only a single elevator that can only take about eight people up and down at a time, but I would say it was worth the short wait.
Once you make it to the top, you’ll find windows that open up to 360-degree views of the city, including the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown. It’s not a fully unobstructed view, but it was still impressive! The ticket cost $9.00.
Fisherman's Wharf (and In-N-Out)
This is probably the one part of San Francisco that reminds me most of Seattle. There are a bunch of shops and restaurants (especially in Pier 39) as well as some great views of the Bay.
If you make your way over here, don’t forget to go to In-N-Out! This chain famous for burgers and shakes has at least this one location here in San Francisco, and it’s something you don’t want to miss especially if you’ve never had it before!
The Painted Ladies
Unlike Lombard Street, San Francisco’s most famous row of Victorian homes ended up being a great place to take some pictures. There are crowds here too, but they weren’t overwhelming.
The Painted Ladies are located here, so it’s a bit out of the way, but I still recommend taking a short car ride over to them because the neighborhood a few blocks to the east is also worth a little visit…
This part of town is a short walk from the Painted Ladies and is home to some interesting bars and restaurants.
I read good reviews online for Absinthe Brasserie & Bar and really enjoyed the cocktails I had there. One of their signature absinthe cocktails with cucumber was refreshing after so many hours of walking around!
If you’re in Hayes Valley, you might as well check out San Francisco City Hall, a structure that looks a lot like a state legislature.
Hotel Check-in and free wine
For my second night here, I stayed at the Nob Hill Hotel, which had pretty small rooms but an interesting lobby. My favorite part about it was that they had free wine and cheese from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00!
While having my glass (or two…), I met a couple from Melbourne who had been traveling throughout the US for almost a month. I really enjoyed chatting with them and hearing about their impressions of all the places they had been! It’s always a lot of fun to spontaneously meet other travelers.
I knew I wanted to have phở in SF, so I tried Golden Star Vietnamese Restaurant. This cash-only place ended up being very satisfying, including the Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk!
Sunday: The Golden Gate Bridge; MEETING UP WITh an Old Friend
I have a few friends in the Bay Area I was hoping to meet up with during this trip, but since I booked the flight at the last minute, I knew there was a possibility they’d be out of town. However, one of my friends from high school, Ruth, ended up being free on Sunday, so I hung out wit her for most of the day.
The Golden Gate Bridge
This was the one activity I did solo for the day, and I would recommend going in the morning if the weather is clear (the fog might roll in after noon and ruin the views). If you take an Uber to Crissy Field, you can take a little walk through the park and then make it up to the Welcome Center.
If you walk across the bridge, prepare to walk back as well. I had a lot of trouble catching a ride back into the city from the north side of the bridge. Give yourself maybe an hour and a half to walk both ways and take a little breather at the northern Vista Point.
Thai for brunch
After checking out the bridge, I met up with Ruth and her friends at Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine for brunch. Everything we had was delicious!
They also had an amazing elderflower cocktail on the menu.
Comedy show at Golden Gate Park
After brunch, we headed over to Golden Gate Park, a massive recreational space on the western side of the city. There was a comedy show going on where a couple dozen amateur comics each had a few minutes of material. Some were great, others not so much, but it was still a fun event and not something you see every day!
A flowery walk through the park
We then explored a little bit of Golden Gate Park, where we encountered the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. We didn’t go inside, but even the exterior and surrounding gardens were beautiful.
After this, we took a short Uber ride over to Land’s End, a small beach on the city’s western coast. The most striking feature of this area is that there used to be a massive indoor pool located here, but now all that’s left is some of its foundation.
According to the Internet, there is a nice hiking trail here, which I will have to check out next time!
Dumplings for dinner in the Sunset District
For my last meal in San Francisco, three of us went to Yuanbao Jiaozi (元寶餃子), a dumpling restaurant located on Irving Street. I was surprised to learn that there is a cluster of Asian restaurants in this area that are considered by some to be better than the restaurants in Chinatown. The dumplings were quite good and you can even watch the chefs preparing them behind the counter.
Time Flies When You're Having Fun
By the time I had to go back to the airport around 9:00 p.m., I was totally exhausted. Even though I didn’t do much planning for this trip, it ended up being a success. I’m sure that San Francisco has enough to do to fill a week, so I would always be willing to go back!
I took a red-eye flight back to Mexico on Sunday night and was obviously pretty groggy at work the next day, but I’m glad I gave myself two whole days to see as much as I could.
I wouldn’t file San Francisco into the “budget trips” folder since lodging, meals, and transportation ended up being expensive. Since I’ve taken so many weekend trips lately, I think I’m going to spend a few weekends at home in Mexico City and explore the neighborhoods here.
However, my next trip at the beginning of October will be a return to the Bay Area. I’ll probably be spending time with a friend from college in San Jose and we may do some day trips out to the Pacific Coast. If Land’s End was a preview of what those beaches look like, then I can’t wait!
Enjoy your travels while I take a few weeks for R&R at home! If you’re going anywhere fun, let me know in the comments section below!