If you haven’t already, check out the Take A Trip: Planning which is all about how I planned my 3 days in San Francisco. This is the official report out post-trip so I can tell you what I did / didn’t get to and how it all turned out.
Let’s break this down into a few categories for those (like me) who sometimes feel a little tl;dr about blogs:
Where to Eat
- The following were on my list:
- Tartine – swapped out from Tuesday to Monday and went there (not sure how I missed that B. Patisserie was closed on Monday when I made my plan); MUST DO. They have crazy desserts, pastries and other baked items there. I had a yummy bacon, spinach and sun-dried tomato quiche with a chocolate torte. I highly recommend you head there early – it can definitely get busy. The tables were self-serve but I was easily able to find a seat around 9:15am. Most people seemed to go in for takeout.
- Mama’s on Washington – I went here on my first day as planned and walked there from the Moscone. It was about a 40-minute walk, but a cool route through Chinatown. (You can see exactly what I did each day in my upcoming blog Day by Day: San Francisco) I waited in line for about an hour before getting inside and then probably another 10 minutes from there before a table opened up. This place is a well-oiled machine and delicious. I had the french toast sampler, which included Swedish Cinnamon, Banana Walnut and Lemonberry french toast with fresh fruit. If I had to go again, I would have chosen just the Banana Walnut as it was BY FAR the best of the three (although the Swedish Cinnamon was good too but I’m not really a Lemonberry fan). I also had a cup of coffee which was yummy too. All in all, my breakfast experience probably took less time than I waited to have it, but I feel it was worth the wait. Oh, and be prepared for cash or debit only.
- Mr. Holme’s Bakehouse – this was breakfast / treats on Day 2. It’s in a little bit of a weird area – a bit sketchy around the edges, but it was worth it. I got the iconic ‘insta-shot’ (below), but the real star was the bourbon pecan sticky bun. I got this, along with two donuts (pumpkin pie cheesecake and mango lime) and a matcha croissant (one donut and the croissant were for the hubs – he ate them later on and said both were great). I enjoyed the sticky bun, which was excellent, along with the PPC donut – it was also good, despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of cheesecake OR pumpkin pie. The flavor wasn’t too overwhelming.
- B. Patisserie – didn’t make it here; total oversight when planning my agenda, but I slotted it for Monday and lo and behold, it wasn’t actually open on Monday. So I replaced it with Tartine on Monday and added Cafe Gabriela on Tuesday.
- Biscuit Bender – didn’t make it here either; well, actually, I tried to go on Saturday, but he had closed up shop earlier than Google informed me, so I didn’t get to give it a try. He’s got a table down the hall from the honey place.
- Top of the Mark – didn’t make it here either either! We ended up with all sorts of mixed up evenings.
- Mission Beach Cafe – I bit off more than I could chew in terms of walking plans for Sunday, so I didn’t make it here.
- Nopa – In part, we didn’t hit Nopa because we couldn’t get a reservation and were told the wait was about 1.5 hours without one. I did get to try Nopalito (an offshoot), so read more about that below.
- La Taqueria – delicious, huge burritos, but don’t plan to eat here. The tables are self-serve and people are absolute vultures with them. You could be standing there with your food and have someone blocking a table for 4 with nothing on it. Or, you could be waiting to grab a table and someone else comes up and just sits down at it. After waiting for probably 20-30 minutes in line to order and then another 10 minutes to eat, I didn’t care for this extra hassle. So, worth the trip for the yummy dinner, but we should have planned an alternate location for enjoying it.
- Ike’s Place – I went there for lunch on Monday and it was good; I realized I’d previously been there on a trip up the coast of California a few years back, so in hindsight, I wish I’d chosen somewhere more classic San Fran.
- Cliff House – did not make it – it’s on the opposite side of the city from where most of the action is and they charge a $25 fee per person for reservations if you change your mind; we had somewhat volatile plans / not much control over timing, so ended up deciding to pass on it.
- Bi-Rite – we hit this spot after La Taqueria (they aren’t too far apart). Be advised that there’s Bi-Rite creamery (which is NOT where I ended up) as well as just Bi-Rite. The good news is that they’re affiliated and the grocery store-esque Bi-Rite where we ended up still had the pot de creme that I was searching for. It was super good. Highly recommend it and would also recommend hitting up the creamery for other good treat options.
- Beard Papa – went to the one in the Westfield Shopping Center and enjoyed it. The cream puffs are ENORMOUS. The creme brulee was really yummy, as was the coffee original. Definitely a fun place to stop for a sweet treat.
- Benkyodo Mochi – did not make it due to limited hours on Saturday
- Dandelion Chocolate – went to the one at the Ferry Marketplace (there are others around the city) and enjoyed tasting a few samples. Ultimately picked up a bag of dairy free toffee for my Grandma for her birthday, so it was a win!
- The following places were subbed in for the above items we missed:
- Sobo Ramen – we had this our first night as the husband wasn’t feeling great and wanted to get back to the hotel. Since we were staying in Oakland (his employer’s choice), we decided not to go back and forth across the bay and just did dinner locally. We ordered from Sobo Ramen and had it delivered by Caviar, which was a good choice. The ramen was very good – they had several options along with a build-your-own, which we both went with. I would absolutely go here again – cheap, tasty and quick.
- Cookiebar Creamery – this didn’t really replace anything, but I was in the mood for dessert and this place claimed to have both good cookies AND ice cream. We went around maybe 7:30pm and unfortunately, they were sold out of many cookie flavors. That said, we did taste a few of their ice cream flavors and enjoyed that. I ended up ordering an ice cream sandwich with banana oreo ice cream (VERY good) between a double chocolate cookie and a peanut butter cookie. It was a winning combination. The hubs had a vegan pina colada “ice cream” which he also enjoyed.
- Crepe Cafe – do not recommend. This place is at Pier 39, which is mostly ‘touristy’ type food (although Doughp, mentioned below, is also there and was a good choice). My husband loves crepes and wanted to give it a shot, so we split a savory (crab) crepe and a sweet (strawberry) one. They were both okay, but not something I would go and get again.
- Cafe Gabriela – we did breakfast here before our flight home on Tuesday morning. It was a last minute addition to our itinerary since I did Tartine a day early and we decided to do breakfast in Oakland. It was literally next door to our hotel and, although I felt a bit rush to order when we arrived, it was really good food. We split the egg breakfast sandwich which had baby greens, a fried egg and shaved parmesan on Italian. We also both got coffee, which was good.
- Contraband Coffee Bar – this was around the corner from the Moscone and I needed some place to hang out while waiting on the hubs. I got a chocolate croissant and an iced coffee and both were great. I enjoy that this place, as well as many others on this list, serves coffee and treats in/on real dishes.
- Nopalito – this was an impulse decision for lunch; I had been wandering around Golden Gate Park and decided to check out this Sunday street sale that I kept seeing signs for. It wasn’t all that great, but I stumbled across this place on the way to it and had a fantastic empanada and Mexican rice here. Would definitely go again.
- Blue Bottle Coffee – we went here for the hubs to get coffee and breakfast on Sunday morning (I ultimately went to Mr. Holme’s later, but did get coffee here). He had a chia pudding and we both had hot coffee. They were definitely on the pricey side and the coffee wasn’t all that remarkable (one of the less good coffees I had in the city). I wouldn’t necessarily go back.
- Doughp – not really a sub in, but was at Pier 39 and saw this and had to stop. My hubs had just been talking about wanting safe to eat cookie dough and that’s exactly what this place is! They offered a variety of rotating flavors along with toppings. Or, you can get a to-go container of just the dough.
What to Do
- The following places were on my original list to visit:
- Ferry Building Marketplace – this place consists of many small shops to walk around and peruse. I enjoyed walking through here, but be advised that it can be on the busier side on the weekends. It’s right on the water on Embarcadero.
- Alcatraz – we didn’t make it here because our plans were a bit up in the air and tickets eventually sold out before we could get them; even for a Monday in October, it still sold out, so highly advise that you pre-purchase in advance if you can.
- Wave Organ – I didn’t get to hear any real music or sounds here, but it has a great view of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge and is just a neat, natural hang out spot.
- 16th Ave Tiled Steps – not sure I actually saw these as I was following directions to them and happened upon some tiled steps. I assumed it was these, but turns out it was actually the Secret Garden Steps (below). Don’t get confused like I did!
- North Beach – I’m sure I wondered around down here at some point, although not sure there is necessarily anything specific from this area that I’d recommend.
- Parks – I hit up quite a few on Sunday in the following order: Jefferson Square Park (where I enjoyed my breakfast from Mr. Holme’s Bakehouse), Alamo Square Park (where I suffered through an unexpected boot camp in front of the Painted Ladies), followed by Panhandle Park, which was on my way to Golden Gate Park (they sort of connect). Then, on Monday, I popped by Presidio and Crissy Field East Beach (below).
- The following places were sporadic decisions to visit:
- Secret Garden Steps – really, I was aiming for the 16th Ave Tiled Steps and ended up here by mistake. I had already left the area by the time I realized I never made it to the right place. But, these were still super cool to look at and climb!
- Pier 39 Sea Lions – for whatever reason, we missed these on our first trip to San Fran and I’m glad I saw them this time. It’s such a hilarious spectacle. Plus, then you’re at Pier 39 if you want to see the touristy restaurants / shops or hit up Doughp from above.
- Crissy Field East Beach – this is a MUST DO; this spot had great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and was super peaceful. There are a few sandy beach areas along with some stone seating and a walking path.
- Coit Tower – I happened to be just down the street from this after brunch at Mama’s on Washington, so decided to walk my way up there (less than 10 minutes). I didn’t end up going into the tower, but even views from the small park are beautiful. I did yoga on the grass, which was very calming.
- Lyon Street Steps – I was looking for something to do on Monday afternoon to get me from my breakfast spot in Mission Hill to the beach for the Wave Organ. Plus, I needed to take a call for work, so needed a somewhat quiet, out of the way place. Somehow, I landed on the Lyon Street Steps. This area, right between Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow, butts up against Presidio (a MASSIVE park at the northwestern corner of the peninsula). It’s a very high-end neighborhood with old, tightly packed mansions that have a pretty spectacular view of the bay. Walking the streets around this area was enjoyable in itself, but when I got to the stairs, the view was breathtaking. The stairs themselves are actually nicely designed too with greenery, so overall, it’s a very peaceful place to enjoy.
Tips & Advice
- Be prepared to wait. This could mean in traffic (a given) or in line (many restaurants operate in this way and don’t offer reservations). San Francisco is a big city with lots of people and lots of visitors, so there’s always a lot going on.
- Walk around. I’ve been there now both on foot and in car and I would highly recommend giving on foot a shot. That seems obvious, but with the traffic and crazy roads, you really miss a lot by being restricted to four wheels. By bike is also a nice alternative if you want to go a further distance in the city. They now have Ford GoBikes, which are a good and easy option, as well as rentable scooters that will let you zip around town.
- Eat a lot. As you can tell from the above, there is no shortage of yummy food options. Make the most of it and try EVERYTHING.
- Carry cash. There are many places that only take cash or debit, and even some pop-up markets that you’ll see around town that it’s just easier to have cash for.
- Use public transit. At least when you’re crossing from Oakland to San Fran or even trying to get to the airport. Morning rush hour on weekdays adds about 30 minutes just to cross the Bay Bridge and a train ride into the city is only $4, which is much cheaper than Uber or Lyft.