If you aren’t interested in a ton of exposition and storytelling, this isn’t the blog for you. Instead, check out Take A Trip: San Francisco – it’s an abbreviated version of my experience with categorizations, so easier to use for planning a trip of your own!
For those of you who enjoy the story element, let’s go.
We arrived on a Saturday morning in October around 10am. We spent far too much time at the airport, but the hubs wanted to change, get breakfast, etc. I exercised an extreme amount of patience and composure (pretty proud, actually) and just sat around reading my book. Before this weekend, I made a commitment to myself: the trip was 100% unexpected fun for me. He got asked to go about 1.5 weeks in advance and immediately asked me to come along. So, it wasn’t something I’d been planning or agonizing over for weeks. The other component was we’d been to the city before – only for a day back in 2015 after a drive up the coast of California (more on that coming soon). It wasn’t a great day, so I was determined to make this time different (both with my planning & attitude). You can read about how I planned my trip in Take A Trip: Planning.
Anyway, we finally got into the city around 11:30 (a Lyft from the San Francisco airport to the Moscone was ~$35). See map below – the location of my hubs’ conference was pretty conveniently located to a luggage locker.
Since his employer booked him a hotel in Oakland (lower cost – but may actually recommend), I didn’t want to have to get over there to drop my stuff and then get back over to the city to actually have some fun. So, I dropped him and then dropped my suitcase for only $10 for the day.
Before we left, I purchased this backpack since I knew I’d want to do yoga around the city at some point each day. I highly recommend it – my mat felt secure all day, I was able to have other necessities with me (I carried sunscreen, chapstick, money, sweatshirt, in addition to a jacket I started the day by wearing, sunglasses, headphones, charger pack and water bottle), and I was even able to fit anything I purchased while shopping. Regardless of if you want this backpack for a yoga mat, be sure to have a backpack with you; it will be way more comfortable than a purse / stuff in your hands all day.
My first stop after dropping the luggage was Mama’s On Washington. I was pretty hungry at this point, but I decided it was worth the ~35 minute walk to get there and have a delicious brunch. I arrived around probably 12:30, after a very cool walk through a few shopping areas and Chinatown. I did have to wait for about an hour to eat, but it was worth the wait. I enjoyed the French Toast Sampler, which came with 1 piece of Swedish Cinnamon, 1 piece of Lemonberry and 1 piece of Banana Walnut. YUM (well, minus the lemonberry, but I’m not a huge lemon OR berry fan; the Banana Walnut were life-changing)!
Mama’s is also located adjacent to a cute park – this would have been a good spot to stop and do yoga or just chillax. However, while I was waiting in line to get in, I noticed lots of signs for something called Coit Tower. After a quick google, I discovered it proclaimed to have some of the best 360 views of the city. Yes, please! After brunch, I made the short (~10 minute) walk up there…yes….UP there. It’s a bit of a steep walk, so be advised.
Once there, I decided this was the spot for me to do yoga. The view was beautiful – on one side, you could see the Golden Gate and on the other, the Bay Bridge. Nice.
Then it was down to the Ferry Marketplace building – this is at the end of the Embarcadero. There is a TON to do on this road – it’s where all the piers are. There’s even a museum. I will say, the walk down from Coit Tower is incredibly cool. I went down a ton of steps through little gardens/courtyards between houses on hills and then a long staircase at a steep drop off point. Plus, I happened upon and through the Levi campus.
I wandered around the Ferry Marketplace building for a while and ended up making a purchase at Dandelion Chocolate. There are places to eat in here, but I was still pretty satisfied from my brunch (and the one place I went there to try, Biscuit Bender, had already closed up shop for the day). One good thing of note is this place is teeming with (people and) samples!
After the Ferry Marketplace, I headed back toward the Moscone and happened through a cute little street sale. This happened a few times over the course of the weekend – they seem to set up shop randomly, yet regularly, around the city. Once I met up with the hubs, he wasn’t feeling great, so we decided to head across the bridge and check into our hotel. We also made the decision to stay on the Oakland side for dinner, rather than trying to get back INTO San Francisco on a Saturday night.
In Oakland, we enjoyed Sobo Ramen for dinner – we ordered through Caviar and had it delivered to our hotel, which was awesome. We sat in bed and ate soup – this definitely helped the hubs perk up, which was great for lots of reasons, but mainly because I was able to then convince him to go out for ice cream later. We enjoyed Cookiebar Creamery (just a short walk from our hotel) – I had an ice cream sandwich with one double chocolate and one peanut butter cookie and banana oreo ice cream and he had a pina colada vegan treat.
Before leaving Oakland, we hit up Blue Bottle Coffee. He wanted to stop and get breakfast before he got to his conference and they were just a short walk from our hotel. It was a very fancy coffee place – we both got drip coffee, which I wasn’t immensely impressed with, and he got a chia pudding. It seems to be a small chain, as I saw others in the city, but I feel there are better coffee spots than it.
We then got an earlier start into the city via Lyft (in hindsight, we may have just taken the train each day, as this was insanely easy – we discovered this on Monday) and I was on my own by about 8:30am. My first stop was Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. It was about a ~20-minute walk from the Moscone (full walk not pictured below – I must have started my walk tracker late. As a note, I used Google Maps for all my walking/biking directions and Map My Run for capturing my walk/bike routes the entire trip.).
I ordered a few things (per the recommendation I saw on other blogs – try more than one thing): bourbon pecan sticky bun, a pumpkin pie cheesecake doughnut, a mango lime doughnut, and a matcha croissant (sorry, no pic). We thoroughly enjoyed all of it (I saved 2 items for the hubs), but the bourbon pecan sticky bun was, by far, the best.
I wanted somewhere to enjoy my breakfast and get a bit organized before I started the longer walk to The Painted Ladies / Alamo Square Park for yoga. I consulted Google Maps and headed toward Jefferson Square Park. For whatever reason, I was struggling with remembering to turn on Map My Run on Sunday and forgot to record my walk to Jefferson Park and then on to Alamo Square Park, but pretty sure it went something like the below. As an aside, I used Bluetooth earbuds for listening to the turn by turn Google Maps directions alongside listening to a playlist on Spotify. Admittedly, sometimes Google would get a bit lost, but overall it was easy to use.
At Alamo Square Park, right across from The Painted Ladies, I got inadvertently suckered into a bootcamp class (I was told it was yoga bootcamp – it MOST DEFINITELY was not).
I suffered through it for 45 minutes and then needed to escape, so headed toward Golden Gate Park. Since my plan to do yoga at Alamo Square Park was thwarted, Golden Gate would have to suffice as the new destination. It was a bit of a hike to Golden Gate Park, but most of my walk wound through Panhandle Park, so was incredibly scenic and enjoyable.
I did manage to find a nice, out of the way spot at Golden Gate Park, but this park was pretty jammin’ with people. Actually – every park / location where I did yoga, it was jammin’ with people. I suppose it is worth mentioning that “jammin’ with people” is San Francisco in a nut shell. I didn’t do yoga at the below spot, but this was a picture-esque spot I captured on my way to my yoga spot.
Anyway, while winding my way through the park, I saw several signs for a street sale just a few blocks outside the park. I was starting to get a little hungry, so left the park in search of eating and shopping. The street sale was a bust, but on my way there, I passed Nopalito (and was planning to go to Nopa as well, but wasn’t opposed to trying the offshoot), so I doubled back there for lunch.
After lunch, I headed for the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps. It turns out, I made it to the Secret Garden steps, thinking I had reached my destination, and never actually did see the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps. But, the Secret Garden Steps were very nice.
Since I’d already done a TON of walking (about 4 miles before lunch), I was ready for a small rest. I considered my options – although I hadn’t made it to Twin Peaks yet (another park on my list), I wasn’t anywhere near it and it also wasn’t near to much. Also, I ultimately needed to end up back at the Moscone and it was getting late in the day. The hubs would be done with work soon, so I wanted to get back toward that direction-ish. I didn’t originally have it on my list, but I decided to go see the seals at Pier 39. This would have been an INSANE walk, so I broke down and took a Shared Lyft. It was kind of a long ride, but the break helped me gear up for the next activities in my day.
We’d been to Pier 39 on our previous trip, but somehow missed the seals. It was really neat to see – they’re pretty funny so I recommend making the trip (and it’s totally free – bonus!). Plus there’s lots of shopping and dining options. I walked around a bit and ended up picking up a gift for my friend’s son’s birthday and this is also where I discovered Doughp. The night before, the hubs had been talking about getting some cookie dough (he asked if Cookiebar Creamery had it, which they did not). Lo and behold – a place that is entirely safe-to-eat cookie dough. You can even add TOPPINGS! I didn’t, as I just purchased a small container that we could share later. Then I started the journey back toward the Moscone. This ended up being about a 35-minute walk, but it was very scenic and easy.
That evening, we rented Ford GoBikes. These are super popular around the city – you can find docking / pickup stations lots of places. We rode from the Moscone area to La Taqueria. I read a lot of reviews directing me to go here, so I couldn’t resist. It was a packed place. The seating options were not good. Overall, the experience was NOT enjoyable, but the food was delicious. I would go again, but I’d plan to take it away and eat elsewhere. Afterward, we went to Bi-Rite. I meant to take us to Bi-rite Creamery (they are right down the street from one another) and for the second time in one day, I was duped into going to the wrong place. Again, I had a positive outcome as what I was searching for (pot de creme) was available at the Bi-rite small grocery store we happened upon. It was DELICIOUS. Must get – but would recommend hitting the actual creamery if you’re in search of dessert options.
After that, we headed back over to Oakland and called it a night.
We took the bart in ($4.00 from Oakland City Center to Powell Street). It was about a 25-minute experience (a little walking before and after) to get to the Moscone. But, because it was a weekday, we’d been told the traffic would add at least 30 minutes to the commute over, so the subway was a more efficient commute. If I’d realized how easy it was, I probably would have done the same for Sunday morning.
My first stop for the day was Tartine. When we rented the GoBikes the night before, we paid for a 24-hour pass for $10, so I decided to expedite my commute and hopped on a bike. I road it most of the way there, docked and finished on foot.
After a short wait at Tartine, I enjoyed a bacon, spinach and sun-dried tomato quiche with a chocolate torte and a cup of coffee. Like La Taqueria, they had community seating options, but even with a constant line out the door, the seating never got too packed, which was amazing. I was able to sit and watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver while eating my breakfast.
I then headed to the Lyon Street Steps. I had to take a conference call for work around midday but ultimately wanted to make it out to the Wave Organ. The Lyon Street Steps was somewhat on the way there and is right next to the Presidio, a HUGE park. At the very least, I was sure I could find a quiet spot for my call somewhere around there. As you can tell from the stop-starts below, I kept debating hopping on a GoBike vs. walking. I ultimately ended up walking the whole thing.
SUPER glad I made this addition to my trip. The views were spectacular and the stairs were very cool too. Also, there are incredible mansions to scope out on the way up. It is a very peaceful neighborhood to wander through.
The walk down to the Wave Organ was easy (all down hill). Before I made it to my final destination, I stopped at Crissy Field East Beach for some awesome photos of the Golden Gate Bridge AND to do yoga on the beach, which was awesome. From there, it was just a short, 10-minute walk out to the Wave Organ.
By that point, I was starting to get hungry, so decided to head to Ike’s for lunch. It was a long walk, ~1 hour, but I decided to listen to one of my audiobooks, which helped to pass the time. One thing I forgot to do for this walk – put sunscreen on my scalp. It was a BEAUTIFUL day, but I got a little pink on my head.
Ike’s was okay, but I had been there before (which I didn’t realize until I was there). My sandwich was good, don’t get me wrong. I just wish I’d tried somewhere I’d never been. From there, I headed back in the direction of the Moscone. After walking for a bit, I picked up a Ford GoBike and finished that way.
The hubs was stuck at work and had no idea when he’d be free, so I wanted to hang out in that area since it was getting late in the day. I camped out at Contraband Coffee just around the corner and enjoyed an iced coffee and chocolate croissant. It was yummy.
After we met up, we decided to head back to the Embarcadero, as he wanted to see the piers and water. I wanted to take him to see the seals, so we headed back to Pier 39 via bike. They didn’t have a return terminal right at Pier 39, so we finished on foot.
We saw the seals, did a little more shopping and then had dinner at the Crepe Cafe. I would not go back here, most likely. It wasn’t bad, but there is WAY better food in this city. We had a savory crepe with crab and a sweet crepe with strawberry. After this, we rode back toward our subway stop and took the train back out of the city over to Oakland. Our trip was almost over…
Originally I was going to have us try to go into the city early and hit one last place for breakfast. However, with all of our luggage, and feeling sleepy from a jam-packed weekend, we decided to find a super close spot in Oakland. Right next to our hotel was Cafe Gabriela. It was a tiny place, but had good food and coffee. We had the breakfast sandwich, which had an egg, bacon, greens and shaved parmesan.
We then hopped on the train from Oakland City Center to the San Francisco Airport. It was $10 per person and took about an hour (maybe a little less). Unfortunately, since it was a Tuesday morning around 8:15, and we were heading through the city down to SFO, it was busy with morning commuters for about the first half. But, it was way cheaper and quicker than taking a car.
As I alluded to above, staying in Oakland was actually pretty great. It was easy to get in and out of the city, it was cheaper than a city hotel, and Oakland also has some cool stuff to see and a good food scene. If you’re trying to do the city on a budget, Oakland is probably a great option for you.
All in all, this was a great trip and we really enjoyed ourselves. If you’ve never been, it’s one I’d recommend you add to the list, even just for a short trip like us!