We just got back from a trip to San Francisco! The trip was part work (with our Sparkle Media client, Vintner’s Daughter to shoot content on site in SF and Napa), and of course, we had to take some vacation time as well. Before a trip, I always research research research. I love spending hours looking for the best spots to try… that said, the internet can only tell you so much, and a good recommendation from someone who knows their stuff can go a LONG way. I Snapchatted about my upcoming trip, and Katie from SmartFlyer got in touch with her ideas on where I should go. I told her exactly what kind of style we like (casual, chic, great atmosphere, decent prices – a tall order, much?!) and she sent over some amazing hotel, sightseeing, and restaurant recommendations. Any of the ones we checked out, we loved! You can email her with your trip wants, and she can sort you out kmohammed(at)smartflyer(dot)com.
Although I’m no expert, we covered a LOT of ground in the 5 days we were there, I must admit, I do feel like I have a good grasp on the city. Here is my personal San Francisco travel guide!
Side note: Keep in mind that SF can be quite pricy in terms of hotels and restaurants, and for us Canadian’s with the American dollar, even more so.
For me, eating my way through a trip is the best way for me to get a sense of the city’s culture. This city is one that takes its food seriously! While some of it can be a little fussy, a lot of menus are definitely inventive and unique. We love a cool atmosphere, but nothing too stuffy or pretentious, and most of the spots we checked off our list hit this nail on the head.
We loved Tartine Bakery for coffee and treats, Jane on Fillmore for coffee and breakfast (get there early to score a table!), Rose’s Cafe for breakfast (photo below is at Rose’s! Sit outside, and you get that real neighbourhood SF feel).
Pizzeria Delfina was amazing, and is in our fave Fillmore neighbourhood (also known as Lower Pacific Heights).
Park Tavern is in the North Beach area, and the brunch here was phenomenal. We sat at the chef’s bar for this, and got to watch the kitchen work. This would be a perfect date spot! Tony’s Pizzeria (another reco by Katie) is also in North Beach and while we didn’t try it, this spot had a huge line for lunch as we were leaving Park Tavern.
Rich Table is apparently one of the best restaurants, and we walked in one evening and got a seat at the bar. the portions here are small, but the food was progressive and delicious, and the atmosphere super romantic.
The Progress was such a cool spot! The menu is family style, and ordering a few dishes that you share is such a wonderful experience. Each one was a conversation starter. R said it was one of his favourite meals EVER! (woah!)
If you like your coffee and toast, The Mill is a great spot for coffee and it’s super spacious and chill. Next door, you’ll find Bi-Rite Market, the coolest boutique grocer, and the perfect store to grab hotel provisions and to-go food. It’s next level Whole Foods (and this Canadian always loves that you can buy wine with your groceries!). Nopa is right on the same block, and this restaurant is notoriously tough to get into, but very renowned and with a super chill vibe. I bet if you ask anyone from SF, they will tell you about this place!
Downtown in Union Square is where you find all of the larger retailers and designer shops like Barney’s, Valentino, Nordstrom etc. but it really depends what you like. There aren’t many great restaurants in this area, so instead of staying in this area like we did for part of the trip, I would just spend a day shopping here.
If you’re more into the boutique shopping experience, the shopping on Fillmore is great – full of boutiques like Joie, Benefit, Jonathan Adler, NARS and more. I would have breakfast at Jane, and then pop around that ‘hood for a bit. Once you work your way down, you’ll come across more spots to sit and enjoy another bite!
NEIGHBOURHOODS AND SITES
We started the trip staying with our client in Pacific Heights, and I was so happy we got to enjoy that neighbourhood because it felt so quintessentially SF. There are lots of hills, so we took Uber mostly, but strolled around a little bit enjoying the gorgeous homes and lush greenery. My camera was on overdrive here! I think everyone should hang out in this ‘hood, and then head to Rose’s Cafe in the area for brunch. Also in the area, is The Bud Stop, the cutest little open air flower market (the intro photo was taken there… cute, right?).
Of course, no trip to SF is complete without a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge. We had planned to get to a vantage point for some shots (Battery Spencer and Hawk Hill are great vantage points, thanks, Katie!), but we actually took one of those harbour cruises from Fisherman’s Wharf, and loved it! The hour long trip was only $30 each, and takes you right under the bridge, and right along Alcatraz as well. We had such a blast, and it was definitely a highlight of our trip.
Fisherman’s Wharf is super touristy, but we had fun getting in on the Americana and just people watching! It helps that there’s an In and out Burger here, and of course we had to indulge. This is also where we caught the Red and White Fleet harbour cruise that I was talking about above.
The MOMA wasn’t open yet when we were there (dang it!), but R really wished it was. We will definitely be checking it out next time we are there.
We spent a day in Napa, and we left early to avoid traffic, which I feel is super important to do! We were shooting at Gargiulo Vinyards, and this is just the most gorgeous vineyard I maybe have ever seen.
We didn’t spend a lot of time sightseeing, so I don’t have too many suggestions, but Fremont Diner on the way back was a super charming roadside spot! Next time, I want to spend more time exploring the gorgeous countryside.
The absolute best way to get around is Uber. OK, if you’re American, you can stop reading right now, but for this Vancouverite, it was so novel, and made everything so accessible! It’s almost magical how easy it is to use, and there is absolutely no fuss about it. It can add up, and on our trip we spent about $300 getting around using it, but it you consider a car rental, parking, gas etc., it was so much more stress-free and affordable.
I would avoid staying in the tourist zone, Union Square. We ended up Ubering out of the area for almost every meal and coffee stop, because it’s slightly sketchy and lacking in character. We stayed at Hotel G, which was a decent option, and a pretty cool boutique hotel.
That’s about it! I hope this was helpful if you’re planning a trip to San Francisco!