This city has been on my to do list for years now and even with great expectations it still blew me away and I really didn’t want to leave!
Quite easily the friendliest American city I have ever been to with a very laidback and relaxed vibe, fantastic food options on every corner and an excellent transport network San Fran is hard to beat for a city break. By the end of day one, I was already thinking how well it could work as a 5 day break from NZ.
My hotel was in Union Square which, if you want to get out and explore the rest of the city easily and be on the doorstep of excellent shopping and eating spots, can’t be beaten. San Fran’s public transport network is made up of trains, cable cars, streetcars and buses and they fit so well together. Invest in a Muni passport (multi day options are the best value) and then just hop on and off as needed. It is also a wonderful walking city and should you find you’ve wandered too far then Uber is a fast and affordable way to find your way back. Within a 60 minute walk of Union Square I covered a lot of the various districts which make up this city and all with such a different vibe.
Sitting just to the north of Union Square on the way to Fisherman’s Wharf are Chinatown and North Beach (little Italy). Just to the east is FIDI (the Financial District) with some of the best coffee bars (yes SF coffee really does measure up to NZ standards). To the west is the edgier Tenderloin and then to the south is the Mission District. This was my favourite place to spend time for the combination of amazing local food spots, local Spanish history and the murals! I spent the morning on a small group walking tour which was fantastic and fascinating to learn so much about the history and evolution of this part of the city. https://www.urbanadventures.com/san-francisco-tour-flavors-and-murals-of-the-mission
From the Mission, you’re just a hop away from Haight-Ashbury, where the Summer of Love began. I started from Alamo Square Park (site of the ‘Painted Ladies’) and walked my way west taking in some of the iconic sights of these two neighbourhoods (think Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead) and ended up in the Golden Gate Park which is home to two of San Fran’s best museums amongst the local bison.
When it comes to eating out you can forget any images you might have of oversized fried American meals, on almost every corner there are delicious and healthy options. I felt spoilt for choice. San Fran is famous for its Farmers’ Markets (3-4 a week) and every Friday you’ll find most of the city’s food trucks at the Fort Mason Centre, or scattered around the central city every other week day.
Like most big cities, there is an array of wonderful galleries, museums, theatres and sporting events depending on the season. My two favourites were MOMA and the De Young Museum in the Golden Gate Park and the one place I didn’t quite have time for was the California Academy of Sciences which is one of the world’s largest natural history museums.
The only downside to being there in July is the weather. Summer in San Fran is notorious for being the foggiest time and that cool sea wind keeps temperatures in the late teens if you’re lucky. If you can plan to be there in spring or autumn it really would be the perfect city break. Go for at least four days, I wish I’d had longer!