Let’s get one thing straight. Nothing excites me more than an impromptu trip across, or outside, the country with my girlfriend/s. For those of you that know me personally, you know that I work in the realm of education, and with such comes the (well-deserved) perk of various breaks throughout the year. Whoever knew that after the holiday break in December came a week-long winter break in the month of February? No further questions asked, I’ll take it. For the winter break a few close coworkers/girlfriends and I decided to escape to the West Coast, San Francisco to be exact. Why San Francisco you ask? The majority of us had never been before but knew it would be the perfect escape…and the Napa wineries, hellooooo! Without any need for a debate our flights were immediately booked and we were ready to board the plane. Having been to Los Angeles the year prior and having a fabulous time with my best friend (hey Nicole!), I knew that California was calling my name but I needed to find my ‘niche’. Man oh man did I find it in the Bay Area, and I’m pretty sure that my heart was left in Dolores Park. Whether you’re looking to travel solo, with close friends, or with a loved one, San Fran is for everyone.
Here are my recommendations on what to see and do on your trip to San Francisco.
LODGING + TRANSPORTATION
For lodging, this was a true win for us, as one of my friends on the trip had a close friend that stayed in the heart of the city and welcomed us into their home for our stay. If you are looking to find inexpensive lodging (which can be difficult, as San Fran has consistently been named one of the most expensive cities in the country) I suggest that you look into Airbnb options and to book early. The city of San Francisco is spread out, so do your research in advance to ensure that you are lodging in a convenient location that fits your specific itinerary. In regards to transportation we decided against renting a car and stuck to Ubering the entirety of our stay, which between four people turned out to be practical for the amount of time we were there (four full days). Depending on your destination, be prepared to spend anywhere between $10-15 one-way, every day, for a 15 minute ride (aside from Napa, which I will get into more details later on). Biggest misconception of mine? San Francisco is CHILLY, and if you’re from the South like me you will want to come properly prepared. I advise keeping a light sweater or jacket on hand, as the temperatures range throughout the day but remain consistently cool.
Okay, so is it really considered a trip if you didn’t indulge in the most delicious of foods? I think not, which is why my favorite part of San Fran was hands down the variety of tasty foods we had on a daily basis. On vacation we don’t count calories and nothing, I mean NOTHING is off limits. I quickly caught on that the city is a large melting pot for a variety of cuisine and we could truly have whatever our heart desired at any moment. Below were just a few of my favorite spots:
If fine sushi on a budget is your jam than this spot is right up your alley. With a beautiful restaurant ambiance, impeccable customer service, and daily happy hour specials, this was the dinner location for our first night in the city.
What I ordered: the Spicy Tuna and Spicy Salmon Handrolls (these are a MUST off the happy hour menu), the Loco Spider Roll
Because…brunch. We knew that a daily brunch was going to be essential to the success of our trip so we decided to start off with a bang. With the help our host, we were taken to what was without a doubt my favorite dining experience of the trip, Blackwood. Tucked away in the Marina District, Thai food fused with American flavors is the focus of this chic, modern spot. Trust me when I say that you won’t want to miss out on their signature red sangria that they make in house from scratch, daily!
What I ordered: the Hot Stone Plate (insanely delicious) and a glass (…or two) of Red Sangria
Another brunch spot that we thoroughly enjoyed was Padrecito, a made-to-order Mexican restaurant with local ingredients offered in an aesthetically beautiful dining room. What I loved most about this experience was that the vibe was so relaxed and the staff was extremely accommodating and fun. And let’s be real, the food was sinful, and in the most delightful way possible. For Padrecito I definitely recommend making a reservation in advance on OpenTable because while this is San Fran’s best kept secret, brunch reservations fill up fast.
What I ordered: the Diamante (drink) and the “Hash” de Pato
Okay, I lied. This brunch spot may have housed my favorite breakfast dish of them all. But before I reveal, let me begin by saying you should be prepared for a long wait (30-45 minute wait with no reservations allotted), but when you finally cross the finish line it will be well worth it. Known for their thick cut, candied bacon referred to as ‘millionaire’s bacon’, this is a side dish you won’t want to miss out on while in San Francisco, and especially at Sweet Maple.
What I ordered: the Sweet Potato Pancake (with fired banana & candied walnut topping)
Upon viewing Black Panther (may I add that seeing the film just 30 minutes outside of Oakland was incredible), we went to what has been claimed as the best ramen spot in the city, Yamadaya. A simple dining room specializing in slow-cooked ramen noodle soup, the restaurant surely didn’t disappoint. Pleasingly unconvential, I found nothing better than enjoying my savory soup while grooving to the beat of Usher and other R&B greats.
What I ordered: the Togarashi with a mild spice bomb flavor
We weren’t leaving the West Coast until we received our fix of fresh, delicious seafood. That is exactly what we received at this New England-style seafood joint that is easy to miss if you blink an eye on Fillmore Street. I for one love a good hole in the wall restaurant, and this cozy space satisfied every bit of that. What I enjoyed about Woodhouse Fish Co. is that you can tell that it’s a spot where regulars attend and they are loyal to their dishes. I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed such fresh, savory seafood.
What I ordered: Seafood Fettuccine & Stuffed Artichoke
Let’s talk wineries why don’t we? Have you truly visited the Bay Area if you don’t take a daycation to the luscious wineries they have to offer? For our trip this was a non-negotiable amongst the group, which is why we dedicated our entire Saturday to a day in Napa Valley. Many will say that Tuscany is a fierce competitor when it comes to California’s wineries, which I hope to one day experience such. However, with our eye on the prize of specific wineries, Napa was the clear winner. When it comes to transportation, the heart of Napa Valley is approximately a 1.5 hour drive outside of San Francisco. Knowing that this would be our largest transportation expense, we factored this into our budget in advance. Total, the Uber trip was approximately $200 round-trip. In this case I would determine in advance if it’s wiser to Uber or to rent a car, depending on the size of your party. Either way you go, you’ll be sure to enjoy a beautiful, breezy ride into the sweet escape of Napa Valley…
With a solid seventy-five degree sunny weather, nothing could stop us from living our best lives in Napa Valley. We made the rookie mistake of not making a reservation in advance, but got lucky when our wait was less than 20 minutes. What’s the takeaway here? Book your tasting table in advance. What makes Mumm Napa so special is that they are known specifically for their champagne and sparkling wines. Ranging in a variety of wine tastings, we experienced the Patio & Tasting Salon, priced at $35/person. Offering a stunning view of the surrounding Rutherford vineyards in Napa Valley, we took flight (wine flights, that is), savoring the taste of various Mumm Napa favorites. My favorite? Their radically rich red sparkling wine, Mumm Napa’s Cuvee M Red. I truly wish I hadn’t have left this vineyard without a lifetime supply of this sensational potion. The customer service at Mumm Napa was also something to rave about, and if you go, ask for Halle, she was a pure gem!
Black-owned. I’m just going to leave that right there. No way was I going to Napa Valley and not going to experience all the glory of Brown Estate. Located on the strip of Downtown Napa, don’t get this confused with Brown Estate’s winery. Located approximately 30 minutes from each other, the proper location for their tasting room is downtown. We weren’t rookies when it came to securing our reservation a week in advance, and I advise that you do the same. Listen to me when I say that Brown Estate was simply amazing. UH-MAZE-ING. Brown Estate is the first and only black-owned winery in Napa Valley, and is best known as one of the region’s well-regarded zinfandel producers. What I loved most about this tasting experience is the richness in history that is provided to all during the tasting experience. As we began to sip and savor the delectable drips of our wine flight (I ordered the red wine flight, however white wine is also an option), our hostess broke down the significance of each glass as it relates to the Brown family. Having a seat at the table (both figuratively and literally) had us all overwhelmed with a sense of beautiful emotions I can’t even begin to put into words. Brown Estate is an experience like no other and I can’t wait to return once again.
THINGS TO SEE & DO
Let me begin by saying that there is so, so much to see and do in the city of San Fran, and while we achieved much, we didn’t even begin to scratch the surface. The following is not an exhaustive list, but my top three recommendations of places to see:
Of course I had to get lost in a bookstore at some point during my stay. Tucked away in the eclectic Haight district, this vibrant, but roomy independent bookshop had me wanting to stay forever. I thoroughly enjoyed that the shop had a large variety of genres sectioned off, including: counter culture, art & photography, graphic design, and so much more. With flaps of white paper parading outside each and every shelf, customers and staff alike are encouraged to leave reviews outside their favorite book/s. I was literally in awe of the individualism of this bookshop, and was completely enamored that there was a full-time ‘book concierge’ on site, prepared to assist customers in providing real time book consultations. Thinking I should hire Kelsey (the book concierge on site during my visit) for The Book Bar!
Good vibes only at this recreational gem just blocks from Mission Street. Encompassing hundreds of people at any given time, Dolores Park is welcome to pets and people of all ages. With their lush, rolling hills, and a gorgeous view of the entire city, next time I return to Dolores Park I will come fully prepared with all the essentials necessary to have a successful picnic in the park.
Have you even visited San Francisco if you haven’t crossed the Golden Gate Bridge? I think not. Enter ::total tourist here:: but we were beyond geeked to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, which was just a 20 minute walk from our lodging site. My only warning is to be prepared for the fierce winds and freezing temperatures, as you will be directly on the peninsula. No but really, come equipped with a heavy coat, scarf, and hat, because it is COLD. Needless to say this was a fun group venture to cross off our bucket list, and completely photo-worthy.
Chinatown (the largest Chinatown outside of Asia)
Painted Ladies (Full House attraction)
As you prepare to consider your next getaway I hope that you will consider the city of San Francisco, as it surely didn’t disappoint. If planning to visit, I hope you enjoy your time as much as my girlfriends and I did. Please share in the comments below, what are you most looking forward to experiencing in San Fran after reviewing this travel guide?
What Happens in Napa, Stays in Napa,