San Francisco steals my heart every time I visit. From the hilly streets to the rolling, thick fog, there is a reason so many songs have been written about this beautiful city! It is a city unlike any other, metropolitan and diverse like New York but with a distinct California edge. I love it and so does my family, with my daughter even declaring that she missed it already as we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge! So what is it that we love about San Francisco?? Let me see if I can show you...
1. Lands End -
The first place we headed out to in San Francisco was Lands End, a windy and wild area in the northwest part of the city. In this park there are trails to explore with views of the rocky coastline of the Pacific, the ruins of the Sutra Baths, a visitor center and even remains of a USS WWII ship. It also offers views of the Golden Gate from the north side (we usually would see the bridge from the south side). It really is a beautiful spot and one that my local friends highly recommended but be prepared for the wind! (Honestly, be prepared for the wind in most of San Francisco.)
After exploring Lands End, we headed to another local favorite, Park Chalet, a beer garden right across the street from Ocean Beach and walking distance from Lands End. We had a pretty big group of kids, dogs and grownups and this place was perfect with a big space full of plenty outdoor seating, great beers, seafood and a kids menu. The afternoon we were there, they also had a live band and the kids ran around and danced, happily leaving the grownups to talk and drink. It was a great way to cap off a day of of hiking and exploring.
2. Haight-Ashbury -
I adore this neighborhood. Maybe it's my dreamy vision of the 60's but something about this funky neighborhood just sets my heart aflame. It is quintessential San Francisco, with the Victorian houses and tie-dye shops, and, of course, the Ben & Jerry's right at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. My favorite thing to do is to head to Crepes on Cole for breakfast or lunch and then walk aimlessly through this neighborhood, exploring the colorful houses, the eclectic shops, the tattoo parlors (I even stopped in for a tattoo one time!), and everything else you can find. It is one of my happy places.
3. The Mission -
This last trip to San Francisco, I decided that I wanted to walk through some neighborhoods that I had never been to before. Many of my trips to San Francisco have been quick ones and didn't leave a ton of time to explore neighborhoods outside of the normal touristy ones but this trip I made sure to do that, even if it meant not getting to some of my old standbys. So we headed to the Mission to see what we could find. We got there famished and wanting tacos and lucky for us there was a taqueria on practically ever corner (The Mission is a historically Latin neighborhood which might explain why there are so many great taquerias). My husband kept talking about how lucky they were in that neighborhood to have so many tacos options (did I mention that we love tacos? did I mention that we also live in LA where we too have many options for tacos??). We landed at Taqueria El Buen Sabor, filled our bellies with some delicious food and then hit the streets.
We wandered up 18th street to the Mission Dolores Park, a huge, beautiful expanse of land that really feels like the heart of The Mission District. This park had everything, big grassy fields for picnicking and tossing a frisbee, basketball court, soccer field, off leash areas for dogs and one of the best playgrounds I've ever been too. My kids loved the playground with the slides that were built into the hill and the climbing walls and swings. I loved watching them and then looking back at the gorgeous view of the city from the top of the park. Right across the street from the park is the actual Mission Dolores, or Mission San Francisco de Asis, which is the oldest building in San Francisco and the oldest original mission in California. It is really beautiful and definitely worth a visit.
4. Fisherman's Wharf -
Ok, so, Fisherman's Wharf was one of the first places I ever went in San Francisco, and is totally touristy and crowded, but still a lot of fun. It really has so much to do and all of the things you associate with San Francisco, like the cable cars, the sea lions, the clam chowder in bread bowls (maybe that's just me?), the views of the Golden Gate, Pier 39, Ghiradelli, the boats to Alcatraz, the USS Pampanito, and so much more. My kids love riding the cable cars, which you catch at either Aquatic Park by Ghiradelli or by Pier 45 and both lines run up to Union Square and back. We also really love the Musee Mecanique, an old time video game arcade. My kids love looking at and playing with all the antique games and I love the old photo booth where you can still get the black and white photo strips (we have a nice little collection a pictures from there). And, of course, a trip to Fisherman's Wharf would not be complete without a stop by Ghiradelli for some rich chocolaty goodness.
There are lots of hotels in and around Fisherman's Wharf and our favorite is the Argonaut. It is located right in the heart of the action, is pet friendly, has clean, hip rooms with a maritime theme and a great restaurant on site. I usually try to book rooms during the week for a better rate and always check Hotels.com to see what rate they have. I'm always looking for the best deal around ;)
5. Golden Gate Park -
There is so much to see and do in Golden Gate Park that you could almost spend all of your time in San Francisco there! I'll tell you about a couple of our favorites. The first thing that we absolutely love is the Japanese Tea Garden. Both of my kids loved walking through this tranquil and lush garden, with statues of Buddha and fish ponds. It is a lovely place to meditate or take photos, which my son really enjoyed doing. We also enjoyed going to the Tea House, where we had tea and cookies on the open patio. Another great to do in the park is the California Academy of Sciences, which houses an aquarium, a planetarium and a natural history museum (whew!). A highlight is the Rainforests of the World, where you can be surrounded by butterflies and birds.
When you leave either of those places, you will be given the opportunity to rent bicycles, surreys, or segways to ride around and tour the park. My kids convinced me to do this one time when I was alone with them and man was it an experience! We rented a surrey and I made my son promise to help pedal, which he did for about 5 minutes. The rest of the time was me trying to will my way around in this crazy thing on roads that were deceptively steep! People around us got quite the chuckle at me trying to pedal that thing. Needless to say, by the time we got back to turn our surrey in, I was exhausted. So, my advice would be to only rent a surrey if you have two adults or a kid old enough to actually help!
PS - If you are in San Francisco in early August (Aug. 5, 6 & 7 this year) then be sure to check out Outsidelands Festival in Golden gate Park. We had the chance to go several years ago when my husband played it and it was really fun! I mean, this year the headliners are LCD Soundsytem, Radiohead and Lionel Richie! it is definitely worth checking out.
I hope you go to San Francisco and check out some of my favorite places! What else would you add to the list?
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