San Francisco has always been one of my favorite cities. Its year-round fog, lush parks, colorful Victorian houses, quirky neighborhoods, steep streets and the cable cars that climb them are just a few of the things I love about the city. Growing up in rural Northern California, SF was my idea of a big city and we’d make the two-hour trek south to spend weekends there as a family. For a few years, I even took acting classes there, which made me want to eventually move to a big city (like Los Angeles).
Most recently, we headed to SF to celebrate my dad’s birthday, which really kept the holiday festivities going. We took our time getting there, stopping off in gorgeous Mill Valley for a light lunch and cocktails at Playa, which I highly recommend, and arrived in the city later that afternoon. To our pleasant surprise, the weather was some of the best we’ve ever experienced in SF. While the air was nippy, the sun shined throughout the day over our two-night stay.
Because we were looking to get active after laying around and eating one too many cookies over the holidays, we decided to take an hour hike in the Lands End Park one morning.
We began at the Sutro Bath ruins and weaved along the coastal trail towards the Golden Gate Bridge. If you never heard of them, the Sutro Baths were a large, privately owned public saltwater swimming pool complex in the Lands End area. While there once were six saltwater pools and one freshwater pool, the facility burned down in the 1960’s so now only ruins remain. In all honesty, there’s not much to look at in terms of the ruins, but reading about the history and seeing photographs of the baths in their former glory was fascinating.
One evening, we headed over to the Ferry Building in the Financial District for dinner.
If you’ve never been to the Ferry Building, it’s worth a trip, especially if you’re a foodie. Talk about the makings of an epic charcuterie board or gift basket!
The historic space has been transformed into an indoor marketplace with local vendors offering everything from fresh baked biscuits and high-quality meats to candles and pottery made by city artisans. You could seriously spend hours going through each of the shops and sampling offerings from the vendors.
Among the Ferry Building’s many well-known vendors is Cowgirl Creamery, which is based in Petaluma but has quickly gained a massive following. I absolutely adore their Mt. Tam, which is a triple cream cheese that happens to be their most popular. I also like their Chimney Rock cheese, which is dusted in ground organic shiitake mushrooms and black pepper. Next door to their primary cheese shop is Side Kick, their fast-casual cafe that serves breakfast and lunch dishes made with Cowgirl Creamery cheese. Think a selection of gourmet grilled cheese, “Ham and Tam” sandwiches, cheesy grits, and tomato soup garnished with Cowgirl créme fraiche. Are you drooling, yet?
Around the back of the Ferry Building is The Slanted Door, which boasts gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge. It’s a sleek, minimalistic restaurant that serves “modern Vietnamese cuisine” and I made a reservation here for my dad’s birthday. We ordered family-style and the selection was excellent – baby bok choy with shiitake mushrooms, their signature spring rolls with gulf shrimp and pork, grass-fed verde farm shaking beef, seared ahi tuna, a wood oven whole-roasted fish with Thai chili sauce, and orders of rice for the table. For dessert, beignets!
After such a delightful meal, it was a treat to come back to our hotel, which has the most comfortable beds and gorgeous views. Out our window, we got glimpses of the bay, Grace Cathedral, and the beautiful park below. While I’ve stayed in hotels in various parts of the city, Nob Hill seems to be the area we stay the most and this time, we stayed at The Huntington. Its interiors recently got an update (pops of color and eclectic, funky furniture), but there’s still the sophisticated, old-school bar and restaurant just off the lobby for those looking for a touch of nostalgia. In Nob Hill, there’s a collection of well-known hotels (The Fairmont, The Mark Hopkins, The Stanford Court, and The Huntington, of course) and they’re all fun to visit even if you’re not necessarily staying in the area. The iconic Fairmont Hotel in particular has a gorgeous interior and Christmas decor was still in full display when we stopped by one evening.
The Fairmont is a short walk from our hotel in Nob Hill and while the hotel’s Christmas decor was sensational, we really came for tiki drinks downstairs at the iconic Tonga Room.
Having been to a ton of tiki bars, I can definitely say this one’s the real deal. The tropical decor is outrageously on point – think volcanic rock walls, a ship’s deck as the dance floor, massive tiki statues, and a pool-turned-lagoon as the focal point. A band plays popular covers on a barge in the middle of the lagoon and bar-goers can expect tropical rain and thunder every thirty or so minutes. If you’re looking for an energetic and themed scene, look no further.
All that dancing and rum called for a hearty breakfast the next day. When we come to the city, there are typically two places we eat breakfast: Sears Fine Food near Union Square (an old-school place that’s famous for its world famous Swedish pancakes) and our more recent favorite, Sweet Maple on Sutter. Like Sears, it’s known for a specialty dish, but instead of pancakes, it’s their “Millionaire Bacon.” This particular bacon is extra-thick and slow-cooked for hours with brown sugar and spicy peppers. Because I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spice, I opted for their regular bacon but went all in and ordered their cornflake crusted French Toast. In short, it’s easily the best French Toast I’ve ever had.
While the weekend flew by quickly, it was a great stay in San Francisco and I loved exploring parts of the city that I hadn’t before. Next time, I hope to spend some time on Fillmore Street (one of favorite neighborhoods) or perhaps pay a visit to the de Young Fine Arts Museum (another favorite).
Where are your favorite places to visit in San Francisco?