So despite all the talk about astronomical living costs and tech overload in San Francisco, you’ve decided to visit the city. You’ve made a great choice! Living in the city may cost a fortune, but visiting there doesn’t have to. Below is a recap of my week-long itinerary and a few tips to help cut down costs and see more.
- E&O Kitchen and Bar is modern Asian restaurant and lounge in the heart of San Francisco’s vibrant Union Square. If you read my last post about Philadelphia, you know I had some of the most amazing Asian fusion of my life. So I had really high expectations coming into this place, and was honestly underwhelmed. The happy hour was decent for the area, and the squash dumplings were good, but I’d skip it.
- Tunnel Top was a really cool bar, with a speakeasy sort of vibe. Yes, I love speakeasies and I try to find them in every new city I visit. The happy hour had fair prices and my drink was really yummy. Try the spicy mango passion fruit margarita!
- Cityscape is a must visit in San Francisco, but prepare to pay for the view! My Noe Valley cocktail was $17! It consisted of Tito’s Vodka, aperol, lemon, agave, and a splash of prosecco. Check to see if there’s a happy hour around dinner time to save a few bucks. Even if you don’t drink, visit this spot to experience gorgeous city views. And see if Hao is tending bar! He’s been working for Hilton for over 30 years and has a lot of insight about the city and how it has changed over time. Hao recommends Ryoko’s Japanese Restaurant and Bar for sushi.
- Pizza by the Slice, formerly Bella Lucca, was actually the most disgusting pizza I have ever had. Google it and read the reviews if you must. Do yourself a favor, save $4.25 a slice, and go anywhere else!
- Pinecrest Diner was reasonably priced with good food and fast service. We went here for breakfast and were happy to visit a place with reasonable prices around Union Square. It’s open 24 hours and has an extensive menu. So check it out for a quick bite to eat.
- Alcatraz was hands down our favorite experience throughout the whole trip! Not only is there rich and interesting history to learn, but the island has beautiful succulents and 360 views of the Bay Area. If you don’t do anything else, do THIS on your trip. Also, if a 45-minute audio-tour sounds boring to you, you are not alone. I would have skipped this if it weren’t for my boyfriend. So glad I did it! The voices telling stories are previous inmates and staff of Alcatraz. Even better, there are background noises of inmates and gunfire, so it seems like you’re actually living the experience.
- Fisherman’s Wharf. Everyone says you MUST go here. I’m glad I did, but I don’t really see what all the hype is about. This is definitely a spot for tourists. It has nice views and a lot of shops and restaurants, but I got a cheesy vibe from the area. Go and check it off the list, but if you’re short on time, don’t feel bad about skipping this spot.
- Applebee’s. Yeah, I said it. We were really having a hard time finding affordable food that actually tasted good. We read reviews across Yelp, Facebook, and Google and the restaurants at which we ate were all highly rated. We kept experiencing mediocrity, so we said, “hey, let’s go for what we know”. Well, Applebee’s delivered at the 2 for $25 level and we were pleased. Plus, the water view was great!
- California Academy of Sciences is worth checking out on a rainy day or if you’re traveling with kids. It was pouring on our third day, so we Googled some indoor activities and decided on this place. We had our old student IDs with us which saved about eight bucks. Our admission was about $31 each, instead of almost $40. There is a cool IMAX dome and 4 story rain forest. But overall, this place is small considering the cost. If you have a botanical gardens membership, check the horticultural reciprocity program for free entrance to the nearby botanical gardens.
- We visited Pacific Catch across the street for lunch. It was just okay. Again, I was expecting more. I had the shrimp and cod tacos, with a side of bland beans. My boyfriend got the mixed catch. We will never understand why people love oysters so much. These were fried and they were still just mushy and bleh. Textures can really put me off, and that’s exactly what the fried shrimp and oysters did here. The seasonal lobster roll was their most popular dish. So perhaps that was better.
- San Francisco’s Hometown Creamery was actually some of the best food I’d had so far at this point in the trip–don’t worry, we found some great spots later! Definitely check this place out for homemade ice cream and waffle cones when near the Haight-Ashbury area. I got the vanilla and mint chip flavors on a waffle cone. Very fresh and yummy!
- Trax is a local gay bar and the cheapest drinks we found throughout the trip! During happy hour, we were able to get well drinks for $4 and draft beer for $3. That is amazing for San Francisco. The bartender highly recommended Zam Zam, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations. Zam Zam is allegedly cash only. So just be prepared.
- Haight-Ashbury is worth checking out, and it’s very close to all the places listed above on Day Three. This is a neat little neighborhood with lots of shops and bars. It seems more affordable that downtown/Union Square, and has a hippy vibe.
- San Jose Sharks. Go see a hockey game in San Jose! This was a really fun pro-sport event. The stadium is impressively huge, and the game was fast paced. Unfortunately, two of the Sharks goals were overturned and they lost. Oh well, I don’t follow hockey anyway. You can easily get to San Jose by using the Caltrain for about $10. Just DO NOT miss your train home, or you will have to take a really expensive Uber (~$150) or a crappy Greyhound ($15).
- Everyone says to visit Chinatown, especially if you’re having trouble finding good food. The restaurant we visited, Sam Wo, was alright in my opinion. Not bad, but not great either. I heard Mission Chinese was good from several travel buddies. So maybe that one is worth checking out. I ate Chow Fun, which was a house specialty, but I thought the flavor was lacking. Maybe that’s just the dish in general?
- The Palace of Fine Arts was beautiful! Definitely check this one out. and if you’re into walking, head over to the nearby Golden Gate bridge. It’s about two miles, and a very pretty walk along the water!
- The Golden Gate Bridge is obviously a must. This is one of the most photographed places in the world, and for good reason. Walk across the bridge and find yourself in Sausalito.
- FINALLY, we found some really good food at Pizzeria Delfina. They have classic Italian dishes and delicious Neapolitan style pizza. However, it’s not cheap. We paid over $40 for 2 of us, including a $1.50 per person charge to help cover staff benefits. Check it out either way. The atmosphere is nice and the surrounding neighborhood is vibrant and beautiful.
- The Tonga Room is a tiki style bar located in the Fairmont Hotel near Nob Hill. This is such a unique bar with all kinds of STRONG rum drinks. There is a floating music stage, with “rainfall”, thunder, and lightening. It really transports you to a different place. This is another pricey spot. So go before happy hour ends at 7pm and get yourself a rum drink for $10.
- Muir Woods is the land of tall redwood trees and fresh, crisp air! JUST BREATHE! This is a great area to hike and get some fun exercise. I saw someone wearing flip flops… maybe don’t do that. I wore tennis shoes, but was really wishing I had comfy hiking shoes by the end. After entering near the visitors center, we took the first path to the right, which was toward the Mountain Home Inn. Stop over there to take in some different views and maybe get a bite to eat.
- Mount Tamalpais combined with Muir Woods was a close second favorite on this whole trip. The views were nothing short of extraordinary. And completing the challenge of hiking to the top of this bad boy was truly gratifying.
- Super Duper Burgers provided some long-sought delicious burgers! We were happy to find this spot near Hotel Zeppelin. Side note: Hotel Zeppelin was a great steal on Hotwire Hotrate, and even gave us a free bottle of prosecco! Back to the burgers… They were juicy, fresh, and delicious. With a side of yummy garlic fries? Easily one of the best meals we had in San Francisco!
BAR CRAWL IN OAKLAND…
Definitely check out Oakland while in San Francisco! It’s a quick 15-20 minute Bart ride and only costs $2.95 each way! The bars over there were so much cheaper and had lots of character.
- Cafe Van Kleef. Get a Greyhound, aka vodka and grapefruit. That is what this place is known for. They cart in boxes upon boxes of fresh grapefruits and have someone constantly squeezing!
- Lost & Found Beer Garden. This spot is indoor/outdoor and has a great selection of beers. There is a covered garden outside with cornhole.
- The Legionnaire Saloon. This is a great spot for live entertainment and has a min-arcade in the back. There was a live DJ downstairs with a separate room upstairs charging a small cover ($5 before 10pm).
- Telegraph. I loved this spot. They have lots of burgers and a mac-n-cheese grilled sandwich as well. The outdoor space had some really cool artwork all over the walls. Definitely check it out!
- Plum Bar had an amazing cheese plate with apple slices and fresh bread. I remember a really cool ambiance, but honestly not much beyond that because you might have noticed I hit four bars before this one. OOPS! Check out the website though… it’s starting to ring a bell.
- La Taqueria is a cash-only Mexican joint in the Mission District. It was very flavorful, but I must say I couldn’t fully enjoy it as I was seriously hungover from the previous night’s adventures in Oakland. This is a popular spot among tourists and locals alike. There was a line the whole time we were there, but it moved fast.
- Mission Delores Park is a popular local spot. People go here on the weekends for outdoor activities like yoga, roller hockey, basketball, and picnics. You can get some great views of the city too!
- Golden Gate Park is HUUUUUGE! In fact, it consists of 1,017 acres of public grounds. We took public transportation to the 40th street entrance and walked down toward the ocean. Definitely do this! Golden Gate Park to the Cliff House and Surto Baths below culminate to our third favorite excursion in the city!
- The Cliff House is a restaurant on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Go before sunset and you’ll find a real treat. Just check out the views below.
- The Sutro Baths were once the world’s largest indoor swimming establishment! The baths burned in 1966, but you can still view the ruins, and they’re a sight to behold during sunset! Plus, there’s nearby hiking for adventure seekers.
- Pizzetta 211 was definitely another TOP meal in San Francisco. This spot was so quaint. We lucked out and got indoor seating right away, but it is a really intimate spot. So calling ahead might be worthwhile! This pizza spot was very close to Pizzeria Delfina in taste, but cheaper in price. So I’d pick this one if choosing between the two.
- Salt & Straw was OMG the best ice cream I have ever had! No joke! I went here twice during our stay and had the Freckled Woodblock Chocolate and the Almond Brittle with Salted Genache. My mouth is seriously watering right now. Why can’t this place be on the East Coast?!?! Did I mention I worked at an ice cream shop for three and half years? I know my ice cream people. If you like ice cream, just go. I went once during lunch and had no wait. I waited 15-20 minutes during the after-dinner rush. WORTH IT.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for itineraries in New Orleans, Aruba, Toronto, Vancouver, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, San Antonio, Miami, and many more!