San Francisco is a city worth seeing once than hearing about a thousand times. It is the place that should be on your American bucket list, dream destination, must-visit, etc. I must confess, it wasn’t exactly at the top of my personal list. I got there and I was confused. How? Why? I had never been there before. It’s only a 2.5 hours direct flight from Vancouver, where I live. We spent 3.5 days in the San Francisco area, and I’m going to tell you about all the beautiful places we saw, all the delicious food we tried, and why I liked the city so much!
Day 1: Stanford and Silicon Valley
Twin Peaks Lookout
For the first two days, we rented a car and drove to Silicon Valley. Made a quick stop at Twin Peaks. And no, it’s not the scene from a David Lynch TV series, it’s just an observation deck with one of the most epic views of the city. Of course, if the weather is good. We were lucky, there was no fog.
Twin Peaks drew its name from the two mountains between which it lays: White Tail and Blue Pine.
Then we went to Stanford – one of the most prestigious universities in the USA. I was surprised that the campus looks more like an ancient monastery than a modern educational facility. Stanford alumni have founded Google, Nike, Netflix, LinkedIn, Youtube and many other famous companies.
The territory is enormous. Especially when we viewed it from the Hoover tower. Admission to the tower is free, but you must register online.
The local two-story bookstore is also very impressive. You can buy here any branded souvenirs you can imagine.
What I liked most about Stanford was Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden. Dozens of traditional artworks were created here, in a small park, by a group of native artists in 1994. The wood for the totem poles was imported from Papua New Guinea, and the stone was derived from Mono Lake, California
If you like more classical art, Stanford has an entire garden with sculptures by the famous French sculptor Rodin and free art museum nearby.
Computer History Museum
We couldn’t miss the computer history museum in Silicon Valley. They have an interesting collection of prototypes, wires, microchips, billboards, historical references and lots of informative videos. My favourite exhibit is the housewives’ computer for writing down recipes. Too bad none of them were actually ever sold.
You can also trace the history of the 150 most popular programming languages on the chart and sit in a self-driving car. I’m not IT – person, but I really liked this museum.
Apple Visitor Centre
There are many campuses of technological companies in the valley. But tourists are not allowed there. From the roof of the apple visitor center, you can see its ring-shaped headquarters and have a cup of coffee with cute latter art. We spent a few minutes there and then went to the coast to meet a spectacular sunset on the ocean at Moss Landing State Beach.
We had dinner in the town of Carmel. All restaurants there were booked for the entire evening. We were very lucky to find a seat behind the bar at a Spanish Restaurant – Promesa. We spent the night at the Pacific Inn Monterey.
Day 2: Carmel and Monterey
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small charming beach city. It is known for its delicious restaurants, art galleries, and fairytale cottages. More than 20 of them were designed by the self-taught architect and builder Hugh Comstock. He was inspired by children’s tales, like Alice in Wonderland and Brothers Grimm. You can find these houses in Historical Hill District, just east of the downtown center.
The city center of Carmel also looks pretty much like a fairy tale. You can walk around and search for cute statues, check out the churches, and library, find the most unusual souvenirs, admire paintings and street art, enjoy Italian pasta (of course if you’ve booked the table upfront), smell the flowers, drink hot chocolate with a fresh cinnamon bun or just chill on the beach. In Carmel, it’s kind of special. White sand, blue sea, tranquillity, paradise?
Monterey and 17-mile road
As good as it was in Carmel, we had to keep going. We drove along the Monterey coast with its rocks, waves, wind and picturesque scenery. Continued on the 17-mile private road. You have to pay for the entrance around 12$. But you see a bird island, private residences and golf courses, a cedar forest, bonsai trees and many breathtaking views. We also had a Mexican lunch at one of the golf courses, which I didn’t like. Better to eat something in Carmel. But the coffee at the Verve Coffee roasters I can recommend. They have several locations along the coast.
Sea elephant, Pescadero beach sunset
On the way to San Francisco I saw something gigantic on the beach by the highway. It was a sea elephant! He crawled quickly toward the ocean into the sunset. Then he stopped suddenly, arched his back, growled loudly, and amused the audience. I had never seen a sea elephant before, it was one of the highlights of the trip.
For sunset, we stopped at an incredible place – Cabrillo Hwy S Parking, near Pescadero Beach. I guess every sunset by the ocean is special. But this one was so magical and colourful that I dreamed of staying there forever. But just an hour later, we parked the car in the heart of Downtown San Francisco and prepared for another day.
Day 3: San Francisco
There are plenty of homeless people, but they inhabit mostly a few blocks by Union Square. Having read horror stories about windows being broken out and trunks being ripped open in broad daylight, we only rented a car for 2 days for a trip to the coast. In the city itself we traveled by foot, Uber, and streetcars.
In San Francisco we had a serious agenda and planned to see and try as much as possible. We started with one of the tourist spots – Pier 39. It’s part of a fisherman’s wharf, with restaurants and souvenir shops. The most popular attraction here is the sea lion colony. They moved to this pier a few years ago. And you can easily watch how they are lazing around, dipping, diving, and barking at each other. There is also an incredible view of Alcatraz. We didn’t have time for that iconic place, but you can book a tour and spend half a day in this former prison.
Lombard Street and City Hall
Russian Hill is another place with outstanding views of San Francisco. Famous Lombard Street – claimed to be “the crookedest street in the world”, is located here. This one-block section has eight hairpin turns and a lot of tourists.
We had lunch at the Buena Vista Cafe, where (in 1952), Irish coffee was introduced to the US for the 1st time.
Then we took an Uber to San Francisco City hall. It’s a beautiful building and you can take a free tour inside.
The Painted Ladies
From City Hall, we walked to Painted Ladies – another popular attraction – and accidentally found a small charming square with delicious coffee (Patricia’s Green In Hayes Valley)
Over 40.000 victorian-style houses were built in San Francisco at the end of the 19th century. Some were destroyed by the earthquake, but a lot of them still remain! The most famous representatives – are the Painted Ladies.
Golden Gate Bridge
Finally, we got to the Golden Gate Bridge. Don’t ask me how many pictures I took. The bridge is awesome!
We did not limit ourselves to the views from the Welcome Center and hiked the trail along the coast to Baker Beach. I’d say it’s a must-see place in San Fransico, especially at sunset.
Our dinner at a Peruvian restaurant (La Mar Cebicheria) was to die for. Many thanks to my local friends for the recommendation.
The food in San Francisco is very good and expensive. If you don’t care about nature and historical sites, you can safely go for gastronomic adventures, fine dining and molecular experiences. Just do not forget a fat wallet! No kidding.
And I also want to recommend you our hotel in San Francisco – The Donatello Hotel. It was really great and not very expensive.
Day 4: San Francisco
On our last day in San Francisco, we had breakfast at Lapisara Cafe. It was delicious and the portions were so big that we had to skip lunch.
My biggest surprise was Chinatown. In most cities, it’s usually not a pleasant district. But in San Francisco, it is bright, clean, and beautiful, also quite authentic with Chinese restaurants, shops and typical architecture. It is the oldest of all in North America and one of the largest Chinese enclaves outside Asia.
There’s even a fortune cookie factory somewhere in Chinatown that you can visit, as well as try a real Peking duck dish.
Next to Chinatown, there is a financial district, with skyscrapers and offices. I especially liked Salesforce park there – a giant living roof with dancing fountains, grassy lawns, 600 trees and many plants. You can get there by gondola or elevator, admission is free. There is also a children’s playground, an amphitheatre for 1 thousand people and picnic tables.
If you’re in the area, also take a walk along the waterfront overlooking the Bay Bridge. Past Rincon Park to the Ferry Building. And grub something tasty inside it.
To Maritime Historical Park we took a ride on a cable car. Just like years ago, they are still manually operated and take passengers up and down the hills. All cabins are open and you can even ride standing on a special platform outside. I bought us an unlimited-day ticket on the MuniMobile app for $13.
Maritime Historical Park and Ghirardelli Chocolate
In addition to historic ships, swimmers, and a nice park at Aquatic Cove there is a real fort nearby and another very tempting place – Ghirardelli Square – home to some of the world’s best chocolate. Ghirardelli chocolate was founded in San Francisco by an Italian chocolatier in the mid-19th century. You can buy sweets here and have some ice cream.
The Palace of Fine Arts
And don’t miss the Palace of Fine Arts. A beautiful piece of Roman-Greek-style architecture that was built for the 1915 exhibition. It’s free, it’s nice and it’s very windy there.
We also checked a small Yoda Fountain in Presidio park nearby and took a cab to a delicious Japanese restaurant Sanraku. Their signature boxes are something out of this world. I highly recommend you this place.
And that’s it! That was the end of our amazing long weekend in San Francisco, we’ll definitely go back. That’s a great city to explore! Thank you for reading! Share your adventures and recommendations in the comments section.