The Quick and Cheap Guide to Visiting San Francisco in Three Days
Welcome to the first post of many about my summer adventures in the Pacific Northwest! Nick and I spent thirteen days traveling from San Francisco to Seattle with plenty of stops in between. Because of the length of our trip, we spent a bit of time in each city instead of rushing on the road. Except for the one 8 hour driving day. That was a tough one.
Our first stop on this epic road trip was San Francisco. In November, on our way to San Diego, we had a layover in San Francisco. We started talking about how fun it would be to actually visit instead of just drinking Peet's coffee in the airport terminal.
We also knew that San Francisco is a tad bit on the expensive side so we decided to spend a few days there before moving on to other places on the West Coast. And thus our Pacific Northwest road trip was born.
Our trip began with an early morning flight out of Philadelphia which gave us almost a whole first day in the city. Then we would have another day and a half before moving onto Santa Rosa and wine country.
Where We Stayed in San Francisco
Because we were visiting three cities with other stops in between, we were trying to stay on budget. After lots of research, we found that San Francisco was just not going to work with our budget. With a bit more digging, I realized we could stay in Berkeley.
As a devoted Parenthood fan, I was excited to stay in this suburb of San Francisco. I also knew that it wasn't going to be the same as if we stayed within the city limits. But we found a very affordable and well-kept Airbnb within walking distance of Berkeley.
One other BIG thing to mention about our stay in Berkeley/San Francisco: we did not plan on getting our rental car until day 3 of the trip and were relying on public transportation.
>>Quick tips for using public transportation in and around San Francisco...
Though I'm no expert, I did quite a bit of research about the types and accessibility of public transportation. The reviews were mixed. Some people talked about how public transportation was everywhere and went most places. Others complained of how slow it was.
My own review of San Francisco's public transportation is mixed. It is very accessible because there are so many options. From cable cars to the subway-like BART, there is some form of transportation to get you there. You can do all of this with the refillable Clipper card that you tap or swipe and it deducts the amount of your ride. On the downside, there are so many options. I wasn't always sure if we should be looking for a BART station or a muni bus or trying to ride a street car. And yes, it could sometimes be pretty slow.
Of course, you can always take Uber or Lyft. They were everywhere and pretty quick. We took an Uber Pool from downtown San Francisco out to Berkeley with our bags and it was only about $30.
Where We Ate in San Francisco
(Because why travel anywhere if you're not going to stuff yourself?!?)
One of my favorite meals of our whole trip was at Jupiter. It's got really good pizza, craft beer, and an enclosed garden space. It was relaxing and delicious and made us feel like we were in Berkeley. I love a restaurant that really makes you feel like you're having an experience, along with good food of course.
La Taqueria, Mission District
We hopped in an Uber Pool from the airport (so convenient and easy) and had him drop us off at La Taqueria. It was a "must eat" on many lists mostly because they make their burritos without rice.
We hit it right at lunch time and it was CROWDED. People were chowing down on their burritos on the sidewalk. But luckily I spied someone getting up and grabbed a table so I could enjoy my rice-less burrito with a seat.
All of this is to say that a visit to La Taqueria is a MUST. It was crowded because it is so good. Delicious meat with beans and some onions and a cilantro is definitely my new favorite kind of burrito. Bye rice!
Mikkeller Bar, Tenderloin
Of course, my pregnant self could not partake in any of the (many) breweries and beer halls we visited. But I like the atmosphere and Nick definitely enjoyed the beers. I made it a point for us to visit Mikkeller Bar after reading Emily's San Francisco post and also because I like Mikkeller's aesthetic. I ate a delicious hamburger and stole a coaster because it was cute.
4505 Burgers and BBQ, Hayes Valley
Nick and I are always on the hunt for good bbq-ed meats. We were pretty stuffed from a late lunch so we split a platter of pulled pork and some sides. It's not Southern bbq but it certainly hit the spot. Plus it was a really short walk to Alamo Square so we could catch that perfect golden hour light on the Painted Ladies.
What We Did in San Francisco
Strolled through the UC Berkeley campus
Relaxed in Mission Delores Park - great views of the city and the perfect spot to relax.
Snapped pictures at the Painted Ladies - oh my goodness, the tourists (us included of course)! Definitely makes sense to go early or late. Just by virtue of our dinner plans we ended up being in the area around sunset and the light was still good and there was way less people.
Climbed up to Coit Tower - Being pregnant and (slightly/really) out of shape made this quite the climb. But the views! Not just from the top but all along the way. Plus it gives you a chance to check out all the cute little bungalows built into the side (anyone else fantasize about what life would be like if I lived here?). We opted out of going all the way up the tower since our calves couldn't handle it but there was a great view from the park at the base.
Rode the cable car - another tourist-y activity but can you go to San Francisco and not ride a cable car? I recommend trying to hop on along the route, NOT at the turnaround. There was a line of eighty people waiting and it's just not worth it.
>>Want to skip the crowded cable car altogether? Ride the F line street car! This was a tip from many different San Francisco guides and now I'm passing it along to you. The F line is vintage street cars and it even runs along the waterfront.
Explored Chinatown - another must-see spot in San Francisco, as it is the biggest Chinatown in the U.S. While you're there, visit Kim + Ono. I still regret not grabbing a beautiful silk kimono but there just wasn't room in my tiny suitcase!
Snapped a bunch of photos on Lombard Street - it's fun to watch cars creep slowly down the zigzagging street. Not much to do there but another must-see if you're short on time in San Francisco.
Explored The Presidio - we ventured into this national park on our way to Santa Rosa. The beaches here have great views of the Golden Gate bridge.
Appreciated the colorful murals of Balmy Alley - to burn off the massive and delicious burrito from La Taqueria, we made the short walk over to Balmy Alley. The murals are very colorful and diverse and picture taking was definitely not off limits. There are murals all over the Mission District so definitely worth taking a little walk around the neighborhood.
Things we're coming back to San Francisco for
Because we were spending such a limited amount of time in San Francisco, I do feel like we missed some things. That's not so bad since it gives us an excuse to return!
Coffee shops and bakeries - because things are more spread out in San Francisco than we imagined, we spent most of our time going from one stop to another. If we go back to San Francisco, I'd like to take some time to visit one of the many recommended coffee shops and bakeries.
Ride or walk over the Golden Gate bridge - while we did drive over the bridge, I'd love to see it at a more leisurely pace. Plus it would be really nice yo visit Sausilito on the other side.
Take a bay cruise - I love taking water cruises. You get to see amazing views of the city and it's so relaxing. With more time, I'd love to do a cruise in the San Francisco bay.