Travel Guide: Four Days in San Francisco
California has been on my adult travel bucket list for some time. With its colors, coast, and quirky lifestyles, California has always seemed a place I could call home. I visited a few areas in California when I was about 20, but never really got to appreciate and experience things the way I would now. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to travel with looser time tables and opt for budget options even when I might be able to afford something else. I wrote a little bit about why I think you should travel on budget here. I recently hopped on a plane to San Francisco for some budget friendly adventure…
We chose San Francisco for a few reasons. As I approached 30, I wanted to plan an affordable trip to the West Coast. I started searching Hopper for affordable flights from the East Coast to West Coast. Flights to Los Angeles were a little too pricey, so we looked at San Francisco. Flights were much more affordable. A little research showed San Francisco was full of beautiful views, good food, and culture. It sounded like a great place to explore for both of us. We wound up getting round trip tickets for $200 a couple weeks before we left. We also scored a killer Air BnB for a low cost and discovered GetAround for affordable car rental. (More on all three of these those savings tips later this month.) After crunch time getting some work out the door, we were off! We really had a blast, despite overcast and rainy weather. Here’s a list of our favorite places and spaces.
Shopping on Haight Street
I’m going to start with the good stuff. When we were planning out our second day in the city, I really wanted to see the Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Bridge. I hunted online for areas to visit near the park and discovered Haight Street. This is one of the best ways to spend a day in San Francisco, if you ask me. Not only did we discover great food, coffee, and lots of people watching, I had the best shopping trip I’ve possibly ever had. I had never seen so many stores specializing in vintage wears before. Each had its own personality and aesthetic. Some other non-vintage shops were just as exciting. I bought a few things throughout the day, but left a few behind. I fell in love with many more. Here is a list of all the shops we loved on Haight Street:
Held Over: This vintage shop is pretty massive, but not chaotic like some vintage shops. They keep the retail space organized and clean. I found a great fuzzy beret. We both tried on sweaters and coats here, too. There was an entire room of men’s suits we wish we had time to explore.
Static Vintage: I had heard about Static before I even left for San Francisco. I knew I’d love this place. I tried on about eight different coats, wishing I could give them all names and take them home to meet my other coat babies. We decided it wasn’t a good idea to splurge and we didn’t have the space. I was stoked to find this red bag, though. It’s versatile and large enough for all day use.
Ambiance: This store is packed with the latest styles. From leather studded jackets to flowing floral dress, Ambiance has tons of “wow” items. There are four locations in San Francisco too. Tap the link to see them all. I brought home this pink duster from Ambiance.
SockShop: Yes, they sell socks. Patterns, comics, and colors covered the socks here, which cover the place wall to wall. It’s perfect for grabbing souvenirs to bring home.
Love Street Vintage: This is the spot for boho babes to shop. Brass jewelry, fringe jackets, flowing dress and more line the walls and racks here. Isaac also found some great leather jackets for men.
Coffee Shop Love
I start every day with a coffee. When I travel, I feel coffee shops are a great way to get to know a city. We picked a new one each day to kick things off. Here are three we loved:
Cafe Reveille: This is the Whisk of San Francisco. If you’re from Richmond, then you know what I’m talking about. Its millennial pink accents and insta-perfect lattes are a trendy traveler’s best friend. We stopped here to read and catch up on emails after we went to check out Spark Social (more below).
Cantana Coffee: This quirky little spot is perfect for Haight Street. I got the Laudrey Hepburn, a lavender latte. It was the perfect pick me up with a bit of sweet flavor. They had a few other lattes with fun names and flavor combinations.
Pebbles Cafe: This was closer to our Air BnB. It was a great spot to not only get coffee, but a delicious Acai bowl for breakfast. They also had Brazilian Cheese Bread, which are perfect little balls of gooey sustenance to throw in your bag for later. We talked to the owner for a while and really enjoyed the space.
Food We Found
We had a little bit of everything in San Francisco. The town kept us both satisfied in terms of food, even though I had recently gone gluten and dairy free. Here are some spots we recommend hitting up:
Spark Social Food Court: This permanent food court park is located in the Mission Bay Area. There are new building and businesses budding in this area. It’s also the same hood as Cafe Reveille. There are sitting areas set up like a restaurant all throughout the block of food trucks. We split up to order and met up at a table in the middle. Isaac returned with a gigantic burrito and I got a crepe with prosciutto. It was lunch time on a Friday, but the bar in the middle of Spark Social was pouring beer and wine.
Lolo: If you’re craving tacos and tapas, head to Lolos. The restaurant has colorful walls, fun decor and a menu featuring Jaliscan-Californian cuisine, from burritos to grilled octopus. We both loved our food. We peeped at the agave bar, but we were so tried from our trip we didn’t dare drink. I’d head back here for an afternoon stroll along Valencia Street, which also had some colorful boutiques. Finish it off at Lolo with an afternoon cocktail and snack.
Parada 22: This is where we had one of those “wow” meals. After another visit to the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood, we wanted to get some grub before we headed to an open mic down the road. Parada 22 had all sorts of glowing reviews on Yelp and smelled delicious. We stepped in and were seated at a very small table. We were so hungry. It felt like an eternity waiting for our food. It was totally worth the last minute decision to stop in. We shared the Mofungo and were in awe to the last bite. Definitely visit this spot for a hearty meal.
Miss Saigon: We wanted some pho after a long day in wine country (more below). Miss Saigon popped up right away with glowing reviews despite only being open for a couple of months. We drove here and realized what one reviewer meant when they called it “a seedy part of town.” Beware of feeling a little overwhelmed by the homeless population here after you get out of your car. The adventure was worth it, though. Isaac got pho and I got a Vermicilli bowl to mix things up. I also ordered Thai coffee, which they bring out still dripping in something like a French press and a cup of rich cream to mix it with. We crushed every bit of it all.
While San Francisco isn’t known for its wine, you’re just an hour drive from dozens of wineries in Sonoma. To get to the wineries, you have to take the Golden Gate Bridge, which checks off another must-see on your San Francisco Travel list. We simply pulled up Google and typed in “winery.” This is not very scientific travel advice, but it worked. Despite the rain, we got to see some of the rolling hills and vineyards of California wine. Many were singed from the recent fires. There were also businesses who had burnt down to the ground along the roads.
When we pulled into the Kendall Jackson Estate, some of their vines were also tinged black. They have vineyards all over California and some faired better than others. Most of this location was in tact and beautiful. I wanted to visit Kendall Jackson because it’s a wine brand you can actually purchase back at home. I could take the knowledge I learned and make purchases at the grocery store. I had a great time talking with the Tasting Room Supervisor, who slowly walked me through their wines, glass by glass, and gave me a tour of the kitchen and grounds. I learned a lot about the wines and how they make them. What I really came away with was that Sonoma Valley wineries are a major part of the region’s overall health and wellbeing. They all came together to to support each other and others impacted by the fires. I think it’s really important we all show them love by buying California wine this holiday season. I really loved both of the Cab Savs I tried.
In between all the wine, the shopping, and the eating, there are also some really beautiful and awe-inspiring sites to see in San Francisco. Below are a few I recommend adding your bucket list. All are free and open to the public.
Twin Peaks: You have to take the trek to the top of Twin Peaks. This is where you’ll get the best view of the city and score that frame-worthy photo. You have to drive up and park. Then, you can either head to the observation deck or climb a pretty serious set of wooden stairs to get to the top. If it’s not too chilly, you’ll want to stay up there forever. You might get annoyed with the constant tourists, though.
Golden Gate Park: This is much like New York’s Central Park. You could easily spend a day here. There are beautiful pockets of gardens that all have their own personalities. There are lakes, sculptures and even a Japanese Tea Garden. Take a stroll or rent a bike to see more.
China Town: San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America. Don’t go here with a specific mission, just head in and let your curiosity lead the way. Try the food, look up and appreciate the architecture, and ask questions.
Fisherman’s Warf: This is where a lot of people will tell you to head when you visit San Francisco. It’s still really great to take in San Francisco history and its views of the Bay. Head to Pier 39 to say “Hi” the sea lions and catch a view of Alcatraz. You’ll be safe if you stumble into any of the restaurants around here. Avoid the chains, though. Get something authentic and local.