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Things to do in San Francisco, California – a mini guide!

Yay! We finally visited the west coast of the United States. We went to San Francisco – to visit some very special friends – and even did a mini road trip for some towns nearby.  And I confess: San Francisco has exceeded my expectations! It was one of the American cities that I most loved to visit. Every neighborhood that I visited made me feel like I was in a different city. Sometimes it was like Florianópolis (Brazil), sometimes Miami, sometimes New York City and even  Paris. The city is beautiful and has plenty of things to do! I will share with you what we did there! We stayed in SF for three days and on the weekend and did the mini road trip.

A flight From New York to San Francisco lasts about 5 to 6 hours  – and there is a 3 hours difference. When you arrive in the city, it feels good: we left New York at 7:40 pm and we got there almost 11 pm. I confess that I thought I would suffer from the difference, but it was ok – especially to wake up early. We stayed at our friend’s home and, on Wednesday morning, we explored the Embarcadero area and the piers. Our starting point was near the Bay Bridge. I know that the Golden Gate is famous, but the Bay Bridge is also beautiful – especially at night. We walked and enjoyed the view to the bay until Ferry Building Marketplace – place that reminded me of Chelsea Market. The building was inaugurated in 1898 to receive nearly 50 thousand people who came to the city through ferry, it was the main access when the bridges were not completed. The market features cafes, restaurants, chocolatiers, wineries, bakeries … a delight! Try the empanadas from El Porteño and take the opportunity to taste different kinds of olive oil in Stonehouse California Olive Oil and also try a dark chocolate cookie in Marla’s Cafe. And of course, go to the back of the building to take beautiful photos. Oh, before arriving at the Ferry Building, we also took a picture in front of Cupid’s Span, a huge monument with a cupid’s arrow.

San Francisco Bay has several piers and the most famous of these is Pier 39 – and the major attractions are the sea lions and the carousel. There are several restaurants – all touristy, but a good choice is Boudin Bakery – try the Bread Bowl Clam – soup in bread, super famous in San Francisco. We had the Clam Chowder and the Chilli, super delicious ($9 on average). There are some souvenir shops in the area and also some churros carts. From there, we took a Uber and went to a small park called Patricia’s Green, which has a very beautiful and different temple in terms of architecture. We take very nice pictures! But the biggest reason for our ride there was the Smitten Ice Cream (432 Octavia St # 1a), which serves an ice cream made with nitrogen. No lies: it was one of the most delicious ice creams I have tried in my whole life. I chose one with cookies – the smaller size ($5) is more than enough.

After that, we walked to Alamo Square (10-minute walk), the famous park overlooking the iconic setting of Full House. It is so cute! The place is great to sit and rest. But we had no time to waste, lol. We went to an amazing place, the Palace of Fine Arts, which, in addition to host art exhibitions, is an attraction for tourists and residents and also one of the favorite places for photoshoots. The structure is huge and has a European atmosphere. Too beautiful! And the lake in front gives a special charm to the place. To finish our first day in San Francisco, we had to see the Golden Gate! I am fascinated by bridges and was very excited to see it up close. It’s amazing, guys! A giant structure, which matches perfectly with the landscape. The nice place to take pictures is the Coastal Trail, where people with bikes go to cross the bridge. Some people suggested me to visit Sausalito, a small town across the bridge. But I don’t like to fill my days with a million things to do and then just go for places to say I was there, you know? I like to enjoy and Ana suggested that we should visit Sausalito on another occasion. Is an excuse to go back to San Francisco!

It is good to know: San Francisco has a great public transport system, with the bus, subway, and electrical cable cars (F line and Cable Car), all integrated into the same system, MUNI. They are all accessible with the Clipper card. Fare is $ 2.25.

Even walking all day, we went to The View (39, 780 Mission St), a  rooftop located on the 39th floor of the Marriot Marquis. Admission is free, it’s good to arrive early to get a table! There are some snacks options – because what is special here is the bar! But the coolest part of this place is the view of the city! Speechless!

Thursday was the day that we chose to visit Alcatraz Island where is located the most famous maximum-security prisons in the United States. We bought tickets online and paid $33 each. It includes the ferry, access to the island and the prison. You chose a time for your visit and here it comes the obvious tip: arrive early! We were delayed and we had to wait for the next ferry. The trip takes about 20 minutes from Pier 33 and the view of San Francisco is beautiful. If the sky is clear, the view of the Golden Gate is also spectacular. Alcatraz Prison worked between 1934 and 1963 and guys like Robert F. Stroud, James “Whitey” Bulger and the legendary mobster Al Capone have been there. At first, the idea of visiting a prison may sound a bit boring, but the experience changes with the audio guide – which makes the tour amazing. This tour took us about 2 hours and a half – and you also have an incredible view from the island.

From there, already hungry, we had lunch in a very nice Mexican restaurant, Tropisueño, a self-service style. Warning: the burrito is huge and you can easily share with someone. Besides the traditional delicacies of Mexican cuisine, there are other dishes (with rice and beans!). The guacamole is delicious! After this, we just pass by Union Square and checked the Hearts in San Francisco. This project was started in 2004 and since then 131 beautiful sculptures in heart shapes were created by artists from the area. We continue our walking with one of the city’s most classic rides: Cable Car. The Cable Car is a tourist cable car and a great opportunity to see the city from another perspective. You need to know that the Cable Car has three lines: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason, and California. The first two are the favorite of the tourists and they depart at the corner of Market and Powell Street. We took the Powell-Hyde, passing by Lombard Street – where we got off. Ah, remember that the price of the Cable Car is $7 and the ride is very nice. Try to sit in the open area – if it is too crowded, it worths waiting a while for the next one, because it is the best place to enjoy the ride. Lombard Street was our stop, as I mentioned, and the view from up there is very special. The street is super steep and all cute and you can take great pictures at the bottom too. Not far away is the famous Ghirardelli Square (900 North Point St.) – is a chocolate brand from San Francisco that has little shop and cafe. Skip the first cafe, where everyone goes, and go to the back, to the other cafe, emptier and with wonderful views! The highlight here is the delicious ice cream – huge portions. You can share, certainty! At night, we had dinner at The Slanted Door, a fancy Vietnamese restaurant. It is located in the Ferry Building, and it is essential to make a reservation! The place is busy because of the fantastic view of the Bay Bridge. We were two couples and we ordered three dishes to share among all of us and it was enough!

Friday was rainy and we took the opportunity to explore some stores like Ross (799 Market St), super famous for the bargain prices (Ross doesn’t have any location in NYC lol). It is good to go in the morning when the store is super organized.  There is a wide selection of shoes, handbags, and clothing also, all of the best-known brands, such as Levi’s, Calvin Klein, and so on. The prices are really very good! With patience, you can find great deals. In fact, the area is full of discount stores, such as Nordstrom Rack, Marshall’s, Saks Off Fifth and also Target. After lunch in Westfield San Francisco Centre (a cool mall!), we went to Castro, the gay neighborhood. At an intersection of Castro St. to 18th St. there are Rainbow colors crosswalks! The neighborhood is cute and it is worth spending some time over there – especially to visit the Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store, full of products that extol the struggle for equality and whose revenue goes into this type of project. In fact, San Francisco itself is a city well engaged in this cause, lots of love! Ana and I ended our day in a beauty salon, Public Barber Salon – a great place for those who want a hair cut for a fair price. Of course, the salon is unisex, following the vibe of the city. When we were coming back, we walked a lot in Chinatown – and we discovered a Shiseido store and other Korean shops – if you like these cosmetics, it is good to do research!

Another super important thing: the weather in the city! San Francisco is like mid-season all year. It is nice to have clothing like jeans, shirts, T-shirts and always carrying a little jacket because the wind is the protagonist!

We spent three super intense days in San Francisco, that made me be delighted to San Francisco. When people say California has another vibe, it’s not a lie. I’ve been living in New York City for two years and I feel at home here, but it was remarkable the difference of people in San Francisco. I want to return to explore more of the city and I recommend staying more days – we could not.

More tips on what to do in San Francisco

Some months after visiting San Franciso for the first time,  I went to San Francisco again, for Ana’s baby shower. She took me to visit more places and as I loved all the things we did I decided to add the suggestions here. If you are planning a visit to San Francisco, I suggest you include these tips too!

I love street art – I can not see a drawing on the wall and I’m already running to take a picture. Knowing this, Ana took me to Clarion Alley Mural Project. Clarion Alley is a street that occupies a block in the Mission District, between 17th & 18th and Mission and Valencia streets. It’s a narrow street and full of street arts. The coolest thing is that there are many mixed styles there and all the arts have a nice message, makes you want to take pictures of everything! I will also give two dining tips of what we ate that day: we had lunch at Bun Mee, a Vietnamese restaurant with delicious sandwiches (2015 Fillmore St.), with prices between $ 10 and  14.

When I was in San Francisco for the first time, everyone told me to visit Sausalito. Now, during this second trip, I finally went to Sausalito. This is a small town which is near San Francisco – across the Golden Gate. The place is super charming, very cute, and is by the bay. The day was perfect: sunny, no clouds (if you have been in San Francisco, you know how the weather is uncertain), which provided a breathtaking view to San Francisco. In Sausalito, the tip is to walk – is a small town. Oh, and you should try a burger at Hamburgers (737 Bridgeway). The place is tiny, but the burger is super famous and there are always lines. And, really, it’s a delight! I tried the Hawaiian burger with pineapple and loved it. But if I could, I would share it with someone, it’s huge. The burgers cost $9 on average. After getting your burger, you can find a place to sit in front of the place, at the park. Wonderful! We also had a cup of coffee and ate a white chocolate cookie in Sausalito Bakery & Cafe (571 Bridgeway).

When I travel, I usually walk all day and, at night, I am not excited to go out. But we came back early from Sausalito and recharge our energies to go see the Dueling Pianos at Johnny Foley’s (243 O’Farrell St.). If you’ve never been in a piano bar, do not miss the opportunity. The “show” starts at 9h30 and there are two musicians playing piano. Sounds simple? Well, the repertoire is defined by the people at the bar that ask songs (always with a tip, by the way) and each player also has it side of the bar. They are super excited and everybody get excited – some people even dance. I loved it! The bar serves various beers and drinks and also some snacks. Tip: have an ID to prove that you are over 21 years old.

One of the most amazing things about this trip was the California Sunset Cruise. It is a boat ride across the San Francisco bay that lasts two hours. As the name suggests, the tour takes place during the sunset. The boat passes by Alcatraz Island, Sausalito, and, of course, the highlight of the tour is when we see the Golden Gate Bridge. What a beautiful thing. San Francisco presented us with a breathtaking sunset, with clear skies, full of colors, and fantastic lights. I am in love with this bridge! Remember, the ticket includes a drink and also various snacks. You can buy it on the website and costs $64. But, the trick is to search on sites like Groupon and Goldstar – we paid half the price on our tickets. Oh, and dress warmly up well because it is pretty windy.

Finally, I could not forget to recommend a visit to Golden Gate Park! This park covers 1,017 acres of public grounds and receives over 13 million visitors every year. Think of it as the Central Park of San Francisco. There are gardens, playgrounds, lakes, picnic groves, trails, and monuments, plus a variety of cultural events and activities. We’ve been in two very cool areas: the Conservatory of Flowers and the Shakespeare Garden, a small, super quiet, and charming garden. It is certainly worth spending some time exploring the Golden Gate Park and all it has to offer! You can check out more details here.

Do you have more tips about things to do in San Francisco?

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