The most special place I could share with Fabes during his stay in California would have to be San Francisco… He had been once before, but this time he was seeing it through a local’s eyes. I graduated from San Francisco State University so I spent several years living there, not to mention all the trips we had taken throughout my youth. So as you can imagine, I had a lot to show him. As a warning, this article will be a lot longer than others, so I’ve broken it down into sections based on districts. Hope you enjoy!
Golden Gate Park/ Presidio
Some of my favorite memories in San Francisco were when I escaped from the hustle and bustle of the inner city and took a stroll through Golden Gate Park, around Stow Lake, or even hiking in Land’s End. Fabian also enjoys the kind of peace that nature has to offer, so I knew I had to show him this area.
One of my favorite days we spent in the city started with this beyond perfect picnic at the edge of the park on Martin Luther King Jr Drive.
After lunch we made our way to the DeYoung Museum as well as the California Academy of Sciences. The DeYoung is an art museum that features modern works along side of native pieces and even some that are ancient! The Academy of Sciences sparks wonder in all sorts of biologies including the animal kingdom, plant life, and even outer space! We loved the four story indoor rainforest as well as the planetarium show.
Another museum we have to recommend is one that I spent a lot of time at volunteering, throughout college. The Walt Disney Family Museum is not far from the Golden Gate Bridge itself in an area called The Presidio. The museum was founded by Walt’s daughter, Diane, and includes family photos and home videos as well as original artifacts from the studio and even Disneyland. If you have a Disney lover in your family, this is a place they have to see.
While in the Presidio, go for a stroll around the Palace of Fine Arts. At the moment the building is empty, but take a walk around the duck pond and enjoy the impressive architecture.
While the Palace of Fine Arts’ rotunda stands as an icon of the city, nothing tops the Golden Gate itself. There are several nearby locations that you can catch a great snapshot of the bridge, but one of my favorites would have to be from Crissy Fields at the Marina, (shown above). Go right before sunset to capture that beautiful red-orange color.
Take the Great Highway a bit farther down south, passed the infamous Cliffhouse Restaurant and Sutro Baths and you’ll find Ocean Beach. Watch local surfers catch some waves while walking down this sandy shoreline. I spent lots of time here in college whether it was hanging out with friends on the dunes or getting some homework done. It’s a great spot to just relax.
Pier 39/ Fisherman’s Wharf
This next area is quite the opposite of relaxation. Pier 39 is filled with tourists from all over the world. When you imagine the San Francisco experience, this is what you picture: crowds, shops, street performers; it’s all here on the daily.
My favorite attraction here is just passed the pier at Fisherman’s Wharf, behind the Boudin Bakery. It’s called Musée Mécanique and it features over 200 “antique arcade machines in their original working condition.” One of those being the incredibly creepy Laughing Sal, who used to greet guests at SF’s original Playland:
Admission is free, just come prepared with coins so that you can operate the machines!
As you continue down, passed the wharf, you’ll pass businesses such as The Rainforest Cafe, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Keep walking passed all this and you’ll make it to Ghiridelli Square to pick up some locally made chocolate.
If you want to stay along the water, there is still plenty to see in this area closer to the Bay Bridge. We call it The Embarcadero, where you can watch the (now permanent) Bay Lights Show on the bridge. Just find a perfect spot like on the dock shown above. This is also where you can catch a HornBlower Cruise like we did, hence why we’re all dressed up in this photo. My mom bought us tickets as part of Fabian’s birthday gift this year and we loved it! The boat was really nice and they served us a fabulous four course meal. Fabes also got a great shot of the Golden Gate as we cruised underneath it.
The main attraction to the island is the Flea Market which happens on the last weekend of every month. It’s a great place to shop for local art and antiques while sipping on a signature cocktail or enjoying flavors from one of the many featured food trucks. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, there’s live entertainment and we had fun just hanging out there and observing.
Another hip place I spent a lot of time at in college was The Mission, due to its trendy shops and bars that were cheaper than anywhere else you’ll find in the city (some of my favorites being Elbo Room and Zeitgeist). For shopping, you have to check out Valencia Street, they have a cool pirate themed store (826 Valencia) and an interesting oddity store (Paxton Gate) featuring all sorts of curiosities, such as taxidermy and fossils.
Even more impressive would have to be the alleys full of graffiti murals. They made for some pretty awesome photos!
These murals are always changing, so even if you’ve seen them before, make sure to take the time and visit them again.
A word of warning, if you’re going to The Mission area at night, I suggest going in a group. You’ll notice a good portion of the homeless population are here… Not that they’re all dangerous… But there are some sketchy characters that may give you a hard time if they see that you’re alone.
Union Square/ Downtown
The heart of San Francisco would have to be Union Square. It’s a shopping mecca with stores like Barney’s NY, Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus, Sak’s Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdales, Nike, and a Macy’s standing at seven stories high!
For even more shopping there’s a Westfield Mall right around the corner, on Market street. Farther down this road is where you will find the Castro. And if all that wasn’t “bougie” enough for your tastes, there’s also high class hotels, like the Westin Saint Francis, complete with a glass elevator (check out their gingerbread castle at Christmas time). Although it is very pricey, we recommend finding accommodations here at least once. During our stay Fabian’s parents got us a room at the Marriot Marquis, which really put us in the middle of all the action. Plus, we had an amazing view of all the surrounding buildings as we went to bed each night and woke every morning.
This is also an area you can catch one of San Francisco’s world famous cable cars, but be prepared to wait in line, they’re a very big tourist attraction.
Another very well known and sought out place in San Francisco is its Chinatown, which is the largest outside of Asia and the oldest in North America. Here you can experience all sorts of authentic flavors ranging from dim sum, moon cakes, pork buns, or even sushi and pho. One place you have to stop for a treat is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, you can watch them being made right before your eyes! You can even write your own personal message that they’ll fold into a cookie for you.
This is also a great spot for finding unique gifts, whether you’re looking for something funny, adorable, compassionate, or maybe even kind of yucky…
Bets are you’ll find a good deal in one of Chinatown’s bazaars. You’ll notice that the farther you go down the Grant Avenue, the cheaper everything gets (that includes fireworks).
If you’ll be in the city in early February, make sure to watch the Chinese New Year parade, it’s a huge deal that you’ll want to be a part of at least once! As long as you don’t mind crowds, that is.
Ingleside/ Twin Peaks
Last, but not least, I’ve saved for you my neighborhood, only minutes away from SFSU, Ingleside was a great area to live during my college experience. I could walk to campus and there was plenty to do around me when class was over. Ingleside is full of families with college kids scattered in, so it’s very safe. I knew Fabian would like it since it’s peaceful and the layout of this place is pretty crazy, I’ve always wanted to take photos of it myself… I think he did a great job capturing it.
The neighborhood has a few hidden gems as well, one I’ll share with you is called the Moraga Steps (or the 16th Avenue Steps).
The 163 mosaic stairs make for a pretty interesting background in that ideal Instagram shot.
The last little gem I’ll share with you is the best view of San Francisco there is, from above, at Twin Peaks.
At the home of Sutro Tower you can see the entire city, from one bridge to another. Now this place is getting more and more popular by the day, as in tour buses make trips here… So make sure to check it out before they start charging to get up on those hills!
Sharing my home with Fabian was one of the most special experiences I’ve ever had, showing him all the places I’ve made memories and creating more of our own together. Next we’ll be heading overseas and I can finally see where he’s from in Brussels, but we’re making plenty of stops in between: Dubai, Thailand, Vietnam… Just to name a few. We’re off on our next big adventure and we can’t wait to share with you everything that happens along the way.