To celebrate my brother, Zack’s, 35th birthday, my family decided to take him to the one place he’s always wanted to go: San Francisco. I never quite understood his obsession. Having previously visited San Fran, this New Yorker couldn’t grasp what the big deal was. I mean, it’s just another city. Right? Wrong.
Unlike other visits, this trip allowed me to act as a true tourist and afforded me the opportunity to immerse myself into the culture of the extraordinarily diverse and active city. But, in typical Eden fashion, being too touristy all the time would not work. Instead of staying in the bustling Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square, SF’s answer to Times Square, we opted for a Home Away in the quieter, more residential, Marina District. A very Uber-able city, I just made up that a word, someone please inform Merriam-Webster, getting from point A to point B is simple though often time-consuming.
With only four days to explore, our not so ironed out itinerary was packed. After landing on the left coast, Ryan and I made a compelling argument that the family should eat lunch at In-N-Out Burger. Whenever the two of us fly west, this is, without fail, our first meal. My parents were tired and Zack a.k.a the Energizer Bunny, was getting restless, so I’m not entirely sure if they enjoyed their first San Francisco treat… but I did!
After unpacking and settling into our house, we walked up the road to Chestnut Street, the epicenter of the Marina District. With countless coffee shops and boutiques lining the street, time began to fly, our jet-lagged bodies beginning to fail on us. My mom eventually sat on a bench, and basically said if she were to go back to the house, she probably wouldn’t come back out. Still in my runaround clothes, I insisted on quickly returning to the house to change for dinner. What am I, some kind of animal? Within 20 minutes, I met the family back at that bench, my Derek Lam jumpsuit hugging my body and my favorite go-to The Kooples jacket hanging from my shoulders. It took us a few minutes to find a restaurant as each one we poked into lacked a full bar (gasp). After deciding wine and beer would suffice, we wandered into a rustic Italian eatery called Bistro AIX – wine goes better with Italian food anyway! Five bellies fully satiated, we started back for the house, picked up some groceries (i.e. coffee grinds and M&Ms), and swiftly made our way to bed. A chronic insomniac, my head hit the pillow around 9:30pm, and I was out like a light.
If there was one thing Zack was determined to do on this quick getaway, it was to visit Alcatraz. So, I went ahead and planned a tour with Alcatraz Cruises months in advance. Note: I’m not a month’s in advance kind of gal, but you actually do have to book ahead of time as this popular destination is hot, hot, hot and sells out fast! Dressed in my prison’s best, a sheer and velvet kimono, and vintage Whiting & Davis bag, we boarded the ship destined for the infamous rock. I spent the 20 minute journey taking in the amazing views and daydreaming about Sean Connery and his 1996 blockbuster escape. While I’m aware the prisoners at Alcatraz were exposed to horrible conditions, I will admit, they lived with a 5-star view.
The self-guided audio tour was both especially detailed and extremely easy to follow. The seamless route through one of the most notorious federal penitentiaries in US history was spellbinding, as we walked in the footsteps of those held captive in this infamous prison. We took in the cell-house and food hall, and listened to stories of memorable prisoners, like Al Capone, as well as fearless wardens. We also gained a full education regarding escape attempts worthy of their very own Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage action films. With the ability to explore the island and the prison at your own pace, you can make as much out of this visit as you wish.
Prison made us hungry, so after being bailed out, we had a quick bite to eat and made our way to Coit Tower. Rising 210-feet into the sky, the tower offers 360-degree views of the city as well as both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. As I approached the front of the line, I noticed the small, dated elevator was manually operated and took a total of a minute-and-a-half to journey to the top. Have I mentioned I am extremely claustrophobic? Every bone in my body told me to turn around and retreat, but for some reason, I got in the elevator, closed my eyes, and before I knew it, we were at the top. Sometimes, facing your fears pays off. The views were to die for and the photo ops were perfection!
Growing up in the 90’s, Zack and I were avid TGIF fans and watched Full House religiously. So, it was only natural we visit both the Painted Ladies and the Full House house. This was a fun, yet quick excursion to complete our eventful day before dinner.
With a couple of hours to spare before dinner, we set back for the house for a quick rest. Too excited to nap, Ryan and I watched an episode of Sneaky Pete on Amazon. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading this, right now, and watch it immediately. We then got ready for dinner at China Town’s R&G Lounge where we would see our very close friends, Chanel and Kenney, who abandoned the East Coast for the West Coast, had the cutest baby on earth, and essentially ditched us in New York. We take their move personally…
The next day was Ryan’s birthday! He’s not much of a “birthday” guy, but as a person who dedicates a full month to her own birthday celebrations, making this a great day for him was priority number one. Ditching the rest of the family, I took him to Home Plate for breakfast. The popular neighborhood restaurant had apparently just moved a couple of doors down and had a more “posh” interior than before. I didn’t mind! The restaurant was packed, and our table was in close proximity to a solo diner. A very chatty solo diner. A very chatty, very hung over solo diner? We learned a lot about his previous night, a lot but his personal life, but also, as an SF lifer, we received lots of tips on places to visit. We ended up embracing the conversation, enjoyed a delicious breakfast of egg scrambles (New York, why don’t you do these?), and though I tried to take pictures of the birthday boy, I had to abide by the wishes of the camera-shy stunner – no pics allowed. Ugh.
Zack took off on a bike tour across the Golden Gate Bridge while the rest of us wandered about Golden Gate Park. Though I wanted to visit the Turrell Skyspace, it was closed due to renovations in the sculpture garden – if you get a chance, check it out… and let me know how it is! Not closed, however, was the Japanese Tea Garden. The oldest Japanese garden in the United States was a stunner and an obvious playground for any Instagrammer. Its natural beauty, koi ponds, stepping stone paths, an arched drum bridge, pagodas, Japanese plants and a zen garden offered not only countless photo ops, but also, a sense of calm and tranquility. Luckily, we visited while the cherry blossom trees were in bloom. Swoon. A visit to the Japanese Tea Garden is a definite must for any first-time or returning SF visitors.
Racing with the clock, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and met Zack in Sausalito. We spent the rest of the day shopping (well, window-shopping for me), and enjoying the serene coastal town. We ate lunch at the well-known seafood restaurant, Scoma’s, and later returned back to the city.
Despite the onset of a 36-hour rain storm, we set out for pre-dinner drinks at the famed rooftop bar, Top of the Mark, in celebration of Ryan’s birthday. With a full band playing, and views for days, we enjoyed a few rounds of drinks before heading out for dinner. With no real plan in place, we accidentally made our way to a well rated, hole in the wall sushi joint, Akiko’s. The establishment probably sits a maximum of 15 people, so small, the bathroom was located in a neighboring basement – which I was told by my brother not to visit alone. But don’t let this deter you, because the food is totally worth holding it in. As each dish and roll landed on our table, it was devoured with unprecedented fervor. As a family, we came to the conclusion that this must be the best sushi we’ve ever had in our lives… And we’ve eaten A LOT of sushi. Note: we haven’t visited Japan, except for the airport. But Akiko’s extraordinarily fresh fish and delectable dishes definitely beat the sushi I scarfed down at Narita International!
Ryan’s birthday was a huge success, but the next day would be more of a soaking wet challenge. It rained, it poured, the old man snored, and then it poured some more. But, we had less than 48-hours left in town, so off we went. First stop of the day was the Walt Disney Family Museum. I wasn’t not entirely sure what to expect with this museum, but it was actually an incredible journey through the life of Walt Disney, his tremendous successes, huge disappointments, and most of all, his undying optimism. The museum includes original Disney drawings, including the earliest known drawings of Mickey Mouse, 26 Academy Awards, and a video documenting the making of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” the fist original song from a cartoon to become a national hit. The museum also chronicles Disney’s childhood, his family, and decades of his mind-blowing innovation. On display were many letters written by Disney himself. His use of words like “dandy” made me smile. Building a multi-billion dollar empire is no easy feat, but sometimes I think feeling “dandy” might be even harder. Well, for anyone but Walt Disney!
Next stop on our rainy day was the Castro District, where rainbow flags line the streets of one of America’s first LGBTQ communities. My advice is to bounce around the neighborhood, check out the Castro Theater, grab a drink at Twin Peaks, the first gay bar in the city, visit important historic landmarks, and do a bit of shopping.
As the rain continued to fall in droves, we made our way to the iconic Haight-Ashbury district, famous for its origins of hippie counterculture. Today, find vintage clothes, records and books on the streets that still embrace its tie-dye roots. Later, we visited the ever so busy Fisherman’s Wharf. After a quick lunch, we bopped around the shopping area, took a peek at the seals, who, by the way, didn’t seem to mind the rain, and eventually made our way back to the house, puddles filling our shoes.
That night we ate at Marlowe located in SoMA (South of Market). This San Francisco hot spot was delicious, and I can testify to the fact that the pan roasted cod with paella stuffed peppers, and brussel sprouts are worth every penny!
Our final day in SF was a busy one. We had to be out of our house by 11am, but our red-eye home didn’t take flight until 10pm. We wasted a bit of time at breakfast before visiting Vista Point, a busy, extremely touristy, yet scenic vantage point of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline. We then made our way to the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, a community collaboration that transformed a 163 step stairway into a sea to stars themed mosaic masterpiece. We dropped by the Buena Vista, ventured out to Palo Alto and finally off to Cupertino, home of the Apple Headquarters. One more trip to In-N-Out, and we were off to the airport.
There is so much to do in San Francisco, it’s nearly impossible to do everything in just five days. But hopefully this beginners guide is enough to get you started!
Shop my SF looks below:
What are your favorite things to do while traveling? Love hearing from you!