Monday, 30 July 2012

San Francisco: A mini guide

Gosh, it has been a while since I was last here! Sorry guys but I promise over the next few weeks normal blogging service will resume! One of the reasons I've been quiet is that I've been on my holidays. The OH and I went on a two week break to San Francisco and I can honestly say it was the coolest city I've ever been to-friendly locals, gorgeous scenery, plenty to see and do and so chilled out! So, because I loved it so much I've decided to write a mini 'guide' on where to go, where to shop and where to eat.

Where to go 

Golden Gate Bridge:

This 1.7 mile long bridge is an absolute must-see. The bridge is a little way out of the main districts of San Francisco so most people hire bikes to get to it and cross it. However, we got the bus to the entrance and then walked across it and I'm so glad we did as it gave us longer to take in the sights and also time to look out for sea lions swimming below!


Again, this is another must-see while you are there. The notorious prison is on it's own island in the middle of the Bay so you have to take a ferry to get there. Once on the island you can take a tour of the cells, courtyard, dining hall and gardens. I recommend doing the audio tour too as you find out some interesting things about the island and its legendary inmates, including gangster Al Capone.

Fisherman's Wharf:

Although a bit of a tourist trap, there is still lots to see at Fisherman's Wharf. The seafood from the street stalls is great (get the crab!), the street entertainers create a great atmosphere and a walk on Pier 39 will take you to a herd of sea lions soaking up the afternoon sun.

Golden Gate Park:

Before you begin a stroll in Golden Gate Park, please be aware that it is massive! It stretches all the way from the ocean to the Haight district, which is around 50 blocks! You really need a full day to explore the park fully as there is so much to do here. We walked to the end closest to the ocean and saw the bison paddock, walked through the relaxing Japanese Tea Garden, went to the Californian Academy of Sciences (which has an aquarium and indoor rainforest), saw some art by environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy at the MH de Young Museum and ended our day with a picnic with food from Wholefoods Market, a gourmet supermarket which lines the entrance of the park at the Haight end.

Ferry Building:

The ferry building is a large stone structure which used to be the main ferry point in San Francisco. It now holds the largest farmers market I've ever seen. There's a great mix between independent restaurants, gourmet food stalls and market produce. And there are specialist stores galore here from cheese, to mushrooms, to honey. After we had a good look around we ended up plumping for shrimp tacos, and I can tell you that this was the best meal I have ever eaten. Ever.

Lombard Street:

While you are in SF you have to take a walk up to Lombard Street, ''the world's crookedest street''. When you consider that SF follows the grid system, this twisty street in the middle of it makes it look all the more crazy. Hydrangeas line the street all year round so if you are a flower lover it's worth going to see for these alone.

Alamo Square:

Alamo Square is a small park in between the Haight district and Hayes Valley (two bohemian shopping areas which aren't to be missed) and is lined with the most spectacular Victorian houses I have ever seen. Also know as ''Painted Ladies'' these houses were built in the aftermath of the San Franciscan Gold Rush and have been maintained beautifully since. The grand houses line the whole park so it's worth walking around the entire park to have a good old nosy!

The Mission Murals:

A trip to see the street art in the Mission district should be on everyone's agenda when visiting SF. Hand-painted murals line practically every street in this vibrant Mexican neighbourhood so it's a great way to spend an afternoon. I'd also recommend grabbing a burrito from one of the many Taquería's, a walk down Valencia street, and a sit down in Dolores Park for some great views of SF.

Ocean Beach:

A trip to the beach may not be what you come to SF for, nor may it be in the guidebooks, but a walk along the breezy Pacific wrapped up in a cosy cardi and drinking a take-away latte makes for a lovely couple of hours. Have a peek in the Cliff House, the old Victorian entertainment house, which has been restored as a museum, shop and restaurant. There are some great views from here and it's a great place to begin your beach walk.

Yosemite National Park:

As we were in SF for quite a while, we took a two-day trip to Yosemite Park, a four-hour drive from the city. If you can spare the time I really recommend coming here. The scenery and wildlife I saw here was absolutely breathtaking and will stay with me forever. We hiked up to Bridalveil waterfall, Half Dome rock formation and took a trip to see the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove, the tallest trees in the world. We also saw a native black bear going about it's business, a sight I will never forget.

Where To Shop

San Francisco is shopping heaven for me as it's full of vintage, thrift and craft stores and also has a great flea market scene. Downtown shops are good (think Anthropolgie and Urban Outfitters) but it is in the outer districts where you'll find the best places. 

Haight Street: 

Haight Street, which is split into the Upper Haight and Lower Haight, is a long stretch of quirky cool stores. It's got taxidermy at Loved to Death, craft supplies at Mendels hardware store, vintage frocks at Decades of Fashion, pretty flowers at Xapno and classic Bowie records at Amoeba Music.

Fillmore Street:

If I lived in SF (one day!) Filmore is the place I'd hang out in on Saturdays eating brunch and browsing the independent stores. There are a lot of great cafes (see Bay Bakery, below) alongside homeware, gift and stationery shops which make it the perfect place for me. My favourite shops were Jonathan Adler for designer interior accessories and Paper Source for fun craft supplies and beautiful greeting cards.

Valencia Street:

Valencia Street is located in the Mission district and is a real hipster area. I walked along the whole street and found a pop-up bicycle shop, a thrift emporium, a few vintage homeware stores and curios store, Paxton Gate.

Hayes Valley:

Hayes Valley feels a little more wealthy than the likes of Haight and Valencia; the shops are a little pricier and the cafes a little less bohemian. It's a great strip to walk down though with plenty of designer-maker shops selling everything from handmade vases to hand sewn cushions. There's also a great little store called Flight 001 selling luxury travel accessories. 


This area has a great selection of craft and stationery shops selling washi tape and craft paper in abundance.  

Flea Markets:

Unfortunately I was unlucky enough to miss all of the regular flea markets while I was in SF but I am told that the monthly market on Treasure Island (you have to cross the Bay Bridge to get there) is fab. Check out dates for when the fair is held here.

Where To Eat

We found eating out to be quite expensive in SF, especially when you added on tax, the new health insurance tax and service charge, so we tended to nip to the bakery for breakfast, a local cafe (or picnic) for lunch, and local bar for our evening meal. That means there aren't many restaurants in my 'where to eat' guide, just the best cafes, bakeries and supermarkets instead!
Open sandwich at Bay Bakery, Fillmore Street (complete with my initials on the crockery!)

Gott's Diner, Ferry Building
The world's best shrimp tacos.

House of Nanking, Chinatown
Have the sesame chicken with sweet potatoes, it's AMAZING.

Liguria Bakery, North Beach
Cinnamon and raison focaccia. I'll say no more.

Molinari, North Beach
This is an Italian deli right in the middle of the Italian neighbourhood, North Beach. I had the house-cured salami on house-baked bread and it was divine.

Bay Bakery, Fillmore Street
A gourmet cafe and bakery in the heart of Fillmore Street. Great choice of open sandwiches and salads all served on pretty French-style crockery.

A beautiful little store specialising in the classic French macaroon. More flavours than you could ever wish for, I had the Earl Grey flavour and it was lovely. You can buy the macaroons singularly or in boxes of 12 where you pick the flavours yourself.

Wholefoods Market, Haight Street
The Wholefoods Market lies at the entrance of the Golden Gate Park so is a great place to pick up some locally grown, organic picnic food. There's a deli counter, salad bar, exotic fruits and a bakery.

{All images: Laura Blanksby}
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