Like many denizens of the east coast, I will readily admit that I’ve only been to San Francisco once for a quickie weekend escape. But I always know where to find a local expert to create our special City Guide to San Francisco. Guest writer/photographer Olivia Sumner went in search of the best and tastiest of her hometown.
1. The Bay Bridge – Around dusk walk down to the Embarcadero and find a nice cozy bench with a view of the bridge. Artist Leo Villareal created the largest light sculpture on the bridge. The twinkling lights create designs that never repeat. The light show runs until March of 2015.
2. The Ferry Building – The ferry terminal, which opened in 1898, is a food lover’s marketplace. Inside you can stroll through many specialty shops, purchase organic produce, drink the infamous Blue Bottle Coffee, and relax at one of the cafes or restaurants. The Farmers Market opens on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Local farmers sell their fresh organic produce and many local restaurants serve hot meals on Saturdays. It’s best to arrive early to beat the 25,000 shoppers who visit weekly.
3. Kite Hill – San Francisco was built on seven major hills or mini mountains if you’re walking. The hills are steep, your legs will be sore, but the view at the top is incredible. Kite Hill is hidden above the Castro neighborhood. As you walk to the top, you will get a view of the city skyline, the Bay Bridge and the bay, Sutro Tower, and many rolling neighborhoods. This sight will definitely take your breath away.
Burma Superstar (309 Clement Street) – This Burmese restaurant is popular among locals and a few tourists. Thai, Indian, and Chinese cuisine has influenced Burmese dishes by using ginger, garlic, curry, chilies, fish sauce, and many spices. One of the most popular dishes is the Tea Leaf Salad. Burma Superstar only uses tea leaves that they personally get from Burma. No reservations so arrive early and avoid the wait.
DOSA on Fillmore St (1700 Fillmore Street) – A dosa is a very large rice and lentil crepe. By large I mean the size of a big serving plate! Not to worry, the crepe is very thin, airy, and crispy. The dosa comes with many different fillings, such as warm spiced potatoes, spinach, and cashews. Two different chutneys and a tomato base lentil soup are included for dipping, which allows you to eat with your hands. This southern Indian restaurant also serves many curries and small plates. Dimly lit with the warm rich colors of India, this restaurant will make you feel as if you are worlds away.
Foreign Cinema (2534 Mission Street) – Foreign and Independent films projected onto a large screen in their covered outdoor courtyard will make this a very unique and exceptional dining experience. The dishes are California and Mediterranean inspired and will not disappoint. Poppy seed and honey fried chicken is the dish they are known for. It’s crispy, sweet, moist, and may be the best fried chicken you’ll ever have.
San Francisco’s nightlife has a little something for everyone. Some of the museums, such as The De Young and The California Academy of Science, offer an adult only night to enjoy the exhibits, sip wine, and eat small bites. Hang out in an old Beat haunt, The Vesuvio, where Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal Cassidy used to drink. Relax with a cold brew while laying on a waterbed in the 70s theme bar The Kozy Kar. Dance the night away with a view of the city at The Starlite Room. Discover new and upcoming bands at San Francisco’s oldest and most elegant concert hall, The Great American Music Hall.
Union Square is the one of the best shopping districts in the city. There are six major department stores and many upscale boutiques, like Prada and Gucci. If you prefer more retro, vintage, and second hand stores, take a walk up Valencia Street in the Mission. Looking for that perfect leopard catsuit or a Gunne Sax dress for your wardrobe? You will probably find it here. Join in on the hustle and bustle of Chinatown for that perfect souvenir gift. If you’re shopping with children, beware! There are trinkets and toys galore.
Hotels located near Union Square are ideal because it’s centrally located, offers easy access to public transportation, and there are endless things to do. The Mayflower Hotel is only a few blocks from Union Square, offers complimentary breakfast and is locally owned. Next door is a large market filled with fresh produce and snacks for when you get the munchies.
Like most large cities, San Francisco has its share of crime. Always keep your cell phone out of site, as phone thefts are on the rise. This is a walking city so please be aware of your surroundings and don’t be shy about asking for directions. The locals are always happy to help. There is a large homeless population and you will be asked numerous times for spare change. Most people are harmless and the best advice is to politely nod and keep walking.
Even though San Francisco is only seven square miles and you can literally walk everywhere, there are just too many attractions to see. Grab a hop on-hop off tour buss and ride to some twenty different sites. There are bus tours that will also take you across Golden Gate Bridge into Muir Woods, Sausalito, and even wine country.
Olivia Sumner is a travel blogger at OlivNtheCity, photographer, freelance writer, foreign film buff, coffee lover, and adventure seeker. When she’s not off exploring faraway lands, she lives the urban life in San Francisco.