San Francisco is a city that's thriving. Although it's impossible to check out all the many restaurants, shops, activities, museum, institutions, and events that SF has to offer, if you're visiting this spectacular bayside spot for the first-time here's a three-day itinerary that's sure to satisfy:
Day 1: See the Sights
It's a rare bird that visits San Francisco and doesn't see the Golden Gate Bridge. Walking across this nearly two-mile span is a popular option for exploring it, but one that's even more efficient: renting a bicycle. Stop by Ferry Building Bicycle Rentals at the Ferry Building--the more-than-century-old structure that once served as the city's main gateway, and now houses everything from local Bay Area food purveyors Acme Bread Company to Cowgirl Creamery's Artisan Cheese, as well as restaurants, shops, and other gourmet storefronts. The rental shop offers full-day options, which include a map of biking paths citywide. Once picking up your two-wheels, pause for a little caffeine at Blue Bottle Coffee. Particular warm mornings call for their New Orleans-style iced coffee, spiked with chicory for an extra swirl of flavor.
Now it's time to get moving. Bicycle north on the bike path alongside the Embarcadero, past the Financial District skyscrapers and Coit Tower to your left, and heading into the bustle of Fisherman's Wharf, home to Pier 39 and its resident sea lions. Continue along the waterfront to Aquatic Park the only big hill along this stretch, which winds its way into Fort Mason—a hub of non-profits, art-classes, shops, and unique cafes like The Interval. From here it's a long, flat scenic stretch through the Marina Green and into Crissy Field, which offers prime views of the Golden Gate Bridge and is home to the Warming Hut, a great place for stocking up on California-centric souvenirs. Pause to take in Alcatraz in the distance and to watch sailboats abound on a windy day. Outlooks offer great vista points for your family portrait.
Once across the bridge, ride downhill to the town of Sausalito, a bayside oasis full of fun shops to explore and restaurants to refuel. Reward yourself with a glass of wine and a prosciutto and arugula flatbread at Bar Bocce, where you can sit by the stone outdoor fireplace, play some bocce, or just lounge on the grass next to the waters of Richardson Bay. Lappert’s Ice Cream on Main Street is also a suitable treat for a ride well down. When you're ready to return to San Francisco, catch the Golden Gate Ferry from Sausalito Point (don’t worry, there’s plenty of room for your bike, too). If it's close to sunset you might see pelicans dive-bombing the local waters for their dinner--always an added treat.
Day 2: Living Like a Local
Now that you’ve got a little sightseeing out of the way, relax and unwind with local SF residents in the Mission District. Located in the heart of the city’s seven square miles, the Mission has been experience a resurgence for nearly two decades, with new restaurants popping up seemingly monthly. This means your brunch options are endless. Foreign Cinema is a perennial hot spot, thanks to its delicious farm fresh omelettes and organic pop tarts. Although there's typical a wait for a table, it's worth it. The Sycamore on Mission Street is another great brunch option, one that's a bit more casual and sports a hopping back patio for sunny mornings. Still, it's almost a San Francisco rite of passage to wait in line for one of the candied orange morning buns at Tartine Bakery. Walk off your meal by taking a stroll down Valencia and its side streets, all brimming with independent shops and boutiques. Gravel & Gold is filled with locally-made treasures, from quirky printed tops to original prints; while Community Thrift is chock-full of good vintage finds. For fun gifts for friends back home, Therapy boasts infinite nicknacks.
If you're hungry again you're in luck, because food is what the Mission does best. Mexican food is an absolute must in this neighborhood. While Taqueria Cancun serves up killer nachos loaded with beans, meat, and creamy guacamole, the neighborhood's crown jewel is La Taqueria, whose burrito was named "Best in America" by analysis website FiveThirtyEight.
Mission Dolores Park is a favorite local spot for lounging in the sun, complete with a downtown view. But first, stop by Dog Eared Books, a beloved used bookstore, and grab yourself some reading material for a few hours on the park's grassy slope.
Just like your other meals, dinner options in the Mission are nearly limitless. If it’s Italian you’re after, head to Locanda, home to Roman-style fried artichokes and fresh made pastas. For a place that’s a little more beer-centric, Monk's Kettle offers hearty fare like grilled corn risotto and brisket burgers paired with an oh-so-lengthy brew list. Next it's time for a bit of entertainment. Mission Bowling Club has six lanes available for reservations (and some mean fried chicken to nimble on between strikes), while Urban Putt features 14 artisan-designed mini-golf holes that are perfect for all ages by day, and 21 and over by night. Finally, there’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, where you can catch the newest indie flicks fresh off the festival circuit as well as blockbusters. All with a cocktail in hand, of course.
Day 3: Hitting the Beach
San Francisco isn’t your typical beach town—its coastline is often shrouded in fog, making for some chilly weather. Still, the city borders the Pacific Ocean, and its shorefront is well worth a visit. Head out to Baker Beach for a new perspective of the Golden Gate Bridge (at this beach, the bridge is actually behind you), or try nearby China Basin: a smaller, rockier beach that's just a touch further out into the water's crashing waves. Keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales—they like to hang around the Mile Rocks Lighthouse, which sits about a mile southwest of the Golden Gate. At Sutro Baths you can wander through the concrete ruins of this former public bathhouse, one that burned down under somewhat suspicious circumstances in 1966. From here, it's an easy walk to the Presidio’s Coastal Trail.
If the fog’s not in town, take in the views from San Francisco's expansive (and aptly named) Ocean Beach. This three-and-a-half mile stretch of sand is the last barrier between San Francisco city limits and the wild Pacific Ocean. Grab a sandwich from Java Beach Café on Judah Street, bundle up beneath a blanket, and take in the surfers as they brave current and cold to catch the ultimate wave.