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The City by the Bay has been sung about, lusted after, and touted for its many charms; so many that even the most frequent of travelers could miss the city’s hidden gems. These 10 tips will get you one step closer to exploring San Francisco like a local.
Where to Find the Best Chinese Food
Nestled in the Sunset District — an area of San Francisco that, ironically, rarely sees the sun — you’ll find the authentic, delicious, made-fresh-in-house cuisine of King of Noodles. While I learned about this place by watching Anthony Bourdain’s show “The Layover,” it’s nice to see the fame hasn’t gone to their heads and the restaurant is, thankfully, predominantly populated by locals so you know it’s legit. Wondering what else should you order besides a noodle dish? A quick search on Instagram will tell you: the Shanghai dumplings are not only an absolute treat, they also photograph exceptionally well.
See San Francisco’s Longest-Running Musical Revue
When it comes to theater, there’s only one true, quintessential San Francisco staple, “Beach Blanket Babylon,” and you won’t want to miss the zany antics, satirical jabs and gravity-defying hats of this modern-day fairytale. Buy your tickets online in advance and get there right when the doors open — your ticket only guarantees your section, not your seat, so if you’re in a group and want to sit together, arrive early.
Have a Drink Where Jack Kerouac Once Did
On the road but not too far away, you’ll find the bar Vesuvio Cafe, made famous by the Beat Era master himself, Jack Kerouac. Head to this spot after a long day of sightseeing, or after seeing Beach Blanket Bingo (the venue is just a few blocks away), and enjoy a dirty martini while you take in the curiously cool decor. Jack would want you to.
Don’t Rely on Public Transit to Get Home After a Late Night
After a fun night out on the town, you’re probably wondering how to get back to your hotel or Airbnb, especially since most of SF’s public buses and trains stop running around midnight and don’t pick things up again until about 4:00am. While Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and CalTrain don’t cover the ground you’d hope for (especially if you’re expecting the frequency or coverage of a NYC or London transit system), the good news is SF is big on ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft — even if you’re staying on the Peninsula, Uber can get you home quickly and cheaply.
Venture South to the Peninsula
The city of San Francisco is located at the top of the San Francisco Peninsula, but only the city of SF is considered SF, of course, whereas everything to the south is referred to by the locals as “The Peninsula” — with a capital P. Think of it as the ‘burbs — the very expensive, very well-connected ‘burbs. And if you’re relegated to the ‘burbs during your vacation, know that there are fun spots there, too. Check out the charming TasteVin wine bar in San Carlos, which serves a variety of flights and delicious tapas-style bites. Or, if you’re staying in Redwood City, head to the Mistral Restaurant and Bar for waterfront views and delicious seafood dishes.
Take a Day Trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea
Thinking of venturing further out? About a two-hour drive south of San Francisco is Carmel-by-the-Sea, where you’ll find beaches and small town restaurants, pubs and shops. In short, this storybook town will keep you busy for hours. If you’re looking for the perfect lunch spot, visit La Bicyclette, a charming Italian-French eatery that offers a delicious spread of cheeses, pizzas, and salads, among other treats — they also sell half bottles of wine so you can sample more of the local stuff at a fraction of the price. If you’d rather save your sipping for later, buy a bottle of wine at a local wine shop and head to the beach to catch the sunset. Just remember to bundle up, as the beach can get pretty breezy as the sun fades.
Visit the Historic Carmel Mission
While you’re in Carmel-by-the-Sea, stop by the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, also known as the Carmel Mission, a beautiful place to look back at California’s religious history, explore the stunning basilica and wander its perfectly manicured grounds. If you’re a photographer — or a bride looking for a picturesque backdrop for your wedding photos— this place offers the feel of old world Spain via Mexico, without ever having to leave the states.
Eat Healthy While Cheering on the Home Team
Locals love their San Francisco Giants, but did you know that sports fans also love their greens? AT&T Park, the team’s home stadium, has introduced The Garden, a place where fans can enjoy healthy meals and watch the game. Visitors can also explore The Garden’s grounds, including its vegetable and herb sections. The best part: all greens grown here are used by the stadium’s restaurants — it doesn’t get any more locally-sourced than that!
Go For a Run
San Francisco offers a multitude of options for visiting runners. For starters, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge isn’t just for fun photo opportunities — or, you know, actual transportation needs — the parks surrounding the bridge’s outer limits offer great running trails to get your sweat on. Or, in Golden Gate Park, designed similarly to New York’s Central Park (but not located adjacent to the bridge, as I learned the hard way), runners can make a scenic and uninterrupted five-mile loop within the green space.
Take Part in a Legendary Footrace
Speaking of running, San Francisco is home to the oldest consecutively-run annual footrace in the world, Bay to Breakers. This 12k race takes place the third Sunday in May each year. Registration for next year’s opens on October 28, so runners, if this race is on your bucket list, make sure you sign up early before the price increases. This also leaves you plenty of time to plan your costume, as this is also one of the world’s best-dressed races — would you really expect anything less from this city?
Have you ever been to San Francisco? What are your favorite things to do there?
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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