Okay, so I understand that everyone and their brother has written a must-see list for San Francisco, but having lived in the bay area myself, I like to think I got a pretty good feel for the place. In fact, if not for the exorbitant cost of living, we would likely still be living in the city by the bay. Here are my top recommendations for some lesser-known spots.
One. Golden Gate Bridge. Of course the Golden Gate bridge tops every tourist guide for the bay area, however, I experienced a very unique visit to the defining monument of the entire bay area, and believe it is my duty to share it with all of you. Take a catamaran from a local pier out to the bridge. It will give you a shot that few others have on their mantle (or as their Facebook profile photo). There are several companies that go out on these tours, so take your pick. I was delighted to add this unique angle to my arsenal of Golden Gate Bridge photos. (Worried about your sea legs? Check out the view from Baker Beach instead!)
Two. Christmas Tree Point (near Twin Peaks). The best panoramic views of the city. Hands down. But be warned – it can get quite cold and windy up there, particularly once the sun goes down. So be sure to pack a scarf and a warm jacket, even in the summer! (Dolores Park is also pretty spectacular if you are looking to stretch out on the grass in the sunshine.)
Three. Noe Valley. This is a lesser known neighborhood for tourists, but it really is a quaint little ‘hood, and has a great strip of shops and restaurants. Not to mention the classic Victorian buildings that San Francisco is known for. (Oh, and it also happens to be one of the sunniest neighborhoods in the city! So if you happen to visiting on a particularly foggy day, head this direction. Chances are you will find sunshine!)
Four. Moss Beach Distillery. Just North of the adorable beach town of Half Moon Bay, is a historic distillery, dating back to prohibition times. But it’s historical value is not its only claim to fame. It is also home to a ghost, known as The Blue Lady. Oh, and did I mention you can sit around an outdoor fire, blanket in lap, and watch the sun sink into the Pacific? And if you are really lucky, you might just spot the whales as they migrate South.
Five. Assab Eritrean Restaurant. If you fancy a culinary adventure out of the typical hot spots of Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf, head West on Geary Boulevard, 7 or 8 blocks beyond Divisadero to this quaint little treat of a restaurant. New to Eritrean cuisine? Dishes are typically served family style, where everyone eats with their hands and the delectable, spongy bread known as injera. Prepare to please and surprise your tastebuds!
Six. Angel Island State Park. This park is a quick ferry ride from San Francisco, Tiburon or Vallejo, and delivers on so many promises. Want a cool hike or trail ride? Check! Interested in camping on this unique island? Check! Desire a picnic or BBQ with a view of the city? Check! This ferry ride often gets overlooked for the much more prominent Alcatraz Island ferry, but it is rich with history and I can promise you it’s worth a visit. Just look at all it has to offer!
Seven. Muir Woods. Escape the city for a little beach relaxing or hike along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Although you can see the city in the distance from certain spots, you will literally feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Work up an appetite on that hike? Stop by the Pelican Inn, a charming English Pub and Inn, nestled into the redwoods. They have all the English classics – bangers and bash, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie… the list goes on and on…
Eight. Farallon Islands. Up for an adventure? Take a whale watching tour out to these protected islands off the coast of San Francisco. There are some very worthy tours, that also look out for and protect the wildlife of these beloved islands. If you are prone to sea sickness, however, I recommend you give this one a miss, as the waters can get quite choppy once you get out into the open waters. Don’t wait until you get out to the islands to keep your eyes peeled… dolphins, birds and sea lions make frequent appearances on the journey out to the islands!
Nine. The Stinking Rose. Okay, so in all honesty, this is a pretty well known spot in North Beach (the Little Italy of San Francisco), but it is worth the crowds! So long as you like garlic, that is. I recommend a reservation to avoid lines, and be sure to request a booth in the back! They are super fun and private, and make the experience much more unique.
Ten. Bikram Yoga Castro. Still need some exercise after hiking up all those hills around town? Or maybe just want to clear your head? I highly recommend the Bikram Yoga studio in the Castro. It’s a small little studio tucked into a classic Victorian building, and the instructor is exactly what every yoga instructor should be. Calm, kind, reassuring. New to Bikram? Beware. The studio is heated to 105 degrees for the entire 90 minute class. So take it easy if it is your first time!
Last piece of advice. Don’t forget your walking shoes! Those hills are likely to catch out even the most prepared visitor! Oh, and dress in layers! The weather is deceiving and can change on a dime.
Enjoy your stay in the city by the bay! And let me know if you venture off to any of these great spots!