To interrupt my regularly scheduled recap posts, I decided to participate in a special Bee series, Honeymoon in My Hometown, in which we pimp our home bases to the masses, should you be considering a honeymoon in our backyards.
This Taco is a Bay Area gal through and through. I grew up in South San Francisco: a suburb that, contrary to popular belief, is not part of its famous northern neighbor. I returned home for a spell (gah) in 2003 after college, and I bounced around the Bay Area a couple times until moving to San Francisco almost three years ago.
I love it here. And you will love it here, especially if you like some key things: hilly city scenery, fresh, organic food, wine, and walking.
I’m not categorically opposed to tourist things, but there are some I could do without.
I still don’t really get why people go to Pier 39, though it’s a hub for ferries to Alcatraz and Angel Island, our pet islands in the middle of the Bay. But Pier 39: maybe check it out on your way to something else, but it really doesn’t have much in the way of interesting San Francisco stuff and the food isn’t good. No one hangs out here for nighttime activities, either. There is, however, a nice carousel; I spent a lot of time on it as a kid, so it’s near and dear to my heart.
The Buena Vista Cafe is a short jaunt down from Pier 39. They say Irish coffee was invented here, and it’s a really good way to warm yourself up in one of our blustery “summers.” Real summer, for us, doesn’t start until September or October, and even then, it maybe breaks 80. Even in November, we had fantastic weather in the high-’60s. But June, eh. Windbreakers and numb faces rule the day. To be fair, I say this as someone who gets chilly in the grocery store and dresses in front of the space heater, even when it’s arguably not that cold.
Also near the Buena Vista is the Powell-Hyde cable car line. This is a tourist thing I love doing; it’s the only true, operating cable car in the world. It chugs up hills with ease (its purpose in life), and it’s a charming vestige of the old Victorian city. This is another wait-in-line situation, but waiting at the start of the line is the best way to get a good spot on the car.
All pics by Right Angle Images unless otherwise noted.
I love Coit Tower, too. That is, I love being around it because I think it looks cool and there are some good views. I’ve never been to the tippy top, but hanging out on the lawn there is actually really calming and quiet. If you bring a light snack, it would be fun to picnic. A tiny, adorable bus called the 39-Coit will get you there, but I think hoofing it (with water, good shoes, and plenty of energy) is a nice challenge. There are plenty of websites about stairway walks up to this landmark, if you’re interested. Then, you can brag to people back home about how you took on one of our most famous hills.
Pic by yours truly.
You have to do Alcatraz. It’s very, very cool. Great views of the city, great history, and worth-it audio tour. Buy tickets ahead of time, definitely.
Angel Island: This state-run park makes for an outdoorsy day trip or overnighter: hiking, picnicking, Frisbee, camping all good here. Stellar views of the Bay Area from certain points, with Lost-esque qualities thanks to some old military barracks.
Golden Gate Bridge
Pic by Mr. Taco
Golden Gate Bridge
This is the most beautiful bridge in the world. The rusty, unparalleled International Orange sets it apart for me; it’s like they knew it would be shrouded in fog at least half the time. It’s really windy and cold over here, so prepare accordingly. I’m freezing in the pic above, don’t be fooled.
The first pic above is in Clarion Alley, in the Mission District. That area is home to food (including tacos of the edible, non-blogging kind) and some of the best street art in the city. The second pic is in North Beach, another touristy destination that does have some tasty gems, but, overall, is home to the most overpriced bowl of spaghetti you can buy. For North Beach, stick instead to dinner at The House, stop for a drink at Spec’s, or have lunch at Giordano Brothers, a Pittsburgh-style deli.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is out of the way, on the west side of town. But it’s a great place to ride a bike, walk around, and go to the museum: specifically the de Young (pictured above; the building itself is made of copper), the California Academy of Sciences (get there early, like before it opens, preferably not on a weekend), or the Conservatory of Flowers. I have never done the paddle boats around Stow Lake, but they’re supposed to be a good time, lest you get pooped on like one friend did on a first date. (He married her, so maybe that is good luck?)
Modern art is my favorite, and SF MoMA has a fabulous collection of it. The Legion of Honor is good, too, but also a pain in the ass to get to; it’s north and over, in the northwest corner of town, from Golden Gate Park.
Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair
I like that song, though I rarely come to the Haight.
The famed Haight-Ashbury district is very near Golden Gate Park. There’s nothing wrong with it, exactly, it’s just not my style and I don’t dig the food and drink options. Though, a noteworthy exception is The Alembic, a quiet, romantic, expensive place to have a drink. They’ve got great cocktails and impressive wall of Scotch and whisky.
The Haight drew hippies in the ’60s and it still draws runaway teenagers and their dogs, many of which line the sidewalk all day. But exploring and window shopping here is definitely a very San Francisco experience, albeit a touristy one.
The actual building is the pointy guy off to the right; this is a cool fountain in nearby Justin Herman Plaza.
This is another expensive touristy place, but the goods in here are actually good. The Beaux Arts building is wonderfully preserved in all its historic goodness, even after an extensive renovation into its current iteration: land of organic, local everything, from cheese to wine to olive oil to caviar to coffee. My favorites are Cowgirl Creamery for cheese, and Blue Bottle Coffee. The farmers market is every Wednesday and Saturday. Samples!
Yikes, well, we suck at transportation. You can drive, but parking lots are expensive. You’re looking at $20 on the low end to park all day, including at your hotels.
BART is often reliable, but it’s more of a Bay Area-wide transportation system than an intra-city one. It’s good for coming in from the airport or going to anything downtown, along Market Street, one of our main arteries.
Our bus/light rail system, god bless the damn thing. It actually goes everywhere in the city. Everywhere. I ride it every day and I help run a website about its ups, downs, and weirdness. Many lines are hideously inefficient, but riding the bus is definitely one of the most local experiences you can have. You just have to balance a lengthier, cheaper, possibly more frustrating trip with the need to circle or pay for parking.
Visitors love going to on the streetcar, the official name of which is F-Market/Wharves. I take this every day to go to work, and it is always jam-packed with commuters and tourists heading to Alcatraz around 8:50 a.m. It then ferries a metric assload of people back between 5 and 6 p.m. So, your best bet is to go really early in the morning, some time in the middle of the afternoon, or at night. I like it better at night because everything, including the inside of the streetcar, looks a little nicer from the glow of a street lamp.
Let’s start with tacos, duh. Taquerias are popular in the Mission District (the murals ”˜hood and home to this Taco), for good reason. Head to Pancho Villa or, our favorite, Taqueria Can-Cun (in a continued typographical WTF, the hyphen comes and goes). This is also the cheapest local food you can get, along with Sunflower Vietnamese. Coffee and pastries? Tartine, hands down, is the best place for this. The line is 30 people deep if you go at the wrong time (brunch on a weekend), so try to go early-early. All of these options are in the Mission District, so let’s expand our options.
For honeymooners, intimate, romantic stuff is probably high on your list. Enter Top of the Mark, a lounge at the tippy top of the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in Nob Hill. It has a massive drink menu ($12 each, for the most part), live entertainment, usually, and a great view of the whole city.
A lot of our favorite intimate dinner-type things are expensive, in the $150 to $200 per couple range on the lower end. That always factors in starter drinks and/or a bottle of wine; not to worry, because even if you don’t know anything about vino but would like to try some, servers are all very knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to recommending something to your taste. Though they’ll cost you a pretty penny, these celebratory, greatest-hits restos will knock your socks off. Fleur de Lys (French), SPQR (Roman), NOPA and Nob Hill Grille (rustic, French-influenced American favorites), Boulevard (French), and Jardiniere (French).
That closes the Taco tour guide through the 7-by-7 mile square I call home. It’s dirty, gritty, yuppie, and outdoorsy all at the same time, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
See all the posts in the Honeymoon in my Hometown Series here!