I know my bay area travel guide is insanely long, so I thought I would do a shorter post on the essentials — what I would recommend you do if you only had a short time here. So here goes:
1. Golden Gate Bridge. Why? Because it just is San Francisco. If you’re lucky enough to see it on a clear day with sailboats all around, it is truly spectacular. As someone who lives here, I can tell you that it is as cool now as it was the day I got here. I would recommend seeing it from the Crissy Field area, or driving across to see it from Marin County.
2. The Ferry Building. Not just for the farmers market, which happens Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, but for the assembly of bay area foodie culture. Some of the best restaurants, food shops, and bakeries, are housed here. You can get coffee, breakfast, and a few gifts to take back with you. Plus, a clean bathroom!
3. North Beach. This may warrant more than one slot, but it is my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco, and you can walk there from the Ferry Building/Fisherman’s Wharf area. Tour Coit Tower for a view of the city, explore the Italian restaurants and beat culture on Columbus Street, check out the Zoetrope building, shop on Grant Street, then follow it into Chinatown. You can go to Lombard and see the crooked street, too.
4. Dim Sum in Chinatown. You really should eat Chinese food while you’re in San Francisco, and dim sum gives you a chance to try as many different things as you can fit in your belly. Here are some places you might want to try.
5. The Mission. This neighborhood is best known for Mexican food, especially burritos, but we like to go here for two reasons: Tartine bakery for morning buns and huge lattes, and Bi-Rite Creamery for the best salted caramel ice cream you’ll ever have. If there’s a line, wait in it. These are not to be missed!
6. Chez Panisse. Moving on to the east bay, you don’t want to miss your chance to eat at this legendary restaurant. If you can’t get reservations or can’t afford to go for a fancy dinner, opt for lunch at the cafe instead. It’s still a really special experience. And while you’re there you can check out the rest of the gourmet ghetto.
7. Bette’s Oceanview Diner. Bette’s is that place we take everyone who visits because it’s so consistently good. You do have to get there pretty early to get a table, but it’s so worth it. And you can always check out the 4th street shopping district while you wait. At Bette’s, the coffee is strong, and the food is creative, filling, and so, so good. Go for sourdough pancakes on Mondays.
8. Shopping in Rockridge. Berkeley is kind of scattered in terms of shopping districts, but if you start on College Ave. just south of downtown, you can follow it all the way to Rockridge in Oakland and find some great shopping and restaurants along the way. Rockridge is that neighborhood where you would definitely live if you could afford it.
9. Little Star Pizza. Of all our go-to restaurants, Little Star is probably our favorite. It’s actually deep-dish pizza, but with kind of a bay area twist (cornmeal crust, not too gigantic, house-made this and that). I think it’s fantastic, some of the best pizza out there.
10. Bakesale Betty. Let this be your excuse to come to the Temescal neighborhood (aka hipster paradise) in Oakland. Bakesale Betty is known for the tastiest chicken sandwiches, which you eat outside on vintage ironing boards.