The Best Things to Do in San Francisco:
On this past Labor Day weekend, James and I had the absolute pleasure of spending three nights in the gorgeous city of San Francisco! With the help of SFTravel, we planned a truly action packed itinerary for our two full days in the city; and I am completely thrilled to finally share it with you! I highly recommend making a trip to the west coast to experience this beautiful city for yourself. Here is a recap of our trip and what I consider the best things to do in San Francisco:
We flew from Raleigh, NC to San Francisco, CA with Alaska Air late on Friday night. We arrived in the city around 10 pm, but our bodies felt like it was 1 am due to the time change. Therefore we went straight to bed when arriving. We had all day Saturday and Sunday in San Francisco, then we flew home around 10 am on Monday morning. I was EXTREMELY impressed with Alaska Air, and truly recommend them if you are booking a flight anytime soon!
The city is more walkable than I predicted, especially from Union Square to the Bay Area around pier 3. Of course – the iconic San Francisco Hills certainly exist; but overall, most areas are not as bad as one might think. However, we did use Uber/Lyft quite a bit to save time between events!
Best Things to Do in San Francisco
San Francisco Travel Guide and Itinerary:
PS: I will go into much further details about each tour, restaurant, etc. later in this post.
- 11 am – 1:30pm – Hornblower Cruises and Events: Champagne Brunch Cruise
- Explore or Rest @ Hotel – Parc55 Hilton Hotel (near Union Square)
- 3:30 pm – Wine Tasting at Eno Wine Bar (walkable from hotel)
- 5:15 pm – Wine Tasting at Chateau Montelena (located inside the Lobby of the Westin Hotel)
- 6:30 – Dinner at One Market Restaurant (located near The Port of SF)
- 9 pm – Beach Blanket Babylon Show (an iconic SF comedy and political satire)
- 9 am – Explore Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39
- 11 am – Drive or Uber across the Golden Gate Bridge to The Headlands Lookout
- 2 pm – 5pm – Local Tastes of the City’s North Beach/Little Italy Walking Food Tour
- 6 pm – 7:30 pm – Adventure Cat’s Sunset Cruise
- 8:30 pm – Dinner at Le Colonial Restaurant
Parc55 – A Hilton Hotel
I was 1000% satisfied with our stay at Parc55 and definitely recommend it if you do plan a trip to San Francisco! It is located right at Union Square, which is a great central location and home to all of the best shopping in the city. The breakfast Buffett each morning was truly outstanding, and our view from our corner suite was breath taking! The last photo above the paragraph was taken THROUGH the window in our room one morning! Waking up to this view was one of the things that I missed the most once we returned home.
One Market Restaurant:
I have had the pleasure of dining at many fine dining establishments throughout my travels, but One Market Restaurant may have marked a new record. Their hospitality was truly outstanding. We were able to sit at the Chef’s Table and get an inside look at what it takes to run a top-notch kitchen.
Chef Dommen truly knows what he is doing; and not only in the kitchen, but also as a host. He and Tonya Pitts (One Market’s Sommelier and Wine Director) have created an excellent relationship in the kitchen. Each course that we were served was paired perfectly with a balanced and truly complimentary wine. Tonya definitely has an incredible ability to pair exquisite wines with Dommen’s modern spin on American food.
- Caesar Salad
- Soft Shell Crab and Octopus – paired with Tablas Creek Picpoul Blanc, Paso Robles 2016
- Heirloom Tomato Risotto – paired with Presqui’lle Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley 2016
- New York Steak and Bacon-Wrapped Grilled Pork Tenderloin – paired with Radio Coteau, Laguna Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley 2015 and Herman Story, On The Road, Grenache, California 2014
Absolutely everything that we were able to enjoy at One Market was outstanding. Our favorite dish was actually a surprise, sent by Chef Dommen: The Heirloom Tomato Risotto. It was extremely creamy, yet had bold flavors that I have never experienced before. I truly recommend eating here when you find yourself in San Francisco!
Le Colonial Restaurant:
Le Colonial specializes in a uniquely delicious blend of Vietnamese food with French influence. When entering the building, you walk into a room that has a elegant green house appearance and it is filled with chairs for relaxing and socializing. Once in the dining room, the atmosphere is extremely lush and romantic, with dim candle lighting and tropical plants. While the lighting didn’t make for excellent photography, it certainly set the tone for the evening.
We enjoyed dinner at Le Colonial on a Sunday night; and on Sunday’s Le Colonial offers a family-styled tiffin menu. A tiffin is a steel, stackable set of dishes that separate each course. However, all courses are served at once. This allowed us to enjoy the blending and compliments of all of the foods together at once.
- Saintsbury, Chardonnay, Carneros 2015
- Fresh Spring Rolls with Poached Prawns
- Tiffin Dinner:
- Crispy Crab Rolls with Crab, Shrimp, and Chicken
- Bo Luc Lac (Wok Seared Filet Mignon Cubes)
- Fried Jasmine Rice with Bay Shrimp
- Brussels sprouts with Crispy Sweet Chili Glaze
- Le Colonial Bananas Roties, caramelized bananas on cake with chocolate peanut butter and ginger spice ice cream
I highly recommend the Crispy Crab Rolls and the Bo Luc Lac, which was cooked to perfection. All of the food paired excellent with each other and the Saintsbury, Chardonnay.
We did not go upstairs, but Le Colonial does have Lounge and Bar on its second level. Lounge 721 offers happy hour specials and live music. We had a fabulous time at Le Colonial and hope that you are able to visit for yourself one day soon!
Hornblower Cruises and Events
Champagne Brunch Cruise:
The Hornblower Champagne Brunch Cruise was probably my favorite thing that we were able to do in San Francisco, for many reasons. With your ticket you get: unlimited mimosas, a delicious buffett brunch, live music, the BEST views of the city and the golden gate bridge, plus an assigned table (so you always had a place to sit when desired). The boat leaves from pier 3 and passes the skyline of city, Alcatraz, The Bay Bridge, Pier 39, and The Golden Gate Bridge.
When you enter the boat, you give your name and they give you a table number. Your table is where you are served mimosas and are able to eat and relax. However, you are free to move around the boat as much as you want. I will warn you that it is extremely cold on the upper deck of the boat, but it is definitely worth the views. If you only do one tour in San Francisco – I recommend this one!
Adventure Cat Charters
Our sail on the Adventure Cat Sunset Cruise was a unique experience. I have been aboard many boats throughout my travels, but I had never actually been on a true sail boat. Inside the cabin, guests have access to snacks, beer and wine; but the best gift that they give you is the blue jackets that you see us in above. I mentioned this in the last review, but it is COLD on the San Francisco Bay – especially as the sun is going down. So just trust me, you want the jacket.
Guests are allowed to go outside onto the deck of the boat, which I do recommend because that is where the true beauty of the whole experience is. But I will admit that we did a lot of “back and forth” due to how cold it was. We finally found a pretty good location to enjoy the outside where some of the wind was blocked – in the corner of the entrance to the outside deck. Something about being on the water, looking over into the city, makes me feel at peace. So don’t let the cold stop you – it’s truly worth the experience!
Local Tastes of the City
North Beach / Little Italy Tour
Another truly unique experience was found with Local Tastes of the City and their walking North Beach/Little Italy Food Tour! Our guide, Blandina, was truly exceptional and you could tell that she absolutely loved the city of San Francisco. This tour truly allows you to feel like a local. Your guide will take you inside the best family owned, local businesses that San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood has to offer! Many of these businesses have been around for 50+ years, so you already know that they are good.
- Victoria Pastry (Cappuccino)
- Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe (incredible “Meatball” Sandwich)
- Z’Cioccolato (Best Fudge in the World)
- Stella Pastry (Pastries/Desserts)
- Mona Lisa (Outstanding Pizza)
- Palermo II Deli (Delicious Homemade Deli Sandwiches)
I highly recommend the Local Tastes of the City walking food tours because they will take you into so many places that you would probably never have gone into on your own. We not only went into six local food establishments to taste their outstanding homemade dishes, but Blandina also walked us around the entire neighborhood. We went into local artisan shops, gorgeous churches, and told us so many interesting facts and history about the city.
Chateau Montelena is actually a winery located in the northern part of the Napa Valley. However, lucky for us, they have a satellite tasting room located the Westin St. Francis Hotel (which was an extremely short walk from our Parc55 hotel).
If you know me at all, you know I love wine. I visit wineries more than I visit anything else. The wine that Chateau Montelena produces definitely falls in the top 3 wineries that I have ever tasted. So needless to say, a stop by the Chateau Montelena tasting room should definitely be apart of your next San Francisco visit! I can’t even tell you which one is my favorite, because they are all outstanding.
Current Release Tasting Menu:
- 2017 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
- 2015 Napa Valley Chardonnay
- 2013 Napa Valley Zinfandel
- 2015 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2014 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Russell, who works in the tasting room, was an incredible host. By the end of the tasting, we felt like he was our new friend. He was extremely knowledgable about the wines, and very personable. He also let us taste their Chateau Montelena Ruby – which is a dessert-style wine. While I am not a fan of dessert wines, I had to admit that their was the best one that I had ever tried.
Eno Wine Bar
Eno Wine Bar is a small but mighty wine bar in San Francisco, in Union Square. When you enter, they have a great artistic display of their wide variety of wines (pictured above). Their menu features 100s of wines, which you can order by the bottle, glass, or in the form of a flight (a generous pour of three different wines).
- Californication Flight – This is what James ordered; he enjoys smooth, balanced red wines
- Rhone Flight – This is what I ordered; I enjoy a more bold combination, featuring spices and tannins.
- Eno Sampler – a delicious mixture of different cheese, olives, meats, and bread
Other than wine, Eno specializes in fresh cheeses and specialty chocolates. On my next visit to Eno – I would love to try a wine pairing with their cheeses and chocolates. Eno is a great location to relax after a long day of exploring the city. I hope that you are able to visit for yourself in the near future!
“Must See”s in San Francisco
Beach Blanket Babylon
If you haven’t seen Beach Blanket Babylon, then you are truly missing out. Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon is the longest running musical revue in American history. The story is based around Snow White coming to San Francisco to find true love. But along the way, she runs into famous characters from all walks of life. Some characters include: Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Donald Trump, Hilary and Bill Clinton and more. The writers change the characters and scenes as politics and media changes from year to year; however, the general story line has been the same since 1974.
As you can see from the pictures, all of the actors wear extremely large “hats” so they can truly take on the role of their character’s overly dramatic personality. The show is based all in good laughs and oozes of excellent Hollywood and political satire. Beach Blanet Babylon has been a San Francisco “must see” from the beginning. So much so that by 1977, the incoming freshman class at Mills College was required to see the production as orientation into the college. So with all of that said, seeing Beach Blanket Babylon might as well be a requirement when you decide to visit San Francisco.
Drive Across the Golden Gate Bridge
AKA: Get Lost on the Other Side of the Bridge
This was one of the most unique, yet most stressful, parts of the trip. James really wanted to drive over the bridge, and I was down with that. So, I found a good spot on Google maps and put “Battery Spencer” into Lyft. Battery Spencer is a lookout point on the other side of the bridge. Simple enough, right?
Well, the Lyft navigation was all kinds of wrong. We ended up several miles past Battery Spencer, in The Marin Headlands. We finally ended up passing a parking lot where a lot of people were parked to go hiking (Marin Headlands Vista Point) – so we told our driver that we could just get out here. However, he insisted on continuing on to wherever the GPS was taking us. So we ended up on a one way “scenic” road, where we finally passed another parking lot. We got out at “Upper Fisherman’s Parking Lot” totally lost and confused.
However, once we saw the view – we didn’t care that we were lost. We were on a cliff overlooking the coast and it was absolutely breathtaking! We hiked down the trail a bit, towards the beach; but sadly, we weren’t able to stay very long due to time constraints. It took our car a while to get to us – but easily enough, we were able to get a Lyft from where we were back to the city.
Pier 39 & The Sea Lions
The Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco starts at Pier 39. This is probably the most “touristy” spot in all of San Francisco. Pier 39 is home of 100’s of restaurants, shops, and attractions to explore. However, my absolute favorite part is the sea lions (pictured above)! Since the 1989 earthquake, over 1000 sea lions call the San Francisco Pier 39 K-dock home. I could have sat and watched them play for hours; but since the area is very touristy, it stays extremely crowded.
In conclusion, I would like to thank SFTravel for helping me to create such a memorable San Francisco experience! Again, this truly was one of my favorite trips ever. I highly recommend making the trip to see such an iconic city. But with that said, pre-planning will make your experience so much better! We pre-booked EVERYTHING that you have seen in this blog post. If the thought of that stresses you out, feel free to reach out. I’d love to help you!
As always, thank YOU for reading The Best Things to Do in San Francisco! I can’t express my appreciation enough to those who loyally read my content. Let me know if I can ever help you in any way! Follow me on Instagram to keep a live watch on all of my adventures.
Until next time,
*Parts of this trip were complimentary from the host providers. However, all opinions and reviews expressed in this post are honestly and organically my own.*