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Visiting San Francisco

San Francisco: A Photo Essay

San Francisco is the beautiful city by the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge is her crown jewel. Every wondered how the Golden Gate Bridge got its name? The beautiful orange bridge is named for the Golden Gate Strait, the narrow of water connecting the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

San Francisco is one of my favourite cities in the world…I would probably rank it at the top or near the top. It’s small but photogenic and has layers…You never have problems finding great angles that people have never done.  -Ang Lee

So here’s the deal. You’re heading to San Francisco for the first time and you’re wondering if you should do the usual touristy activities like ride the tour bus through the city or take the tour to Alcatraz. What should you see and what should you skip on your San Francisco vacation? Take a peek at what I did on my recent family vacation and decide for yourself…

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
Views for days…the iconic Golden Gate Bridge

We started at Portsmouth Square Plaza in the heart of Chinatown. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest in North America. Park in the parking garage under the plaza (prepare yourself for San Francisco parking prices – easily $35 for daily parking, not including overnight) and stroll through the plaza to get a sense of the culture. Male residents huddle in groups to gamble or read the newspaper while women play with their children at the playground or stroll with umbrellas protecting them from the sun.

Visiting San Francisco
The Dragon Gate marks the official entrance to the largest and oldest Chinatown outside of China.

 

I hope you came hungry because there is no shortage of restaurants. How are your chopstick skills? No worries, if your chopstick game needs work, they have forks too. 😉 We hit up Sam Wo’s Restaurant which has been cooking up their chow mein for over 100 years.

Sam Wo’s: 713 Clay Street

San Francisco Chinatown
Asian food is my love language.

 

San Francisco Chinatown
Clay Street in Chinatown, a mixture of old world and new.

After filling up on approximately 7 pounds of chow mein, it was time to walk the city streets. But of course with a quick stop for boba tea for the kids. By the way, San Francisco’s Chinatown is very safe, no need to worry about your purses and wallets.

Visiting San Francisco
Strewn with iconic red lanterns, the narrow streets of Chinatown transport you to the authentic experience of Asia.

 

About a fifteen to twenty minute drive away (depending on traffic), you’ll find Japantown. It’s not nearly as large or vibrant as Chinatown, but it’s a quiet spot to soak up a bit of Japanese culture in California. And ramen. Do not miss the ramen. (After a quick search on Yelp for “ramen near me”, we discovered Ramen Yamadaya – a popular restaurant with absolutely killer ramen.) Their rules of eating ramen are listed on a chalkboard next to the benches filled with patrons waiting to be seated. Our corner booth overlooked the Peace Pagoda across the street.

 

We visited in November, a few weeks after the tumultuous US election and witnessed a peace rally where survivors of the Japanese American Internment Camps spoke of their painful childhood memories of being incarcerated in their own country. Emotionally wrenching.

Visit San Francisco
Well hello there, beautiful Japantown Peace Pagoda

 

Next door to the striking Peace Pagoda, you’ll find Daiso, a mecca of cheap Japanese shopping. It’s basically a Japanese dollar store that brings more joy and happiness than Santa on Christmas morning.

Daiso

22 Peace Plaza Suite 400

San Francisco, CA 94115

(415) -359-9397

Business hours: M-Thu 10AM-8PM Fri-Sat 10AM-9PM Sun 10AM-8PM

Traveling with kids? Give them a handful of dollar bills and set them loose in Daiso.

A must visit in San Francisco is the Bay itself. I’d suggest skipping Pier 39 (shown below) unless you’re using it as a hop on to a cruise through the Bay and/or to Alcatraz. Pier 39 is the epitome of Tourist Trap. Overpriced souvenirs that you don’t want and crowded subpar restaurants. You may want to walk along the nearby Embarcadero, pass Pier 39 and walk over to Fisherman’s Wharf (also a tourist trap, but has some streetside seafood vendors). As for Alcatraz, although I grew up in the Bay Area, I’ve never actually toured it! I’ve heard that it’s a cool tour from the National Park Service and worth the trip out to The Rock. Check out the details here.

Sites in San Francisco
Even Alcatraz looks pretty in the San Francisco Bay. Fancy a swim?

 

 

Don’t worry. You can skip Pier 39 and just enjoy a walk along the Embarcadero or take a cruise in the Bay.

And speaking of walking, wear comfortable shoes and get out there and walk the streets. Prepare to give your calves a workout because the hilly streets of SF ain’t no joke.

San Francisco
Wanna take a guess at how steep the grade is on these these city streets?

 

Visiting San Francisco
These street views never get old. It has a bit of urban grit, but maintains its friendly California vibe.

 

How to visit San Francisco
It’s all hustle and bustle at Union Square but it has the corner market on high end shopping.

 

Visiting San Francisco
Don’t miss the magical city skyline by night. This is Union Square decked out for Christmas.

Brooklyn has Brownstones, San Francisco has Victorians. If you love architecture, you’ll love the classic Victorians throughout the city, the skyscrapers and of course, the bridges. These five houses in a row comprise the Painted Ladies across from Alamo Square. Alamo Square is a park that was under construction when we were there, but it was still filled with tourists with selfie sticks, but the quick stop was still worth the view.

How to visit San Francisco
How about a picnic at Alamo Square so you can soak in those skyline views of the Painted Ladies?

Golden Gate Park should be at the top of your Must Visit List.

Home to the Conservatory of Flowers, California Academy of Sciences, De Young Art Museum, gardens, playgrounds and even a Bison Paddock. Yes, you read that correctly, a Bison Paddock. If you’re traveling with children, definitely visit the California Academy of Sciences. It’s a hands-on experience that includes an aquarium, a planetarium and even an earthquake simulator.

A word about getting around the park, there are parking garages which will run up to $40 for the day, there is some limited street parking and a few all day (and free) spots tucked behind the Conservatory of Flowers. There’s also a free shuttle that runs through the park on weekends. Find the nearest parking area to where you’ll be spending your day or take the shuttle within the park because Golden Gate Park is massive.

What to visit in San Francisco
Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park

 

The Palace of Fine Arts is next to the freeway crossing the Golden Gate bridge but tucked in a residential neighborhood. Parking isn’t easy and you’ll contend with tour buses full of selfie-sticked tourists as well as brides and young women with their photographers.

Palace of Fine Arts

One of the greatest aspects of San Francisco is how closely you’re connected to nature within the city. Parks, beaches, nature preserves are all within five minutes of city streets.

Golden Gate Bridge
That beautiful view of the Golden Gate from Crissy Field Park, soak it in and soak up the sun.

 

Saying goodbye to the city is like fine chocolate, it’s bittersweet.

Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old sweetheart. You want to linger as long as possible. -Walter KronkiteClick To Tweet

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