I visited San Francisco for about 12 days in August 2013 to visit my sister and to check out the startup scene in the Bay Area. I had been to San Francisco before, but this was the first time that I was there for long enough to venture out and explore the many different pockets of the city. Having lived in New York for a number of years, I thought that I wouldn't take to the California way of life. I couldn't have been more wrong. I fell in love with San Francisco and it's probably because it proved me wrong time and time again.
It's vibrant, its denizens are inspiring, its buildings and streets commingle perfectly with the surrounding ocean and mountains. Walking around, I became acutely aware that there's more to big city living than just going to restaurants, bars, and museums. It's also about enjoying the outdoors, being healthy, and leading a more wholesome, balanced life. I think San Francisco enables people to do that very easily.
On to more practical information - public transportation in San Francisco is OK. The BART, or subway, is easy to navigate but it doesn't take you everywhere like it does in New York or London. More often than not, you're going to have to take the bus or a taxi, too, but you're not going to find taxis on the road that you can hail. Instead, you'll have to call for a cab in advance using a phone or a multitude of apps such as Uber and Flywheel.
Do the touristy stuff because sometimes it's fun to get off the off-the-beaten-path. Eat and drink your way through the Ferry Building Marketplace, walk the Embarcadero, and stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge. These are quintessential SF experiences that you shouldn't be embarrassed to do. In fact, you'll be missing out if you ignore them in your search for "cooler" things to do.
Simply put, you can't leave San Francisco without having the ice cream here.
I was skeptical about trying a vegan Japanese restaurant (isn't it all about the fish?!) but I heard so many great things about Cha-Ya from my family that I had to try it out. I was pleasantly surprised! I had a mushroom soba noodle soup and some sushi, both of which were tasty and delicious.
If you love bread and in particular sourdough bread, you have to come here. Founded in 1849, it's the original sourdough bakery and an institution in the city. There are loads of sandwiches to choose from and they even make sourdough pizzas! I had the Fra' Mani Artisan Ham & Brie and would definitely recommend it.
While you can have a great burrito at most taquerias in the Mission district, head here for the Burrito Mojado - a burrito swimming in enchilada sauce and melted cheese. Freaking delicious! Feel free to choose an offbeat meat stuffing as well, including beef head and beef brains. I stuck to chicken.
Most people's tryst with Burmese cuisine begins and ends at khao swe. If you love the coconutty noodle soup then you must come here for a casual but immensely memorable meal made up of crazy combinations of spices and ingredients. I tried the Rainbow Salad, Vegetarian Samusa Soup, SuperStar Vegetarian Noodles, Chili Lamb, and the Peashoots. All were awesome. Be prepared to wait (yet again!) for a table here. That said, you can call ahead to put your name down.
Ever had a sushi roll as big as a burrito? Now's your chance! I had the Salmon Samba, a monstrosity filled with agave-soy king salmon from British Columbia. Be prepared to wait in line outside for 30-45 minutes though - this place is popular!
More popularly known as Mission Chinese Food, this restaurant serves inventive fusion Chinese fare to predominantly groups of hipsters. I waited an hour outside for a table and when I was finally seated, I found myself in a dimly lit room with a paper dragon streaming the ceiling. I tried the Fresh Rice Noodle, Ma Po Tofu, and Kung Pao Pastrami. All were pretty good!
An eclectic book shop with both used and new books that range from up-and-coming local authors to National Bestsellers, Dog Eared Books deserves a visit if you're in the Mission district. It has pretty large sections on music non-fiction and graphic novels. I picked up Empire of the Sun, The Story of Sushi, and Alice Waters and Chez Panisse - all for around $20.
The newly opened and eye-opening Exploratorium at Pier 15 is a museum dedicated to science, art, and human perception. There are tons of interactive exhibits and the store has tons of cool stuff to buy, too. Don't be embarrassed if you're waiting in line for an exhibit among a lot of kids - learning is fun for adults here as well!
Despite being squarely on the beaten path, I highly recommend walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. It's exhilarating, especially on a clear day. You can spot sea lions swimming below, brown pelicans diving for fish, and windsurfers zipping across the water. It's 1.7 miles across each way.
I visited divey Li Po after exploring Chinatown one afternoon. With its cave-like entrance and cavernous interior, the bar makes you think that you've stumbled upon a hidden treasure when in fact it's been around for ages. The specialty here is the Chinese Mai Tai, which is made with three types of rum and Chinese liqueur. It's $9 but worth every penny. The bartender was really cool and the music was spot on. Easily one of my best memories of San Francisco.