In late September, Allie and I had the amazing opportunity to explore San Francisco. We saw so much that the city has to offer and had one of our best trips yet. San Francisco really stole a piece of our hearts, and oddly reminded us a ton of our home city Halifax.
Where to stay
The Cartwright Union Square
The Cartwright Union Square is an adorable little hotel located in the heart of Union Square. This location is just about perfect if you want to have a great bite to eat or do some shopping. The hotel is also very close to the Powell Street cable car!
The hotel has a vintage feel that made it seem as though you’d been transported back in time. The old-time music in the lobby really gave it a quaint feel. Our room was not super large, but it was very charming. You could tell that it had been recently renovated and modernized. The bathroom was lovely and all white, and the room had a massive walk-in closet with a vanity to do hair and makeup.
The Alise Hotel is a Staypineapple hotel also located in Union Square. This is one of the fancier hotels we’ve stayed at and we loved every minute of it. The night of our visit actually fell on Allie’s birthday eve!
The lobby was grand with heavy gold accents giving a luxurious and sophisticated feel. They had coffee and pineapple flavoured cupcakes available for all guests during check-in, a much-appreciated treat. The lobby is also home to the Pineapple Bar and Bistro, where you can grab a cocktail in the evening or coffee and breakfast in the morning.
The room was unbelievably exquisite. Decorated mainly in black and white they tied in the same gold accents as the bar and carried on the pineapple theme tastefully. The bed was the most comfortable I have ever slept in and I wish I could have brought it home with us. Interestingly, the beds have two single duvets instead of one large duvet, meaning no one will hog the covers.
Aloft San Francisco Airport.
The Aloft San Francisco Airport, as the name suggests, is conveniently located near the San Francisco International airport. Do note, however, that there is another airport in San Francisco, Oakland Airport. Double check where your flight leaves from to avoid having to travel 40 minutes to the other airport after your hotel stay.
I’ve written before about Aloft hotels. You can read more about that here to learn all about why I love Aloft Hotels!
Where to eat and drink
The Hardrock Cafe in San Francisco is located at Pier 39. Allie absolutely loves the veggie burgers at The Hardrock, so we had to stop at one on our adventures at least. We had __ burger and it was absolutely amazing. Our server recommended we check out all of the memorabilia in the restaurant. There were some pretty cool things, including a hat worn by Elvis Presley and a dress worn by Katy Perry.
Located on the 46th floor of the Hilton hotel, Cityscape has the best views of San Francisco. With a 360 degree of the city, you can see every bit of the city. There is an amazing view of the Golden Gate, the piers, the residential areas, and the Bay Bridge. We watched the sunset over the city while sipping delicious cocktails. What a way to see San Francisco right?
We stumbled upon Jones purely on happenstance. Located in Union Square, this place turned out to be amazing and very busy. There is an outside patio bar that was jam packed when we went for dinner. We sat inside and had super yummy food and a delicious glass of sangria.
Mr Holmes’ Bakehouse
I feel like everyone on Instagram has heard about Mr Holmes Bakehouse. The fun neon sign and the gold foil boxes really make this place stand out in photos. It is a bakery in Union Square San Francisco, but with other locations. Mr Holme’s is the creator of the “cruffin” the baby of a croissant and a muffin.
Philz Coffee is a cafe that we heard recommended by lots of locals. We were a little unprepared when we got there. Philz makes each coffee for custom, just the way you like it at their full-service coffee bar. The coffee turned out to be amazing and service just as good!
What to see
Pier 39 is one of the largest tourist spots in San Francisco. Built on the pier are tons of shops and restaurants, an arcade, an aquarium and a two-story carousel. This is the place to go to buy all of your souvenirs, but make sure you compare prices at different stores. A lot of the stores have the same items at slightly different prices, so if you are careful you can get a better deal.
There is also a viewing area to see the massive sea lions that live on the pier, but be warned they are loud and smelly animals.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a neighbourhood in San Francisco located near the water. At Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ll find Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square. There are lots of seafood restaurants and more touristy type shops to buy souvenirs.
I don’t know what I was expecting on our visit to Ghirardelli Square. For some reason, I was imagining a giant chocolate shop and factory, but that’s about it. Ghirardelli Square does have a few Ghirardelli chocolate shops, but there is much much more in the square than that. Ghirardelli Square is a public square with over 40 speciality shops and restaurants and a 5-star hotel. Making this the perfect stop to grab a bite to eat, try some chocolate, and do some shopping.
This building was initially the home of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Fun fact, this world-renowned chocolate company was actually founded in San Francisco.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic sights and symbols of San Francisco, so no trip to the city would be complete without a visit. This beautiful, orangey-red suspension bridge is known for being one of the most beautiful and most photographed bridges in the entire world.
If you want to get up close and person with the Golden Gate you can drive, walk, or bike across it (the bridge is about 1.25 kilometres long). Another great place to view the bridge is from Golden Gate Park.
What to do
Have a Drink with a View
There are so many places in San Francisco that you can sit and enjoy a drink while experiencing a breathtaking view. CityScape has a 360-degree view of the city, but it isn’t the only bar high in the sky. Also, check out Top of the Mark and The View.
Cable Car Ride
The San Francisco Cable Cars are like moving relics of what the city used to be. These historic cars still run on some lines, so you can hop on and take a ride while visiting the city. They are the last manually operated cable car system in the entire world.
Be warned that they are more of a tourist attraction and there are often long lines to board. Also, be extra cautious if you decide to stand and hold onto the outside of the car because this can be a bit dangerous. Make sure you hold on tight in case of sudden stops.
I’m shocked that Allie and I have never gone on a city tour before visiting San Francisco. It was such a fun experience. We bought a one day hop on hop off ticket from the tour company City Sightseeing San Francisco. They offer both citywide tours and downtown tours, and we did both. We sat on the top of the double-decker bus and listened to all of the information the tour guide threw at us. I feel like we learned and saw so much of the city!
Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building
The Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building was one of the best markets I have ever been to. Vendors are located both inside and outside of the historic Ferry Building. This is a great place to explore the tastes of the city if you have time on your trip. There are some amazing places to get food and treats here, including the well-known restaurant The Slanted Door.
It is only open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays so plan accordingly.
Places to Avoid
I recommend tourists avoid the Tenderloin area of Downtown, located very close to Union Square. Lots of tourists stay in Union Square at the amazing hotels, but don’t know when booking that it is very close to the roughest area in San Francisco. I know we had no clue until an Uber driver told us, but then heard it over and over from hotel staff. The Tenderloin is known for having a lot of homeless people, panhandling, and other issues. Overall, it is a rough spot, so I would recommend avoiding if at all possible.
San Francisco is a booming city with lots to offer. There are tons of other amazing things to see and do in the city and I can’t recommend it enough as an urban travel destination.