Before this summer, I’d only been to San Francisco once. I’d done a lot of the touristy things — Ghiradelli Square, Coit Tower, Pier 39. On this trip, I had just one day in San Francisco to visit some new sights. I was positioned in Union Square with 24 hours to make the most of it.
Here’s where to start.
Morning bites: Brunch at Farmerbrown
If you’re a lover of good southern food and cool ambiance like I am, you’re going to love Farmerbrown, a southern, California soul food joint with a part-rustic, part-urban vibe that sits right near Market Street. They boast “locally-sourced seasonal ingredients, west coast freshness and time-honored southern recipes from the Creoles to the Carolinas” in a restaurant with loft ceilings and green walls, plus modern grunge decor.
I played it safe, trying scrambled egg with BBQ pulled pork and a biscuit. Sometimes safe can pay off. I was thrilled.
Start the exploration: Take the bus to Alamo Square
If you jump on the 21 bus to head straight to Alamo Square (and trust us, you don’t want to walk this route). From there you’ll be able to catch an epic glimpse of the Painted Ladies, a Victorian style of house with a particular set of houses so close to our hearts you would think we grew up there ourselves. Famously displayed in the credits of “Full House”, the Painted Ladies of Alamo Square sport the look of old world, pre-Great Fire San Francisco.
You will laugh when you reach the park – nearly empty on one side, it seems like everyone and their mother wants to have a picnic where the Ladies are in plain sight. So if you’re looking for a similar view, you might need to take a minute in order to scope out a good spot.
Quick lunch: Toast at The Mill
The Mill at 736 Divisadero is a white, airy, modern space right by Alamo Square with wire racks filled to the brim with freshly baked bread. Try one of their famous toasts for a kick-start to an afternoon of walking.
Let the walking begin: Head down Divisadero to Castro Street to arrive in the Castro District
Castro District. We were really bummed to miss the Frozen sing-along.
If you’re not already familiar with The Castro, either you’re not from the United States or you’ve been living in a cave. The vibrant community is famous for being one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States, and takes scene to a number of movies as well as important points of U.S. history.
You could spend a day here just visiting the boutiques along Castro St, selling wares that vary from quirky to downright risqué. Check out the place where the former Castro Camera once existed, owned by first openly gay politician Harvey Milk and used as his campaign headquarters.
Turn onto 18th street to visit the Mission District
Amazing murals in San Francsico’s Mission District
If you walk along 18th street and then turn onto Valencia, you’ll find yourself in one of our favorite parts of town: the Mission District, historically part of one of the 21 Spanish Missions established along California by Catholic priests trying to spread Christianity among the Native Americans. The area today has seen significant gentrification (not necessarily a good thing), but sports an interesting mix of contemporary American and South American culture.
The boutiques themselves give off a “hipster” vibe — we’ve never seen so many crazy stores in one place – a science and nature store that sells terrariums and turkey toes, a used bookstore that sold every single book we wanted to read (and more), and more fair trade home decor shops than you can shake a stick at.
If you miss this place, you will regret it. The handmade chocolate shop is no bargain: even the smallest bars will cost you $8. But the experience is life-changing, from the chocolate mini-tour they’ll give you in the back of the shop to the tasty treats you can buy up front. My personal recommendation is the chocolate toffee pieces, which will make you squeal in chocolate-toffee delight. Melinda may have her own delicious things to say about the chocolate horchata that she had served up as a frosty delight.
Dinner: Snag an early seat at Pizzeria Delfina
Pizzeria Delfina has created a name for itself – even as we waited outside we heard San Franciscans talking about its fame. On a Sunday night, the restaurant filled up pretty nicely. We showed up at 6:30 when we heard that they got really busy at 7, and were glad we did – there was a line down the street shortly after we were seated.
As for what to order, the decision is all yours. It doesn’t seem like you can go wrong with any of the menu items on offer.
Walk it off through Clarion Alley
After a solid pizza any townie knows the best spot to stretch your legs – down Clarion Alley, which is an alley way that’s filled top to bottom with street art and murals. San Francisco has a flair for some good street art, and this is certainly some of the best. Make sure to get some good shots of yourself in front of the colorful paintings – though extra points go to taking pictures of others as they try to snag the right angle.
Grab a drink in secret at Bourbon and Branch
If we were you, we’d say that a perfect way to finish off the night is in a San Francisco speakeasy like Bourbon & Branch, and though we’ve heard amazing things about the place, we can’t say we’ve had a chance to try it ourselves (time zones are no joke). But I could bet some cold hard cash that it’s an amazing experience. And if you have nothing else to say about it, just remember this word: books.
Sleep like a queen at the Serrano Hotel
Ready for some final zzzs? Just down the street from Bourbon and Branch is the Serrano Hotel, which was kind enough to offer us a couple nights’ stay in their cute, old world San Fran-style boutique hotel (read our disclosure statement here).
We loved the yellow wallpaper and red-striped curtains that really gave it a local feel, and with an opulent lobby and items like curling and straightening irons available upon request, it’s clear that women make up a large segment of their market (though to suggest that men don’t appreciate opulence and wine would be unfair).
The rooms run small, so if you’re ok with a “European style” space, a queen-sized room will be just fine. But if you’re looking for a more traditional size, you’ll be better off requesting a king.
And one final recommendation: the next time you’re in San Francisco, make sure you take us with you.