Girlfriends trips are the best. They give you the opportunity to create new memories with your friend, reconnect and have fun. Earlier this month I had a fantastic weekend in San Francisco with Lauren as part of our Northern California’s girls trip. As quick reminder, Lauren flew into California from Atlanta. We had such a blast seeing all the incredible sights of San Francisco; it's such a great vibrant city. I’m spoiled that I live so close to the city, but most of the time I’m just going for the day, so it was a treat to spend the whole weekend in the City and explore. This was our second time visiting the city together and first time spending an entire weekend there, so this time around we tackled San Francisco like pros!
We’ve created The Girlfriends Guide to San Francisco, filled with tips on where to stay, getting around SF, the must-see sights and much more! Check out our last Northern California guide; The Girlfriends Guide to Sonoma Valley sharing our musts for visiting the wine country. This post contains sponsored content, please note all words and opinions are our own.
The Girlfriends Guide to San Francisco
WHERE TO STAY
Union Square // The perfect area in San Francisco to stay in is Union Square; it’s the fantastic central location for hotels, shopping destinations full of department stores and boutique shops, restaurants and public transportation. It’s also in close proximity to museums, the theater district, and Chinatown. While in San Francisco Lauren and I stayed at Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel. We loved the location and the hotel. The hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Union Square and within walking distance to all the top attractions. We will be sharing more details about our stay next week.
Getting around San Francisco at first glance can be a bit tricky given all the neighborhoods and the hills - so many hills! Specific areas of the city are walkable; it's one of the best ways to get the vibe of a city by walking around it. But as I mentioned, those rolling hills can make it tricky to get from one area of San Francisco to the next. Below I'm sharing ideas on how to quickly get around SF like a pro!
The BART aka Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority // When staying in San Francisco you don’t need a rental car, you can easily get around the city like a pro with the help of public transportation + you’ll skip having to look for parking and paying substantial parking fees (trust me, parking in San Francisco isn’t cheap)! If you're flying in from out of town, ride the BART from the airport into the City. The trip will be around $9.50 and only takes about 30 minutes to reach Union Square. Since Lauren flew into Sacramento, we opted to leave my car at home and take the Megabus to San Francisco; it’s such a steal (FYI: they also have Mega Bus to/from LA). Our fare was only $10 each, it was a quick, comfortable ride with free wifi which gave us time to sit back and talk and finalize all the deets on our weekend trip. The BART only has a few stops in San Francisco, that’s where the SF Muni comes in.
SF MUNI + Cable Car + Classic Street Cars // The San Francisco MTA combines, the bus, MUNI Metro, Historic Street Cars and Cable Cars under one transportation umbrella to make SF accessible. Using the trip planner on their website or phone helps take the guesswork out of getting from point A to point B. The SF MTA offers a 3-Day Visitor Pass for $33 which is a great deal since most fares are $2.50 one way.
When in San Francisco taking the cable car is a must! With the San Francisco CityPASS (Lauren spills more deets on the CityPASS below) or Three Day SF Muni Pass you're able to ride the Cable Car for free. One way on the Trolley is $7.00. The Cable Car fills up fast and the lines can quickly get Disneyland long to ride them. My advice? Get there early! We hopped on the Cable Car at Union Square and rode it to Fisherman's Wharf. The views and hills are incredible. Rolling through all the various neighborhoods in SF on the way to Fisherman’s Wharf is amazing. Another way to get around and enjoy a vintage ride is to take the Historic Street Cars. You can ride it up and down the Embarcadro. Plus, it makes the perfect photo op for Instagram!
The Brown Cable Car signs placed throughout the Cable Car route indicate where each stop is.
Big Bus San Francisco Hop On Hop Off // The perfect way to see all the sights of San Francisco is the Hop On Hop Off bus tour. This was my first time using a Hop on and Hop off bus in San Francisco, and I loved it! Lauren and I loved the flexibility of planning out our day on the hop on and hop off bus, allowing us to maximize our time and linger specific areas longer. I also loved all the fun facts the Tour Host shared along each route.
WHERE TO EAT
BREAKFAST BRUNCH AND CAFFEINATE
Scala's Bistro // Hands down the best brunch in San Francisco is at Scala’s Bistro in Union Square and the decor inside is fantastic! Lauren and I enjoyed a lovely delicious brunch at Scala’s; the food was incredible!
We started our brunch with goat cheese asparagus pizza, every bite was so good! For our main course, I had the Cobb Salad and Lauren enjoyed the Porchetta Sandwich. We both had our first Aperol Spritz, the Summer drink of Italy! It's such a fantastic drink, I'll plan on making these over the Summer, cheers!
Mazarine Coffee // When Lauren and I get together we love exploring new coffee shops. We both enjoyed their coffee and fancy toast! I fell hard for their Almond Lattes (I’m a recent convert, sorry milk!) and Avocado and Radish toast - it's incredible. Lauren was a fan of Tomato Ricotta and Basil toast, with a latte. The vibe inside Mazarine Coffee is super welcoming, and the seating is excellent for people watching.
Beacon Coffee & Pantry // After visiting Lombard Street, Lauren and I walked through North Shore and discovered Beacon Coffee & Pantry. The soundtrack playing in the cafe was amazing and the lattes so good! And look at the pretty wall of Subway tile!
With so many amazing food spots in San Francisco, picking the best place to eat for lunch is all up to where you're at! If you're in Union Square around lunchtime, head to the SF Metreon, its full of shopping and a huge array of fast casual dining restaurants. You're quickly able to find a meal that will work for everyone's taste buds.
My girl Lauren is taking over the post! She's sharing some amazing dinner and late night options + what to do in San Francisco. Quick introduction, Lauren is the owner of Lauren Myers & Co; teaching bloggers & creativepreneurs to maximize their time with E-courses/tips and strategies. Lauren is my go-to girl for all things blogging + good friend! Take it away L!
The food scene in San Francisco is so vast there is something appealing to everyone. San Francisco offers cuisine from so many diverse cultures! You can go from Italy to China to the US within a 5-mile radius. Here are some great dinner spots to check out when in San Francisco.
Fisherman’s Wharf // There are 39 piers in San Francisco and each pier has its own hidden gems. If you find yourself here at dinner time, you have plenty of options-
Coqueta // This is a Spanish restaurant located at Pier 5 offering a modern twist to traditional Spanish tapas with a little California flair.
Blue Mermaid // located in the Argonaut Hotel, this restaurant offers fresh, local seafood dishes and three types of chowder. The restaurant is ocean front so you can enjoy beautiful views while having dinner.
Hops and Hominy // This is a restaurant serving southern cuisine and they feature an extensive beer selection. If you’re craving a southern meal of Mac and cheese, cornbread, and black-eyed pea fritters, check them out!
Cliff House // If you’re looking for an upscale dining experience in San Francisco, visit the Cliff House! There are various restaurants located here and the building is on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean (breathtaking views!). The cuisine is heavily focused on seafood, but there are also traditional American options as well.
Honorable Mentions // There are also various Italian restaurants located in the North Beach neighborhood (The Italian Homemade Company and Trattoria Contadina) as well as a large variety of Asian cuisine in Chinatown (Mister Jiu’s and Spicy King).
LATE NIGHT EATS
If you find yourself out and about late at night or up and in need of a midnight snack, here are a few places to check out for late night eats.
The Grubstake // This diner was made from a converted rail car and serves classic diner food until 4AM daily. They also have an extensive offering of craft beers.
This restaurant serves Korean comfort food and is open until 2 AM on the weekdays and 4 AM on weekends. They also play Asian Pop tunes!
Il Casaro Pizzeria
Late nights and pizza tend to go hand-in-hand, so why not get it from a local gem? This pizzeria is open until 11 PM every day except Saturday which is 12 AM. Along with pizza, you can find Italian street food and a mozzarella bar!
WHAT TO DO
San Francisco is a wonderful city full of so many iconic sites and hidden gems. This was my second trip to San Francisco, a city that I fell in love with on the first site. Since we were visiting this time for two days, we did so much and I really felt like our trip was made complete! San Francisco is full of so much history, so visiting iconic landmarks and sites is a must! It’s also important to go off the beaten path and seek out those hidden gems as well. During our stay, we took a Big Bus Tour to visit as many sites as we could, and we had City Passes to get into various sites. Taking tours and getting City Passes is going to be the best bang for your buck because you get to access so many places and spend much less money than you would from purchasing individual tickets.
Alamo Square // As Katrina mentioned, we decided to jump on a Big Bus Tour as this was the most effective way to visit all the sites without being on a strict schedule. Our first stop was Alamo Square, the location of the iconic Painted Ladies. I grew up in the 90’s and was a Full House fan, so seeing the Painted Ladies in person was a dream come true for me!
This neighborhood is full of beautiful, historic homes and is so walkable. At the top of the park, you can see stunning views of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the hills. The playground at the park was also the cutest and featured mini-versions of the Painted Ladies for kids to play on.
California Academy of Sciences // Our next stop was the California Academy of Sciences located in Golden Gate Park. I didn’t know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised at all that they had to offer!
First, we went into the rainforest (also known as the layered forest) where it was a tropical paradise! There were beautiful trees, flowers, exotic birds, fish, and butterflies all over. It reminded me of an enchanted forest from a fairy tale! They were serious about keeping the butterflies inside of the forest. There were various checkpoints to ensure that no butterflies were hitching a ride with you on the way out!
After the rainforest, we went to the bottom level which housed the aquarium. It was absolutely gorgeous! The aquatic life was so amazing and the fish swimming all around and over you was a sight to see.
Golden Gate Bridge // ...What can I say about this icon? I was stunned by its presence (and also with how windy it was!). This is classic San Francisco! We rode over the bridge on the tour bus (at the top of the double-decker) and that is an experience I will never forget! Riding over the bridge enclosed is one thing, but experiencing it from the outside is a totally different ball game. Unobstructed views of the bridge, the Bay Area, etc. was awesome.
I felt like a fangirl because the bridge is so iconic; it’s a celebrity in its own right! We rode across the bridge, hopped off to take in all of its glory, then hopped back on the bus to ride back across. There was a cargo ship passing as we rode across, so that was also cool to see.
Lombard Street // Next up was the famous Lombard Street (aka the Crooked Street). San Francisco is known for its steep hills, and yes, steep they were! We walked up Lombard Street (it was so steep we decided to start doing lunges...oddly enough the lunges were easier than walking!). We then made it to the famous crooked section of the street then walked down it. The homes along Lombard Street were beautiful, but being such an iconic street, the traffic was non-stop!
Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39 // Fisherman’s Wharf and more specifically Pier 39 are popular destinations in San Francisco because of the various restaurants, shops, and sights at each pier. We took a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf (that was an awesome experience in itself!). There are so many shops with unique gifts such as LOLA, and we found a great spot for a quick snack, Crepe Cafe.
Ghirardelli Square // Located around Fisherman’s Wharf is the famous Ghirardelli Square. Just walking through the area made your mouth water because the smell of chocolate is all in the air. There are also various shops and restaurants in this area, but the best spot is obviously the Ghirardelli restaurant serving their delicious chocolate, ice cream or other sweet treats.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art // As mentioned in our Sonoma Valley post, we love visiting local museums on our girl's trips! We visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and saw so many unique art pieces. The museum is 7 stories and even contains an outdoor living wall area with more exhibits. If you love art and want to do something different on your trip to San Francisco, the MOMA is a must!
Honorable Mentions. There is so much to see and do in San Francisco, so the following locations get an honorable mention. Though we didn’t get a chance to visit these sites on this trip, they are still a must-see:
The Japanese Tea Garden // this is also located in Golden Gate Park.
Coit Tower // For the best views of San Francisco from above, take a hike up the approximate 400 steps to Coit Tower. The trip up is...rough...but the view is stunning!
China Town // The area is full of pretty lanterns, yummy restaurants on every corner and lots of shops to visit for souveniers.
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Whoa! That was a long post! Lauren and I loved hanging out in San Francisco and walking all those crazy hills, popping in and out of stores in Chinatown and riding the Cable Car! It was such a memorable weekend. We hope you found The Girlfriends Guide to San Francisco helpful when planning your trip to San Francisco! We love this city and truly hope we shared is vibe and culture with you! What do you love most about San Francisco, tell us is this City on your bucket travel list? If not, trust us is needs to be!