California Part II: San Francisco

To kick off our tour through California, Paul and I flew first into the great city of San Francisco. Though our hearts were craving another trip to Europe this fall, we chose California as our destination for a number of reasons; mainly, affordability, accessibility, weather and natural beauty. We wanted a destination that wouldn’t break the bank, a flight that was not too long for the pregnant traveler, and a place where the weather was mild in November. Realizing that our very own country had much more to offer than we’d been taking advantage of, we decided to stay ‘local’ and spend some time exploring the west coast, kicking it off in the fantastic city of San Francisco. I had been to San Francisco once before, with a friend before I met Paul, and totally fell in love with the city during my first visit. I knew San Francisco was a city that would resonate with Paul as well – the diversity, the landscape, the food, the weather – it has it all.

As suspected, San Francisco did not disappoint this second time around, and Paul was immediately impressed by all the city had to offer. With few set plans, we spent most of our time wandering the city streets, checking off the major tourist attractions and sampling the cities phenomenal culinary offerings. One of the things we both agreed we loved about SF was the diversity of the city’s neighborhoods. From the Spanish influenced mission district, to the bustling Fishermans wharf, and the hippies of the Haight – to the massive hills and classic architecture of Nob Hill, and the towering trees and soaring coastal views of the Presidio – San Francisco is a city where you can feel like you’ve visited 10 unique places in a single day. Each spot has something special to offer, different foods to try, and new sights to see. Typically when Paul and I travel we like to cover as much distance as possible on foot. We love to get the feel for a new city by walking its streets, taking in slowly everything it has to offer. Here are a few highlights from our multi-day walking tour of San Francisco:

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Lombard Street
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Pier 39, Fishermans Wharf
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Painted Ladies
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Hiking to Baker Beach
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Baker Beach
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Hanging at Baker Beach for sunset
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The Presidio
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Riding the cable cars

Ok, I’ve mentioned it briefly, but let’s talk more about the food for a minute… I recently read an article that named food as the number one reason people travel. Not too confident on the credibility of this article, so don’t hold me to this generalization, but I can say that food always plays a major role in our travel activities. We often find ourselves diving deep into researching a new destination to find the top rated restaurants, best local staples and the most exotic and authentic dishes a new city has to offer. And though we did little planning for our time in San Francisco, we did not skip this step, and lined up quite a few stops along our city food tour.

Behold, a few highlights:

The Mission Burrito

No trip to San Francisco can be complete without a stop in the Mission district for one of their famous burritos – in fact we were so looking forward to this particular culinary staple that it was our very first meal upon arriving. The mission district of San Francisco is a neighborhood exploding with Mexican and Native American cultural influence, and their famous ‘Mission-style burrito’, categorized as such due to its extra large size and specialty ingredients, is the region’s most popular dish. Taqueria La Cumbre has been credited as the birthplace of the mission burrito, so naturally, this was our first destination.

In all honesty, we were impressed by the fresh ingredients and, for the most part, satisfied with Taqueria La Cumbre’s menu selection, but we knew the mission district had more to offer, and a few days later found ourselves at La Taqueria for another go – and THIS, my friends, was the spot. Best burrito we’ve ever had, hands down –  I would go back to San Francisco anytime for no other reason but to eat this burrito again. Seriously, I would. Totally delicious. Go here.

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The original Taqueria La Cumbre

Fresh Local Seafood

With our cravings for mission burritos completely satisfied (actually, who am I kidding, I could have eaten a mission burrito everyday, but had neither the time nor calories to spare), we dove into other San Franciscan staples, particularly, the abundance of fresh seafood – we sampled lobster bisque and crab eggs Benedict along the Fisherman’s wharf, and a favorite local treat, Cioppino (a specialty seafood stew, originating in SF).

For the best Cioppino in San Francisco you must check out Sotto Mare. Of course, we didn’t have time to try ALL of the Cioppino in SF, but something tells me it doesn’t get much better than this place, and the thousands of other positive online reviewers also agree. Sotto Mare is a small, no frills restaurant located off Columbus Avenue in the North Beach district – it’s the kind of eccentric yet simple place that almost resembles a dive bar and indicates immediately that the food is so good, they need not be bothered with anything else. The menu consists of old world Italian dishes, fresh seafood and that’s about it. They don’t take reservations for small parties and when we arrived at 5:30pm on a Saturday, we found ourselves facing an hour and half wait – but we spent the time enjoying cocktails and mocktails at the bar next door and it was well worth it. If you find yourself in SF with a craving for fresh seafood, particularly Cioppino – Sotto Mare’s specialty – make your way to this special place and you will not be disappointed!

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Fisherman’s Wharf
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Crab eggs benedict at Boudin
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Sotto Mare
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We were too excited to get a picture of the actual Cioppino.. total fail

Bakeries and Sweets

I typically tend to favor the savory foods over the sweets but SF has so much to offer we couldn’t neglect the world-class bakeries, and of course, Ghiradelli ice cream. A few favorites we tried were the pain au chocolat at Tartine bakery, the sourdough bread at Boudin, Kouign Amann at b-patisserie, and massive ice cream sundaes from Ghiradelli.

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Best ice cream sundae ever
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Kouign Amann at b-patisserie
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Boudin bakery

In addition to seeing the sights and sampling the cuisine, no post about our trip to San Francisco would be compete without an honorable mention to my beautiful friend Lisa. Lisa is a dear friend I met through work about 6 years ago and she moved out to the San Francisco bay area with her husband Eric a few years ago – we’ve kept in touch despite the distance and needless to say I was thrilled to finally have the chance to pay her a visit. She is one of those beautifully kind people who goes above and beyond for those she cares about, and it really was wonderful to get to spend some time with her in her home town. We met for dinner and to see the Bay Bridge lights and then again another day for brunch and quick city/pastry tour. I must credit Lisa with some of the food recommendations we tried (particularly La Taqueria, b patisserie and the fantastic little spot where we all met for brunch, Zazie). Lisa, I am so sad we didn’t remember to get a picture (total friend fail) but I guess this means we will just have to visit again soon! We really had the best time seeing you and Eric, and thanks for the tips and recommendations!

And that’s a wrap for the great city of San Francisco – onward we go down the coastal Highway 1…

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