Visiting San Francisco on a solo trip rather than together. This was a first for us and here is what happened…
First Time Visiting San Francisco
Like everything we do, this was a decision that I (Alicia) made just over a month prior to going. And although neither Ernest nor I have been to SF, it was deemed a “girls” trip with my cousin. Therefore, Ernest would only see SF through my eyes… and he may have been a little salty about it.
My cousin, who I would be meeting in San Francisco, was flying in from Las Vegas. Therefore, I’d be flying on my own. And as a reminder, I still get anxiety while traveling although it has gotten much better.
As the travel day approached, my anxiety started to kick in as well. Since I’m the “navigator” on our travels together, I had no issues with getting myself to SF. But just thinking of the whole process puts my anxiety on high.
As usual, I barely slept the night before my departure. It was an early morning flight, so we were up at 3AM in order to catch my 7:30AM flight. This is one of the reasons I dread flying; it’s such a long process. In Canada, for flights to the US, we need to be at the airport 3 hours prior to departure time. And I highly recommend this since the US Customs and Border Protection lines are insanely long and slow.
Surprisingly, during this time, I was pretty calm and chill. I knew I had enough time and I kept reminding myself that it’s just a process that needs to be done.
Has this solo travel experience cured me of my travel anxiety??? Maybe not totally, but I was definitely calmer. It continues to be a work in progress.
What To Do In San Francisco
As a first timer visiting San Francisco, we were lucky enough to have two local friends (my cousin’s friends) that basically set an itinerary for us during the weekend we were there. For the first time, I did not have to figure out what to do and where to eat. It was amazing! (Ernest are you reading??)
If you have two full days in San Francisco, here’s what you can do:
- Union Square – this is a great area to wander, shop and eat. For this reason, we chose our hotel in this neighborhood. We stayed at the Hilton Union Square.
- Ride the Cable Car – I’m sure you’ve seen these in pics of San Francisco. It’s the worlds last manually operated cable car system that’ll give you iconic views of the streets of San Francisco. You can purchase ride tickets online (highly recommend this for its ease) or at one of the booths located at Powell & Market, Bay & Taylor or Hyde & Beach Streets. You can purchase a single ride or day passes for 1, 3, or 7 days. I also saw some people paying the cable car driver when they boarded; these are most likely for single rides. The lineup at Powell & Market is usually a bit long, but it moves fairly quickly. You can find more information on purchasing tickets and tips on riding the cable car here.
- Ghirardelli Square – one of the stops on the cable car is at Bay and Taylor. If you get off here, you can walk to Ghirardelli Square which is only a few minutes away. This complex used to be a chocolate factory (Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Factory) and now houses shops and restaurants. Only a small portion of it is actually home to Ghirardelli Square’s main chocolate shop where you can purchase souvenirs, a wide array of Ghirardelli chocolates, ice cream and desserts.
- Fisherman’s Wharf – when you get off the cable car at Bay and Taylor, if you head the opposite direction of Ghirardelli Square, you will get to Fisherman’s Wharf only a few minutes walk away. Be ready for the city’s busiest tourist area. Here you’ll find souvenir shops, stalls selling crab and clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls, and views of Alcatraz. There’s also a colony of sea lions that you can see, along with historic ships to tour.
- Alcatraz – Although I didn’t make a visit to Alcatraz, you can take an island tour which departs at Pier 33 (a 1/4 mile walk from Fisherman’s Wharf). The island was once a military prison and a maximum security federal penitentiary. For tickets, check out Klook.
- Golden Gate Bridge – Of course, you can’t visit San Francisco and not see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a suspension bridge that connects SF Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Parking is free along side the road. Once parked, walk up to the top of the mountain for an upfront, unobstructed view.
- Palace of Fine Arts – A hidden gem in San Francisco with it’s stunning architecture and peaceful surroundings. It overlooks a lagoon with swans, ducks, fishes and turtles. While we were there, there were several couples taking wedding pictures. You won’t spend hours here, unless you bring some food and have a picnic, but nonetheless it’s a beautiful site.
- Hiking at Muir Woods National Monument – If you enjoy nature and the outdoors, be sure to plan a hike through Muir Woods National Monument. It’s 6 miles of trails with a 1/2 hour loop, a 1 hour loop, and a 1 1/2 hour loop (and further if you so desire). You’ll witness views of old-growth coast redwoods which are the tallest living things in the world! According to which trail you take, you can see stunning views of the SF Bay area. Be sure to pack a pair of running shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty; it’s mostly dirt trails that may be narrow and steep in some areas. Also, be sure to book your tickets in advance since reservations are required for personal vehicles. And there is no cell service up there!
- Stinson Beach – Not too far from Muir Woods National Monument is Stinson Beach. The views from the drive along the coastline towards the beach is amazing. Ernest and I have always wanted to drive from SF to LA along the coast and I imagined that this is what it would be like; windy roads with glimpses of the shoreline. The beach itself had white sand and is known for one of the best swimming beaches in SF.
- Fuller House or Full House – Whichever generation you grew up watching this tv sitcom, the actual house is located in San Francisco. If you want a picture in front of the Tanner residence, now is your time to do so! It’s a beautiful Victorian home and you’ll see a row of them alongside Fuller/Full House. Directly across from the house is a park where you can sit and watch the flock of tourists taking pics in front of the home.
And that was a full weekend visit in San Francisco. I had left Toronto on Friday and returned on Monday, so a full Saturday and Sunday was spent with this itinerary. It can be done! 🙂
In addition to visiting all these sites, we ate some amazing foods in some of SF’s best restaurants.
If you’re not following The Wandering Asian Couple on Instagram, be sure to head over there now and catch a glimpse of the sites visited, as well as the foods that were consumed at the different restaurants.
There are two restaurants we visited, where the simplest dishes were just mind blowing. I highly recommend giving them a try when you’re there.
- Angler – newly opened in the Fall of 2018, it was named the best new restaurant in San Francisco by Esquire. Book in advance and ask for a table at the front windows so that you can eat with views of the Bay Bridge. It’s beautiful all lit up at night. Angler is a fine dining establishment and will definitely set you back $$$$, but as a treat to yourself, it’s worth it! We had the tuna tartare, a simple tomato dish, fried blow fish, a hen, a fish and, of course an array of desserts. They were all amazing! The dishes (especially the appetizers) were unlike anything I’ve ever had.
- Cotogna – for a rustic, modern day Italian cuisine. You’ll find this relatively small, compact gem in SF’s historic Jackson Square. Since Cotogna is quite popular with the locals and tourists, be sure to reserve in advance. A must try is the ravioli with egg and brown butter. It’s so silky and dessert-like. All the pasta dishes we ordered were all fantastic, as well as the pizza. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of their dishes.
Getting Around San Francisco
If staying in Union Square, the cable car and shops are all within walking distance. As mentioned above, you can hop on the cable car from Powell and Market (Union Square location) and get off at the very end, which will get you within walking distance to Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, and Alcatraz’s Pier 33 departure destination. We also used Uber quite often for places within or surrounding Union Square area.
For the other sites, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, hiking and Stinson Beach, having a car is a definite must. Car rentals can be found throughout Union Square. Where we stayed, at the Hilton Union Square, there was a car rental agency conveniently located directly across the street.
Visiting San Francisco
We hope you visit San Francisco and enjoy it as much as I did. And hopefully, this guide will make your visit enjoyable and memorable.
If you’ve been to SF, tell us what you thought and if there’s anything else that is a must do. Let us know in the comments below.
Special thanks to Emmy for the awesome itinerary and putting it all together for us. As well as Eli for driving us around. And of course, to my Cuddy for suggesting the trip. 🙂
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