San Francisco: the city by the bay. It is as stunning as it is vast, stretching 12km from east to west. To experience the heart of this incredible city, step out into the surrounding neighbourhoods that welcomely ooze with charm and character.
We arrived with few plans but had heard San Francisco was beautiful, expensive and hilly; I soon found each to be true. During our time in San Francisco, we were fortunate enough to stay at the Loews Regency, right in the hub of the business district. Loews is a hotel of pure excellence and it was a privilege to be based in such a central, accessible part of town with the piers only a 15 minute stroll and Union square about the same. Without a doubt, waking up to these beautiful views over the city was the highlight of our stay. Staff at Loews Regency couldn’t have been more attentive and friendly; nothing was ever too much trouble and we were made to feel incredibly welcome. What a beautiful place to be based! It was the start of a really great week…
Perhaps it was jet-lag, maybe pure excitement but I woke early, drawing the blinds on the 11th floor. The sun was rising and had already begun to burn the mist that lay over the Golden Gate Bridge, way off in the distance. The streets began to come to alive as if the city had awoken.
Before long we discovered our favourite areas of San Francisco. North of the CBD, Pacific Heights has some of the most lavish houses I have ever seen and it’s worth visiting for this reason alone. Standing on some outrageous hills, an array of three-story mansions intertwined with telephone lines and the odd cyclist, defeated by the steep incline. Pacific Heights and Mission District are two of my favourite neighbourhoods that in my opinion, epitomise the best of San Francisco.
There are so many places we didn’t get a chance to explore but we managed to see a fair bit of the city. Below you’ll find a list of some favourite spots we visited, incase you want to check them out yourself!
Aside from running the city’s undulating terrain, SightgIass Coffee was on my agenda long before we planned to visit San Francisco. I had heard so many great reviews and it certainly lived up to my high expectations. Minimal and industrial are the cafés interiors, with a huge space dedicated to roasting and packing; the coffee bar is a huge island in the middle of the room, a worthy focal point. Hang your fixie by the door, take a seat and enjoy a drip coffee while working from this creative and productive space.
[Also worth visiting: Four Barrel Coffee]
Walk down Divisadero Street and you’ll soon discover a queue of people, encompassed by an aroma of roasting coffee and freshly baked bread. “This is where everyone’s been hiding!” What more could you want than a daily selection of homemade bread, toasted up with a selection of preservatives and a decent list of coffees provided by the supreme Four Barrel Coffee? The concept is so simple but unbeatable. A perfect example of doing one thing and doing it really, really well.
On our final night in San Francisco, we were recommended Credo for a first-rate Italian meal. Locals always know best. Quotes line the walls, from Martin Luther King to up-and-coming artists; war-related to motivating messages, you are compelled to put down your phone and read every single one. This is definitely one of the more expensive meals we had but it was totally worth it. If you are looking for some really beautiful homemade pastas, look no further.
Best Traditional Meal?
An arms throw from the Loews hotel, we stumbled across one of the oldest restaurants in California from the queues that sprawled out the door and onto the street. Muscle your way through the crowds towards the bar, where an old chap takes your name and shouts when your table is ready. Prices are pretty standard but there’s nothing standard about the fish. Booths separate tables, like an old-fashioned but upmarket diner, our waiter was quick to point out what was fresh and that which was not and we weren’t disappointed with the quality nor the ‘standard’ American portion sizes!
Salt and Straw
Originally Oregon based, I remember hearing about ‘Salt and Straw’ on my visit to Portland. With flavours like Chocolate Gooey Brownie, it’s no wonder a 20 minute wait is the norm. Just a few months ago Salt and Straw launched its second location in Pacific Heights and it was by far the best ice-cream I’ve eaten in the states. I think it’s fair to say we went more than once…
Best Running Route?
Follow the Coastline
In all honesty, our location in the business district made me sceptical that I’d find a decent running route in San Francisco, doing my best to avoid too many hard surfaces but I couldn’t have been more wrong! San Francisco is a marathon runners’ dream. I had a loop planned along the bay area, past the piers and back through the park but during my run I actually decided to go out and back. I was in absolute heaven following the coast! A good variety of hills and a mixture of terrains from trials and sand to gravel. To my pleasant surprise I got caught up in a 10km race from the Golden Gate bridge so I had quite a bit of company on the return.
For me, running needs to be effortless. It needs to fit into my routine which is why this route was perfect.
San Francisco is full of culture, charm and character. With the quirky, quality cafés and popular independent bakeries, you’d be forgiven for forgetting you are in one of the largest cities in the United States. I can recommend staying as central as possible, preparing to travel to the wide variety of surrounding neighbourhoods.