It’s hard to fully describe my love for the west coast. Maybe it’s because I live closer to the east coast, so it’s a different vibe than I’m used to. Maybe it’s because the temperature never seems to go below 55 degrees. Or maybe it’s because I have quick access to the beach, the mountains, the city and wine country. Whatever it is, I love visiting California. Recently, I spent a week in San Francisco and had a magical time. When researching what to do in San Francisco, I knew my priorities were to walk the city, visit the beach, go on a hike and eat incredible food. To be fair, this is the third time I’ve visited San Francisco (but never stayed a whole week in the city!) so this time around I wanted to do slightly different things.
We spent the week in San Francisco because my husband had a work conference out there, and I tagged along! We ended the trip spending a weekend in wine country — but more on that later. I spent some time alone, some time with friends and some time with my husband. You can do any or all of these things alone or with people. If you are planning a trip to San Francisco for a week, consider using this insider’s guide for help!
Where to STAY in San Francisco
- The Fairmont San Francisco: This is where we stayed, and it was magical! It is an iconic hotel right in the middle of everything. This gorgeous hotel gives you the 5-star treatment at a surprisingly low cost. We will definitely be back!
- JW Marriott: We knew people staying here, and it is a bit closer to Union Square. It’s affordable and just what you would expect from a Marriott.
- Hotel Vitale: If we didn’t stay at the Fairmont, this would have been my next choice. This boutique hotel is on the Embarcadero, on the water and next to the Ferry Building. Such a fun location! Pricing here is similar to the Marriott as well.
Where to EAT in San Francisco
- Blue Bottle: Must-visit coffee shop all over the city. my favorite one is in the Ferry Building. Their coffee is great, and they have special street waffles that they hand you in coffee filters – so fun! They are the best waffles I’ve ever had, hands down. Grab the New Orleans iced coffee, too!
- Nopa: Nopa specializes in organic wood-fired cuisine, with seasonal ingredients sourced from local purveyors. It was a short ride from our hotel, and we made reservations in advance. This was one of two of my favorite meals the whole week! The warm goat cheese appetizer and the pappardelle were delicious.
- Foreign Cinema: This is a really cool spot for drinks or dinner. They have an outdoor courtyard with string lights and heaters (no humidity in SF = chilly nights), and there’s a rotation of movies they play up on the side of the building. I’ll be honest, the food wasn’t that great, but the atmosphere is amazing so I would recommend for drinks.
- The Progress: This Michelin Star, James Beard award-winning restaurant was my other favorite meal on this trip. It is innovative and trendy, and each course was better than the next. We shared the quail egg roti with wagon wheel fondue & farm greens, the pork and kimchi dumplings, and the bone marrow served with pickled radishes.
- Cowgirl Creamery Cafe: My favorite little cheese shop now has a cafe! This is a great lunch spot and is located in the Ferry Building. Grab one of their infamous grilled cheeses and take it outside along the waterfront. You can’t go wrong here.
- Fred’s Coffee Shop: This isn’t technically in San Francisco, but if you are there, you have to go over to Sausalito! This sleepy fishing town is so dreamy, and it’s a great excuse to go over the Golden Gate bridge. It was a short 20 minute ride from our hotel. This unassuming breakfast place had the best omelette (avocado with bacon, pepper jack cheese and pico de gallo), famous french toast, eggs benedict and mimosas.
- Bar Bocce: While in Sausalito, take a stroll along the water and end up having lunch at Bar Bocce. There is a great outdoor area with a firepit, bocce ball court, little beach and outdoor seating. They have fantastic pizza and pitchers of blood orange sangria. This is a really fun afternoon hang out!
Where to DRINK in San Francisco
- Tonga Room: At the bottom of the Fairmont is the Tonga Room, a tiki bar and lounge. You instantly feel transported to Hawaii with live music and on-the-hour rainfall. Be warned – the drinks are stiff!
- Eno Wine Bar: This cozy wine bar is a go-to place for happy hour drinks. They have so many choices, and they offer wine flights at a great price. I got one of the white wine flights and was very happy/impressed. We also ordered their cheese plate, which was great.
- Fairmont San Francisco rooftop garden: I didn’t get to spend as much time here as I wanted, but this mini outdoor oasis in the middle of the city is a great place to read a book, grab a drink or see the view of the city.
- Foreign Cinema: Like I mentioned earlier, this would be an awesome spot for a drink with the projected movie and string lights.
What to DO in San Francisco
- The Ferry Building: This historic landmark is a staple every time I visit San Francisco. It’s in a great location (on the water), offers fabulous food and has many stores ranging from a quaint bookstore to local home goods stores. Plus, there’s an outdoor farmer’s market on certain days!
- Trolley Ride: Even though I’ve been to the city before, this was my first time riding the trolley. It’s a fun way to see the city and be a part of the culture. It is a little noisy, but the views make up for it. One of those things you should do once!
- Baker Beach: How have I never been here before?! This slightly hidden gem is a MUST when you plan what to do in San Francisco. I seriously could have spent all day here (but I did spend about two hours!). This beach is a quintessential California beach with incredible views of the Golden Gate bridge and locals with their dogs. I even picked up a few tips from friendly people here!
- California Coast Trail: After spending time on Baker Beach, I trekked up the hill to the California Coast Trail. This stretch of hiking had the most breathtaking views I’d ever seen. It was not a strenuous hike, but I definitely got a workout in.
- Union Square: Shopping, shopping and more shopping! This pocket of town has many different shops and is a great area to walk around. I spent most of my time in Zara (oops!) and popping into local shops. There are tons of places to eat, as well. This is pretty busy and is more of a tourist area, FYI.
- Fillmore Street: If you want to be around more locals and have a slower pace of shopping, head over to Fillmore Street. There’s a good mix of high-end and low-end, along with national brand and local boutiques. My two favorite places here are Credo, a natural beauty and skincare store that I LOVE, and Polka Dot Consignment. I don’t typically shop in consignment shops (too much clutter), but I am SO glad I went into this one. In case you need an incentive, I found a black Helmut Lang dress that was originally $800 for $30. There’s cute cafes over here, as well.
- Sausalito: As I mentioned earlier, make sure you carve out at least half a day to visit Sausalito. A fun way to get there is to bike over the Golden Gate bridge and down into Sausalito. Walk around the town, grab some food and when you are ready to head back to the city, take the ferry across the Bay! You can take your bike on it, or if you took an Uber over the bridge, you can just hop on the ferry to come back.
Quick side note: Have you ever used the Park ‘N Fly at your airport? I just recently used this airport parking at BNA and had the best experience! It’s super affordable — like cheaper to drive myself and leave my car there then to take an Uber there and back. Plus, I like to take early morning flights so I can maximize my vacation, and I struggle with getting Uber or Lyft to pick me up on time at 5am or 6am. Check it out and try it next time you fly!
Use this guide to plan your trip and what to do in San Francisco. The city has so much to offer, and there is something for everyone! If you are visiting San Francisco soon, let me know if you want any other recommendations or have any questions. Until I go back, I’ll just be reliving this trip and scrolling through photos.