I’m sure you’ve been noticing a lot of travel articles this summer, but what can I say? I’ve been a busy girl! I recently traveled to San Francisco to meet up with three important women in my life—my mom and two of my aunts, Laurie and Marlene. When I was growing up, Aunt Laurie and Aunt Marlene were the two aunts who lived in town, so we spent lots of early holidays together. I was the flower girl in my Aunt Laurie’s wedding (yep, the one who wouldn’t drop her petals). And my Mom is one of my best friends. So, it’s wonderful to now have adult relationships with these amazing women and be able to spend a weekend away with them.
How does this help you? Well, our weekend would have made an amazing bachelorette bash. We had so much fun! So here’s my stellar weekend in San Francisco. This weekend is best for those who aren’t interested in or have already done the top tourist destinations. If you’ve already walked the Golden Gate Bridge, been to Chinatown, seen the sea lions and paid a visit to Alcatraz, or if those common attractions just don’t interest you, then this weekend line-up is for you. Leave your own suggestions for a great weekend in San Francisco in the comments!
Arrive at your amazing pad in the Mission District. This was my first time using Airbnb to book a house and the experience could not have been better. I don’t throw around the word “sick” to describe apartments very often, but I will for this three bedroom decked out in mid-century modern furniture with deep blue and neon pink walls and pops of patterns in the supersoft throws. I seriously wanted to pack everything into my suitcase to redecorate my own apartment…or just move in. A huge kitchen in the back was the perfect place to gather for a nightly wine and cheese happy hour while the cool San Francisco breeze came in through the back garden door.
Spend your first night exploring everything the Mission’s 24th St. We created our own progressive dinner, hitting up taquerias, bakeries and bars and darting in a few quirky bookstores and artist co-ops. We loved the sangria and salt cod appetizer at Roosevelt Tamale Parlor and the ceviche tostadas at El Farolito, but the road is simply lined with great Mexican food, so take your pick!
Start the day off right by making a stop right around the corner at Dynamo’s Donuts. We found ourselves instantly addicted to these things, from the tangy lemon thyme to the sinful maple bacon.
Sign up for a mural tour with Precita Eyes Muralists. The Mission District has a rich history of muralizing the streets and, especially around 24th St., almost every corner is covered in two-story art. Taking a tour really helps you appreciate what you’re seeing and leads you to alleys and corners you wouldn’t typically have stumbled on (some streets are completely covered in murals). Our guide was a muralist herself and was able to explain some of the religious, historical and political symbols that pop up throughout the art, as well as the deeply respectful culture that surrounds the mural community in this neighborhood. Even if you are not a tour person, you’ll enjoy this—it feels more like you’re meeting up with your passionate artistic friend for a stroll (ask for Carla, she’s the best!).
After your tour, spend time exploring the cute shops the Mission has to offer. I made you this nifty map to help you find your way around the neighborhood (click here to download a full-size PDF: A Mini Guide to San Francisco’s Mission District. The shopping list is definitely incomplete, but Valencia is lined with quirky home goods stores, vintage clothing shops and used bookstores from about 20th St. all the way up to Hayes Valley. You can find lunch or dinner (and plenty of treats) at the fabulous cafes and shops in the area. Stop by Dolores Park to enjoy the sunshine and a croissant from Tartine Bakery or a salted caramel scoop from Bi-Rite Creamery.
Finish your night by hopping in a cab to the late showing of Beach Blanket Babylon, a classic San Francisco show that’s been running for 60 years but feels like it was written yesterday…because it was! The show is a musical revue full of the latest figures in pop culture and politics and is constantly rewritten to reflect the latest news. I was in San Francisco only a few days after the birth of Prince William and Kate’s baby George and all three made an appearance in the show. It’s silly and fun, and the costumes are almost the best part.
This afternoon’s agenda includes an amazing food tour, so work up your appetite with a morning in Golden Gate Park. You could spend hours exploring the park, so pick what appeals most to you. For garden lovers, there’s the Japanese Tea Gardens, the Conservatory of Flowers, and the Botanical Garden. The artistic can check out the permanent collection at the de Young Museum (make sure to climb to the top of the Hamon Tower for panoramic views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge). The California Academy of Science is right across the street and includes its very own domed rainforest. For a bit of whimsy, hike out to the windmill and tulip garden or take a ride on the restored carousel.
My number one recommendation for Golden Gate Park is to rent a surrey. These two- or four-person contraptions can be pedaled around the park and make for plenty of hilarious pictures and some harrowing near crashes… (There may or may not be a video of me somewhere on YouTube trying to pull an illegal U-turn. Some guy in a truck filmed it. Please let me know if you locate this footage.)
For the afternoon, book a food tour with Gourmet Walks. We ate our way through Hayes Valley, sampling cheese and wine, bahn mi and macaron, freshly frozen ice cream and craft beers. Try not to eat before this tour. Like, seriously, I recommend showing up starving. Because you get a lot of food. Way too much food. Delicious, delicious food. One of my favorite stops was Arlequin because of their amazing back garden. Sunlight streamed through the trees as we enjoyed a cheese plate and glass of California chardonnay. There are lots of cute bars to turn your food tour into a drinking tour for the night. Some of my favorites were Noir, for the retro industrial decor and oversized leather chairs, and Two Sisters Bar and Books, for the designer cocktails and real lending library. And since Hayes Valley borders the Mission District, it will be a cinch for you to hop on a bus or even stroll home when it’s time to wind the evening down.