San Francisco – what an amazing city you turned out to be! I was heading to Silicon Valley for work, so decided to spend ~2 days at San Francisco to sightsee and shop, because why the heck not? I was there anyway, after a long flight from Manila to the US – so made sense to stay a bit longer to enjoy the area! And the city certainly didn’t disappoint – so here I am, sharing my 2-day haphazard trip with you (because I figured my work trip would just bore you to death)
Table of contents
What flight should I take from Manila to San Francisco?
There’s a Philippine Airlines direct flight (12 hrs 10 mins) daily from Manila-SF-Manila, so would highly recommend – save yourself some layover time! Plus, the schedule’s pretty great since the flight leaves during night time – so you get to spend an extra day in wherever you are, be it Manila or SF. Side note, movies on the plane were pretty decent – not a wide variety to choose from – but they had some of my favorite jologs Filipino romance movies, and accompanying soundtracks!
Otherwise, I’d recommend you take Cathay Pacific and just fly through HK – although this will add at least 3 more hours to your total travel time! But hey, gotta love Cathay Pacific planes – comfy seats and yummy long-haul food!
What should I pack if I’m planning to go to SF (aside from the usual)?
- A light jacket and cardigan would be good! I walked the entire length of the Golden Gate Bridge and it got pretty cold!
- Walking shoes – you’re gonna do a whole lot of walking here in San Francisco, and while your eyes may love the pretty city – not so sure your feet will be as happy, so make sure to wear rubber shoes or decent comfy shoes
- Moisturizer! Made the mistake of not applying moisturizer the first three days I was in the US, and my skin died – it got all flaky and dry… Pretty disgusting, it’s still recovering from the horrible ordeal
- Camera – because what’s the point of going to pretty places if you can’t immortalize it on your Instagram feeds? Kidding, maybe not…
Do I need to bring a lot of cash (USD) with me?
No need – most establishments, taxis, and Ubers accept credit cards – so I never actually used cash except when I was tipping
Side note: Tipping is HUGE in the US. Super different from Asian countries where service charge is usually embedded into our bills already, or where tipping is frowned upon. Here in the US – you’re expected to tip EVERYONE. From cab drivers to waiters to hotel bellboys, going rate is usually 10-15% of your bill, or around $5 for the bellboy
Head outside and you’ll immediately see a cab stand. Just inform the taxi driver where you live (hotel, address) and off you go! My hotel was near Union Square and my cab cost ~USD 45 + USD 5 for tip. You can pay either via cash or credit card – make sure to ask the driver for a receipt if you need one
Else, you can opt to grab an Uber (did you know Uber originated here?). Don’t worry, the San Francisco airport has free WiFi so connect to that, and book your Uber then and there. Trip will cost you ~USD 45 as well, but apparently, there’s no need to tip the Uber driver (not sure why, but that’s what my driver told me)
I’d suggest you take the cab to your hotel since the cab stop is conveniently located outside the airport – in order to minimize your waiting time. You can then take an Uber from the city to the airport on your way back, since it might be a bit difficult to get a cab in the city
□ □ □
DAY ONE TOUR
- Farmer’s Market at Ferry Building
- Chinatown @ San Francisco
- Coit Tower
- Pier 33 & 39
- Ghiradelli Square
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Lombard Street
- Shopping @ Union Square
Farmer’s Market at Ferry Building
Rise and shine! Farmer’s Market is a joy to visit – with its eclectic mix of organic fruits, vegetables, flowers, meats and eggs, and everything else in between. As a tourist, the Saturday market includes lots of famous local restaurants serving a variety of hot, delicious meals. Even so, it certainly can’t hurt to check out the wide variety of produce this city has to offer, and be amazed by the sheet amount of adjectives they can place in front of a produce name – organic, range free, farm fresh, soy free, gluten free, vegetarian, and so on…
Not only is the market a must-see, but you should also check out the Ferry Building while you’re there. It’s one of the oldest structures on the Embarcadero, at the foot of Market Street, originally opened in 1898
Farmer’s Market is open every Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 8am (S) / 10am (TTh) to 2pm
- If possible, do this on a Saturday as that’s when all the vendors come out in full force, and you’ll see the market in action the likes of which you’ve never seen before
- Go as early as possible, or definitely before noon, as the crush of people then gets unbearable and you’d be stuck waiting in line for a long time
- Walk around first before deciding on which stall to eat from – and don’t buy too much from any one stall. Each stall is unique from the other, and they serve up some really good food, so try to check out as many as possible
Chinatown San Francisco
After eating your fill at the Ferry Market, sedately walk along California Street till you see Cable Car #7. You can either choose to hop on the cable car (which will cost you a hefty $7, but save you the pain of walking up a hill to Chinatown), or you could choose to walk the entire way (just know that the hill is pretty damn steep, and I was sweating quite profusely afterwards)
Walking to Chinatown took me a good 25-35 minutes, with some rest stops along the way as I took photos of random interesting sights. If you’re worried you won’t realize when you’ve reached Chinatown – don’t worry, there’s no way you’ll miss it as you’ll suddenly be assailed by stores and restaurants with Chinese characters alongside their English names
Lucky me – I was there during the Chinese New Year celebration so the area was full of festivity and random activity. As I walked through Grant Street (which is the street running smack dab in the middle of Chinatown) – I saw all these big-name company booths (e.g. McDonalds) where lots of Chinese people lined up to play the game of the day, in the hopes of winning a price (ranging from angpao with some discount coupons, to free eco-bags, to free pens, etc)
Now that I’ve done the requisite Chinatown tour – off I went to see the next SF sight on my to-do list – the famous Coit Tower!
Keep your eyes peeled for the Columbus Street as you walk through Chinatown – it’s difficult to miss – it’s the street running diagonal through Grant Street. Start walking along that road, you’ll notice the change in neighborhood – welcome to the Italian part of the town!
Coit Tower will be to your right, the white firehose nozzle-lookalike perched atop the historic Telegraph Hill. Up to you which street you decide to turn right on – either Filbert, Greenwich, or Lombard Street works. Personal tip is to take Lombard Street
Again, take note that the way up to Coit Tower is pretty steep – aka 45 degree steep hills galore – so make sure to wear comfortable shoes or your feet will curse you for the rest of your stay!
Nevertheless, the views atop Coit Tower is quite majestic – although it will cost you $8 to take the elevator to the top of the tower. Views aside, Coit Tower is also quite famous for the murals found inside the tower – showcasing what San Francisco looked like in the past. Pretty wonderful to be able to witness a bygone era
Now that you’ve seen Coit Tower and a panoramic view of the city, it’s time to take the Telegraph Hill stairs – all 400 of them! Just count your lucky stars it’s all downhill – just imagine if you had to do this uphill… Along the way, you’ll be able to see some quaint houses, and beautiful, blooming flowers if you’re lucky! Once you’ve reached the bottom – you’re now back at Embarcadero!
Friendly tip: One of the famous local establishment is Big Mama’s, well-known for making the best breakfast in town. It gets quite crowded on weekends though, so be prepared to wait for half an hour or longer! If you wish to check this restaurant out, it’s located on the intersection of Stockton and Filbert
From there, you can either choose to hop on a trolley to take you to Pier 39, or walk along the piers. The great thing about San Francisco at this time is that the weather is great – cool but not shivering cold – making it a great time to walk around the city
On the way to Pier 39, you’ll come across Pier 33 – otherwise known as the place to buy Alcatraz tickets / start your Alcatraz tour. If like me, you didn’t think ahead and reserve tickets – and will therefore never enjoy the joy of an Alcatraz tour – drop by Pier 33 and you can see a miniature Alcatraz laid out, with an explanation of what each section is for. Definitely not the real thing – but I’ll take what I can get
Famed for its sea lions (and for the crowds), truly, I felt quite disappointed when I got there. Most of the sea lions were too busy lazing around and sleeping – and didn’t bother waking up to wave to the eager tourists who came in droves to watch them. Imagine that! Oh well, you take what you can get – here’s a photo of their nice sleek pelts shining under the sun
After watching the sea lions, you can also stroll around the walkways filled with shops selling loads of different things – from souvenirs to candies to prankster gifts – feels like anything you’d want under the sun can be found here!
And of course, don’t forget to taste the famous clam chowder while here – you’ll find a restaurant that claims to serve the best clam chowder in town – so make sure to check that out!
If you’re a chocolate fanatic, you’ll probably recognize the name Ghiradelli! Unfortunately, chocolate fanatic, I definitely am not. But if you are, make sure to drop by this square and satisfy your sweet tooth! My personal favorite are the sea salt caramel and mint chocolate. I know – nothing special, but what can you do, when their bestsellers are just so good?
If you’re around this area, you can decide to walk along the Aquatic Park which should give you a nice view of the famed Ghiradelli signage, as well as a long-distance shot of the Golden Gate Bridge
Friendly tip: If you’re pressed for time, you can opt to skip this and just buy your chocolates from the smattering of Ghiradelli stores that you can find around the area
Lombard Street (also known as the Most Crooked Street in the world)
Two ways to get here: either you grab the tram North Point Street, or you walk up the hill to reach Lombard Street. My advice here would be to just walk it – it’s a pretty steep hill (like all hills in this city), but the tram line at North Point St is really really long + paying $7 for a ride that’ll take less than 5 mins hardly seems worth it. You can opt to take the tram from Lombard Street back to Chinatown instead
Don’t think of skipping this attraction as it’s pretty cool to see it in real life – pictures definitely do not do it justice!
Finally! After a long day of sightseeing, it’s now time to reward yourself with some shopping! Head to Union Square and shop till you drop! There’s loads of stores here (from clothes to shoes to Apple to Ghiradelli). While I can’t say anything about the price (winter clothes are very decently priced), the variety is totally amazing! I love it!
□ □ □
DAY TWO TOUR
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Palace of the Fine Arts
- Painted Ladies
- Castro Theater
- San Francisco Shopping Outlet
Golden Gate Bridge
Start the day with this world-renowned bridge, that’s become pretty much synonymous to San Francisco nowadays!
Two potential ways to get here – if the weather’s nice, rent a bike at along Pier 39 and bike to the Golden Gate Bridge. Biking from Pier 39 to the Golden Gate Bridge should take ~30-40mins. If you can’t bike, don’t bother walking it!
Instead, you can opt to grab a bus to the Palace of the Fine Arts and walk from there OR my tip would be to grab an Uber and ask him to drop you off at the other side of the bridge – this will save you the need to walk across the bridge, and come the same way back (the entire bridge spans ~2km, making it a ~45-60 mins walk one-way. So imagine having to do the same walk twice – you’d end up spending two entire hours here!!)
- Check the weather and make sure the day isn’t foggy when you head to the bridge. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck taking photos of a barely there bridge that’s playing peek-a-boo with you. Although to be fair, it does make for nice artsy shots!
- In terms of what to wear, do make sure to bring a cardigan or jacket as it can be quite windy atop the bridge. Believe me, even with the sun shining down on you – this bridge gets pretty damn cold!
Palace of the Fine Arts
From the bridge to the Palace of the Fine Arts, this bridge is again another ~15mins bike ride, or a ~45 to 60 mins walk
I know it sounds far, and it’s honestly a pretty fair distance to walk (although the views are quite nice) – but I would highly recommend this building as it is extremely beautiful, and definitely worthy of an Instagram shot!
Painted Ladies, along Alamo Square
If you’re a fan of “Full House,” then drop by and check this row of houses out. It’s right across Alamo Square so you can chill at the park if you’re tired
Known as the LGBT area, this neighborhood is brimming with life and vitality! I went to this nice Mexican restaurant for lunch here (the name escapes me), but boom! Food here definitely packed a punch, but it was oh so good!
San Francisco Shopping Outlet
This outlet is damn far – don’t let the name fool you, it is NOT in San Francisco. Nevertheless, this is the nearest outlet from the city – and will take you ~45 mins without traffic / ~90 mins with traffic to get here! Shops which I felt had really good discounts: Kate Spade, New Balance, Aerosoles
□ □ □
And that pretty much concludes my 2 days at San Francisco! It’s a beautiful city, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy your trip there as well – till next time!