Sometime in March, while browsing Brainpickings and daydreaming in front of a computer in the Ryerson Library, I decided on a whim that I wanted to visit San Francisco after finishing my degree. It seemed like a good place to go for a quiet getaway before transitioning into “real life.” I also recalled learning from one of the local politics course I had taken in second year that San Francisco was one of the most diverse, innovative, and creative cities in the U.S. and I wanted to see it for myself.

If you’re going to San Francisco for the first time, there are some great online city guides (like, SFGate, and 7X7) to use as a starting point. Also, here are some of the highlights from my short (but sweet) trip:

What to see

If San Francisco is anything, it’s photogenic.

On a sunny day, sit by the water at Fort Mason or along Marina Green Dr to read/write while enjoying the marvelous views of the Bay and listening to the soothing sounds of waves crashing into rocks. In the evening, head to Ocean Beach or walk up Telegraph Hill to watch the sun set – it’s breathtaking.

You won’t walk a couple of blocks in the city without being impressed by the eclectic mix of residential architecture. I particularly enjoyed walking along Haight St from Fillmore St towards the Golden Gate Park because it was a visual delight to see the slew of painted murals and colourful Victorian homes.

Where to eat

In SF, finding a good restaurant won’t be a problem, but deciding on a restaurant with the wide variety of options might be.

While walking on Post St, I stumbled upon farm:table, a charming little brunch eatery made up of one communal table indoors and a couple of small tables outdoors. There is a different brunch menu everyday which can be found on their website and Twitter account. My mum tried the steak sandwich with mustard greens and I tried the polenta cakes with mushrooms – both dishes were fresh, delicious and full of flavour. It’s definitely worth a try if you’re in the Tenderloin/Nob Hill area.

After buying some books at Adobe Bookshop (more about this below), I explored the Mission district a little bit and spotted an intriguing outdoor seating area in front of Four Barrel on Valencia St. Inside, the cafe is open, spacious and filled with plenty of interesting things to look at like boars’ heads mounted on the wall, bags of coffee beans on shelves, and a roaster in the back. Oh, and the coffee was wonderful.

On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the farmer’s market at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market offers fresh produce and specialty foods (artisan breads, grilled meats, Korean tacos, porchetta sandwiches) from local vendors who employ sustainable practices. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I had a plate of chilaquiles which really spiced up my life (that day).

Lastly, don’t forget to try the clam chowder in a sour dough bread bowl (every tourist has to) because who doesn’t like sitting in front of something that looks like this?

What to do

Because I didn’t do much planning beforehand, I chose certain neighbourhoods (Haight-Ashbury, Mission, The Marina) or landmarks which appealed to me, explored the surrounding area, and made a day out of it. So if you’re going to SFMOMA (which I really enjoyed and highly recommend), you might as well walk around SoMA…

If you like books, SF will be a treat because there are plenty of bookstores scattered across the city. There is an anarchist store in Haight-Ashbury, a spirituality-focused store on Polk St, and my favourite store in Mission located at 3166 16th St. Entering Adobe Bookshop was like a dream with the seemingly never-ending shelves of books, the yellowed covers, and the musky smell. I bought four books and the most “expensive” one was $4.80… need I say more?

As I ambled around aimlessly in various neighbourhoods, it was obvious that the bustling city had plenty of different activities to offer to everyone, from biking tours on the Golden Gate Bridge to botanical gardens to shows by local music artists. Take a look at the online city guides for recommendations which suit your interest.

How to get around

Like Toronto, the streets of San Francisco are arranged in a grid and the city’s transit system (MUNI) is fairly reliable and easy-to-use, especially if you buy a CityPass.

And if you don’t remember anything else from this article, PLEASE remember one thing: When you enter a MUNI vehicle and the voice-over lady tells you to “Please Hold On.” HOLD. ON. (TIGHT.) San Francisco is known for its hills and riding the MUNI can be similar to riding a roller-coaster. Moral of story: Hold on or you might be: a) rocketed into some unhappy person’s lap/body b) catapulted towards the back of the bus c) something worse.

If you’re curious to see what some of the places/landmarks I mention in the article look like feel free to take a peek at my Flickr.

~ Charmaine Li