It may be the place where Tony Bennett left his heart, the setting of the sitcom “Full House” and the hometown of Rice-A-Roni, but San Francisco has much more to offer than a host of pop culture references. From a diverse population to its rolling hills and famed architecture, the small yet bustling city is a must-see destination for those planning a trip out West. And while some consider it one of the most expensive cities in North America, San Francisco can also provide an ideal vacation for a recent college graduate such as myself — or anyone looking to travel on a budget, for that matter.
Unwinding at Dolores Park
There is perhaps no other site in San Francisco where one can experience the city from a local’s point of view than at Dolores Park. Located in the Mission District, the lively spot is a favorite of many natives, its sprawling green landscape covered with sun-bathers, book worms, dog-walkers, guitarists, college kids and the occasional horn-blowing activist. The hill at the top of the park offers spectacular views of downtown and, surrounded by a myriad of Mexican restaurants and taco trucks, one can easily pick up a bite to eat for an impromptu picnic in the park.
Chowing Down in Chinatown
Author Lisette Mejia takes a quick break before heading to the next dim sum restaurant.
I never have a problem choosing where to eat, but the omnipresence of Chinatown’s restaurants made the task difficult for me on a recent trip. (Visitors who, like myself, feel overwhelmed by Chinatown’s vastness will be happy to know that daily waking tours of the area are available.) The choice became obvious, however, after a band of elderly folk playing traditional Chinese music — with harps, flutes and the like just outside the New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant — caught my attention. Inside, I enjoyed authentic Chinese cuisine, which was flavorful yet not at all heavy, and complimentary hot tea. www.sanfranciscochinatown.com
North Beach Bar-Hopping
If you were a fan of the show “Cheers,” you might feel right at home in North Beach. At its neighborhood bars, everybody knows everybody else’s name, and every bar seems to be some group’s local hangout spot. The nighttime atmosphere ranges from lively and upbeat (live bands perform almost every night at Grant & Green Saloon) to just plain kooky (shark jaws, stuffed armadillos and encyclopedias make up the decor at Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe).
Riding the Muni
Navigating the streets of San Francisco couldn’t be easier, thanks to its all-encompassing transit system (Muni). The cable cars, San Francisco’s most famed mode of transportation, are a site to be had, their old-school facade providing not only a lift but a perfect photo opportunity as well. Other vehicles, such as diesel buses, take travelers to virtually any spot in town even up the narrow, windy road to Coit Tower (another must-see landmark). Visitors can take advantage of the 24/7 transportation system by buying $11 passes for a day of unlimited Muni rides.
Passing Through the Presidio (and the Golden Gate Bridge)
San Francisco Golden Gate Park
// © 2009 Kevin Severud
A former Spanish fort, Mexico military base and U.S. military base, the Presidio national park is as rich in beauty as it is steeped in history. With sky-high eucalyptus trees, coastal bluffs, remote hiking trails and scenic views of the San Francisco Bay, the Presidio offers visitors an array of activities. Those searching for a taste of times past can take pleasure in the Presidio’s World War II Memorial, Pershing Square and Infantry Row. What’s more, from the Presidio, one can walk to and enjoy the stunning Golden Gate Bridge, perhaps the city’s most famous draw. www.nps.gov/prsf