California Adventure: San Francisco!

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And now for something completely different….

I’ve decided that it’s time to start documenting our vacations because:

  1. I love finding blog posts with personal travel tips and suggestions.
  2. I like to be helpful.
  3. I’ll be honest with you: we tend to do it up right.

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My darling husband Bryan surprised me with a birthday trip to San Francisco and wine country last week! What?! I love him. Look at him. He’s the sweetest, the cutest, and the sneakiest! He let me in on the secret just a few days before we departed. And. I. Got. To. Planning. Now, I’m a plan it all out so we don’t miss anything and throw it out the window if you need to kind of gal. So, we’re scheduled but flexible. Capiche?

Let’s do this….

Friday —–

We stayed in Union Square, and it was hopping when we arrived from the airport at midnight. We dropped our bags at Serrano Hotel Union Square and were quite happy with our choice! The room we were in was small and decorated in the more traditional style – which we loved – but they do have larger, more modern rooms. It was clean and as quiet as can be hoped for in the midst of a city on a weekend, which was of most importance. We’d definitely stay here again.

Hot Serrano Hotel Room Tip  Request a quiet room, away from the elevator and on a higher floor away from street noise. 1401 is great!

Hot Parking Tip – You really do not need a car in the city. It is totally walkable, plus there are quite a few public transportation options – including the famous cable cars and trolleys – and Lyft and Uber are both here. If you must drive, do not valet! It’s crazy expensive. There is a parking garage in a circular building at the corner of O’Farrell and Mason with the most reasonable prices in the area.

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A ‘speakeasy’ style bar with fancy cocktails is usually a no-brainer for me. Tradition was right around the corner from our hotel, so I’d made a reservation online for 11:15pm; but, as our flight was delayed, we missed it. I knew we could just walk in and at least hang by the bar, so we waltzed in around 12:15am…and promptly waltzed out. The music was so loud! It looked pretty cute, with enclosed private booths lining the walls (where I’m guessing we’d have been with our reservation), but I do not need a thumping beat in my head at midnight after a long, turbulent flight (Never again, United). If you’re looking for the ‘IT’ speakeasy in San Francisco, go to their sister bar Bourbon & Branch, which is right across the street. That one is supposed to be quiet and laid back; it even states on their website to keep your voice down. You will definitely want to reserve on their website as they are reservation only and book up fast.

Instead of our fancy cocktail plan, we got takeout gyros from The Halal Guys. It was delicious: no regrets.

Saturday —–

Despite our late night arrival Friday and the two hour time change working against us, we still managed to roll out of our very comfy bed at a decent hour. We decided to skip the expensive, crowded cable car to walk instead. San Francisco is supremely walkable, especially if you’re city folk like us. We didn’t use any form of transportation the entire day and ended up walking twelve miles in total: so many Fitbit badges. It’s the best way to see the city. Truly.

The Buena Vista Cafe

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Clang! Clang!

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Buena.Vista

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Home of the world famous Irish coffee! It’s true; their napkin says it. The same bartender served us who served Bryan when he was here years ago. Pretty sure he’s world famous, too. 😉 We sipped our frothy eye-opener at the bar and looked back at the lovely view.

Fisherman’s Wharf 

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Not today, Alcatraz!

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Bears are one of my spirit animals.

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As I’d never been to SF, we did the oblig trip to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s pretty touristy and just a step up from our own (much loathed) Navy Pier in Chicago. Still, some lovely views and the chowder in a bread bowl at Boudin San Francisco Sourdough is totes delish. We did peep into The Pearl Factory on the main drag and had a nice chat with the salesperson. You can open an oyster to find your own pearl, which they will then set for you, if you’d like. Definitely touristy, but kind of fun, too.

Pier 39

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Bark, bark, bark! So much barking….

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We continued our stroll down to Pier 39 to gawk at the seals. Why are they there? We have no idea, but they’re quite entertaining. We did walk through the shopping center, but really only to get back through and, you know, use the loo.

Chinatown

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Rahr!!

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San Francisco is known for having THE Chinatown in the U.S.; it’s the largest outside of Asia and the oldest in North America. When we arrived early in the afternoon, it was bustling. Sure, there were some tourists here and there, but mostly it was the local Chinese population doing their Saturday marketing.

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Vital Tea Leaf – If you like tea even a little bit – and we love it, duh – then this is a MUST! No reservation needed, just walk right in and have a seat. We were given the most comprehensive tasting and demonstration – seriously, we were there for an hour and a half – by a gentleman from South Carolina; I cannot remember his name, but he was awesome. Uncle Ghee, the owner, was there as well giving a demonstration and tasting to another couple. If you’re especially interested in the medicinal benefits of tea, this is the place to go and ask questions! The tasting is free, but you’ll want to buy some of their amazing tea to take home with you. We left with a half brick of pu’erh and a special brewing pot. Hands down our favorite experience in Chinatown. The best.

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Good Mong Kok Bakery – We stood in line for their char siu bao (pork buns), but they were unfortunately out. The vegetable buns were amazing, though! Any takeout place worth their salt in Chinatown is going to have a line out the door. It really does not take long to get through, though, so don’t be shy. Get in line!

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Hon’s Wun Tun Won Ton House – This is a little hole-in-the wall with just a few tables and a counter: nothing fancy. We saddled up to the counter and ordered the first item on the menu: the won ton soup with ramen. It was affordable and so filling! By the time my stomach could take no more, I still had a bowl full of noodles: very generous portions. If you’re reading Tripadvisor reviews, ok, yes: the bathroom – and the stairs down to it – totally out of a horror film. But I didn’t go there for the bathroom, I went there for well-made, traditional won ton soup! Plus, if I’m honest, it kind of added to the experience. I’m weird that way.

Tonga Tiki Room & Hurricane Bar at The Fairmont

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Tonga.Tiki.Parrot

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Rainstorm!!

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We’re a little windswept here but having fun!

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This place looks like it belongs in Disneyland! We went for happy hour: 5pm-7pm. You can make a reservation online, but you can also do as we did and just show up and stand at the bar or on the dance floor. A band plays in the evenings on a floating stage. When you hear thunder, watch for the rainstorm! Drinks are pricey but strong and delicious. If you want to go for dinner – which we did not – you will want to make reservations on the website.

*Note: That super amazing first photo was taken by my friend Dima when he was passing through SF a week later. As I surmised, the band plays for dinner but not for happy hour. We’ll certainly go back when the band is playing!

Pagan Idol Tiki

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Pagan.Idol

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The front room of Pagan Idol is more intimate than Tonga, but there is also a fabulous back room that was closed for a private party when we arrived. I’d say the drinks were a more imaginative twist on classic tiki drinks. It’s a small bar, and they do fill up quickly on a weekend night. We were lucky enough to grab a cabaret table at the front before a big group in pirate costumes walked in! We had a great time here.

Hot Tiki Tip  San Francisco has several tiki bars. The one most highly rated by my go-to tiki blog – yes, I have a tiki problem – is Smuggler’s Cove; however, I have heard it gets uncomfortably crowded. We didn’t make it there this time, but it’s on my list for next.

Waterbar

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Look at this lovely couple and that view behind them! My friend Carol lives in San Francisco, and she and her sweetheart Anthony treated us to a very swanky dinner. Waterbar offers unbeatable views of the Bay Bridge, great seafood, and an extensive wine list. This is a wonderful splurge option.

Local Edition

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Moody speakeasy type cocktail bar in the basement of the Hearst building. The walls are lined with old typewriters, and there’s a small stage where a jazz ensemble typically plays on Saturday nights. We either missed them when we went or it was so late they’d finished their set. You will absolutely want to make reservations on their site, if you’d like a table. I don’t even want to tell you the shenanigans that were pulled to score this booth. Carol is full of mischief.

Woosh! What a day!! You’d think that we would have immediately crashed and burned when we got back to the hotel but I think we were both a little hopped up on the excitement of the day, so we didn’t get to bed until 2:30am!! 2:30am?? Who are we? We’re usually 10:30pm and out people. The time change was working against us still, I suppose. Anyway, our adventure was just beginning as the next day we moved on to wine country. I’ll save that for another post, though. 🙂

To be continued….

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