Visiting San Francisco for Super Bowl weekend? Take time out to forget about football and enjoy one of the best cities in the world. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Too many people worry they need too much time to explore a new city. Don’t get me wrong. There are benefits to slow travel, savoring and soaking in a destination. But sometimes you only have time for a taste and you need to take advantage of it.
With 10 hours to kill before a recent redeye flight out of San Francisco, I jumped in an Uber, ready to experience as much of the city as I could in less than half a day. I didn’t have a plan, but equipped with a smartphone, an instinct for spontaneity, and a list of recommendations from a friend, I was ready to go. My only objective was to enjoy the California sunshine and see as much as possible in 10 hours. So with my carry-on suitcase in tow, I headed for my first destination.
12:30 p.m.: My Uber driver dropped me off at Twin Peaks, two hills with amazing panoramas of the city and the bay. The weather was stunning: 66°F with a cloudless, blue sky (the infamous SF fog nowhere in sight!). Still wearing my interview attire and awkwardly carrying my suitcase, I hiked up a narrow, rocky path. Looking out, the view stretched for miles and I felt on top of the world. What a great place to start an adventure! After various iPhone pano shots, I headed down the winding road into the steep, narrow streets of the city.
1:30 p.m.: You need to head down to Valencia Street in the Mission to snack and window-shop.
Bowie-loving bags at Mission Cheese. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
Grab the best grilled cheese of your life at Mission Cheese, and then peep inside Dave Eggers’ eclectic Pirate Supply Store at 826 Valencia to spend some time engaging your inner child. Don’t leave the neighborhood until you’ve done a chocolate tasting at Dandelion Chocolate.
You’ll never want to have chocolate anywhere else ever again. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
2:30 p.m.: I hopped in an Uber Pool (most rides around town will cost you under $5) and headed to rent a bike down by the bay. The bike cost $8 an hour, and I was thankful for a place to store my suitcase. The shop owner gave me directions and, soon enough, I was biking along the water, following the San Francisco Bay Trail toward the Golden Gate Bridge. I passed kids playing soccer on Marina Green and rows of fancy motorboats docked in the yacht harbor. Out on the water, 20 Lasers sped around floating buoys in a sailing regatta, while on the beach, dogs scampered in the surf and young children built castles in the sand. After stopping for multiple selfies, I finally reached the Golden Gate Bridge, an iconic symbol of San Francisco and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. This suspension bridge spans 1.7 miles across Golden Gate strait, a remarkable feat of 20th century construction, completed in 1937.
3:30 p.m.: I biked across the bridge, loving every moment of the view — San Francisco on my right and the endless horizon of the Pacific Ocean on my left. Eventually, I got to the vista point on the other side, where I played with the “Marin County” geotag and contemplated my longtime goal of becoming a kite surfer.
Loving this geotag. (Photo: Michelle Riband)
4:30 p.m.: After a speedy ride back to San Francisco, I strolled along the beach and dipped my feet in the chilly water. Then, in a moment of pure magic, the sun set behind the hills, casting hues of orange and pink across the sky. The Golden Gate Bridge has never looked more beautiful!
5:30 p.m.: In the warm dusk light, I walked around the Palace of Fine Arts. This impressive domed structure was originally built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal. Eventually falling into disrepair, the palace was reconstructed in 1965 to preserve its beloved neoclassical carvings and serene gardens. The site is now popular for weddings, art exhibitions, and relaxing strolls.
An Instagram must-stop. (Photo: Michelle Riband)
6:30 p.m.: I returned my bike and collected my suitcase. Then, listening to my favorite jazz playlist, I headed to Fisherman’s Wharf (the Times Square of SF). Dodging crowds of tourists and flashing neon signs, I passed rows of restaurants claiming to be the “best seafood” in San Francisco. Eventually, I made my way to the end of Pier 39, where, even in the dark, I spotted the bulbous, barking figures of sea lions piled on the dock. These animals began congregating here after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. With a plentiful supply of food and protection from predators, the colony has grown to more than 1,500 sea lions — a hugely popular tourist attraction.
7:30 p.m.: I then strolled down the Pier 39 concourse, lined with a magic shop, a tattoo parlor, and a wine bar — something for every taste. Among this eclectic array of stores, I stumbled upon the SF Sock Market, where I casually pursued the racks of colorful tights and socks. I chatted with the cashier, and he asked if I was a journalist because I “looked like someone from a movie.” Wearing my favorite beanie and knit sweater, I was flattered and, in no time, succumbed to this successful sales tactic by buying two pairs of tights.
8:30 p.m.: Time for dinner! I had just received an incredibly exciting job offer and decided to treat myself. Through Yelp, I found Fog Fish Harbor, a highly rated waterfront seafood restaurant at Pier 39. Much to my surprise, I did not feel lonely during this first solo dining experience. Instead, I made friends with Brenda, my lovely waitress, and sipped a glass of white wine as I stared out at the bay.
9.30 p.m.: The chowder was on point, and I felt happy as a clam (*pun intended*) as I enjoyed my delicious meal and precious last moments in SF. In my Uber ride to the airport, I chatted in French with my Algerian driver, discussing the merits of Europe vs. the U.S. and his latest startup idea. It was great to meet someone who, just like me, found himself far from home but loving San Francisco.