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San Francisco Highlights: Getting a Taste of the City

Stopping to lean against the rust orange railings, we feel the vibrations of hundreds of cars thundering by.

The sharp wind blows strong at this height, and the fog, like a living beast, rolls and claws its way across the dry hilltops opposite. Far below, seemingly tiny sailboats skim across the choppy water.

Too chilled to linger more, we hop back on our bikes.

And suddenly, as we roll down into the quaint seaside town of Sausalito, we enter a different microclimate!

The wind dies down, the sun shines warm and we can sit with cappuccinos by the bay.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Bicycling across the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the best things to do in San Francisco!

Bicycling the Golden Gate Bridge

It’s an understatement to say that biking across the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the unmissable highlights of San Francisco.

Bicycling across the Golden Gate Bridge is a San Francisco highlight!

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the city’s most famous icon in pictures or on TV. 

Looking up from the bicycle lane at the 746-foot high twin towers anchoring the massive single suspension span, you can’t help but be awed at this amazing engineering feat.

The Golden Gate Bridge views are truly right up there on the list of San Francisco highlights (no pun intended).

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
It’s one impressive bridge!

San Francisco highlights

If you think you’ve “done” San Francisco, think again.

Sausalito - pretty as a picture!
Sausalito – pretty as a picture!

There are many different San Francisco neighborhoods to explore. (And as it’s one of the most dog-friendly cities in the U.S., you’ll likely meet all sorts of pups and pooches when you’re walking around.)

Wonderful hip boutique hotels in San Francisco beckon you to stay. (This time, we’ve swapped out boutique for ritzy at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco.)

And there are many layers of the city to peel.

No matter how you visit San Francisco – whether as part of a Northern California road trip, by driving from San Diego to San Francisco or perhaps by flying in – the city reveals new and different facets to discover.

On this getaway, we want to indulge in the city’s food and wine.

We’re not ashamed to admit we love eating…

At the foodie-worthy restaurants at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

On Indian food.

At the best Puerto Vallarta restaurants.

We stopped at the Palace of Fine Arts on the way to the Golden Gate Bridge
We stopped at the Palace of Fine Arts on the way to the Golden Gate Bridge

And, hey, San Fran started the “eat local, eat fresh” movement.

It’s hailed as one of the best food cities in the world.

So you have to count food and wine as a highlight, right?

Eating? We’re not ashamed to say we love it!

But staying somewhat active is important to us too. And we want to experience something more edgy than simply visiting the usual touristy sights.

Best San Francisco restaurants


Italian spaghetti at SPQR, one of the best restaurants in San Francisco
Italian spaghetti at SPQR, one of the best restaurants in San Francisco (Credit: SPQR)

We reflect on this over dinner one night at the Michelin-starred SPQR on eclectic Fillmore Street.

Tiny SPQR packs them in with Chef Accarrino’s inventive and exquisite pastas, like his buckwheat tagliatelle with braised suckling pork and smoked fettuccine with sea urchin, bacon and quail egg.

Fog Harbor Fish House:

You can't miss chowing down on seafood at Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco.
You can’t miss chowing down on seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf

We ponder this some more another night at Fog Harbor Fish House at Fisherman’s Wharf, as we crack whole garlic-roasted crab, soaking up the delicious buttery garlic sauce with crusty sourdough bread.

Le Colonial:

Delicately prepared Vietnamese food tempted our taste buds at Le Colonial, San Francisco (Credit: Le Colonial)
Delicately prepared Vietnamese food tempted our taste buds (Credit: Le Colonial)

And we think on this further at Le Colonial.

As we sample delicate Vietnamese offerings there, rattan furniture and lazily turning fans transport us back to 1920s Indochine.

Food at Le Colonial, San Francisco
Mmmm… The Vietnamese food is delicious (Credit: Le Colonial)

Other things to do in San Francisco

Running, hiking and walking:

Perhaps we should slip in a run to burn off some of the calories?

We could do a scenic six-mile run starting from the DeYoung Museum and winding through the Presidio’s man-made forest, incorporating several hills and viewpoints.

A little further afield in the Bay area, there are some incredible East Bay hikes through woods and regional parks. Talk about stunning scenery and exercise!

For something less strenuous (with food as a reward!), we could do a Chinatown walking food tour.

Or we could do a five-mile urban-jungle jaunt, climbing quaint staircases and an unmarked trail to the summit of Twin Peaks, with Urban Hiker.

We choose to walk, walk, walk everywhere in the city proper on our own.

Sailing tours:

We also opt for a sailing trip on a large catamaran with Adventure Cat that whisks us past the rocky prison island of Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Alcatraz, San Francisco
Sailing past Alcatraz

This is no gentle sightseeing granny cruise.

We’re under sail 90% of the time, blasting through white caps on the bay.

It’s exhilarating and gives us a real feel for being out on the unprotected Pacific.

Sailing in San Francisc Bay
It’s a breezy, breezy sail!

SF Jazz Center:

To excite the soul, we’re told the all-glass and state-of-the-art SF Jazz Center blows the roof off with performances by the Alfredo Rodriguez Trio and 14-time Grammy winner Herbie Hancock (but that will have to wait for our next visit).

Back to the table

Later, we return to the goal of eating our way through more great restaurants in San Francisco.

And with somewhere up to 5,000 restaurants, there’s no lack of choice!

Tosca Café:

The re-invented Tosca Café in North Beach reels in the crowds with its crispy pig tails appetizer and cream-cloaked lumaconi pasta topped with lemon breadcrumbs.


Coqueta on the waterfront is another of our fave San Francisco restaurants.
Coqueta on the waterfront is another of our fave San Francisco restaurants (Credit: Coqueta)

Coqueta is also much-hyped.

On the Embarcadero waterfront, this 50-seat show-stopper has wood floors, cowhide rugs and views of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

It features a Spanish-influenced menu of tapas like duck-and-pork meatballs and grilled razor clams with salsa verde, along with paella.

Paella, anyone? (Credit: Coqueta)

Highlights of San Francisco

No doubt about it.

We’re impressed by the city’s food offerings and outdoor activities.

This won’t be our last visit to San Francisco!

Discover more of the USA!

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Planning your next trip?

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San Francisco highlights

Photo credits: 2 to 5, 8, 11, 12 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase

About the authors:

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Becky Padmore

Wednesday 22nd of October 2014

Love this post, takes me back to our time in San Francisco. We did the same cycle route although it was so windy we almost got blown off our bike!


Monday 18th of August 2014

I love San Francisco, especially the food tours (ever done the Mission Point or Ferry Building walking tour?)

Janice and George

Monday 18th of August 2014

No, we haven't done the food tours - something for next time :-).


Saturday 9th of August 2014

Visiting San Francisco was one of my favorite trips all time. We also biked over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, it was an incredible experience so was Alcatraz and pretty much everything we did in San Francisco. Ooh I so miss this city and the delicious seafood.


Tuesday 5th of August 2014

What a great town! And what an interesting tour you two have taken. Would absolutely love to visit San Francisco in this manner (OK, except that crazy running tour :)). Thanks for sharing!


Sunday 3rd of August 2014

Janice, We go to SanFran almost every summer, but we skipped it this year. I haven't thought of biking the bridge. Might have to do that next time around. I do love eating much good food!