An Insider’s Guide to The City by the Bay
Did you know that our thruway bus service can deliver you into the heart of San Francisco from Emeryville or Oakland, stops on the Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor routes? Although we’ve got your transportation needs covered, we wanted to leave the tourism tips to a local. We caught up with Angela Petersen, avid traveler, writer and Texan calling San Francisco home for insider tips on what not to miss on your next trip to The City by the Bay.
Amtrak: We can all buy a guide book, but it’s harder to explore a new city like a local. What are the five best insider attractions of The City by the Bay?
Angela: 1) First, I’d send you to 24th Street in The Mission, especially the section between Folsom and Bryant Streets. It’s one of the neighborhoods most first time visitors to San Francisco don’t seem to know. Much of the surrounding area is rapidly gentrifying, but 24th Street will still give you a feel for the Latin American heart of the Mission. It’s filled with taquerias, bakeries, local markets, and colorful street murals. Don’t miss Balmy Alley.
2) Next, I’d recommend seeing San Francisco from atop Twin Peaks, one of the highest spots in the city. Anytime is beautiful, but the best time is a little before sunset. It’s also a great way to watch the light change and maybe see San Francisco’s infamous fog roll in almost at eye level.
3) Most visitors already know about San Francisco’s Chinatown. It’s one of the oldest and the largest outside of Asia. But they don’t know to visit Clement Street in the Inner Richmond just north of Golden Gate Park. It’s often called the new Chinatown, and it’s typically where locals go for all types of great Asian food within blocks of each other. There aren’t the same picturesque pagodas, but it has it’s own unique charm. Don’t forget to bring a jacket. It really does get colder the closer you get to the ocean!
4) While you’re out there, Lands End is on the far western edge of San Francisco, right along the Pacific Ocean. You can’t come to Northern California without seeing our rocky, beautiful coastline. Near the Visitors’ Center you can see Ocean Beach and the ruins of Sutro Baths, a once extensive, privately-owned bathhouse. Most people stop here, but you should pick up the Coastal Trail on the north side of the Visitor’s Center. It’s a short hike filled with beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can either follow the short loop back towards where you started, or you can continue along the trail all the way to the Presidio and Baker Beach.
5) Finally, you shouldn’t miss the Ferry Building during the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market. Locals are regulars here too. The Saturday market is special for lots of reasons. The fruits and vegetables for sale truly showcase the seasons and abundance of California’s Central Valley, but it’s also the only time that Primavera sets up shop at the market with their sought after Mexican breakfasts, including chilaquiles, tamales, aquas frescas, and much more.
Amtrak: There is a lot of ground to cover in San Francisco. How do locals get around the city? Any tips for visitors besides wear comfortable shoes?
Angela: Most locals get around the city using some combination of public transportation, Uber, and walking.
Public transportation is easy to navigate and routes can be found in Google Maps. To make it even easier, buy yourself a Clipper card at any Walgreens, and load it up with cash. Then just you can swipe it and go. It’s good on both BART and Muni (buses). Just know that if you’re riding the bus and trying to exit from the back door, you have to step down on the step before the doors will open. Locals will helpfully shout, “Step Down!” at you if you happen to forget, but knowing will make you look like a local.
San Franciscans also tend to rely pretty heavily on apps like Uber and Lyft, as you might expect in a city known for tech innovation. Taxis can be hard to find especially if there’s a Giants game, a street festival, or even just a little rain.
My preferred method of getting around, is walking. It’s the best way to see San Francisco in all it’s unique detail. Locals usually have a good memory of which streets are especially steep, and we often plan our routes around them. If you find yourself staring up a particularly steep hill, it’s entirely possible that walking a block or two in either direction will mean a less grueling climb, but you can’t beat the rewarding views from the top of San Francisco’s hills.
Amtrak: With so many food options in San Francisco where should a rookie head for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but most importantly dessert?
Angela: For breakfast, I’d send you to Blue Bottle Coffee at Mission and Fourth Street in Mint Plaza. It’s some of the best coffee in the city, and this is their only cafe with a full food program. Their breakfast is legitimately good, especially their pastries. Another favorite I can’t resist mentioning is B Patisserie in Pacific Heights at California and Divisadero. It’s more of a trek from the parts of town where visitors typically stay, but if you do go, you’ll be richly rewarded with Parisian quality croissants and gorgeous views of the neighborhood’s stately Victorians.
For lunch, I’d suggest going for Italian in North Beach. Molinari’s Delicatessen, right off Columbus Street, can’t be beat. It’s been in the area since 1896 and will give you a feel for what North Beach was like during it’s hay day. It was a favorite of Joe DiMaggio when he lived in the area. Their sandwiches are as big as they are good.
For dinner, Zuni Cafe is a quintessentially San Francisco experience. They’re known for made-to-order Caesar salads and their whole roasted chicken, which takes an hour to prepare in the brick oven situated in the middle of the restaurant. It’s simple, delicious California cuisine.
And (most importantly!) for dessert, I’d recommend Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in Hayes Valley, where you can linger here over one of their many desserts with a glass of wine or a cocktail. Their chocolate pot de creme, made with Valrhona chocolate, is creamy and intensely chocolaty. Or, if you want something more casual, head over to brave the line at Bi-Rite Creamery. Most people love the salted caramel flavor, but my favorite is brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl.
What are your favorite insider spots in SF? Let us know in the comments section below!