This is part 7 and the final post of a TBT Travel Series: A Taste of California. Check out these posts on why I picked California, how I saved money on travel, the magic of hiking in Malibu, why you shouldn’t miss the Getty Villa, the sacredness of friendship, how the mountains will wreck your plans, and what hiking Yosemite taught me about friluftsliv.
Remember how on Full House, the Tanner family was always happy? I always assumed this was just because it was a 90s sitcom, all of which were cheesy and portrayed an abnormally high quality of life. Having traveled to San Francisco, I now see that they were always happy because they lived in San Francisco, the most perfect city in the history of all American cities. (Note: Seattle is now a very, very close contender for me. But the sunshine of San Francisco is just unbeatable.)
Spectacular, panoramic views of rocky coastline, sprawling city, and architectural feats.
Endless options for expertly brewed coffee.
And everyone has a dog!
What isn’t happy about this place?
Our friends Jon and Jessie recommended that since we’d only be in the Bay Area for one day, we should rent bikes so we could cover as much ground as we could in the Marina District. The good stuff is spread over about 5 miles, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the west to the historic Ferry Building Marketplace to the east.
There is so much more we would have loved to see of San Francisco. If we’d had more than one day, we would have visited the Mission District and Haight-Ashbury, Tartine Bakery and the wineries of Sausalito. But confined as we were to our 24-hour window, we decided to cover just the classics—the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay, sourdough bread, and Ghirardelli ice cream.
Renting bikes was the best decision we made during the whole trip. They were pricey, and definitely a big indulgence for us, but we had budgeted for it and knew this would save our tired feet from miles of walking and allow us to see so much more in our short time.
We rented beach-cruiser bikes from a charming little shop (San Francisco Bicycle Rentals, a fitting name) on Jefferson Street in The Cannery. Our hotel was in Russian Hill, and this place was about a mile walk in the direction we were headed anyway. Their standard daily rate is $30 per bike, including a lock, helmet, and saddlebag, but we pre-booked online and got each bike for $24. Still an indulgence but a $12-cheaper indulgence.
We rode around some less-crowded sidewalks at first, and once we got used to the wobbly feeling of the wide-set handlebars, we took off down The Embarcadero toward the Ferry Building. This part of San Francisco is incredibly bike friendly—the bike lanes are nearly as wide as the car lanes and are set off from the road by medians. These lanes even have their own traffic signals.
We arrived at the Ferry Building, and our first order of business was a stop at Blue Bottle Coffee, where each cup is an expertly hand-crafted pour over. The line for this tiny coffee bar wrapped around itself four times. It took about 15 minutes to get through the line, but once I took a sip of the piping-hot, perfectly smooth, not-a-single-trace-of-char-or-acidity coffee, I knew I would have waited at least an hour to get my hands on it. I am an unashamed coffee snob, and this is hands-down the best coffee I have ever tasted. It’s now the standard by which I judge every other cup—and more than a year later I still haven’t found one that measures up.
We picked up a mascarpone-stuffed zeppole (an Italian donut) from a sweet woman at a little table-shop and headed out to the benches to gobble up our treasures and soak up the sun and views of the Bay. Dan and I alternated bites of zeppole with sips of coffee, letting the coffee mix with the flaky dough and wash it down, unable to keep clean as the cinnamon-sugar coating stuck to our lips and chins and dusted our laps with sugary snow.
From there we wound our way back through Fisherman’s Wharf, stopping for the famed sourdough-bread sandwiches from Boudin Bakery.
We packed the sandwiches into our saddlebags and set off in search of a grassy knoll with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
This was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. Sitting on the soft grass and inhaling the scent of saltwater. Watching scores of people walking, running, and biking with their dogs. Enjoying bite after bite of crusty, chewy sourdough, fresh mozzarella, and garlicky pesto. Letting the breeze ruffle my hair and cause goosebumps on my skin. Looking over at Dan and saying “Can you believe this is our life today?”
We then biked over to the base of the bridge and decided to cross it. You guys, I had no idea the Golden Gate Bridge was so grand. I was prepared to be disappointed by the hype (it’s just a bridge . . . right?), but standing at the base, looking up and out over it, I was amazed by the amount of planning, talent, and sweat that must have gone into its creation. This bridge is a work of art.
It’s also very high above the water, so I had no desire to bike across it. Standing on it, just a few feet out, was enough for me. But Dan wanted to say he’d crossed it, so I caved. I just prayed the bridge wouldn’t collapse while we were on it.
Crossing the bridge was terrifying for me, but it was also exhilarating and breath taking (from the beauty and the anxiety) and absolutely worth it. The cliffs of Sausalito look like another country, what I’d imagine the coastline of Ireland to be like, and then on the other side, the sprawl of the city.
We finished the day by rewarding ourselves with mammoth ice-cream sundaes from the original Ghirardelli’s. It’s the stuff dreams are made of, folks.
Looking back, I wish we’d spent multiple days in San Francisco over LA, and we will undoubtedly return when we can spend a few days or a week. And next time, I absolutely will not miss Tartine Bakery’s famed croissants and tres leches cake.
Until then, San Francisco.