I Left My Heart in San Francisco: Holiday Travel

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Photo courtesy: new york elegance via tumblr

In desperate need of a road trip or weekend getaway during “the most wonderful time of the year”? We have a few San Francisco holiday travel spots worth adding to your list. Try our favorite mixture of sightseeing, cultural events, and local cafes and restaurants next time you’re in the golden city.

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Photo courtesy: Gina Speed

San Francisco Holiday Travel Attractions

Our basic 3-day agenda includes the Golden Gate Park, a quick stop at the bridge, China Town, and the Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Planning simple San Francisco holiday travel sightseeing slows down the pace and keeps the trip from feeling over-scheduled. Take a stroll around Golden Gate Park and add the Japanese Tea Garden to your list. A ten-dollar entry fee is worth the zen-like experience of sipping genmaicha green tea in an open-air tea house. There’s plenty of time to enjoy the city so get your fill of nature when the moment allows.

San Francisco holiday travel | Japanese Tea Garden green tea shortbread cookies | Girlfriend is Better
Photo courtesy: Gina Speed

Show-Stopping Performances

The best way to plan your trip is to book the shows you want to see in advance and then be more spontaneous once you arrive in the city. For the 2022 season, our San Francisco holiday travel events included The Nutcracker ballet, Beetle Juice the musical, and Harry Connick Jr.’s Christmas Eve concert. (Beetle Juice is a terrifically irreverent Broadway musical that is on tour through 2023. See if a show is coming to your area!) Take a look at the War Memorial Opera House and Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall calendars for events playing during your planned stay. Consider booking a matinee show and grabbing a meal in the adjoining neighborhood. If you are traveling during the holidays, call restaurants in advance because their holiday hours are not dependable on Google.

San Francisco holiday travel | Nutcracker ballet War Memorial Opera House | Girlfriend is Better
Photo courtesy: San Francisco Ballet

Favorite Coffee Shops

Every girl’s favorite pit stop—the cafe. Always plan on doing a ton of walking during your San Francisco holiday travel. The city has its ups and downs (pun intended) and any place you stop at should feel 100% worth it. In fact, you can plan your walking trips around specific cafes and then route the sightseeing along the way. (Everyone has their own priorities—this is just how we do it.) Number one on the list is Compton’s Coffee House in Japantown. It sits on a little hipster-worthy block of shopping (more on that later) and had the best coffee and pastries on the trip. Next in line and adjacent to Union Square is Mazarine Coffee. They have wonderful toasts and sandwiches and are just up the street from the MOMA. Try the Fig Jam & Ricotta toast and sit by a sunny window; complements of us.

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Photo courtesy: Pinch of Yum

China Town Afternoon

It’s true, everyone is exploring their inner photographer these days. China Town is one of the easiest spots to find photo-worthy shots during San Francisco holiday travel. After doing a little shopping, try a toasty bowl of ramen from Ramen Hiroshi. The restaurant is more than you would expect from the storefront—inside is large and spacious—take a seat down the stairs next to the big wide windows. Service is friendly and quick, while the soups are laden with all of the yummy stuff you need to keep you going the rest of the day. Need a treat? Walk down a picturesque alley to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and pop in to see the landmark bakery in action. Take a few warm cookies—hot off the press and add a few boxes of souvenirs to go. So many pictures of street lanterns, alleyways, and door fronts to be had in this part of the city!

San Francisco holiday travel | China Town Fortune Cookie Factory handmade souvenirs | Girlfriend is Better
Photo courtesy: Gina Speed

Places to Avoid and Places to Stay

If you’ve been to the city once or twice before, there are a few places you can probably skip, and if you haven’t been there in a while, a few places to avoid. Union Square and the trolley are fun but can be a bit maddening with the chain stores and tourists packed together in long lines. It seems to be the beginning of the less desirable part of the city as well. Stay away from the Tenderloin district at all costs! One trip down Jones street is all you need to feel sad and unsafe. Also, just between us, there are a few touristy spots that look much better in other people’s photographs but are underwhelming in person. (The Painted Ladies can be one such attraction.) You’ll find a few as you go that you can check off your list and consider good for next time.

As for hotel stays, we recommend the Financial District, between the Embarcadero and China Town. Keep in mind hotel parking is usually around $85/ day so a hotel near a parking garage can be a cost-saver at $35/ day. Driving around the city is fine but finding parking at your destinations can also be costly so Uber is a convenient alternative. If you are able to upgrade your hotel room to have bay views, the uplifting scenery makes relaxing and sleeping in a gem.

San Francisco holiday tips | Hotel reviews Le Meridien Financial District bay view | Girlfriend is Better
Photo courtesy: Gina Speed

Unexpected Finds

Remember when we said to keep your trip spontaneous? Leave lots of space open on your San Francisco holiday travel itinerary for exploring new places and stumbling upon recently opened spots. The SFMOMA could be one such location, with seven floors of contemporary art and featured exhibitions. (Travel tip: the second floor has a wonderful collection that can be visited for free.) Another find (as foreshadowed above) is Saje, a natural wellness (think aromatherapy) store on one of the best little blocks in town. Walk into scented heaven and find the perfect gift for your bestie. Off the beaten path is Almadura, a quaint, food truck-turned venue that is one of the coziest restaurants you’ll find. Tons of character; a perfect place to share a bottle of wine, tapas, or gourmet tacos.

San Francisco holiday travel | restaurant review wine tacos food truck Almadura cozy | Girlfriend is Better
Photo courtesy: Gina Speed

Plenty More to Explore

The Golden City is easy to travel to and to travel around once you get there. Plan more San Francisco holiday travel days and save some stuff for next time! Taking it easy over the holidays and savoring each spot makes city travel a true vacation.

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