The little less than touristy tourist guide to San Francisco

I’ve been in the process of planning a trip to Iceland, it’s a halfway point for my brother and sister-in-law to meet up with me as they live in Germany.  During the planning, I was trying to figure out where to stay as I wanted to be able to stay both in Reykjavik and a cabin in the middle of nowhere – I’m hoping to see the Northern Lights while I’m there and thought it was more likely to see in the middle of nowhere without light pollution.  Giving AirBnB another try, as a lot of people in Iceland seem to use the service, I booked a cabin in nowhere and an apartment in Reykjavik.  While chatting with my host, I discovered she will be in San Francisco while we are hanging out in her apartment.  Since I know a little about the area, I thought I should pass it along to her.  Then it occurred to me that I should probably just write a blog about it and let the interwebs have an all access pass.

I pseudo grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.  My father moved to the South Bay when I was in middle school and I spent every summer there until I was an adult.  My sister moved to San Francisco in the early 2000s and I would usually spend a couple of week with her every few years.  From my past, I know a little more than a tourist would about the area, but less than anyone who lives there. So, here you go.

I’m about to visit my dad for my annual trip to the Bay Area as it is Chinese New Year and both my brother and dad’s birthday.  I sent my itinerary to my father so we could work out airport pickup/drop-off and his replay was, “Are you ready for In-N-Out Burger, Dim sum, Won ton soup, Beef Chow Fun, Hot Pot, Pepper and salt fried fish?”

My father has always been straight forward with his one line emails.  He also knows me very well, as I am a foodie at heart and feel that the SF Bay Area has the best Chinese food in America – I should know, I’ve eaten Chinese in almost every region of the country.  So, to start out this post, I will list some of my favorite places to eat.

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
Area – The Mission
This is one of my sister’s favorite bakeries.  She had her Wedding Breakfast here, which was a feat, as there is not a lot of seating and definitely no reservations.  I was impressed that we managed to grab a large table outside to fit (mostly) everyone.  It was a little tight but well worth it.  Tartine is a world recognized bakery, known for their extremely complicated recipes.  You can buy a cookbook, but you will soon see that you probably would not make anything in it.  Best to just stop by their shop and pick up some items instead.  It’s not easily to find as, if I remember correctly, there isn’t a sign.  Just look for the long line outside their door.

Philz Coffee
Area – All over the Bay Area, so Google them to find your nearest location
I remember my first visit to Philz.  I was overwhelmed and unsure what to do.  There is a very large list of coffees on the wall and a bunch of baristas hanging out ready to take your order.  Don’t fret.  If you are unsure of what you would like, let them know and they will guide you to something you might enjoy.  It’s helpful to know how you like your coffee when you arrive but other than that, you should be fine.  I remember I didn’t know if I liked dark roast or light roast.  I didn’t know if I really like sugar or cream in my coffee.  Do I like soy milk instead?  I was very unsure of my coffee decisions.  Now I know I like medium roast with cream – no sugar.  Try it with cardamom, they will throw it in while it’s brewing.  My sister loves it this way.

Mission Pie
2901 Mission Street
Area – The Mission
In the mood for a tasty treat?  While you are wondering around the mission, stop by Mission Pie for breakfast, lunch or a snack.  I find they start to run out of items towards the end of the night.  Always delicious and always fresh!

Dynamo Donuts
2760 24th Street
Area – The Mission & Marina
These guys put bacon on the map.  Well, at least bacon topped maple glazed donuts.  Stop by, grab a donut or two and head over to Philz for your coffee.  I’m sure these guy’s coffee is delicious too, but I’m partial to Philz.

Burritos in the Mission
Area – The Mission
My sister obviously lives in the Mission, so this is the area that I know best.  While you are wandering around you will see a bunch of taquerias.  You can pretty much stop at any of them and have a good meal.  I would suggest googling to find reviews on the best one nearest the spot you just happen to be walking at the moment.

In-N-Out Burger
Area – All over the Western part of the US
If you haven’t heard of In-N-Out Burger yet, you either live outside the country or live under a rock or both.  In-N-Out Burger is a California staple and I must have it at least once every time I go to California.  They have a simple menu, but don’t forget to look up their secret menu before you go!  I always love their Neapolitan shake.
If you are in San Francisco, there is only one location which is of Fisherman’s Wharf.  If you are in that area and don’t have a car, I would hit up that location.  If you do have a car or will be traveling outside of SF, you might happen upon another location.  I would suggest going to a different location if at all possible.

Koi Palace
365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City
Area – Daly City
If you are in the mood for some dim sum and want to find a good place to go, this the place we normally hit up if we want to be closer to the city.  It’s a short train ride from San Francisco, so you can easily access it.  The food is good, although a bit on the pricey side but the view is excellent. They also serve on carts, so if you are new to the Dim Sum game, you can point at something and ask what it is.  Make sure to check when they are serving Dim Sum.  It’s normally served during Brunch hours on Saturday and Sunday.  Otherwise, it’s a Chinese seafood restaurant.

Jade Cathay
1339 N 1st Street, San Jose
Area – South Bay
If you have a car or are already in the South Bay, this is a MUST. When I am in California I always have to hit up Jade Cathay for some dim sum.  They have some of the best I’ve ever had, and that is saying a LOT.  My family has been following around the owner and chef of this restaurant for years.  So much so, that they are now friends. Honest truth, BEST DIM SUM EVER!!! Not an easy place to get to if you are just visiting San Francisco.  But if you have a car, or are planning on being in the South Bay, you must try it out.

What To Do

Okay, you have browsed through my foodie obsession, or at least scrolled past it on the way to find out what to do.  Here is a list of the things I like to do.

Fisherman’s Wharf
Yes, this is a touristy part of town, so chances are that you will end up here anyway.  If you do come to take a glimpse of the seals or a walk on the pier, make sure you check out the hidden gems.  Grab all your extra quarters and head over to Musée Mécanique to play with antique arcade machines.  It’s a museum, so you can just look around or you can actually play with the machines!  If you don’t have quarters, don’t worry – they have a change machine in the building.

If you are on the adventurous side, walk over to the where all the fishing tour boats launch.  I believe it’s right around Pier 41.  They normally have small boats that tour the bay.  It’s better than the big ferry boats because you feel every wave and the guide is more personal.  I have never felt so small as I did when on a little chartered 24 foot boat gilding under the Golden Gate Bridge.  Price vary and it’s not the cheapest thing you do, but I believe normally more respectable than the big ferry boats.

If you are up for a little stroll, walk down the Embarcadero, about 2 miles from Fisherman’s Wharf in the Ferry Building (Pier 1).  It has a lot of little shops and places to eat. It’s a great spot of shop, rest and people watch.  They normally have some sort of market outside the building as well.  If you don’t want to walk, you can catch  MUNI that will take you down the length of the Embarcadero.

The Mission
If you are in the Mission checking out all the yummy food options, make sure to take a walk down Valencia Street.  There are a bunch of unique shops that you won’t find in any of the touristy parts of town.  Want a stuffed head of a jackalope?  Or some art made by actual artist in San Francisco? Yup, you can probably find it here.

Not only are there great little shops, it’s called The Mission for a reason.  Yes, there are Missions, well at least one that I know of – Mission Delores.  Check it out. It’s cheap to enter and awesome to see.

Chinatown(s) and Japantown
San Francisco has two Chinatown locations.  There is the original, or Old Chinatown, where all the tourist go, and the New Chinatown where all the Asians go.  If you are looking for good Chinese food at a good price, I would suggest checking out New Chinatown off Clement Street.  If you want to see what a traditional Chinatown looks like, then make sure you check out Old Chinatown off Grant Avenue.  There is also a Japantown which surprisingly has a lot of good Korean Restaurants. They plan special events which you can check out here.  If you are in the city during the spring, then you can see the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Deloris Park is where all the hippies go.  If it’s a nice day out and you just want to sit and relax, this is a great spot for people watching.  Grab your blanket, some munches and to head over.  It’s easy to get to off MUNI. Beware – if someone offers you a baked goodie, it has an extra special kick to it.

Ocean Beach is one of my favorite spots in the city.  It’s a great view of the beach and a lot of little caves that tuck away.  It’s kind of like hiking in the city, on the beach.  If you want to go to a beach, I suggest this one.

Cable Cars
You have all heard about the Trolleys, but did you know San Francisco host antique cable cars?  Each one is lovingly restored to its original glory and has information on where it came from.  I tend to ride them when I’m going down California Street. They have a bunch of shopping of California, but it’s all the big box stores.  If you are visiting for another country and want to pick up some supplies, then this is a good place to shop for places like the GAP.


If you are in the mood to be in the great outdoors, San Francisco Bay is a great spot to be!  There are plenty of trails to hike year round.  If you have a car, head up to Muir Woods to see the Coastal Redwood trees that grown over 300 feet!  If you don’t have a car, I found this little guide from the local TV station KQED, very helpful.

Of course, there is always the walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.  If you find yourself in Sausalito on the other side of the bridge, make sure to check out the little town.  It has great little shops and restaurants.  During the summer there is also an ice cream shops that I used to hit up after the walk.

Well, there you have it.  The things I like to do while in San Francisco.  Since I’m about to head over there again, I’ll try and write a post if anything interesting comes up.  Otherwise, look out for my post of Iceland.  Also, if you have any tips you would like to add, leave them in the comment section!

Thanks for reading!

-Meandering Mason

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