Tourists in San Francisco

Transamerica Building by Paul Ferney

By Gabrielle. Painting: Transamerica Building and The Bay by Paul Ferney.

My dearest friend from France, Caroline, came to town yesterday. What a treat to have her here! It’s Caroline’s second time in the U.S., and her first time on the West Coast. For dinner last night, she ate her very first taco!

I’ll be splitting my time between work and hosting this week and I’m really looking forward to seeing the area through Caroline’s eyes. This afternoon, she’s going to take a hop on/hop off bus tour to get an overview of San Francisco, and this morning, we’re going to catch the boat to Sausalito from the Ferry Building and have lunch across the Bay.

The Bay by Paul Ferney

In addition to touristy things, Caroline also really wants to see things like Target, and big American grocery stores, and popular chains they don’t have in France — like Old Navy. All the stores in France close by 6:0o or 7:00 PM, so I think it will be fun to blow her mind with a shopping trip to Target at 9:00 at night. : )

P.S. — Caroline is here till next Monday. We’ve started putting together an itinerary, but we’re still new enough here that we’d love your suggestions!

34 thoughts on “Tourists in San Francisco”

  1. When I hosted an exchange student from Europe while I was in grad school, I took her to Super Walmart to go shopping and to fix her glasses. Her mind was blown!

  2. welcome to the US again Caroline – this time west coast! :)
    Let’s see – definitely suggest a drive out to the redwoods (only in america and worth it; definitely a drive on big sur coast too with a stop at big sur bakery). Definitely an afternoon in Carmel… In town, dinner at the slanted door and mission chinese; tacos at a taco stand/truck…a walk through chinatown…a drive over the golden gate…dim sum somewhere…love the SFMOMA but there is so much fun to be had in San Francisco. Would also suggest a copy of Tortilla Flat or Cannery Row to remember the trip by…

    1. Oh merci beaucoup Ania.Venant d’une voyageuse aussi aguerrie que vous, je suis certaine que tous ces conseils de visites sont les meilleurs ! Je reste toujours autant admirative ( et envieuse )de tous vos voyages :)

  3. I had some friends from Brazil this summer. Taking them to Target was certainly a highlight! I’ve never spent so much time in Target, nor have I spent so much money! But they were so thrilled with the prices and the variety of things they could buy…and also the convenience. Have fun with your friend!

  4. Second on both the Berkeley Bowl and on the Redwoods. The variety of produce at Berkeley bowl will impress and delight, and the redwoods are very unique and beautiful to California. Costco also might be fun (like the European “Metro” stores). If she wants to check out a variety of bulk spices in Oakland, there’s always the food mill. Also, if you make it down the coast, Monterey bay aquarium is the best, and there is a great greek place there on Tyler Street called Epsilon.

  5. *DON’T MISS* Bakesale Bettys in Temescal for the best fried chicken sandwich ever (bonus: Amys Garden, the cutest kids store is two doors down). Those Yelp reviews don’t lie! and our local go-to spot is Grand Lake Kitchen near Lake Merritt. Ici Ice Cream on College Ave. at Ashby always has creative flavors. Check their twitter account for the day’s flavors before you go!

    In the City, we also love Mission Chinese and Izakaya Sozai for authentic Japanese food (stay away from J-town!). For a quick pick-me-up, the food court in the bottom of the Westfield in dt SF/Union Square has good food options, like the Little Door, the Slanted Door’s casual sister restaurant. Be sure to hit Uniqlo while you’re in the area! R&G Lounge is great for crab, and on the edge of Chinatown, so you can take a walk through there after you’ve stuffed yourself full. Be sure to stop in at Golden Gate Bakery for authentic Chinese egg custards while you’re in the neighborhood. The wait is totally justified!

    SFMOMA is closed for renovations, FYI. But, if you are a member of the Oakland Library, you can get free admission for one adult and one child (per library card) to the California Academy of Science, which I think is an amazing experience for adults and kids alike. Reserve your day online and print out the pass. You also get free admission to other great spots such as the Asian Art Museum.

    Last year my family took a “mini-road trip” to Half Moon Bay and went tide pooling. The drive along the coast is so scenic!

    Also, we like going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and stopping at the Gilroy Outlet Mall on the way home.

    Also, I second Berkeley Bowl West (the parking is so much better and the store is bigger too)! BBW over Fairways any day.

    Have a great visit, Caroline, and enjoy playing tourist, Gabrielle!

  6. Unfortunately, Muir Woods with the redwoods is a national park and thus closed during the government shutdown.

    I really enjoyed going to the free observation tower of the de Young Museum at Golden Gate Park for 360 degree views of SF.

    Another favorite experience was the view as we drove down the hill toward the Golden Gate Bridge, the lovely painting of which you included in your post.

  7. How fun! I lived in the Marina for 2.5 years and prided myself as the live in tourist. I did everything there was to be done in SF and around. One of my favorite days: lunch at Swan’s Oyster Depot, a long walk up California to Grace Catherdal (so gorgeous), snacks and the views at Top of the Mark at the Mark Hopkins and a trolley ride back down California. I miss that city! You guys enjoy!

  8. If you take a day trip to Santa Cruz, you can see amazing Redwoods in Henry Cowell State Park and beaches. If you have the kids with you, they’d probably enjoy the boardwalk and the wharf with its sea lions.

  9. I love showing people around!

    Japanese Tea Garden is always a hit. (Golden Gate Park) Be sure to sit in the Tea Cafe for some tea and sandwiches.
    Dim Sum at Yank Sing.
    Cavello Point in Sausalito for brunch and good views.
    Park Chalet on a warmer day.
    Buena Vista for an Irish Coffee.
    Sutro Baths/Land End (not sure if it’s open due to shutdown)

    man I could keep going…

  10. First you should come visit a loyal reader (i.e. me) at the University of San Francisco (:

    Otherwise, there are interesting things in every neighborhood here! If you want the traditional tourist experience, Pier 39 is awesome, as is the Ferry Building where you get free samples of the most amazing almond bark and good cheeses. Go to the Mission to see anything trendy and have great, albeit slightly overpriced, food. Haight is awesome for the “hippie” vibe of San Francisco and houses my favorite restaurant, Blue Front Cafe (delicious Mediterranean food). Then there’s North Beach, my all time favorite neighborhood. You can visit the Beat Museum there for just $10 and take a look at the historic City Lights bookstore.

    Also: visit Twin Peaks! It’s amazingly sunny today so you’ll get a really good view of the whole city. (Usually it’s too foggy).

    And again, come visit a poor girl avoiding her Biology homework.

  11. If you can…go to Santa Cruz. Make a stop at Gayles for some princess cake and go eat it on the benches overlooking the cliffs. You won’t regret it. :)

    Go to Napa and look at Redwoods. Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of my favorites. The trip down there if you drive Highway 1 is amazing.

    Ummm take her to Trader Joes.

  12. I *just* came back from my first trip to SF. My favorite attraction was by FAR the Musee Mechanique [Pier 45, at the end of Taylor Street], home to tons of crazy working vintage coin op automatons and games, with some retro arcade games thrown in for good measure. Just make sure to bring a lot of quarters and/or small bills. I ran out and was very sad I did not get my fortune told. =(

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  14. Taking the ferry from Jack London Square to the Embarcadero is fun too if you have not already done so. I also like to take visitors to Angel Island for a day trip. You get really nice views of the city and the bridges on a clear day.

  15. Caroline sounds like my kind of traveler. I love seeing what the grocery/big box stores are like in other countries even though my husband thinks its a bit weird!

  16. This reminds me of family coming to visit from overseas. They wanted to see the Statue of Liberty…. and CVS and the Dollar Store. They were at the Dollar Store for over two hours! My grandmother ended up getting on the plane with a plastic swan planter. Every time I went to see her, I got a kick out of the wild orchid growing in that plastic swan.

    I hope you and Caroline have a lovely visit!

  17. Thursday night at the Academy of Sciences – it is 21+, so no kiddos allowed, but it is much less crowded (and much less expensive!) than going during normal hours. It is a real treat to see such a special place in the evening hours.

  18. What about Calaveras Big Trees for redwoods? (I think that’s a state park..a drive, but amazing.) Also, the hang-gliders at Fort Funston.

  19. Some of our favorite views: Muir Beach Overlook (!!!), panoramic views from the Lands End Trail, Baker Beach with the GG bridge framed so beautifully. I think Coit Tower is really great for views too and then you can walk down the steps from Telegraph Hill (Are there still parrots there?) A picnic on the grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts is always memorable too!

  20. Do you know about the San Francisco City Guides tours? They are free, but you can tip at the end if you want to contribute to their program. There are lots of different ones, all led by knowledgeable volunteers. I’ve been on four or five of them and have always found them interesting.

  21. I am over in North Bay and think Sausalito and the redwoods and Mt Tam in Mill Valley are nice spots to bring visitors….

  22. I know you’ve been with your family, but I have to suggest a trip to Fenton’s. My dad grew up in the bay area and told me about black and tans for my whole life. I finally made it there this past May and it was every bit as outstanding as I’d imagined!

  23. I love love love the Oakland Museum of California. It is divided into galleries for california art, california history and natural sciences. The art section is my favorite, history is interesting and the natural sciences is very very cool now but more fun if you have kids along, in my opinion. Picnic in the beautiful sculpture garden (pro-tip: entrance to the sculpture garden is free for everyone during museum hours).

    For more amazing Mexican food head to Fruitvale or get bahn mi or pho traveling toward downtown on International. Cam Huong on International is my all-time favorite place for bahn mi and it is connected to a yogurt shop now. If you want the best Thai/Lao food at extremely reasonable prices but not a hole-in-the-wall atmosphere, Champa Garden at 8th Ave. and E. 21st st. is the best I’ve ever had. Get the Lao sausage appetizer, it is amazing and I think homemade. I prefer lunch because dinner can get really busy, I don’t even try on a weekend evening.

    Oh! Maybe a movie at The New Parkway where the seats are all couches and chairs with funky vintage furnishings so it feels like a living room. That seems like it would be a very unique experience for a visitor. The also have a large food and drink menu so you can eat in the theater. The nachos have a homemade bechamel-based cheese sauce which is really fantastic.

  24. Oh also, was going to say my favorite redwoods excursion (since Muir Woods is maybe closed) is the Russian River valley and the areas around Sebastopol, Occidental, Monte Rio, Guerneville. Drive the windy, redwood-lined backroads. Armstrong Redwoods outside Guerneville is a popular state park. Occidental is the cutest town ever, The Union Hotel is a great place to take a big group for pizza. Freestone, between Sebastopol and Occidental, has the amazing Wildflour Bakery. There are also of course wineries and apple picking this time of year, especially along the Gravenstein Highway (named for the Gravenstein apples.) Stop at Sam’s market outside Sebastopol for gallons of Gravenstein cider to take home. Oh geez, also Screaming Mimi’s in Sebast for amazing ice cream.

    This trip also gives you the option of making a loop on your way up or driving back down to include the coast highway and Sonoma Coast state beaches (Bodega Bay also) or head a bit further north to visit the Russian Fort Ross for more CA history.

  25. If you want to have a picnic day with the family on Sunday, Off the Grid does a Presidio Picnic at Main Post in SF — get a taste of all the good local food trucks, see what all the fuss is about. Really makes for a great day outdoors (especially with the weather being so nice these days)! There are some serious picnic-ers out there with a lot of fancy gear to help make picnic-ing comfortable and chic. Bring a frisbee and a deck of cards. Great, authentic SF weekend experience!

  26. I’m reading and responding to this a bit late, but…. I highly recommend a visit to Point Reyes National Seashore. There are so many hidden treasures there – beautiful beaches, cattle ranches, tiny towns. The town of Point Reyes Station is a great place to stop for a meal – lots of good eateries, and there is the Cowgirl Creamery cheese factory where you can see their divine Mt. Tam being made. The little town of Olema also has a great stopping place, the Olema Inn. So much to see, it’s a great day trip. Hope Caroline is having an enjoyable time – the weather looks as though it has been perfect on your instagram photos!

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