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Five Great Things to Do in San Francisco

Last September we went to San Francisco for the wedding of our son to our beautiful daughter-in-law.  While we were there we learned about some great things to do from them.  I’d like to share their favorite places and some insider tips.

1   Visit the  Japantown Mall 

You step into authentic Japanese turf at the Japan Center. The area around Post and Buchanan Streets has been called Nhionmachi or Japantown, since the early 1900s.  Expect to find food, massage, retail and even studios for taiko drumming, sumi brush painting and ikebana (flower arranging).


2.  BE sure to go to North Beach.  

North Beach district was named after a beach that once extended from Telegraph Hill to /Russian Hill, but has long since been built up by landfill.  Now synonymous with “Little Italy” it was once the home to prostitutes who came in the 1850s, attracted by the Gold Rush.  Irish filled in and then Latin Americans.

In the 1950s Beatniks loved North Beach and soon the area was filled with jazz clubs, poets and coffee houses.   Today the population is almost 50% Chinese.

Now it is a great place to soak up the atmosphere and eat Italian.  Justin and Clara recommend eating at Calzone’s outdoor seating (great people watching) or Panta Rei for something more trendy. Grab a drink at Vesuvio (sit on the top deck) or Cafe Trieste after dinner.  They are all very S.F.

3.  Eat at Cliff House 

San Francisco families used to make day trips from the big city to sun at this resort spot, originally built in 1863.  It burnt to the ground in the late 1800s–actually a couple of times. The structure built in 1909 was restored and expanded with a new light filled modernist building with two story Glass walls not too long ago.  It’s a great spot to eat and enjoy the view.  Love the gentle music performed on a balcony.

Do walk Ocean Beach and the Sutro Baths afterward.   Be sure to make a reservation and if you want to be assured of a window side table, make it early.  Most of the tables look like they have good views though.    There is also a replica of a Parisian Zinc Bar.


 4.  Go for a run or walk on Crissy Field 

This is a Bay side beach near the Palace of Fine Arts with  lots of dogs. You can walk along the water and up to Golden Gate Bridge.

Be sure to  touch “Hopper’s Hands”  which is a plastic molding of hands that runners high-five to mark that they’ve made it to the bridge.

The plaque is named for a Golden Gate Bridge iron worker, Ken Hopper. Hopper helped construct the bridge and worked as a suicide rescue volunteer. He noticed people slapping the fence as they ran each morning, so he asked a bridge painter to paint a picture of two handprints for runners to hit and two paw prints for the accompanying dogs.


 5.  Visit Little Saigon near Larkin & Ellis,

Eat at Turtle Tower for Northern Vietnamese cuisine (VERY hard to find in the U.S.).  Or have banh mi Vietnamese sandwich with Vietnamese slow-drip coffee (condensed milk at the bottom).  This area of town is a bit quiet, so great to do en route to somewhere else or as a stop before Union Square.

This is what the San Francisco Chronicle says about the area.

“With its active Vietnamese American community and its many Vietnamese American-owned businesses, the Tenderloin in San Francisco has often been referred to as “Little Saigon.” For part of the neighborhood, the name is now official.

The city recently recognized the two-block corridor of Larkin Street between Eddy and O’Farrell streets as Little Saigon, a designation on par with Chinatown and Japantown.


If you are in town on a Friday night, don’t miss “Fort Mason “Off the Grid” –

Off the Grid  happens on Fridays 5-10pm.  This is when food trucks park at Fort Mason.  Organizers put out picnic tables and people enjoy live music while experiencing SF food truck culture (not as extensive as in NYC, but still great).




Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Barbara Rohwer
    Dec 7, 2012 Reply

    “Beach Blanket Babylon ” should also be on everyone’s list of things to see. It’s been playing for over 30 years and is the longest running musical revue in theater history. Love the tip about “Off the Grid”.

  2. posted by
    Barbara Rohwer
    Dec 7, 2012 Reply

    Beautiful Son and Daughter-in-law!!

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