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Golden bridges and island prisons, there are many valid reasons to soak up all the iconic sights in San Francisco. But if you're a serial San Franning visitor, or you simply want to experience something beyond the obvious, here are 10 different things to do in the city by the bay.
1. The breakfast
San Francisco is serious about its toast. Like, seriously.
You may think “toast” as the trivial breakfast option; the morning choice for those in a rush, but not so in San Francisico. Oh no. Toast now has an almost legendary status here, to a point that “toast menus” are as common as your standard (and a trifle boring) lunch menu. From almond butter toast topped with seasonal fruits and fresh ginger, to a thick two-inch slice slathered in marmalade, it’s almost considered an art form. And yes, one piece will set you back approximately $5.40 NZ.
The most famous toast shop of them all is The Mill on Divisadero. With options such as cornmeal rosemary bread with butter and honey, the bread is more of a wedge than a slice, and the toppings are decidedly decadent. Artisanal toast. Hit the road, eggs benny, you’ve been upgraded.
Find it: The Mill, 736 Divisadero Street.
2. The brunch
One too many San Fran cocktails last night? If you didn’t wake up in time for breakfast, treat yourself to brunch at the city’s most acclaimed morning spot – Mama’s. A San Fran institution, this little corner cubby-hole has been serving patrons for over fifty years, and the day that there isn’t a long queue outside, is a very bad day indeed.
For now, fall in. Because you have at least a 40 minute wait, but trust us, it’s worth every second you stand for. With such close proximity to the Pacific, the eggs benny here is a seafood-inspired Dungeness Crab Benedict, and absolutely divine. Those with a sweet tooth should try the French toast sampler, a trio of Swedish Cinnamon, Cranberry-Orange and Banana Nut French Toast. And if you're a time-starved in a morning, you can ditch the queue and head to the bake shop instead. Grab a Poppyseed Bundt Cake for the road – complete with lashings of lemon cream cheese frosting.
Find it: 1701 Stockton Street.
3. The market
Let’s hope you’re in San Fran for the last weekend of the month, because the Treasure Island Flea Market is more of a mini festival than a few stores of bric-a-brac. Boasting hundreds of vendors all showcasing their locally made goods, there’s also live music, two dozen food trucks, stilt walkers and kids' zones. With local wines and homemade ales to put a few more hairs on your chest (ladies beware), make sure you pop into the DIY community workshop before you hit the home brew. Learn how to build something crafty and then pile into the pop-up bars for a beer. The Kids Zone has games, rides and face painters for the children, and the stunning Treasure Island location affords one of the best views of the city.
Find it: 1 Avenue of the Palms, Treasure Island, San Francisco.
4. The art spot
Thank God for artistic expression. Mixing murals with graffiti inspired visuals, Clarion Alley is an explosion of colour and imagination in the form of ever-changing murals created by volunteer artists. As part of the Clarion Alley Mural Project, this free public art is tucked away between Valencia Street and Mission Street, and a constantly evolving canvas of creativity. If you have kids in your pack – or teens and tweens opposed to a “stuffy art gallery”, the Banksy style approach to social anxieties (while sometimes too subtle for a younger eye) is still sure to impress everybody.
Find it: Clarion Alley
5. The museum
Learn more about the man behind the mouse at The Walt Disney Family Museum. He may have passed with over 248 awards to his name but it wasn’t all plain sailing for the revolutionary film maker. You’ll learn all about his life’s work (including the ups and downs) with countless interactive exhibits, as well as never seen before sketches and insightful home movies. It’s not formally associated with The Walt Disney Company, so it’s not so much Disneyland focused but more an in-depth look into the mind of a genius. Included in the ticket price are daily screenings of Disney classics, projected in a Fantasia-themed theatre. Who wouldn’t want to watch Cinderella in all her 1950s glory on the big screen?
Find it: 104 Montgomery Street, The Presidio.
6. The snack
It wouldn’t be a Californian holiday without a bit of donut indulgence. But the sunny Cali state doesn’t ‘do’ Plain Jane so expect your doughey nuts to be a little different in these parts. Joyce and Paul own a dainty donut shop in the San Francisco Sunset District called Twisted Donuts. They’re just a pair of donut lovers with a penchant for ring-shaped fried sweetness - aren't we all. Visit Monday to Friday and they’ll present you with a delightful menu of donut classics: maple, chocolate and custard cream. But descend over the weekend and debauchery gets the better of the donuts. You'll get the couple's twisted flavours, such as s'mores galore, pumpkin fritter and Baconpeno. Amongst others.
Find it: 1243 Noriega Street, San Francisco
7. The shopping
You might not think you want to go shopping in a giant greenhouse. but Crocker Galleria is a hidden shopping pavilion in the city’s financial district, boasting a beautiful glass-arched ceiling. A three-storey skylight glass atrium which houses a healthy selection of mini boutiques, cute stores and pop-up shops, it’s the rooftop garden which is the real crowd-pleaser. Grab something sinfully delicious from one of the restaurants, cafes or bijou bakeries (we’re prone to a gooey Nutella crepe) and ascend to the terrace for a sun-drenched break from your spending. Visit on a Thursday between 11am and 3pm and you’ll also find the local’s favourite farmer’s market. Complete with fresh fruit, vegetables, seeds, preserves and artisan bread. Lest we forget the free samples – more croissant, please!
Find it: 50 Post Street
8. The event
A chocolate festival where all money raised goes to charity. Willy Wonka meets Mother Teresa at the annual Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival.
Ghirardelli, the chocolate synonymous with San Francisco plays host to the city’s annual Chocolate Festival held in the iconic Ghirardelli Square. Lock your lips around one of the nozzles at the Drinking Chocolate Booth, or drop in for a sweet dessert seminar with an acclaimed dessert chef. Join Ghirardelli's own "Chocolate Professor" for a lesson at his much-acclaimed ‘Chocolate School’ or make your way to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Earthquake Ice Cream Eating Contest and watch six ice-cream lovers tackle the infamous Ghirardelli "Earthquake" Sundae as fast as they can. From greedy guzzlers to inspiring chef demos, you won’t be able to move for tasty going-ons.
And if all that chocolate doesn’t make you feel good, this will. 100% of the profits are donated to the non-profit PROJECT OPEN HAND! which provides meals to seniors and the critically ill.
Find it: Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point Street.
9. The dinner
Upscale comfort food is the best kind of comfort food. Why? Because you get both feel-good flavours and high-end quality. Wayfare Tavern details both the décor and ambience of a 19th century tavern, located in the old Wells Fargo Bank building in Frisco’s aesthetic Financial District. Spend a few hours exploring the charming historic streets (mixed with pockets of equally nice modernism) and build up an appetite for the tavern’s comfort food speciality: award winning fried chicken. Served with mashed potatoes and the quintessential all-American sized plate. IE, HUGE. The prices aren’t forgiving (neither are the calories) but it’s a taste sensation that Frisco residents don’t mind queuing out of the door for – so dig deep and enjoy.
Find it: 558 Sacramento Street
10. The bar
Hitting the drinking hole hat-trick, Coqueta has stunning views, great gin and an entire menu of authentic Spanish tapas. Fun, upbeat and located at Pier 5 on the waterfront, this city trend-setter styles itself on the lively tapas bars found throughout Barcelona. Between the paella and bite-size pintxos, you can sip on inventive cocktails and an inherently Barca Gintonic. Or simply order a G&T and prepare yourself for a variant you probably haven’t dabbled with before, such as gin with house anise or acorn tonics. With perfect bay views and the liveliest spot on the city fringe, the energy is infectious and the flavours are suitably frisky.
Find it: The Embarcadero, Pier 5
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