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48 Hours in San Francisco – 6 Worthy Things We Found While Exploring the City by the Bay

We weren’t in a mad dash to fit in the touristy top ten, and I think because of that we were open to just experience the city.

“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great…” ~ Jack Karouac

This was the perfect quote to sum up our experience of the streets of San Francisco.

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Quick… What do yo do when your job lands you an overnight, all-expense paid trip to San Francisco {lodging and airfare included – yes, I know, we suck} for an evening cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge? Well, you jump on it of course! And then you extend your stay by at least a day and explore!

We’d had just under forty-eight hours to experience the city and no desire to hit the ‘tourist top ten’. This article on Conde Nast Traveler, while maybe not its intent, inspired us to ditch planning to a certain extent. We still did some recon but we mainly just wanted to explore. There was no way we were going to do and see it all in forty-eight hours, so let’s see what it was we could find. We were in search of a unique experience.

Here are six discoveries worth sharing from our San Francisco adventure…

Uber

I know, hardly unique to San Francisco.

Still, San Francisco is the birthplace of this disruptive technology and so I think worth mentioning here. Besides, what cooler place to pop your Uber cherry than where it all started? Okay, so maybe we need to get out more {we are working on that} but this was our first chance to try it out. And I have to say, Uber really was one of the coolest parts of our trip!

Uber is an adventure in itself. To find out more, stay tuned for a coming post!

The Comstock Saloon

Winner, winner chicken dinner! Who doesn’t love free food?

Lured in by the dark silky wood and the potential of good beer on tap, we happened upon the Comstock on Free Lunch Friday where an order of two drinks earns you a free lunch. Happy to take them up on the offer, this was a great welcome to our temporary neighborhood. The bartender, complete with bow-tie and unkempt shirt, complimented the old-time feel of this historic pub that dates back to 1907 and the Barbary days.

Thankfully they run the place a little different than back in the day. A comment about the age of the place and the patrons it has likely seen through history brought on a story from the bar keep explaining that a lot more than elbows have shuffled up to that bar.

Evidently, the gutter was used for more than just a spittoon. The taverns use to be standing only, no bar stools. And the establishments, as a tactic to get the patrons to remain at the bar installed the gutter, not just for a spittoon, but also that the gentlemen would not have to, ehem, leave their station …if you know what I mean.

Gross. Glad that is a custom that has changed with time.

The Gardens at Golden Gate Park

We visit gardens. Is that an old people thing to do? I don’t think so. I’m not old. I am addicted to growing things, though. You should see our home base. So, yeah, when we go places we visit gardens.

The Conservatory of Flowers

Caught off guard by how flipping windy and chilly the San Fransisco weather was at this time of year, we decided to first  visit the Conservatory of Flowers knowing that a giant greenhouse was going to do the trick to warm us up.

More orchids than I ever knew existed and giant carnivorous plants fill this victorian conservatory to the brim. The plants are complimented beautifully by the ornate metal work and colorful glass designs.

The Japanese Tea Gardens 

The oldest public Japanese garden in the United States, the history of this place is sad. I can’t imagine what it would have been like for Mr. Hagiwara to have poured so many years into this place to just lose it all when he and his family were sent to internment camps during World War II and then not allowed to return. I wonder if he had any idea, way back when he was tinkering in his garden, that so many people would be coming to enjoy it all these decades later.

This is a beautiful place that I could just sit for hours. Well, maybe not. We decided the line at the teahouse was too long to wait. We did grab some really nice bamboo chopsticks from the souvenir shop that our Japanese and Asian Airbnb guests have been putting to good use back home.

Devil’s Acre

Cocktails with purpose!

This place is quite the apothecary, serving up cocktails targeted at various health concerns. As for me, I wandered in with an upset tummy and was drawn to the ginger beer, a non-alcoholic beverage made from scratch with ginger juice, lime, and black pepper. This was hands down, the best ginger beer I have had (okay… maybe second to Maine Root). But this was made from scratch, and totally something I am going to have to figure out how to make for myself.

Jack Kerouac Alley

Between Grant and Columbus Avenues.

I am not exactly sure what lead us to walk down this alley. Maybe it was the alluring mural painted onto the side of the Vesuvio, an eclectic looking place that maybe we will visit it next time. This time, we were much more enchanted by this storybook alley filled with quotes from two sides of town and meeting together at a swirl in the center. The quotes give a sense of community and brotherhood.

I didn’t want to leave this alley. At that time of night, the lights were almost entrancing.

The restaurant at Fort Baker / Cavallo Point

Located at old Fort Baker just across the Golden Gate Bridge, Cavallo Point Lodge is over five hundred bucks a night if you want to stay, but it doesn’t cost nearly that much to enjoy the atmosphere and dine at Murray Circle.

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Fort Baker was our last ditch farewell effort at a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We didn’t want to hit all the touristy spots, but a good view of the bridge was something we could not miss.

What about the evening cruise through the Bay, you ask? It was an amazing night. We went right under the Golden Gate. It’s pillars lit up and disappearing upwards into a sea of ethereal dark clouds. Definitely an epic experience.

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And man, was it cold! We braved the biting wind in our cocktail attire for as long as we could bear. It was an experience I will never forget.

But it left us wanting more. (The boat was actually supposed to have come back and parked under the bridge for a while. Or at least, that is what they had done in past years, we were told. We were sad when that didn’t happen.)

Very early, before our flight home on Sunday morning, we grabbed an Uber out to the lookout near the fort. The sun was not yet up, but the bridge was lit. We enjoyed an early morning walk from the lookout down to the water. Slowing down enough to see the nuances of the place that are missed when zooming by on wheels reminds me I want to walk more often. The ancient looking native succulents and masses of wild fennel look nothing like back home.

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So there you have it. Six cool little discoveries we made during our short time in San Francisco. Maybe you would like to check them out for yourself. But, maybe instead, like us, you will be inspired to explore and create your own unique experience.

Do something you’ve never done before, like Uber. Or put down your go-to travel planner apps and do some freestyle exploring.

This time, we did things a little different than our norm. We didn’t read about Jack Kerouac Alley in a travel guide. We didn’t find the Comstock Saloon or Devils Acre via yelp. The apps and travel guides are nice, but there is a different sense of adventure and accomplishment to going old school. Don’t get me wrong, we love our apps and use them all the time!  But there is something like a sense of ownership of the new treasures found, when you find them on your own.

This time, we put the technology down and just explored the old fashioned way. We didn’t have very long for this stay. It was an opportunistic jaunt. The exploring made it memorable. We weren’t in a mad dash to fit in the touristy top ten, and I think because of that we were open to just experience the city.

What about you? Do you try to plan every detail of a trip? Do you know exactly where you are going ahead of time when you leave your hotel, or do you like to explore freestyle?

{Also, quick question I would love to have your opinion on… I went back and forth on including some of the pictures for this post – people, or no people? What do you prefer?}

About The Author

Jim & Tania

Twenty+ years of travel & adventure. We've been everywhere with our two awesome kids, now they're grown and we're working on going even more nomadic! Based in Billings, Montana's Trailhead ...for now

3 Comments

  1. Dana

    I so enjoy reading about your adventures!!! Love and miss you so much!

    Reply
    • Tania

      Thanks for reading, it’s fun to share!

      Reply
  2. Raiann Morse

    You’re doing a wonderful job

    Reply

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