Off the Beaten Path in the City by the Bay

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seals

Don’t miss San Francisco’s famous seals! Photo courtesy of Carole Terwilliger Meyers.

Heading to San Fran but not sure where to start? Award-winning travel writer Carole Terwilliger Meyers tells us how to travel on a budget, go beyond the guidebook and experience the best things to do in San Francisco, California.

1. For travelers going to San Francisco what’s one thing you recommend that they probably won’t see in their guidebook?

This is a hard one for me to answer because most of my secret finds are in my guidebook or on my website! But . . . most visitors are pleased to discover the buffalo herd in Golden Gate Park. Most foreign visitors in particular want to see the famous American buffalo. This is an easy way to do that. I find it an interesting factoid that bison have been displayed here since the 1880s.

2. What’s your favorite restaurant for cheap eats in San Francisco?

Most visitors find themselves at Union Square. King of Thai Noodle is a simple spot just a few doors down from the huge Macy’s store. Dishes come out fast. My favorite is #17, pad kee mao. I love the smoky taste of the stir-fried flat noodles mixed with tasty green long beans, Thai chili, and basil.

3. What’s one underrated attraction in San Francisco?

Clement Street. It is a popular shopping street with locals and basically a second Chinatown. Atmospheric Green Apple Books at #506 is a favorite shop. With unfinished old wood floors and tall, tall bookshelves lining the walls, browsing in this old-style bookstore is quite a treat and discounted books abound.

San Francisco Cable Car

San Francisco Cable Car via Carole Terwilliger Meyers.

4. If a traveler had to choose one single thing to do in San Francisco, what would you recommend?

Ride the cable car from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, then ride the F streetcar back, or vice versa. It’s a must. You’ll see spectacular views, and it is just plain fun to experience. Locals envy tourists who are willing to wait in the usually long lines for this treat.

5. What’s your favorite free attraction/experience in San Francisco?

Driving down wiggly Lombard Street. Even we locals enjoy this! It’s free, it’s fun, and it provides a killer view of San Francisco.

6. For travelers wanted to take in a beautiful view, where do you recommend they go?

To the Top of the Mark for a drink. It has an extraordinary 360-degree view of the city and features live entertainment and dancing most evenings.

Scoma's Restaurant

Scoma’s Restaurant is also a must-have experience in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Carole Terwilliger Meyers.

7. What’s one general travel tip you would give someone heading to San Francisco?

Wear layers. And remember, this isn’t Southern California. You most likely won’t need a bikini and shorts except for at a hotel pool—and they are rare in San Francisco.

8. What’s a great hotel for budget travelers still wanting comfort and a central location?

When I spend the night in San Francisco, and I do sometimes like to pretend I’m a tourist, I prefer to stay near Union Square. Two bargain spots are the Downtown Hostel and the family-run Handlery Union Square Hotel (it has a heated pool!).

Contributed by award-winning travel writer Carole Terwilliger Meyers.

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  • Trevor

    None of these really are off-beaten path in SF, with the exception of Clement. If you go there be sure to get dim sum at Good Luck Dim Sum on 8th or a vietnamese at Cafe Bun Mi. Or if you want to try something new, go to Burma Superstar for Burmese food. Usually it has a half hour wait, but two blocks down the street is B Star, which is basically the same restaurant and it has basically no wait. KIng of Thai Noodle is not the best Thai food. Go to Lers Ros, much tastier and authentic.

    For a quintessential SF experience, go to Dolores Park or the Haight. People watching is where SF shines. One of the most interesting Golden Gate Park experiences is not the Buffalos. It’s watching two ends of the city collide. Start the park at the end of Haight street and walk briskly down the steps, past the groups of transients trying to sell you shrooms. Careful, they can be as convincing as tech salesmen offering the newest cloud built B2B API analytical software platform. You’ll see a small pond filled with god knows what, right before entering tunnel, which spits you out onto a wide open expanse of soccer fields where the children of yuppies play an afternoon game. Walk from here along the winding paths, past the famed Hippie Hill, billowing with herbal smoke, and about a half mile to the China Pavillion, a palatial square (actaully an oval), something straight out of Paris or some guady European capital. In front, is an opera stage flanked by the De Young Museum and the Academy of Sciences. You’re also next to the Japanese Tea Garden and the Botanical Gardens right down the road. If you’re the walking type, you can take the park all the way out to Ocean Beach. You’ll see the Buffalos, yes, but you’ll have seen weddings, parties, and maybe even the Hari Krishna’s (on a good day). I take all new comers on this walk, and it hasn’t failed to dissapoint.

    Oh yeah, to really see the changing face that’s coming to define SF (for better or worse), the Mission is the place to go. See the murals and get Al Pastor Super Nachos at Taqueria Vallarta on 24th street. Then stroll over to the Shishi Philz coffee down the street to counteract any hint of a food coma. They have literally dozens of different types of coffee to choose from with multiple baristas ready with tasting notes.