It’s going to be a busy day, so start by fueling up at the historic and wonderfully frenetic Ferry Building Marketplace. Eat your way through the gourmet shops and caffeinate with Blue Bottle Coffee. If it’s Tuesday or Saturday, you simply can’t miss the San Francisco Farmer’s Market and purveyors’ generous samples. Brave the crowds: the local produce and artisan dishes will more than make up for the wait.
Once you’ve had your fill, stroll along the Embarcadero and take in the views of the Bay Bridge, the lesser known but equally spectacular of San Francisco’s two suspension bridges. Wander north to Washington Street and amble up to the towering trees in the Transamerica Redwood Park. Once you’ve taken in a healthy slice of nature in the concrete jungle, weave your way through the furious mahjong competitions, narrow alleyways, herbal shops, and steaming windows piled with fresh dumplings in America’s oldest Chinatown. Stop in the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory or the Clarion Music Center, where you’ll find a treasure trove of exotic musical instruments from around the world.
Keep climbing up to Nob Hill; once your legs start to burn you’ll know you’re almost there! Meditate around the Grace Cathedral labyrinth and wander under bougainvillea cascades on Sacramento Street. Zigzag northwest to leafy Hyde Street (or jump on the cable car for a few blocks). Stop into Nook’s cute cafe if you need a latte, and meander down to the window-shopping paradise that is Polk Street. Bordering on the infamous Tenderloin district, Polk Gulch (as it’s known to locals) also offers down-home watering holes and very reasonably priced restaurants like La Boulangerie, Nick’s Crispy Tacos, and Pesce.
Sated and hopefully not weighed down by too many shopping bags, next climb up to posh Russian Hill. The trek is worth it: here you’ll catch your first vista of the Golden Gate Bridge from one of the parks on the peak. Once your jaw recovers from its precipitous drop, skip down Lombard, the “Crookedest Street in the World.”
Enjoy some people-watching in Washington Square Park before making a beeline to Coit Tower for more sweeping views from Telegraph Hill, one of San Francisco’s original “Seven Hills” and home to a large flock of feral parrots, featured in the book and ensuing 2003 documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.
Dinner is a tough decision. Prefer to keep it low-key? Then have a Sicilian slice and a cold pint from Golden Boy Pizza with the locals, finishing off with an espresso at Caffe Trieste and a night cap at 15 Romolo. Craving a little more swank? Make reservations at Zuni Café for classic California cuisine and have a pre-dinner glass of wine at inconspicuous Hotel Biron next door.