Despite its reputation for dizzying hills, San Francisco is a town for walking. Every weekend for seven years when I lived in San Francisco, I laced up my comfiest walking shoes and headed for varied neighborhoods and parks.
Try a few of these walks and you too will be struck by the juxtaposition of urbanity and nature. With the blue Pacific Ocean or the emerald hills of Marin County as a backdrop, San Francisco impresses with a colorful palette: from Technicolor Mexican murals to pastel Victorian homes to lush gardens to contemporary architecture.
And when you tire of the pavement, retreat to the city’s green spaces for rejuvenating walks.
Land’s End is located in the northwest part of the city and is mostly National Park land with wooded trails, gardens, and views of the bay and the majestic Golden Gate Bridge. Walk along the Pacific Ocean on Ocean Beach or take my favorite hillside trail: Coastal Trail, which begins near the Cliff House Restaurant and Point Lobos Avenue.
You will pull out your cameras once again to get that stunning panorama or a shot of you all hoofing it up the hills. (The hills are often worth the climb — typically for the jaw-dropping vistas.) And it’s also almost impossible to get a bad meal in this town of veritable foodies. You’ll all gather around a large table for cheap dim sum in Chinatown, learn the proper way to unwrap the tin foil from your Mission-style burritos, and get gussied to hit some of the finest restaurants in the country. San Francisco has a way of rewarding you for all that walking.
Neighborhood for Strolling: North Beach, the city’s Italian-American quarter, a block from Chinatown, is one of my favorite places to stroll, sip house-roasted espresso, and shop. People-watch from a tiny sidewalk café filled with Old Italian gents; get your carb fix with a big bowl of pasta; or have a picnic on the grass at Washington Square with fixings from a nearby gourmet food shop.
Wandering through its side streets, you’ll happen upon gems like the San Francisco Art Institute, a Tuscan-style villa with a Diego Rivera mural, student galleries, and a large terrace with a sweeping view of the bay. Browse the shelves of the three-story City Lights Bookstore, the legacy of the 1950’s Beat poets, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. If you love the written word, a pilgrimage to City Lights is a must. Highlights are Washington Square, St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, Jack Kerouac Alley, City Lights Bookstore, and Club Fugazi with the famous Beach Blanket Babylon show.
Favorite Café: Take in the mix of cultures sitting outdoors or indoors at my favorite haunt in North Beach: Café Greco. Locals swear it has absolutely the best cappuccino in the city with the perfect swirl of coffee in the light foamy milk on the top. It’s a mecca for espresso buffs who sip while writing next year’s great novel. Located at 423 Columbus Ave, between Green and Vallejo Streets (415.397.6261).
Best Garden Walk: Take a short detour from North Beach and head down the famed Filbert Steps, flanked by cascading gardens, sculptures and benches — you’ll be glad you did. You may hear or catch a glimpse of the famous wild, green parrots that soar from tree to tree, as seen in the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. Begin your stroll at the top of the steps at the corner of Montgomery and Filbert Streets and descend to Sansome Street.
The Marina Green and Crissy Field offer one spectacular view after another of the glistening Bay, Alcatraz and the shimmering Golden Gate Bridge. I have a special connection with this waterfront area – I ran here every day after work for six years, and even had a jog along the water on the morning of my wedding. You could say, it’s kind of special to me.
While in the Marina district, going into Gove Café is like stepping into a world of relaxed, beautiful, athletic people. You’ll find the large selection of homemade pastries, chocolates, cookies and gelato are equally authentic and extraordinary. Located at 2250 Chestnut Street.
BONUS: Want to know the best places to steal a kiss in San Francisco? Click here.