san francisco

1-Day San Francisco: Downtown, Union Square, Embarcadero

San Francisco is one of the most visited cities in the world, well-known for its liberal community, hilly terrain, Victorian architecture, scenic beauty, summer fog, and great ethnic and cultural diversity. Living in San Francisco makes it somewhat challenging to organize a 1-day itinerary. There are simply so many places to see! For the first installation of 1-day San Francisco, I will focus on the areas around downtown.


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The hotel choice for this itinerary is the Galleria Park Hotel located in downtown San Francisco. This 3.5-star hotel is a few blocks from Union Square, Chinatown, and offers easy access to the rest of the city. I found rates as low as $90/night on hotels.com. I should also mention that, just like the rest of San Francisco, the hotel is pet-friendly.

Get an early start today and take a 20-minute stroll down 3rd street to Butler and the Chef. The restaurant is tucked away in South Park, a small, oval-shaped park situated in the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood. South Park was originally constructed in 1855, modeling after a square in London, as the center of an exclusive residential community. The area flourished during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, sometimes described as “ground zero” of the dot com, with many start-up Internet companies based in the area. Today the area is still home to many Web-related companies.

After a breakfast of cappuccino and the Niman Ranch Ham Benedict, head up 3rd Street toward the Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). It is the only museum in the western United States devoted to collecting and exhibiting the full scope of modern and contemporary art according to the museum’s website. Annually, the museum hosts more than twenty exhibitions and over three hundred educational programs. Make sure to head to the 5th floor open-air space. The Rooftop Garden offers dramatic views of both the San Francisco skyline and sculptural works in the museum’s collection.

For lunch, head to Yank Sing on Stevenson Street to enjoy Chinese-style tapas better known as dim sum. Dim sum consists small plates that include meat, seafood, vegetable, desserts and fruits. While not the cheapest dim sum joint in town, I’ve found Yank Sing to be consistently good. Be sure to order the Peking Duck & Shanghai dumplings. The dumplings rival those from Shanghai Dumpling King’s, which some consider to be the best in San Francisco.

Our next stop is the Ferry Building at Market and Embarcadero. The Ferry Building is both a ferry terminal and a marketplace. From outside the buidling, take in the magnificent view of the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, Yerba Buena Island, and the Berkeley hills across the bay. Inside the building, you’ll find 40 or so fixed merchants offering local artisan products. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, & Saturdays, the Ferry Building also houses the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Started as a one-time event in 1992, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market’s popularity led to the opening of a year-round market in May 1993. Today as many as 15,000 shoppers visit the market every Saturday.

As the day winds down, let’s make our way to Union Square. This one-block plaza and nearby area is one of the largest collection of department stores, upscale boutiques, tourist trinket shops, art galleries, and salons in the Western United States. Take refuge at one of Rulli’s Caffe’s patio tables. The location offers the perfect vantage point to people watch and enjoy the liveliness that San Francisco offers.

Tonight we’ll expand our palate with French Vietnamese dishes at Le Colonial located on Cosmo at Taylor. This sexy restaurant is decorated with spinning ceiling fans, tropical plants, rattan furniture, and French Colonial decor. The menu is an imaginative mix of traditional Vietnamese flavors and Western ingredients. Make sure to try my 2 favorite dishes: tender wok-seared beef tenderloin with watercress onion salad and coconut curry with black tiger prawns.

Before heading back to the hotel, take a detour through The Hidden Vine. This unique wine bar is tucked away in the same alley as Le Colonial. Voted the Best Wine Bar by CitySearch since 2005, this hidden gem offers oenophiles a lovely, casual atmosphere. The space is decorated in comfortable furniture, candles and fixtures reminiscent of an old English study. With 30 wines by the glasses featuring reds and whites from mostly small producers, this just the place to end the night.

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