The idea for a weekend getaway in San Francisco all started in the blustery month of November during Monday Night Football. My friend, Deb, was headed to the SF for a work trip in late January and wanted to spend the weekend exploring more of the city. She asked if anyone would be interested in coming with her. I jumped at the opportunity. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities and California had to be warmer than Bellingham, even in January. Our friend Lori agreed it would be a great getaway.

bar sceneFriday night — Drinks

Lori and I flew in on Friday afternoon and headed straight to our hotel down by the waterfront. We figured this would be an ideal starting place to launch our sightseeing weekend. Lori and I gathered ideas about what to do and see over the weekend. With so much to see, we determined that a hop-on/hop-off bus tour would get us to the most spots.

When Deb arrived, we made our evening plans — dinner and a speakeasy. After a lovely dinner on the waterfront, we set off via Lyft (click for discount) to find Bourbon & Branch, a speakeasy that operated illegally at its present location from 1921 to 1933. My first visit to a speakeasy was in Las Vegas’s Laundry Room. While Bourbon & Branch is much larger, the rules are similar… speak-easy,  no cell phone us, don’t even think of asking for a “cosmo,” no photography, exit quietly, etc.

You must make reservations in advance and show up at your appointed time with password in hand. They don’t let just anyone in off the street! I actually thought this kind of place might go over really well in Bellingham. Just not sure we have the population to support it. Anyway, I recommend these clandestine bars if you’re looking for a different twist on having a drink!

Saturday — San Francisco City Tour

Pagoda in Japanese Tea GardenAfter a lovely breakfast in the warm San Francisco sunshine, we headed to the bus stop.The hop-on/hop-off proved to be a worthwhile investment. Our first stop was the farmer’s market, followed by the Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate Bridge, and Golden Gate Park, none of which I had been to before. We took our time walking around the pond at the Palace of Fine Arts enjoying the California sunshine. At Golden Gate Park, we took time to tour the Japanese Tea Garden, although we didn’t drink tea. We learned that the park covers more than 1,000 acres and is 20% larger than Central Park in New York. With attractions like the Japanese Tea Garden, de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Conservatory of Flowers, Strawberry Hill, and Aquarium, you could spend an entire weekend in this park alone.

Chinatown Street ArtNext we opted for a visit to Golden Gate Bridge and then Chinatown, where we did a bit of shopping and dined on dim sum at Hang Ah Dim Sum Tea House, the oldest standing and functioning dim sum house in America (at least according to their web site). Everything was delicious!

With full bellies and evening approaching, we headed to our pick-up spot to return to the hotel. As we waited, a bus from a different tour company passed by and the guide asked if we were waiting for Company X. When we replied “yes,” he told us the last bus had already been by. With a wave he invited on the Company Y bus. He informed us that Company X had only 6 buses on the loop at any given time while Company Y had more than 20. A plug for his company? Maybe, but we gave him a nice tip for taking the time to pick us up!

Traveler’s Tip: When shopping around for a tour company like hop-on/hop-off, ask how many buses they have in service and pick the one with the most buses.

Sunday — Outskirts

Riding the SF Trolley After breakfast, we took a trolley ride from North Beach over to Powell and Market streets, where the line comes to an end. Traveler Tip: If you are thinking of taking a trolley from the North Shore area, DO NOT catch the trolley from Ghiradelli Square. The line is often huge and you can spend hours waiting. Instead, walk three blocks over to catch a ride at the Powell/Mason street turnaround. While the route is a little shorter, so are the lines and you’ll end up at the exact same end point as the Powell/Hyde Line.

After our trolley ride on this spectacular, sunny Sunday morning, we decided to see what the coastline looked like. Travelers to San Francisco often spend all of their time in the city, forgetting that San Francisco is located right on the ocean. We boarded a train and 20 minutes later, we were at the beach! We were enjoying our walk on the beach so much, that we forgot we needed to head back to the hotel to check out. Oops!

San Francisco ocean beach

But, first, we wanted to take in one more stop… We grabbed another Lyft and had the driver make a stop at Twin Peaks before taking us back to our hotel. Up and up we wound around until we finally reached the top. The views of the city and bay were absolutely incredible. We could see for miles on this brilliant January day. It was a perfect stop to cap off a fun weekend getaway!

View of San Francisco from Twin Peaks