Classic and Cool Sides of San Francisco
The San Francisco Bay Area is booming, and discerning travelers can—and should—experience both the classic side of this iconic destination as well as the cool, entrepreneurial spirit that defines it today. This itinerary offers suggestions for a 5-day trip to explore the best of what the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer. The agenda is ambitious, but in the name of supporting curiosity, we encourage you to get out and explore on your own.
In partnership with Afar.
Start your San Francisco adventure by checking into your room or suite at the Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square hotel. Whether you’re in the historic (and recently renovated) Landmark Building or the contemporary Tower Building, you’re conveniently located in the center of town.
After unpacking, head downstairs and explore Union Square. Union Square is the epicenter of classic shopping in San Francisco: Macy’s, Nieman Marcus, Barney’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue are the four closest options. Just down the hill on Market Street, Westfield’s San Francisco Centre is home to other department stores such as Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. This part of the city has smaller luxury boutiques, too: Allsaints, Hermès, and Louis Vuitton are among brands with standalone storefronts within a few blocks of the square.
End your first day in the City by the Bay with dinner at a local icon: Zuni Café. Food at this restaurant is renowned for its simplicity; favorite dishes include a simple Caesar salad, a dozen Kumamoto oysters, and roast chicken for two, served with a savory bread salad and bitter greens. The late chef Judy Rodgers’ legacy lives on with the café’s delicious meals.
San Francisco is a great art city, and no place celebrates this more than the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA, which reopened after a massive renovation and addition in 2016. Following breakfast at the hotel, stroll down the hill to the SFMOMA and check in for a private guided tour. These tours usually only last an hour and require you to select what you’d like your private docent to cover. Our suggestion: Sign up for the highlights tour, which provides an overview of the museum itself and its most treasured pieces. The architecture of the new building by Norwegian design firm Snøhetta is worth the price of admission alone.
Once the tour is done, branch off on your own to explore the museum at your own pace. Stroll through the painting and sculpture collection and trace the origins of modernism. Along the way, marvel at Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917/1964) and Mark Rothko’s No. 14, 1960. Next, hit up the Doris and Donald Fischer Collection, which includes a focused exhibition of Alexander Calder sculptures, four galleries dedicated to Ellsworth Kelly, and the diverse works of Gerhard Richter. No visit to the SFMOMA is complete without stopping to appreciate the architecture. Features such as the Living Wall and the Oculus Bridge are art pieces in and of themselves.
After a day spent looking at art, have dinner at either In Situ, the upscale restaurant on the ground floor of the museum, or in Chinatown at Eight Tables by George Chen. At In Situ, chef Corey Lee prepares dishes using recipes from the top restaurants in the world, including Eleven Madison Park and the Restaurant at Meadowood. The restaurant is beautifully designed and Lee constantly updates the menu to bring in the work of new chefs from destinations near and far. At Eight Tables by George Chen, the exclusive experience starts the minute guests arrive at a gate on Vallejo Street, and ends when guests finish the meal’s 10 courses.
Start the morning in Hayes Valley, a bustling residential and commercial neighborhood not far from the Civic Center. The area—especially on and around Hayes Street—is home to such boutiques as Freda Salvador (shoes) and Clare V (bags and accessories), while Reliquary is a great spot for housewares and vintage trinkets. Take a rideshare to another popular shopping destination: Sacramento Street in Laurel Heights. Wander around and make a point to visit March, a housewares shop that looks plucked from the pages of a shelter magazine.
The best way to follow shopping is with cocktails. At SoMa’s Bar Agricole, mixologist and owner Thad Vogler built his menu on small-batch spirits, with an emphasis on rum. Segue from drinks into dinner at Cala, a seafood-focused Mexican restaurant that makes high art out of seemingly simple food. Don’t miss the signature sweet potato, which is blackened and served with tortillas and mole sauce.
Your fourth day in San Francisco is all about pushing limits—physical, mental, and otherwise. After a cup of coffee at Sightglass Coffee, head to Golden Gate Park for a walkabout—or a bike ride. Bigger than New York City’s Central Park, the hilly terrain and overgrown flora give the park a wild feel. The private guided cycling tours by Parkwide Bike Rentals and Tours are offered on standard and e-bikes, and the company can design a customized itinerary based around your interests. The park is also home to a handful of museums, including the California Academy of Sciences. One of the exhibits enables visitors to wander around a dome-like structure featuring hundreds of butterflies. There’s also a full-fledged aquarium, complete with massive habitats, a white alligator, and more.
Head back to the hotel and freshen up for dinner at Saison, an 18-seat restaurant where all of the food revolves around an open wood fire. Chef Joshua Skenes offers a 10-course tasting menu that might feature antelope, bison, sea urchin, lobster, or other exotic proteins. Some of the courses on Skenes’ menu require that guests eat with their hands, a welcome departure from the traditional utensil approach. At Saison, departing your comfort zone is part of the experience.
Begin your last day in San Francisco with a private tour of Pier 24 Photography, a free place to view and think about photography. The permanent collection from the Pilara Foundation spotlights more than 4,000 images.
Next, grab a cab or drive east for a late lunch at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. This is the birthplace of California cuisine, and it’s as relevant today as it was when it opened in 1971. While dinners downstairs at the restaurant are multi-course affairs, lunch in the café upstairs is a la carte. Menus change every day, but the simplest dishes are often the best to choose.
There’s always time for cocktails, and your visit wouldn’t be complete without returning to San Francisco and stopping by True Laurel, a Dogpatch bar that has achieved cult status for its artisan drinks and innovative small plates. Perhaps the most creative of the drinks: the in-house spin on a mai tai, which includes Panamanian rum, lime, pistachio orgeat, Curacao, and a coffee-rum float.
In Partnership with Afar.