I used to live in the Bay Area. That’s what we called it, and we called it The City–I know, it’s typical local arrogance. The funny thing is, the SF Bay Area actually spans quite a huge space, and I lived about a half hour drive away from downtown. So I honestly didn’t know San Francisco all that well.
However, every year both David and I travel to California to spend Christmas with our respective families (his are in Santa Rosa). In 2016, Christmas fell on a Sunday. Due to various factors, largely David being badly allergic to dogs and every household in his family being canine lovers, we ended up spending Friday together in San Francisco and then going our separate ways on Saturday morning.
It was an odd experience to be exploring The City at all, and to do it during Christmas. With limited time, we found some really cool stuff!
The Hotel Triton
We stayed at the quirky, colorful Hotel Triton. This is a boutique hotel at a great location: right by the Chinatown Gate and just a block off Union Square. The price was fantastic, under $100 just a couple days before Christmas! The staff was really friendly and service-oriented too. We highly recommend it!
Union Square and around
Our first stop from the hotel was a very late lunch at the Burger House. This is a super tiny almost divey diner on Powell, just south of Union Square. No photos because we were starving! I’m not a huge fan of burgers but David enjoyed it.
Then we checked out the Westin St. Francis, right across the Square, for their immense gingerbread creations. At the center of the entrance lobby was a traditional chalet on a rotating platform, complete with a train traveling around a track on the bottom. In the corner was a gingerbread castle. Both had all sorts of colorful cookies and decorations… in fact, someone had stolen some of the French macarons off the “trees” in front of the castle! I just hope that happened early on when the display was first set out, or the thief might have had a tummy ache after eating the treats…
After that, we checked out the famous Macy’s holiday window displays. Macy’s at Union Square partners with the SF SPCA to house kittens and puppies. All of them are up for adoption, and even if you can’t take one of these adorable babies home, you can cuddle them on the 7th floor. This partnership has been going strong for 30 years, so check it out next Christmas! Plus if you go up to the top of Macy’s (or Saks Fifth Avenue), you can get a great view of Union Square, with its seasonal ice skating rink and giant tree. Make sure to walk around the square and see the famous sculptures of the Hearts in San Francisco.
The next morning, we had brunch at Mazarine Coffee. This classy cafe is famous for their toasts–I highly recommend the fig jam and ricotta. It might be odd though that I want to feature a photo of their bathroom wall… it’s papered with book titles, you see. This is because Mazarine Coffee was inspired by the Bibliotheque Mazarine, a library in Paris. Pretty neat!
There are a lot of cool buildings in downtown San Francisco. Due to the shape of the streets, you will notice a few triangular buildings, similar to the famous Flatiron in Manhattan. One of the most distinctive is the Phelan Building, whose corner is where Grant Avenue, O’Farrell Street, and Market Street meet. This building remains a San Francisco Designated Landmark.
Embarcadero and the Ferry Building
Christmas Eve was bright and sunny in San Francisco. Before heading out to see my family, I walked out to the water–after all, this is the City by the Bay! And hey, SF delivered.
The Embarcadero is the street and waterfront spanning the northeast corner of San Francisco where it faces Oakland and the East Bay. It starts from Fisherman’s Wharf and travels down to the edge of AT&T Park. Along the way are various museums, restaurants, parks, bars, and of course, piers, from which boats and ships launch and dock every day.
Some fantastic views of the city can be seen from here. I limited myself to the area around the SF Ferry Building, basically a large structure full of food. There’s a farmer’s market, and there are some excellent restaurants–or so I hear! Look for the distinctive clock tower.
From here, you can also catch a ferry to Oakland, Alameda, Tiburon, Larkspur, and Sausalito. The views are amazing: the Bay Bridge stretching across the water to Treasure Island, looking like a mirage in some lights. If you follow the San Francisco Bay Trail (the footpath along the Embarcadero) heading north from the Ferry Building, and then hang a right just before you get to the next big building and the Starbucks, you can sit on the benches along a concrete path and just watch ferries coming and going. It’s quite pretty and peaceful.
Have you revisited a place you used to live? Isn’t it interesting to see it with fresh eyes? It was fun exploring San Francisco like a tourist. It was both familiar and new! And it was especially lovely at Christmas, with all the lights, decorations, and general holiday spirit.