Jason and I love to get away for a few days right after Christmas. After weeks of decorating, shopping, cooking, and entertaining, we like to have some time to relax and reconnect.
Often this has been a trip to Las Vegas, a city we love. But we wanted to do something different this year. So after a few days of brainstorming and research we settled on a San Francisco weekend. We booked our flight and hotel, made a few dinner reservations, and off we went.
Where To Stay In San Francisco
Sometimes we select a hotel simply for convenience and price, but this time, we really wanted to stay somewhere special. I spent a fair amount of time selecting the right accommodations and eventually decided on The Argonaut.
Since my parents used to live in Northern California, Jason and I have been here dozens of times. Over the years we’ve developed a list of our favorite San Francisco activities, neighborhoods and restaurants. Despite how touristy it can be, we both love the Fisherman’s Wharf area. So in addition to The Argonaut being a lovely hotel, it is also within walking distance of the wharf, the Ferry Building and Ghirardelli Square. I’m not ashamed to say that I love all of these places. This won’t be an article about “off the beaten path” things to do in San Francisco, but it will definitely provide a road map for romance.
The Argonaut is part of the Noble House Collection which specializes in boutique hotels. Everything about it is warm and welcoming. I especially loved the lobby with plush chairs, a fireplace and board games on every table. The rooms have exposed red brick walls and are decorated in a nautical theme. Their restaurant, The Blue Mermaid, is stylish and serves a delicious breakfast.
Here are a few other options for hotels in San Francisco for a romantic weekend;
Stroll Along The Embarcadero
The Embarcadero is a famous street in San Francisco that runs along the waterfront. This particular stretch of waterfront is a port, business district and popular tourist destination. Needless to say, this part of town can get very, very busy.
If your image of the Embarcadero is sidewalks packed with so many people that it’s hard to move, than you may be questioning my suggestion to stroll along this famous street. So let me clarify. You need to walk along the Embarcadero early in the morning, before the crowds. On our first morning in San Francisco, Jason and I spent almost two hours enjoying this stretch of the waterfront and loved every minute of it. And for most of the time it was just us and the seagulls.
We left our hotel about 7 a.m., crossed the street and headed towards Fisherman’s Wharf. What we enjoy about early morning walks in any city is watching the shops and restaurants getting ready to open. The small seafood vendors at the wharf were unloading their trucks and getting their display cases ready. We continued along the Embarcadero, sometimes stopping to take pictures or just admire the view.
Eventually we arrived at The Ferry Building--a popular food market along the waterfront. While most of the vendors were not yet open, it was great to see this market so empty. Again, we watched as vendors unloaded boxes and set-out their wares getting ready for a busy day in one of the city’s favorite markets.
On our way back we stopped at Pier 39 to see the sea lions. For some reason, this particular section of the waterfront is attractive to these enormous creatures. It’s quite amusing to stop and watch them for a while. If you don’t see them right away, just stop and listen--you’ll hear their barking soon enough.
Our final stop along this stretch was for a second breakfast (we had previously eaten at Starbucks) at a small food stand at the wharf. Jason enjoyed steamed rock crab and I ate dungeness crab salad. With all the great food in San Francisco, you really have to eat more than three times a day! While we ate our food we chatted with the cook and watched as he unloaded boxes of crabs. Later that same day when we walked past this same spot it was mobbed with people--early is definitely the way to go.
Check-Out The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
There’s no doubt that one of the best museums in San Francisco is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 2016 this museum reopened after an extensive remodel that tripled the total size. The new and improved version is beautiful with six stories of exhibitions. Jason and I enjoyed exploring this space for over two hours and we still didn’t see everything.
Among my favorite exhibits was Elemental Calder, featuring an artist known for his large mobiles. Another highlight of the museum was the Oculus Bridge. The oculus funnels natural light through a massive cylindrical space into the museum’s lobby and mezzanine galleries. On the fifth floor a bridge crosses this space giving visitors the opportunity to view the skylight above and the galleries below.
In case you need a break during your visit, head to one of the coffee shops or one of the two restaurants. We had a delicious lunch at the more casual restaurant, Cafe 5.
I was especially impressed to learn that anyone 18 and younger can visit SFMOMA for free. This was made possible due to generous donations. Many cultural organizations are finding their audiences ageing, but free admission for kids and youth is a great way to counter that trend.
Drink An Irish Coffee At The Buena Vista
It was a bit chilly in the city while Jason and I were there, so popping in to the Buena Vista for a warm, alcoholic beverage was perfect. I’ll admit that the place was packed, but the deliciousness of the coffee made up for that.
A highlight of this experience is watching the bartenders make the coffee drinks. A row of glasses is lined up. Then a sugar cube is dropped into each glass. Next the liquor is added, then coffee is quickly poured over the top. The final touch is a dollop of whipped cream. According to Buena Vista’s website, they can serve up to 2,000 Irish Coffees a day! So the next time you visit San Francisco, be sure to get to the Buena Vista.
Eat Chocolate At Ghirardelli Square
And just in case you need more sugar, Ghirardelli Square is located on the same block as the Buena Vista. First liquor and then chocolate--I love this city!
There are many shops and restaurants in the square, but start with the original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. If you’re not familiar with the Ghirardelli name, this is a famous chocolate manufacturer that got its start in San Francisco in 1852. They are best known for small squares of wrapped chocolate that are available in a wide range of flavors. And as an avid chocolate lover, I believe this is among the best places to visit in San Francisco.
We did not stop for an ice cream sundae this time, but I have in the past, and they are fabulous. This time we just took advantage of the free samples of chocolate being passed out in the shop.
During this recent visit I learned that Ghirardelli has expanded their operations in this square and there are two locations for either ice cream or packaged chocolate. So if one is busy, be sure to check out the other location.
Finally, do spend some time enjoying the other shops here. There are coffee shops, restaurants, clothing boutiques and even a hotel.
Ride On A Cable Car
After the Golden Gate Bridge, the cable cars are this city’s most iconic sight. And riding one is definitely one of the top things to do in San Francisco.
Did you know that this is the last manually operated cable car system in the world? Started in 1873, these cars once operated on 23 separate lines throughout the city. Today, just three lines remain. Each year the cable cars transport 7 million riders.
A few tips if you want to ride the cable cars. Most people catch a ride either in Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf. They open at 6:30 a.m. everyday, so get here early. We hopped on at the wharf around 9 a.m. and had a very short wait. But by mid-afternoon the wait time can be a few hours on a weekend or holiday season. The cable cars do require a ticket which can be purchased at a nearby booth.
Riding a cable car is not ideal if you’re in a hurry. In addition to the line for boarding, there can also be a wait before the car begins moving. Think of this as a leisurely, unnarrated tour of the city.
Cruise The Bay At Night
Getting a view of the city at night from the water is highly recommended. What makes it especially scenic is seeing the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges lit up. So we made reservations for a twilight cruise with the Red and White Fleet and set off for a two-hour cruise.
While I’ve driven over the Golden Gate Bridge many times, this was the first time I went under it. This perspective really highlights the massive size of a bridge that carries 112,000 vehicles across it every day. The nighttime views of the Ferry Building and Alcatraz were also lovely.
The cruise we selected included light appetizers and a one drink. Additional drinks could be purchased. There was live music and occasional commentary about the sights. Since the bay can often be chilly at night, there was ample space indoors to stay warm.
My only caution with this cruise is the possibility of seasickness (not very romantic!). Most of the bay was smooth, but the waters under the Golden Gate Bridge are typically choppy. I brought and wore Sea Bands which I always find helpful.
Dine In North Beach
Is there anything more romantic than dinner at a good Italian restaurant? What about a neighborhood filled with Italian restaurants? For most of my visits to this city I manage to find time to eat in North Beach, a well known Italian enclave of San Francisco.
North Beach is among the best known neighborhoods in the city. But if you’re visiting you may ask yourself, “Where is the beach?” Well, there used to be one, but in the late 19th century the shoreline became landfill and a new waterfront was created. This was at one time home to Italian immigrants, but today is home to a mix of ethnicities. Fortunately, the Italian restaurants remain and there are many to choose from.
We selected E Tutto Qua for dinner and had a lovely time. The service started out a bit slow, but the food was delicious. I also appreciated the lively atmosphere--this is definitely a place people come for date nights and to celebrate special occasions.
North Beach is also known as the home to Beat culture and a group of artists and authors that in the 1950’s became famous for their rejection of popular values and norms. Elements of the Beat culture influenced the subsequent hippie movement of the 1960’s. The headquarters of the Beat movement was the City Lights Bookstore which is across the street from E Tutto Qua. After dinner Jason and I explored this bookstore. Upstairs is the section of Beat literature with a large selection of books by Jack Kerouac.
A San Francisco Weekend For Two
Most of our trips to San Francisco have been with our kids, Jessica and Ryan, so it was so much fun to explore the city as a couple. There are many good restaurants, plenty of charming neighborhoods and endless scenic sights. We will definitely be back here soon for another romantic weekend!