We two New Zealanders are arriving at San Fran international airport at 1pm May 4th and have now to depart Friday 1pm May 5th. Before rescheduling of plane I booked into Mystic Hotel, Stockton St.Union Sqiuare.
How can we make the most of our overnighter in SF? - (have not been before)
The Starlight Room at the Sir Francis Drake is right there for nighttime dancing and 360 views of the city. Sunset drink at the top of the Mark (Mark Hopkins hotel), across from the Fairmont. Lunch at the rotunda at Neiman Marcus (please don't skip this!!). If you like books, please don't miss City Lights Books. Read up on it to understand what it is, then go next door for absinthe at Vesuvio. I live close by (Sonoma County) and these are the best things that I love to do. If you want to do the tourist thing, then by all means, do the hop on hop off bus and the boat trip. Be aware that weather at this time of year is HIGHLY variable, so layer your clothes - T-shirt to jacket. Check weather apps ahead of time and keep in touch as it changes, but it's likely to be chilly. Kuleto's is just around the corner (wonderful food) or make a reservation at House of Prime Rib. Wish you had longer and I could show you around!
If you like to sail the Adventure Cat is at Fishermans wharf and they have a very nice tour of the bay and under the Golden Gate bridge. It is not that expensive for the quality of the ride. We had a blast in March.
I agree with some of the suggestions above. Despite the price, no trip to San Francisco is complete without a cable car ride. The cars are historic, and it's a great way to see the city and experience the famed hills. Since you're staying in Union Square, visit Neiman Marcus just to see the interior of this old time department store. (Previously known as the City of Paris) You're also a short walk from the American Conservatory Theater where you could likely get half-price tickets for an evening play!
You will love the city but get on your walking shoes and spend the whole afternoon on foot. Do not bother with cable car rides ($7.50 apiece I believe), do not walk to Fisherman's Wharf from Embarcadero (too long and not that interesting). On foot, head uphill to Nob Hill and walk towards Russian Hill along any of the main streets until you get to the winding street (Lombard). Then head to Coit Tower Telegraph Hill and walk up to the actual tower, visit the frescoes at the bottom of the Tower but do not pay for the elevator, then go outside for spectacular views of the Bay (all free) and then work your way down to the Italian section. Restaurants are very touristy in this area but I still suggest having the fish stew (cioppino) at Sotto Mare Oysteria (expect an hour wait or more). In the evening, walk through Chinatown. Next morning, grab a taxi to B.Patisserie for breakfast. On your way back to your hotel, take a few minutes to visit the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill.
Hop on hop off bus! For 2 hours you get to see the city and cross the Golden Gate Bridge! You can get off at pier 39 and see the sea lions as well!
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