If there’s one word that best describes San Francisco, it would be shifting. Not just in its dynamic tectonic plates, but in the comings and goings of the city’s history: from the massive Gold Rush of the 1800s, to the hippie and LGBT movements of the 60s and 70s, to the influx of Silicon Valley startups today. This colorful history has also transformed San Francisco into a haven for alternative art and a prestigious culinary culture – making it one of my favorite destinations in the U.S too. Together with my 2 boys, discover how we unravel the classic side of America in San Francisco. Read on and #JuanderWithUs in my latest blog!
(Below, you’ll probably notice the abundance of Christmas decorations in almost every photo. As the holiday months draw near, I thought this would be a perfectly inspiring feature before you make those Yuletide plans. Enjoy the read!)
Like many other adventures, we began it at the Philippine Airlines Mabuhay Lounge in Manila. It was after Christmas – and while we enjoyed bonding with good friends and family, we were all excited to spend the rest of our holidays in America again.
With the journey thousands of miles away, I then decided to unwind with some in-flight leisure.
Touchdown San Francisco! From the crowds at the airport, we hurried to our hotel, The Westin St. Francis. Admiring the beautifully lit Union Square, with a cup of decaf coffee at hand, was the perfect way to experience that first evening.
Still, we couldn’t help but crave a hearty dinner. We stopped by one of America’s favorite casual dining joints, The Cheesecake Factory, where we tried a few of their pasta signatures while overlooking the glimmering downtown lights.
The boys and I then headed down to Union Square, where there were many people eager to enjoy the spirit of the season. From the gigantic Christmas tree, to the charming miniature decorations, to the carols ringing in the air, the holidays are still in full swing.
After a good night’s rest, we then went out of our suite and into the San Francisco streets.
The daylight revealed a different side to the city: Victorian and Edwardian buildings clashing against rows of Italian-style homes, while one could also see futuristic Teslas speeding past iconic trams and loud tour buses. San Francisco truly is a city of contradictions.
Another famous attraction is Lombard Street, claimed to be the most crooked of its kind in the world. To make it all the way down, cars have to pass by eight sharp turns, originally designed to reduce the steepness of its hill. Today, its manicured homes and gardens are becoming more popular photo ops too.
We then made our way to Lefty’s, a famous store offering items (such as scissors, kitchen utensils, and other gifts) for the left-handed. Browsing through the unique selection, I thought, “might as well get some for my ‘lefty’ friends back home”!
The fog soon set in, blanketing our next stop, Pier 39. A shopping center and popular tourist spot, it offers mysterious views of the Pacific Ocean and picturesque rides, all while you sip on a glass of California wine.
But the Sauvignon Blanc had to wait – there was more to see on this seaside detour.
One of them is this unusual contraption called the Aqua Vitality Massage, where jets of water soothe your whole body, without the need to remove any clothes or apply any lotions. It’s all a wonder of wellness.
By then, the sky had mostly cleared up, signaling our move to our next destination, Fort Point. Completed just before the Civil War, it was built to defend the city from hostile warships.
Now, it’s protected by America’s National Park Service, while also offering magnificent views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Here, we also learned that Fort Point is part of a larger historical complex, Presidio of San Francisco: where one can visit sights such as Coast Guard stations, preserved artillery, and the mighty Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion. America certainly had a lot of military firepower even back then.
Of course, this trip wouldn’t feel complete without a stop at the Golden Gate Bridge. First opened to the public in 1937, it has since become one of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks, appearing on movies and TV shows that are just too many to count.
Visiting the bridge felt like a uniquely touching moment: seeing old couples romantically sitting at nearby benches, while families admired its striking architecture together. I’m glad my family had been among them too.
After our stop at the Golden Gate Bridge, we then went into nearby Sausalito, known for its many houseboats and shipbuilding heritage during World War II. While the sea breeze got a bit colder, it was also nice to bask in the yellow rays of the California sun.
From Sausalito, we then headed back across the Golden Gate Bridge, visiting the scenic campus of the University of San Francisco. With its Romanesque Revival architecture, it retains its English-style arches, windows, and elaborate towers, combined with a cozier color scheme of creams and browns. How Californian!
The skies soon turned pink. It was late afternoon, and we just couldn’t miss another gorgeous view of the city: this time atop the famed Twin Peaks. Offering a 360-degree perspective of San Francisco, it’s where one can see many of its iconic neighborhoods and nearby cities. Simply a picture-perfect occasion.
As night fell, we felt the need to relax with a little retail therapy. On our last detour of the day, we visited the San Francisco Ferry Building, a hub for transports and fresh culinary delights. Built in the Beaux Arts style of architecture, stepping inside felt like passing through a quaint Parisian market – only everyone spoke in English.
The next morning, my son Eric and I took a spin around the city in our sunroof car. Just like in the movies!
With all our sightseeing around the city, we had almost missed our hotel’s impressive marble interiors. America does love its grand antiques.
For our next meal, we dined at the E&O Kitchen and Bar, where we treated ourselves to a variety of Asian fusion delights. From Vietnamese, to Indian, Thai, and even Filipino, this is a restaurant where culinary traditions and experimentation collide. The result? A savory feast for our tastebuds.
E&O Kitchen and Bar is conveniently located beside Union Square, so you’ll now know where to dig in after that day-long sightseeing trip. While we soon prepared to bid San Francisco goodbye, it’s time to take another touching family selfie!
Then, we immediately headed back to our hotel, already starting to reminisce the few days we spent in this magnificent city.
Alas, another San Francisco adventure comes to an end. Yet even as we departed for our next destination, we were surprised with a series of artistic sights that seem to be a trademark for this quirky city. Cultured, rugged, innovative, traditional, but ultimately heartwarming: this is classic San Francisco.
Continue to #JuanderWithUs as we fly soon to the East Coast, at The City That Never Sleeps, New York City!