By Gretchen Kalwinski for the Orbitz Travel Blog
San Francisco, with its ocean beach and golden gates, romantic fog, and gorgeous, blooming landscape, is essentially paradise. Since it’s only about six square miles, it’s also extremely walkable — just wear your well-soled shoes, since you’ll climb a few mountain-esque hills in your quest for stunning vistas.
You know how some places are tourist clichés for a reason? Golden Gate Park is one of them. Its 1,000 square feet are a true urban oasis, and include the Japanese Tea Garden, Whitney De Young art museum and, randomly, a small herd of bison. We recommend first heading all the way west to see the waves at Ocean Beach, then walking east through the various park sights. The park’s eastern exit will propel you into Haight-Ashbury, the ‘hood where the Grateful Dead used to hang, now speckled with vintage shops, high- and low-end boutiques, and famed independent record store Amoeba Music.
Next is Mission Dolores, a spot Alfred Hitchcock made famous in Vertigo (yes, you can climb the bell tower). Continue into the vibrant Valencia corridor, filled with taquerias, cafes, and cool resale stores like Paxton Gate, which specializes in “curiosities,” i.e. natural sciences and taxidermy (like earrings made from animal teeth). They also have a kid section, with interesting craft supplies, vintage and plush toys and learning kits. For food, there’s Mission Cheese or Tacolicious across the street (locals rave about the fresh fruit margaritas). For sweets, you’ve got Dandelion Chocolate Factory/cafe, right next door to the decadent pastries at Craftsman and Wolves — try the Rebel Within and the cube cakes. If you’re feeling inspired by so much culture, let the night take you to the City Arts & Lectures series at the Nourse Theater nearby.
Day 2: Napa and Sonoma Valleys
Now it’s time to see the natural beauty surrounding the Bay Area — and swill some wine. Rent a car to head north to Napa and Sonoma Valleys. There’s no shortage of excellent vintners, but one of our current favorites is Schramsberg Vineyards, the first estate to follow the traditional French Champagne method. The spectacular grounds and divine Cabs at Gundlach Bundschu never disappoint, and Scribe Winery (atop a grassy hill in Sonoma) is typical of Sonoma’s more rustic, relaxed, yet still elegant vibe. (Scribe’s tasting room is small but the wines are big.) You’ll be beat after a day touring tasting rooms, so chill at the natural artesian hot springs at Spanish-mission-style Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, dine at their Michelin-starred restaurant Sante, then stay the night in their cozy, Provence-style rooms.
Day 3: San Francisco neighborhoods
Back to the waterfront! If time and transportation allows, consider the short drive to Fort Funston. It’s a steep, fun spot on the water that’s ideal for hang-gliding and hiking. Back up north, Musee Mechanique — a private collection of coin-operated antique arcade machines — is right on Fisherman’s Wharf. Nearby is North Beach, where you can visit beat writer Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s bookshop City Lights, and grab a cocktail at Tosca (across the street and owned by Francis Ford Coppola). Then hop on a Powell Street car (touristy, but a great way to see the sights), and dine at Alta on Market; they serve modern, locally sourced dishes, and arguably the best burger in town.
End your night swaying with the crowd at Bill Graham Civic for a concert, then grabbing a nightcap at Bar Agricole, famed for its inventive cocktail list, like the absinthe-based Monkey’s Gland. A great way to make your long, strange trip linger even longer.
Make your three perfect days happen here!
Originally published at www.orbitz.com.