“We’re all wearing spandex unitards, should I buy you one? Oh and we’re getting up at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday to go to a party.” When my sister was rattling off plans for the weekend I had planned to come visit her in her new home city of San Francisco, I was more than a little confused. I’m sorry but did you say unitard? 6 a.m. wake up time? Two things that don’t strike me as ingredients for a good time. Little did I know that I’d picked the best weekend of the year to visit: the weekend of Bay to Breakers, San Francisco’s famous annual footrace.
Photo: Kevin Edwards/Flickr
Bay to Breakers began in 1912 and is the oldest consecutively run annual footrace in the world. The 12k race starts near the San Francisco Bay, runs through the city and ends at the Great Highway (that’s where the “breakers” crash onto the beach). But this is no ordinary race, and most of the people who participate aren’t even running. While serious runners typically cross the finish line by 8 a.m., the rest of the city’s fun-loving population basically parties in the street and on the race course until late afternoon. It’s essentially a cross between St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween, but during the day and there are no children. Or candy.
Also, because there are so many smart people in SF, there were some REALLY genius costumes. Like the group of people who dressed up like they were all on a roller coaster together using pool tubes and coordinated dance moves as they paraded down the street? You know they’re all engineers or something.
After getting into our “costumes” (I’m not sure I can call my unitard-fanny-pack combination an actual costume), we walked onto the race course and the fun began. There were bands, groups of tuba and trumpet players and choreographed dancers all making a scene… did I mention that none of this is officially coordinated? People just came out onto the street, set up their drum sets and started jamming.
We made our way inside a random apartment, where three houses had decided to combine their backyards into one giant house party complete with a DJ. It was pretty crazy.
What impressed me the most about San Francisco was how relatively tame and friendly everyone was despite the booze-fueled shenanigans. I just kept thinking about how if this was in Boston, there would be people getting loaded into police vans for protective custody and punching each other in the face (yep, that’s a typical Beantown St. Patrick’s Day for you). Instead, the police of San Francisco were posing for photos and not caring about what I was holding in my hand…
While Bay to Breakers was fun and I can’t wait to go back and do it again next year, I promise I didn’t spend my entire 48 hours in San Francisco day drinking in head-to-toe spandex. I had additional priorities, like consuming copious amounts of Mexican food (when on the west coast…) and snapping photos of one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever visited. Here are some of my must-do’s for a weekend in the City by the Bay:
A trip to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without a photo opp with the Golden Gate Bridge. While there are many different places to capture this iconic bridge, my favorite was from the Marina District at sunset.
After we got our photos, we took a Lyft (an Uber competitor, and in San Francisco you can share rides with other passengers to reduce the price) a short distance away to Tacolicious for some (you guessed it) delicious tacos. When I’m on the west coast I pretty much go on a Mexican food binge, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I managed to squeeze in SIX Mexican meals during my 48 hours in San Francisco. While not necessarily the most authentic spot, I loved the vibe and cocktails at Tacolicious and the tacos themselves were pretty yummy.
A couple blocks away is a bar with an adorable backyard called The Tipsy Pig. This place also has great drinks, and its outdoor area is perfectly cozy for hanging out with old friends or meeting new. We spent an hour chatting with a couple French guys who had moved to the US and were eager to tell us tales about being arrested during Ultra in Miami and living a rich but homeless lifestyle (yes, one of them was actually homeless and slept in a different Airbnb or friend’s house every night).
One of the more famous areas is the Mission District, San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood. Murals and other forms of street art adorn buildings and walls throughout the district, which today boasts some of the city’s most popular and eclectic bars, clubs, restaurants and shops.
I didn’t get to spend much time exploring the Mission District, but I did make a beeline for Craftsman & Wolves, a bakery I’ve been following on Instagram for more than a year. This modern spot has some of the most innovative (and tasty) desserts and baked goods I’ve ever seen. Case in point: the muffin I ordered came with an entire egg baked into the middle and a side of homemade habanero salt. Yum.
At the end of the Mission District is Mission Dolores Park, a popular place for San Fransisco residents to hang and the perfect place to chill for an afternoon. On a Saturday afternoon, the park was packed with various groups picnicking, listening to music and doing strange, only-in-San-Francisco things like performing artistic dance routines. Unofficial and likely illegal vendors roamed the crowds selling everything from beer to slices of pizza, water bottles, “magic brownies” and “infused lollipops.” It’s definitely a scene.
Right on the edge of the park is Bi-Rite Creamery, a San Francisco staple selling unique, small batch ice cream flavors that draw lines around the block. Trust me, the wait is worth it!
One last spot I loved in the Mission was Farina Pizza. My sister convinced me to take a break from shoveling tacos into my mouth and try some of her favorite Neapolitan-style pizza, and if you’re craving Italian in this area I’d definitely recommend it.
Located on the bay, the Ferry Building is both a transit hub (SF’s famous trolley cars stop right out front) and a specialty food market.
The indoor food market has a variety of small restaurants and food stalls where you can sample everything from vegan donuts to grilled cheese sandwiches, and there is also a farmer’s market outside on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I didn’t catch the name, but there was a Mexican stand at the farmer’s market that served the most delicious ceviche on a fried tortilla.
In case you’re wondering if I’m zooming toward obesity with all this eating, after indulging at the Ferry Building we decided to climb up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower, an emblem of San Francisco’s skyline that offers a beautiful 360-degree view of the bay, including the Golden Gate Bridge, and the city below. I’m pretty sure I worked off at least one or two tacos climbing the 400 steps up to the top!
The walk back toward the city on the other side was pretty nice as well.
My absolute favorite thing to do in San Francisco was simply wander around and admire all the beautiful Victorian and Edwardian homes.
The houses are so colorful and uniquely ornate. The most famous row houses are the “Painted Ladies” on Steiner Street across from Alamo Park – you’ll often see them on postcards and in movies about San Francisco (they’ve actually been featured in about 70 movies, ads and TV programs!).
Monday’s flight back to Boston came way too soon. But! While my sister was originally only supposed to be staying in San Francisco for one year, she has now been accepted to medical school there (she’s the dumb sibling… obviously). While it’s great that she’s going to be a doctor and save lives and all, I’m really just excited that I now have a reason to tell people I’m bicoastal (kidding! Sorta). San Fran, I’ll be back soon.
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