Off the Beaten Path in the City by the Bay

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Don’t miss San Francisco’s famous seals! Photo courtesy of Carole Terwilliger Meyers.

Heading to San Fran but not sure where to start? Award-winning travel writer Carole Terwilliger Meyers tells us how to travel on a budget, go beyond the guidebook and experience the best things to do in San Francisco, California.

1. For travelers going to San Francisco what’s one thing you recommend that they probably won’t see in their guidebook?

This is a hard one for me to answer because most of my secret finds are in my guidebook or on my website! But . . . most visitors are pleased to discover the buffalo herd in Golden Gate Park. Most foreign visitors in particular want to see the famous American buffalo. This is an easy way to do that. I find it an interesting factoid that bison have been displayed here since the 1880s.

2. What’s your favorite restaurant for cheap eats in San Francisco?

Most visitors find themselves at Union Square. King of Thai Noodle is a simple spot just a few doors down from the huge Macy’s store. Dishes come out fast. My favorite is #17, pad kee mao. I love the smoky taste of the stir-fried flat noodles mixed with tasty green long beans, Thai chili, and basil.

3. What’s one underrated attraction in San Francisco?

Clement Street. It is a popular shopping street with locals and basically a second Chinatown. Atmospheric Green Apple Books at #506 is a favorite shop. With unfinished old wood floors and tall, tall bookshelves lining the walls, browsing in this old-style bookstore is quite a treat and discounted books abound.

San Francisco Cable Car

San Francisco Cable Car via Carole Terwilliger Meyers.

4. If a traveler had to choose one single thing to do in San Francisco, what would you recommend?

Ride the cable car from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, then ride the F streetcar back, or vice versa. It’s a must. You’ll see spectacular views, and it is just plain fun to experience. Locals envy tourists who are willing to wait in the usually long lines for this treat.

5. What’s your favorite free attraction/experience in San Francisco?

Driving down wiggly Lombard Street. Even we locals enjoy this! It’s free, it’s fun, and it provides a killer view of San Francisco.

6. For travelers wanted to take in a beautiful view, where do you recommend they go?

To the Top of the Mark for a drink. It has an extraordinary 360-degree view of the city and features live entertainment and dancing most evenings.

Scoma's Restaurant

Scoma’s Restaurant is also a must-have experience in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Carole Terwilliger Meyers.

7. What’s one general travel tip you would give someone heading to San Francisco?

Wear layers. And remember, this isn’t Southern California. You most likely won’t need a bikini and shorts except for at a hotel pool—and they are rare in San Francisco.

8. What’s a great hotel for budget travelers still wanting comfort and a central location?

When I spend the night in San Francisco, and I do sometimes like to pretend I’m a tourist, I prefer to stay near Union Square. Two bargain spots are the Downtown Hostel and the family-run Handlery Union Square Hotel (it has a heated pool!).

Contributed by award-winning travel writer Carole Terwilliger Meyers.

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