Thoughts By Natalie

wanderlust: san francisco

Today’s Wanderlust is a little different than previous ones, and though I may be biased, I think it’s better. I’ll start things off by sharing about the places Brian and I went during our recent trip to San Francisco, then finish things up with responses from readers via Facebook. Are you into it? I sure hope so. First, here’s what Brian and I did in the city…

Mandarin Oriental
Pricey, yes, but SO WORTH IT if you’re in the city for a special occasion. This trip was a Christmas gift to each other for Brian and I, so we really went all out. Not only is the service top-knotch, but we even got upgraded to a bay-facing room on the 39th floor when they found out the trip was a special one. Within 10 minutes of getting to our stunning room where we couldn’t take our eyes off the Pacific Ocean, someone knocked on our door to deliver complimentary “welcome tea,” which was whole leaf jasmine tea (and some of the best I’ve ever had). Seriously, save up and stay here. It’s amazing!

Jasmine welcome tea, courtesy of Mandarin Oriental.

Ike’s Place
Though we’d been to the Stanford location a few times, Brian and I knew we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to consume another Ike’s masterpiece while up in the Bay Area. Thus, we invited a friend who was new to the city to join us and met up at the 16th Street location. Shady area? Yes—but totally safe during the daytime and well worth the BART ride you’ll take to get there. I ordered the Vegan Pilgrim and Brian got the Vegan Captain Kirk. This is definitely what I would call “dirty food,” and as someone who prefers light, fresh fare, I can tell you that I ate every bit of that sandwich. One thing to note: there isn’t any seating, but there’s a park nearby that’s absolutely dreamy. Ask the cashiers to give you directions and take a 5 minute walk down the road to eat there, where you can soak up the city and fill up your belly. Do yourself a favor and go to Ike’s. You can thank me later.

A perfect little park oasis near Ike’s Place.

Now THAT is a sandwich.

While I usually expect vegan restaurants to be very “granola” and hippie-like, this place was far from that. This gourmet vegan restaurant is dedicated to supporting organic food production, small farms, sustainable agriculture, recycling and composting. They cook with fresh produce delivered every day, and choose organic whenever possible. The food was high quality and super innovative, and the servers were really nice—ours found a way to get me a sample of something on the pre fixe menu (which I did not order), and even brought us a complimentary glass of sparkling Pinot Noir. Whether vegan or not, this is a place I’d recommend dining at.

Black Garlic & Miso Glazed Tempeh from Millenium.

St. Francis Fountain
Though we never would have found this place if we weren’t looking for a place that served vegan brunch in the Financial District/Potrero area, we are SO GLAD there weren’t any other options for us to go to Sunday morning. Founded in 1918 by a Greek immigrant, in 2002 it was purchased by new owners dedicated to changing the focus from old-fashioned confectionary to updated diner. Personally, I had the Vegan Rancheros and have never had a vegan dish that so closely resembled its non-vegan counterpart (except for the vegan crab cakes I had at the Wynn in Las Vegas last April). They serve everything from omelets and breakfast burritos to pancakes and a variety of vegan dishes. Oh, and while their mimosas were tasty, note this: they are served in old-school cafeteria-inspired blue plastic glasses. You have been warned.

Cheers to diner mimosas!

Vegan Rancheros. You know you want it.

Union Square
Since the majority of our weekend was filled with local spots, we decided to be tourists for a few hours and wander around Union Square. A little history for you: after the 1906 earthquake, Union Square became San Francisco’s premier shopping district, and by the 1930’s it was the site of the world’s first underground parking structure. Union Square is perfect for people-watching, coffee-sipping, wandering, and, of course, shopping.

Snacking on fresh, hot kettle corn while exploring Union Square.

Cafe Divine
This cafe is what my dreams are made of. Recommended by a dear old friend whom we met up with in North Beach, the moment I walked into this place I was mesmerized by the afternoon light pouring into the windows. Just a fifteen minute walk from Union Square and positioned across the street from an adorable park, Cafe Divine is an ideal spot for breakfast, lunch, an afternoon pick-me-up, dinner or drinks.

The view from my seat at Cafe Divine. So lovely.

Now, for some reader recommendations…

>> “Tartine, Pizzeria Delphina, Bi Rite Ice Cream, Blue Bottle Coffee, browsing in the Ferry Building, a walk in Golden Gate Park and/or a trip to Baker Beach (even if it’s chilly, you can’t beat the view of the GG Bridge!). I also love just walking through different neighborhoods, like Union Street in the Marina, or down Polk in Nob Hill.” – Karli Spence

>> “Sam’s Anchor Cafe! Right on the water in Tiburon. If you know anyone with a boat, def take the boat there, you can dock right at the restaurant. Great for champagne brunch! Marin/Tiburon is the most beautiful, charming town in SF. You have the most beautiful view while you eat.” – Colleen Daughton

>> “Farmers market at the ferry building, baker beach, Lombard street, bike across the bridge and spend the day in Sausalito. Best breakfast place hands down, must go: mama’s.” – Tara Oliver

>> “To the mission district for delicious burritos and to take in beautiful murals. Plus there won’t be any other tourists!” – Laura Murphy

>> “ghirardelli square, jump across the golden gate bridge for a hike in muir woods and if it is a warm day make a pit stop in sauselito for some yummy ice cream (the have art exhibits there too!) the observatory is really nice too” – Iris Herring

>> “Ferry building, Philz coffee, nopa, Fillmore street, elite cafe, golden gate park, tartine, bi rite ice cream, dynamo donuts… I can do this all day long :)” – Karissa Hurst

>> “Hike around and explore the Sutro Baths—there is also great little paths that lead you to the beach where you can picnic and enjoy beautiful views.” – Lauren Tien

>> “Dotties for breakfast for sure! We took a girls trip to San Fran in college and looked up places on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and this was one of them. We were all obsessed!!!” – Natalie Eastman

>> “The Red Door for breakfast, the most memorable breakfast just because of the owner. His name is A.D. and he is one of a kind! If I was only in San Fran for 7 hours this would be my one for sure stop!! Best breakfast experience of my life!” – Haley Beuligmann

>> “Pier 39 and Alcatraz! It’s a must do! Also if you are looking for some tasty Italian food…. North beach is bomb!” – Travis Ratliff

>> “Definitely Chinatown! The Ferry Building is a blast, Baker Beach is gorgeous and fun to climb around on the rocks. The Mission for shopping and people watching. Restaurants—Park Tavern, Tony’s Pizza, and drinks at Bourbon & Branch (a speakeasy in the Tenderloin district). I love San Fran!” – Krista Rockholt

Have you been to San Francisco? What would you add to the list?

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