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Funky food and hidden treasures: The Amherst guide to San Francisco

Eight must-see places on your next NorCal trip

March 30, 2017

You’re in a new, unfamiliar city. You know there are a million things to do but you don’t know where to start. San Francisco may be small in size compared to other California counties, but there are a plethora of things to do in its 47.9 square miles. While I’m no San Francisco expert, I can say I’ve seen and tasted quite a few things while I was there. Here is a list of eight spots I highly recommend to anyone who has never been.

1. Smitten Ice Cream

Nitrogen clouds rise while an order of ice cream is being made.

Walk into any of the four Smitten shops in San Francisco and you’ll be greeted with delicious scents and clouds of nitrogen covering the faces of the employees serving the ice cream. With the shop’s patented “Brrr” machine, each scoop of ice cream is created with liquid nitrogen technology and made to order in less than two minutes. Smitten’s innovative technology has proven successful in popularity with customers lining up to experience the rich and creamy tastiness.

2. Boating on the San Francisco Bay

Sailing on the San Francisco Bay.

Whether you rent a kayak or hop on a sailboat, experiencing the San Francisco Bay right from its waters is breathtaking. From the bright lights of the city to the massive Golden Gate Bridge and from the mysterious walls of Alcatraz to the hills of Sausalito, there is a beautiful sight in every direction. If you’re lucky, you’ll even receive a smile from a happy seal swimming by.

3. Alcatraz

(Todd Lappin/Flickr)

For the history buffs out there, Alcatraz is for you! For the not-so-history-buffs, Alcatraz is for you, too. Line up and take a ferry to the island that once housed the most infamous criminals the United States has ever seen. The tour takes you through the prisoners’ living quarters with personal stories and facts about several of the men who lived there. You’ll see prison cells and shared showers that you wouldn’t believe were actually once used. The tour also includes background about the rest of the island and its inhabitants, a history I was completely unaware of before. This is an experience well worth the $45 ticket.

4. Japanese Tea Garden

(Steve/Flickr)

On a sunny day, the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is the perfect spot to relax. The lush vegetation and impressive sculptures paired with the rich culture and tranquil feel of the garden make for a peaceful and awe-inspiring visit. Enjoy a cup of tea or a light snack at the tea house and explore the bridges, ponds and plants throughout.

5. Mission Dolores Park

(Mik Scheper/Flickr)

In the spirit of spring and all things warm, visit Dolores Park on your day off. Bring a blanket, food and great music and you’ll find yourself there for hours. The park is filled with people and pets, blankets and radios, footballs and frisbees. This spot is perfect for a day in the sun with friends, meeting new people or a date for you and a good book — and don’t forget the champagne.

6. Taqueria El Farolito

(Jeremy Brooks/Flickr)

When I say I had the best burrito of my life here, I’m not kidding. Burrito lovers, this place is a must. A couple of friends and I went to visit San Francisco last winter and our friend introduced us to El Farolito in the Mission District. We all ate a burrito, impressively fast, and promised each other we’d be back again before we left. We kept that promise and went not once more but twice. I still crave it every single day. Here’s an idea: Grab a burrito on your way to Dolores Park and have yourself a day.

7. Muir Woods National Monument

My friends standing next to the redwoods in Muir Woods.

Prepare to be amazed. Muir Woods is home to more than 200 acres of old-growth coast redwood forests and walking trails through the woods. Standing next to the massive, thousand-year-old redwoods is both humbling and breathtaking. The federally protected area has been named a National Monument since 1908 and welcomes visitors of all ages to experience its unique beauty. For $10, you can enjoy the light ripples of the freshwater creek, a walk along the trails and a priceless photo looking like an ant next to one of the gigantic redwoods.

8. Sausalito

(Prayitno/Flickr)

Across the water and over the Golden Gate Bridge you’ll find the city of Sausalito, a wooded hillside with beautiful homes and even more beautiful views. The residential roads are windy and exciting, leaving you with a taste of adventure. The town is quaint and the food is delicious. Sausalito is San Francisco’s quiet escape with miles of hiking trails along the hills and mountains nearby. While there are a million things to do in San Francisco, and yes I suggest you do them all, Sausalito is a must on any NorCal to-do list.

Email Danielle at daihini@umass.edu or follow her on Twitter @Danielle_Aih.

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