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What does a mother do when they find themselves alone in San Francisco for a day and a night?
No bags stuffed with supplies for a family of four. No kids complaining. No trips to the playground or Children’s Museums necessary. No running around trying to please everyone.
This was where I found myself at 10am after flying in from Raleigh to join a group tour of Northern California the next day.
Since this is my third visit to this wonderful city in California, – one of my favorite cities in the USA – there was no need to tick off top San Francisco attractions. I found myself with the rare blissful freedom of just being able to wander and see what I am drawn to.
One of my favorite ways to explore a destination is to simply meander and watch how a city lives and pulses.
So, with a small backpack carrying only a camera and a water bottle, I set off from my hotel, the Marriott Marquis located in SOMA, near Union Square.
I knew I did not want to waste time on buses, or Ubers; I just wanted to walk, so I headed in the direction of Chinatown, an area I knew I’d love and give me a small taste of international travel I have so badly missed.
But, first, coffee.
What would any Australian mum do when they are on their own? Find the nearest Australian café for a flat white!
This San Francisco café didn’t have the lamingtons and vegemite on gluten free bread (boo hoo), so I settled for the flat white in a quiet corner. (Another great San Francisco coffee I discovered was Blue Bottle!)
San Francisco Chinatown
Fueled up, I walked through the gates of Chinatown, soaking up the smells and sounds and feeling a little unnerved at just how quiet this normally bustling largest Chinatown outside of Asia was.
You can read our post on things to do in San Francisco with kids for Chinatown attractions like enjoying the murals and Ross Alley, visiting the Tin How Temp Temple, and eating Golden Fortune cookies.
I was so happy to skip all of those and just walk.
We all know that the pandemic is a giant PAIN, but I did enjoy a much quieter experiencing exploring San Francisco in a day.
Coit Tower: An amazing San Francisco attraction
My footsteps then took me to Coit Tower, a San Francisco attraction we have surprisingly not visited before. I think someone mentioned it to us and we just brushed it aside.
Listen: Don’t brush it aside.
Especially if the typical San Francisco fog has risen and the blue sky is radiating. When that happens, you’ll see views that will make you think you’ve landed on a Greek island. (Check out this Reel)
Coit Tower is a 210-foot white, fluted tower in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. It’s surrounded by Pioneer Park, which was established in 1876 on the former site of the telegraph station.
It costs $10 to go to the top of the tower for the views, but it is worth it. You’ll get 360-degree unobstructed views of San Francisco city and bay area – all the way out to the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Alcatraz Island and Angel Island.
Be sure to ask the attendant to open the windows so you can get clear views and photos.
You may enjoy the murals downstairs on the walls telling the story of life in California during the Depression.
Pioneer Park, at the bottom of the tower has nice gardens and seating areas and trails. I absolutely LOVED the gigantic gum trees around here. As if San Francisco didn’t’ remind me of Sydney enough.
I’ve been told there are parrots along the paths in Pioneer Park. the tower here. I did not see any but was not paying attention.
Washington Square and North Beach
After soaking up the views, my footsteps lead me down the hill past Washington Square and right down into North Beach.
You won’t find sandy shores here (but in the 1800s there was!), but you will find endless options for pizza, pasta, and gelato. North Beach is the Italian neighborhood of San Francisco.
Jack Kerouac and the counter culture Beatnik movement made this the most infamous of the San Francisco neighborhoods.
Washington Square Park is one of the three oldest parks in San Francisco and is the place to come on a sunny day with your coffee and pastries.
The famous St Peter and Paul Church is here and is where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio had their wedding photos on the stairs.
Check out our Guide on San Francisco Neighborhoods
Lunch at Chubby Noodle
Nestled between all these Italian cafes in North Beach was the Chubby Noodle, which is where if found myself eating!
For a gluten free eater, Italian can sometimes be a little tricky. And North Beach borders Chinatown so we can pretend it was in there!
I’m so glad I stopped here as I slurped up the most delicious, braised beef pho. It tasted like my Mum’s Sunday Roast in a hearty, healthy soup. Gosh it was good and so filling.
City of Lights Bookstore
City Lights Bookstore was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin and became became an instant gathering place for readers, writers, artists, and activists.
This bookstore is synonymous with Beatnik culture, showcasing the Beat Generation’s writing works and is best known for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howland Other Poems.
City of Lights is one of the most famous independent bookstores in the USA and has the most comprehensive collections of any bookstore in San Francisco.
Across three floors you’ll find new-release books from major publishing houses as well as harder-to-find, specialty publishers.
I headed straight to the second floor where the Beatnik publications are and did what anyone wannabe writer and devout traveler would do, picked up a copy of The Open Road at City of Lights Bookstore and headed next door to Vesuvio Café to read a few chapters.
Vesuvio Café has been on my San Francisco bucket list for some time, but as its 21+ bar we walked past on our previous visit.
I was not going to pass up this moment on my own to read a book with a glass of wine in one of the most famous bars in the USA.
It’s the kind of bar you want to sit around in all day and, while I relished the opportunity to sit on my own and read, I was envious of the twenty-somethings sitting around the bar deep in conversation and laughter.
This was a pub that told stories.
And had stories born from within – many of the greats have gotten sloshed here: Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan.
I chose one of the balcony tables by the window over looking the bookstore and Jack Kerouac Alley.
Kerouac has made me want to return to 21-year-old me, with my backpack filled with minimal possessions, my wallet filled with minimal money, and a heart, mind, and soul open to finding my way, figuring it out, and embracing all experiences that the road takes me to.
I miss that wild, an adventurous style of travel, and this one day in San Francisco gave me a small taste once again to the beauty of solo travel.
It hasn’t made me want to dump Craig and the girls from my future travel, but instead find ways to weave it in more.
Now the girls are in school, I can plan for those kind of travel experiences, and make room for Craig to do the same!!
Budget travelers take note. If you purchase a book from City of Lights, you get a beer, well spirit or hose wine from Vesuvio Café for only $5.
I contemplated getting a Kerouac cocktail but since it was still early, and I had more walking to do, I settled for a glass of the house Pinot Gris making the flavors of the Italian North Beach neighborhood the café is located in.
Jack Kerouac Alley
Either on your way in or out of Vesvuio Cafe, pause for a bit to admire Kack Kerouac Alley which sits beside the cafe and City Lights Bookstore. In fact, Vesuvio may even have tables and Chairs out there.
This small alley is filled with murals and poetic wisdom from the greats starting from Confucius at the East side of the Alley (which is in Chinatown) moving down to Mayou Angelo down the west side of the alley (in North Beach)
A merging of the east and west philosophies. So clever!
Don’t miss these other San Francisco Hidden Gems
Stay: Marriott Marquis San Francisco
Then it was back to the Marriott Marquis to meet my fellow travelers (soon to be new friends, and a few old ones!) for a welcome orientation drink.
For the next nine days, I’d be twisting up my solo travels – bringing in much loved and appreciated company by the way of friends and having everything planned and organized for me (blissful travel) while still getting the Mum break I very much needed.
And of course, the opportunity to sleep starfish in a King-sized bed.
Here is the post on 7 reasons I loved my Globus Choice Tour of Northern California
I was very impressed with the size of the rooms at the Marriot Marquis. I had a corner suite with great views. The hotel is centrally located in SoMa and near to Union Square.
The breakfast buffet at the Marriott Marquis was pretty good, if that is what you enjoy. Otherwise, you’re in San Francisco, there are plenty of places everywhere serving up delicious food!
Our first evening stay at the Marriott was part of the Globus Journeys Northern California Tour, which included the buffet breakfast.
I booked another room at the Marriott Marquis on our return back to San Francisco after the tour. I used Priceline’s random hotel feature to grab a great deal of just $140 a night with taxes and fees (usually $200+)
You are taking a gamble when you use Priceline as they don’t tell you the hotel until after you’ve booked. But I knew:
- the area it was going to be in
- it was a 4 star hotel
I researched the four star hotels in the area and was happy with them. I was only concerned about getting stuck with a resort / hotel amenity fee which many of them charge in San Francisco!
I lucked out! No resort fee at the Marriott Marquis. While I would have loved to have tried another San Francisco hotel, I was very happy to stay another night here. My room was a little smaller this time but still fantastic with great views.
As a Marriot Bonvoy member you will receive free Wi-Fi during your stay.
- Book through Marriott direct
- read more reviews and book on booking.com
- See if you can find a great deal on Priceline here
- Where to stay in San Francisco: 24 hotels from budget to luxury.
The View Lounge
Staying an extra night at the end of our tour meant that I got to experience the Marriott Marquis’ View Lounge on the 48th floor. It’s an Art Deco-inspired rooftop restaurant and bar with hand crafted cocktails and small plates.
Whether you want to eat there or not (pricey), I highly recommend visiting the View Lounge, especially at sunset. I had all the time in the world to sit and soak it up.
The view was so lovely that I ordered cocktails, tacos and desserts! I rarely splurge or eat dessert in this way. But, my soul just needed the celebration,
I was coming off a fantastic nine day trip with wonderful people and filled with happy memories and I was excited to be going home to see Craig and the girls.
This solo mom trip reminded me of just how blessed my life has been. It never came to me via luck. I rarely acknowledge that it came to me because of my sheer determination, passion and commitment to doing whatever it takes to make every day count.
So I splurged on myself to say, “Job well done. Keep the faith and keep creating.”
Want to visit San Francisco for longer than a day?
We’ve mapped out your 3 day trip to San Francisco, including what we think are the unmissable San Francisco attractions and give you a time frame to enjoy them, plus a handy map to help you get around!
Comment: Do you travel as a solo mom? Tell me your favorite memories and tips.