By popular demand (well, like 2 people), I am starting a series of posts on my infamous (to like, 3 people) trip suggestion lists/guides. I’ve had various lists in my Dropbox that I send to people, and I want to clean them up, update them, and post them for the general public.

This may not be helpful to you now, but hopefully it will be at some point! When that point comes, I recommend going through the list, marking what sounds interesting to you, starring those favorites on Google Maps, and then planning an itinerary based on what’s close to each other. My friend Michelle calls this “trip tetris.” Or if you’re a P instead of a J, keep the list handy and see what you feel like doing when you wake up, and map it when you go out the door. 😉

The first region I’d like to start with is my hometown of the Bay Area. The Bay Area is comprised of many cities, but people who live here often transport between multiple cities a day. It is broken down mainly into San Francisco, North Bay, East Bay, Far East Bay (I made that up), South Bay/Silicon Valley, and the Peninsula.

Regions of the Bay Area. Courtesy of

Regions of the Bay Area. Courtesy of

Here we go! I apologize if some of these suggestions are outdated (please let me know so I can delete!). Some may be “too touristy” for you…just pick and choose!

Bay Area List:

San Francisco (aka “The City” or “SF”)

side note: do not call SF “San Fran” or “Frisco”…just…don’t. And SFO is not actually in San Francisco, so it’s technically not accurate to refer to SF as SFO either. Just call it “San Francisco” or “SF”. If you’re outside of SF, you can call it “The City”. /end rant

Esther’s SF Yelp Reviews (click here) – mostly restaurants


  • Rent a bike and bike around the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito (very cute quaint little seaside town with yummy ice cream). You can take the ferry back to SF with the bike if you feel too tired to bike the return route.

Driving and/or BARTing:

  • Drive down Lombard Street (starting at Lombard & Hyde), the most famous “crookedest street in the world” (there’s actually another one in SF at 19th & Vermont St but Lombard is much more famous and better manicured)
  • Off The Grid (~15 well known food trucks)
  • Food truck pods: gather Friday nights at Fort Mason and other days at other locations)
  • Twin Peaks
    • One of the best 360° views of the Bay Area, there is free parking up there too
  • Golden Gate Park
    • Super beautiful and extremely large park filled with museums and ponds and gardens
      • California Academy of Sciences – worth going to, but need almost a whole day, they also have Nightlife events every Thursday night which are basically events for adults (21+) where they sell alcohol and open a few exhibits and have special talks and themes.
      • Japanese Tea Garden
      • De Young Museum
    • 16th Avenue Tiled Steps Project – beautiful mosaic artwork decorating 163 steps located at Moraga St between 15th and 16th Avenue in the Inner Sunset district (close to Golden Gate Park)
    • Sutro Baths
      • Beautiful ruins, great photo opportunities
    • Great food can be found along Geary Blvd
      • Start at Japantown for some delicious eats, my favorites are Sophie’s Crepes and Anderson Bakery, and some good shopping (Daiso is the largest Japanese $1.50 store)
      • Hui Lau Shan (Creations Dessert House) is a really yummy Hong Kong style dessert café
      • Some good shabu shabu places
      • The dim sum on Geary Blvd (Outer Richmond area) is better than Chinatown
      • Check out Miki Ramen and Purple Kow (boba)
    • Union Square (closest BART is Powell) has the best shopping in the Bay Area (besides outlets), lots of multi-story brand names (3 story Uniqlo, 2 story H&M, 3 story Forever 21, 2 story Zara, 10? story Macy’s Women, etc)
      • Also great photo opportunities with the giant hand-painted heart statues featuring famous scenic spots of SF
    • Chinatown (closest BART is Powell)
      • You could start at Powell St and take the famous trolley ($5) up to Chinatown
      • Be prepared to be immersed in a loud, crowded, Cantonese-speaking environment
      • R&G Lounge is a great (but on the expensive side) Chinese restaurant that was/is(?) Michelin-recommended!
      • The dim sum is better in Outer Richmond than here, but there are some good fast to-go places around here, lots of bakeries. If you’re lucky enough for Golden Gate Bakery to be open when you’re here, definitely get their egg tarts (dan ta), they’re the best here!
      • There isn’t really much good boba here, sorry.
    • Little Saigon (closest BART is Civic Center)
      • Delicious Vietnamese restaurants, the most famous ones are located here, such as Turtle Tower (best known for pho ga or chicken pho) and Pho 2000 (for beef pho)
      • While you’re here, walk over to the City Hall – beautiful architecture, and also right across from the Asian Art Museum
    • Yerba Buena Gardens
      • Beautiful gardens and fountains across the street from the famous Moscone Center (where Apple keynotes are made and lots of other conferences occur)
      • Right next to the Metreon, which has an IMAX theater and a Sharetea (boba from Taiwan)
    • The Mission district
      • Famous for Bi-Rite Creamery (always a long line for their unique ice creams!), Ike’s Sandwiches (probably THE best sandwiches you’ll ever have), and Tartine Bakery
      • Take your ice cream and sandwich and eat them at the top of the hill at Dolores Park, which is great for people-watching


  • Angel Island
    • Take a ferry to Angel Island from various places (check Blue & Gold Fleet)
    • Hike up to the top of the island for the most gorgeous 360° views of the entire Bay Area – this is about a 5 mile round trip hike, but there are various ways to go up and get down, and the entire hike will be filled with breathtaking sceneries. I highly highly HIGHLY recommend this.
    • Check out the Angel Island Immigration Center (“Ellis Island of the West Coast”), lots of history regarding Asians (mostly Chinese) and the persecution they faced here trying to immigrate to the US
    • There are also bike, Segway, and tram tours available
  • Alcatraz, the infamous prison
  • You can also ferry throughout the bay to other cities such as Tiburon, Sausalito, Alameda, and Vallejo.

SAMPLE Walking tour along Embarcadero (this will take half a day!)

  • Start at Ferry Building (near Embarcadero BART) and sample the delicious foods
    • Some of the more famous places: Blue Bottle Coffee, Slanted Door, Hog Island Oyster, Cowgirl Creamery
    • If you’re here on a weekend, you’ll be lucky enough to check out the farmer’s market!
    • Check out the Embarcadero Bow & Arrow sculpture with a backdrop of the Bay Bridge!
  • Walk up along The Embarcadero to TCHO for free chocolate factory tour/samples (sign up online)
  • If you have time, the Exploratorium is a fun hands-on science museum but you can come back another day, you’ll need several hours here. They have certain free admission days and also nighttime events for adults (21+) called After Dark where alcohol is served.
  • Cut through Broadway and climb up the steps to Coit Tower (Pioneer Park) for gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge
  • Continue to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf (Pier 41) – lots of little touristy shops, and a view of the sea lions lounging next to the pier
  • Eat a bowl of SF’s famous clam chowders along Fisherman’s Grotto, which is a bunch of street stands on Taylor St next to Fisherman’s Wharf
    • OR you can get a free tour of Boudin Bakery and then eat a bowl of clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (sit-down style instead of street stand)
  • Continue walking along the Jefferson Street enjoying the street performers, including the Bush Man—you’ll know what I’m talking about when you “see” him
    • You’ll see SF’s In-N-Out, probably the fanciest In-N-Out ever. If you’re not from California/Nevada, you NEED to have In-N-Out! Best cheap burger ever. Try the “secret menu” – get grilled onions on your burger, get “animal style” burger and fries.
  • Pass through the San Francisco Maritime park (beautiful lawn) and head up Larkin Street one block to Ghirardelli Square (you should be able to see the huge sign while walking)
    • Enjoy a free chocolate square at Ghirardelli Square (just walk through the shop, they hand them out in the front) and peruse the cute/fun shops here
    • Kara’s Cupcakes is pretty reputable
  • Continue walking along the coastline, passing through Crissy Field (great views of the Golden Gate Bridge!!) to the Palace of Fine Arts
    • The Palace of Fine Arts was originally constructed for the 1915 Expo, great photo opportunity and beautiful pond with swans!
  • Get back to your starting point by taking the bus (MUNI)

East Bay

  • UC Berkeley/Oakland
    • Can’t start talking about the East Bay without its most famous landmark!
    • Start by driving from I-80 at University Ave west
      • 4th Avenue has a bunch of cute shopping and great restaurants, especially for brunch
      • As you get closer to the Downtown Berkeley BART station, a lot of great small cafes and bakeries pop up, such as :
        • Asha (great high quality tea)
        • Paris Baguette (yummy Korean pastries and desserts)
        • 85C Bakery Cafe (yummy Taiwanese baked goods and drinks)
        • Purple Kow (great boba)
        • Sharetea (great boba chain from Taiwan – this is actually along Bancroft Ave)
    • From Shattuck Ave & Vine St, stop along Shattuck for coffee or food
      • Peet’s Coffee on Walnut & Vine is the first Peet’s Coffee!
      • Masse’s Pastries has great French pastries and macarons!
      • Cheeseboard is famous for their unique daily vegetarian pizzas (there’s always a line!)
      • Gourmet Ghetto (not a restaurant, but a collection of small gourmet fast food shops) is between Vine and Cedar on Shattuck
      • Chez Panisse has 2 Michelin stars but if it’s in your budget, go for it! (Lunch is cheaper)
      • Gregoire has some great to-go French food and sandwiches
      • Philz Coffee is well known for their mint mojito iced coffee
      • Brazil Café is famous for their tritip sandwiches and mango smoothies
      • PIQ has delicious Italian baked goods
      • La Note is seriously the BEST brunch ever (French)
    • Drive up Hearst Ave, you can park somewhere and walk around campus
      • Honestly, the campus isn’t that beautiful overall compared to many other US campuses, but it has a lot of history. Walk around Doe Library, check out the Campanile (the tower), and imagine protests occurring at the famous Sather Gates (entrance to the university at Telegraph Ave)
    • Turn right on Gayley and then left on to drive up Centennial Drive to the Lawrence Hall of Science, which offers the best view of the Bay Area from the East side perspective (hint: GREAT SUNSETS!)
      • If you were to keep going, there’s a beautiful park with lots of hiking at Tilden Park
    • Drive back down the mountain the way you came, and aim for College Avenue
  • Drive away from campus down College Avenue, and see the cute shops along this quaint street
    • Ici is like the Bi-Rite of the East Bay…always a line, always different unique flavors of ice cream
    • Zachary’s Pizza is a delicious deep-dish pizza restaurant
  • Head to Piedmont Ave, which has even more shops and restaurants than College Ave
    • Mr. Green Bubble – great boba and snacks
    • Fenton’s Creamery – famous for its role at the end of Pixar’s movie Up, a ice cream shop and restaurant rich in history and butterfat. Make sure you walk through the restaurant (it’s ok, you don’t need to have a table) to watch them making ice cream on the premises and see a screenprint of their Up appearance on the wall next to the bathroom
    • Lush Gelato – delicious gelato, perhaps slightly healthier than Fenton’s
    • Geta Sushi­ – cheap sushi restaurant, but Shimizu is higher quality
  • If it’s Sunday, check out Berkeley’s Thai Temple for a delicious authentic Thai meal. Great idea for brunch.
  • I’m not TOO familiar with much of Oakland, but there’s this really wonderful enclosure of restaurants called Swan’s Marketplace, and I am aware that Oakland has a lot of up-and-coming cafes, bars, and restaurants. Probably best to defer to Yelp for Oakland food recommendations.
    • Check out a concert at the historical Fox Theater
    • Go broomballing or ice skating at Oakland Ice Center
    • Go for a stroll or run around Lake Merritt
  • Berkeley Marina
    • Skates on the Bay – fine dining with a Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge view
    • HS Lordships – located next to Skates so same wonderful view, great place for events, great place for birthdays since you get a $40 entrée free for your birthday (sign up here)
    • Cesar Chavez Park – very windy park, great for kite flying, running
  • Takara Sake – fun and short activity; a little museum illustrating the history of sake and sake tastings
  • Good food around the area:
    • Best Peking Duck in the Bay Area is right here in Berkeley at Great China, you MUST get the Peking Duck.
    • Excellent Japanese izakaya – Ippuku (Berkeley)
    • Excellent Japanese omakase sushi – Sushi Sho (El Cerrito, need a reservation for this; only open 4 nights a week, 3 seatings per night, 6 people max per seating if I recall correctly)
    • Indian snacks at Vik’s Chaat
    • Telegraph Ave is known as the Koreatown of the East Bay.
      • Seoul Gomtang – best for oxtail soups, dolsot bibimbap, most homey feel
      • Ohgane – best Korean BBQ (AYCE some days), and you get 20 side dishes
      • Yuyu Jajang – great jjajangmyun (black bean noodles)
      • Bowl’d – great dolsot bibimbap (hot stone bowl rice dish)
      • Kang Tong Degi or Dan Dung Sa– Korean bar food, comfort food, soju cocktails
      • OB Chicken Town – Korean bar specializing in fried chicken
      • Casserole House – amazing casseroles (giant stews for 2-3 people)
      • Sahn Maru Korean BBQ – more Korean BBQ, cheaper than Ohgane
      • Bakesale Betty ­– not Korean, but known for fried chicken sandwiches and baked goods
      • Koreana Plaza – Korean market, has a hot food section too
    • Pacific East Mall in Richmond has all the good Chinese food and mix of other foods, plus shops and a Ranch 99 Market
      • Daimo (Cantonese)
      • Sichuan Fusion (Sichuan)
      • Pho Saigon (Vietnamese pho)
      • Saigon Seafood Harbor Restaurant (dim sum)
      • Music Tunnel KTV (karaoke)
      • Real Escape games
    • Oakland Chinatown
      • Best banh mi: BC Deli
      • Best boba: Shiny Tea (tieguanyin milk tea!)
      • Best Sichuan: Spices 3
    • Best brunches:
      • Bette’s Oceanview Diner
      • La Note (my personal favorite)
      • Café Biere (bottomless mimosas!)
      • 900 Grayson
      • Venus Restaurant
    • Best pizza:
      • Hot Italian (Emeryville)
      • Cheeseboard (Berkeley)
      • Zachary’s (Berkeley)
      • Little Star Pizza (Albany)
      • Artichoke Basille’s Pizza (Berkeley)
    • The Far East Bay
      • Walnut Creek
        • Known for higher end shopping, restaurants
        • Check out Lafayette Reservoir for a nice picnic area
      • Dublin/Pleasanton/San Ramon
        • Very high concentration of shopping, up-and-coming restaurants
        • Home to one of 3-4 real IMAX theaters in the Bay Area
        • Gotta Eatta Pita – great Mediterranean food, best falafels and pita bread
        • Favorite Indian Restaurant – great inexpensive Indian buffet with a large variety of options. Including chai tea, sodas, soups, mango ice cream soft serve, and Indian desserts!
      • Livermore
        • Olive oil tastings
        • Downtown Livermore is cute (check out First Street Alehouse for their pear cider and apricot ale)
      • Brentwood
        • Fruit farms with u-pick your own fruits


  • Stanford University – drive down Palm Drive, walk into Memorial Church
    • Short hike (3 miles round trip?) to The Dish for great views (park at Stanford Ave & Junipero Serra)
    • Drive/walk down University Ave for lots of fancy-ish restaurants and shops
  • Castro Street (Mountain View) – street of great restaurants and shops
    • Best boba: Tea Era (roasted barley milk tea!)
    • Shalala (ramen)
    • Fu La Mum (dim sum)
  • Computer History Museum (Mountain View) – great exhibits for nerds
  • San Mateo – home to some of the best Chinese food in the Bay Area
    • Ramen Dojo – one of the best ramen in the Bay Area
    • Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot – Taiwanese hot pot
    • Zabu Zabu – Japanese hot pot
    • Suruki Supermarket – come here to get 50% off at the end of day sale for food items like sushi!
    • Takahashi Market
    • San Mateo Japanese Gardens
  • Koi Palace (Daly City) – really good but somewhat pricey dim sum
  • Half Moon Bay – beach, nice but very cold

South Bay

  • East San Jose Vietnamese area
    • Best pho in the Bay Area: Pho Y #1 and Pho Ha (update: apparently Pho Y #1 is not as great anymore, and everyone goes to Pho 90 on Story Rd now)
    • Vietnamese mall: Grand Century Plaza (lots of shops and food stands, including the best sugarcane juice and green waffles!)
  • San Jose Japanese Friendship Garden – one of the bigger Japanese gardens, and free! Great place for picnics too.
  • Downtown San Jose
    • Tech Museum
    • Children’s Discovery Museum
  • Santa Clara
    • Great America – amusement park known for its Dropzone
    • El Camino area is the Koreatown of the South Bay
      • Jang Su Jang – best all-around Korean food and BBQ
      • Lawrence Square Shopping Center – Korean food court and shops
      • SGD Tofu House – delicious soondubu tofu soup
      • Gen Korean BBQ – one of the more famous KBBQ, came from LA
    • Saratoga
      • Villa Montalvo – pretty Italian-Mediterranean style mansion in the hills, hiking in the back, is also an arts center with indoor and outdoor art and gardens
      • Hakone Gardens – beautiful traditional Japanese garden, oldest Japanese-style residential garden in the Western Hemisphere
    • Cupertino
      • Cupertino Village – great Asian food, from boba (Fantasia and Ten Ren) to Taiwanese delights to teppanyaki
      • Apple Company Store (1 Infinite Loop) – only open on weekdays
      • Valley Fair – home of the Bay Area’s first Din Tai Fung, one of the busiest malls in the Bay Area
      • Santana Row  – across from Valley Fair, upscale and swanky outdoor mall where people will parade their fancy sports cars down its short traffic-congested center lane
    • Milpitas
      • McCarthy Ranch (99 Ranch Plaza) – tons of great Asian restaurants, boba (best is Fantasia), karaoke, $20 full-body massages for an hour
      • Great Malaysian food at Banana Leaf
    • Fremont
      • Lake Elizabeth – nice area for picnic or run around the lake
      • Great Indian food at Pakwan Restaurant and Shalimar Restaurant
      • Great Taiwanese desserts and boba at Sno-Crave Tea House
      • More great boba from Taiwanese chain Gong Cha
      • Bob Sang Korean BBQ & Tofu
      • De Afghanan Kabob House (recommended by my Afghani Uber driver once!)

North Bay

  • Tomales Bay – grill your own oysters (bring supplies for a picnic, buy raw oysters there!)
  • Muir Woods – beautiful hikes among tall redwoods and a tree you can drive through
  • Point Reyes – beaches and hikes
  • Point Bonita – there’s a lighthouse here and also spectacular views from the north of SF and the bridges
  • Sausalito and Tiburon are both quaint little romantic towns where you can stroll along the waterfront and peruse the shops and restaurants
  • Mount Tamalpais – go here at sunrise or sunset, it is one of the most beautiful scenes in nature…the cloud layer is beneath you as the sun rises/sets
  • Hikes
    • Mount Diablo (Walnut Creek)
    • Mission Peak (Fremont)
    • Muir Woods (North Bay)
    • San Bruno Mountains (Daly City)
    • Lake Chabot (San Leandro)
    • The Dish (Stanford)
    • Angel Island’s Mt. Livermore
    • Point Reyes
    • Tilden Park (Berkeley)
  • Outlet Malls
    • Vacaville Premium Outlets
    • Gilroy Premium Outlets
    • The Great Mall (Milpitas)
    • San Francisco Premium Outlets (Livermore) – yeah, I have no idea why it’s called that…given that it’s an HOUR drive away east from SF)
  • Silicon Valley Companies (most require escorts)
    • Apple (Cupertino) – you can go to the Company Store on campus without an escort. This is the only place in the world you can buy official Apple clothing and gifts like mugs, notepads, mousepads, water bottles, keychains, etc. They do not sell computers here, but do sell iPods.
    • Google (Mountain View)
    • Facebook (Menlo Park)
    • Pixar (Emeryville) – my personal favorite!
    • Genentech (South SF)
    • Adobe (San Jose)
    • eBay (Campbell)
  • From my friend Sandy: “Classic movie theaters. There’s no better place to see old movies than in one of those beautiful movie palaces from the 20s and 30s that still exist in the Bay Area:+ Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto: shows movies from the 30s to 50s almost daily, dead cheap ($7 for a double feature, popcorn and soda from $1), Wurlitzer being played before and after every evening show, has a huge and ever changing collection of classic movie posters and other movie paraphernalia+ Paramount Theatre in Oakland: art deco theatre, show movies classics (complete with Wurlitzer, newsreel, cartoons and raffle) on Fridays about once a month (next one will be “Goldfinger”)+ Castro Theatre in San Francisco: shows classics, art-house and foreign movies, festivals

    + Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont: Chaplin worked here for a little while and they shot cowboy movies in Niles Canyon; the little theater is nothing special, buy they show silent movies with live piano every Saturday”

    (Thanks, Sandy!)

Outside of immediate Bay Area:

  • Monterey/Carmel-by-the-Sea
    • Quaint beach towns
    • Best sandy white beach in Northern California, very romantic and picturesque
    • Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Santa Cruz
    • Beach Boardwalk
    • Beach sand is more coarse but this is more of a surfer beach town
  • Napa
    • Bouchon Bakery (best baguettes and French macarons)
    • Wineries:
      • Castello di Amorosa (this is a real castle, highly recommend the tour of the castle!)
      • V. Sattui (intimate setting, great place to picnic)
      • Robert Mondavi (probably the most famous/touristy winery in Napa)
      • Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch (check out the tour of the properties, and stay for dinner)
    • Oxbow Public Market
      • Like a mini Ferry Building (SF), great eats here
    • French Laundry (3 Michelin stars, $$$$$ and requires reservations months in advance!)
  • Sonoma County is another option instead of Napa
  • Fairfield
    • Jelly Belly factory tour
  • Sacramento/Davis
    • State Capitol
    • Best ramen in Northern California: Shoki Ramen House II (get the soy milk ramen)
  • Yosemite – no explanation needed, the inspiration of Ansel Adams. Hike Yosemite Falls or Half Dome, and check out Glacier Point!
  • Big Sur – beautiful campgrounds and hikes
    • McWay Falls – waterfall right onto a pristine beach
    • Pfieffer Beach – beautiful soft white sand beach with picturesque rock formations right along the coastline
  • Lake Tahoe – beautiful in both winter and summer, best place to do snow sports in California



Breakfast of Champions (Portreo Hill)


Valentine’s Day Pillow Fight (Justin Herman Plaza)


St. Patrick’s Day Festival (Civic Center)


Cherry Blossom Festival (Japantown)

SF International Film Festival

Summer Nights @ Oakland Museum of California (last Friday of every month until October)


Asian Heritage Festival (Civic/Saigon)

Bay to Breakers

Treasure Island Flea

SF Carnaval (Mission)

Maker Faire (San Mateo)


LGBT Pride

Chocolate and Chalk Art Festival (Berkeley)

Live Oak Park Fair (North Berkeley)

San Mateo County Fair

Alameda County Fair


4th of July SF Waterfront (Pier 39)

Fillmore Jazz Festival

North Beach Jazz Festival

Berkeley Kite Festival

Gilroy Garlic Festival


Mission Street Food Festival


Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival

Oakland Eat Real

Spice of Life Festival (Gourmet Ghetto Berkeley)


Castro Street Fair

Oktoberfest by the Bay


Nike Women’s Marathon

Chinatown Night Market

Portsmouth Square

Every Saturday 6-11 pm through November 8


Holiday Festival of Lights (SF)

Union Square Tree Lighting Ceremony (SF)

Christmas in the Park (San Jose)