24 Hours in San Francisco – Beanies & Bikinis (Pack Both!)

Mark Twain once said “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” The typical summer day in San Francisco rarely tops 70 degrees. The day we were there the thermometer sputtered to reach 60. We drove up from Los Angeles and added layers with each passing hour during the ride. When we got to San Francisco, our heads were cold. It was late August and 58 degrees. Just 18 hours earlier, we had been boogie boarding in Santa Monica on an 85-degree day.

We had 24 hours in this fantastic city so what did we do on a chilly, overcast, dreary Saturday? We hopped a trolley and headed to the beach!

Walking along the waterfront and historic (and never dull) Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghiradelli Square, we saw every garment being worn, from shorts and flip-flops to heavy coats and scarves and mittens. We saw men swimming in the bay wearing wet suits or speedos, and women of all shapes and sizes grabbing a few afternoon laps in the bay in nothing more than a bikini. That’s right. While we purchased touristy-knitted animal-shaped beanies along Fisherman’s Wharf–people swam in San Francisco Bay’s funky cocktail of freshwater and saltwater protected only by a strip or two of polyester.

And that’s what I love about San Francisco. It’s a city of contrasts. It’s rowdy in Union Square and serene at the Japanese Tea Garden. It’s 58 degrees and freezing on a Saturday night so folks swim. It’s sunny and 70 degrees the following day so people sit at a cafe with a hot coffee. Freshwater mixes with saltwater. East mixes with West. My visits here are always shorter than they should be. No matter how many times I come by, I’m always underdressed and thrilled to be in town because every street corner offers something unexpected.

What to do when it’s below 70 degrees?

There’s always people-watching along the bay. We did. We also enjoyed decadent hot cocoa at Ghiradelli Square, though (dare I say this publicly?) it was too decadent for this chocohalic. The shopping was fun and I spent probably way too much time and money at Gigi and Rose where I bought a beautiful, sparkly, citron-colored scarf because that’s my weak spot when I travel: scarves. Gigi and Rose sold jewelry by Amano Studio, a Sonoma, California-based company, so now I’m hooked on them, too. I really, really wanted to grab some snacks and souvenirs, from Boudin Bakery, like a giant sourdough crab,but the line never let up. Next time. After freezing our tails off by the water, we spent the night at the beautiful Westin St. Francis hotel. There are the new and historic sections to the hotel. We stayed in the historic section and had a room overlooking Union Square where people gathered in sleeping bags to watch an outdoor movie that night. We stayed very much indoors and the hotel served us milk and cookies. Westin St. Francis also had the best soap–white tea aloe, green leaf-shaped silky smooth bars of soap. I get giddy just talking about it. While I loved Westin St. Francis’s hospitality (and its soap) Union Square itself is too much of a retail mecca for me. I’m not a mall gal at home or on the road.

What to do when it’s above 70 degrees:

Feeling lazy? So are the sea lions on Pier 39, but tons of sightseers come by to watch these creatures laze in the sun. It’s not a bad way to spend 15 minutes, plus there’s a carousel and other boardwalk goodies nearby.

Our leisure Sunday morning continued with kite-flying along the bay. Not too far from lazy sea lions, is San Francisco Kites. This will go down as one of my favorite family vacation memories. We bought a blue macaw kite, unwrapped everything along the beach, and really the wind took the toy and did the rest. I often complain about the chotchke plastic junk that families buy for their kids, but this kite was a piece of plastic worth the investment. We had a fantastic time and barely moved a muscle because bay breezes just grabbed our kite and danced.

Cloudy or clear, San Francisco is always radiant. If you’re not outside enjoying its bay, its gardens, its parks and mountains then you need cognitive behavioral therapy. I could have spent all day at Golden Gate Park, home to the Japanese Tea Garden (a great place to relax), a rose garden, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Shakespeare’s Garden, and an AIDS Memorial Grove. Again, next time, and with the giant crab sourdough bun in hand.

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