An Amuse-Bouche: Planning Four Days in San Francisco

by Keith Savage · 15 comments


This weekend I’m in San Francisco – it’s my first trip since starting Traveling Savage, and I’m eager to apply some of the ideas and tactics I’ve written, read, and  learned about in the last five months. It won’t be an exact primer for my one month abroad template as I’m traveling with a friend and staying with family, but there are still several strategies in hand.

Build Excitement

More than one passage in The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau really struck me, but the chapter on preparing mentally and building excitement truly resonated. His point was that you need to read and learn about your destination – to give yourself time to want it – so that when you arrive it’s a sort of realization in the truest sense. With four days in San Francisco, I’ve built the excitement by watching late night reruns of Full House and Mrs. Doubtfire. Well, I considered it at least. I’ve actually spent my time in San Francisco media: reading articles, perusing photo galleries, and chatting up locals.

Plan Macro Experience Micro

The last thing I wanted to do was allocate every last scrap of time so I focused on learning about San Francisco’s interesting and diverse neighborhoods. My brother’s place is located near Golden Gate Park and Haight, which appears to be a nice location for getting around. I identified large-scale sections of the city that appealed to me and some of the haunts/activities within their boundaries. I also collected recommendations from some great travelers via Twitter and Facebook.

The memory of a trip is the “slow accretion of details.” Another Phil Cousineau gem. But truly, perhaps most in travel writing, details are the vehicle for shared experience. Focusing on details as you enjoy your trip can be demanding, but the remembrance of the trip will have a much higher resolution for yourself and the effect of transportation for others reading your writing. Plus, there’s something satisfying about noticing little things and locking them into paper (or digital ink).

Leave Room for Serendipity

I’m leaving this trip agenda pretty open, at least for me. I want to go with the flow, wherever it takes me. A big part of that belief is that I’ve realized serendipitous moments are often the most memorable, and they’re much harder to come by when you’re operating on a rigid schedule. With this style of trip, planning every last second of time before I arrive prevents me from learning what I’d like to be doing once I’m actually in San Francisco. Seems pretty obvious, right? It is, but many people plan trips from front to back before they arrive. I think there’s an initial feeling of discomfort in not knowing what you’re going to do. Once you get past that, however, it’s all joy.

It’s 4am as I type this – obviously sleep escapes me. Soon I’ll be on a flight, but please, if you have suggestions for things to do and see in San Francisco, post your thoughts and ideas in the comments. I’m also hoping for a tweet-up with Lauren from Lonely Girl Travels. If you’re in the area, tweet @travelingsavage.

If you’ve got four days in a place, how would you plan?

Original photo by wallyg via Flickr under Creative Commons


Nomadic ChickNo Gravatar May 19, 2010 at 12:32 AM

It will be fascinating to see how the *principles* hold. I’ll now read the falshbulb moments. 🙂
.-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog ..How To: Get Rid of Paper =-.

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Lauren QuinnNo Gravatar May 17, 2010 at 11:40 PM

So much serendipity! The Art of Pilgrimage has been sitting on my desk for months, waiting for me to read it. I heard Phil talk at last year’s Book Passage Travel Writers Conference (highly recommended, btw) and he totally blew me away.

Bummed we missed each other. This work thing is really messing with my social life. But hope you had fun at Bay to Breakers (my brother was the 6’6″ dude dressed up as a cow…).
.-= Lauren Quinn´s last blog ..Travel Fantasies, Work Realities and Impulsive Plane Ticket Purchases =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 18, 2010 at 4:13 PM

Yeah, sucks that we weren’t able to connect. Bay to Breakers is a blur – I might have seen 100,000 people in costumes. The Art of Pilgrimage has been hit and miss, but when it hits it hits hard. Well worth a read!

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ChristineNo Gravatar May 16, 2010 at 3:09 PM

Bummed that you’re in my city now that I’m in France! San Francisco is a lot of fun and has so many beautiful sites to see. I’ll be crossing my fingers the fog lifts and you get some sun while you’re there 🙂

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KeithNo Gravatar May 17, 2010 at 9:20 AM

Hey Christine, the weather’s been sub-optimal but apparently that’s the norm here. Rainy today but it shan’t stop us. I managed to get an excellent burn on my face during the overcast day yesterday. 🙂

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AbbyNo Gravatar May 16, 2010 at 10:15 AM

Have fun, Keith! I love that it’s your first trip since you started all of this. You’re so active in all of the travel circles that in my mind, you’re on the road all the time! Enjoy San Fran — eat some good on my behalf, pleeease. I’m back in rice-and-beans land!
.-= Abby´s last blog ..How to get robbed in 21 Steps =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 17, 2010 at 9:26 AM

Thanks Abby, will do! I think today will be one of many different cuisines: Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Thai…

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KatyaNo Gravatar May 15, 2010 at 2:59 PM

I love reading up on a place before I go, it also gives you the chance to be prepared mentally once you arrive, so that you can spend more time seeing things, instead of acclimating.
The last part about serendipity is something I still need to work on though, I am big on planning and I need to leave more room open for happy accidents.
.-= Katya´s last blog ..A Day of Reflection =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 18, 2010 at 4:09 PM

Good point about getting a head start on acclimating, that’s really true. I need to work on the serendipity too. It’s a fine line between that and not doing anything memorable.

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GrayNo Gravatar May 15, 2010 at 9:23 AM

I think this is an excellent approach, Keith. You really can’t plan too much ahead of time when you’re with other people, so just having some general ideas of neighborhoods and interesting places is probably best. I usually do have a busy itinerary planned when I travel (solo), but for me, it’s a safety net. The busier I am, the less likely I’ll feel lonely. The itinerary is there in case I need it, but if I decide once I’m there that I’d rather play it by ear, then I can do that.
.-= Gray´s last blog ..Shiny Travel Objects: May 9, 2010 =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 18, 2010 at 4:11 PM

I imagine I’ll follow a similar plan. Better to be over-prepared.

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TimNo Gravatar May 15, 2010 at 6:47 AM

An old wiseman once spoke of a fabled bridge that rises from the clouds and glows like a moorish sunrise. Legend has it a few brave souls have ventured to find this mythical marvel, but none have returned. Godspeed.

Oh, and the trolley cars are cool.

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KeithNo Gravatar May 18, 2010 at 4:07 PM

Thanks Tim, sadly I only saw one of the bridge’s post rising above the Fisherman’s Wharf. Guess I’ll need to come back.

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Jaime EngstromNo Gravatar May 15, 2010 at 5:20 AM

So excited that you’re going to SF! These are my suggestions:

1. Find the Tree Man near Fisherman’s Wharf. Or, take a walk along the boardwalk & he’ll find you.

2. Check out the second-hand clothing shops in the Mission district. Buying vintage by the pound is a must.

3. Muir woods – not necessarily in the city but just a 25 minute drive north. GIANT redwoods abound.

4. Head over to North Beach (the Italian district) & grab a drink at Vesuvio (cool old saloon) that’s across an alley from City Lights Bookstore (made famous by the Beats). Then head over to the Grant & Green area of North Beach for great music and – what else? – more drinks!

Have a great time!

-Jaime

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KeithNo Gravatar May 17, 2010 at 9:19 AM

Thanks for the recommendations, Jaime! Saw the Mission on Saturday and I really enjoyed the variety of cultural influences. Looking at North Beach/Chinatown/Japantown today.

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