A Day Exploring San Francisco’s Spectacular Coastline

Already spoiled with panoramic bay views, high hilltop outlooks, and charming natural oases, the downtown dwellers of San Francisco rarely make it all the way to the other side of the city. It’s a bit ridiculous given the 7×7 quaintness of San Francisco, but, hey, it’s quicker to cross the bay into Oakland then to journey all the way to the outer reaches of Fog City—a nickname that only becomes fully realized the more you venture west.

So, Big & I decided to take a day trip out to the coast, to nosh on some fancy toast, explore whimsical windmills, climb up sandy dunes, wander through ruins, hike the coast, and walk what has to be one of the most scenic labyrinths in the world. Here’s a look at our journey, with full details (and a handy walking map!) below—we recommend every part of it.


1. Trouble Coffee Co.: Grab a coffee, coconut, and slice of cinnamon toast

This tiny coffee shop at 4033 Judah Street were the pioneers of the (in)famous $4 artisanal toast wave. Note the “Back in 5” sign here: That 5 was more like 20 for us, but the adjacent tree-trunk-sculpted parklet made the wait a bit more tolerable.
This tiny coffee shop at 4033 Judah Street were the pioneers of the (in)famous $4 artisanal toast wave. Note the “Back in 5” sign here: That 5 was more like 20 for us, but the adjacent tree-trunk-sculpted parklet made the wait a bit more tolerable.
coconut
No complex menu here: just order the thick slice of cinnamon toast slathered in Grade AA butter and add a cup of joe and a fresh young coconut to wash it all down.

2. Cool Beach Bungalows: Strike a pose 

Feelin’ the colors…
Feelin’ the colors…

3. The South (Murphy) Windmill: See the largest of its kind in the world

The Murphy Windmill would attempt to outshine its sister attraction (the next spot on our list) by becoming the largest windmill in the world outside of Holland when it was completed in 1908. Its sails reach out 114 feet. It was used to pump fresh well water into the park. After going into a state of disrepair, it’s been brought back to its former glory thanks to windmill experts based in the Netherlands, of course.
The Murphy Windmill would attempt to outshine its sister attraction (the next spot on our list) by becoming the largest windmill in the world outside of Holland when it was completed in 1908. Its sails reach out 114 feet. It was used to pump fresh well water into the park. After going into a state of disrepair, it’s been brought back to its former glory thanks to windmill experts based in the Netherlands, of course.

4. The North (Dutch) Windmill: Frolic through the tulip gardens

The Dutch Windmill was built in 1902, before its much-bigger sister, and is now the whimsical focal point of the bright and beautiful Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, intricately speckled with thousands of vibrantly colored bulbs.
The Dutch Windmill was built in 1902, before its much-bigger sister, and is now the focal point of the bright and beautiful Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, intricately speckled with thousands of vibrantly colored bulbs.

5. Sutro Heights Park: Get a bird’s eye view of Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach

Walk along the Great Highway and take a right at Balboa Street to climb these sandy steps.
Walk along the Great Highway and take a right at Balboa Street to climb these sandy steps.
sutroview
The top of Sutro Heights Park offers sweeping views of Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park.
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Weave your way to the park’s peak and explore the area where Adolph Sutro’s luxurious, cliffside estate once sat above the original Cliff House.

6. Sutro Baths: Explore the abandoned ruins of what was once a world-famous pool

Sutro Baths
Sutro’s other local marvel has also been reduced to ruins, but these ones make for a pretty fun urban spelunking adventure. The Sutro Baths were once contained the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. It’s now a spot to gawk at the sea, and get some pretty fantastic engagement photos!

7. Lands End Coastal Trail: Hike the well-trodden path

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At the top of Sutro Baths, take the Coastal Trail leading towards Mile Rock Beach and Eagle’s Point. This trail is fairly touristy—it’s mostly flat and grants nice views of the Pacific and the Golden Gate Bridge—but it’s easy enough to catch a moment or two of solitude, especially when you get to the big (hidden) attraction…
Mile Rock Beach Stairs
Follow the signs for Mile Rock Beach and descend the sandy stairs. Halfway down, you’ll see that the stairs continue to your left—this will take you to Mile Rock Beach. Don’t take those steps; instead, keep heading straight up to the small rocky cliff. And look down!

8. Lands End Labyrinth: Time to calm the mind and… handstand

8. Lands End Labyrinth: Go off trail for this manmade seaside wonder
This labyrinth was first created by artist Eduardo Aguilera in 2004. After a few jerks destroyed his artwork in 2013, a group of local volunteers rebuilt it in 2015.
Walking the stone-guided paths of this labyrinth—with the waves crashing below—is the best type of meditation.
Walking the stone-guided paths of this labyrinth—with the waves crashing below—is the best type of meditation.

9. The Golden Gate Bridge: The photo opps are endless

Can never get sick of this view...
Can never get sick of this view…

10. Lincoln Park Steps

Walk along the path at the edge of Lincoln Park until you reach California Street. Head down the stairs and look up at this very cool neighborhood project.
Walk along the path at the edge of Lincoln Park until you reach California Street. Head down the stairs and look up at this very cool neighborhood project.

Follow our path…

The entire 4-mile journey.
The entire 4-mile journey.

BONUS: Head into the Sea Cliff neighborhood and weave your way down to China Beach then Baker Beach. From there, you can take the Batteries to Bluffs trail to get even closer to the great Golden Gate. READ MORE HERE about that hike.

48 Hours in Lyon, France

Rich Food, Playful Puppets, River Walks & Hidden Passageways

Chilling by the Saone River after a filling, deliciously fatty lunch.
Chilling by the Saone River after a filling, deliciously fatty lunch.

The third largest city in France, Lyon is constantly in the shadows of big sister Paris, 300 miles to the northwest. In recent years, however, its gained notable attention as the “gastronomic capital of the world,” home to a number of Michelin star establishments. The city seems to throb to the pulse of the pig (or the duck), the main source material for its rich, fatty cuisine. While Lyon is modern in its hectic traffic and its hefty prices (which rival Paris, at least for food), it also feels a bit stuck in time, resolute in keeping the proud traditions of the French—which seem to revolve almost exclusively around food—completely unchanged and continually revered.

We spent about 48 hours in Lyon and packed quite a bit in. We stayed near Place Saint Vincent in the 1st arrondissement, an ideal spot, in my opinion. It’s a neighborhood of AirBnBs and local residents that is also a quick walk to the touristy Vieux Lyon (the old town). Here are some highlights from our quick trip, from belly-filling delights (and disappointments) to numerous ways to walk them all off… oh, and a puppet show!

EAT YOUR HEART OUT: Bouchons, Boulangeries, and a Biocoop

Duck salad at Cafe de la Place & Chocolate-Making from Guillaume Daix
Duck salad at Cafe de la Place & chocolate-making by Guillaume Daix

Admittedly, traditional French food is not my favorite cuisine. I cannot deny, however, that the ingredients and quality are unmatched. I had not had one bad meal in my two weeks in France—that is, until we sought out one of Lyon’s famed bouchons. This type of restaurant serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine in all of its carnivorous glory (there’s even calf’s head for the more adventurous bellies).

There are some 20 “officially certified” bouchons in the city, denoted by a Les Bouchons Lyonnais symbol, and they are determined by such key factors as “products, dishes, décor, architecture, ambiance, customer welcome, etc.” We found one of these stamped-with-approval establishments in Vieux Lyon, called Le Laurencin, where the prices were incredibly reasonable (about 15 euros for entrée, main plate, and dessert)—and we soon discovered why. The salad greens withered in a bath of watery dressing. The main plates were filled with a mound of potatoes, and a pile of animal parts of your choosing. The praline tart (another Lyon specialty) was the best part, if not just because the sweetness danced nicely on the tongue after all the flesh and intestines.

La Fresque des Lyonnais (Fresco of the People of Lyon)
La Fresque des Lyonnais (Fresco of the People of Lyon)

That said, Lyon is packed with top-notch charcuteries, patisseries, fromageries, and poissoneries. The first day, we stumbled across Les Halles de Lyon Market – Paul Bocuse, near the Part Dieu train station, a must-stop for any aspiring foodie. Rue Merciere is another hot spot, lined with numerous restaurants, as well as Place Sathonay, where I enjoyed a salad topped with duck (the parts of which I’m not entirely sure of!) at Café de la Place. Our favorite boulangerie, Saint Vincent, was right around the corner from our AirBnB, in perfect view of the cool Lyon frescoes.

We also found the excellent chocolate shop, Guillaume Daix, on the edge of the old town, where we came across chocolates flavored with such ingredients as dill, rosemary, and sweet pepper. Our choice was the dark chocolate pieces generously dusted in hibiscus. For the organically minded, head to the natural-food store Biocoop near Place Bellecour—one of the few refuges for vegans and vegetarians.

WALK IT ALL OFF: Riverfront Paths, Traboules, and a Hill Climb 

Handstand on the Pedi Bridge to Vieux Lyon
Handstand on the Pedi Bridge to Vieux Lyon

Lyon is a fairly walkable city, which is great news after all of that… sustenance. Two rivers, the Saône and Rhône, divide the city into three segments, and converge at the southern tip. There are pedestrian bridges that connect the city, as well as great walking and running paths along both rivers.

Lyon, along the Saone River
Lyon, along the Saone River

Another great way to get some mileage around the city is to do a traboule hunt. Traboules are covered passageways throughout the city. They were used to transport products, particularly silk and textiles, throughout the city. You’ll find most of them in the old town, but there are a few in the La Croix-Rousse area as well. Pick up a map from the tourist office, which marks where each traboule is located. Most of them are actually closed, and are used as apartment entrances. We did find an open one on the southern edge of the old town—I won’t tell you where; that’s the fun!

Theatres Romains, built around 15 BC by the Romans
Theatres Romains, built around 15 BC by the Romans

For a true calorie-burner, though, I highly recommend bypassing the funicular ride up Fourvière hill to climb the stairs from St-Paul station to the top. It’s a great workout, and you’ll pass the Tour métallique de Fourvière, a TV tower that attempts to be a mini Eiffel Tower, before reaching the 19th century Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere and getting an incredible panoramic view of Lyon. From there, you can easily reach the grand Theatres Romains, built around 15 BC by the Romans, before circling back to the windy, narrow streets of the old town.

TAKE IN A PUPPET SHOW: GUIGNOL!

Once you reach the old town, the walk is best capped off with a puppet show! Guignol is the witty main character of this Lyon tradition; he represents the workers in the silk industry. Though the shows are all in French, and the audience is dominated by giddy kids, it’s a treat to see. We arrived late to the show, but were allowed to take the last two seats in the back for free. Check out this quick snippet we caught:

While Lyon is a fairly big city, it’s totally doable to see the highlights in just 48 hours. Be prepared to stuff yourself and get in a good hill climb or two, too. And do catch a Guignol show, no matter what age you are (and what language you speak)! Bon voyage!