Our San Francisco Must See, Must Do List

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When we left Texas in 2002, I thought my life was over. Really, I did. At the time we were living in Dallas, but leaving Texas meant leaving home. My friends are (mostly) all there. My family is there. Almost any memory I had was from there. I didn't know "home" any other way and never cared to settle anyplace else. Seems silly now, but that's how it was. But in the ad industry, because you move for work, off to Richmond we went. Five years later, we were off again to Charlotte. Although it took me a long while to adjust, I did fall in love with something you can't do so easily in Texas but can do in other cities around the country: get in the car and go see cities that are in other states! CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE?! Beyond that, you can try other foods that aren't barbecue or Tex-Mex! (Still the best kind of food, but not the only kind.)

Charlottesville. Williamsburg. Washington, D.C. Baltimore. The Outer Banks. Asheville. Charleston. Savannah. Wilmington. Nashville. Atlanta. Lexington. Birmingham. Raleigh. Durham. While living on the southern east coast, these are all places we drove to and explored. Seeing so many different cities and meeting so many people really opened my eyes.  I'm certain if we would have stayed in Texas, we wouldn't have traveled to half of those places and certainly we would have never found our two rescue pups. 

So when we moved to San Francisco, we decided to make a few lists. First being a must see, must do list. This list is not complete or updated and I'm always adding to it. Here it is partially put together and one year in:   (*still must see / must do)

San Francisco city

- See all 118 neighborhoods
- See all of the National Parks in San Francisco*
- See all of the city parks in San Francisco*
- Walk through Presidio trails
- Go to the top of the Coit Tower
- Go for a run across the Golden Gate Bridge
- Watch triathletes swim during Escape from Alcatraz
- Walk down the beach near Crissy Field
- Get a family photo with the Bridge behind us
- Take the ferry boat 
- See Alcatraz*
- Go to Angel Island*
- Go to the Treasure Island Flea Market
- Ride a cable car
- Attend a SF Giants baseball game at AT&T park
- Go to the Saturday Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building
- Eat outside at Yerba Buena Gardens
- Shop Union Square
- See the view from Twin Peaks
- See the view from Bernal Heights
- See the view from Lands End
- Shop Chinatown
- Eat in Chinatown
- Eat in North Beach / Little Italy
- Eat in the Marina
- Shop Chestnut Street
- Shop Fillmore Street
- Eat in Hayes Valley
- Shop Hayes Valley
- Eat in the Mission
- Shop Valencia Street*
- Shop Sacramento Street*
- Eat in Nob Hill*
- Eat in Russian Hill
- Take a picture on Lombard Street
- See the Bay Bridge lights*
- See Golden Gate Park
- Walk through the Japanese Tea Garden
- Go to the De Young Museum*
- Go to the MOMA*
- See the Walt Disney Family Museum*
- See the California Academy of Sciences*
- See the Conservatory of Flowers*
- See the Exploratorium*
- Walk down Ocean Beach
- See the Sutro Baths
- Explore Fort Funston
- Go to a concert at The Filmore 
- Go to a concert at The Independent* (Matt has)
- Go sailing

North of the city

- Spend time in downtown Mill Valley
- Hike to and have drinks at The Tourist Club
- Hike the Dipsea Trail
- Hike through Mount Tamalpais State Park*
- See Cataract Falls*
- Walk through the Muir Woods
- See the Marin Headlands
- Go to Rodeo Beach 
- Go to Muir Beach*
- Visit Point Reyes National Seashore
- Hang out on Bolinas Beach
- Hang out at Stinson Beach
- Eat oysters at an oyster shack
- Go to Napa
- Go to Sonoma
- Go to Healdsburg
- Go to Petaluma
- Hike Phoenix Lake Trail
- Go paddle boarding in Sausalito

East Bay

- Go to a football game at Cal Berkeley
- Go to a concert at The Greek in Berkeley
- Explore Cesar Chavez Park
- Drive through the Berkeley hills
- Hike the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve
- Go to an Oakland A's baseball game* (Matt has)

South of the city 

- Watch surfers at Pacifica Beach
- Go to Gray Whale Cove State Beach
- Visit Half Moon Bay Beach and Pillar Point Harbor
- See Monterey
- Go to the Monterey Aquarium
- See Carmel
- Spend a weekend in Santa Cruz*
- Camp in Big Sur
- Stay at Post Ranch Inn*

West of the city

- A sunset boat ride*
- Not get eaten by Pacific Ocean sharks

How we got an apartment in San Francisco and lived to tell about it.

I have mixed feelings about writing this post. 

1. I'm sharing my charm secrets.

2. I made this blog public, so anyone can read this. 

3. I made this blog public, so ANYONE can read this.

I realize no one reads this blog but my sister, Matt's Mom and his niece, but if by chance the craigslist killer does a google search, this post is even ok for him to read.

Here goes. 

I read numerous articles on how awful it is to find an apartment in San Francisco. (This one from The Bold Italic is my absolute favorite that frankly describes the neighborhoods. Then later, he updated with more neighborhoods in this one.) I talked to friends who have lived here for years, acquaintances who grew up in the area and even people I didn't know but found online one way or another. Everyone said the exact same thing:


I write that in all caps because it was engrained in my brain as a challenge I was determined to overcome. So to the aforementioned "everyone": 


That statement gets an all caps and a bold. 

There's no hard feelings. They were right. It was an impossible task. I honestly think we were in the right place at the right time and met the right people while I was wearing the right outfit and carrying the right set of credentials to set us apart from the pack. What? If you think clothes don't matter in situtations like this, good luck to you. They do. 

Picture this: it was the week of June 11. I was working in the city and had to get on the ferry back to Mill Valley in order to get the dogs from daycare by 7 pm. It was also apparently the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is not the time to ask my husband anything but "are you hungry?"

A few weeks before, I saw a craigslist ad for what sounded like a too-good-to-be true apartment. I was determined for one of us to make the open house. I had been emailing with the person who posted the ad asking if there was any way we could get a peek before the open house. I even included our Renter's Resume. (More on that later.) But it wasn't possible to get in sooner because of whatever reason. So I begged Matt to go and take a look while I went to pick up the pups. If it was as good as the ad said, I would drive back into the city and meet him there.

I got this note from Matt on his way there:

How we got an apartment in San Francisco and lived to tell about it.

See. He really, really didn't want to go. I couldn't blame him. We had already looked at several places and they were all awful. Awful, awful, awful. And the ones that weren't awful were crazy expensive or had crowds of people waiting outside 30+ minutes before the showing. All I could do was cross my fingers.

When I arrived at our temporary place in Mill Valley (other side of the Golden Gate bridge) with the dogs, my phone rang. Matt said, "If you want this, you have to get over here in the next 40 minutes before the Open House is over and seriously turn on your charm. There are 15 other couples here." I was in shock. 1. This call meant Matt liked it. 2. It wasn't too good to be true. 3. I had to drive across the Golden Gate bridge, navigate my way through a city I've never driven in, find a parking spot and be charming enough to be memorable, all in 40 minutes. 

I hesistated for a .004 second and then got back in the car. 

I raced to the apartment. Matt met me outside and jumped in the driver's seat to go park. I ran up the stairs and opened the door and the entire room was perfectly quiet. Matt wasn't exaggerating—there were 15 couples standing around a room and sitting in chairs while an older gentleman was speaking. Apparently I had interrupted. 

Gentleman: Hello.  

KK: Hello! 

Gentleman (reaching out his hand): Have we met yet?

KK: No sir, I'm late. I apologize. I just arrived. 

Gentleman: I thought I just met a pretty blonde like you. 

KK (bright red because 15 couples are staring at me): Oh, no sir. You know us blondes. We all look alike. 

He asked me to sign in with my name and email address on a legal pad by the front door. There were at least 4 pages of names already flipped over and I was writing near the bottom of the fourth page.

The man had the attention of the entire room. All eyes were locked on his every move and every word. He talked about the flat and what it had been used for in the past. He was the owner. The entire building is his, using the top 3 floors as a massive home for he and his wife, and this flat we were standing in was for rent and on the first floor. 

So we'd only have one neighbor? In a city apartment? Fantastic.  

My heart was beating fast and I looked around the room to see if anyone else was carrying a packet of information—a few were. I hate to say I was sizing everyone up, but I was. I felt like Katnis Everdeen just waiting for the man to say, "May the odds be ever in your favor." 

One couple had a baby, but this was a one bedroom. Another looked very shy and intimidated, not making eye contact with anyone. One girl was wearing a tube top and heels. Um, no. And there were two other couples that looked like people I'd have drinks with. Hmm. I stood there thinking how this was by far one of the strangest experiences since going through rush in college. Seriously. Weird.

The last time I rented anything, it was in Dallas, Texas. You walk into the leasing office, give them your I.D., sign some paperwork and hand over a check. It's as simple as that. 

But this ain't Texas, y'all. 

While people started to break into their own conversations, I took a couple of minutes to walk through the flat to see if it was even something I was ready to go to battle for. It was.

The flat is 1800 square feet, has one bedroom, one bathroom, kitchen with a dishwasher, a washer / dryer, storage room and three massive closets. All of these things (minus the standard bedroom and bathroom) made this place feel like a dream in comparison to what we'd seen before. 

In the kitchen, a younger twenty-something guy sat in gym shorts on a bar stool looking at his phone. 

KK: Excuse me, do you live upstairs?

Guy: Me, no. My parents own this place. I'm just here to answer any questions.

KK: Um...how do I get your Dad to pick my husband and I to live here?

Guy: Honestly, he just wants nice people who will take care of it and enjoy it. 

KK: I don't think there's anyone else who would be a better fit for this place than my husband and I. But we have two dogs. Do you think that's a problem? 

Guy: No, people with dogs have lived here before. Like I said, they really just want people who will be nice neighbors. 

We chatted for a few more mintues and then I walked back into the living room where everyone was now crowded around the owner waiting for their own personal woo time. I seriously thought to myself, "This is like an episode of The Bachelor. What have I learned from all of the hours I've spent watching those shows? How do you pull someone away that everyone wants to chat with?" But none of those examples would work in this situation. None. 

In the emails I had sent to the owner before the Open House, I attached our Renter's Resume. I created it only after being scared to death by reading others' experiences with renting in this city, and I wanted to make sure we stood out. The three-page document looked something like this:

Page 1 – A summary about us, our job titles and contact information, a photo of us, and residence history that included our past mortgage payments and past rental payments, and (what I think was the kicker) a link to photos of the inside and outside of our home in Charlotte so they could see how we really live.

Page 2 – A summary on Simon and Sage, photos of them, their weights, and vet name.

Page 3 – Quotes and contact information from our references, including past neighbors, the President of our Neighborhood Assocation and our real estate agent.

In my hands at the open house, I had a packet that included our Renter's Resume, Matt's last two pay stubs, our 2011 tax return, my business tax return, a copy of both of our credit reports, and copies of our driver's license. It's likely this was the most organized and detailed packet of information any landlord in San Francisco has ever seen. And I was so meticulously nerdy about creating it, I honestly think it was cool. 

But back to the open house. Now Matt was inside and we stood against a wall in the living room watching others clammor for the attention of the homeowner. Matt secretly snapped this shot: 

How we got an apartment in San Francisco and lived to tell about it.

His wife was in the room now shaking everyone's hand and introducing herself. When she got to us, I knew this was my one shot. 

I would like to tell you exactly what I said, but it is all a blur. I do know that I said something about how we just moved to San Francisco and we'd love it if she and her husband would take a look at our packet and let us know if they had any questions or would like to chat further. 

She shook our hands, took our packet and we walked outside. 

By now the owner was out front talking to one couple. (I have no idea how they got him outside, but I'd love to know their secret since I am certain it would be better knowledge to have than these reality shows I watch.)

I gestured goodbye to the older gentleman again and he stuck out his hand and said that he wasn't sure if he had the chance to talk with us. I said that we had just moved here from North Carolina and I did not want to be rude and interrupt his time with anyone, but we loved the apartment. I also told him we gave his wife our information and would look forward to hearing from him. He said he would be calling those he was interested in speaking more with the following day.

Matt and I walked back to our car and neither of us said a word.

He had missed the Stanley Cup.

I had missed my opportunity to chat and charm. 

There's no way we were getting that apartment. No. Way. 

In the car, I asked Matt a million questions. How many people were there when you arrived? What page was the paper on when you signed in? Did you get any alone time with him? What did you think? What if we get picked? Would you live there? What about the dogs? 

Matt said he spent the entire time he was there in the back kitchen talking to their son. He asked him the same question I did about how we could convince his Dad to pick us and then they talked about sports and whatever else guys talk about. 

I couldn't believe Matt didn't try and talk to the owner before I arrived. But the Open House was over and we were heading back to our temporary one-room place in Mill Valley. 

The next morning, my phone rang. 

Gentleman: Hello, Kristin? 

KK: Yes...

Genleman: This is Joe Smith*. I am not sure we talked last night, but apparently you and your husband Matt made quite an impression on our son. We'd like to meet with you two at your earliest convenience and get to know you a little more. 

I was in shock. 

I jumped.

I screamed.

The son!?

I wanted to find him on Facebook and ask him if I could buy him a drink. But that would be super weird, so I just looked him up and went through his photos. (Kidding. Kind of.)

The next evening, we drove into the city with the dogs and met the couple in their home. In their parlour, to be specific. I was sweating and nervous the dogs would do something to screw this up for us. But I was prepared and gave them bones to chew on while we chatted. They were perfect. 

The homeowners offered us wine. We accepted, of course, and the four of us chatted for almost two hours before they had to leave to go to the Opera.  

Before we left, they told us we could have the flat if we wanted it. And we said we would be thrilled.  

Matt and I walked out of their front door and walked three blocks to a park that was at the top a hill overlooking much of the city. There were views of the ocean where boats were sailing. We could see the Golden Gate Bridge and the mountains of Marin. 

As the dogs were running laps around this park, I was squealing over and over again - WE DID IT! WE ARE GOING TO LIVE HERE! LOOK AT THIS, MATT! LOOK AT WHERE WE ARE GOING TO LIVE! LOOK AT THESE VIEWS! HOW DID WE DO IT? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?

The view from the park two blocks up the hill:

How we got an apartment in San Francisco and lived to tell about it.

Matt had a smile bigger than I've ever seen. And although he would never squeal or skip, I knew he was thrilled. 

We got an apartment in San Francisco with two dogs that doesn't suck for a price we can afford in the perfect neighborhood for us. 

The end. (Or, the beginning. However you want to look at it.)

*New landlord's name protected since this blog is public.