Visiting San Francisco? Here’s 14 places not to miss!
San Francisco should be on anyone’s list when visiting the United States of America. It has sunshine, water, beautiful nature and welcoming locals. On top of that, there is the amazing Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz island, Fisherman’s Wharf, whilst there are breweries, food tours, hiking trails, cycling routes to do and take in. There are hipsters, geeks who love computers, liberals and the city is home to one of the oldest gay districts in the country. Heck, this city has it all and I fell in love with the place and I can’t wait to get back there soon. I spent a week in the city and it was still wasn’t enough to check out everything here and in the surrounding area. How the hell do a lot of visitors try and do everything in a long weekend is beyond me! On this blog post, here are the top places to hit up when checking out this brilliant but laid-back Californian city.
Seeing THAT bridge – The Golden Gate Bridge
As San Francisco is probably one of the top cities in the United States for outdoor living, health and fitness, then it’s no wonder this has to be on top of anyone’s list. Most people who go to the visitor centre, take photos with the amazing view of the bridge over the bay and may even walk it. However for me it was riding the bridge by renting a bike at Fisherman’s Wharf and cycling the route towards Sausalito on the other side of the bay. Check out my blog post on my experience here.
Take a tour to see ‘The Rock’
One of the highlights of visiting San Francisco is to visit the world famous Alcatraz penitentiary which is located on Alcatraz island in the bay of San Francisco. Run by the National Park service, the company Alcatraz Cruises is the only way to get there. The price of the tickets includes return tickets on the ferry and entry to the island and departs from Pier 33 (south of Fisherman’s Wharf and north of the Ferry Building). I have to admit I came here because it was the filming location for the 1990’s movie ‘The Rock’. Check out my blog post on my experience here.
Touring the city in a van!
Just couldn’t say no when I found out that this amazing city can be explored by a vintage Volkswagen van. Coming across Vantigo’s website online and seeing what the tour offered, I had to make sure I was on this tour and I wasn’t disappointed. Instead of taking a tour bus which would usually get stuck in traffic and only take you to the top spots in the city, here’s a tour in a van with a driver who knows a lot of information and fun facts on San Francisco (also the fact the driver knows all the shortcuts if there are traffic jams around is a bonus!) is the way to go. Check out my experience here.
Walking to the end of the world – Land’s End
I have to admit that I was quite surprised with the amount of hiking trails there are in San Francisco and I couldn’t miss the chance to do a route myself, to check out more of the natural side of the city and away from the chaos and traffic from Downtown. One morning I decided to do a 10km (6 mile) walk from Crissy Fields, walking westwards along the coastline via Golden Gate Bridge and Lands End until I arrived at my accommodation on Ocean Beach. What a walk I had and beautiful views I saw. This was my walk and what I saw on the way. Check out my route and what I saw on the way here.
A piece of Europe can be found on Lyon Street
A came across the Palace of Fine Arts which reminded me of old Roman buildings back in Europe. This was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. It was here I had to check out the lagoon and the outdoor rotunda which are some of the city’s most visited places. There are usually events taking place here, so if visitors can get tickets, then go!
Ride the Cable Cars
I have always wanted to ride the cable cars in the city since seeing them in the movies way back when I was a child. I traveled on the most famous and touristy ones which runs between Hyde Street Pier and Downtown San Francisco (at Powell Street) taking in a lot of rolling hills. Half way along the route is the Cable Car museum. A little tip, if playing a one-way trip, I would do this from the Hyde Street Pier end of the line as the queues are quieter. If going from Powell Street, the queues are a lot longer. However once on board, the experience is amazing. Also en-route is Lombard Street, one of the city’s and maybe the world’s windiest street and is used a lot in movies as well.
The views from Coit Tower
On the summit of Telegraph Hill, which is not far from the piers is Coit Tower. Built in the early 1930’s, the tower features twenty-seven fresco murals. The view from the top of the tower is amazing (for a small fee) but the views can also be taken in from ground level.
Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39
For me, this is the tourist trap area of the city but I still checked it out. Here visitors can find gift shops, restaurants, take away food and other touristy gimmicks. My top things to do here is to take in a meal at Chart House which does a range of steaks and seafood but make sure to take a seat next to the window to get amazing views over the bay. Also don’t forget to check out the seals who liked to lay around the pier (as they escape the sharks in the bay area).
I took the drive to the summit of both peaks but I preferred the South Peak out of the two. It was around sunset I came up here and the views of the bay area as well as the city are just totally amazing. When the sun started to go down, the lights of Downtown lit up. Will treasure those moments forever.
The district of Mission
South of Downtown is the amazing district, Mission where I came here for a food tour and it was a fantastic decision. There are so many different types of food from different cultures here. Because of this I took a tour organised by Secret Food Tour where I managed to taste one of the best burritos in California (there was a queue going down the street before opening time, this is how great this place is), tasty clam chowder and locally made ice cream amongst the stops. Also on the way I saw amazing murals on Clarion Alley. The murals keep changing here all the time by local artists. If wanting more street art to check out, then head to the Women’s Building at 3543 on 18th Street which is known for its Maestra Peace Mural, which focuses on women’s contributions from around the globe.
Having a brew at the Anchor Brewing brewery
Before I came to San Francisco, I have to admit I wasn’t a big fan of beers from the United States. However since my visit to this city and other visits to the country afterwards, the craft beer scene in the States has vastly improved and is now on par with some of the major European beer brewing powers. I got invited to check out the brewery at the Anchor Brewing Company which produces one of the best beers I have come across stateside, Anchor Steam Beer. Check out my experience here.
Green Space needed? Then head to Golden Gate Park
Located on the western side of the city, this huge park is much larger than New York’s Central Park. I stayed in a hotel nearby and did a few morning run’s in the park and loved it. On the way I saw the Dutch Windmill, Japanese Tea Garden and a Botanical Garden. If planning to walk from one end to the other (west to east), it is 3.2 miles (so 6.4 miles if doing both directions) and then add another mile or two to divert, take photos, and the park is complete. It’s gonna take a while. At the end of the morning outing or afternoon outing, have a meal and a drink at Beach Chalet. I came here twice and had great food and service.
Sutro Baths which is located north of Ocean Beach and to the Northwest of the Golden Gate Park were built in the late 19th century which were opened to the public and once held seven saltwater swimming pools. Now it’s in ruins but a splendid place to wander around and take in the sun going down beyond the horizon. Above the ruins is the Lookout Cafe (a great place to use the washrooms) but I didn’t stop here for a drink. I walked slightly down the road a bit (around 150 meters) to Louis, an old fashioned American diner which has excellent breakfast dishes served most of the day. As well as having a good tasting food and beer, the views over the ocean is another reason I recommend eating here. The diner is a very small place but once seated, the experience is wonderful.
Fun at the beach
If you need a beach fix, then head to Ocean Beach. I love this beach, nearly every morning I was doing 5km runs at sunrise. Whilst running along the sandy beach I was seeing people doing surfing as well as yoga. It was such a beautiful sight. Then there are the amazing sunsets here which are a must.
Booking a trip to San Francisco
Arriving: Most visitors arrive by plane if coming from other parts of the country or overseas. The best place I find to book flights is through Skyscanner and there are two airports which serve the city. The main one being San Francisco (SFO) and to the east, Oakland (OAK). Both airports are served by trains which go into the heart of the city.
Accommodation: the top place I usually go to and book a stay is via Booking.Com. For this trip I stayed at the Rodeway Inn and Suites near Ocean Beach (which has great connection on the tram at nearby Judah Street which took me into Downtown San Francisco within forty minutes. The rest of my stay was at the Water’s Edge in Tiburon on the other side of San Francisco bay which had a ferry connection to the city and other nearby towns. If you are looking for something cheaper, then check out Hostelworld.