San Francisco, a city we had heard so many mixed reviews about, but a city we were determined to experience for ourselves. I have no idea where any of this negativity came from because I felt like it was a place I could easily fall in love with. It was the last stop on our West Coast road trip!
San Francisco may look big but it does in fact only have an area of about 47.9 square miles (124 km2) which makes getting from place to place relatively easy. We had a car but if you’re flying in and want to wander around immediately you can easily find luggage storage in San Francisco. Here are our top things to do in San Francisco.
1/ Admire the Golden Gate Bridge
There’s no denying that the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most recognized bridges in the world. A suspension bridge 2737m in length is pretty impressive! Some of the most popular places located through the city to get the best view of the bridge are Bakers Beach (above), Chrissy Field & Fort Point. It’s not always clear blue skies like this though, expect fog!
For a chance to get even closer, take a boat tour for a circular loop around the bridge. Tickets are $32 per person for an adult and $22 for a youth. You can also head out on a self-guided bicycle tour from Fishermans Wharf with bike rentals from Blazing Saddles. They offer one-day rentals for $32 (24 hours) or $8 by the hour. You can also jump on a ferry from the other side of the bridge to return to the wharf (if you don’t feel like riding back the same way).
2/ Enjoy Seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf
By far the most touristic part of San Francisco is the famous Fishermans Wharf. Should you spend your entire vacation roaming this area? No. But it’s definitely worth the visit if you’ve never been. There are souvenir stores, restaurants, outdoor performers, the occasional seal and the all-time city classics like Ripleys Believe it or not and Madame Tussauds. Grab some takeaway seafood and enjoy people watching, alongside the street performers.
3/ Take it Slow on Lombard Street
Ever wondered what the “the crookedest street in the world” looks like? Take the cable car to Lombard Street and you’ll soon find out. This street has 8 hairpin, nail-biting turns on very steep cobblestone streets! If you’re driving, be sure to abide by the 5mph speed limit, it’s there for a reason! The view from the top offers awesome views of the city below. You can access this street by getting off the cable car at The Powell/Hyde line which will drop you at the top of Hyde Street.
4/ Get your Full House on at Alamo Square Park
Ahhh, Full House. I watched this TV show religiously growing up and the opening scene was always embedded in my mind. In fact, it’s the first time I ever heard about San Francisco. If you have no idea what I’m talking about (you’re missing out!) then I apologize, it’s a TV show featuring the Olsen twins as kids. Meanwhile, Alamo Square Park is not only famous for the opening scene in the TV show but also for stunning city views and the ever so famous Painted Ladies. A row of colourful, Victorian style houses. One of these just sold for $3 million :O! Grab a picnic, a book or simply just come here and be as lame/ excited/cheesy as I was 🙂
5/ Enjoy a Picnic or Movie in Dolores Park
Everyone in SF knows Dolores Park is one of the best places to go to drink freely outside. Whilst it’s not technical “legal”, the police of San Fran turn a blind eye unless of course there’s reason to intervene. On a sunny day, 1000s’ of people gather here and set up camp with coolers, picnic rugs, games, booze and food. On some occasions, they screen free movies in the park. There are toilets, a playground and plenty of space for people to enjoy some sunshine. Just remember to clean up your trash and avoid using glass if possible.
6/ Try your hand at “Golf Frisbee”
Photo Credit: Frisbee.net
San Francisco Disc Golf? Yep. This is a thing! If you’re anything like us, you’ll probably have no idea what this is. We came across this by accident in Golden Gate Park and were surprised to see how many people were taking part in this sport. Combine frisbee and golf and you have Disc Golf. They do everything the same as golf, including teeing off, except, you use a frisbee! A very interesting, yet competitive sport played in San Fran. The course is free so grab a few friends and give it a try! Discs can be rented nearby.
7/ Ride a Bike in Golden Gate Park
Bike riding and large parks go hand in hand. It’s the best way to see a large amount of a park in a shorter period of time. Thankfully we had a friend of ours (who we met camping in Tayrona National Park, Colombia) as our tour guide for the day and he took us to all the best spots throughout the park. Bike rentals are cheap, but we recommend renting outside of the park at Golden Gate Park & Skate to save yourself a few bucks.
8/ Uncover the turbulent past of Alcatraz
Alcatraz Island, a maximum security prison is a former home to some of the worlds most dangerous criminals. The prison closed in 1960 but the stories have been kept alive. The prison’s location in the middle of the icy ocean was supposed to deter anyone from trying to escape but stories have it there were 3 successful escapees, that have to this day, have never been found. You can take day tours or night tours to the deserted island and advanced bookings are recommended. See here for further information and scheduling.
9/ Go Shopping in Union Square
Shopping, shopping and more shopping! Our suitcase was at maximise capacity but it didn’t stop us “window shopping” through Union Square. Union Square is the commercial hub of San Fran, where you can find big name hotels, restaurants and all the shopping you’ll need from the big brands to the small brands, a large Westfield along with the largest Bloomingdales outside of New York.
10/ Explore the Suburbs by Cable Car
Cable Cars are San Francisco’s iconic form of transport and have been transporting people around San Francisco since the late 19th century. The cable cars currently have three routes – The Powell-Hyde Line, The Powell-Mason Line and The California Line. You’ll know when ones coming because you can hear the famous bells ringing from blocks away. Tickets can be purchased at the end of each route.
- Single Ride’s $7
- 1 Day Visitor $21
- 3 day Visitor $32
- 7-day visitors $42
You’ll be glad you aren’t walking when they’re taking you up the steep hills!
11/ Swing at Kirby Cove
Photo Credit: California Beaches
If there was one thing we wish we could have done it was visiting Kirby Cove. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to get over here but if you have the time, make the trip! Kirby Cove is located on the other side of the bay with a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge and city. A short 1 mile walk down to the beach will give you the chance to tap into your inner child and jump on a swing for the perfect photo op! There is also camping available at Kirby Cove and you can find all the relevant details here.
12/ Eat all the Mexican Food!
We love our Mexican food, in fact, we ate Mexican at least once a day for the entire 2 months we spent in the USA and we’re not ashamed about this one bit. Australia is just not quite up to scratch with authentic Mexican (sorry Aussies!) but San Francisco was a whole other story. Do not leave this city without devouring at least 3 different tacos from Tacolicious as well as enjoying Happy Hour on one of the busiest rooftops in San Fran, El Techo. $5 guac and chips alongside delicious sangria and margarita jugs paired with awesome views. Get there before 6 to enjoy the sunset!
13/ Walk through the Oldest & Largest Chinatown
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest and oldest Chinatown outside of Asia in the United States. Explore the markets, restaurants, grocery stores & street art. We strongly recommend exploring this area on foot as the streets are crowded with cars and parking is a nightmare. If you’re lucky to be there during the fall (September-November), be sure to check out the Autumn Moon Festival. The streets come alive with dragon parades, cultural events, children’s events, food markets and shopping opportunities.
14/ Enjoy the Nightlife
Nothing beats NYC nightlife (in our opinion) but when the sun went down in San Fran, there was no shortage of places to grab a cocktail, a dance or visit some late night dive bars. Our favourite place to head out was in the Mission District where you won’t need to walk further than a block to stumble upon a hidden or not so hidden gem. Some of our favourites were Wildhawk, Trick Dog, El Techo, Laszlo & Blondies. For the younger crowd, Polk Street has a lot of bars, along with tons of tourists.
+15/ Check online & locally!
Don’t forget, just like any other big city, there are festivals and events on every weekend. Be sure to check out Event Brite, Facebook or posters located around the street to see what’s going on. There’s anything from street food festivals, to the infamous Pride Parade & Folsom Street Festival (yes, this was very interesting!), sports games and free movie screenings in the park.
San Francisco really surpassed our expectations and although we only spent a total of 3 days in this city, we grew to like it more and more each day. I just wish the hills had escalators…
A special thank you to Patrick and his roommates for allowing us to stay in their amazing home over the weekend!
Top Tours in San Francisco
If organized tours are your thing, here are some recommendations from GetMyGuide:
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