I went to San Francisco at the beginning of this month to attend the Re:Make Conference and to explore the wonderful city. I can’t say enough good things about San Francisco. The city has plenty to do, eat and see. Here are many suggestions for how you can spend your time in San Francisco.
Vantigo Van Tour
I was so excited when I found this San Francisco tour. Vantigo‘s City Tour is a comprehensive three-hour tour around the city in a cute VW van. Erik, the owner, was the tour guide on my tour and he was full of San Francisco knowledge and witty jokes. This tour would be perfect at the beginning of a trip to decide to which sights you want to go back and spend more time. We did many quick drive-bys and we ended up stopping at Sutro Baths, Palace of Fine Arts, Coit Tower, Alamo Square and the Golden Gate Bridge. Vantigo also has brewery, Sonoma and night tours.
Ferry Building Marketplace
The Ferry Building Marketplace is by the Embaradero and a great place to enjoy a progressive lunch and walk around the shops. A few celebrated restaurants have locations here, including Hog Island Oyster Co., Humphry Slocombe and Cowgirl Creamery. One of my favorite gift shops is called Gardener and has food-related gifts.
Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf
Sea lions! Head over to Pier 39 and you’ll see the big crowds. The sea lions are highly entertaining as they sleepily moan at each other. Fisherman’s Wharf is filled with restaurants, shops and tourists. Ghiradelli Square is here and you’ll be able to get some of the famous chocolate. (If you want to buy the chocolate at a lower price, buy it at grocery stores and pharmacies around the city.)
One of the most popular Chinatowns in the country, San Francisco’s Chinatown is filled with Chinese chatter, typical gift shops, and an abundance of restaurants. Look up to see the lanterns!
Alcatraz is filled with history. The audio tour comes with the ticket and it’s eerie to walk along the cells, hearing the stories of how some of the most notorious inmates of the time lived. Tickets cost around $32 and you’ll need to book at least a few weeks ahead. The ferry trip and exploring the island will take about two or three hours, depending on how much you want to walk around. The scenic views of San Francisco on the ferry and on the island are great!
Golden Gate Bridge
Ah, yes, THE Golden Gate Bridge. You’re likely to see it from multiple points in the city. If you want to experience the bridge up close and personal, walk or ride across the bridge.
Tiled Steps / 16th Avenue Steps
The tiled steps are a colorful part of San Francisco. You’ll see a long view of the city at the top.
The Painted Ladies
The famous row of “Full House” houses still look as good as back when the show was on (and cost a pretty penny). The houses are next to Alamo Square, where you can hang out and relax.
One of my favorite things in San Francisco is Clarion Alley, where graffiti artists have created stunning art along the walls. Many are political art pieces and murals change from time to time. It made me think of Austin’s HOPE Outdoor Gallery but on a smaller scale with less random graffiti tagging.
This landmark was named for Lillie HItchcock Coit. The area is good for the views of San Francisco and you can also go up the tower for a fee to get better views.
Lombard Street is most known for being very curvy, though the curviest street is actually Vermont Street.
City Lights Booksellers
Established in 1953, this famed bookstore was the literary gathering place for beatniks. Now, this three-story independent bookstore is a historic place to explore and pick up a new read.
Palace of Fine Arts
This monumental structure was constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It has since been in several movies, including Star Wars.
Similar to Chicago’s high-rise observatories, The View is a free lounge at the top of the Downtown Marriott. Not as impressive as Chicago’s views but the lounge is less busy and still an interesting view.
Cliff House and Sutro Baths
Once a privately owned pool, Sutro Baths and the nearby Cliff House are now historic ruins.
Best Outdoor Spots to Explore
Want to spend time outdoors? San Francisco has plenty of outdoor park spaces that are perfect for having a picnic, doing some people watching and enjoying the wonderful weather. Here are my favorites:
San Francisco has many fantastic museums. These are my top four choices.
- California Academy of Sciences – Natural history museum with an aquarium, planetarium and four-story rainforest! Go see over 40,000 live animals.
- De Young Museum – Fine arts museum
- Exploratorium – a hands-on science museum
- Legion of Honor – art museum with over 4,000 years of ancient art. You can also see Rodin’s Thinker sculpture here.
What are your favorite things to do in San Francisco?