San Francisco is no doubt one of our favourite cities in the world. There is an air to it that we can’t find anywhere else. The quarters are varied, as corresponds to a multicultural city, and that’s what makes it special. After spending several weeks in San Francisco, we can’t really tell you how long you should stay for a visit, as it will depend on how deep you want to go into the city, but we consider that approximately 4 days are necessary to visit the most representative points of the city.
San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts
It’s a nice building located in Marina District. We found it magnificent and truly romantic, and it’s indeed very frequent to find recently married couples taking their wedding pictures here. The classic style building is surrounded by a small garden and a pound. If you have the time, don’t hesitate to come and walk around, maybe in your way to the Golden Gate Bridge.
It’s at this crossroads that the hippie movement allegedly started in the 60s. The area still preserves a little of the hippie spirit in its numerous vintage shops and restaurants. It’s a nice quarter to go for a walk and have a drink. The houses are of a great architectural value, so go get lost!
The gay quarter of SF, known for its huge rainbow flag and the political engagement of figures like Harvey Milk, where people may roam the streets naked. Walk the main street to discover some great restaurants and unique shops.
Mission District + Dolores Park
It’s the latino quarter of SF, and it’s really worth the visit. You’ll find shops, restaurants and also nice churches (like Mission Dolores) and parks like Dolores Park – one of the best kept secrets of the inhabitants of the city – which offers a spectacular view of the city’s skyline. There are murals on the walls and lots of paintings that contribute to the charm of the area.
The entrance is marked by a great Chinese-style arch, the dragon gate. We highly recommend visiting SF’s Chinatown, since it’s a really cool area with loads of shops, restaurants and all the Asian products that you can dream of! We personally preferred the chinatown in SF to that of NYC. The one in San Francisco holds the biggest Chinese community in the world out of Asia. There’s a real Chinese atmosphere and everything is decorated. It’s well worth a visit, so go enjoy the colors and discover the smells and noises of this quarter. Even ATMs are decorated!
Well… Honestly, we didn’t find anything attractive here but a lot of restaurants.
Cable cars (Hyde Street)
Not to be confused with the trams! The cable cars are the second symbol of San Francisco. It’s worth the detour, and you’ll be able to ride them on different streets, like Powell, Hyde and Mason streets. With their ingenious system of underground cables, the cars are still reversed manually at the end of each line. A ride is no more than a couple of dollars and the ticket can be combined with the whole public transport system of the city.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco’s green lung, really green and filled with trees and plants. It’s a very nice place for a walk, with several lakes and loads of fearless little squirrels. There you’ll find a delightful Japanese tea garden and several museums. The park is really big, so you may prefer to do it on a bike rather than walking, following a long bike lane.
Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies
A little park on the hills of San Francisco, here you’ll find the famous Painted Ladies, six lovely little victorian houses. It’s a necessary visit, really nice to see, and the surrounding neighbourhood holds some of the most beautiful houses in the city.
From the outside it’s gray and quite unattractive, just a shopping mall. But in the inside you’ll find lots of restaurants and Japanese shops. A nice visit but if you’re in SF for a short time, there are certainly more attractive places to see!
Civic Center and City Hall
You’ll find the city hall and some other prestigious buildings. Large open spaces and great avenues!
No doubt San Francisco’s most famous street, and the crookedest in the world! It’s located in the Rusian Hill quarter, and it goes from Hyde St to Leavenworth St. We advise you to arrive from the upper side so you can go down and admire the nice houses on each side without running out of breath, and finally arrive at the bottom to take a nice picture. And you know what? Here’s where we took our first picture together!
If you’re staying for a while in SF, it’d be nice to visit this area of the city. There are mainly great skyscrapers and banks, truly American for us Europeans! You’ll recognize the famous Transamerica Pyramid, very often seen in films. Even if the Financial District in SF is a little smaller than those in other American cities, it has preserved the human spirit that characterises San Francisco, and you’ll find several small parks and summer midday lunch break concerts, like the frequented Yerbabuena Gardens Festival. A little tip: the Marriot Hotel downtown has a café on the top floor that offers a great sight over the quarter. It’s open to the public, but it would be nice not to tell anyone so that it stays a secret!
The two highest hills in the city offer a 360-degree panorama on clear – not foggy – days (something you may want to consider when planning your visit). Several bus lines go up the hills but you’ll need to climb the las few meters on your own, and the terrain is not precisely adapted. There is also a viewpoint a little below the top. Get your cameras ready because the view is just breathtaking, but don’t forget a good jacket or a windstopper.
The way up to Coit Tower requires a little effort, but it compensates with a nice view over the city and its bay. The inside of the tower is decorated, but we consider the visit to be uninteresting – it’s paying -, except if you have lots of time.
It’s the perfect spot for a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and maybe enjoy the magnificent sunset around a nice warm fireplace!
A true neighbourhood over the bay, filled with museums, shops and restaurants. Here you’ll also find Pier 39, home to a colony of sea lions that live here and offer a unique show that you won’t find anywhere else. Ghirardelli, the famous chocolate factory, is also here! Highly recommended! It’s a nice area to go visit, even if it can really get crowded with tourists. It’s also here that you’ll find the boats that take you to Alcatraz…
Treat yourselves at Ghirardelli, there are chocolates and cupcakes! It’s usually lively and you’ll frequently find nice street concerts.
Alcatraz – or The Rock
It’s probably one of the most famous prisons around the world, and it was said to be unbreakable. Located on a small island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, you’ll need to get there by boat – and we recommend booking your tickets in advance, as it’s a National Park and the number of visitors is highly restricted. After landing on the island, you’ll start by visiting the inside of the prison with an audioguide – several languages available – that will guide you through following the story of a prisoner. At the beginning, we were uncertain about the quality of such kind of visit, but the museum is really well prepared, you really get carried away by the story and the details given make of this a memorable visit. The tour finishes outside, where if you’re lucky you’ll enjoy a beautiful panorama of the skyline and the GG Bridge. Shivers are guaranteed!
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco’s most eminent symbol, it’s also one of the best-known bridges in the world. Visiting Golden Gate Bridge is a must! You can do it by car, on foot or biking. We did by bike – click here to see the activity. You’ll need to be in good shape but the road is not difficult at all and totally free, so everyone can set their rhythm. The bridge takes you to Sausalito, a nice little village on the other side of the bay. If you really want to enjoy the views and stop from time to time to take some pictures, we recommend visiting Sausalito on foot or by bike. Please remember to bring warm clothes, it gets ver cold up the bridge!
Always carry a jacket beacause even if you are in SF California it’s always windy
Usually in Golden Gate Park and Bridge there is fog, so try to visit when the weather is good or in the afternoon because the sky will be clearer.
Smockers, it’s obviously forbidden to smoke in public places but even in the street when you are on the sidewalk you have to smoke on the gutter (multa)
Life is quite expensive, as well as alcohol and fruits and vegetables. Also, you are in US so you must leave a tip of about 10% of the amount.
There are neighborhoods where there are a lot of homeless, it may be shocking to us who are not used to. Be careful , because for me (Anaïs) I got assaulted by a drunk homeless so better be on guard.
The public transport system is great whether by bus, tram, cable car, subway, BART you can go almost anywhere for a few dollars. We took the bus a lot, but some lines have stops (too) frequent this can make the lengthy travel time.
If you have the time, go to Embarcadero, as the view of Bay Bridge is nice, but most importantly, don’t forget to check out Gott’s Roadside, where you’ll find San Francisco’s best burgers!
In Pier 39, try the famous Clam Chowder – a traditional soup from New England, made with clams, cream and herbs, all served in a round bread. Really tasty!
And saying USA is saying fast food. So we have tried the In&Out, a kind of Californian McDonald’s with the usual American sizes! If you like fast food, check it out!
Thai food: There is a little chain of restaurants called The King of Thai Noodles, and it’s the only restaurant we visited over 5 times in one month! It’s yummy, affordable and serves generously. Give it a try!
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Activities to do:
- Bike the Bridge
- A daytrip to Berkeley
- Baseball match
- Yosemite Park
- Los Angeles
- Santa Monica
- Santa Barbara