San Francisco is definitely in my top ten places to visit but unfortunately I haven't made it there yet. So to tide you [and me] over, here is a travel guide written by San Fran local Angie Picardo. Angie is sharing her favourite hotspots with us so be sure to take notes, I know I am...
Any seasoned traveler knows that enjoying the amazing views, food and atmosphere of a new place are really important parts of a great trip away. So visiting a city as dense with culture, scenery and activities as San Francisco can present a dauntingly large to-do list. In SF, tourists flock to known hotspots like Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, but to get a richer sense of what the “City by the Bay” is all about, the best thing to do is to live like a local. Based on my local knowledge (I’m lucky to have lived in this beautiful city for 5 years!), here’s my guide of the best places to go and things to do while you’re there!
Take a Nighttime Tour of Alcatraz
Most tourists know that paying a visit to The Rock, the island that houses one of the world’s most infamous shuttered prisons, is a must for a trip to SF. But not everyone knows how much cooler (and creepier) a tour of the decaying old grounds is at night. Not only do night tours give a more complete experience, with guided tours on and around the island and special presentations each night, they also afford stunning views of the sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline coming alive with light. The night tour also lets visitors explore the old prison hospital, which is said to be the spookiest place on the island.
Peruse the Ferry Building Marketplace
Before you board the ferry to Alcatraz, explore the delicacies at the Ferry Building. The old ferry terminal has been revamped into a sprawling marketplace, full of artisanal local foods and restaurants. Enjoy a half dozen oysters and a glass of champagne at the Hog Island Oyster Company while watching the ferries come and go. Or grab a bottle of wine from Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, some cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and a baguette from Acme Bread Company and picnic on the grass across the Embarcadero, the main street that runs along the city’s eastern waterfront.
Eat, Drink, Walk, Repeat
San Francisco is known as being one of America’s great walking cities; it is also renowned for its eclectic restaurants and bars, so you must use these two facts to your advantage. Start the day with a hearty meal at Outerlands by Ocean Beach, Ella’s in Presidio Heights or Mama’s on Washington Square, then traverse the hills to walk off the calories. Take an early afternoon break for a proper Irish coffee at The Buena Vista, then walk to Hyde Street Pier to explore the old retired ships at the Maritime Museum. After the caffeine boost and whiskey high sets in, walk along the waterfront to Crissy Field for great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding marshland. For dinner, head to Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach for World Pizza Championship-winning pies, or for local, sustainable fare head downtown to Farmer Brown’s.
If choosing just one type of food is too hard, look for the latest “Off the Grid” event, which brings together multiple gourmet food trucks in one location. Events are schedules throughout the week at different spots around town, featuring new truck lineups every day, but if you can’t make it to the nearest one, try SOMA Street Eats, a permanent street food park with a rotating food truck lineup. After filling up on street fare, have a microbrew at nearby City Beer Store’s small but welcoming bar, and take a rare bottle or two to go.
Explore Land’s End and the Legion of Honour
The western side of the city rarely gets as much love as downtown or the waterfront, but a trip out toward Ocean Beach is well worth it for the incredible views, culture and history. Start the trek by hiking the Land’s End trail starting at China Beach (nestled in the exclusive Sea Cliff community) then walk the coast while enjoying views of the Pacific, the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands in the distance and even a few shipwrecks stranded in the waters below.
Make a stop at the Palace of the Legion of Honour, a classical art museum with architecture truly reminiscent of a Roman palace. Say hello to The Thinker out front and then turn around and take in one of the best, most underrated views in the city. From there, venture to the historic Cliff House for lunch, then head down to explore the ruins of the old, burnt out and sea-filled Sutro Baths. The preserved Sutro Gardens are nearby, and be sure to stick around to watch the sun set over the ocean.
If, after all that, you’ve got time for one more outing, consider doing what I love on sunny weekend afternoons: grab some cookies or pastries from Tartine, one of the best bakeries in the US, and head over to Dolores Park, a favourite among many SF residents. Every weekend, people gather in this park and enjoy friends, food, drinks, music, pets, and games. And if I’m feeling hungry, on my way home I stop by Pizzeria Delfina for a truly amazing Neapolitan pizza.
Angie Picardo is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a financial literacy and travel site dedicated to helping people save money on travel and achieve retirement success. A recent graduate of UC Berkeley, she lives in San Francisco and loves introducing people to the city’s many attractions.
Photos by San Francisco Commons Images