Love San Francisco and it will love you back. Let it charm you and you will be enchanted. It is a compact, friendly, fun and interesting city with an endless variety of things to do. Here are my favourites after my year of roaming in the city.
San Francisco is made for walking. It is only 11 km by 11 km. Wear comfortable walking shoes. And carry layers. Lots of layers. The weather varies block by block, hour by hour. The basic year-round set is a T-shirt, cardigan and windbreaker.
2. Uber or Lyft
San Francisco has nifty public transport but it is the city of new transport methods. Ride Lyft, Uber or Sidecar. You can rent a bike anywhere. But think twice about cycling in the city as the streets are narrow, packed with cars and not very practical for biking. Head for the parks or ride along the Embarcadero.
3. The “oink oink”
How can you tell if a family with children has been to see the sea lions? All the kids go “oink oink”. See the sea lions at peer 39.
4. Bread bowl soup at Fishermans Warf
After the sea lions, escape the tourist area and head for one of the more authentic Italian Fisherman’s Warf restaurants, which serve bread bowl soup from sidewalk stalls. Sabella & La Torre is the oldest still run by the original family. One of the best restaurants in the area, Scomas hides behind the rest.
5. 10 minutes of early San Francisco
Pop into the Fisherman’s Warf visitors centre next door to hotel Argonaut and watch the wonderful 10 minute video on early San Fran. Admire the spectacular historical Fresnel lens of the Farallones lighthouse on display.
6. Filbert steps
Walk the 400 Filbert steps to Coit Tower. Admire the view and the murals once you are there. Forget going up into the tower as it is often crammed and there is always a line for the elevator.
7. California Street Cable Car
Take the California Street Cable Car to Nob Hill from California Street & Mason in the front of the Ferry Building. Lots less tourists on this line! Once on Nob hill, see Silver Baron Crocker’s Hate Fence etched onto the sidewalk. See AIDS chapel in the Grace Cathedral with altar piece by Keith Harding, his last work before passing away. Very touching. For recovery have a drink from the 100 martini’s list at the Top of the Mark, where WW2 servicemen’s wives used to gather.
8. Bike the Golden Gate
Bike or walk across the Golden gate. This is the one thing my friends have loved most of all. If you are in the mood, continue all the way to Sausalito. You can return by ferry but be sure to check what time it leaves and get there early, lines can be long.
9. Evening in prison
Take the Alcatraz tour. Night tours are especially popular and they sell out weeks in advance. Print tickets out beforehand as the lines are long. Get the audio guide once you are there!
10. Fruits and veggies galore
Go to Ferry Building Farmers Market on a Saturday morning. Have a coffee at Blue Bottle.
11. Go artsy fartsy
For a bit of culture see an exhibition at the De Young Museum. With kids, the neighbouring Natural History museum is great fun with huge butterflies floating everywhere and landing on your clothes! The Exploratorium on Embarcadero is best of all, but often sold out.
12. Wind up and down on Highway One
Rent a car, drive north on the winding Highway One, then head for the redwood forest in Muir Woods. During weekends it can be impossible to find a parking place so leave early. Wonderful redwood forests can be found on hiking trails along the Skyline boulevard above Woodside, Redwood City and Menlo Park.
13. Guided walking tours
Free walking tours by SF City Guides are wonderful! They are organised by the city library and the guides work on a voluntary basis. You may be guided by a history buff or a lawyer from the City Hall. There are six to a dozen tours to choose from every day.
14. Shop till you drop
Shopping is easy as everything is concentrated around Union Square. If you have just a little time: Macy’s has a bit of everything.
15. Take a hike
Hiking is great all over the Bay area. Download the map and the trail on the Alltrails.com app and you won’t get lost even if you are in areas with no cellphone reception.
16. The wonderful Mission murals
Strolling around Valencia Street in the Mission District is one of my favourite pastimes. See the Clarion alley Murals. Few years back you would have avoided this alley because of crime. The murals were put in and the place calmed down. After sightseeing, time to taste Chocolate at Dandelion’s. Have dinner at one of the fabulous restaurants in the area: The Commonwealth, Central Kitchen or Foreign Cinema. Of course finish with ice cream at BiRite next to Dolores Park.
17. Flower power
The San Francisco flower market is a floral labyrinth with endless blooms to admire. Venture furthest in and you will find speciality shops with an amazing array of vases and party decorations.
18. Volunteer at Glide
Getting to know a place is not just about the good times, you and the high life, right?! Volunteer at Glide, serve a meal to the homeless and get an authentic compassionate San Fran experience.
19. Haight Ashbury hippie heaven
Wonder around the Haight Ashbury area, admire the architecture which is unique as this area did not burn in the 1906 earthquake. See quirky shops on Haight street. Climb onto Buena Vista hill with a picnic lunch and a beer.
20. North Beach
Walk zigzag from China Town gate along Grant avenue through the “little Italy” of North Beach. Pass by Portsmouth Square, where the city was established. Soon you are in North Beach with its red, green and white lamp posts. This is where the Beatniks roamed and the first topless bar in the United States was established in 1964.
Stop at the Broadway Beatnik Museum and City Lights bookstore. Continue to Coit Tower and down Filbert steps to Embarcadero. Can be done in two hours but half a day strolling is more fun.
21. The California History in a Nutshell in Murals
This gem is open 24 hours every day of the week! You can go in the middle of the night to get a cultural and historical treat. Start with the Indians in the left corner and walk around the space and California history. See this two minute video before you go and dowload the app.
22. Singalong Musical in the Castro
Belt out the tunes at Castro Theatre. The singalong movies are shown with song subtitles so that the whole audience can join. You get a goody bag as you arrive. Add to the fun by dressing up as a favorite character for the costume contest.
23 to 23zillion. Foodie heaven
All the rest of my days I could sit down and eat in San Francisco. California grows most of what the United States eats, the ingredients are sumptuous and the enthusiasm of the restauranteurs phenomenal. Here you can travel around the globe in a few days without ever leaving San Fran, experiencing different cuisines and new fads. Check Open Table. Look up reviews on Yelp go and have a communal eatfeastly.com meal.