Growing up in Sonoma we spent many Sundays driving into “the city” and so San Francisco holds a special fondness for me. The view of the bridge that hits you right as you come out of the tunnel when driving south into the city will never cease to make me squeal with glee and the hills will never not leave me breathless, literally. For being such a small city in terms of square-footage, there is so much to see and do in San Francisco. On that note, this guide is certainly not exhaustive, but read on for a list of some of my favorite things to see, do, eat, and drink while in the city by the bay. I hope it inspires to you take a trip and helps you along the way!
-WHAT TO DO-
The Marina District – My favorite area of the city! Situated along the water directly as you get over the Golden Gate Bridge, this area is actually very flat. Walk along by the water gazing at all the pastel colored townhouses and then venture over to Chestnut Street. The main drag in the area, you’ll find boutiques, coffee shops and tons of restaurants here. For a great view of the GGB, take a picnic over to Crissy Field.
Marin Headlands – This is my absolute favorite, a must do!!! Directly across the bridge on the north side, this provides an incredible viewpoint of the bridge looking out to the city across the water. There are a few vista points as you first arrive like this one but I recommend going further up. The higher you go, you’ll find better views and less tourists . Plus, if you take it all the way until the top, you’ll find some benches (perfect for a picnic) and will have a view of the city on your left and Point Bonita to your right. This is the most underrated viewpoint in my opinion!
*We always just went by memory, but in my Google searching, I think the viewpoint I am talking about is called Battery Kirby, though I can’t be positive. You will see a tunnel that you can park by and walk through. On the other side is the view I am talking about.
Alcatraz – Despite some people calling this a tourist trap, I cannot recommend it highly enough! I have been multiple times and every time I think it is amazing, especially on a clear day as you will have a wonderful view of the skyline from both the ferry and the island. There is a stellar headphone-led tour through the prison that is so well done. It uses the voices of some actual inmates and really paints the picture of life in the prison and the famous escape.
*Buy tickets ahead of time to beat the lines (you’ll still have to wait in a line to get on the ferry but won’t have to wait in the line to buy a ticket first, it can get really long!). Also, once you are on the island you are free to stay as long as you want, just hop on one of the return ferries whenever you are done. There may be a line to get back though so keep that in mind.
Billy Goat Hill in Noe Valley – This hill is home to the infamous swing over the city. Noe Valley is a unique neighborhood a little south of the main part of the city, you’ll probably need a rental car to get here. Once there, expect other people to be here waiting in line for their chance on the swing, but everyone is really kind and will let you take as many pictures as you want. Don’t be rude of course but everyone is there for the same thing so they understand! I’ve never seen anything like this so I think it’s super cool, plus the views of the city are incredible.
While you’re there, head down to 24th Street and stroll around from there. Noe Valley is super colorful and full of quirky shops and restaurants. There’s a Pressed Juicery there on 24th Street if you’re dying for a green juice 😉
Giants game at AT&T Park – Though I grew up in the bay area, I am loyal Royals fan and still a bit bitter about the 2014 World Series, but I cannot deny that they have the coolest stadium. In fact, my husband has been to a TON of stadiums and still says this is the best one he has seen. Situated right on the water, you can walk around behind the outfield and peek at the kayakers ready for home run balls.
*If tickets are expensive, just get Standing Room Only and walk all around. Since it is a full-circle stadium, there are so many great viewpoints and if you are tired of standing, you can always sit in a random seat until the person comes. Please, do NOT forget a jacket. Because of its location on the bay, it gets very cold and windy, especially at night. Oh, and be sure to get the garlic fries!
Head out to one of the beaches – San Francisco has some really beautiful beaches, and what is great is that they are right on the edges of the city so not hard to get to. Super peaceful and pretty, but typically pretty cold and windy so be prepared for that. Unless the weather is fantastic, you probably won’t want to stay too long, but definitely make a stop for a walk.
Growing up we always went to Ocean Beach, though I know a lot of people love Baker Beach, and I’ve always meant to check out Land’s End.
Golden Gate Park – A humongous park right in the middle of the city, I would compare it to Central Park in that it’s really long and narrow and there are tons of different “areas” including a Japanese Garden, Science Museum, Art Museum, baseball fields, all that. Great if you want to have a picnic, or need a little break from the city. If you have kids, I highly suggest checking out the California Academy of Sciences. If it’s cold and rainy and you’re looking for something to do indoors, the deYoung Museum always has really cool exhibits on rotation.
Exploratorium – An experience for all ages, this hands-on science museum will especially be a hit with children!
-WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK-
Pacific Catch (Marina District and south edge of Golden Gate Park) – I dream of their poke bowl. It’s basically like inside out sushi (not sure how else to explain it), a bowl of rice with toppings like sprouts, avocado, carrot and then marinated poke and it is to die for. There are a few locations throughout the city; if you go to the one on Chestnut in the Marina, be sure to make a reservation as the space is tiny (probably only seats 15-20 people).
Tacolicious (Marina District, Mission District, and North Beach) – Upscale Mexican restaurant with insanely good drinks! There are a few locations throughout the city, one being right next to the Pacific Catch in the Marina. I would recommend drinks here followed by dinner at PC.
Rose’s Cafe (Marina District) – This comes recommended from friends, I have actually never been but always mean to! They have adorable bistro chairs on the sidewalk that would make this a great spot for brunch, lunch, or a midday coffee and pastry break.
Leatherneck Steakhouse at Marine’s Memorial (Union Square) – Just a short walk from Union Square, we had a tradition of going here around Christmas-time after strolling through the square, visiting Macy’s and watching the ice skaters. This is an elegant but not insanely overpriced spot for a nice dinner in the city. If the seafood pasta is available when you go, please get it!
Boudin (Fisherman’s Wharf and all throughout the city) – Though famous for the sourdough bread, Boudin is also synonymous with clam chowder in my mind. Served inside a bread bowl, it is a must! You can grab it from any no-name vendor on the street and it will be just as fantastic, but the location along the wharf is great if you are looking for a place to sit down for a while, rest your feet, and plot your next adventures. Even if you don’t eat here, be sure to stop into this flagship location at Fisherman’s Wharf to see the conveyor system that delivers the bread in baskets from the ovens to the front of the shop and all the fun shaped breads they make like these! Boudin also offers a factory tour which I’ve done and recommend. It ends with an olive oil and vinegar and bread tasting which I enjoyed.
The Ferry Building (The Embarcadero) – An indoor marketplace that houses a multitude of independently owned and operated food businesses, this is a great stop if you don’t know what you want or if the group can’t agree. This is also a great place to grab some souvenirs of the food varietal to take home with you 😉
Have you been to San Francisco? Any favorites I am missing? Share them in the comments for others to read!