If you’re going to San Francisco | First of all: in our opinion San Francisco is not one of the most amazing cities on earth. If you have ever been to Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, Venice or Florence you know why. But within the United States, SF is a front runner. That we must admit. Still, don’t expect too much if you’re going to San Francisco. We recently visited the Bay Area. Alcatraz was not that much of a burner. Fishermen’s Wharf appeared to be a classic example of a tourist trap. The sea lions at Pier 39 were quite smelly, and walking down Lombard St did not really hit our spot. This we realized fast: San Francisco is rather a business hub than a sanctuary for tourists. You need to do some smart trip planning first before you conquer The City. Tourist sites are scattered all over the place. You need a car.
If you’re going to San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge (1937)
This iconic art deco span kept us busy for an entire day. It is by far the strongest tourist magnet for San Francisco. We tackled the Golden Gate Bridge from five different angles. Each one added its own flavor to this engineering marvel.
(1) Battery East Parking Lot. If you make it there early in the morning or around about sunset, this free parking lot can be a strategically smart location for your first or last GGB tour. You follow a trail to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point. Now nothing can stop you from crossing the bridge by foot.
(2) Landgon Court Parking Lot. An alternative to option 1 is the Langdon Court Parking in Fort Winfield Scott with another bridge outlook in walking distance. To get there follow Lincoln Blvd towards Marshall’s Beach.
(3) The first exit after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge by car will bring you to the Lonely Sailors Twin Peaks. Veeery touristy location.
(4) Conzelman Rd. It’s getting even better. In case you missed the exit to Lonely Sailors Twin Peaks, take the next one, Alexander Ave. After exiting on the right side you take a lefty and pass underneath Redwood Hwy towards Conzelman Rd. Plenty of lookouts will be waiting for you from Spencer Battery to Point Bonita Lighthouse.
(5) Last not least our favorite approach: Marine Dr. From there you walk to Fort Point. You will be rewarded with countless nice #hashtaggable photo opportunities right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
Something we didn’t do: There is another way to catch an interesting view of the Golden Gate Bridge: Drive to Treasure Island.
San Francisco Cable Car System (1873)
Your kids might love it. San Francisco still operates three of the formely 23 cable car lines. They were established between 1873 and 1890. By 1979, the cable car system was in urgent need of repair. Comprehensive rebuilding would cost $60 million. Mayer Dianne Feinstein took charge and saved the lines 59, 60 and 61 from extinction. Nowadays the cable cars are predominantly used by tourists rather then SF commuters.
Ghirardelli Square (1893)
Don’t miss Ghirardelli Square if you like chocolate and ice cream. It’s a historic public square with shops, restaurants and a hotel near Fisherman’s Wharf. It all started with the successful chocolatier and businessman Domenico Ghirardelli opening his cholocate factory in 1893. Ghirardelli Square features 40 specialty shops and restaurants. Some of these shops and restaurants are the original first vendors, still in business today at the exact same spot. Thanks to San Franciscan William M. Roth and his mother, Ghirardelli Square did not fall victim to developers. They bought the land in 1962 to prevent the square from being replaced with apartment buildings and other useless stuff. In order to preserve Ghirardelli Square for future generations, the D. Ghirardelli Company was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
Ferry Building (1892)
The San Francisco Ferry Building at Embarcadero used to be the terminal for ferries that travel across the Bay. With more and more bridges, streetcars and highways built, the building apparently lost its initial purpose. Until the completion of Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge, the Ferry Building was the second busiest transit terminal in the world, second only to Charing Cross in London. After the big bridges opened, passenger ferry use fell sharply. Today it’s a food hall and office building. Interesting side note: Architect A. Page Brown designed the clock tower of the Ferry Building after the 12th century Giralda bell tower in Seville (Spain).
Twin Peaks Boulevard (1920)
The Twin Peaks are a prominent stop for tourists. Preferably you drive up in the morning or evening hours. There is no public transportation available, but the 37 Corbett Muni line stops on Crestline Dr. near a footpath up to the Twin Peaks. From the top you will have nice vistas of San Francisco and the Bay.
This museum has been around since 1935 as an institution. Only in 1995 it relocated into the iconic Mario Botta-designed building at 151 Third St. SFMOMA holds an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art. Approx. 33,000 art works are on display in 170,000 sqft of exhibition space. If this is something for you, then add another two museums to your to-do-list: San Francisco’s de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor.
Sausolito (approx. 1870)
Passing the Golden Gate Bridge towards Marin County gives you a chance to stop in Sausolito. There is not too much going on. For us Sausolito provided a much needed lunch break. We also discovered a large House Boat Community. Anyone can enter this houseboats community. Most gates are open to public. We saw everything from architectural gems to working boats and old maintenance-challenged vessels. You want to give it a shot? Look for Kappas Marina West Pier, Yellow Ferry Dock, Issaquah Dock, Liberty Dock and South 40 Dock.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest and largest Chinese enclave outside Asia. It is centered on Grant Ave and Stockton St. Although overrun by tourists, Chinatown is not a dead shell of its past. Migrants from Hongkong and China actively promote Chinese lifestyles in this part of town. Some buildings of interest: Chinese Telephone Exchange (at 743 Washington). SingFat and SingChong Building, (both at 573-615 Grant), Six Companies Building – the “White House” of Chinatown (at 843 Stockton), Nam Kue Chinese School (at 755 Sacramento).
Tenderloin National Forest (1889)
Of course there is no National Forest in San Francicso. It’s just a speck of nature and art in one of San Francisco’s most notorious neighborhoods called ‘Tenderlion National Forest’. The Tenderloin suburb has been known as one of the most rundown parts of the city with lots of homeless people and crack houses. In 1989, the nonprofit organisation ‘Luggage Store Gallery’ kind of annexed an alley within Tenderloin. The mayor of San Francisco ended up selling the occupied stretch to the group for a symbolic 1 Dollar. Soon the area was transformed, bringing nature and art to the alley walls, shaded by fast growing redwood trees.
Painted Ladies (1850s to 1900)
If you’re going to San Francisco, don’t miss the “Painted Ladies” are colorful Victorian and Edwardian houses featuring at least three colors that enhance elements of their architecture. Hundreds of Painted Ladies can be found in Alamo Square, Lower Haight, Haight-Ashbury and Cole Valley. There is one particular row of Painted Ladies -> the houses of 710-720 Steiner St at the corner of Hayes St. These houses have appeared in an at least 70 movies, countless advertisments and TV shows.
Sunset at Cliff House (1858)
In the Outer Richmond neighborhood, high above the Pacific Ocean, the Cliff House features two restaurants, a casual dining Bistro and a more formal Restaurant called Sutro’s. Additionally, the Terrace Room serves a Sunday Brunch buffet. Today’s Cliff House dates to 1937. It is the fifth version to be built since its establishment in 1858. At Sutro’s, classic meat and seafood dishes can be your perfect setup for an unbeatable sunset view.
If you’re going to San Francisco. By Chili & Tshirp | Hugging horizons since 2004 | More travel blog posts about North America here.