San Francisco was part one of my 2 week holiday to America (San Fran – Vegas – LA). I visited in mid October for 5 nights which worked out perfectly. It was enough time get over the flight from the UK, the time difference and explore the city without feeling rushed.
Here are my top things to do and see during your time in this popular city of California.
A visit to Alcatraz is an absolute MUST on your trip to San Francisco! It was designed as an “inescapable” maximum security prison, set on an island just over a mile from the city and housed some well known criminals such as Al Capone. It’s essential that tickets are booked in advance such is the popularity of the trip. Included in the price is a return ferry trip, a brilliant audio guide and free rein to wander around the site at your own pace without the need to pre book on the return ferry for a particular timeslot. The few hours we spent here were really informative and it was eye opening to learn about Alcatraz’s history and see the prison first hand.
Top tip: Watch an Alcatraz movie ahead of your trip to help set the scene! Our film of choice was Clint Eastwood’s “Escape from Alcatraz”
2. Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge
A second absolute must for me would be to hire a bike and cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge. We allocated a whole day to do this so we could take our time and see where our legs would take us. The weather wasn’t fantastic. It was fairly grey and overcast with a downpour quite early on when we had to run for cover. But it actually turned out to be quite good weather for cycling.
We hired our bikes from Blazing Saddles, who were very helpful, starting out in the vicinity of Fisherman’s Wharf and made our way to the bridge. I was grateful that it wasn’t too busy a day (probably due to the weather) as it meant we could cycle at our own pace and have ample pitstops for photos. There are plenty of these as the bridge is 2.7km or 1.7 miles long! From there we continued on to the pretty town of Sausalito where we had a lovely Mexican lunch at Copita and a cheeky Margherita!
Typically people tend to catch the ferry back from here to San Fran bay, however, we ignored this advice and decided we would cycle back as well. This in itself would have been 15 miles of cycling, a lot of it covering some quite steep ground. We were crazy enough to want to stretch ourselves a little further and decided to travel onto Muir Woods. Our legs didn’t thank us that evening and we were certainly glad to have got back to our hotel!
Top tip: Try to do this on a weekday when it should be quieter
3. Muir Woods
Muir Woods is famous for its beautiful redwood trees. It’s such a calming place to cycle through. We would have definitely liked to have explored more but were conscious that the further we went, the longer the cycle home!
4. Ride a tram
A trip to San Fran wouldn’t be complete without taking a ride on one of the city’s historic trams. It’s quite a thrill travelling along the steep streets on one of them, especially if you are hanging out the side as they get so busy! Definitely a fun way to navigate the city. For the keen tram enthusiastic, there’s a cable car museum which is meant to be very good.
5. Fisherman’s Wharf & sea lions at Pier 39
I have to confess that I wasn’t a great lover of this very popular attraction in the city. To me, it just felt too touristy with its overpriced souvenirs, fun fair rides and mediocre eating establishments (perhaps this is an unfair perception on my part as obviously I didn’t sample them all!). Nonetheless it’s worth a stroll through and it’s fun to watch the HUNDREDS of sea lions which are surprisingly large, albeit a little bit smelly!
6. Ferry Building & Pier 1
The Ferry Building is an excellent place to head for quirky places to eat and drink. We liked Gott’s burgers, did some wine tasting at one of the wine shops and enjoyed some free samples of local produce as we wandered around. We also had such a delicious breakfast burger at a small takeaway place, which I annoyingly can’t remember the name of, which we still talk about!!
7. Coit tower
This is a 60+ metre art deco tower that offers great 360 degree views of the city. I got the best pictures of Lombard Street from this viewpoint, even if they were quite zoomed in! There is a lift to get to the top. Don’t miss the interesting murals on the ground floor depicting life in the 1930s during the Great Depression.
8. Catch a baseball game
We saw the San Francisco Giants versus LA Dodgers at what was then AT&T Park (now Oracle Park). The tickets were easy enough to buy ahead of our visit to the States and were very reasonable (around $20 each from memory). It was such great fun testing out the foam fingers, taking in the atmosphere of the game and of course eating some supersize junk food whilst watching. I can’t say I had any better idea of what was going on having watched the game but would definitely recommend for the experience. Just take warm clothes and enough layers as it can get very chilly due to the wind factor!
9. City Hall
This is an absolutely stunning building with a beautiful interior. I can absolutely see why so many couples choose to get married here. It’s certainly worth popping inside to see what’s going on if you are in the area!
10. Lombard Street
This is the zig zag windy street that is said to be the most crooked street in the world! It’s definitely worth seeing, mostly for the amusement of watching cars descend down the extremely steep road and very tight angles! However, getting a decent photo is quite tricky as you’ll see from the below!
I absolutely loved our 5 nights in San Francisco and would definitely like to visit again. It has so much to offer being such a forward thinking and cosmopolitan city, set on the coast and with its world famous landmarks! Don’t miss it if you are planning a trip to California!
From San Francisco, we made the short flight to Las Vegas for a few days of a completely different type of adventure! You can read about my time in Vegas here.