Yes travel: San Francisco city guide

EmmaBy Emma  •  4 Jan 2017 at 7:00am  •  Places, World Travel
Emma

by Emma

I’ve given you the road trip run-through, but now I am going to delve into some of the places that we spent the longest on our West Coast of America road trip adventures. I truly hope it will inspire you to undertake a road trip yourself, but otherwise all of these places make fantastic holiday destinations in their own right.

First up is San Francisco, which was the first stop on our travels and one of our longest stopovers.

We stayed at The Handlery Union Square. It’s a great central location and best of all; it’s really near to the Powell Street cable car, which was one of our favourite ways to get around the city.

San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

Getting around

As always, when we are exploring cities, we walked a lot. But we also really enjoyed using the cable cars as a fun and accessible way to get around San Francisco. The Powell Street stop was just around the corner from our hotel, and took us all the way down to Fisherman’s Wharf.

San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

When we ventured further out of town we did give the BART a go. It was fairly cheap but two words of warning – we found it quite complicated to work out which ticket we needed for our destination. There’s always an information desk to ask advice if you need it. There are also people that linger around the ticket stations to ‘help out’ confused tourists by showing them which tickets to purchase. It did get us out of a sore spot when we needed our first ticket in a hurry, but they are begging and want your change. They are also persistent and intrusive, so you need to be really firm if you don’t want their help; otherwise they just start pressing buttons on the screen.

 

Beautiful Architecture

Depending on how long you have in San Francisco, I would really recommend just having a wander around. The houses there are totally beautiful. I wanted them all.

We spent some time walking around the area surrounding the ‘Painted Lady’ houses and they were simply beautiful. There are picture perfect pastel abodes EVERYWHERE.

San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

We also wandered in the affluent Pacific Heights area and noted down all of the beautiful mansions we wanted.

It was one of my favourite things that we did in San Francisco, just soaking up the atmosphere and seeing where the locals hung out.

 

Big Bus Tour

I’ve said it before and I know it’s cheesy, but when we go to big cities we do like to do a bus tour. It is an easy way to get around and means we can be sure to tick off all of the major sites that we want to see.

The Big Bus tour itself takes 2 hours and 20 minutes if you stay onboard for the whole loop, but you can go around as many times as you like. Our ticket lasted for 48 hours so we put a morning aside to do a full loop initially, so that we could get a better idea of where we wanted to ‘hop off’.

We then had plenty of time to explore the places that we liked the look of.

We’d already explored the Golden Gate Park on foot on our first day in the city, but the Japanese tea garden wasn’t open so we didn’t get a chance to go in there. It looks lovely though, and well worth a look.

The main places we hopped off the bus for were:

  • Lombard street, the crazy crooked street that comes up any time you google pictures of San Fran. You can also stop here on one of the cable cars – it’s cool to see the cars winding their way down this helter-skelter of a road

San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

  • A stop near the filbert steps (where you can hear beautiful birds chiming away), which led us up to Coit Tower – one of those ‘spectacular view’ type of spots

San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

  • China Town
  • Palace of fine arts – a truly beautiful monument surrounded by beautiful gardens. I could have just roamed here all day.

San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

We enjoyed views of the Ferry Building and Golden Gate bridge from the comfort of the bus, though we went back to both on foot on other occasions to see them in all their glory.

San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

The bus tour ticket also included a night bus, which normally we wouldn’t indulge in but we really wanted to see the city sparkle at night. We spent a very chilly evening on top of an open top bus doing just that. We may have been freezing, and I needed to toilet the entire time (too much information, sorry), but it was well worth doing. We saw another part of the city, crossing the Bay Bridge to treasure island to see skyline views of San Francisco at night. It was beautiful. But wrap up warm if you do go!

You can find the Big Bus tour office down by Fisherman’s Wharf on Jefferson Street.

 

Alcatraz

Alcatraz is infamous and an absolute must-see. We actually booked our tickets in advance, and I have to say we struggled with availability even though we were booking over a month before we travelled.

We ended up finding a more expensive option, the Alcatraz combo ticket. It worked well for us because it included our 48 hour Big Bus ticket, and there are some walking tours thrown in as well if you fancy them, but I can’t urge you enough to look it up and try and book tickets before you go. We saw lots of people being turned away on the day.

San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

It’s difficult to know what to say about Alcatraz itself. Visiting was a truly haunting and memorable experience. You get headsets to talk you around the prison, with anecdotes from past inmates. It really brings the experience to life.

I found the island endlessly intriguing, plus you get the opportunity to look back on San Francisco in all its glory when you catch the ferry over.

 

Fisherman’s Wharf

We spent a lot of time at Fisherman’s Wharf during our stay because it was a hub of activity. But the main attraction there is seeing the sea lions at Pier 39. lolling on the docks. It was simply incredible to see these fascinating animals in the home they have made there.

 San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

Crissy Fields and the Golden Gate Bridge

I’ve saved this one until last because it holds a very special place in our hearts – we got engaged on the beach just off Crissy Fields, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was incredibly special and I couldn’t think of a better location for such a magical moment.

We walked from the Marina, all the way along Crissy Field and up to the Golden Gate bridge, and then back to the beach area.

As you can imagine, the walk held spectacular views and I am so pleased we did it on foot rather than relying on public transport to give us our experience of San Francisco’s most iconic landmark.

San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

Eating Out

Not only did San Francisco treat us well with beautiful sights, we also had some incredible food that I highly recommend.

 

Nopa, Divisadero Street

We ate here on our first night. It was a busy open kitchen style restaurant with an incredible buzz. They specialise in wood-fired cuisine, and the Rotisserie Chicken that we both had certainly benefited from this beautiful style of cooking.

The food was plentiful and utterly delicious.

 

Foreign Cinema, Mission Street 

This place was such a find, beautiful and quirky but with food that lived up to the surroundings. I would definitely recommend asking to sit outside, we did and our meal was lit with festoon lights while Ratatouille played on wall opposite.

They have a wide range of oysters and shellfish on the menu, which we didn’t opt to sample, but I can certainly recommend the cod gratin for starter.

The Foreign Cinema Club Eating out in San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

 

Cheesecake Factory, Union Square

This one was a bit of a curve ball. After our nighttime bus tour, we were looking for somewhere for a late bite to eat. We actually went into Macy’s because there was a burger bar in there that appeared to still be open, we didn’t realise Cheescake factory served dinner too. When we discovered it, we were beside ourselves with joy.

The mains were huge portions, but my nacho salad was delicious. And of course we both had cheesecake – ‘smores for me and chocolate mousse for the boy. Absolutely de-licious.

The Cheesecake Factory, Eating out in San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

 

Sweet Maple, Sutter Street

Touted as the place to have breakfast in San Fran, we would certainly second that. I had incredible Eggs Benedict, with a tasty side of Sweet Maple’s world famous ‘Millionaire’s Bacon’ (actually, it was more the boy’s side, but naturally I pinched some). It is amazing, even if it doesn’t come with your dish, you have to give it a go.

Sweet Maple, Eating out in San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

Sweet Maple, Eating out in San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

So that’s your lot! We had the most incredible time in this beautiful city, and I know for sure that we will be going back one day.

One final thought, I mentioned our chilly night spent on a bus, but it is worth mentioning that San Francisco is quite windy day and night. We went in August and although we had pleasant weather, out of the sunshine it was on the cooler side. So make sure you pack some layers to have with you when you are out and about.

If you have been to San Francisco and have any top tips to share, please do pop them in the comments box below!

 

{If you are planning a West Coast of America trip, you will want to check out the other posts in this series: Planning a West Coast of America trip, Los Angeles city guide, San Diego city guide, Las Vegas city guide}

About the Author

Emma loves sunshine and flip flops, prosecco, chocolatey treats, things that sparkle, trips to the beach, reading and blogging.

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