Written by Tamara Corrie.
My husband and I recently traveled to San Francisco for a brief stay and believe me, I wish it could have been longer! We simply were not able to get to as many iconic sights as we would have liked, partially due to traveling over a holiday weekend and partially due to simply running out of time and enjoying what we were doing!
Below are our observations on must-dos and other recommendations.
Visit the Golden Gate Bridge – This is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and definitely what most people think of when they picture San Francisco. There are many tours, including the hop-on, hop-off bus, that will get you over the bridge and offer great photo opportunities. We took our photos upon our return from a small group Sonoma wine tour.
Visit Alcatraz – This is also part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the tours are run by the U.S. National Park Service. This historic federal penitentiary, opened in 1934, started cruises to the island for the public in 1973. Though the audio tour of the prison is extremely interesting, there are many natural sites like gardens, bird colonies and, of course, the views of the bay!
Chinatown San Francisco – Chinatown San Francisco, the oldest in the United States and the largest outside of Asia, is definitely a must-see. Though there are better Chinese restaurants outside this tourist area, we enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner at Chinatown Restaurant est. 1919. Prices are very reasonable and there is a wide variety of cuisine to choose from. Even if you do not eat in Chinatown, just walking the streets, checking out the shops, and soaking in the culture is something every visitor should do.
Ride a cable car – Unfortunately, we were not able to do this – BUT I did get tips to avoid the long lines that can form. Instead of going to the beginning of the line, start at the 2nd or 3rd stop on your desired route. You can board at any stop and possibly avoid a long wait during a busy time or season. Check out this site for a lot of helpful information: https://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/transit/how-ride/how-to-cable-cars
Fisherman’s Wharf – This historic neighborhood along the waterfront is a popular tourist destination. There is a carnival atmosphere with many restaurants, shops, and the aquarium. This is also where the boats to Alcatraz depart from. We only had a brief time here, but got lucky with a table at the window for viewing a beautiful sunset at Fog Harbor Fish House where I had the local specialty of Dungeness crab!
Recommended if you have the time and interest:
Magic Bus Tour – This is the most unique and entertaining tour I have been on! Take a trip back to the 60s in a vintage bus with music, costumes, and relive the “Summer of Love”! It may not be for everyone, but if you have an open mind and like a bit of fun, I highly recommend this tour. Our guide, Serene Rain (I think), was fantastic! We added on the Alcatraz tour for a full day of entertainment and history.
Haight / Ashbury District – This historic area of San Francisco was “the” place to be in 1967! Today, this area is home to a number of funky shops (including a vintage clothing store that is amazing), restaurants, and other historical sites. The highest concentration of Victorian homes still intact is here and they are beautiful. The tours will go thru the area, so I recommend “getting on the bus” and stopping here to enjoy a view of the past.
Muir Woods – The Muir Woods National Monument has been federally protected since 1908. This primeval forest has towering redwoods with long walking paths along a fresh water creek. The drive here is along a winding road (look out for cyclists). You really do feel small in this forest. We wandered the paths for about 1 hour as part of our small group wine tour and found it beautiful and relaxing. Tip – no cell service, so turn off your phone to not waste your battery!
Wine Country Tour – You do not have to be “into” wine to find this a perfect way to spend the day! We booked a Small Group Muir Woods and Wine Country tour with Best Bay Area Tours for a very reasonable cost. It included pick up at our hotel, time at Muir Woods, at least three wine tasting stops, and a lunch stop in Sonoma Plaza. There were only six of us and our driver/guide was FANTASTIC! The weather was perfect and I would say you should fit this or another wine tour into your plans for visiting San Francisco.
Hop-on / Hop-off bus tours – We purchased a 3-day hop-on hop-off pass as we have used it in other cities and thought it would be a great way to get around. Unfortunately, for us the hours were too short for what we were hoping. BUT, it is still something worth looking to do, just be aware of limited hours of operation. Also, the night tour had a VERY long line and wait to board, so be aware and try to get there early, but know you may be standing for a long time. Also, everyone wants the top deck for the best view, but please be prepared for wind, rain, and cold depending on when you go and plan accordingly! Umbrellas are NOT permitted up there and you cannot come down to the lower deck except during official stops.
Union Square – We happened to be staying near Union Square and traveling Thanksgiving weekend. Therefore, we say that if you are a shopper, the square has EVERYTHING! All the big department stores that you may or may not have at home, and more. So, if you are a shopper, this is a definite stop for you.
Dining – Experiment! As our guide told us, there are too many wonderful restaurants here – do NOT go to McDonald’s! We went to small, quaint places and larger places and enjoyed them all! Contact me if you want my personal recommendations.
After this exhausting, amazing, fascinating, and busy trip – we definitely understand why so many people say San Francisco is their favorite city. We look forward to a return trip to discover the many details we were not able to explore this time! If you are considering a trip to this iconic city, please contact me as I would love to help you plan it.
Tamara has been in the travel business for over 30 years with over 15 years at Classic Travel. Tamara specializes in leisure, corporate, and group travel as well as being a Certified Sandals Specialist. Some of her favorite destinations include Las Vegas, Jamaica, and the Caribbean. Email Tamara: firstname.lastname@example.org