I am planning to write about a lot about my adventures, but the first post in this category has to be about my favorite city on earth: San Francisco. After living in this city for a while I might be a bit biased, but still - it's a great place and I would totally recommend to visit! Like...really!
I could write about San Francisco forever (and I probably will - sorry!) but this post is all about the sights and top things to do when you are in San Francisco and my two cents about them. Some are a bit more touristy than others, but don't be afraid - I will definitely tell you about my favorite spots and insider tips on this blog, too!
Walk or bike over the Golden Gate Bridge
You can drive, too of course, but you should definitely walk or bike to fully enjoy the amazing view of San Francisco. The bridge is said to be one of the most photographed places on earth - and justifiably so! While around 120k cars are crossing the bridge every day, you can also walk and bike on the Western side of the bridge (which is the "better" one as it's facing the city). The bridge is an eye catcher during all weathers so no matter when you're going, it is always a must! Because even if you can only see half of it thanks to Karl the fog, it still looks amazing! Sadly, the bridge is not lit up at night (the Bay Bridge is, though), so you might want to go some time during the day.
Ride a Cable Car
When you think of San Francisco, you think of hills and cable cars. Riding a cable car is certainly one of the top things to do in San Francisco. For tourists. How popular they are is hard to miss given the long line of tourists queuing on the cable car station on Powell Street and Market Street - that's one of the stations where they turn them around so they can go the other direction. As they can just go one way, there's an entire platform built into the street so that the cars can be turned around - which is quite fun to watch. And yes, well, of course - I rode it, too (twice, actually). But let me tell you, that for me it was a rather disappointing experience. It's mainly a tourist attraction as no one in San Francisco really rides them - there's subways and busses, too! I do admit however, that you get some nice views along the ride - and when do you really get the chance to ride a cable car? If you have time, you can definitely check it out (but plan to spend some time in line) but if you're only in town for a short amount of time I would strongly advice to skip this one. It's just not worth it waiting in line for several hours and paying $8. I can tell you at least a dozen other things you should do instead.
Say hi to the sea lions
Close to Fishermen's Wharf you find Pier 39, one of the other famous attractions of the city and home to many sea lions. While the sea lions are super adorable, the masses of tourists aren't. Living in the city you typically avoid this area, but saying hi to the sea lions once in a while doesn't hurt. Plus it can be quite entertaining to watch them for a while. I once spend almost an hour watching two sea lions fight over a platform. Whoops. As it is typically super crowded you most likely won't spend a nice and relaxing afternoon in this area. There are a lot of tourist and souvenir shops of course so if you're looking for a quick shop and postcards, you should stop by. Don't expect any original finds here, though. I do can recommend the several sports shops however, if you're scouting for a Giants hat or a Warriors jersey.
Visit the rock
Alcatraz - the world famous former prison - is located on an island of the same name in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Tickets are usually sold out way in advance so be sure to book early. However, the prison is definitely worth a visit. I recommend the audio guide with lots of interesting - and horrifying - stories about the former prison. Of course you'll have to share this experience with hundreds of other tourists, but you will learn a great deal about the area, too and you'll get the chance to feel like a real convict if you step into one of the tiny, dark cells they call "holes" (and who wouldn't want that?). Another plus is the boat ride and the great view of San Francisco you'll get during the trip!
Explore San Francisco's Nightlife
Even though the bars and clubs close at 2 am you should definitely check out San Francisco's nightlife and bar scene. Popular bar areas are the Mission District and Polk Street, where you can find various bars and clubs. For LGBT fans the Castro District might be on the top of your list. North Beach, the Italian area of the city, has some nice bars as well! I am sure San Francisco can offer the right place for everyone. There are dark divy bars as well as fancy cocktail places, Irish pubs and clubs. This fancy outdoor pool can be found at Chambers on Eddy Street by the way.
MARVEL AT ART IN VARIOUS MUSEUMS
VVisit one of the many museums on San Francisco (or all of them) such as the De Young Museum, the recently re-opened MoMa or the California Academy of Sciences. You should definitely check out their special events, too! A lot of museums have awesome theme and cocktail nights. One of my favorite events is the Academy of Sciences Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences. The museum transforms into a lively venue filled with music, mingling and cocktails. The fancy plant wall from the picture can be found in San Francisco's MoMa, which recently had a grand re-opening. If you are looking for a more alternative museum experience, you might want to check out the city's new ice cream museum. Definitely a thumbs up from me!
Shop IN HAIGHT ASHBURY
As already mentioned above, the Wharf has a whole bunch of souvenir shops if you are looking for something for your family and friends. If you are more the mall kind of person, Union Square and the Westfield Center on Market Street might have what you are looking for. Here you can find stores like Macy's, Apple or Disney. My number one recommendation when it comes to San Francisco shopping though is the former hippie district Haight Ashbury. You can find amazing thrift and hippie stores in this area and I bet you can find a souvenir here that is one of a kind! You most definitely won't find the latest fashion trends here, but you'll have a once in a lifetime shopping experience. There are a lot of cool cafés worth topping by as well and a lot of street art to admire!
Walk through the oldes Chinatown Of the country
Although San Francisco's Chinatown isn't very big, it is the oldest Chinatown in all of North America! A major sight is definitely the entrance to that part of the city - the big Dragon Gate located on Grant Avenue. And there are many more things to explore. Whether it's fun stores, cheap groceries (yeah, it's a rarity in San Francisco, so definitely give it a go) or cool views of street art or the city - you will have an interesting and fun time! If you're around at the right time, you might get the chance to experience one of the stunning parades such as the New Year's Parade, too!
SEE The Painted ladies
The Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies became famous as a setting of the Full House TV series intro. In my opinion there are more beautiful houses in San Francisco - so you should definitely spend some time just walking around enjoying the beautiful architecture (good areas in my opinion are the Hayes Valley, the Duboce Triangle or Pacific Heights). But of course none of them are as famous as the Painted Ladies. Plus the newly opened Alamo Square Park is a nice place to hang out on a sunny day. My recommendation - go and take a touristy picture but then spend some time just wandering around the city after :)
Explore the beaches around the city
No matter if it is Ocean Beach, Baker Beach or Crissy Field - San Francisco's beaches are basically located right outside your door. You can take the N train all the way out to Ocean Beach and just have to cross a street until you're there! It couldn't be easier. Even though the weather is mostly too cold to enjoy the water (it might also be dangerous), it is still so fun to hang out and enjoy the nature! I personally love Crissy Field since you have a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. I do like Ocean Beach as well though, cause you just don't feel like you're close to a big city at all.
Have you ever been to San Francisco? What are your top sights in San Francisco and what did you think about the ones I listed above? If you haven't been - would you like to go?
Kate recommends: A great novel about San Francisco is "Tales of the City" by Arminstead Maupin. The New York Times bestseller started out as a recurring series in the San Francisco Cronicle and talks about how the people and culture of San Francisco can change your life forever. And let me tell you - they can. At least it happened to me (being very dramatic here, I know haha).