San Francisco 101: Your first time around!

I visited San Francisco back in 2013, the year I caught the travel bug (you might guess that I’m still happily suffering from the virus). This was my first time in the city and also to the west coast. Everything was new and shiny. My feet’s first time in the Pacific Ocean was a special moment.

At Ocean Beach the water was chilly, green, and there were huge sand dollars everywhere – perfect for a beachcomber. You can dip your feet anywhere on the west coast and you may have already done that, let’s get to what’s specific to SF!

Quick tip, be sure to pack layers – you will be putting them on and taking them off frequently, rain gear can be helpful as well. What to eat? SF is known for sourdough bread, ghiradelli chocolate, and mission style burritos – just to name a few, but the city is overflowing with delicious eats which I’ll be raving about over the next few weeks. Where to go? Here are my top five tourist destinations:

  1. Golden Gate Bridge

No trip to the city is complete without an interaction with this iconic structure.

A walk over the bridge is a 1.7 miles hike each way,

bike over it and if you are with a buddy rent a tandem, or drive over it which I did this year – only the southbound direction heading into the city has a toll.

Read all about the engineering process (did you know? …when it was built in 1937 the bridge was the longest in the world and had the tallest towers) and history throughout the years at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.

  1. Golden Gate Park

Expansive city park filled with walking paths, gardens, and museums. As points of interest go I had never seen a bison before and I was bent on seeing the pen, I also wanted to view the windmill and experience the Japanese garden.

  1. Haight-Ashbury

If you dig the counterculture you can’t miss a trip to where it all blossomed. Vintage stores, record shops, street art, cafés, sights and smells, just walking around the main street is an enlightening activity. If you find yourself wandering down the side streets, drop by the house where the Grateful Dead [710 Ashbury St, San Francisco, CA 94117] used to live – while there are no signs it’s worth a quick detour if you’re a fan.

  1. Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf

Oooh that smell. And that noise. Yes, those are the sea lions and if you couldn’t see them use your other senses. Or follow the crowd because everyone else wants to view them too. Also in the area: get some sourdough bread and check out the Musée Mécanique (more on this later in the week). Plus there are great views of Alacatraz from this area!

  1. Ride a Cable Car

Primarily the vehicles are great for transportation (and they can take you to major destinations such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, and Lombard Street), but really these antiques are quite fun as an attraction. Try hopping aboard at a turntable – beginning/end a route to see the cars circle around. If you find you’re really interested in the history, check out the Cable Car Museum to learn more!

What’s next for me? On my third trip to SF I’ll have to plan way in advance. I really want to take the nighttime tour of Alcatraz, but they sell out months ahead.

Looking for something a bit off the beaten path?

Try Clarion Alley, a street that is filled with colorful murals, Sutro Baths has hiking and urban exploration (more on these two later!), or visit the Castro neighborhood and go to a gay bar – try Twin Peaks Tavern. Many more hidden gems to come during the days ahead.

Want to take a day trip?

+See the Redwoods! Less than an hour north is Muir Woods National Monument, which I have yet to visit – but I can absolutely vouch for Big Basin Redwoods State Park just under two hours south of the city.

+Head to the South Bay. Back on my first visit this is where I stayed with a friend who was living out there at the time. She took us around the area and I remember loving the Santa Cruz Farmers Market where I tried farm fresh California produce, shopping and dining on Main St in Campbell, and sailing out of Half Moon Bay.

+Visit the East Bay. This is where I stayed on my latest visit and I explored the area thoroughly, more to come so stay tuned!

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