San Francisco 10 must do's
California has an overwhelming array of natural and physical attractions to choose from so when we
were planning our three week trip we knew we would barely scratch the surface of “The Sunshine
State”. All I did know was that since the day my Grandfather sat me down to watch the Bullitt car
chase (three times in a row) and taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl playing Madan 98 I knew San
Francisco had to be top of the list.
Widely considered one of the best cities in the world “The Speak Easy” has something for everyone
whether you want high class cuisine to local street food or peace and tranquillity to adrenaline
fuelled fun; San Francisco has it all.
So here’s my list of must do things whilst in town.
1. Golden Gate Park
With so many landmarks most first time visitors don’t realise that San Francisco has one of the most impressive inner city parks in North America. At over 1000 acres Golden Gate Park is larger than the widely known Central Park in New York at a mere 800ish acres. The Park is one of San Francisco’s best landmarks both for locals and tourists due to it playing host to a wealth of different free and additional charge attractions, including The Japanese Tea Gardens which is a welcome pocket of tranquillity in the city (quick tip arrive before 10am and admission is free ), the California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum and Conservatory of Flowers.
With such a concentration of activities you could happily spend half the day just wandering around
taking in the sights, especially in the summer months. We did find though that the further west you
go the less appealing the park gets, so I would stay more central and to the east.
2. Lands’ End Park
Lands’ End Park is on the North West corner of the city on top of the cliff overlooking the bay and
Pacific Ocean. The Park has a range of short walks and trails which are popular with local runners
and walkers; it also hosts the ruins of Sutro Baths which sadly had fallen into disrepair when we
visited but could be a great landmark if taken care of.
Tucked away in the park is Eagle Point Labyrinth which is a hidden stone path/maze constructed by
local artist Eduardo Aguilera. The maze is a little tricky to find but with some pre-planning on Google
Earth you should be able to find it without too much of a problem and when you do you’ll get some
impressive views over the bay towards Marine Point and of course the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Park continues to the northeast towards China and Baker Beach both are great to have a stroll at
sun set and take in some memorable views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
3. Lombard Street
A truly iconic landmark that is known throughout the world is definitely worth a visit and taking a
drive or Segway down the twisting flower laddered road will not disappoint. Be warned though this
is a major tourist attraction which gets extremely busy and spending the whole time in a queue of
cars stopping to take photos could get irritating. We found it was better to visit later in the day as
this also allows a great opportunity to experiment with long exposures with the endless stream of
cars coming down the road.
4. Ride the trams
A trip to San Francisco just wouldn’t be complete without a ride on the cable cars. There are only
three tram lines Powell and Mason, Powell and Hyde and The California Street Line, all access
different areas of the city so if you’re just looking for the best tram experience it has to be heading
north on the Powell and Mason line. It is a flat rate of $5 each way to ride the tram (or a $13 day
pass) so you might as well get the most out of the experience so get on at the Powell Street Station
and take the line all the way down to near the sea front. The line gives you some unique views of
Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge but it is all about just taking in the experience and listening to
the stories of the drivers.
5. Golden Gate BridgeThe icon that springs to mind whenever you mention San Francisco is of course the
cycling over the bay. We chose to hire bikes for the day from Blazing Sables and took the route
down past the marina and yacht club down Old Mason Street, then take a left up Long Avenue but
be prepared for a hard (but shortish) climb up to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Centre. Also be
aware that only one side of the bridge is open to pedestrians and the other to cyclists depending on
the time of day, so if you’re desperate to get the best view over the city make sure you time your
crossing when the East side is open to your mode of transport.
A more relaxing option and an absolute must is getting up early to make your way over the bridge to
Battery Spencer view point to watch the sunrise; it is still to this day one of my favourite travelling
memories. There will be plenty of other people there to keep you company especially if the weather
is good, some even brought the duvet, pillow and coffee for maximum comfort!
If we were ever to move out to California, Sausalito is where we would look to put down our roots.
Easily accessible by bike over the bridge (it took us about 90mins from the Blazing Sable shop to the
main street), Sausalito has a much more laid back and continental feel than the bustling city. With a
wide range of eateries, high end clothes shops and marina it is somewhere you can’t help but look in
the estate agencies window and dream of owning one of the cliff top mansions. You can get the
short ferry back over the bay to Pier 41 so it’s a great way to finish off the cycling loop over the
bridge and down along the water front.
The night tour of Alcatraz from Pier33 gives you a unique point of view of the most famous and
notorious prisons in the world. Walking around the infamous prison and solitary confinement cells
at night really adds to the atmosphere and gives a haunting insight into what the inmates must have
You will need to book tickets a few months before your visit as they go quickly but this is easily done
online. Some areas outside of the main buildings are closed on the night tours due to limited
lighting but they do compensate for this by opening other areas inside like the hospital ward were
they filmed the final shoot out scene of The Rock, if you ask one of the guides they will show you the
fake blood splatter and Sean Connory’s graffiti still on the walls.
Oh make sure you take a good poncho as if the weather is bad there is limited cover when waiting
for the ferries!!
8. Muir Wood
A short drive to the north of San Francisco is a fine example of the sequoia trees that are native to
the district. Muir Woods has a range of easily accessible twisting tracks through the valley which has
a unique microclimate that allows this dense concentration of mammoth trees to thrive. Due to the
height of the trees and the steep valley the temperature can drop significantly whilst walking around
so bring an extra layer.
9. Speak Easy tasting rooms
One of the great experiences we discovered was the explosion of craft beers that are being created
throughout America and bucking the trend of the stereotypical mass produced beer giants. One of
the newest on the block is The Speak Easy brewery which have tasting rooms down near Pier 96
which offer a rustic set up and has some of the finest beers I’ve ever tasted.
10. Ferry building
A great way to experience one of the city’s finest buildings is to take a pre breakfast stroll through
the farmers market that surrounds the building on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays picking up
some local produce on the way. Then head inside the main building to join the queue for some of
the cities favourite coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee. Once you have fuelled up continue walking around
the labyrinth of meat and cheese delis, souvenir shops and bars which are a street foodies dream.
You can easily spend a week taking in all San Francisco has to offer but if you’re tired of the hustle
and bustle in the city here are a couple of ideas to see a little bit more of the Sun Shine State.
11. Take a cruise down Highway 1 and feel The Big Sur
If you have a spare couple of days getting out the city might just be in order and there is no better
way than taking a long slow drive down one of the most scenic roads in the world, Highway 1 and
taking in The Big Sur! Don’t think of The Big Sur as a strength of road between two points, it’s more
about the feeling you get when you have the wind in your hair, California sun shine and truly
breathtaking views that let you know when you’ve arrived. Roughly speaking The Big Sur stretches
south from Carmel all the way down to Cambria running between the Santa Lucia Range and the
Pacific coast. The most important thing is to take your time to make sure you soak it all in and stop
off at some of the main sights along the way including McWay Fall, Hearst Castle and The Elephant
Seal Sanctuary. If you make it as far down as Cambria cut inland to Paso Robles which is a major
wine area in the State and experience the underground wine tasting at Eberle Wines.
If you really want the full experience do like we did and hire a convertible Mustang get the top
down and head out, trust me the endless twists and turns combined with the breath taking Pacific
views are something you’ll never forget.
As if San Francisco doesn’t have enough to offer within half a day’s drive is Yosemite national park
which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Concentrated within the main valley are
endless ribbons of walking trails, climbing routes, camp sites and wildlife it is an outdoor persons
dream! It is somewhere that has to be seen to be believed.
Make sure you take the hour drive up to Glacier point for the impressive panoramic views over the
main valley and the towering Halfdome.