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31 October, 2013

The Quintessential Guide to San Francisco

Photo from San Francisco skyline taken from the water
San Francisco
With its spectacular bridges, dizzying coastal vistas and vast cultural diversity, San Francisco is California's most evocative city. Known in particular for its cable cars, tasty Dungeness crabs with sourdough bread, a dramatic park and a famous federal prison that was once home to Al Capone, Robert Stroud - the notorious Birdman of Alcatraz - and George Kelly. Many people visit San Francisco during a West Road Trip; one day will definitely not be sufficient to explore this amazing city, even two or three days might not be enough to see San Francisco in depth but it will at least allow you to scratch its seductive surface.

   
Holiday Nomad with the Iconic Golden Gate Bridge on the background
The Iconic Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Start on the Presidio, a neighborhood in San Francisco's northeastern corner, to get your first close-up view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Regardless of the weather - which can often change without warning - this 2.7 kilometers long structure often covered in fog will not fail to impress you. It was built in 1937 during the Great Depression and is designed to withstand winds of 160 kilometers per hour. You can walk or drive across the bridge. A unique way to experience the bridge is to cycle across the bridge. You can cycle till Sausalito, a beautiful waterfront town with great restaurants to have lunch.  

Afterwards, walk east from Fort Point lookout, along Crissy Field. On a clear day, you'll find yourself continuously looking back as the bridge changes perspective the further away you get. Meanwhile, in front of you, the Palace of Fine Arts will come into view. This building is home to the Exploratorium Science Museum and is immediately recognizable by its Grecian columns and large, extravagant dome.


Pier 39

Head to Fisherman's Wharf, kitsch it may be, but this part of the city is a must-see. Pier 39 is definitely a highlight with its festive atmosphere, street performers, a carrousel, a marina, an aquarium, touristy shops and much more. The real stars here are the sea lions, more than 900 gather together each winter on the marina's dock. Even in the summer you can spot sea lions here as a small group stays around the entire year. A Dungeness crab or a Sea Food dinner in one of the many great restaurants around Pier 39 is a must. 



Holiday Nomad on a San Francisco Cable Car
San Francisco Cable Car

San Francisco Cable Cars

Start on Union Square, located in the city's financial district. Here you'll find a ticket booth where you can get musical tickets for a reduced price. After you admired this beautiful square and its victory column, take the California Street cable car from nearby Powell Street to Chinatown. These cable cars are the last working, manually operated ones in the world. While you may feel every bump, they provide the most authentic way of seeing San Francisco. They were declared a National Historic Monument after a mayor tried - unsuccessfully - to have them replaced by buses in 1947,

Once you' re in Chinatown, go to the corner of Bush and Grant Street to see Chinatown Gate, a gift from the Republic of Taiwan in 1970. Lose yourself in 24 blocks of oriental culture ranging from gaudy souvenir shops to hanging roast ducks and intoxicating incense. The many restaurants here are a good lunch option. Then catch the Hyde Street cable car to Lombard Street, the most tortuous street in the world.   

  
Alcatraz Island and prison San Francisco
Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz

Catch the cable car to Fisherman's Wharf for a tour of Alcatraz. On most days, this tour leaves from Pier 33 for "The Rock". In 1972 Alcatraz became a national recreation area but before that it was the country's most notorious federal prison. Don't miss the cellblocks, exercise yard, dining room and "Broadway", a corridor separating Blocks B and C. Be sure to book your tickets to Alcatraz in advance as these tours are extremely popular. There are many tours going around the island but only few actually allow you to visit the island and prison. 


Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is San Francisco's giant green lung located west of the city centre. Starting at Ocean Beach, walk east through the centre of the park. The first landmark you'll pass is the Dutch Windmill, the largest of its kind in the world, surrounded by the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden. Next is Buffalo Paddock, home to a small herd of American buffalos brought to the park in 1984. Other highlights as you continue east include Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill, the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Shakespeare Garden and the Victorian Conservatory of Flowers. 

The main attraction is the Japanese Tea Garden, an oriental island consisting of traditional pagodas, bonsai trees and miniature rock gardens. Stop here for a light lunch before visiting the De Young Museum, which features Mesoamerican statues, modernist sculptures and Oceanic and African Art. 

Buy a bottle of Californian wine and crusty bread with cheese and head down to Alamo Square for a sunset picnic with a view you'll never forget. Located on Fulton Street, Alamo Square's charm comes from the fact that its row of charming Victorian houses has as background the financial district's skyline including the Transamerica Pyramid, the highest building in the city. 


Freya - Holiday Nomad, a Travel and Photo Blog

If you like this, you might also like:
The Quintessential Guide to Marrakech 

38 comments:

  1. Wow, What the fantastic tour narrated beautifully with spectacular photographs..
    Interesting informative article...
    Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

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  2. Wow! You always hit the mark Freya - this is a wonderful resource to San Francisco... you even got the bridge in the fog. :-)

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    1. Thanks Maria, I have never seen that bridge without fog :-)

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  3. San Francisco is now in your dictionary.

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  4. Ah, the City by the Bay is in my "backyard" so to speak, Freya! It's about a 4 hour drive from Reno and next to Seattle my favorite city! You absolutely nailed it perfectly on the things to do there. btw...absolutely awesome photos! What I've always loved about San Francisco is that it is a perfect walking city. You do not need a car whatsover. And like you mentioned, the cable cars are terrific, and a blast to boot! Wonderful post, our friend! :)

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    1. So true Mike no need for a car at all and I loved the cable cars. Must be great to live so close to this wonderful city.

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  5. Great guide! It's been almost 10 years since I've visited, but next time I got back I'd definitely like to make it over to Alcatraz!

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    1. I found the visit to Alcatraz very impressive, definitely recommended

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  6. Great guide, thanks for sharing! I'm from Los Angeles and have always enjoyed taking weekend trips to San Francisco. I love hopping on the cable cars even though sometimes I get freaked out when they're going down steep hills, ha.

    Happy travels :)

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    1. Hi Lauren, haha indeed sometimes it goes quite steep :) I just love that city.

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  7. Wish I was in San Francisco now! :)

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  8. For sure one of my favorite cities!!

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  9. Great San Francisco guide! I've never been to the States, but planning to go. It's still a bit expensive to me right now, but great to know there is a huge Chinatown around :) so every time I miss my favourite Chinese dumplings (baozi) I will go there to have some :).

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    1. China town in San Francisco is great :)

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  10. I love San Francisco! I went to college in the Bay Area, and it's been a few years since I've ventured back (apart from Sacramento). But we'll definitely be making a getaway to San Francisco in the coming year and I can't wait!

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    1. WoW must have been great to go to college there.

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  11. I cant imagine Golden Gate bridge without fog! It just had to be there to make the picture look complete! Driving on the Lombard Street is in my bucket list though :)

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    1. I have never seen the Golden Gate Bridge without fog and it's also on the photo :-)

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  12. Lovely photographs and very well narrated !!

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  13. Wow great travel advice blog! My wife had found it looking for tips for our upcoming Peru trip. Much to my surprise, she showed me your blog. I reviewed your year so far and am amazed at all the places you go and the things you see when there, not the typical boxed tour.
    We travel a little in USA and Canada, but compared to you, we have not left the house.
    Thanks for taking the time and effort to make this view of Earth for all to see. Happy travels. ( I do not know when you have time for a day job ).

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    1. Thank you so much for stopping by. I'm sure you will have an awesome time in Peru, it's such a beautiful country. I'm lucky enough that I have quite some vacation days a year and I also get to travel quite frequently for work.

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  14. Thank you for this Freya. I am planning a trip to San Fran soon.

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    1. I'm sure you will have an awesome time, it such a great city.

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  15. What a place. We visited there in June and had a ball. The ONLY thing the city needs is an anti-fog so the bridge ALWAYS is visible

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    1. haha I don't know, for me it's part of the city's charm to see the bridge always covered by fog :)

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  16. It looks like you had great weather!

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    1. It was very windy but sunny and blue sky

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  17. Ohhhhh I JUST moved to the area. There are a few things on here I haven't been to yet. I can't wait! Great guide!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Abby, thanks :) wow what a great place to live, enjoy.

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Freya - Holiday Nomad