San Francisco was the first really big city we were stopping at on our trip and I was a little nervous about driving in it. The highways around the city are like 5 lanes each direction and people like to weave in and out of traffic to try to get ahead of everyone else. The roads actually in the city are very narrow and congested. Most of them are one way streets so you need to pay attention you don’t turn the wrong way.
After looking at a map of San Francisco we decided to park in a parking garage that was between the Financial District and China Town, then walk to the attractions we wanted to see. It’s really not that big of a city and the main attractions are within a few miles of each other. If you like to walk I would definitely recommend doing a walking tour of San Francisco. If you get tired you can always catch a ride on a cable car for a while.
It was early in the morning when we were strolling through China Town and all of the shops were busy setting up for the day. They sell all sorts of strange foods. Vegetables and fruits I’d never heard of and tons of seafood. There are lots of souvenir shops and tons of restaurants. We decided on our way back through that evening we would stop at one and have dinner.
From China Town we headed up Columbus Ave which is one of the main roads going through the city. We stopped when we got to Washington Square Park to take a little break and do some people watching. There were a couple different fitness classes being held in the park and lots of people were out walking their dogs and enjoying the morning. Right across the street from Washington Square is Saint Peter and Paul Church, and in the distance you can see Coit Tower.
After peaking inside of the church, which is beautiful, we headed up Filbert Street to check out Pioneer Park and Coit Tower. This was when we first realized that people are not joking around when they say San Francisco is a city of hills. Filbert Street is a big, steep hill. Here is a view from the top back down to the church. The picture really doesn’t do the steepness justice, but it gives you an idea.
At the top of Filbert Street there are steps that lead up to the park and tower. The views from both sides of the park are amazing. From one side you can see the Bay Bridge and from the other you can see the Golden Gate Bridge.
The tower itself was closed when we got there so we were unable to go inside. That was a bit of a bummer because I’m sure the view from the top is incredible.
Next we made our way to Pier 39. This place is huge, with tons of shops and restaurants to check out. There are whale watches and a number of other tours that leave from here and it is certainly one of the most touristy areas of the city. There is also a really cool carousel on the pier that the kids seemed to really enjoy riding.
And of course you can’t go to Pier 39 without checking out the famous sea lions! The sea lions here had a lot bigger area to hang out in than the ones we had seen in Newport and they seemed to be much happier too. We watched these guys for a quite while because they were adorable.
We continued on down the waterway to Fisherman’s Wharf. Along the way we had views of the Alcatraz in the distance. There were also lots of people out enjoying the weather on their sailboats.
There are two WWII Navy ships near Fisherman’s Wharf you can take a tour of.
And there is a neat little museum of old arcade games that you can still play. A lot of them were really funny and some of them would definitely be considered offensive by today’s standards. There was one where you had to make a herd of bison trample as many Native Americans as you can before the time runs out. It was a neat little place that you should definitely spend a couple minutes walking around in.
Fisherman’s Wharf has tons of fishing ships, seafood restaurants and places advertising the best clam chowder. There were tons of street performers and musicians set up along the walkway providing entertainment to passersby.
From Fisherman’s wharf we walked to Crissy Field. There is a pedestrian walkway that follows right along the Bay and takes you past a lot of really nice old houses. There are tons of parks in San Francisco and people were out walking, running, biking, playing with their kids and dogs… just being active. I really liked how lively all of the people of San Francisco seem to be. For being a city, they really have made an effort to provide a lot of outdoor recreation space and it’s nice to see that people actually use and enjoy it.
Crissy Field is one of the larger public parks in the city. It has a number of fields used for various sports and it even has a beach! The beach was pretty crowded when we arrived, It was a beautiful day out, so it makes sense that it would be. There is an awesome view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the beach too. If you’re looking for a little escape from the city, without actually having to leave the city, Crissy Field is a good place to go.
From Crissy Field you can keep going straight for a while and get to the Golden Gate Bridge, or you can cross the street and go to the Presidio. There are all sorts of things to do here, from museums, to sports fields, to campgrounds, to shopping, there’s a little bit of something for everyone.
We were just passing by on our way to check out Lombard Street so the only building we saw was the Palace of Fine Art. To walk around the grounds is free, so we strolled through the gardens and through the giant Italian style gazebo on the pond. It was really beautiful.
One our way to Lombard street we saw one of the famous cable cars stopped to let people on and off, so we took the photo op.
We walked down Lombard street for quite a while looking for the famous winding section of road. There is an incredibly steep section of the street that takes you to the top of the winding road. This has become quite a tourist attraction, so there are numerous officers in the area directing traffic. I think it’s safe to say that locals avoid this section of town at all costs.
This section of the street is a one way road that goes down the hill. One by one, we saw car after car driving down the winding road with their go pros and selfie sticks recording the journey. There is also a walkway for pedestrians to travel down the street by foot. There are numerous houses in this street and there are police officers standing by to tell tourists to get off of people’s yards and out of their driveways.
I have no idea why anyone would want to live on this section of road. Getting out of your driveway is like an hour long process thanks to all the tourists. It was pretty neat to see, but I would definitely recommend checking it out on foot, otherwise you’ll be waiting in a very long line of traffic to get your turn to drive down the hill.
After surviving our trip down Lombard street we head back down Columbus Ave toward China Town. We had two stops left to check out before calling it a day. First we swung by the Beat Museum, which is full of memorabilia and books from the Beat Generation. You can get into the bookstore and gift shop for free, but the actual Museum costs money. There is a lot of Jack Kerouac stuff in here and it was pretty interesting to check it out.
Across the street is the City Lights Bookstore. This bookstore was a meeting place for some of the greatest writers and poets of the beat generation back in the 50’s and 60’s and continues to be a popular tourist destination for people who are still embracing that sort of beat mentality.
We ended our trip to San Francisco with dinner in China Town. This was legitimate Chinese food, not like the takeout we get at home. It had a little bit more kick than I was used to, but it was delicious none the less.
I typically am not a city person and wasn’t really sure how I was going to feel about San Francisco, but as far as cities go, San Francisco isn’t that bad. The streets are narrow the traffic is insane, and the houses are right on top of each other, but the people are active and there are plenty of outdoor recreation areas throughout the city for people to enjoy. I wouldn’t want to live there because I like wide open spaces, but I can certainly see why San Francisco would appeal to people who enjoy the energy of a big city.
Have you ever been to San Francisco? What were some of your favorite attractions?