On the Golden Gate Bridge
Renting bikes to tour the city
San Francisco is a perfect city to spend a week on vacation. Just within the core of the city are so many attractions, you can keep busy for the first three days. Outside of town are numerous day trip locations. I've visited San Francisco five times, always seeing new sights in town and climbing the regional mountains nearby with my kids. This is one of those cities where you should get a hotel downtown when you visit; leave the car in the hotel garage. San Francisco can also be fun because of all the movies filmed there. It seems I could name one movie for every attraction. Below is the list of tourist attractions I liked:
WillhiteWeb - California Travel
Golden Gate Bridge and Downtown San Francisco
San Francisco from the ferry ride to Alcatraz Island
San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco from Coit Tower
Hiking in Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Driving the slopes of Mt Tamalpais
Hiking the stairs down to the Point Reyes Lighthouse
Hiking the shores in Sausalito
Standing on the summit of Mt. Davidson
Sights outside of town
Self-guided bike tour
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Mt. Tamalpais State Park
Point Reyes National Seashore
Bay Area Hiking
Alcatraz is now run by the National Park Service, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. We took a self tour of the island which consisted of wearing headphones and listening to someone talk. It's a great place to visit because of the scenery as well as the history. The tour is free but the National Parks private company ferry service charges a ridiculous price to get out there. Boats leave from Fisherman's Wharf. More than just a prison, it holds the first US lighthouse and fort on the West Coast. The island is also a wildlife sanctuary.
Fisherman's Wharf is the most popular place to visit in San Francisco. You'll believe it when you arrive, the place can be packed. The Wharf is full of seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, venders, activities and homeless people. Seeing every attraction like the Wax Museum, Ripley's Believe it or Not, the Maritime Museum or the Aquarium might keep you there all day but Fisherman's Wharf should only keep you for a few hours. Walk around, take pictures, see the famous Sea Lions at Pier 39, maybe go on a harbor cruise, and definitely go to Alcatraz. If you are willing to get up early, you can see the seafood as its getting transported off the boats.
My best memory of seeing San Francisco is touring the city on a bicycle. We rented bikes from a local shop for a reasonable price. They gave us a map with routes around town that avoided the worst hills. Soon we had biked up the waterfront, onto the Golden Gate Bridge. We biked through parks, neighborhoods and Chinatown during rush hour. We did do this activity before hiving kids, it wouldn't work otherwise.
A symbol of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is considered one of the world's most beautiful bridges and probably the most photographed. When it opened in 1937, it was the longest suspension bridge span in the world. The pedestrian walking area is surprisingly wide, a good thing because there were quite a few people out on the bridge. A crazy fact about this bridge; it's the most popular place to commit suicide in the U.S. with an average of one every two weeks! There are even suicide hotline telephones on the bridge!
After the earthquake of 1906, Chinatown was rebuilt as a tourist attraction. Although some of Chinatown is staged, much of the area is as authentic as being in Asia. Some streets are lined with shops for tourists while others are full of shops where the locals shop. Walk through dragon-crested gates, open markets, streets full of banners and lanterns draped across the roads, Chinatown is a must see. It's the oldest and largest Chinese community outside Asia. Do your souvenir shopping here and grab a cheep meal as well.
I've always liked this street, probably because the 8 sharp switchback turns are more like a hiking trail than a public roadway. This section of Lombard Street is known for being the crookedest street in the world, although another street in San Francisco is actually more crooked. The road has nonstop traffic coming down the one-way road, a sight in itself. Since they let anyone go down (usually taking pictures along the way), you see some awful driving. The area is really nice with public steps up both sides, the red brick street and all kinds of vegetation growing around.
Of course, a trip to San Francisco must have a ride on a cable car. For the tourists, they are a good way to get around town. But, on a busy weekend there are lineup stations where you must wait for a space. Near the ends of the routes, all the cars are full so you can't ever get on.
So this guy named Coit was so happy with the fire fighters during the 1906 earthquake he gave his money to the city for beautification. The city builds this 210-foot tall tower reminiscent of a fire hose nozzle in 1933. Now it's a city landmark on top of Telegraph Hill. You can climb up and enjoy views from the observation deck.
For the peakbaggers that frequent this website, consider the 0.5 mile hike up Mt. Davidson, the highest natural point in San Francisco and the highpoint of San Francisco County. At 925 feet above sea level, you won't get too winded reaching the top. Most interesting is the giant 103-foot cross at the summit and the fact that a Clint Eastwood movie was filmed here.
Sausalito is a small historic town across the bay from San Francisco. Many compare it to the French Riviera although this is a big leap. There are marinas, plazas, art galleries, small shops, all making for a nice visit if you have time. It might be more memorable if you arrive by ferry. Driving over to Sausalito, I wasn't that impressed but the town looked a lot like the small towns I grew up with around Puget Sound. Road access is across the Golden Gate Bridge, on the way to numerous other places, so that's convenient.
I'll let the National Park Service describe it. "Golden Gate National Parks chronicle two hundred years of history, from the Native American culture, the Spanish Empire frontier and the Mexican Republic, to maritime history, the California Gold Rush, the evolution of American coastal fortifications, and the growth of urban San Francisco." That is a mouth full! The Golden Gate National Park area is one of the largest urban parks in the world with an area two and a half times the city of San Francisco. The park seems to be here and over there, never one continuous block like most national parks. Depending on your interests, there's bound to be something that you like. I have visited the Marin Headlands, an area on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge where you can get the famous picture with the bridge and city in the background. Nearby is the Point Bonita Lighthouse, several historic military sites, a Nike Missile site, a beach and a hike along the coast up a peak with military bunkers on the summit.
Located north of the Golden Gate Bridge is Mount Tamalpais State Park. Climbing to the top of the peak is the perfect day trip to get some exercise and an overview of the northern terrain. From 2,571 feet, you look down on the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay, all the nearby mountains and even the city of San Francisco. The hike is only 300 feet of elevation gain. Even if you don't hike, the views from the road up are spectacular. The forests and open grassy slopes from the road were really impressive. My first visit up, they were filming a Lexis commercial on the road. In the park you can find places to picnic, historic landmarks, camping, biking, redwood groves and all sorts of hikes. A through road can be found winding back down if you wanted to continue north.
This is a popular destination for tourists looking to get even further away from San Francisco. By far, the Point Reyes Lighthouse is the most popular sight. A half mile hike followed by 300 stairs lead down to the scenic lighthouse at the very point of the rocks. There are remote beaches, lots of wildlife and 147 miles of hiking trails in the park so plenty to do here. I hiked up Mt. Wittenberg, the highest peak in the park but found new trees overgrowing the views.
I've hiked up the best of the Bay Area peaks. To see them click below.
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Golden Gate National Recreation Area