It turns out I’m not yet done saying goodbye to San Francisco. Partly inspired by recommendation requests from friends who are planning trips with their families this year, I decided to compile a list of attractions to visit in San Francisco. This will be a three-part series, a post for each day someone would be touring San Francisco. (Most people I know are only ever in the city for three to four days, so I figured three was a fair number of days to use.)
Well, San Francisco is a small city, so that’s fine. It’s a 7 x 7 (in miles, because US still uses imperial system of measurement) area, with neighborhoods changing every few blocks. Of course, you’d have to live in the city to truly experience what it has to offer, but I believe this should work for people with jam-packed itineraries.
Day 1: Tourist spots and Steep Hills
As a visitor to San Francisco, don’t shy away from those landmarks you keep seeing in pictures. If you can avoid going on a weekend, that would be great. These spots get crowded, so if you want to limit your photo bombers, it’s best to visit on weekdays. If you have no choice in the matter, well, prepare yourself for people, people, people galore because they will be everywhere.
The Ferry Building is iconic. It’s a marketplace along the Embarcadero, close enough to piers and to downtown. It’s a nice spot to grab
a kind of pricey lunch from or to go to for a walk or for coffee. The building hosts a farmer’s market a few days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday). I used to go to the Thursday one during lunchtime because they would have food vendors around, but Saturday might actually be the best day to come here because there are usually more vendors then.
Pier 39 + Fisherman’s Wharf
If you walk up the Embarcadero (don’t worry, this is still flat), you’ll make it to Pier 39 and then Fisherman’s Wharf. To be frank, I would only ever spend 5-10 minutes here at a time and I avoid this area like the plague, but it’s only because this area is so popular to tourists that everyone comes here to visit. I, myself, went here on my first ever trip to San Francisco.
You’ll know you’re there when you see the Pier 39 flags. Pier 39 is a basically a boardwalk with fun souvenir shops and restaurants. There are entertainers every now and then, and if you walk the boardwalk path towards Fisherman’s Wharf, you can watch the sea lions sunbathing and barking. Also, if you’ve made it to Fisherman’s Wharf for some clam chowder, there’s also an old-school arcade that was featured in Princess Diaries. (It relocated to this location after the movie came out.)
The last time I was in this area was in the winter—my friend wanted to see the Christmas tree and, having had nothing better to do, I went along. The Christmas tree was just okay (do not be fooled; some people just love Christmas trees), but the rest of Pier 39 was extra pretty during Christmastime!
Coit Tower + Lombard St
OK, let’s climb up the hills. I will tell you now: Lombard St is optional. I’m not sure you want to walk up the hill to see the “World’s Crookedest Street” because I have—multiple times—and I was underwhelmed each time. (Why so many times? Well, I used to take friends and relatives out for many a #touristySF experience back in my day.) Honestly, there are other steep hills that you can climb that offer nicer views. I don’t even know why anyone would drive down this part of Lombard St other than to experience the tourist attraction.
So let’s talk about Coit Tower, perched up a hill I’d actually be willing to climb. It’s in a pretty location; there’s a view of the bay and downtown, and you don’t need to take the elevator up (but I did!) if you don’t want to pay. (Note: SF residents get a discount, but the person manning the ticket booth didn’t mention until I asked.) I will admit: I only became interested in this tower because of the opening scene of The Nine Lives of Chloe King, which was, unfortunately, cancelled after ten episodes. But it was a great visit!
Columbus Ave + City Lights + Chinatown
So now we walk downhill along Columbus Ave, which ends in Financial District. Along the way, there are Italian restaurants (my favorite being Il Casaro) and cafes (they have gelato!!!) because North Beach is the Italian neighborhood in the city. If you’re feeling sandwiches, head to Molinari, an unassuming delicatessen that makes amazing sandwiches. People working in Financial District trek there for sandwiches over lunch, too, so don’t be surprised if it gets a little cozy inside. Columbus Ave is also home to City Lights (see 6 Bookstores to Visit in San Francisco), which I love taking friends and family to.
Enter Chinatown via Grant Ave and just walk around. You’ll know when you’re in Chinatown. If you don’t notice the red lanterns, you should at least see the Chinese characters on the storefronts. Chinatown ends with the Dragon Gate, and then Union Square begins (and then the shopping begins).