When I worked as a travel consultant, I heard over and over and over again how much Melbournians loved San Francisco because they were such similar cities. I heard so many people singing San Francisco’s praises, and because of that, I was a little apprehensive to visit – high expectations generally lead to big let downs. But if you can put all of the comparisons and people telling you “you HAVE to love it!” aside, you might find that you actually will love it. I did – it’s a great literary city with fantastic food and a rich history. And while there is a heap to do, here are my top 10 picks.
1. See Alcatraz Island
Where? Departs from Pier 33
Why go? It brings history to life. It’s mind blowing, because walking through it (with the best audio commentary I’ve ever heard), it’s actually pretty easy to imagine how things would have been for the men held there. It’s stepping back in time in the most fascinating way, and it should be top of your list when you visit.
How long will you need? Allow a good 3 hours
Cost? Adult tickets currently start at USD$35.50 per person
2. Hang out in Golden Gate Park
Where? The massive chunk of green between Fulton St and Lincoln Way
Why go? It’s a really beautiful park and offers quite a lot of activities – there’s the museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, Botanical Gardens, California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, playgrounds, archery field, and a HEAP more.
How long will you need? Depends how much you want to do!
Cost? Wandering around the park is free, but specific attractions all attract their own fees – more details on the website.
3. Take a coffee and croissant break at Tartine Bakery
Where? 600 Guerrero St, San Francisco
Why go? Because this was one of the best almond croissants I’ve ever stuffed my face with, and husband’s coffee was the size of a small fish bowl. And it was actually good!
How long will you need? Give yourself a bit of time because there’s often a wait for tables. If you snag one, though, stay as long as you want to keep eating and drinking!
Cost? USD$10.00 will get you a coffee, a croissant and change. Worth it.
4. Pick up some reading material at City Lights Bookstore
Where? 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco
Why go? City Lights is an interesting combination of independent bookstore and publishing house with a strong connection to the Beat Generation; not only does it live next door to Jack Kerouac Alley, but founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti was arrested in the 1950’s after publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems on obscenity charges.
How long will you need? Book nerds – give yourself an hour. Normal people – 10 minutes should suffice.
Cost? Depends how many books you’re taking home…
5. Eat all of the chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
Where? 900 North Point Street at the corner of Beach and Larkin Streets
Why go? Because chocolate. The original Ghirardelli chocolate factory. They make chocolate, They sell chocolate. They serve it up in hot drinks and cute desserts. That should be all the reason you need. Chocolate. Also, there’s other stuff, like a pub, shops, the occasional live music set.
How long will you need? Chocoholics – an hour or two to shop and eat. Normal people – maybe half an hour. And get your heads checked.
Cost? Depends how much chocolate you’ll be wanting to take home…
6. Get lost in Chinatown, and stop for dim sum when you get hungry
Where? Yummy Yummy will feed you well at 758 Pacific Ave
Why go? San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the best in the world, and for good reason – it’s enormous! Which means you’ll be hungry after doing laps of it – Yummy Yummy was where we stopped, and it was a great move. Amazing food, great prices, homely atmosphere!
How long will you need? A good half a day to explore and eat
Cost? Everything you see above that we ate cost us around USD$30.00 (including tip)
7. Eat seafood and people watch at Fisherman’s Wharf
Where? Fisherman’s Wharf
Why go? There is SO much to do around there – shopping, eating, activities like Madame Tussauds, the aquarium, Pier 39, the Maritime National Historical Park, sightseeing tours and sea lion watching.
How long will you need? A few hours
Cost? Depends what you’re doing – we grabbed a cup of fresh seafood and sat by the water and watched the world go buy, and that only cost a few dollars!
8. Cheer on the 49ers!
Where? Levi’s Stadium is located in Santa Clara, about an hour from San Francisco by car
Why go? While husband and I both very much wanted to see an NFL game, the distance of the 49ers stadium from the city was very off-putting, until we found out about GameDay Shuttle (now Pronto Shuttles) – through them we were able to organise a single game pass for us both which included a shuttle service from the city to the game and back, and for an extra fee we added on the Fiesta Pre-Game pass – lunch and drinks at a Mexican restaurant near the stadium with the rest of the people on the shuttle! It was the best experience, and I’d absolutely do it again!
How long will you need? All day
Cost? We paid around USD$85.00 for the shuttle and buffet lunch (not including game tickets), but I believe Pronto’s services start from as little as USD$29.00 for a single pass.
9. Check out the street art
Why go? There’s no one place to go, it’s more a case of keeping an eye out and wandering around the smaller streets as well as the main ones. The street art in this city is incredible, so when you see a giant mural on a wall, take the time to actually stop and look at it!
How long will you need? As long as you want
10. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
Where? Moraga St, between 15th and 16th Aves
Why go? Because it’s gorgeous. It’s a true neighbourhood effort, and a shining example of what can be achieved when people work together. It’s also a great way to work off all of those delicious calories you’ve been eating.
How long will you need? Leave an hour – you may want to kick back and relax after climbing those stairs!