Throughout my year long travels in California I’ve never experienced a place as unique and interesting as the people and sites of San Francisco. It’s a magical place where you can be free to be anything and anyone, there is no judgement, I mean they even have a how weird festival so you know their accepting people. I swear the slogan for my SF trip was “You do you!” that is what I was constantly told by locals and store owners and it’s true you can be as peculiar as you would like to be in this diverse city.
If I were to live anywhere in California this just might be it. Below I am going to share with you my personal favorite sites, tips and tricks to when visiting SF.
Things to know before you go
Do not drive while in this city. You’ll go crazy from the traffic, the road rage and the lack of parking. I had a car and it was a nightmare. You’ll end up spending the day driving around trying to find parking instead of enjoying the sites.
If you do have a car find safe non-street parking especially if you have an out of state license plate. This is a tip some locals gave me before I went to SF and it was the best advice ever. Reason being is that if you have anything visible in your car, have a rental car or have out of state plates your car will likely be targeted and the window will be smashed and broken into when you get back to it. This happened to me on my last day and I had no possessions in my car because they were in storage. I’m very serious about this.
The people of SF are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met but at the same time watch your belongings. There is a large homeless population in this city and theft is a real and serious issue here.
Other than this have an amazing time!
1. Golden Gate Bridge
You can’t start a San Francisco list off without the Gate Bridge being the number one place you need to visit. But there’s a twist! Don’t do the typical tourist trap of taking photos above the bridge or at the vista point where all the tour buses go to. You my friend need to get the perfect view of the entire bridge which is from below at Fort Point National Historic Site. This is a spot that some locals don’t even know about.
You need transportation to get their, so if you don’t have a car take a Lyft, Uber or rent a bike.
To see why it’t the best view of the Golden Gate look at the two photos below and judge for yourself. The first one is from Fort Point and the second is from the tourist roadside spot above the bridge.
The best time for photography is an hour before sunset so you can get that beautiful golden light and a clear shot of the bridge without all the gloomy morning fog ( by this time of day all the fog has burned off from the sunlight). Also, you get some soft lighting before sunset which is perfect for family portraits or selfies!
2. Painted Ladies
I honestly thought before I saw and googled the Painted Ladies that they were legitimately real painted ladies in some park. It turns out it’s no where near that. They are a beautiful row of Victorian houses painted in three or more colors that enhance their architectural details. I thought “Wow that’s not interesting at all!” But, I take it back. I went there over 5 times! Partly because the parking is a nightmare but also so I could really experience them.
The best way to enjoy them is by bringing a lunch, maybe some wine and taking an Uber. You can sit in the park across the street and just enjoy these architectural beauties.
3. Take a Ride on The Magic School Bus
This is the only site seeing tour I actually wanted to go on and paid for. If you’re interested in the flower child movement and the Summer of Love then this is the right tour for you!
Your journey begins as a magic bus pulls up to Union Square that has bubbles literally coming out the back of it and off jumps a far out hippie from the 1960’s! You step onto this magical bus and your immediately taken back to the 60’s where it all started.
The bus takes you throughout SF on a visual and literal adventure documenting the history of the Summer of Love and the hippie movement in SF. You get to relax watch 3D videos of far out events and even take some fake acid while you groove along to some rad music from the era.
I think it’s important to mention that I’m in no way paid to endorse this site seeing activity, I just loved it too much! I even showed up with flowers in my hair. I suggest dressing up for the occasion with your best bell bottoms and tie-dye because everyone else will be!
Check out their website here.
4. Haight & Ashbury
You can’t go to SF without visiting the famous Haight and Ashbury neighborhood. For those of you who need to be briefed this is the home of the 1967’s Summer of Love. Need a little more info? 100 000 kids from around America came to SF to turn on, tune in, drop out and join the counterculture movement of hippies in spreading the message.
This street is also where the Summer of Love concert took place. Artists like: The Who, Grateful Dead, the Animals, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Otis Redding, The Byrds, and Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin all performed on this street and even lived here.
Right now is the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love and their are some great festivals and events taking place. You can find out more information here. I would strongly suggest visiting the De Young museum to see their Summer of Love Experience Exhibit that is currently taking place, it’s phenomenal.
Lastly, head over to Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park to see the tree where Janis Joplin use to serenade young hippies with her guitar. This is now where you can find the 420 crowd and maybe even some drum circles.
While your on Haight St. take a look up and enjoy these naughty legs hanging out the Piedmont Boutique. Why does this store matter? It’s said that Janis Joplin bought a lot of her stage costume here. Also, if you’ve been looking for a unique piece to wear to your next party, festival or concert here is the place to find it! They also have posters inside for the latest and best shows in SF.
Visually it’s amazing just to photograph. There are beautiful chinese lanterns hanging above the streets, the street lights have dragons wrapped around them. It’s just really architecturally interesting.
On a more historical note, it’s the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest in North America. You have to stop and try some authentic food while your here. Something else that’s interesting is that the fortune cookie was invented in SF and they still have a factory in Chinatown that you can tour! I didn’t have the chance to but I suggest you do if you can.
If you want a more authentic experience venture off the main streets and you’ll find incredible fruit markets everywhere. If your looking for some gemstones this is the place to find it and their are great souvenir shops as well.
6.The Castro District
The Castro District is one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States and is a prominent world symbol of LGBTQ activism and events. Go watch the movie Milk right now if you haven’t seen it. It was filmed in the Castro and will show you the history of the gay rights movement in San Francisco.
Harvey Milk, the most famous resident of the neighborhood, opened up a camera shop in the 70’s and became involved in politics as a gay activist. He became one of the first outwardly gay officials in the United States when he was elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.
His camera store no longer exists it has been transformed into the Human Rights Campaign store and continued to champion Harvey’s messages of equality, you can find Harvey painted above the store ( in what would have been his original SF apartment) looking down on his community.
Other notable things to do while here is to go have a drink at the famous Twin Peaks. It was the first bar in America to have uncovered floor to ceiling windows. You can also check out the LGBTQ museum and get a little history.
7. Fishermans Warf
There is a lot to see and do at Fishermans Wharf but you need a plan of the top things you want to get out of it. Here are my suggestions and the things I enjoyed.
Start at Ghirardelli Square. This is where Ghirardelli chocolate factory is and they have the most amazing ice cream sundae you’ll ever experience!! I went their 3 times, yes it’s that good!
Next, head towards the water, this is where the piers start and Fishermans Wharf is a few minutes down the road. You’ll know you’re at Fishermans Wharf when you see the famous sign. Get a picture with the famous wharf sign, eat a full crab (SF is famous for dungenese crab) and then go check out Musée Mécanique ( it’s a really cool free penny arcade that has antique games. You may have seen the arm wresting game on Princess Diaries?).
The famous sourdough bread company Boudin Bread is also located here so while your in this area order up an awesome bowl of clam chowder while your checking out bread that has been baked in the shape of gummy bears and crocodiles.
I can’t tell you much about Alcatraz even though it was the only place I actually wanted to see in SF because I couldn’t get tickets to go.
So the tip of advice I have is that you need to book atlas 3 weeks to a month in advance if you want to see this amazing place!
If your really desperate to see it you can get inline at 7am (the first boat out is 9am) at the ticket office by the ferry, they hold a couple dozen tickets their. Another idea is to book a site seeing tour that has the option to see Alcatraz in it.
9. Clarion Alley
If you like cool street art and graffiti this is the place for you! It’s this little alley way tucked in the Mission District (which fyi the Mission is where you go to find all the trendy food in SF) that has all this truly amazing artwork. See for yourself below.
10. Take a Ride on the Trolly Side
Yes, it is the most touristy thing you can do in SF and if your visiting on the weekend you may have to wait in a large line, but, it’s worth it, I promise.
Grab a trolly down on Market St. You’ll get to see all the great shops, Chinatown and then you’ll travel up hill to see the beautiful Victorian homes that SF is known for.
It’s a wonderfully fun experience and a great way to see the city without having to walk everywhere.
Looking For More Adventures?
- Lombard St. The crookedest street in SF (you probably seen it in movies)
- Twin Peaks. Has the most beautiful view of the entire city.
- Union Square located in downtown SF. They have these beautiful art installations of hearts painted with SF symbols at each corner of the square. It’s beautiful to see and photograph. It’s also near all the cool shops, Chinatown and restaurants.
- Sunday’s a Drag at the Starlight Room. Named the best drag show in SF and the truth is you haven’t experienced SF without going to a drag show and this one is a beautiful brunch (a little expensive but worth while) located in the famous Starlight Room in the Drake Hotel. It’s a perfect way to start your day, it’s family friendly and you can drink!
- The Beats Museum. It began in SF and led to the Summer of Love. This is an interesting one and the City of Lights Bookstore is across the street( this is where the poets poems were published).
- The Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. Its 55 acres include over 50,000 individual plants, representing over 8,000 taxa from around the world, with particular.
- Japanese Tea Garden. It’s the oldest public garden of it’s type in the United States.
- Japan Town. Grab some sushi and enjoy this little community.
- Swan Oyster Depot. Seen on Anthony Bourdain. Get the best selection of fresh seafood and oysters in SF. Make sure you go early, like an hour before opening because the line gets long quickly (this was the best food experience I had in SF). Also, bring cash because they don’t take anything else.
Enjoy your trip to SF and I look forward to hearing about your travels!
Kayla Logan PR