10 Things to do in San Francisco for First-Timers
University assignments, too many shifts of work and endless errands had me screaming "Won't you save me, San Francisco!". So I did it; I spontaneously booked tickets to the City By the Bay.
It is a city that has always been high on the list of places I simply NEED to visit.
A city that intrigued me with its charm. A city that locals speak of with great pride and fondness. A city that travelers never seem to forget (or shut up about!). A city perfectly adorned with pretty little pastel houses and weaved with cable cars. A city that was shaken by earthquakes both physical but also in a cultural sense. A city that has held people, events, and ideas that have shaped the world as we know it today. A city that is so mysterious and so magical that I just had to experience it for myself.
I had the most incredible time exploring the streets and sights of this breath-taking city. I have put together a list of some of the highlights of my time in San Francisco. So here are the 10 things that you need to do in San Francisco.
1. THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
Although the Oakland-Bay Bridge is more commonly used by Bay Area residents, the Golden Gate is the renowned and postcard-worthy icon of San Francisco. The bridge connects San Francisco to Marin County, extending three miles over the Golden Gate Strait. Funnily enough, that is actually how the bridge got its name. Urban legends may say that the bridge got its name from its colour, but the shade used on the bridge is actually International Orange.
Regardless of the origins of its name, no one can deny it's beauty. It is picture-perfect from every angle and in every weather - blue skies or shining bright orange hues in the midst of the thick fog.
There are many pretty places to view the bridge from such as Fort Mason or Coit Tower, but it is pretty awesome to be able to say that you have actually crossed the bridge. So go on, I dare you! Hire a bike, take a bus, rent a car or chuck on your running shoes, you certainly won't regret it!
On the northern end of the bridge is the quaint little town of Sausalito which is definitely worth stopping in for coffee or a glass of wine as you sit back and watch the colours of the sunset shine on the boat sails.
2. FISHERMAN'S WHARF
Although actual San Franciscans are pretty scarce in this tourist mecca, there is a good reason that people flock to this part of town.
Looking North towards the San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf is jam-packed full of things to see and do. From the street performers to the chocolatey indulgences at Ghiradelli Square, to the souvenir shopping down Jefferson Street and the lounging sea lions of Pier 39. There is plenty enough to keep you entertained for hours on end.
Pier 39 is the 2nd most popular tourist destination in California, second only to Disneyland. It is constantly buzzing with street performers, the shrieks of sea lions, live music and awestruck tourists darting in and out of vibrantly coloured shops and eateries.
With fleets of fishing boats afloat, the sounds of seabirds and the smell of freshly baked sourdough in the windy San Francisco air, the perfect Fisherman's Wharf experience is not complete without some yummy, fresh seafood. There are some great eateries such as Joe's Crab Shack, Fisherman's Grotto and Cioppino's. Some places around the wharf can be a little bit pricey, but how often do you get the experience of eating seafood at Fisherman's Wharf right? A personal favourite of mine are the clam chowders in the sourdough bowls that you can find pretty much everywhere throughout the wharf. If there is one food that could encapsulate my Fisherman's Wharf experience, This would be it!
San Francisco is known for its coffee and it's insane coffee to square mile ratio. San Francisco is packed full of coffee houses, carefully curated beans and baristas who have perfected the art of espresso. When in San Francisco, don't even think about approaching Starbucks for your daily dose! Make the most of the locally roasted beans and locally grown smiles and service. Wherever you find yourself, there will be an awesome coffee shop nearby, but if you lack inspiration, check out Saint Frank, Four Barrell or the Mill.... just be warned that you may have to wait in line.
The Haight-Ashbury District is the home of the Hippie movement and the heart of the 1967 'Summer of Love.'
While their flared jeans may have faded, the hippie culture in this area certainly hasn't! The streets are full of peace, love, vivid street art, tie dye t-shirts and medical marijuana prescriptions.
The streets of this neighbourhood are lined with Victorian houses, trendy vintage stores and cafes that could serve you up a tasty raw, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, organic, vegan meal for sure!
5. FERRY BUILDING FARMER'S MARKETS
The Ferry Building, first built in 1898 is a true icon of the City by the Bay, standing majestically on the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street. The Ferry Building is a great place to visit on any ordinary day, but on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays it comes alive as local merchants bring fresh produce and scrumptious home-made goodies to share with the people of the city. The Ferry Building Farmer's Markets were by far one of my favorite things about San Francisco. There is nothing like that early morning market atmosphere combined with killer views of the San Francisco Bay!
6. RIDE THE CABLE CARS
San Francisco is a walkable city, but sometimes there just HAS to be another was of getting up all those dreaded hills! San Francisco is home to the world's last manually operated cable car system. There are three lines still functioning today; Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason, and California Street. Of the 7 million passengers that use these cable cars each year, the majority of them are tourists. San Franciscans use the Muni and BART transport Systems. Regardless of whether or not they have an actual part to play in San Francisco day, to day life, they are part of the quintessential San Francisco experience and a "must do" for any tourist visiting the city.
7. GOLDEN GATE PARK
Unlike the tourist-laden destinations such as the cable cars and Fisherman's Wharf. San Franciscans can testify to the importance that the cities parks have in the lives of its inhabitants. I heard many the stories of many locals who speak fondly and nostalgically of the first time that they rode their bike, their first school field trip and even their first date in their beloved Golden Gate Park.
It is 1071 acres of pure bliss! There are bison paddocks, carousels, Japanese Tea Gardens, museums, the Conservatory of Flowers, wide open spaces and greenery galore. For somewhere so close to the city, it feels like you are a million miles away!
8. ALAMO SQUARE
Sitting pretty on a hill with an incredible view of Downtown San Francisco, Alamo Square is a park that is surrounded by beautiful Victorian architecture. The most distinctive houses that can be seen from The Square are 'The Painted Ladies,' the brightly coloured houses known for their feature in the opening sequence of 'Full House.'
Located 1.5 miles offshore in to the San Francisco Bay Alcatraz Island is home to an abandoned prison and the oldest working lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States. The Island was once home to some of the USA's worst criminals until the 1970's and has been a popular tourist spot ever since. Entry to the island is free; you will only pay for the ferry there. It is definitely a worthwhile and insightful experience for anyone visiting the Bay Area.
The Chinese influence in San Francisco dates back to the 1850's and boomed with the gold rush. Chinatown was the only area of the city deemed by the government as a place for these immigrants to reside. The area quickly became lined with Chinese shops, restaurants, and businesses. It became a colourful display of Chinese culture within the city.
Today, over 20 percent of San Francisco's population is of Chinese decent. It is the oldest Chinatown in the USA and the largest Chinatown in the world outside of Asia. It is a worthwhile place to visit for an Asian-American cultural experience.