Let me begin this post by saying…….. you must add San Francisco to your bucket list! Strangely enough it reminded me a lot of Cape Town and maybe that’s why I felt some sort of connection to this amazing place! Anyway, enough about my feelings, let’s take you on the journey that is MUST do’s when in San Francisco…..
If you only have a few days then you just have to do the following:
Experience a city tour a bit differently
Whenever I go to a new place, I like to buy a ticket for those hop-on hop-off buses as it’s a great way to learn about the history of the place, get a free ride to certain areas you want to check out and sometimes it’s a great way to meet fellow tourists and make some friends. We decided on seeing the city using a very “different” tour company called “Hornblower classic cable car tours”. The cable cars were so adorable and the tour just seemed fitting on this little bus. It costs about $45 ( ZAR 582)*. The tour guides are very knowledgeable about San Francisco and were quite comedic throughout the entire route. You can check out their stops here.
Visit Alcatraz by doing the behind the scenes tour
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get your tickets at least 2-3 weeks in advance! Do not expect to arrive there and get tickets – you will be extremely disappointed. I managed to secure our tickets through the Alcatraz website. You can purchase the normal day tickets ($45 USD) that do not include the “behind the scenes” portion, however, I highly recommend that you spend a bit extra for these behind the scenes tickets. It’s totally worth it.
The tickets cost about $95.25 USD (ZAR 1233.64) *. Ok before you choke on the price, this is pretty normal when travelling in the US, especially with a very weak rand. The tour group consists of less than 30 people, you have a private guide taking you to parts of Alcatraz not open to the general public. The tour lasts about 4-5 hours and is quite draining, but totally worth every cent. I learnt so much on this trip and even had the pleasure of meeting an ex-Alcatraz inmate. To read more about the full experience and what to expect, check out this link.
Visit the golden gate bridge
The hop-on hop-off bus mentioned in point 1, does do a longer stop at the Golden Gate bridge. The views from the bridge are absolutely amazing and definitely insta-worthy! It is extremely windy up there, so be careful!!
Ride a Cable Car
San Fransico is renowned for its historic cable cars and you have to experience it for yourself. There are 3 cable cars to choose from, namely:
- Powell/Hyde. The Powell/Hyde line actually ends up close to Ghirardelli Square
- Powell/Mason. The Powell / Mason line also passes close to Lombard Street but it is at the base of the crooked street so the view you get is of the curvy street ( a must see when in San Fran)
- California/ Van Ness. This cable car rides through the hills of the Financial District and hits the top of Nob Hill
You can stand at any stop that is marked MUNI Cable Car Stop to hop a ride. The wait is long at the turnaround stops so try and catch a ride after that stop. The cost of a single ticket is about $7. If you plan on using the cable car more than once on that day, then a day pass makes more sense. A day pass costs about $17. Your one-way fare, as well as your all-day passport, can be purchased directly from the cable car operator on the car. Please make sure that you have exact change!
Walk or drive down the windy street called LOMBARD Street
This street is the windiest street I have ever seen. Not only is it windy, its steep AF. I think there could be about 9 hairpin turns that seem almost impossible to conquer. If nerves get the better of you, just stand at the bottom of the street and take a picture 🙂
Visit the ferry plaza farmers market
I was lucky enough to experience this huge farmers market at the ferry building. We managed to indulge in some breakfast treats and some dessert options while attending. This market is huge and the vendors are extremely friendly. The hours of operation are Tuesday 10 am – 2 pm, Thursday 10 am – 2 pm, Saturday 8 am – 2 pm.
Indulge in some dessert at Ghirardelli
The minute you walk into this cafe, you are greeted by someone holding free samples of the best chocolate I have ever tasted. Once you indulge in a few samples, try one of their amazing sundaes. Hubby and I shared a sundae and we still could not finish it! I think about 4 people can eat one sundae.
Visit the Golden Gate Park
The Golden Gate Park is an absolute must! It is over three miles (4.8 km) long east to west, and about half a mile (0.8 km) north to south. The walk is pretty amazing. We decided to find the windmills while we were there and it was an absolutely gorgeous walk. I think we probably spent an entire day at the park as we visited the Japanese tea garden and the California Academy of Science.
- Visiting the Japanese tea garden
The Japanese tea garden is really a place of awe. The amount of work and detail that went into the design of this place is truly immaculate. There is an entry fee to get into the gardens. Mon – Friday is free before 10 am. Any other day or after 10 am it will cost you $6 to get in. We spent about 2-3 hours exploring the garden and having some delicious green tea and cookies at the cafe. It was a bit pricey but I felt that it IS a must when there. We had the green tea pot to share and the cookie mixed plate which included fortune cookies. For more info on the garden, click here.
- Visiting the California Academy of Science
The cost of admission to this museum is about $36 dollars. The museum has an aquarium, a planetarium, an actual rainforest and even a swamp. We spent hours exploring this magnificent museum and let me just say that if it rains, then this is such an awesome place to see (and keep dry at the same time).
Visit Fishermans Wharf
While visiting PIER 39 and admiring the beautiful sea lions, a quick stop for lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf is a must do. The seafood is amazing and a trip to San Francisco is not complete without trying some clam chowder. This place is filled with restaurants and many retail outlets to choose from.
Walk the streets of Haight Ashbury
Think hippies and the birthplace of the hippie culture! Named Haight Ashbury due to the intersection of the roads Haight street and Ashbury street. This area is a must see when in San Francisco. The street boasts cute coffee shops, hippie retail stores with bold psychedelic colours and the cutest vintage shops imaginable. We spent a few hours just exploring all the record shops, bookshops and vintage shops.
Visit the Painted Ladies
Made famous by the very popular series “Full House”, the Painted Ladies is a must see! The houses were built between 1892 and 1896 by developer Matthew Kavanaugh, who lived next door in the 1892 mansion at 722 Steiner Street. The houses are beautifully painted with bright colours in a Victorian style which is gorgeous in every picture!
Hike in Muir woods
The Muir woods national monument contains about 6 miles of trails. There is a 1/2 hour loop, a 1-hour loop, and a 1 1/2 hour loop as well as longer hikes on trails that extend into surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park. The entrance fee is about $10. There are a few options of how to get there:
- In the summer there is free shuttle service to Muir Woods. For the scheduled visit here.
- Visit using a local tour company
- Drive there. Although this one might not work as parking is extremely limited and fills up quickly. If you choose to drive, the website recommends entering “1 Muir Woods Rd., Mill Valley CA” into your GPS instead of searching for “Muir Woods.”
This is such a beautiful hike and I definitely recommend taking a tour out there and doing a group hike. It’s so much more social than going on your own!
The weather is extremely temperamental and it’s colder in San Francisco than it is hot. Pack warmly and always carry an umbrella. You just never know when it will rain!
“If you’re alive, you can’t be bored in San Francisco. If you’re not alive, San Francisco will bring you to life.” (William Saroyan)
I hope this post was helpful and informative! Please drop us an email or comment below if you would like to ask us anything about San Francisco!