(if you have a car and a city map or GPS)
Stop where you feel like or just keep crusin’.
- drive down the steepest street in the world
- touch the Pacific Ocean
- have tea where the fortune cookie was invented
- see a 50-mile panorama of the bay
- see a church built by Spanish monks and Ohlone Indians
- walk on the Golden Gate Bridge
- see buffalos, sea lions, and aging hippies
- drive the crookedest street in the world
- row a boat around a man-made lake
- ride a real Cable Car
- eat yourself silly among our 3500 restaurants
This tour avoids downtown, and parking is relatively easy where we guide you.
Start at Moscone Center at 3rd and Howard Streets. Go up 3rd St. to Market (one way). As you go up, Moscone Convention Center and the Yerba Buena Cultural Center is on your left. On your right, is our Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) with the weird circular roof. Continue on 3rd St., get in the left lane, and turn left onto Market. Go all the way down Market to Castro (two miles).
At this point, Market Street curves slightly to the right and starts going up-hill. You do not want to go that way. You also don’t want to take the sharp right onto Castro. You want the exit road in-between, a soft right to 17th St., which is an even steeper hill. Go to the top of 17th St. hill and turn left on Clayton. Get in the right lane and make a soft right onto Twin Peaks Blvd which goes up a couple of blocks and then abruptly turns left. Sharp cutoff – make sure you’re still on Twin Peaks Blvd. When you see the radio towers on your left, that’s the turn out. On a good day you can see 60 miles in. On a foggy day, 10 feet.
Go down the way you came. 17th turns one-way, so you are forced to go right. Cross Market and turn left at 18th. This is the Castro, the major gay area of the city, although the gay population is everywhere. At Castro, turn right and go up the hill to 22nd. So many people turn left here, that they now have a NO LEFT TURN sign, so turn left a block after, and jog back up to 22nd.
In a few blocks you see a sign showing a truck on a hill. Go slow: THIS IS THE STEEPEST STREET OPEN TO CAR TRAFFIC IN THE WORLD (37.5°). Go SLOWLY down the oneway hill! Note people actually park on this hill.
Continue down 22nd St. until you get to Dolores St. Turn left. Go down Dolores St. until you see a large church on your left. The small white building next to it is Mission Dolores, the oldest complete building in the city (1776). It was built by Spanish missionaries and Ohlone Indians. Interesting graveyard when open. (See La Cumbre restaurant above if you’re hungry, a couple of blocks away).
Continue a few more blocks on Dolores to Market St. The imposing building ahead is the San Francisco Mint, not open to the public. Turn right at Market. Turn left as soon as you are allowed onto Webster and go 4 blocks to Fell St. Turn left on Fell St. You know those postcards and calendars with the row of Victorian Houses and the modern city in the background? Turn right on Steiner and go just a few blocks to Hayes. There is a park on your left. Park your car. Get up on the grass and you will see the famous shot from postcards and commercials of “Victorian Row” also called “The Painted Ladies” in front of you with the modern city behind. Use a very long focal-length lens to “squeeze” the downtown buildings into the foreground row houses, or just use your phone. Go back up Steiner to Fell Street and turn right. Soon you’re passing the panhandle, a long parkway on your left.
“Hey, dude, like what’s happening, man?” If you still talk this way, maybe you should find out where it all started in the Haight-Ashbury. Turn left on Masonic, and right on Haight. One more block and you’re at Haight & Ashbury. There are still head shops, hippies (or the kids of hippies) and weird businesses to check out. When you’re done singing old Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane tunes, go back the way you came, down Masonic and turn left on Fell where we began above.
Continue down Fell. Get in the middle lane. Soon you’ll come to the entrance to Golden Gate Park. They close the front half of the park on Sundays to cars. Park, get out and walk. Or you can bicycle, roller-skate, or skateboard. If you want to stay in your car, and the park is closed, go left at the entrance (the only other choice). Curve around to Lincoln Avenue. Re-enter the park at 7th Avenue. Follow the signs to John F. Kennedy Drive. Don’t forget a blanket and maybe a picnic lunch (see Molinari’s).
If it’s NOT Sunday, go straight into the park (do NOT curve left). Check out Stowe Lake (follow signs), a beautiful man-made lake with a large island in the middle, bridges, strolling paths, a Chinese temple, boat rentals and more. If you want some exercise, rent a rowboat or a paddle-boat. If you want to cruise, rent a motorboat (they go very slowly and are great to let your small kids “do the driving”.)
Further on is the turn-off for the Japanese Tea Garden, beautiful Japanese gardens, where the “fortune cookie” was invented. Next door is our newly completed De Young Museum, the large building with the tall tower. There is parking underneath. To get to the parking, go to Fulton and 10th Avenue which is just outside the park. The first underground lot is for the De Young Museum. The secret: drive to the next level up and follow the signs to the entrance to the museum.
If you stay on Kennedy Drive, on your right is the Portals of the Past (all that was left of a grand mansion after the 1906 earthquake and fire). Further, on your right, is Speckles Lake and the clubhouse for the Miniature Yacht Club. If you see exquisite miniature boat models on the lake, stop for a look.
Further on, on your right, you will see our herd of buffalo. And just a bit further on, JFK Drive ends. Turn right as it curves past one of our two windmills. Just ornamental now but used to pump seawater in for irrigation of salt-resistant plants. The other is off in Holland getting repaired. You end up at Ocean Beach (yep, that’s the Pacific Ocean.) Go put your toes in the COLD water! If you’re hungry, check out the Beach Chalet, the only building in the park facing the ocean. Good food, great view.
Turn right on Great Highway. It curves up past the famous Cliff House (on left). The food used to be so-so, but we’ve heard it’s improved. We’ll report after we visit. Louie’s serves a great breakfast or lunch right up the block, also on the left. But they’re “cash only” so come prepared. Once you pass these restaurants, you’re on Point Lobos Boulevard.
Turn left at El Camino del Mar and go to the end. It’s a brand new lookout point, looking back to the Golden Gate Bridge. Definitely a “postcard shot”. Go back to Point Lobos and turn left. Soon the street changes to Geary St. Check out Pacific Café at 34th Ave. and Geary. (see restaurants), if you’re hungry now. You’ll also pass Hard Knox, our favorite soul food. Turn left at 26th Avenue and go one block to Clement.
Back on Geary is Ton Kiang, our favorite Chinese, 23rd and Geary. When you get to Park Presidio (“13th Avenue”) you will want to turn left, but there’s no left turn so go around the block instead to get on Park Presidio heading North. We’re working on the freeway that feeds the Golden Gate Bridge, so you’ll have only one way to go, and that’s the bridge. Stay in the far right lane and take the last exit before the bridge. Park in the lot. Walk on the bridge (dress warm). For trips to Sausalito, Muir Woods or the Wine Country, you would stay to the left and cross the bridge. Park. Put on something warm and grab your camera or cellphone. Look at the giant piece of cable holding up the bridge and the statue of Joseph Strauss who designed ”the bridge that couldn’t be built”. If its during daylight hours, go walk on the bridge. Go at least to the first tower, where there is a plaque to the builders. Amazing views.
Exit the bridge area by going through the tunnel next to the parking lot and turning left back onto the freeway heading back into the city. Take the Lombard Street exit. Go up Lombard and before you know it you’ll be in line to come down the “Crookedest Street in the World”. Be patient, It is worth the wait.
Continue on Lombard to the end and you’re at Coit Tower. Murals by the WPA reflect the strong socialist/labor movements of the 1930’s. View, but the top of Coit Tower is only open during the daytime.
Come back down Lombard. You have to go a block left or right around the curly street (which only goes one way –against you), but get back on Lombard when it is two-way traffic, and follow it down to the flat.
You can’t turn left off of Lombard, so turn right on Mason. Where traffic lets you, and it is safe, make a U-turn ending up on Mason Street go the other way (South),. Go to 1201 Mason at Washington, the Cable Car Museum (415-474-1887). This is where the ‘works’ are to run the cable cars. Quite amazing. A great stop for kids. Continue on Mason, turning left on Bush St. Go down the hill and turn left on Grant Avenue, through the carved gates, into Chinatown. Stop, park (if you can!) and walk around. Restaurants on our list above including Great Eastern, House of Nanking and Asia Garden are not far away.
You can also find Excelsis Music and the Wok Shop and a thousand other stores here. Some are a block either side of Grant Avenue. Be adventurous. When you’re done get back in the car, continue to the end of Grant. You come out at North Beach, our Italian community, but you are forced to turn right. The Stinking Rose, Molinari’s, Victoria Pastry, and many other restaurants are very close by.
Turn right, because you have to, on to Columbus. Cross Broadway, where Columbus turns into Kearny St.. Proceed down Kearny to California St. Turn right on California St. As you get to the top of that long hill, the Fairmont Hotel will be on your right. You’re following one of the three remaining Cable Car lines.
At Polk St, turn right. This is the other ‘gay’ center of the city. Go down to the end of Polk St. Turn right on Beach St. On your left is the Maritime Museum. You can tour a sailing ship (“Balcalutha”), a ferry boat, and a WW II submarine (“U.S.S. Pampanito”) On your right is Ghirardelli Square. Lots of shops and restaurants (see McCormick & Kuleto and Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory above). Proceed down Beach St. Go up Hyde St. to the Buena Vista (2765 Hyde St.) where “Irish Coffee” was invented.
Go back down Hyde and turn right on Beach St. Turn left on Mason, left again on Jefferson. This is Fisherman’s Wharf. Stop if you have to but the only places we suggest you eat are Scoma’s, Franciscan. Or Fog Habor Fish House (Pier 39) See restaurants above. Turn left and go back to Beach. Turn left on Beach until it joins Embarcadero. Turn soft right.
Further down Embarcadero on the left the Piers begin. Odd-numbered piers where you are, even numbered Piers below Market St. They divide at the Ferry Building, the big building with the clock at the end of Market St. The Ferry Building has been recently renovated and now contains lots of shops and stores. (See Gott’s Roadside and the Slanted Door in restaurants above.) Outside, every Saturday, is a ‘farmer’s market’ if you really want to buy fresh. Pier 41 is where you catch the ferry for the Alcatraz Tour.
Pier 39 is more shops and restaurants (see Fog Harbor above).. One thing worth seeing at Pier 39 is the sea lions that have taken over the dock next door.
Turn right onto Market St. Go one mile and make a right on Van Ness. Up ahead is the City Hall (on the right), the Davies Symphony Hall (modern) on the left, and the War Memorial Opera House (reopened after extensive earthquake rebuilding) further on the left, where the UN Charter was signed in 1945. You’re a few blocks away from some great restaurants (see Zuni Café above). Go further up Van Ness and turn right on O’Farrell.
When this crosses Market St. turn right and go to Powell Street. It’s where the Cable Cars turn around. Your ‘driver’ will have to drop everyone off since parking is very difficult. Too bad for the driver. All you riders go buy a ticket at the kiosk and get on the Powell-Hyde car. There are two lines that start here, so just look at the front of the Cable Car and be sure you’re on the right one: Powell-Hyde.
Your driver can go over the hill and meet you at the terminal at the end of Hyde St. (See Cable Car section above). If you get the wrong cable car, be sure you and the driver have cell phones so you can tell him where you are. The Powell-Hyde cable car is the best ride, most hills, longest run. It ends a block from Ghirardelli Square and right across from the Buena Vista (famous for Irish coffee). Have the driver find you. You can all go out to dinner and the driver can take you back to your hotel. Such a nice guy/gal!