- Alcatraz Tour
- Walk the Golden Gate Bridge
- Fort Point
- Take a Cable Car ride
- Lombard Street/Coit Tower
- Japanese Tea Garden
- De Young Museum
- Mission Dolores
- Twin Peaks
- Legion of Honor
- North Beach
- Fisherman’s Wharf
1. Alcatraz (981-7625 www.alcatrazcruises.com) The best tour in the Bay Area takes a minimum of half a day. Take a boat ride on the Bay to the famed Maximum Security Prison. DRESS WARM, and bring a back-pack. During summer months and high tourist season, buy your tickets online at www.alcatrazcruises.com Boat leaves at Pier 33. If you have to wait after getting your tickets, walk up to Pier 39 and check out the sea lions (see Fog Harbor Fish House in our restaurant list above).
2. Golden Gate Bridge: A must-see. You can walk on the bridge, even walk across the whole way. DRESS WARM – can be cold and windy. Get on Lombard Street heading west. Take the last right exit before the bridge and park in the lot. Don’t miss the statue of Joseph Strauss, the Chief Engineer of the “bridge that couldn’t be built”. The walkway now has a gate and it is open only during daylight hours.
3. Fort Point. This is a Civil War–era fort right under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you’re lucky, your guide will be one of the volunteers in Civil War uniforms. The fort itself is open Friday-Saturday-Sunday from 10AM to 5PM, unless we’re on a terrorist “alert” in which case it’s closed. (The bridge above it was on the terrorists’ “A” list.) Getting there is complicated, so get a good map or GPS.
4. Cable Car: Three cable car lines still run in the city. Two start at Market and Powell. The best is the Powell-Hyde line that goes up and down hills and ends up at Maritime Plaza a block East from the Buena Vista, where ‘Irish Coffee’ was invented. Along the way you pass the Hyde Street Seafood House (in our restaurant section). At the end, a block west, is Ghirardelli Square with dozens of shops and restaurants (see McCormick & Kuleto, Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory and Gary Danko in our restaurant section). And you’re less than a block away from Fisherman’s Wharf (if you must!). Remember the cable car stops running at midnight. But you can always catch a cab, or Uber or Lyft, back.
A Cable Car Caution: There are tour busses that are built to look like cable cars. They are not cable cars. A cable car has no engine and no steering wheel. A ride on a real cable car is like nothing else you have ever been on. The smells alone (of the pine-tar brakes, for one thing) are unique. Anyone who tells me, “Oh, yeah, we drove all over the city in a Cable Car”, is sadly mistaken. That’s like someone eating at Taco Bell believing they have visited Mexico.
5. Crooked Street/Coit Tower: West on Lombard is the Golden Gate Bridge. East on Lombard is the “Crookedest Street in the World”. Give it a try. Stay on Lombard after the curly section and you’ll end up at Coit Tower. Great view at the top, if it’s open, but parking is a real problem unless you have someone to drop you off and pick you up. Take time to view the murals on the main floor inside done by WPA workers during the depression in the 1930’s. Elevator to the top is a spectacular view of the bay.
6. Japanese Tea Garden: Walk through beautiful sculptured gardens in the middle of Golden Gate Park. Stop and have a cup of tea. Believe it or not, the “Chinese” fortune cookie was invented right here. Fell St. entrance to Golden Gate Park, then curve around left to Lincoln and take the first available right turn into the park on 7th Avenue and follow the signs.
7. The new DeYoung Museum, right next to the Japanese Tea Garden (above) was rebuilt after the 1989 quake. Its amazing collections cover every kind of art and check out the “green” roof. Can’t even see it all in a day. Park underneath (enter garage on Fulton Street and 10th Avenue just outside the park). The Academy of Sciences across the street from the De Young is also rebuilt and open. Use the same garage.
OTHER MUSEUMS: Also try these: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art also called MOMA (151 3rd St. at Mission) across from Moscone Center. The Asian Art Museum (200 Larkin St.) is also world famous. The Cable Car Museum (1201 Mason at Powell) is where the ‘works’ are that run the cable cars. Great for kids.
8. Mission Dolores (3321 16th St. 621-8201) is the oldest complete building in San Francisco (1776). You can tour it and the interesting graveyard of early San Francisco.
9. Twin Peaks (at the crest of Twin Peak Blvd.). Nothing but a view, but what a view! On a clear day you can see 60+ miles. On a foggy day, 10 ft. Take someone who knows the city and you can see how it was built, what burned down in 1906, and where you might go next!
10. Legion of Honor (Lincoln Park, 34th St. & Clement, 750-3600). An excellent gallery of traditional European art. If you’re driving, go out Lake Street, wander through spectacular homes at Sea Cliff, and end up at the museum. Rodin’s “The Thinker” greets you as you enter.
11. North Beach (On Columbus from Broadway to Northpoint). Our Italian neighborhood, filled with restaurants and shops. It’s right next to Chinatown (below) if you’re in a walking mood, you can do both. Original Joes, The Stinking Rose, Molinari’s Deli, and Victoria Pastry are here. At the Broadway end is Chinatown (Grant Avenue). At the Northpoint end is the Cannery and Ghirardelli Square (Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Factory, McCormick and Kuleto, Gary Denko).
12. Chinatown (Grant Avenue between Pine and Broadway). San Francisco has the largest Chinese population outside China. Most of them live out in ‘the Avenues’ but Chinatown is still eight blocks of fun to walk and shop. Debra and I go hunting here on a regular basis. Great Eastern and Far East are here (see restaurants). From downtown, Market St. or Union Square, just walk up Grant Avenue and you can’t miss it. Hundreds of restaurants and thousands of shops selling everything from tacky to treasures, herbs to hardware. See “Where to Shop” below. If you want to try “Dim Sum”, check out Asia Gardens, and see our “Dim Sum” list at the very end of this guide. Try a block above or below parallel to Grant for even more exotic stuff. Walk the entire length, and you’re in North Beach. (see #11 above).
13. Fisherman’s Wharf: OK, we’ve had “the Wharf” in “Places We Don’t Particularly Like” but you all insist on going there. While the Wharf is a bit tacky, the city fathers are doing their best to upgrade the tourist shops. And it’s fun to eat chili or clam chowder out of a sourdough bread bowl and just walk around. We do buy fresh crab here, but BE SURE it is fresh. Crab season is from November 15th through April 15th. Any other month it is NOT fresh and NOT local. And this applies to all shellfish in San Francisco. If you can get a live Dungeness crab (and live means MOVING) and have them cook it and clean it in front of you, it is Nirvana to eat.
The two Crazy Shirts T-shirt stores (65 Jefferson and 391 Jefferson) carry the best T-shirts and sweatshirts in the city. We have always said that the restaurants there were pretty much tourist traps, but we’re beginning to re-visit all the major restaurants (after twenty years, in some cases) and, if they’re good enough, putting them in this guide such as Franciscan (43 ó Fisherman’s Wharf) and Scoma’s (Pier 47) which is back to being wonderful (best on the wharf). If all you want is a quick (but good) bite, try In-n-Out Burgers (333 Jefferson). If you’re at Pier 39, go to Fog Harbor Fish House. See “restaurants” above for details.