We have all heard about famous sights in San Francisco and seen pictures of bridges and cable cars. If you are in town for the first time, here is the list of these touristy things you most likely want to see and experience. Lot of people say that they like to avoid the most famous places but still somehow they have pictures of them on their photo albums. I like both. I often like to see those places, there must be something there or why would people be talking about them so much! But I also like to see some "real local life" as well, and to me that often means nature. There is a lot about those kind of places on my blog already but here are the must see places in the city of San Francisco:
1. THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
The Golden Gate Bridge is without a doubt, the most famous sight here and the biggest landmark of San Francisco. It is one of the most photographed bridges in the world. My last blog posting was about the Golden Gate Bridge so I wont go into too much detail about it again.
2. LOMBARD STREET
This is where I usually start my sightseeing tour with our guests. It's fun to surprise them with San Francisco hills, and then when they are still talking about the horrible uphills, you drive down to this steep, curvy road full of flowers and pretty houses. Lombard Street was done so curvy because it was too steep for many of the cars and dangerous for pedestrians. After you drive the most famous part of the road, you can park your car on the next block, and walk out to take some photos. If you plan to drive, be prepared for crowds and traffic control during weekends.
3. COIT TOWER
Coit Tower is 64 meters high atop Telegraph Hill. The story goes that a lady named Lillie Coit built the tower in honor of firefighters but the story remains unconfirmed. You can see the tower from Lombard Street, from the Cable Cars, from Pier 39 and from everywhere that other hills or buildings are not in the way. If you want to visit Coit Tower, I recommend doing that during the week since there is only a very small parking lot which is often full. With a few bucks you will be able to take the elevator up and enjoy the best views of San Francisco you can find.
4. CABLE CARS
Many people know the Cable cars from movies but you have to experience a cable car ride at least once in a life time! They started building cable car lines in 1873 and just like the name says, cars are pulled by a cable running below the street. If possible, go to the ride early in the morning and avoid weekends. There is always a line to get to the cable cars. Then, all you have to do is hope that you are lucky enough to get a good spot in the car. Outside spots are the most popular ones but there are only few of them. There is also a few standing spots on both ends of the car. If you end up in one of those spots, be careful. If you hang too far out from the car, you might get hit by another cable car.
The easiest place to jump into a cable car is from Ghirardelli Square where they also sell some tickets. This line rides up and down some steep hills, passes Lombard Street and China Town all the way to Market Street. Don't forget that if you want to ride back on the same line, you need two tickets. One ticket costs $7 (2016) but they also take different kinds of multipasses for transportation.
5. CHINA TOWN
In the middle of San Francisco you will find the biggest china town outside of Asia. It is hectic, colourful and an interesting place to visit. Laundry is hanging form the windows. There is so much noise and smells. Thousands of people bumping into each other on the sidewalks. In grocery shops you can see all kinds of creatures from bizarre looking mushrooms to live turtles. And the food... this is the most authentic Chinese food you will find in America. You should definitely stop by some of the restaurants for lunch, stop in some of the little shops for bargains and definitely move your wallet out of your back pocket.
6. PIER 39
Pier 39 is the center of tourism in San Francisco. It is on one of the Embarcadero's piers and you can find things like carousels, souvenir shops and restaurants from here. People come here for leisurely strolls and to eat. The view of the city is great, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz and Coit Tower. Next to this place is Fisherman's Wharf, where fishermen sell freshly caught fish and seafood. There are also tons of souvenir shops and restaurants close by. If you get tired of the crowds on Pier 39, you can visit the aquarium to see all kinds of sea creatures.
People also come to Pier 39 to see the sea lions. In 1989 for some unknown reason, they took over some of the pier's wooden decks and at some point the boats had to be moved to other places. Sea lions became famous and they brought more tourists to the pier. They hang out right by the pier and make a lot of noise, and it looks like that they are there to stay.
One of the most popular sights is Alcatraz Island AKA The Rock, which served as a prison from 1933 until 1963. Alcatraz Island is in San Francisco Bay, and on a nice day you can see it from the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge or from Pier 39.
If you would like to visit Alcatraz, you better book your tickets ahead of time. The ferry will take you to the island but with very limited space. Weekends and summer days sell out very fast. At the island, you will get headphones and can do the tour at your own pace by listening to the guide. You get to visit different buildings of the prison and even one of the cells. The atmosphere is gloomy and you feel like you have stepped back in time. The boat to Alcatraz leaves from pier 33 and you can choose the return trip at the island according to how you feel on the tour.
8. PAINTED LADIES
San Francisco is known for it's victorian houses and "the painted ladies" are a row of colourfully painted victorians. The most famous ones are the ones by the Alamo Square which have been featured in multiple movies and postcards. However, there are other colorfully painted victorian houses in the city as well. These famous houses were build in the 1890's and their facade is full of beautiful decorative details.
You can find the houses on 710-720 Steiner Street and if you are lucky, you might be able to park right in front of them. If not, try finding a parking spot around the block.
After seeing all these places in the city, you can truly say that you have seen the most famous spots of San Francisco. Of course there is still plenty to see and many other places that are widely known and interesting, but for more about those you can read later.
TIPS FOR VISITING SAN FRANCISCO
- San Francisco is many travellers' dream, so there is always a lot of people in the city. If you want to avoid the worst crowds, be an early bird and don't come on weekends
- Make all your reservations early
- Be prepared for lines in restaurants. It might take you over an hour to get a table if you go out at the same time as other people
- Bring some warm clothes. The weather changes fast in San Francisco and it is often windy. Plan a flexible travel schedule where you can be in the city for the sunny days. Weather forecasts can also change fast so it's better to be prepared with long sleeves.
- If you want to eat or shop more affordably you should avoid the touristy areas by the piers. Walk a few block into the city and everything is cheaper.
- San Francisco is big and distances are surprisingly long. Learn how to use public transportation since parking is extremely expensive.
- Don't forget to try out the famous San Francisco clam chowder served in a bread bowl, and enjoy the city life!