While blogging about my walk around San Francisco, my visit to Muir Woods, and a trip to the Legion of Honor over the past few days, a friend of my asked me about the “typical” tourist destinations around this beautiful city. For today, I decided to go on lakwatsa specifically for this blog.
I used to have a set tour I would bring friends when they visit San Francisco. It’s a basic day tour of places to visit in San Francisco, taking people to some of the common, typical, and iconic spots in San Francisco. Of course, having lived in this city, I know a lot of other “not so common” spots. But this is a route I have all laid out. So for the benefit of first time visitors to San Francisco, this for you.
Before getting started, I’d like to address to topic of transportation. I suggest you invest in your vacation and rent a car from the airport. Most people immediately think of the “gastos” of renting a car… but this is actually more convenient and is immensely cheaper than taking a cab.
Most Filipinos will rely on the generosity of friends or relatives to take them around. But visitors don’t realize how inconvenient this could be, both for your host and for you. You are t the mercy of your host, their schedule, and their own exposure to the city. And there is always that awkward moment on who pays for what… hiyaan blues. I’m just saying. Think about it.
You can attempt to get around by public transportation. But you are at the mercy of the bus system and the bus routes. And if you are not familiar about the bus stops it could be frustrating… especially if you have little children in tow. Meanwhile if you consider taking a cab… naku, one leg of the this tour will cost you the same as renting a car and driving yourself.
So let’s begin. The sequence of the locations follows a particular route I follow.
View San Francisco in a larger map
Before anything else…
Understand the Weather.
San Francisco Weather is fairly predictable. Starting early may or may not be smart. Why? Fog. During warmer months, it could be foggy early morning. By around 10 or 11 am the fog clears. So check the local weather first.
1) The Golden Gate Bridge.
Most of the time, starting with the Golden Gate Bridge is a great start. It get the most iconic San Francisco landmark out the way. But this all depends on the time of day. As I stated earlier, if you are too early, the bridge will be engulfed in fog. Fog can be nice in pictures, BUT not when you are taking pictures of the bridge. If you get there and there is fog, don’t bother parking. Just come back here later.
Be sure to have a pocket full of quarters… for parking meters. How much you will need will vary. But around $4 in quarters is a start. (some meters in SF take credit cards, but not the older ones like the one at the bridge.
Follow the route up to the viewing deck. Most people rake pictures up at the viewing deck. Hence there are always a lot of people. (see below)
I suggest you look for the stairs from the viewing deck which goes down around 10 feet. The view for group shots is better there, and there are less people. (see below)
Optionally, you can cross the bridge and take a picture on the northern end of the bridge (below) or take the road to the left after the bridge and go up the mountain where you get a fantastic view of the bridge with the city of San Francisco in the back.
BUT! Crossing the bridge and visiting the northern sights is not on our agenda today. Just something for you to consider, but I recommend that for another day.
Directions: from the Golden Gate Bridge Parking Lot, follow the road that goes UNDER the bridge and get back on 101 south and follow it until you get to…
2) The Palace of Fine Arts
Perhaps not too well known to Filipinos, The Palace of Fine Arts is probably the second most-iconic landmark of San Francisco, second only the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s also the location of many movies set in San Francisco.
The structure was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Little known to most people was that the original structure was just made of lumber and plaster… it really isn’t made of solid stone like a Greek or Roman Building… it just looks that way. As it deteriorated over the years, it has been restored and refitted since then.
For obvious reasons, it is always the the scene for newly wed photo shoots. Every time I visit the Palace, I always see a couple arriving or already there pictures. Sure enough, there was a couple and their photographers on location.
3) Lombard Street
Directions: From the Palace of Fine Arts, get back on 101 South which become Lombard Street. Just follow Lobard Street until you reach the famous “Crookedest Street in the world”
“The most crooked street in the world” is just a section on Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets. Not that the crooked street title is actually bequeathed upon it by the city of San Francisco itself and the claim is being contested by other cities around the world, but let’s not get into that.
Lombard Street is yet another iconic symbol of San Francisco.
Every time I bring friends to Lombard Street I ask them to get out of the car at the top and I ask them to walk down the road… while I drive down by myself, I then wait for them at the bottom. I cross Leavenworth and park the car in the left. Why? You’ll find out later.
As you can see. The place is very popular and is almost always full of tourists. So if you are taking group shots, you have to be creative and gutsy. Walang hiyaan.
4) Coit Tower
Directions: Continue down Lombard street… stay on the road and it will take you up to Coit Tower.
Coit Tower, which sits on Pioneer Park, was built in 1933 to honor the firemen of San Francisco.
When you get to the top, there are lots of parking slots and no meters to feed. If its full when you get there, wait a bit and you’ll get one. Tip: it can be quite windy up here… a jacket would be helpful.
In theory, you can look around with a 360 degree view of San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay. I remember seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, downtown San Francisco with the Transamerica Pyramid, and even Alcatraz when I visited here when I was younger. But the surrounding foliage has grown to a point where you can’t see much anymore. Even those coin-operated binoculars become useless.
Because the tower is built in honor of firemen, people assume that the statue is that of fireman. But its really… Christopher Columbus.
On the way down from Coit Tower, I glanced at the famous Transamerica Pyramid. It is another iconic landmark of San Francisco. There is an observation deck you can get to. Since the building is in the business center of San Francisco, parking is difficult. The view from the observation deck is also kinda… blah. For me, its something worth admiring from a distance. Not up close. (This is my personal opinion).
Directions: From Coit Tower, make a right at Powell Streets and you will find yourself at…
5) Pier 39
Pier 39 is on the Embarcadero right before Fisherman’s Wharf and is one of the major tourist areas of San Francisco.
It’s a nice place full of shops, restaurants, and what have you.
At the end of the Wharf is a carrousel.
And behind that is an open-air stage where a lot of performers do their stuff. The shows are usually every hour. The magic shows are always great.
One of the sights of Pier 39 are always the sea lions. There is even a statue to honor them. They showed up at the Wharf area after the 1989 Earthquake. During winder months, they could number around 600, but they migrate to the south during the summer months.
This being summer, explains why there are just a few that stay behind. Their very familiar “bark” can be heard from all over Pier 39.
To the right of the Sea Lions is a great view of Alcatraz Island. Which by the way, you can get tickets to visit the Prison Island at the pier between Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.
From Pier 39, you can walk northward on the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a fun place with lots of shops and restaurants. There is something for everyone.
One of my favorite spots is Boudin. The best place for genuine San Francisco sour dough bread and clam chowder.
And at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf is…
6) Ghiradelli Square
Ghiradelli Square is former headquarters of the Ghiradelli Chocolate Company. You can stop here for some coffee or chocolate confections. The square also has a host of other restaurants and establishments.
From Ghiradelli Street Square, you can opt to see some more modern landmarks of San Francisco. Here are just a few.
Directions: You can get on Bay Street and go back to Embarcadero heading southbound.
7) Rincon Park
You can’t miss Rincon Park. There is a big bow and arrow stuck on the ground. And I mean… big, It’s certainly a nice place to walk around and take pictures.
It’s also a nice place to get a view of The Bay Bridge. Lesser known than the famous Golden Gate Bridge, it’s the main thoroughfare for Highway 80 to go to Oakland and the East Bay.
Let’s go back to the big Bow and Arrow. It really is fun to look at.
In the distance you can see another sculpture… a Flash Gordon-style rocket ship. And behind that, the famous San Francisco Ferry Building. This is the one with that big “Port of San Francisco” sign you see in movies. Thing is, you can never get a picture of that sign, unless you are in the water. The part of the Ferry Building facing Market Street does not show the sign from the street.
If you turn around and head further southbound on Embarcadero, you will reach a new local landmark… AT&T Park.
So there you have it. All of these can be squeezed into one day around this marvelous city. Sure, there are a lot of other sites to see in San Francisco, but if you just had one day… be sure not to miss these iconic landmarks of San Francisco.