For me, San Francisco is one of the few cities where it was love at first sight. There are so many cities I have grown to love, but with San Francisco, I didn’t need to grow into it, I loved it immediately.
With the breathtaking views of city by the bay at nearly ever hilltop, charming neighborhoods filled with boutiques and delicious restaurants, parks, San Francisco just hits the spot every time.
Having lived there for a year and with many good friends still there to visit, here’s my list (in no particular order) of what to do in San Francisco to get a complete sense of what this city is about.
1. An afternoon in Dolores Park/ The Mission/ The Castro District
Grab a burrito in The Mission and join San Franciscans in Dolores Park on a sunny afternoon and relax. Dolores Park boasts awesome views of the city and a laid-back vibe, unique to San Fran. If you need to satisfy a sweet tooth, it’s worth joining the line at Bi-Rite Creamery to enjoy an ice-cream flavor you probably had no idea existed. Just a short walk away is the famous Castro District, one of the first openly gay neighborhoods in the United States.
2. Enjoy the residential neighborhoods
If you head to The Castro, you will be right next to charming residential neighborhoods, complete with the typically San Franciscan steep hills and Victorian homes.
A few of my favorites:
Bernal Heights: Like much of San Francisco, this charming neighborhood is perched up on a hill that can be seen from around San Francisco. The views from the top are amazing.
Noe Valley: This family-friendly neighborhood is full of typical San Franciscan steep streets, Victorian homes, and charming boutiques.
Cole Valley/Haight Ashbury/ Buena Vista Park/Duboce Triangle/Hayes Valley: This conglomerate of adorable neighborhoods adjacent to the famous Haight Ashbury, where hippies in the 60s used to flock to, is worth discovering. Each street is more picturesque than the next.
3. Enjoy the views from Twin Peaks
For a panoramic view of the entire city, head up to Twin Peaks to soak up stunning views of the entire peninsula.
4. A Walk Around Telegraph Hill/North Beach/ Chinatown
Spend a morning walking all the way up Telegraph Hill to enjoy the incredible views of the Bay. North Beach, “Little Italy”, and Russian Hill, are both charming neighborhoods, that are incredibly typical (but perhaps a bit more touristy than the ones recommended above).
A trip to San Francisco would not be complete without a visit to Chinatown and lunch, time permitting, at a Dim Sum restaurant. This is one of the most impressive Chinatowns in the country and will wow visitors.
5. The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park
Having never been to Japan myself, the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco is the closest I’ve been. This garden and Chinatown above show how “close” California is to Asia. This garden is lovely and the perfect reason to explore the Golden Gate Park, the Central Park of San Francisco.
6. Take the ferry at the Ferry Building and go to Tiburon
The Ferry Building at the top of Market Street in itself is worth walking around. If you happen to be visiting on a day when there is the farmers’ market there, then make sure you give yourself an extra hour here.
Take the ferry to Tiburon to enjoy beautiful views of the Bay and the skyline. Rather than heading to the touristy Sausalito, Tiburon is better known by locals and just as charming.
7. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and Venture Up the Coast
It’s absolutely worth giving yourself an extra day to rent a car to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and explore the coast to the north of San Francisco. While Napa Valley is lovely, if you only have one day, I would recommend the following:
Stinson Beach and surroundings:
Bodega Bay and Tamales Bay
Drive up to Bodega Bay and check out Tamales Bay on your way back down. We found a delicious little oyster shack where we had lunch and then found this adorable little beach called “Heart’s Desire”, the perfect name for such a lovely little gem.
8. La Legion d’Honneur and SeaCliff
For a bit of art with a view, you must go to la Legion d’Honneur, with its outstanding collections of art that span four millenia.
The museum is adjacent to the Sea Cliff neighborhood, where Robin Williams once lived and glorious views of Marin County and the Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco is glorious and hopefully with these tips you will be quick to feel the same way about this lovely city.