SAN FRANCISCO

"I left my heart in San Francisco." The infamous words of Tony Bennett which now resonate so fondly with me. From marching almost 90 degree inclines to witness jaw-dropping harbour views, distant chiming of the cable cars, the array of colourful houses, barks of the Pier 39 sea lions and the majestic Golden Gate Bridge and trusty side-kick "Karl the Fog", there's so much to discover in this beautiful city.

 

ACCOMMODATION

Super 8 Fisherman's Wharf Motel

2440 Lombard Street, San Francisco, CA 94123

✔    Great location on Lombard Street. Walking distance to  

         most key attractions!

✔    Book 'King Room', request high floors

✔    Free WiFi

✔    Free private parking

✔    Breakfast included in price

✔    Communal breakfast outside terrace on 2nd floor

✘    Collect your breakfast from front desk downstairs   

       (don't go down in your pyjamas - it's on the main street!)

✘    Don't stay on the Ground Floor. These rooms open up

       directly  onto the open car park, which got quite noisy. 

✘    No lift. The only way up is a concrete spiral staircase,

        which is very fun with a big suitcase!

OR

 

GETTING AROUND

20%

Uber is a super handy App to have on your phone for those slightly too far / hilly routes. We scarcely used Uber here apart from dropping us off to e.g. the Golden Gate Park and Mrs Doubtfire's house to avoid the hills!

75%

As long as you stay near the Bay, most attractions are within walking distance. Remember: Walking East / West is relatively flat. Walking North / South however is where you get your BIG hills. Consider an Uber for that!

5%

This of course represents your trips on the infamous San Francisco cable car system. For $7 single ticket, it's a handy and enjoyable way to get from Fisherman's Wharf to the heart of Union Square (and back!). 

 
 

THE "MUST DO'S"

1. The Golden Gate Bridge

This one was bound to come up eventually, so it may as well be our first stop! San Francisco's grand icon was as impressive as I had hoped. It can be seen from most points along the North coastline, it's pretty hard to miss! If you want to explore the bridge up close, you can rent your own bikes for the day or you can opt to  join guided bike tours.

Alternatively, we decided to ditch the bikes altogether and walked over the bridge. It took approximately 30 minutes to walk from one side to the other. I would personally recommend this to enjoy the views at your own leisure. From what I saw, the cyclists never seemed to have much opportunity to stop and 'take in the view' without holding other cyclists up!

As you near the start of the bridge, there is a designated courtyard full of fun facts and outlines the incredible history of the bridges construction step by step. This is worth a visit before you begin your encounter to truly appreciate this structure and its backstory.

Learnt fact: The left-hand side of the bridge (heading out of San Francisco) is designated just for cyclists, whereas the right-hand side is for pedestrians only. Make sure you're on the correct side beforehand, otherwise it is a big faff to re-cross (the traffic on the bridge is super busy!).

Learnt fact: We were surprised by the amount of emergency 'Samaritan' helpline phones dotted along the bridge,  specifically for people feeling vulnerable or suicidal.

Fun fact: The official colour of the Golden Gate Bridge is actually 'International Orange', not red!

Fun fact: The bright colour was chosen to enhance the bridge's visibility in extreme fog, which is so common that it has inherited a nick name: "Karl". It is foggy 100+ days of the year in San Francisco, so if you catch it on a clear day, count yourself very lucky!

On-route to the Golden Gate Bridge from the East coastline.

Walking halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge, heading out of San Francisco.

2. BATTERY SPENCER LOOKOUT POINT

Once you have made it to the other side of the bridge, take in the view of your kingdom from Battery Spencer lookout point! Cyclists, as you are already on the left-hand side, you have an immediate path up to Battery Spencer. Fellow walkers, as we are on the right-hand side, we need to cross beneath the bridge. 

As you reach the end of the bridge, you encounter a car park with available public toilets (very handy). However, this is literally all that is here, so make sure you do bring all snacks & drinks with you before you trek across the bridge. After your pit-stop, walk across the car park towards the side of the bridge and you will find an unmarked stepped path which allows you to cross below the bridge to Battery Spencer side. There is no other way to cross the bridge apart from this route, unless you fancy playing chicken with hundred of cars! (Please don't)

The walk up to Battery Spencer has a pretty steep incline. You predominantly follow a winding road on the grassy verge, but there were a lot of other people doing the same. There are a few benches up the top to catch your breath!

Enjoy the beautiful views overlooking the entire north coastline of San Francisco!

 

Tip: Try to go on a relatively clear day, I can only imagine reaching the top to just see fog & cloud would be pretty disappointing!

Almost at the top of Battery Spencer lookout. Taking in the views on the bench!

Spectacular views at Battery Spencer lookout. It was a clear sunny day, but see the fog is already drawing in!

3. The PALACE OF FINE ARTS

One landmark that must be seen to be believed is the 'Palace of Fine Arts'. Constructed in 1915, it still suits its original purpose to provide an exhibition base for artwork from all around the world. If art exhibitions are up your street, be sure to plan ahead and see what's on during your stay, see their website here.

If not, it is worth the wander round regardless to weave through this collection of gorgeous architecture. It's quite hard to believe something so colossal still proudly remains in its place of origin. The residential neighbourhood seems to have just built itself around it!

The buildings are surrounded by hedged pathways and a large surrounding lake. The lake is home to dozens of terrapins that bob up and down quite happily. 

It is also home to an array of wildlife, including swans, ducks and geese. We visited in May, and there were so many baby geese waddling around. Not the traffic we were expecting, but one we didn't mind stopping for! Keep your eyes peeled for a wedding photoshoot or two, we saw plenty and even an actual wedding - how romantic!

The Palace of Fine Arts and the lake.

4. The MARINA & WAVE ORGan

Just a 2-minute walk from the Palace of Fine Arts, we stumbled across this cute little Marina on our quest to spot the Golden Gate Bridge on our first evening here.

From families cycling past, passers-by and their friendly dogs at the small green - there is a very relaxed, quaint feeling here.

 

Head to the end of the Marina jetty to 'The Wave Organ'. It is an acoustic sculpture from 1986, which is activated by the wave movements. A series of pipes placed amongst formed concrete seating and cute purple flower blankets, you place your ear against each of the stations to hear a unique sound. Obviously, it works much better on a high-tide!

On your way back, adjacent to the harbour is a small unexpected stretch of beach. You must come here and watch the sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge. It's so beautiful!

A "California Ground Squirrel", or otherwise known as a "Beechy Ground Squirrel". Stereotyped as a type of rodent, these cute little babies peek up and down from the ground like real-life "Whack-A-Moles", watch your step!

This one was spotted at the Marina Jetty green. 

SPOTTED WILDLIFE!

SPOTTED WILDLIFE!

Part of the Marina Harbour, featuring some of San Francisco's beautiful houses.

Listening out for a Wave Organ tune!

This little stretch of sand is at the Marina. Look at that sunset view!

5. WIND DOWN LOMBARD STREET

'Everyday is a winding road'.

This could not be more true at this iconic weaving hill on Lombard Street. Lombard Street itself is an extremely long road, however this particular section tackles this hill in the most unique way!

Branded the most "crookedest in the world", the road was specifically designed to tackle the hills sharp incline, which by itself would have proven way too steep for cars to use. 

The result is beautiful. Each of the 8 sharp turns are followed by perfectly manicured hedgerows and flower beds. The road itself is lined by more of San Francisco's gorgeous houses.

My suggestion would be to approach from the left-hand side of Lombard Street, so your starting position is at the top of the hill. This gives you a great appreciation of the view down and you also get to travel down with the cars (and MUCH easier than walking your way back up!).

 

There are designated pathways with steps. I saw plenty of tourists walking on the winding cobbled road instead, either to experience it or get their photos. Obviously car speed here is minimal, but it always make sure you look out for them. They have enough to focus on rather than dodging tourists!

Standing at the top of the crooked Lombard Street. Can you spot Coit Tower in the distance?

Standing halfway down crooked Lombard Street. 

6. STROLL DOWN MACONDRAY LANE

If you walk to Union Square, take a detour through Macondray Lane, aka San Francisco's version of the Fairytale Garden.

It is positioned halfway up a KILLER hill, but I would say it's worth it. It's only one of many hills you'll need to climb during your time here anyway, you may as well warm up them glutes!

 

A short pedestrian path cradled by the dappled light of the overhead trees, there's a calming and almost magical vibe here.

Wander down the uneven cobbles and spy wild flowers, moss-covered buddha statues and little water features along the way.

Feel enviable of those lucky enough to own one of the adorable, quaint houses down this lane. 

You would not believe you are nestled in the middle of the city. Be rewarded with gorgeous views of the harbour on the other side from this high vantage point. 

Macondray Lane Entrance

Halfway through Macondray Lane

Be spoilt by breathtaking views at the end of the Lane!

7. HIT THE SHOPS AT UNION SQUARE

You've finally made your way to Union Square, why not treat yourself with a bit of retail therapy? Spend an afternoon hitting the shops, which includes a huge Macy's and Saks on the main square. There are plentiful small cafes and bars to use for a re-fuel.

The most interesting part for me was wondering around the art market in the main square. We spent a good few hours here and it was great to see, but as we didn't necessarily come to San Francisco to shop, we made our way to the main Cable Car station. 

Art market in Union Square.

8. RIDE A CABLE CAR

You're all shopped out. You are looking at the hill in the direction of Fishermans Wharf praying for a miracle. Then you hear that iconic "ding ding" from the cable car.

Make your way to the "turnaround point" at the end of the cable car track, which is just past the main square. First watch as the cable cars are manually turned around on a wooden rotating platform. It really is fascinating to see!

For just $7 for a single one-way ticket, you can either sit within the car on wooden benches OR opt to stand and hang onto the sides (the only way to experience a cable car surely!).

Make sure your phone or camera is completely secured before attempting to film whilst holding on - it is a lot harder and rickety than it appears! I almost dropped my phone a few times!

Tip: Although there are stops on-route, board the cable car at the very first stop. Understandably, they get full and not a lot of people tend to get off until the end!

Tip: The crowds for the cable car were crazy at the weekend, we are talking a good hour waiting our turn for a cable car. Come the weekday, and the queues were a 1/3 of the size and we got on easy in about 10/15 minutes.

Making the most of the Cable car waiting for a fire engine to move!

Cable car on its descent to Union Square final stop. 

9. FISHERMAN'S WHARF & PIER 39

California Sealions at Pier 39.

Close your eyes. Imagine the sound of squawking seagulls, a distant dinging of the tram, bustle, smells of the salty sea air combined with a mouth-watering waft of freshly cooked seafood. You my friend, are at Fisherman's Wharf.

 

It was this energetic, nautical vibe which brought us back numerous times. Drool at the delicious selection lined at the seafood stands; fresh crab, seafood cocktails, prawns, squid and muscles (to name a few). Or try the speciality 'clam chowder in a sourdough bread'. This was recommended to me, and it was nice, tasted a bit like chicken soup.

Whatever you decide to eat, perch yourself facing the harbour, relax and watch the ferries sail past. Just watch out for the seagulls - if they want your chip, they will take your chip!

Head over to the infamous Pier 39. A jam-packed pier full of cute craft, gift and art shops. There are small rides for the kids and daily impromptu performances. The vibe is fun, eclectic and infectious - You'll be wanting to come back!

The main draw I wanted to see (since watching my childhood favourite film 'Homeward Bound II') was the ever-growing population of California sea lions, who for reasons unknown, have made Pier 39 their permanent residence. You can certainly hear and smell them before you see them, but they truly are a sight for sore eyes! Spend a while just watching them play, snooze or flop around in the water. 

SPOTTED WILDLIFE

CLICK BELOW FOR SOUND

SPOTTED WILDLIFE

Sit and watch the infamous Pier 39 sea lions.

Immerse yourself in the energetic, fun Pier 39.

10. ALCATRAZ PRISON

Isolated, derelict, mysterious. Dare to venture across the Bay for an eye-opening, informative and insanely interesting insight into the renowned Alcatraz Prison. Catch a ferry with the main tour operator, 'Alcatraz Cruises' at Pier 33, which is the second Pier past Pier 39.

You must book online in advance to avoid disappointment, this tour is incredibly popular. Click here for their main website. We did the Alcatraz Day Tour, but they also offer night (gulp!) and early bird options. Shawkshank - eat your heart out!

External facade ofAlcatraz Prison.

Internal rows of prison cells.

11. GOLDEN GATE PARK

Spend a sunny afternoon uncovering the hidden beauty of Golden Gate Park. Start at the very beginning and slowly meander all the way through until you reach the coastline side. Key spots to see are the California Academy of Sciences, who host great exhibitions at a price. Want to stay outside? Climb up Strawberry Hill for panoramic views across the park, or opt for a relaxing boat ride around Lake Stow. A giant sports pitch hosts soccer and baseball games, if you are lucky enough to catch a game in action, park yourself on the grass verge and watch!

Chill out in the beautiful grassy parks. There are countless families and friends hanging out, BBQ'ing, playing with their dogs, you name it. It was an awesome atmosphere. Near the end, there was even an American Bison Paddock, finished off by two beautiful Dutch Windmills. You never knew what you were going to find next, and were gripped from start to finish!

Basking in the open Golden Gate Park

Hire a peddle-boat around the beautiful Lake Stow, which surrounds Strawberry Hill.

The 'Dutch Windmill', located at the very end of Golden Gate Park towards the coast.

12. TREK THE LANDS END TRAIL

After the Golden Gate Park, head to Safeway to stock up on some yummy treats and continue on your expedition along 'Lands End Trail', which takes around a few hours to complete. This route takes you all the way around the North West coastline, where you eventually reach Baker Beach and finally the Golden Gate Bridge.  There is quite a steep incline at the start, where you pioneer your way up to higher levels. You are rewarded with a great view over the coastline with the Golden Gate Park in the distance. 

You'll be relieved to know, the majority of the trail is relatively flat from this point onwards. You can remain on this level throughout the trail, or alternatively, get sidetracked down numerous paths on the left-hand side, where a good 100 odd steps lead you down to down to the hidden beaches between the cliffs. These make for the perfect spot to sit, take time out and eat your goodies - which you deserve and will need for fuel to get back up the steps!

The beginning of 'Lands End Trail' from the coastal side. Can you spot the Dutch Windmill in the distance?

Tucking into our treats on a beach nestled between the cliffs. It's all about a balanced diet!

Around 3/4 into Lands End Trail. The woodland thins out, revealing beautiful panoramic views!

We reached the end of the trail! Woohoo!

13. GET SANDY TOES AT BAKER BEACH

You've finished the Lands End Trail, now wander through the affluent streets (full of drool-worthy  houses) until you reach Baker Beach. It is absolute bliss walking bare foot in the warm, soft sand - especially after your trekking! Head down to the end rock formation, where you will find many tourists clambering up to get that undisrupted view of the Golden Gate Bridge on the other side. 

You soon realise it is more dangerous than it actually looks, and we valued our lives too much. To be honest, when you walk towards the Golden Gate Bridge after this, you will have plenty of amazing undisrupted views for your photos anyway! One thing to note, this end of Baker Beach is a full on nudist beach! These nude bathers definitely redefined the term "hanging at the beach"! 

Standing at the end of the Baker Beach stretch ft. deadly rock formation & crazy tourists.

14. VISIT MRS DOUTFIRES HOUSE!

For those of you who adore this iconic film starring Robin Williams, you simply cannot miss the opportunity to see the real-life house from Mrs Doubtfire! What I found amazing was they had actually kept the same address for the movie - 2640 Steiner Street! You can't get much more authentic than that!

Naturally we were so excited to find out about this during our trip, we designated that evening to streaming the film (naturally). The house looks almost exactly the same after all these years, it has just light blue instead of yellow and has an added gate at the front!

The front of 2640 Steiner Street!

Perspective of 2640 Steiner Street aka. Mrs. Doubtfire's house!

15. the PAINTED LADIES

One of the most iconic postcard pictures of San Francisco will include the 'Painted Ladies'. For those not familiar, they are a row of beautiful decorated Victorian houses. On a sunny day, sit on the grassy park directly opposite the Ladies and admire them with the San Francisco skyline behind. Picture perfect!

If I am completely honest, you are absolutely spoilt with unique and gorgeous house like this all over San Francisco. So personally, I did not feel like they were any better than some of the other San Francisco houses I had already seen, although undoubtedly beautiful in their own right.

The Painted Ladies sitting in a row from the green opposite. 

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