(Photo above, me and the Full House houses Alama Square park, San Francisco.)
This is a follow up to my last post that was titled “What Should I do in San Francisco?“. I have now been and returned from San Francisco and I had such a great time, it is definitely a city that I would visit again. I did a lot of things in my 5 fulls days spent there and based on that, (with all of my own opinions) I have made this list for you and any other person interested in visiting this lovely bay area city.
1. Take a Bus tour
While in San Francisco I stayed at the San Francisco USA hostel located only 4 blocks from Union Square where I would start my trip off with a hop on hop off bus tour. Various bus tours depart from Union Square, it actually seemed like every bus tour in the city stopped there, right in front of Macy’s. As you know San Francisco has A LOT OF HILLS so I thought a bus tour would be the smartest way to get a brief over view of the city but it would also take me to places that I might not otherwise get to see or might not of ever found out about.
It was a surprisingly cold day but Anna and I braved the cold city on the open top of the double decker bus but were sadly disappointed when we crossed the Golden Gate bridge and all we saw was fog. Fog, fog, fog San Francisco is know for its fog, where I am from I am use to lots of fog, but this was insane, even though we were on the bridge we literally could not see it.
TIP: Since many tour bus companies stop at Union Square we were actually able to bargain and get a cheaper price for our tour as they were competing with each other. If that doesn’t work, ask if they have any Groupon deals.
The largest Chinatown outside of Asia, San Francisco’s Chinatown is a great place for some cheap souvenirs and great food among many other things. A couple of girls in our hostel also told us about a fortune cookie factory that we could visit on the corner of Washington Street and Ross (a little back alleyway). It was cool to see how they made the fortune cookies and of course we bought some and they were yummy. Following that we stumbled upon a tiny Chinese restaurant where you literally have to walk through the kitchen to get to the tables, but the food was great and it was really cheap. Watch this funny video about it by Conan O’Brien.
TIP: Try to explore off of the main street Grant Street to see it a bit more outside of the tourist areas.
I actually didn’t know that much about Alcatraz before I visited. I knew it was an old jail on an island famous for its inmates and people trying to escape it. But then I also learned that although it has a 104 year history it was actually only a federal prison for 29 years and over those 29 years it had 4 different Wardens previous to that it was a military jail and fortification and in between was actually occupied for over a year by American Indians. I could go on… It was very cool to see and the National Park service has been doing a great job to perserve it. Only one tour company operates to the Island and included in your $26 entrance fee is your ferry ride to and from and a free audio guide, which was narrated by former inmates and prison guards and was very easy to use.
TIP: Book your Alcatraz tour at least 2 or 3 days ahead of time as tours sell out quickly.
San Francisco has over 4,500 restaurants in its 7sq mile area. 4,500!!!!!!!!!!! Eat, eat, eat and eat. Unfortunately I didn’t get to go to the “Slanted Door” restaurant that many people suggested I go to and I didn’t get to go to “Ozumo” which was apparently one of the best sushi restaurants in town. I did however get to go to the Eat Real Fest which was just across the bay in Oakland and it was amazing!! There were 60+ food vendors and food trucks all together in one small area with no food item more than $5. On top of that there were various beer trailers set up with different types of beer for the tasting. I was in food heaven and quickly in a food coma. (Read more about it here.)
Two restaurants that I did make it to and I would recommend was “Don Pisto’s” a mexican restaurant on Union Street that had raving foursquare reviews and “Foregin Cinema” in the Mission District where they project a foreign film on a wall for you to watch while you eat your meal from a California/Mediterranean-inspired menu.
5. Ride a trolley car
Aside from the Golden Gate bridge the trolley car is an iconic image of San Francisco but also of those rice a roni commercials what ever happened to those? “Rice a roni, the San Francisco treat!“…Sorry I got side tracked into the 1990s there…
The trolleys in San Francisco cost $6 for a one way trip but if you have a San Francisco CityPASS you can ride them as often as you want. There are only 3 trolley lines with the most popular being the one that operates between Powell and Hyde street. Line ups form all day long at the starting points on either end of the line so be prepared to wait if you want to ride one. If you just want to ride it to say you hung off of the side of one, walk a few stops up from the starting point and hop on when it comes by and you are almost sure to grab a spot on one of the side runners.
TIP: Lots of tips. 1) If on a runner make sure your bag is not hanging off of the car and is instead hanging towards the inside as they come close to many things including other passing trolleys. 2) If you are waiting in a long line check to make sure all of the side runners are taken up on the trolleys that are leaving. Sometimes the people in front of you in line don’t want those spots so the trolley leaves with room still available. I asked the guy and hopped on skipping the line and saving myself probably 30mins. 3) Don’t block the doorway many of the trolley operators get cranky about this.
6. Bike the Golden Gate Bridge
The idea of this sounded awesome, but when the day came and we were actually on our way to go do it I was a bit weary… I detest exercise, am slightly out of shape and hadn’t been on a bike in years. But my lovely fit Aussie friend was encouraging and thought it would be fun.
Most bike rentals in the city cost $9 an hour with you never having to pay more than $36. We actually scored a sweet coupon from our hostel and only had to pay $18 #Winning! We picked up our bikes from Fisherman’s wharf biked along the National Park Bike path along the bay then crossed the bridge and drove down into the small town of Sausalito before taking the ferry back to Fishermans Wharf.
It was amazing, the views were incredible, there was an ominous fog underneath the bridge, it was a warm sunny day, there were people everywhere, the wind blowing through my hair as I coasted down the far side of the bridge brought back childhood memories and the ferry ride back was a great way to end the day. I highly recommend it and will leave out the fact that you have to bike up (I walked) a couple hills and the big bruise I got on my leg along with Sausalito being way too crowded oh and my butt hurt from the bike seat the whole time. But thats enough about that… just do it!
TIP: Although a reasonable price try to find a sweet coupon like we did. Maybe even go by the USA Hostel on Post street and see if they have any?
7. Be a sports fanatic
In Canada we don’t have too many major league or national sports teams (when compared to the US) so as soon as I knew I was headed to San Francisco I started searching to see if there was a game I could go to. San Francisco has the 49ers which are an NFL team and the Giants for MLB. Nearby in Oakland you can watch the Raiders NFL team play or go to an Athletics MLB game and if neither of those sports are in season or have a home game than I am sure the San Jose Sharks NHL team in nearby San Jose will have something to entertain you.
While there I went to a Giants game with my cool new Giants hat (purchased in Chinatown) and had a great time. I wouldn’t call myself a big sports fan but it is definitely an experience you should have once in your life.
TIP: Buy tickets in advance if you can as they might be cheaper or if at a hostel check it see if they have any tickets. My hostel bought group tickets ahead of time so I managed to get a ticket to the Giants game for $12 when I might of otherwise paid $25. 2) Drink beer before you go. Beer at the Giants game at AT&T Park was more than $9!!!!!!!! There are a few restaurants near by, go there for a few drinks ahead of time if thats your thing.
Stay tuned for more posts about San Francisco and watch out for my San Francisco videos like this one and don’t forget to please, please subscribe to my YouTube channel while you are there! :)
Caz MakepeaceNovember 11, 2011 at 2:16 am
we cycled all the way round to Tiberon and loved it. great memories. San Fran rocks
CailinNovember 12, 2011 at 4:08 am
I agree! It rocks a lot! :)
KimOctober 24, 2011 at 5:54 pm
Happy to read that you ate your heart out in SF! I feel that it’s just one of those cities where it’s hard to eat bad food. :)
CailinNovember 1, 2011 at 11:51 am
Everything I ate even down to the fortune cookies were delicious. My head was almost spinning with all of the great food I had there. They have 4,500 places to eat at! I wonder if I could ever do them all? haha
MikeOctober 18, 2011 at 5:13 pm
Fisherman’s wharf is a must-do/eat at. Crabbies and soup galore..
CailinNovember 1, 2011 at 11:50 am
I didnt have crab soup but I did eat some tomato soup out of a bread bowl at fishermans wharf if that counts? :)
NLMOctober 17, 2011 at 8:40 pm
Thanks for the post. I tell everyone heading to SF that they must see Muir Woods; a redwood forest soooo close to the city. Amazing how many people have visited SF dozens of times without even hearing about it.
CailinNovember 1, 2011 at 11:49 am
I wanted to visit Muir woods! But i didnt have a chance to get there :( I’m dying to visiit one of those redwood forests, i will definitely go there the next time i visit :)
ChrisOctober 14, 2011 at 4:02 am
SF is a city I would love, love, love to visit. I could totally picture myself living there someday if it weren’t for the constant threat of imminent death :-p
CailinNovember 1, 2011 at 11:48 am
Its true, people do say that an earthquake someday soon is going to knock that whole thing into the ocean dont they? Or is that you might die from lack of vegemite? ;) haha
EricaOctober 12, 2011 at 11:45 pm
I ate like there was no tomorrow in San Fran… sushi like 3 times a day.
CailinNovember 1, 2011 at 11:47 am
Oh no! Dont bring up the sushi! I didnt get a chance to have any when I was there :(
Don FaustOctober 10, 2011 at 8:10 pm
San Fran is very cool. It’s too bad it’s very expensive to live there, and I’d only want to be in SF proper in a happening neighborhood.
CailinNovember 1, 2011 at 11:46 am
I could see you living in Haight-Ashbury Don! ;) hahahaha
Its so true, most places that I want to live are waaaay out of my price range and actually so are most trips I go on… I need to start visiting Asia! haha
Christy @ Ordinary TravelerOctober 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm
All great suggestions! I really like visiting Alcatraz because for some reason I love taking pictures of old prisons. :) Chinatown is always a good one too!
CailinOctober 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm
That was my first old prison I think but it definitely is cool to photograph as long as you can get all of the other stupid tourists (like myself) out of the way! haha
Seattle DredgeOctober 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm
Oooohhh–I plan to read this thoroughly later–I’m about to leave for another Thanksgiving thingy and don’t want to just speed-read through it…. buuut, I’m going to SF this week for like 1 night.. any suggestions on what to do with VERY limited time?? :D
CailinOctober 10, 2011 at 4:39 pm
If you have one day to spend I definitely recommend biking the Golden Gate bridge because you can see so much and the trip includes a ferry ride across the harbour past Alcatraz! :) and ride a trolley car :)
Chris HaugheyOctober 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm
cool, looks like you made the most of your time there!
I had a 2 day stopover in San Fran coming home from Oz in January, didn’t really get to do or see anything, will definitely have to make amends if I ever get back.
Know what you mean about the fog though, it was unbelievable when I was there, very cold too!
CailinOctober 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm
Chris you will have to visit again! :)
I thought I had seen some crazy fog in my days but the fog there was so thick! and when the wind blows it is very chilly there!
Annette | Bucket List JourneyOctober 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm
I have only done four of these and I only live 45 minutes from SF! I need to get moving on the rest!
CailinOctober 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm
Annette you definitely do!! Which are the ones you haven’t done yet? :)
KatelynOctober 10, 2011 at 12:21 pm
Agree! Bike the Golden Gate Bridge :) Yeah the ferry ride back was nice, although some of our tour mates rode their bikes back across the bridge back to the bike shop where we started. That wind is crazy eh on the golden gate bridge.
Take a Taxi up and down those San Francisco Hills, Fun! Taxi drivers go as fast as they can!
Could you imagine if you missed the last ferry on Alcatraz!!!
Did you watch the intro video before you began the self guided walking tour of Alcatraz??
CailinOctober 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm
I did not have it in me to bike back! I was tired and sore! haha
I only took a taxi there once and we didn’t go very far so no speeding down the hills :( But I went to dinner with a friend and I made her drive me down Lombard street! haha
It would be extremely creepy to get stuck on Alcatraz for the night, it would be cool to do one of their night tours.
And nope I totally missed that video bc some parks lady was talking to us really slowly and making us anxious haha I didn’t even know there was one :( I had a great time though! :) thanks for the comments!