We Left Our Hearts in San Francisco
Like the Tony Bennett sang “I left my heart in San Francisco”, if you have been to San Francisco you will know why we love it so much. If you haven’t, do yourself a favour and get there. This city has so much to offer, the hills, the sea, the golden sun and the mystical fog. The city birthed by the gold rush has grown up into a destination with vibrancy and still beating golden heart. Additionally, take a trip to the beautiful wine regions of Napa Valley and Sonoma. You can visit their cute neighbourhoods with each of which offer a different vibe.
This was not the first time we have been to the city, but this was the first time all Four Friends experienced the city together. As we always say “adventure is better shared with friends” in many respects this trip was a chance to see it through each other eyes. When you travel with friends, different ideas and different perspectives all play a part in helping to experience somewhere in a new light.
We travelled over the New Year period and given its California it was not overly cold but still pack a jacket, you will definitely need it.
Here is our list of must do things when visiting this gorgeous city…
The Iconic San Francisco Cable Car
The Cable Car is quintessentially San Francisco. You really should ride it at least once in your life. Opening for public service in 1873 its checkered past has seen its viability question and many threats of closure and removal. Prompting the creation of the Citizen’ Committee to Save the Cable Cars. We are happy they saved it and the tourism industry that supports it keeps this historical experience alive. Visit the museum to learn more about the engineering behind the Cable Car system and its fascinating history.
Golden Gate Bridge
There are very few structures as ubiquitous to San Francisco as the Golden Gate Bridge. Opened in 1937 with a construction cost of $35 million dollars which in today’s money equates to approximately $493 Million. 8,981 feet (2,737 m) long and with a clearance above high water averages of 220 feet (67 m). Its towers stand at 746 feet (227 m) above the water. It was the world’s tallest on a suspension bridge until 1993 when it was surpassed by the Mezcala Bridge, in Mexico. The total length of galvanized steel wire used to fabricate both main cables is estimated to be 80,000 miles (130,000 km). The bridge has approximately 1,200,000 total rivets. Its familiar Orange Vermilion colour called International Orange requires year-round painting. It takes so long to paint, by the time they make it from one end of the bridge to the other, they have to turn around and start all over again.
Tolls will cost you.
|$7.00||$8.00||$5.00||$8.00 per axle|
Made famous by many movies/TV shows and is probably one of the most photographed bridges in the world. At the city end of the bridge, you will be able to visit the visitor centre where you will be able to read about the history and the build of the bridge with information plaques outside near the centre also. To the rear of the visitor centre (away from the main outdoor interactive historical display) there is a cross-section of mainstay cable, allowing you a close up of just how big the cable is! Can you get your arms around it?
Golden Gate Park
The third most visited park in the United States. While the park is free to visit during the day, popular attractions charge admission. Attractions like; the deYoung Museum, California Academy of Sciences and Conservatory of Flowers. The park is filled with gardens, museums, art, flowers, trees, lakes, birds and wildlife. There are also plenty of opportunities to participate in sports, clubs and other activities. Browse the site for information on parking, maps, weddings, hotels, permits, making reservations, transportation, contact numbers, and the history of Golden Gate Park.
Buffalo & Bison in Golden Gate Park
Although the name of this popular Golden Gate Park attraction suggests you will encounter a gang of buffalo, you will actually have the pleasure of viewing the behavioural patterns of the American bison. Located next to Spreckels Lake, pieces of history lumber across an enclosed field of green. Since the 1890s, the bison has become a treasured tradition about the park, serving as a remembrance of the illustrious Wild West. Within the Golden Gate Park, the Buffalo Paddock is situated off of John F. Kennedy Drive in the north/west corner of the park. Heading between 41st Ave and Sunset Blvd/36th Ave will bring you closer to this destination.
California Academy of Science
Delivering the wonders of land, space, and water in an exquisitely wrapped package, the California Academy of Sciences brings the above, below, and beyond of the entire world to life. Serving as one of the largest, innovative, and most eco-friendly natural history museums in the world, this Golden Gate Park jewel glistens with the promise of prehistoric sensations, astronomical exploits, dazzling gems and minerals, and living examples of extraordinary plants and animals.
Since one of the main goals of the Academy is to explore the various realms of science and then educate the public, there are plenty of interesting exhibits to investigate. One moment you’re viewing the latest changes concerning botany, geology, or biodiversity, while the next is spent analyzing prehistoric toothed birds or coming face to face with live anacondas in the Amazonian Flooded Rainforest exhibit. Specimens from across the globe decorate the inside of the Academy of Sciences, including an impressive display of aquatic treasures.
Location: 55 Music Concourse Drive (located right between Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and JFK Drive).
The de Young Museum
When visiting the de Young Museum, one may travel to an assortment of distinct lands without having to step foot on an aeroplane. Thousands of artefacts and international talent are on display that paints a picture of worldwide proportions. Besides art and culture, there are an additional variety of elements associated with paying a visit to this stimulating Golden Gate Park attraction. A café, sculpture garden, and easy access to a Japanese tea garden are just some of the features to look forward to.
Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park
A carnival of colors, scents, and vibrant visions decorate the space of the San Francisco Botanical Garden (also the formerly known Strybing Arboretum). As part of the memorable Golden Gate Park, 55 acres of land stretch across San Francisco, laying out the foundation for a symphony of plants, flowers, and trees to share the roaring sound of nature with the public. A visit to this magical display of greenery consists of more than 7,500 varieties of flora from across the globe. As a result, the San Francisco Botanical Garden is the largest of its kind on the West Coast.
Conservatory of Flowers
As you venture into one of the first buildings situated in Golden Gate Park, you will encounter the oldest remaining municipal wooden conservatory in the United States. As the first public structures of its kind in the country, the Conservatory of Flowers serves as a safe haven for thought and imagination as visitors browse about some of the most exotic-looking blooms, sometimes presenting the beauty of colorful rarities. Highly praised in the world of history, architecture, engineering, and nature, the Conservatory of Flowers has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is considered an intensely valued landmark in San Francisco.
Location: The Conservatory of Flowers can be found on JFK Drive at the Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate Park Windmills and Tulips
Located on the western section of the Golden Gate Park, two windmills reside, which at one time served a functional purpose for the city, but now stand as regal representations of their former selves. Lacking in their past lustre and respected intricate craftsmanship, the windmills are still solidified within a deep history attached to the city of San Francisco. These stately attractions were once responsible for pumping as much as 1 ½ million gallons of water on a daily basis. Today, they serve as historic gems that need a bit of polishing before shining to their highest potential.
The North and South Windmills can be found in the western section of the Golden Gate Park.
San Francisco’s China Town
There is normally a China town in every major city. However, San Francisco’s China Town has some claims to fame. Established in 1848,it is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese enclave outside Asia. Believe it or not, China Town draws more tourists than the Golden Gate Bridge.
Now, let’s get talking about the amazing food buzz around S.F. Mama’s on Washington Square is a must for anyone visiting S.F. This cute little café has people lining up for hours, so get there early and enjoy the delightful offerings of food. Their doors first opened over 50 years ago and have been going strong ever since. Great brunch options, super friendly staff, delicious food, great prices – what more could you want? The list of items we tried is too long, but trust us when we say anything you order here is going to be ahhhmazing. The carrot cake left us wanting another slice. Don’t leave S.F without stopping by, you don’t want food regret!
Situated in Downtown S.F is Union Square, also known as the commercial hub. You will find like Sephora, Nordstrom Rack, Barneys, all your favourite designers, plus many many more. There is a large selection of hotels in this district too, so you won’t need to sleep on the street if your credit card can take the bashing. We took the cable cars from Fisherman’s Wharf to Union Square. Remember that the cable cars are very popular so give yourself plenty of time for this touristy commute. There are only two cable car lines (Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason) that serve Union Square. Theatre district is also within the surrounding district, so after shopping, go back to the hotel, take a nap and why not take in a show.
If you’re thirsty for some local microbrew, there is a great place right near Union Square called Mikkeller Bar. For hop lovers our recommendation is Mastodon Mother Puncher. Inspired by the progressive metallers, the IPA features a healthy dose of passionfruit and a little “Brett.” Not quite sure how they have added some of the band’s lead guitarists and we are not sure we want to know. For those looking for something dryer or creamier, they have a good selection Pils and a delicious Milk Stout.
This is where we decided to stay this time around, given it was NYE we wanted somewhere close to view the fireworks. This is a very popular tourist attraction in S.F and it covers the northern waterfront area. As the name suggests, it is the home base for the fishing fleet of S.F. Sitting along the waterfront is Pier 39, home to the seals of the bay. There is much speculation on how the Sea Lions arrived, some say it is after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Now we personally could watch these guys all day, making their seal noises, jumping in the water and really just basking in the Californian sun. They will make you smile and even laugh at their noises and tomfoolery!
It is quite hard to resist stopping at In n’ Out burger while in Fishermans Wharf. Of course being a tourist location it is very busy during the peak hours so expect a lineup. We like to do all things Animal style with Russian sauce, cooked onions, mustard and extra cheese. Try it with chopped chilli if you like the heat!
Visit the Musee Mecanique for a trip back in time to play their extensive range of antique arcade games. There are loads of restaurants to choose from and I’m sure you can guess, most offer a delightful seafood affair.
After a very exhausting day of sightseeing we ate dinner at Fog Harbour, quick service, large meals, be prepared to roll out of there!
The Painted Ladies
Hopefully, most of you have heard of these girls and know that they are the colourfully ornate Victorian style houses near Alamo Square. These houses have appeared in movies, TV shows and probably best known as appearing in the opening credits of the television series Full House. Alamo Square is an elevated park offering great vistas of the S.F surrounds.
Haight and Ashbury
This is known as the Hippie district of San Francisco, located near Golden Gate Park. Loads of cafes to choose from, check out the street art and if you find you are feeling a little peckish make your way to Street Taco, all dishes there are made to order and don’t be surprised if you have to line up for a little bit, trust us it worth the wait. Authentic Mexican street food is done right and cheap on the pocket too.
Napa Valley Wine Region
Known as the Wine Country, Napa Valley is situated approx. an hour out of S.F and there are many tour companies that offer day trips or an overnight stay if you wish. Given we all come from Adelaide, South Australia (known as the Wine State of Australia), it is pretty hard to impress us with wine, but they did. A few months before our visit they, unfortunately, had a fire around the region, which made us think twice about going, but the best way to help a town get back on track is to visit it so that’s what we did! We spent 2 nights at the Bel Abri.
When visiting the wineries we found most offered a tasting menu with a starting cost of $35 per person and to be honest we were not prepared for that and neither was our wallet. So we did 2 tastings one at ZD Wines and another at St Clair Brown Winery. Both had lovely wines to choose and lovely views. St Clair Brown Winery is owned by an Irish lady and guys they have beer on the menu too. Roam around their culinary garden and try the fresh produce straight from the garden. Another winery to visit if you can manage to get in is the Far Niente. They have 4 tasting menus you can select from and the gardens are immaculately landscaped.
Also, pay a visit to the Oxbow Public Market where you are presented with a wide variety of foods, it’s a hall for food lovers really. Can be difficult to find a table to sit and eat, so consider an early dinner. We decided to eat at Gott’s Roadhouse, and the burgers…oh, my gosh the burgers were incredible! The menu has a wide selection of burgers, sandwiches and sides, but most impressively their vegetarian burger is to die for (seriously).
Muir Woods and Armstrong Redwoods
We visited both of these and they each offered pretty much the same feeling of majestic awe. Muir Woods is easier to get to from S.F, whereas the Armstrong Redwoods is less touristy (with a feeling of having it all to yourself), but you need to hire a car to get there. The size of the trees is absolutely incredible and the smell is really beautiful, aahhhh the smell of the clean fresh air, walking around looking up you realise how small you actually are (you will feel tiny!) We can’t even describe the feeling when walking through there, it takes you to another world.
Alcatraz and history go hand in hand. Once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals, the federal penitentiary that operated here from 1934 to 1963 brought a dark mystique to “The Rock”. The presence of infamous inmates, like Al “Scarface” Capone and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud, helped to establish the Island’s notoriety. Yet, many people are unaware of the historical significance before and after it was one of the world’s most legendary prisons.
Civil War-era buildings, cannons, and subterranean rooms give insight into the 19th century when the island served as both a harbor defense fort and a military prison. As you dock at Alcatraz Island, visible reminders of the American Indian Occupation, which began in 1969 and ended in 1971, remains etched on “The Rock”, recognizing an important milestone in the American Indian rights movement.
Today, restoration of the first lighthouse on the Pacific Coast, the historic gardens, and the recently renovated Model Industries Building shed new light on an abundance of stories still locked away. Alcatraz Cruises’ selection of tours reveal those insights directly from the legends.
The rocky outcrop is situated approx. 2kms offshore from S.F and you can reach it in 15mins by ferry. If you are wanting to connect with San Francisco’s history Alcatraz will satisfy. But you need to get in early as tickets sell really fast. We recommend you book online before you even arrive. If you have time we suggest you take the audio tour, there is so much information included and it really helps to provide context.
Sausalito is at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, it was known as the shipbuilding centre in World War II. It is much cooler here weather wise than S.F given the adjacency to San Francisco Bay. We walked from Sausalito, along the foreshore, up the long hill, over the Golden Gate Bridge back to the Visitor Centre. It was a long hard walk (7.5km), but oh so lovely. You will find approx. 400 houseboats along the north end of the town. This spot is definitely worth visiting, just have comfortable shoes on and a jacket to keep you a little warmer.
Dosa on Fillmore
Where do we start, the food there is exceptional and steers clear of the butter chickens’ and vindaloos’ of the world and serves up some amazing South Indian Cuisine. The Vades found this place back in 2008 and every time we come to the city, we have to eat here. The restaurant’s namesake, Dosa, is a savoury rice and lentil crepe that comes in many different flavours. This is a definite eat with your hand’s food and can be paired with chutneys and the leftover curry sauce. While everything here is fantastic make you try some of our favourite go-to dishes. The Lamb Pav (sliders) are a delicious start. Basically mini lamb burgers, these are packed full of spices and will leave you wanting more. The oversized puffy wheat breaad Bhatura is great for mopping up the delicious curries. The Channa Bhatura, Philipkutty Chicken Curry and Smoked Arctic Char & Peach Moilee are stand out. All the Dosa and Uttapam are great. So order too many things and love them all.
Top 5 tips for San Francisco
- Be Patient with public transport
- If you are short on time, take a bus tour
- Walk the Golden Gate bridge, don’t ride the bikes on offer (people will get in your way)
- Download the Muni app to gain access to their public transport. If you buy a 3-day pass, be mindful that it does not begin the moment you purchase, even if you buy at 2pm it actually begins at 12.01am that morning, so you lose half a day!
- Visit the California Academy of Sciences
CommentsAdd Your Comment
I would love to visit San Francisco! Great tip about bikes on the Golden Gate Bridge, I have rented bikes at tourist attractions before only to find out that you aren’t allowed up to the monument on them!
Thank you for the thorough guide! I’m hoping to head to San Fransisco myself in January so I’m bookmarking this! The tram looks like fun and I’m definitely going to do the Golden Gate bridge. I’d also really like to see he Redwoods, they sound wonderful.
I enjoyed reading this as I love San Francisco too! Have to admit I’m still partial to LA and SoCal because I previously lived there, but I do love SF! I did NOT know that the Golden Gate Bridge is painted year round because it takes so long, but that makes total sense. Cool pain color name-Orange Vermilion! I haven’t been to Golden Gate Park and I need to go…I would definitely have to see the Botanical Gardens, the windmills and Tulips! I want to revisit the Painted Ladies and I love Sausalito, Muir Woods and In N Out!
We loved the California Academy of Sciences. Well worth the look, if your a trivia and science nut like us.
It’s also a great park for bike riding if you’re that way incline. Pun unintended, but seriously it’s one of the least hilly parts of SF
Wow, you guys really covered some ground in SF. I love that city and was just staying how I needed to revisit. I haven’t done several of the things you suggested so I’m filing this article away for future travels. 😉
I used to live so close to San Francisco and sadly missed out on visiting a lot on this list. I would love to revisit and go to The de Young Museum and Sausalito. I’ll make sure to wear my comfortable shoes 🙂
San Francisco is on my bucket list. I’d like to see the Golden Gate Bridge and now that I’ve read your article, I’ll definitely need a week in the city. There is so much to explore. Thank’s for the Tipps.
We love spending time in Fisherman’s Wharf and Golden Gate Park whenever we visit San Francisco. The last we were there, we also spent time visiting the old boats near the maritime museum.
Ahh San Fran! I have always wanted to go! This is a great guide to read before my trip. I can’t believe it takes so long to paint the bridge, that they just have to keep painting it! A little crazy fact ha! And yes, I’d love to see the museums and would totally be lining up in front of Mama’s too! Thanks for sharing your intel!
I went to San Francisco the day they won the world cup (baseball) and I remember everyone was in such great spirits. I was only there 3 days and it definitely was not long enough. I would of loved to have gone to the Buffalo & Bison in Golden Gate Park how very cool and interesting.
My favourite was Muir woods .. Though i have visited so many national parks , this one was so captivating ….Great video … Another place i loved was sausalito 🙂