San Francisco: I have been all over the world and San Francisco remains to be one of my favorite places. I have visited there numerous times, my grandmother lived there and for seven years I lived an hour and a half away. San Francisco is probably the only city in California that you can do without a car, although my suggestions includes those with a car because I have always had a car when I have gone there.
A quick note about where to stay, you can stay practially anywhere in San Francisco and be near public transportation, popular areas are around Union Square and by the waterfront. I like to stay by the airport. The reasons being you can stay at a much nicer hotel for a lot less money, plus do not have pay for parking. Usually you can get a really good deal on priceline or hotwire and if you are not driving or don’t want to drive in the city, you can take the BART into the city. In most cities I like to stay in the city so I can walk to things, but for whatever reason I would rather stay just outside of the city when I go there.
Start your day getting breakfast at the Ferry Building Market Place from there you can either walk or take the vintage street car to Pier 39. Make sure that when you are at Pier 39, you check out the Sea Lions. I don’t recommend buying or eating anything here, but it is worth a walk.
After that, continue walking to where you pick up the boats to go to Alcatraz. I would recommend buying tickets before hand as during peak months, sailings can sell out. This is the only way you can get out to the island. You get the boat at Pier 33. You should plan at least 3-4 hours for this. Make sure you have a jacket and if you think you might get hungry, bring a snack because there is no restaurant out there. This is a must see sight and is worth the costly price of admission.
After you get back, keep walking to fishermans wharf and get a late lunch at Boudin Bakery to get the famous clam chowder in a bread bowl. After lunch continue walking to Giradelli square, get some chocolate samples and either hot chocolate or ice cream and get in line for the cable car. Take the Cable Car to Union square and do a little or a lot of shopping and walk down to China town for dinner.
In the morning head over to Lombard Street. This is the crazy curvy street. It is fun to walk around it and also to drive down it. After that I would head over to Coit Tower. If you have time, and are a good walker, walk down the Filbert Street Stairs which have beautiful gardens and you might get lucky and see some wild parrots made famous by the movie “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”. Hopefully by then, the fog has lifted and you can head over to Baker beach for some of the best views of Golden Gate Bridge and if you want you can either rent a bike or walk on the bridge.
You can head over to the Legion of Honor passing through the Sea Cliff neighborhood. The Legion of Honor is a great art museum and is on a park that offers great trails and views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. I would end the day at the Cliff House which is a historical building and is the western point in San Francisco. You can get dinner there as well.
I would start the day going to see the “Painted Ladies” at Hayes and Steiners streets. There is a good size park called Alamo Square that if you walk into and look back at the Painted Ladies, on a clear day you can get a view of San Francisco behind. Makes a great photo.
The next place I would visit would be Golden Gate Park. Personally, I believe that Golden Gate Park is United States greatest park and puts Central Park to shame, but that is my opinion. There is much to do there depending on interests so the amount of time you spend there depends on you. One of my favorite art museums the de Young Museum is in Golden Gate Park. Check what exhibits are going on, they always have amazing exhibits. Make sure that you go to the Hamon Tower Observation Floor for a wonderful view of the city. I also love the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. It is a wonderful place to walk around and look at plants from all around the world as well as some coastal redwoods.
The Conservatory of Flowers is one of my favorite places in Golden Gate Park. It is the oldest wooden conservatory structure in the United States, the first public conservatory in the US and the first building in Golden Gate Park.
The Japanese Tea Gardens is another popular place to go in Golden Gate Park.
The California Academy of Science was my favorite childhood place to go. It is the most expensive of all the museums but if this is your thing, it is worth it.There is a ton of things to do here and you could spend all day just in this museum.
As you can see, there is a lot to do in Golden Gate Park, and there are a lot more that you can do that I have not even mentioned. Pick and choose depending on your interests, but make sure you leave enough time.
After you have enjoyed your time at Golden Gate Park, I would move over to Haight and Ashbury, birthplace of the flower power sixties. It is now boutiques and restaurants but is a fun place to walk around and get some dinner.
Expanding your trip a couple of days:
If you want to spend a couple more days and do some day trips here are some ideas:
Sausalito is across the bay via the Golden Gate Bridge, it is a cute high-end town to walk around. The perfect day trip for me would be to take the Ferry from the Ferry building in San Francisco to Sausalito, enjoy Sausalito and then take the Shuttle from the Sausalito Ferry to Muir Woods. Muir Woods is a national monument and is an amazing forest of Red Wood trees. It is a favorite place of mine and is worth the visit.
A favorite day trip from San Francisco is going to the wine country, Napa valley is very popular but I like Calistoga a little more. It has smaller wineries and you feel like you are in the old west. There are many tours that leave from San Francisco or you can drive up there, it is an easy drive from San Francisco.
If you are interested in computers and technology, it is a fun day trip to head over to Silicon Valley. The Computer History museum is a really neat museum, but if you are not interested in Computer History, it could be really boring. Monday-Friday, you can visit Google as they are opening a new visitor center at their GOOGLEPLEX. No link or information for it as it has not opened yet. According to google+ it will open this summer. You can visit Apple’s headquarters and go to their company store which is opened monday-friday. They do not sell apple products, but sell t shirts, hats and things like that. Sanford University is also worth a visit as well as the Stanford Mall if you like to shop. The downtown of Mountain View and Palo Alto are nice to walk around and have really good restaurants as people in the Bay Area love to eat out.
A little farther but still doable in a day trip is Santa Cruz. The boardwalk is fun to walk around as well as the pier even if you do not like rides. Make sure you walk down the main street of Santa Cruz to see some strange shops. The two favorite things I like to do is to go past the pier and Boardwalk and go to the point which is called Steamer Lane and watch some really good surfing. It is right by the lighthouse park and usually there is plenty of parking. The last thing I like to do is take the Roaring Camp Train from the Boardwalk to the mountains. You will see some really cool redwood trees and it is a lot of fun.
Some people try to do Yosemite or Carmel/Big Sur in a day, but I think if you are going to one of those places, stay the night there.
Let me know if you have any questions for this wonderful and fun city.