In a city with such a magnificent buffet of things to do it can be difficult to make a decision let alone a full itinerary when visiting San Francisco. How much can I squeeze in to a single day? What can’t I miss? I’ll leave those questions entirely up to you and your purpose of visiting Fog City and simply share with you some of my all time favorite areas and things to do in the city. Hopefully, this can serve as some inspiration and make your planning a bit easier.
So. Here are some of my current all time San Francisco favorites along with some recommendations.
First off, walk everywhere you can!
Somewhere on Telegraph Hill
I find San Francisco very walkable and I find the walking around in San Francisco extremely rewarding. Yes there are some pretty crazy hills, there is no denying that, and after a whole day of walking around the city you will probably end up with some pretty sore knees and feet but I mean, you can always take an uber/bus/bart home. The public transportation here works pretty well and given the cities small size it is fairly easy and not to crazy time consuming to get from A to B.
This city has so many different neighborhoods to explore and lots of little gems everywhere and you are so much more likely to randomly turn a corner and see something unexpected when walking around. I say do it. And just try to focus on the fact that every time you climb a hill you will be rewarded with incredible views of the bay and the city. As with anything you just need the right gear – a good pair of sneaks and a few layers to change between as the San Francisco weather is ever-changing.
Favorite walk #1:
Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach & Outer Sunset
Somewhere in Golden Gate Park
Mighty Ocean Beach
Walking around Golden Gate Park, especially on a car -free Sunday, is such a treat . You can walk pretty much from one end to the other in about one hour. Also an option to run or bike, of course. I usually walk from the Conservatory of Flowers and all the way down to Ocean Beach. This will take you approx by the DeYoung Museum, Stow Lake, Spreckels Lake, the bison paddock and you’ll spot a Dutch windmill or two as well as you exit the park. Lots of easily visible trails to follow.
Once you´ve made it all the way to Ocean Beach, go for a walk along the beach, spot the local surfers and let the wind and the view blow you away.
Then, you can walk up to the Cliff House, take in the beautiful view and explore the Sutro Baths Ruins. Or / and you can head the other way over to Judah Street in Outer Sunset for a coffee at Trouble Coffee (be aware, full hipster alert at this place), maybe lunch at always popular Outerlands and a peek in General Store. Walking a bit further out to Noriega St you’ll find a nice collection of local shops as well as a great little bakery by the excellent name of Devils Teeth Baking Company. Definitely worth the extra steps if you like that kinda thing.
Baby/Toddler-wise: The trails in Golden Gate Park are very walkable with a stroller/buggy and its mostly flat. I wouldn’t drag a stroller/buggy along the beach itself, unless your looking to top up the walk with some serious triceps/biceps workout, but there is a paved sidewalk that runs along the beach and a path on the opposite side of the road once you hit Lincoln Way that runs all the way out to the San Francisco Zoo which is very walkable.
Indulge yourself in The Mission District
Mission Dolores Park
A Tartine Bakery treat – the banana toffee whipped cream and chocolate pie!
Excellent coffee & atmosphere inside/outside Fourbarrel on Valencia St
I am a huge fan of the Mission District. The weather is always great and there is such an overflow of excellent things to taste! Bi-Rite Ice Creamery (the queue is always fascinating), Tartine Bakery (the queue is equally fascinating), Fourbarrel Coffee, Ritual Coffee Roasters, Craftsman & Wolves, Dandelion Chocolate … I could go on and on. Not to mention the excellent Mexican food available in this part of town. Just go. And taste it all.
Mission Dolores Park is an obvious place to sit back, relax and enjoy the view. Really great playground there as well.
If you walk along 18th St. and Valencia St. somewhere between 14th-24th, you’ll get the main sights/treats. Lots of really great shops on Valencia St. so take your time and enjoy yourself.
Favorite walk #2:
The Presidio, Crissy Field and Golden Gate bridge
Overlooking Crissy Field from Lincoln Blvd.
Palace of Fine Arts
Crissy Fields, on the ground
Surfing the Golden Gate Bridge waves
I love walking around The Presidio. So many different and beautiful nature trails, great views to take in and even though you are in the city, the Presidio is so big and green that it doesn’t take much to imagine that you are far-far away.
I often walk from around either Mountain Lake Park in Inner Richmond or Arguello Blvd. in Presidio Heights and make my way down towards Crissy Field but there are lots of trails to choose between. You can aim to end up at the Palace of Fine Arts down by the Marina (in which case I would highly recommend to stop by Lucasfilm and check out the Yoda Fountain… if Star Wars is your thing) or you can make your way past Baker Beach and Fort Point.
Once you are down at Crissy Field take in the excellent views, walk the walk, get some coffee/lunch/snacks at the Warming Hut (it is pretty much the only option down there) or sit down for a picnic if you were organized enough to bring one. On warm days, lots of people flock to the beach that runs along Crissy Field. I prefer Bakers Beach (see below) but will say that this beach is the easiest to get to from the city and probably the most manageable with kids (calmer water, parking, toilets and a little cafe close by).
If you are visiting between April and September you should check out Off The Grid in the Presidio – great collective food truck event going on every Sunday.
Also, make sure to visit Sports Basement while you are down there if you are looking to gear up on any kind of sports equipment. They have a very wide selection of all things sporty and at good prices too.
And, there is just no denying it – there is something about that bridge. Every time I get a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge I reach for my camera. You can get a great view of the bridge when you walk along Crissy Field and if you walk beyond the Warming Hut you can beat the worst crowds of tourists and get an even better view of the bridge, in my opinion. You can continue all the way over to the base of the bridge and if in luck, you can spot surfers chasing the waves under the bridge.
If you want to join the crowds crossing the Golden Gate Bridge you can walk all the way up to the bridge via Long Ave & Lincoln Blvd (if pushing a stroller or a bike) or walk along the Battery E trail. The bridge is very impressive in itself and offers an equally impressive view of the bay and the city but you should calculate with lots of people and lots of traffic noise.
Baby/Toddler-wise: The trails in the Presidio and at Crissy Field are very walkable with a stroller/buggy. Also no problem when crossing the bridge. It is a fairly long walk crossing that bridge though so make sure baby is up for it.
Fancy Pacific Heights, Fillmore Street & Alta Plaza Park
Lyons street steps
Walking around Pacific Heights you will be sure to witness some pretty impressive homes, especially walking along streets like Jackson, Washington, Pacific Avenue and Broadway. Especially Broadway between Divisadero and Lyon a.k.a Billionair’s Row.
Fillmore Street between Jackson & Sutter St. in Pacific Heights is a great place to do some shopping and to sit down for a nice lunch. Lots of great cafes, restaurants and an interesting mix of shops within a few blocks, like Mudpie (kids clothing, toys and books), Aesop, Superga and Ministry of Supply (mens wear).
Jane is always a nice (and very popular) place to stop for a coffee or lunch and some of their tasty baked goods. As with any place in San Francisco that attracts a queue, it is worth the wait … but sometimes the queue does get very very long in which case you should maybe try and curb your need for coffee. I usually end up having lunch at The Grove, great salads and humongous ice cream sandwiches.
It is a bit of a climb but the view from the top of Alta Plaza Park is definitely worth the following 15 minutes of seriously heavy breathing. There is a great playground on the very top as well as tennis and basket courts, and of course some green space where you can indulge in view + lunch.
From here, you can walk down Steiner St. for some steep downward walking, beautiful houses and a great view. This will take you down through Cow Hollow with lots of shops and restaurants along Union Street and to the Marina District where you should check out Chestnut Street for more shops, bars and restaurants.
Favorite city beach: Baker Beach
Fog or no fog, the view from Baker Beach is always great. It is a pretty accessible beach whether you are out hiking, biking or driving. It’s closer than Muir Beach, smaller and less wild than Ocean Beach and in my opinion more beachy than the beach at Chrissy Field.
The view makes it pretty easy to just sit back and relax or to go for a nice walk along the beach and chat up the local fishermen.
On sunny days the beach fills up like crazy ( it sort of turns into a beach version of Mission Dolores Park ) – so go early, walk, bike or bus to the beach.
Baby/toddler-wise: You can park close to the beach which is always an upside and if you go during the week you can usually find a parking spot. As with any beach, not ideal for dragging a stroller/buggy around. Bring supplies, no shops around.
Three excellent neighborhoods:
Alamo Square, Hayes Valley & Haight Ashbury
4505 Burgers and BBQ on Divisadero St.
Always tasty bread to pick up at The Mill by Josey Baker and his skilled crew.
I often find myself going to this part of town because you can find an abundance of tasty things to try out, great shops and several nice green pockets to relax in. Along Divisadero St. you have places like Bi-Rite Market which sells the most delicious products you can possibly imaging, including their super tasty ice cream (big upside – the queue is usually shorter than in Mission), The Mill (excellent coffee, toast and atmosphere), 4505 Burgers & BBQ (great BBQ), Brendas Meat ‘n’ Three (yummy french soul food, huge plates) etc etc etc. History has shown that I can’t walk around this area without visiting Rare Device either. Excellent little shop with great selection of stationary, living, jewelry and kids toys & clothing.
Alamo Square is, despite being a very popular tourist destination, Painted Ladies and all, a pretty nice place to sit and enjoy your take-away lunch/ice cream/coffee etc. It offers a good view of the city and there is a little playground for the kiddies too.
Once you find yourself in the streets around Alamo Square, you can easily walk down into hip Hayes Valley or over to Haight Ashbury for two very different but equally great neighborhoods.
Hayes Valley offers lots of excellent shops and restaurants along Hayes Street, between Laguna & Franklin, with Patricia’s Green as a nice little green pocket to hang out in and around Gough St between. I highly recommend trying lunch at Souvla – seriously tasty spit-fired meat salads and sandwiches! You’ll also find excellent coffee here with both Blue Bottle Coffee and Ritual Coffee Roasters keeping shop around Patricia’s Green.
Haight Ashbury also has lots of interesting shops and cafes – though maybe a bit more to the alternative side. You get a strange mix here of tourists, Hop On Hop Off busses, locals and homeless people. I always visit The Booksmith when in search of new books or magazines and tend to grab coffee at Flywheel Coffee. Dollhouse Bettie has a great selection of lingerie and if you are into your vintage & second hand shopping Haight St. in general is definitely the place to go. I like Static Vintage. If you like a good Pin Ball arcade Free Gold Watch on Waller St is the place to go! They do some pretty neat Tees too. And, if you feel like a nicely crafted cocktail I can definitely recommend The Alembic on Haight St.
Take your tastebuds to The Ferry Building
Should you find yourself wandering along the Embarcadero (if you read this and you’r like embarcawhat – it’s here) or somewhere in the Financial District, I would definitely recommend you to stop by The Ferry Building located at the foot of Market Street. Inside the building you’ll find lots of great venders offering everything from a delicious cup of Blue Bottle coffee, always interesting ice cream flavors by Humphry Slocombe, fresh oysters by Hog Island Oyster Company, artisan cheese from Cowgirl Creamery etc etc. Great place for lunch or a snacks as well as a bit of shopping. It gets pretty crowded on weekends so you’ll wanna bring a good portion of patience as the queues can get pretty long.
Also, 3 days a week you’ll find a great Farmers Market outside the Ferry Building with fresh local produce and excellent grab ´n´go lunch options. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Even if you just have a few days in town I would definitely recommend visiting The Rock. With excellent guiding from the audio guide, the place really comes to live and makes it a very interesting experience. And I really can’t stress that enough – pick up that audio guide. It is surprisingly good and you can easily spend a couple of hours visiting Alcatraz.
Also, going to and from the island, it’s a nice ferry ride with great views of the city and the bay.
Baby/Toddler-wise: We brought a Mountain Buggy and it worked just fine. You will encounter some stairs here and there but nothing to difficult.
You can book your tickets to Alcatraz here