The City of Endless Possibilities on California’s Coast
“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” That was singer Scott McKenzie’s brilliant tip, as San Francisco was the most renowned hippy city in the 70s. It still holds true today, since the city has retained its liberal and chill vibes.
The iconic city on the Pacific coast with its wide range of activities and attractions, as well as Victorian fairy tale houses, is a destination favored by all – city enthusiasts, architecture admirers, nature lovers, as well as all USA travelers. It is an absolute must-visit on a Route 1 road trip.
This article will show you the breathtaking multicultural city of San Francisco and its best highlights. It is much more than just the Golden Gate Bridge and pastel houses. Get ready for an unforgettable tour of California’s unique metropolis!
How and When to Travel to San Francisco
First of all, there are several ways to get to San Francisco, but a Route 1 road trip, which is dotted with many different attractions, is the most popular. The city is rich in sights, so if you plan on staying longer, go for it! You cannot possibly get bored in this diverse city.
A convenient alternative is a direct flight to San Francisco International Airport, or to Oakland International Airport in the neighboring city, Oakland. There are many available flights, whether you’re traveling from inside or outside the US.
When it comes to the weather, the west of the US is great all year round. San Francisco’s winter weather is known for a beautiful thick fog, while in summer the temperatures can get pretty high. The city is an ideal destination for anyone who prefers windy and chilly weather, and doesn’t mind a few rainy or foggy days in fall and winter. Despite the heavy rainfall in February, December and January are definitely the coldest months. In comparison to other regions of the USA, however, they are considered relatively mild. Either way, it’s a nice place to cool down during a scorching California trip.
A visit to San Francisco in December is absolutely worth it! Witness the magical holiday season, where the giant Christmas tree lights up Union Square and skating rinks pop up all around the city. It’s truly enchanting and otherworldly!
How to Get Around in the City
Once you’re in this amazing city, get a visitor pass to use on public transportation – which is known for the iconic cable cars. Thanks to San Francisco’s fantastic infrastructure, you can reach your destination in no time, and without struggling up the city’s hills on foot.
Just a heads-up: San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the US. For example, a three-day visitor pass costs $31 online, so use it accordingly. If you plan on using public transport only a few times, then a day ticket or a single ticket will be more cost-efficient. Note, however, that day tickets ($5) can’t be used on cable cars. Their tickets are $6.
Before you buy the tickets, it’s a good idea to plan in advance how much you’ll be using the historical cable cars. Don’t limit yourself to just one ride – each trip feels like the first time, and there are always new things to see!
The Powell-Hyde cable car line offers the best view. It takes you down Lombard Street, the street with the most bends in the world! Remember to reach the station early in the morning to avoid waiting too long. If you decide not to buy the visitor pass, remember some change to buy the ticket with yourself.
Another public transportation option is the so-called BART-Metro. It’s best suited for long distance trips, like visiting the neighboring cities, Oakland and Berkeley. With the metro’s short waiting times, you can get from one part of town to another with supersonic speed. Ticket prices depend on the travel distance and are deducted from a card you charge before hopping on the train.
However, if you have the time and enjoy the fresh air, we recommend renting a bicycle. Generally speaking, renting bikes is a bit more expensive than the other transportation methods, but a ride along the coast and across the Golden Gate Bridge will definitely be worth it.
Cycle up to Sausalito, the quaint city on San Francisco Bay, where the many restaurants allow you to kick back and take in the stunning view of the deep blue water.
The city is phenomenal to discover on foot, too. Enjoy two miles of stunning spots and shops, from Hyde Park to the famous Fisherman’s Wharf.
What to See in San Francisco
The splendid Painted Ladies
It won’t take you long to realize the city and its pastel-painted Victorian houses’ mesmerizing beauty. Wherever you look, San Francisco’s breathtaking sights will be tough to forget.
The Painted Ladies are not something to miss. They’re seven popular Victorian houses from the 19th century that became a symbol for the famous California Gold Rush. The iconic Painted Ladies’ location on Steiner St. and Hayes St. links them with other attractions on this list, like the Golden Gate Park and Baker Beach.
There’s also a little park right in front of the colorful houses, perfect for a picnic with a view.
Golden Gate Park
Nature lovers, this will be your new favorite place. The Golden Gate Park was built in the 1870s and, with over four square-kilometers of space, truly offers an escape from the city buzz.
The park boasts several attractions and is even bigger than New York’s Central Park! Visit the Conservatory of Flowers to learn more about beautiful flower species, and enjoy some peace and quiet in the Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden. There is even an artificial waterfall, a windmill, museums, and an aquarium! It truly has everything to make your day more exciting.
Entry to the Golden Gate Park is free, but there are fares for the museums and attractions. Entry to the Botanical Garden is only free of charge on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, every second Tuesday of the month and every day before 9 AM. In San Francisco early birds do get the worm!
The Dreamiest Beaches in San Francisco
The Golden Gate Park isn’t the only place where San Francisco stands out in natural beauty. Right on the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find the dreamiest beaches with a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the San Francisco Bay and the open sea.
Immediately across from the Golden Gate Park’s western side, is the city’s largest beach, Ocean Beach. This picturesque place will hypnotize you with the sound of mighty waves, seabirds, and dogs sprinting around. It’s just like a movie scene.
There are a few more beaches worth visiting: Baker Beach and Marshall’s Beach have the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge and will astound you with their natural beauty. Today, the former military base, in San Francisco’s Presidio, is a popular green retreat.
Another photogenic Presidio attraction, located at its other end, is the so-called Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Like. It’s a unique work of natural art in the middle of the forest, where a winding line of tree trunks shapes a path.
China Town and Fisherman’s Wharf
San Francisco is a super versatile city. A perfect example of this are two areas, which are not located far apart but which could not be any more different: the wonderful Chinatown and the famous Fisherman’s Wharf.
Take your time exploring one of the most popular Chinatowns in the USA, with its elaborate street lanterns and intricately decorated houses. Enter an exotic world through the Dragon Gate, and indulge in a unique culinary experience by dining at one of the many restaurants.
Only a few streets from Chinatown is Fisherman’s Wharf, where unique maritime flair meets flamboyant attractions and shops. Once you enter the renowned Pier 39 you can sit down and observe sea lions up close. There are also numerous fantastic stores, candy shops, regular shows and a fabulous carousel on the pier.
Fisherman’s Wharf has the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay, and the former prison island of Alcatraz. The Pier’s long pedestrian area is the perfect place for an evening walk, and it’s also a great area for jogging and sports in general.
When it comes to food, the Pier has so much to offer. Don’t miss out on the iconic soup in a bowl if you’re a fan of seafood. The Pier is lined with plenty of restaurants, all offering unique dishes. On the Pier’s east end lies the beautiful Ferry Building, which merits a visit. It houses a vast number of restaurants and shops, including gourmet food shops.
Next to this building, you’ll find a long pier perfect for a refreshing walk. Enjoy the view of the bay and Alcatraz, as well as the Oakland Bridge off to the side, and the twinkling lights of San Francisco behind you.
At Fisherman’s Wharf’s west end, you’ll find the picturesque Ghirardelli building. This former chocolate factory, with its distinctive red brick exterior, definitely warrants a visit. It houses a number of restaurants, cafés, and souvenir shops. You can buy some chocolates here as well.
Located only a short distance away is one of the cable car stops. End your Fisherman’s Wharf adventure with a ride back to your hostel on the cable car, if the line isn’t too long.
The Infamous Prison Island of Alcatraz
An amazing historical attraction to see – if you have the time, that is – is the former prison island, Alcatraz. The prison, built on an eight-and-a-half-hectare island, served as a maximum-security prison until it was closed in 1963. Al Capone, one of the world’s most notorious felons, served time here. Escaping this prison was next to impossible due to its location in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, since shark attacks or the relentless current would have been a death sentence.
A ferry regularly takes visitors from Pier 33 to the island; you can buy tickets on the ferry. Plan two-to-three hours for your visit, and remember that the trip to and from the pier to the island takes about 15 minutes. What you see here will most certainly stun you. Not to mention, the island has a stunning view of San Francisco.
If you have some time leftover and want to visit a museum, there’s a myriad of options, like the famous Cable Car Museum, the Walt Disney Family Museum, the Asian Art Museum or the Museum of the African Diaspora.
San Francisco can easily become your favorite city. If you’re looking for a place to astound you architecturally, to mesmerize you scenically, to entertain you historically or to amaze you generally, San Francisco is the place for you.
Breathtaking views of one of the world’s prettiest skylines and a distinct combination of maritime, urban, and hippy vibes are waiting to sweep you off your feet.
Choose your preferred way to explore the city: on foot, by bike, or with the iconic cable cars. Take your time discovering the city’s gems, and you’ll soon understand why it has been so many people’s favorite city for a long time.
During your trip to San Francisco, visit one of the breathtaking beaches, and bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. Both are a must!