an Francisco Top 10 Things to Do:
1. The Golden Gate Bridge. The best way to appreciate the impressive 1.7 mile expanse, the most photographed thing on earth, is by cycling it. Being an Easterner, you should rent bikes bright and early from Bay City Bikes. Enjoy the 10-mile trip along the city’s waterfront past Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, along scenic Marina and Presidio Parks on your way to the bright orange. There are a handful of thigh-burner hills and the height of the bridge over the Pacific is a bit “hairy” in the designated bike lane, but then your exercise ends in sunny Sausalito with a relaxing and super scenic ferry ride back to Pier 39.
2. Take in the scene at Pier 39, the waterfront hub and home to frequent festivals, street performers, and sea lions on display. Glide on a pretty painted pony on the Pier’s centerpiece carousel – a bargain at $3 a ride. Then bite into some fresh baked sourdough bread from famous Boudin’s Bakery (making sourdough since 1849).
3. Lunch at Alioto’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 45, this century old Sicilian family restaurant serves the best calamari & shrimp appetizer, a tremendous Crab Louie, and authentic Cioppino (all San Fran originals) with fantastic views of famous Fisherman’s Wharf, the Bay and the Bridge.
4. Escape to Alcatraz. Walk the waterfront Embarcadero to Pier 33 for your boat ride to prison. The Alcatraz Cruise and Tour of the Cell Blocks should frighten anyone into law obedience. The new self-guided audio tour tells harrowing tales of the infamous inmates and edgy escapes from The Rock during the prison’s primetime of 1934-1963.
5. For the finer side of Frisco, visit the Union Square district. In the heart of the city, its like Newbury Street West with designer boutiques (Betsey Johnson, Armani), and top shelf department stores – Nordstrum, Bloomie’s, Sax. Then calm yourself over cocktails and Dungeness crab at 100-year legend John’s Grill, the historic setting of The Maltese Falcon where San Fran’s diligent detective Sam Spade dined daily at the bar. Check out the celeb photos that line the dark paneled walls while you dine in old-world style.
San Francisco, a California Treat
6. Experience Chinatown. Upon entering the Dragon’s Gate, you are immersed in Asian culture, 24 blocks of authentic restaurants, bustling markets, temples and jade jewelers. You can buy exotic potions or knock off purses, then dine on Dim Sum – no fork for you – only chopsticks in Chinatown. Tip: go one block off popular Grant Street for less touristy, real deal shops and eateries.
7. Get out of town. Take the Golden Gate Bridge and head up the scenic coastline to Muir Woods, to see our 560-acre Redwood National Park. Tip: go early ahead of the crowds, bring a jacket for the cool 2-mile walk under tremendous tree canopy. Then repast at Piatti Trattoria in nearby Mill Valley overlooking Richardson Bay.
8. Canoe the Russian River (60-miles north of San Fran). A 10-mile paddle downstream takes you on a 3-hour tour of towering trees, past egrets and heron. Stop for a picnic and swim along your way. Nearby to Burke’s Canoe Trips is Armstrong State Forest – a beautiful forest of massive 1,400 year old redwoods that is free to visitors. Or bee-line to Korbel Winery for bubbly.
9. Sip wine in Sonoma, or nip in Napa, there are countless California wineries with tasting and tours. You’ll also encounter funky time warp towns in your travels. Napa Valley is amazingly lush, pastoral and peaceful once you venture above the Bay, loaded with bounteous bovines and grape vines.
10. Explore San Francisco’s celebrated neighborhoods, each with its own architecture, ethnicity, and culinary strength. Ride a classic Cable Car from Union Square to Nob Hill. Drive or walk down the most crooked street in the world – Lombard Street (Tip – go before traffic). Visit the hippy haven of Haight-Ashbury where peace still rules, and the city’s oldest neighborhoods “The Mission” and the Castro district where Latinos, gays and lesbians co-exist colorfully. The adopted adage of San Francisco’s Visitors Bureau is “Only in San Francisco”– well said.
Weather Note: don’t expect classic California beach weather. San Fran is cool and can be foggy, particularly in prime summer.
“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” – Mark Twain