A brief guide to San Francisco

I was asked by a friend the other day about what to see and do in San Francisco, so I thought I would share it here too, as it could be of use to more people

When arriving at the airport, and depending on where you are going to stay, it could make sense to rent a car at the airport, especially if you are not going to stay in the central parts of town, and with this in mind, parking is expensive in San Francisco, so if you get away with it then rent a car in town when you need it.

If you are staying in town I would recommend the following areas and hotels:

Union Square, home to shopping, theatres and the Moscone Convention Center, and is close to the BART from the airport as well as local transport and the cable cars

Both the Hilton hotels around Union Square, Hilton Union Square and Parc 55, are good and both are less than a 6 minute walk from the BART station on Powell if you use public transport, and bear in mind that parking is a ridiculous $70 a day.

There are two Marriott’s, Marriott Union Square and JW Marriott, both are very nice,  however both are a little further from public transport.

If you are looking for something a little extra with hotels in the area, then there is Kimpton’s Sir Francis Drake hotel which is a marvellous property as well as the historic Palace hotel, which is a great SPG luxury collection property.

Financial District, borders Chinatown on one side and Embarcadero and the Ferry building on the other.

The Hilton hotel, is good and normally reasonably priced during weekends when there is less business travellers. It is about a 10 minute walk from Montgomery station on the BART.

You also have Fairmont and Intercontinental fairly close by as well.

Fisherman’s Wharf, which is home to shopping, restaurants and the seafront.

All hotels chains have representation down here as it is a prime tourist spot, however one of the best hotels in the area is the Argonaut Hotel, and it is located in a historic building and has great view over the area. Another one is the Fairmont Heritage hotel, which also is located in a historic building.

What is there to see in San Francisco, well there is plenty, and I will break this down to areas as it is easier to plan what to do?

Fisherman’s Wharf, check out Pier 39 with shopping and restaurants, you may even want to try some of the famous clam chowder. Don’t miss the sea lion colony that lives there and you often see then basking in the sun. On a clear day you will also see the Golden Gate Bridge, and it can look a little spooky on a misty day.

The Alcatraz tour is a must if you have time, it takes about 2.5 hours, and it sells out often weeks in advance so make sure you book before you go: http://www.alcatrazcruises.com/

There are two major shopping centres in the area, Ghirardelli Square and the Cannery, and you have to visit Ghirardelli for some of their famous chocolate. There are also several museums, as well as San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park which is worth a visit.

Marina

When you are done with Fisherman’s Wharf then take a 20 minute walk to Fort Mason along the coast and through the park, have a look at the art centre, and stop for some food. If you have time then walk through the marina and the beautiful coastline leading to Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge. At this point, I suggest walking back to take the cable car from Powell-Hyde Cable Car Turntable.

Union Square

Check out the shopping around Union Square, and if you get hungry then you have the French quarters on the northeast of the square. There are theatres and museum around as well if you want do something else than shopping. If you have time I really recommend SF Museum of Modern Art and the Cartoon Art Museum, both are fantastic.

Mission

The mission district is the oldest part of San Francisco, and it is served by both the BART and the Muni buses. Have a look at the Mission Dolores and Dolores Park for some flavour of time past, and don’t miss the murals on the walls and fences in the area. There is a thriving arts and music scene in the area as well as being a mecca for Mexican food. Check out the Galeria de la Raza for Latino art.

Castro and Haight-Ashbury

From Dolores Park, take a 10 minute walk down to the world’s first gay bar, the Twin Peak Tavern, it is worth the visit. Take bus 24 to the Painted Ladies, which is the Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses you often see in the movies from San Francisco. From here you go to the Golden Gate Park, and if you walk make sure you check out some of the coffee shops and hippie hangouts, when you hit the park, check out the museums and the views.

Embarcadero

Walk through the piers along the waterfront and have a look at the sea and the bridges, have stop at the Exploratorium, the science museum, at a bare minimum have a coffee and enjoy the environment. Have a look at the Ferry building, don’t miss the clock!, and the farmers market and if you have time, take a ferry to Golden Gate or to Sausalito on the other side.

Presidio and Golden Gate

Presidio is an old garrison and still has a military base with large park areas and a Disney museum. You can also go and see the Palace of Fine Arts. There is several option for public transport out to Presidio, however most of the sightseeing buses covers Presidio and Golden Gate on the same tour, which is an easy option. Alternatively, you can take the Muni bus 28 to the Toll Plaza and then you can walk across the bridge, make sure you have warm clothes.

Other things worth seeing

Chinatown, one of the biggest china towns in the world

Angel Island, a great vantage point, located in the bay

Legion of Honor, an art museum with a great view

Fort Point, an old fortress just by the Golden Gate Bridge

If you have a car it worth getting the 49 mile route on a Sat Nav / GPS which will take you around all the sites: http://usmotogpfans.com/roads/49mdplus/

Sights outside San Francisco

Sausalito, a beautiful seaside town just beneath the Golden Gate Bridge

Napa Valley, the wine county, there are more than 250 wineries in Napa so it will keep you busy for at least a day. It takes about 2.5 hours to drive out there, take the US 101 over Golden Gate, and follow route 37 east, until you hit route 29 north to Napa

Sonoma Valley, the other big wine region is Sonoma, which is slightly closer and only 1.5 hours away.

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