They say it takes a lifetime to truly experience the beauty of California! After visiting San Francisco recently, I can wholeheartedly believe that it will take at least half of one to see just the city of San Francisco!
Silicon Valley, the beautiful flora and fauna, and the hippie movement have all molded San Francisco into a uniquely diverse city and it’s one of the best cities I have ever been to.
In this post, I am putting together a list of 10 awesome experiences that you should not miss when you visit San Francisco.
1) WATCH THE SUNRISE OVER THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
Visiting the Golden Gate Bridge must be at the top of your list already and you must be aware that there are multiple viewpoints from which you can admire this beauty. But watching the sunrise from the Battery Spencer observation deck is a whole new experience altogether!
Fog is a natural, beautiful and rather famous weather phenomenon, not only in San Francisco, but across the entire stretch of coastal California. Watching the sunrise from Battery Spencer (which is a viewpoint at an elevation) ensures there are more chances for spotting fog underneath the already beautiful bridge – the whole experience is surreal!
HOW TO GET TO BATTERY SPENCER
To get to Battery Spencer from the city, you can take the Sausalito-Alexander Ave from the 101 freeway. From there, Follow Bunker Road until you make a left on McCullough Road. Finally, follow the roundabout and take the 3rd exit to Conzelman Road, which you can follow all the way to the dirt parking lot.
There are 2 dirt lots, so if you don’t find parking at the first one you can continue a little longer to the 2nd parking lot.
You can also take public transportation to get you close to the viewpoint. Check the bus schedules, but you can take the 76X-Marin Headlands Express muni bus and get off at the Conzelman Rd & Kirby Cove Rd stop. From there it is a short walk to the Battery Spender viewpoint!
2) TASTE SOME HIGH-QUALITY CALIFORNIA WINE IN NAPA
Did you know if California were a separate country, it would be the fourth largest wine producer in the world, and that 90% of the wine consumed in the United States is from California?
More than the actual wine itself, wine-tasting in Napa Valley and Sonoma Wine county of California is an experience in itself. These two regions have grape fields stretching for miles together and have a lot of wineries, which offer varied wine tasting tours for visitors. Ensure you book a slot and sip some tasty wine!
You can easily drive to the wineries yourself, but if you want to be able to really partake in wine tasting safely without worrying about driving, there are plenty of tours you can book who will arrange the wineries and transportation for you! Some well reviewed wine tours from San Francisco include:
- Napa & Sonoma Valley Wine Tour from San Francisco
- Napa Wine Tour With Castello Di Amorosa
- Wine Country by Helicopter with Tastings
3) RIDE THE LAST MANUALLY OPERATED CABLE CAR
San Francisco’s cable car system is the world’s last manually operated cable system and riding in this across the hilly roads of San Francisco will make you feel like you are riding a toy train in a fairy land! This is one of the iconic moments you should definitely experience if you ever visit San Francisco.
There are three lines operated today so choose the one that will suit you if you want to use it as a commute.
If you are riding the car just for the experience, I would urge you take the cable car near Union Square, so you can get the best seats or best foot-board stops if you choose to ride the car from the outside! Do not mind the long queues at Union Square for you will also get to see the Cable car turnaround (where the cars are changed tracks every single time they make their trip back!).
It’s good entertainment you will not get anywhere else, even on the other stops.
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4) TREK AMIDST THE GIANT SEQUOIA TREES
If you don’t have time to visit the giant sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park or Yosemite, don’t worry! You can have a taste of all that at a 16 mile distance from San Francisco at the Muir Woods National Monument!
The giant sequoia trees, their significance to California, the history of this national monument and other valuable information will be included in the free tours organized by the park. Don’t forget to take a small trek amidst the giant sequoias – you will love it!
You can either drive to Muir Woods yourself or book a tour that includes transportation and your entrance fee to the park as well.
5) TAKE A STROLL THROUGH LITTLE ITALY
Take a nice long walk from Grace Cathedral in Nobb Hill and cross China Town to finish at Little Italy’s beautiful Saints Peter & Paul Church. You will see how the landscapes and neighbourhoods change drastically all in one long stroll!
By the time you finish your long walk, you will be in the mood for Tony’s Pizza Napoletana right in front of Saints Peter & Paul Church! You will be surprised to see the long queues outside the pizzeria waiting to be seated inside and people munching on America’s Best Pizzas (Forbes listed) seated in chairs outside the pizzeria, without worrying about the California sun.
6) SPEND THE DAY IN FISHERMAN’S WHARF
The Northern waterfront area is where Fisherman’s Wharf is situated and this houses a cluster of tourist attractions that you wouldn’t want to miss: Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Maritime National Museum along with innumerable shops selling sumptuous food and heaps of souvenirs for you to grab, and Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge on the Pacific at the other side of the wharf!
Half a day in the neighborhood and the other half for a Golden Gate Bridge cruise and Alcatraz tour will be a perfect day along the ocean! Watching the cute sea lions lazing in the Pier, gorging on fresh seafood at the wharf, taking a Golden Gate Bridge cruise, and tasting a yummy chocolate sundae at Ghirardelli Square are experiences that will make your day memorable!
7) WATCH THE SUNSET AT TWIN PEAKS
If Battery Spencer offers the best sunrise views of Golden Gate bridge, Twin Peaks sunsets have a different type of beauty to them! Drive up to the peaks around half an hour before sunset and you can see the city come to life and the city-buzz taking its full form, with thousands of lights lighting up and the sunlight slowly fading away in the background.
It’s a truly beautiful sight and the experience will be a perfect way to end a busy day in the city. Driving slightly before sunrise will also help you secure a parking spot at the hilltop.
8) RELAX IN GOLDEN GATE PARK
The Golden Gate Park is a mini-California in itself that will take a long time for you to actually finish seeing. This park is a little over 1000 acres in area, which is around 20% larger than New York’s Central Park!
This humongous park houses De-Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences (two architectural marvels) and a Japanese Tea Garden which are all attractions in themselves!
Pick and choose what you want to do here based on the time you have; I would recommend you do the Japanese Tea Garden if you have time for only one attraction. Look for the free guided tours organized by the garden to better understand the garden’s structure and the authentic beauty of a Japanese Tea Garden.
9) THRIFT-SHOP FOR VINTAGE BEAUTIES
The neighbourhood of Haight-Ashbury has a deep-rooted history and this place is the origin of the hippie counterculture! It’s filled with a lot of vintage inspired hotels, murals, and restaurants.
More importantly, you will see some of the best vintage thrift shops where you can get everything from gorgeous Nordic sweaters to Victorian jewelry. There are even Tibetan clothing stores and clothing & shoe stores of upcoming designers at competitive prices.
Go early in the day, wearing your comfortable clothing and take all your money with you!
Haight-Ashbury is also home to some of the best quick food in San Francisco. Be sure to check out Street Taco, Veganburg, and Parada 22 for some great lunch meals.
10) GO RESTAURANT HOPPING IN MISSION DISTRICT
You have probably heard a lot of great things about the murals in Mission District, but Mission District doesn’t only stand for its murals: the free-spirited vibe that’s prevalent across San Francisco resonates at Mission District much more strongly and the restaurants here keep up to it as well!
So go restaurant-hopping in San Francisco, particularly in Mission District, which is filled with restaurants whose cuisines are fresh, indomitable, and lively. There is a twist, either in the menu or in the décor or both.
If you like fusion food, it’s the best here – even if you are not so fond of it, I urge you to try it here! I tried a Michelin-star restaurant, a gastro-pub and a Latin-American restaurant all in Mission District and what was a common chord in all three was how distinct they all were in whatever they do (and how they were refreshingly good at it).
Some of the best restaurants in the Mission district include Lolo, Flour + Water, and Delfina. And don’t forget to wait in line at the famous Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop for some of the best ice cream you’ve ever had!
SAN FRANCISCO WRAP UP
A lot of people say San Francisco is the new New York of the West Coast. While the fleeting statement might be controversial and slightly far-fetched, I felt at least in terms of sightseeing, options are aplenty in this Californian city, just like New York!
If you have more time you can take road trips from San Francisco or indulge in spending more time in the city itself, just people-watching! I wish that you travel to this beautiful city soon and get to experience everything I have mentioned and much more.
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit San Francisco. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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