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San Francisco – Bay Area Local’s Guide

WELCOME TO SAN FRANCISCO TRAVEL GUIDE

There’s no where in the world quite like San Francisco and I’m lucky enough to live just a short drive away. With a vibrant and progressive culture, everyone is empowered to be themselves in this amazing city.

Need to Know for San Francisco:

Currency: US Dollar

Language: English

Airports:

SFO – 20min drive

SJC – 1hr drive

Electrical Outlets:120V supply voltage and 60Hz

Things to See and Do in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge: The most famous landmark in San Francisco, you have to stop by the Golden Gate Bridge. Parking can be very difficult so prepare to drive around a bit to find a spot. I recommend walking by the visitors center and then up onto the bridge itself for amazing views of the city. 

Dolores Park: One of San Francisco’s most popular parks, locals and tourists alike will flock to these fields on sunny afternoons to have picnics, play with their dogs, and bask in the sun with friends. This park boasts incredible views of the city skyline and is the perfect spot to grab a beer and some snacks and hang out with friends!

Palace of Fine Arts: This majestic structure was built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco and then rebuilt between 1964 and 1974. Take some time to wander around the stunning rotunda, marveling at the intricate columns and sculptures surrounded by serene ponds and parks. It is also an active event venue hosting a variety of events from weddings to trade shows. 

Painted Ladies: Take a stop to check out these iconic brightly painted Victorian and Edwardian houses known as “The Painted Ladies.” There isn’t really anything to do here other than an instagram photo op, so in my opinion, the real attraction is the beautiful Alamo Square Park. It’s a perfect spot to lay out a blanket and play some games on a nice sunny day. It also has great views of the city and is extremely dog friendly. 

Chinatown: This is the second oldest Chinatown in North America, historically the go-to neighborhood for new immigrants arriving in San Francisco from China. The neighborhood is marked with the stunning Dragon’s Gate and is home to many Chinese shops and restaurants. A popular tourist attraction (although I’ve never been) is to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory for a quick stop to see how the cookies are made and grab a hot sample.

Ferry Building: As a Bay Area resident, this is one of my favorite spots because who ever gets sick of delicious local food? There are so many amazing markets and restaurant stands in the Ferry Building to check out, as well as being home to the SF Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. One of my favorite stops is Mariposa Bakery, an all gluten-free bakery that is a dream for me. I’d also recommend the Daily Driver for a bagel sandwich with an incredibly fresh local cream cheese.

Fisherman’s Wharf: Likely the most popular tourist destination in all of San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf is full shops selling souvenirs, tour companies advertising boat rides and bike rentals, street performers on every corner, and tons of seafood restaurants (overpriced because you pay for the location – but still tasty). Instead of getting dinner here, I’d recommend just grabbing a shrimp cocktail at the bustling food stands right near the main sign. Pier 39 is built up with all kinds of attractions and shops, but my favorite activity, is to watch the sea lions on the docks of Pier 39’s marina. They are usually quite active and there is tons of space to watch these hilarious creatures flop around on the docks.

16th Ave Tiled Steps: These iconic steps were a neighborhood project to create a mosaic climbing up 163 steps in SF’s Golden Gate Heights neighborhood. The steep steps show a sea to stars themed mural visible from afar and intricately beautiful up close. Definitely stop by to check out this cool project if you are in the neighborhood!

Balmy Alley: This hidden alley in the Inner Mission District is lined with beautiful and powerful murals. The murals are mostly painted by Mexican or Mexican Americans, illustrating chicana/o culture. This alley is recognized as both a tourist destination and a renowned collection of activist art.

Japantown: Another pocket of culture tucked away in this bustling city, Japantown is home to many Japanese restaurants, grocery stores, and shops. Stop in and explore Japantown Peace Plaza, where you will see the beautiful Peace Pagoda shown above. On both sides of this plaza you can enter the Japan Center Shopping Mall to grab a matcha ice cream, ramen, sushi, or any other Japanese food you can imagine.

Golden Gate Park: This is a massive park, and most of it does not have a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, so don’t be fooled by the name! There are tons of cool spots to check out in this park including: The California Academy of Sciences ($30-37 admission), Japanese Tea Garden ($7-12 admission), SF Botanical Garden ($12 admission), De Young Museum ($15 admission). There are also plenty of free places to wander around, people watch, or lay out a blanket and relax.

Lands End: An excellent hiking area with iconic views of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can also enjoy the Lands End Labyrinth and check out the Sutro Baths (historic public swimming complex built in 1896). Lands End is perfect for an afternoon hike where you will be brushed with the fresh ocean breeze and have stunning coastal views the whole way. 

Lombard Street: Come see the “crookedest street in the world” on the segment of Lombard between Hyde and Leavenworth Street. You can drive down the one-way hairpin turns, or just walk the steps on the side of the road. Be sure to schedule a quick stop for this San Francisco icon.

Crissy Field: With stunning views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, Crissy Field is the perfect place to settle in for a picnic with friends, run around with your dog, or soak up the SF sun (assuming Karl the Fog hasn’t rolled in). Crissy Field is a big open green space with picnic tables, adjacent to big stretch of beach.

Union Square: Once used for rallies to support the Union army during the Civil War, Union Square is now a bustling plaza surrounded by a mix of department stores and upscale boutiques. This is a great destination for anyone looking to do some shopping. In the winter time, Union Square lights up an iconic Christmas tree as well as sets up an ice rink in the middle of the plaza. A great spot for some holiday festivities.

If you have extra days, you can head down to Silicon Valley to see more of the Bay Area.

Top Experiences in San Francisco

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Alcatraz Visiting ``The Rock`` is an experience you can't miss when visiting San Francisco. This is a popular attraction and will sell out, so be sure to buy your tickets online ahead of time. You buy your ticket for the ferry out, then you are free to explore the island and take the ferry back whenever you please. The audio tour is very well-done and I would highly recommend going through the whole thing. On a couple days of the year, there is a swim race where athletes start at Alcatraz Island and swim to shore. It's a cool sight to see, but be sure to check how it impacts tour schedules.
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Muir Woods Located north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods is a bit of a trip outside of the city, but a beautiful oasis of redwoods and a great morning excursion. You need to reserve parking in advance, so be sure to do that online before your trip. There are nice and accessible walking trails through the forest floor that are the most popular routes. Then there are trails that go up and branch further off on either side of the main walkway. You can hike as little or as much as you want to and still get the majestic feel of being engulfed in the redwoods.
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Giants Game at Oracle Park If you're in SF during the baseball season, check out a Giant's game at Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park). The stadium has incredible views of the bay and the Bay Bridge. If you look off to the right of the scoreboard, you will usually see some fans in kayaks trying to retrieve home run balls. They also have a whole stand dedicated to gluten free options - Hearth Table in the Giant's Garden. I have also heard Oracle Park has one of the best Garlic Fries in the country (PS: I haven't tried them yet!)

Planning Your Trip

Accommodation – I have never stayed in San Francisco since I live so close to the city, but there are tons of great hotel and Airbnb options. I recommend planning what you want to do and finding a place in the right neighborhood.

Food – San Francisco has an incredible food scene with so many different cuisines to explore. For good Mexican food with a great view and vibe, check out El Techo. If you’re looking for some amazing tacos to grab and go, swing by Taqueria Cancún. If you’re looking for a nice brunch, check out Plow, a cute little spot (usually with a long wait) with amazing food. If you’re looking for sushi, check out Ozumo for some great Japanese food with a view of the Bay Bridge.

Getting Around – I usually drive in San Francisco but the parking is a huge pain, so I recommend street parking where you find a spot and then walking wherever you’re headed. You can also take the Muni around the city or call a lyft to avoid parking.

My San Francisco Essentials

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