San Francisco is a great city, we like it a lot, and there are so many bars, restaurants and great places to see and visit. As usual, we have only scratched the surface of a world city, we did not even get to see a baseball or football game. If you visit, make sure that you choose what you would like to see in advance, but also make time to “get lost” on one of the many hills and local neighbourhoods in central SF. We love to get lost, it’s when you see a city for what it’s truly like.
For film buffs, SF is the location of classics like Bullitt (ultimate car chase down Lombard street), 48Hrs, The Rock, Dirty Harry and Vertigo. There are locations galore, most famous is probably Lombard Street, the winding floral street featured in many movies, but mostly from Bullitt. See them before you go and get exited!
Number one on most people’s list is still Alcatraz. I’ve been there 3 times, and every time it blew me away. Perhaps the best audio tour in the world, stories told by both inmates and wardens. It will give you goose bumps. My advice is to book WELL in advance, and also go on the first tour of the day, then you will have a little time almost alone before the throngs of people arrive. There is only one official place to get tickets, and that’s here.
After you get back on land, you could of course go to the hugely touristy Fisherman’s Wharf (it’s not very good, or pretty, or much to see) walk through it, and that’s it. You could also step off the boat and turn right for a delish gourmet diner experience at Fog City.
When in SF you will have to walk up and down a few hills, it is hilly, but that’s what makes the city so different. If you feel like a good view of the city, go to Coit Tower.
If you feel like getting lost, just walk up Russian Hill and take in the neighbourhood vibe.
Cow Hollow on the other side of the hill is a more upscale place, but plenty of shops and restaurants, and hardly a tourist in site.
When in SF you probably want to take the cable car, get in line. Be EARLY and get the streetcar from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s the best route.
Also, take one of the cool old trams from downtown to Castro. Castro is the gayest place on earth, read up on how SF became so gay, and see the film Milk with Sean Penn before you go.
From here it’s only a short hop with a bus, a very convenient transport mode in SF, to Haight-Asbury. Mostly known for the hippie movement, the bands who lived there, and a whole social movement in the 60s. It’s still a cool place, with colourful buildings, but again has become a bit touristy the later years. Still gems are to be found if you look for them.
The oldest Chinatown, and the largest Chinese enclave outside of Asia can be found in San Francisco centred on Grant avenue and Stockton Street. Go see it, it’s coolest in the evenings with all the lights and lanterns, and get some crispy duck or wontons.
I am a bit torn when it comes to SF, in some places it’s very cool and has a lot of fine neighbourhoods and areas, but it also has a rampant homeless problem downtown and in some of the parks. I have been to SF several times, but the last time, 3 years ago, the problem was palpable. I will not go into reasons for this, or how to solve it, that’s a bigger discussion. But as a visitor, you should know that you will encounter a lot of homeless persons, young and old, and in greater numbers that most towns in the US. The area of Golden Gate Park towards Haight Asbury and the area south west of Union Square are best avoided.