San Francisco, California! Known as the heart of the Bay Area is complete with the famous Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, Seals, Alcatraz, Historical Architecture, Chinatown, Ghirardelli Chocolate, Cable Cars and so much more. This thriving city has become a well known, top destination spot for tourists around the world. Anytime we meet someone who has visited San Francisco they say they want to return, and anyone we meet who hasn't visited always says they want to go.
Located in the mid-northern region of California, just South West of Sacramento, San Francisco is one of the most populous cities in the United States and is home to a number of cultural happenings that draw tourists from all over the world annually.
San Francisco was once a Spanish mission that gained Mexican rule when Mexico won it's independence from Spain in 1821. Later, around 1840, many American's began to inhabit the San Francisco lands desiring to gain control over the area. After America gained this territory, due to its easy access and port location, San Francisco became a hot spot for those fleeing West in hopes of discovering Gold during the Gold Rush. As transportation technology expanded, the city has grown. For example, the creation of the famous cable car made it's hilly demeanor a more accessible location for those desiring to relocate or just visit this gem.
( https://www.history.com )
How To get there
San Francisco is a very convenient city to travel to and around. San Francisco International Airport allows you to travel to and from this destination hot spot from all over the world with limited connections (for the hands-down best pricing comparison be sure to check Skyscanner). Once you arrive to SFO you can take the BART rail service to any surrounding area or downtown. If you know which hotel you are staying at you can also check to see if they offer hotel shuttles to and from the airport.
If you're traveling like us, you will want to get your hands behind your very own steering wheel. So, you will want to choose one of the rental companies - which operates conveniently right at the SFO Airport. We chose Alamo car rental and had a great experience throughout our entire journey from San Francisco to L.A.
Parking in and around San Francisco was a breeze. It's a very car friendly, as well as biker and walker friendly town. There are parking decks conveniently located throughout all of the downtown area. We opted for the Polk-Bush Garage where we paid $3 per hour. Once we were parked we were able to hop on and off the cable cars and/or walk to the majority of our desirable downtown/pier destinations.
Another cool option that San Francisco offers is the availability of renting a bike to tour the city. You can pay $3 for a 30 minute bike ride or $10 for the day. The Rental Bike is a great option for exploring many cities and we have used it on occasion. However, if you choose this route be aware that San Francisco is extremely hilly so you may want to have a well planned route that is less hilly before opting for the bikes.
Before traveling to San Francisco we did quite a bit of research on traveling within and around the city. TripAdvisor has a great link that includes information regarding The San Francisco Transit. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency also provides some very specific maps to assist with your travels throughout the Bay Area.
How To get AROUND
When to visit
San Francisco is truly a year-round city. It's most popular time of travel is during the Summer Months of June and July. This is when you will experience most crowds. If you're looking for a less crowded time to visit, when the weather is still fairly nice, the Spring months of April and May, as well as the Fall months of September and October are notably desirable and can be more affordable times to travel.
We personally visited San Francisco during the early part of October. During the day the weather was comfortable; sweater or quarter length sleeves and jeans weather; and the nights were cooler. San Francisco has consistently cool temperatures around the 60's -70's during the day and 50's in the evenings. We recommend wearing layers, and definitely bring those walking shoes. San Francisco is extremely hilly and the most efficient way of getting around can be walking so be prepared for getting your leg work-out.
What to do
It may surprise you that one of the first tourist destinations you're likely to hear about in San Francisco was at one time a famous Federal Penitentiary that operated from 1934 to 1963. Alcatraz has housed some of the most well-known criminals of its day such as Al Capone and it has gained the title of "The Rock" due to its island, inaccessible location.
Although Alcatraz is known for it's inmate population it has a rich history to offer such as playing a role in the American Indian Movement as well as the Civil War.
Tours are available daily. You can book your tour online choosing between many different options of the length of your stay and the specifics of your visit. Tickets range anywhere between $25.00 and $100.00 depending on your age and how in-depth of an experience you wish to have while there.
Fisherman's wharf & Pier 39
Fisherman's wharf has been a thriving landmark in San Francisco since the early days. At one point, the waterway of Fisherman’s Wharf served as the main port entry into the San Francisco area, bringing in resources, people and, of course, fish! The growth of the city began right here on its waters edge. Many residents of San Francisco have made their living fishing the waters at the Wharf, and now it serves as not only a thriving boat/fishing scene, but also a main tourist attraction of the area. Stop in and walk through a number of shops, restuarants and of course take in the waterfront scenery.
Head over to one of San Francisco's sweetest stops. Ghiradelli Chocolate, a California originated chocolate factory, created by an italian chocolatier, is a must stop for any chocolate lover. Ghiradelli Square, the original location of Ghiradelli Chocolate now houses shops and other stores to top of your sweet experience. When visiting, you certainly don't want to miss out on the some of Ghiradelli's ice cream with multiple stops around the Bay Area.
Riding a cable car in San Francisco is an experience you don’t want to miss out on. San Francisco is the last manually operated cable car system in the WORLD! Talk about experiencing history! Not only is it a city landmark but it’s also resourceful in many ways. Riding the cable cars can transport you all over the cities hot spots in just a matter of stops while experience the city views along the way. There are currently three cable car lines operating so when deciding your routes while visiting San Francisco be sure to check out the routes available beforehand. Rides start at around $7.00 but you may want to check out other options if you plan to ride multiple stops.
San Francisco, despite being a large city, is filled with wonderful green spaces. Parks are located all around the city giving you the opportunity to escape from the fast pace of city life to beautiful scenes and lush greenery. Drive through Golden Gate Park and you may forget your in the big city, or take a sunset break and cross over the Golden Gate Bridge towards Kirby Cove/Marin Headlands Vista Point where you will catch a glimpse of the City Skyline arching behind the beautiful bridge. You can take a Full House break in Alamo Square where you can catch a glimpse of the Painted Ladies. After hiking up Hyde Street, just so you can experience Lombard Street be sure to take a few minutes and rest in George Sterling Park that's located at the upper end of Lombard. Or, if you find yourself wandering around the waterfront area you can take a green break in Aquatic Park where you can have a picnic overlooking the Bay. The possibilities are endless and fantastic.
The Chinatown of San Francisco is an experience that you do not need to miss out on, not only for the lively culture, but if anything for the exquisite food. San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest in the world outside of Asia and the oldest in North America. That should be enough reason for you to want to take in a street or two, although we recommend a more in-depth experience. Be sure to check out iconic stops such as the Fortune Cookie Factory, Dragon Gate, and House of Nanking while you are there and if you're lucky enough you might have the opportunity to catch a cultural festival or event.
Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts, which certainly deserves a category of its own, in an experience that even if you stop through for a few minutes, is worth the excitement. This exquisite venue was crafted by a Californian architect in 1915 as a proof to the world that it had overcome the devastation that had left the city crumbled after the earthquake and great fire in 1906. Now, serving as one of the most desired venues, this park, theater and event location is one of the most unique historical locations in San Francisco.
Drive dOWN lOMBARD sTREET
If you can't drive, you must foot down the one of worlds Crooked Streets. As you're walking this crooked adventure you will spot some of San Francisco's priciest real estate on both sides and a view overlooking the city and bay. You will have to share the road with cars, bikes, and other tourist alike. However, it's a fun adventure and if you find yourself at the top of this crooked street the view is quite fantastic.
Lotta's fountain is San Francisco's oldest surviving monument. Chances are, if you're walking through downtown you will probably walk right by it. It's hard to miss with its giant, bronze demeanor. Located at the corner of Market, Geary and Kearny street, the 24 foot tall sculpture was actually a gift from the San Francisco native performer, Lotta Crabtree in 1875. After the 1906 earthquake survivors looked for a location, still standing that could serve as a central spot for loved ones to reconnect with one another. Since then many famous events have taken place here and still serves in it's original location as an iconic marking of the city.
Where to lodge
One of the big questions we had before visiting San Francisco was where were the best places to stay? What are the good neighborhoods? Where would be a convenient spot? What's a reasonable price? I will preface this by saying there are multiple solutions and answers to these questions.
We were extremely fortunate and had the opportunity to claim one of the five desired camp spots at Kirby Campground. The view is spectacular, situated in an isolated cove directly on the water overlooking downtown San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge. Many campers and photographers find themselves coming simply for the view opportunity. However, spacing is limited and spots go very quickly. We reserved ours within a minute of it's availability and there was only one left. So, we recommend if you are planning to try to camp on specific days being prepared as soon as the spots come available.
If camping isn't your style and your looking for a good hotel choice you can certainly find some safe, but probably pricier options near Fisherman's Wharf and the waterfront area. Well walked from the waterfront, up Hyde Street, towards Chinatown back towards Powell Street and felt safe in all of these locations. Most places around Chinatown and towards the waterfront areas seemed like ideal places to stay. Another option is to stay near the Airport and shuttle/drive into downtown or surrounding areas.
Wine & Dine
We personally didn't have the opportunity to try as many restaurants as we would have liked during our short stay in San Francisco. So, we will recommend the ones we did stop at and list a few others that friends who have frequented the area recommend.
House of Nanking: The Number one Chinese stop in the area
Good Luck Dim Sum
Ristorante Franchino: Italian Stop through
Il Casaro: Pizza & Mozzerella Bar
Scoma's: Your place for waterfront seafood
The Slanted Door: Vietnamese cuisine
Gott's: Good Burgers/Fries
Coqueta: Spanish Tapas & Plates
Bluxome Street Winery: Wine Tasting
Wattle Creek: Wine Tasting Room
Boudin: Located all over the wharf area
Peet's Coffee: California Based Coffee Shop: Locations all over the city
Noahs Bagels: Must try for breakfast!
Extra Tips & Tricks
* If you camp at Kirby Cove please be aware that parking is separate from your campsite and raccoons are very present. Plan accordingly!
* Dress in layers - most mornings and evenings can get chilly but once the sun starts hitting during the day it warms up!
* If driving, plan parking accordingly - you may want to check out what that looks like in certain locations before you visit - Also, be prepared for four way stops
* Be sure to stop and take in the small details of the city! There are many tiny, hidden gems that just make it awesome.
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*All photos used in this post are the sole content of BestCaptured*
We are the Bests! Jo and Mo. Founders of BestCapturedTravel.
We have been immensely blessed with many opportunities to see various parts of the world. We live an average, working life in Cambridge, MA but through our many opportunities have developed a passion to see the world. Our goal is to share with other desiring travelers different tips and experiences from around the world as we begin to check them off our bucket list. If anything, we hope to provide a little sense of motivation and adventure to those wishing to embark on their own journey!
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