Any number of things that make San Francisco famous. If you had a day to spend in San Francisco, what would you do? Here’s what I did after arriving in Oakland at 11:00 a.m.
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge, which is surprisingly not golden, but red. Why is it called the Golden Gate Bridge then? First question I asked. California is the Golden State, so this is the gate to the Golden State. This bridge is a remarkable feat of modern architecture, spanning the three-mile long and one-mile wide Golden Gate Straight between the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean. It’s 8,981 feet long, 746 feet high, and 220 feet over the water. Hard to believe it was built in 1933, before technology and heavy machinery!
The Golden Gate Bridge has six lanes going across, three in each direction. On the side going into San Francisco, there a biking-only lane. On the side leaving San Francisco, there’s a pedestrian-only lane. If you try to walk the biking-only lane, every biker going by will yell at you to cross over to the other side.
There are TONS of people biking the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s a walkway under the bridge for people to get to the other side, and it’s pretty cool to be under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Leaving San Francisco, there’s a scenic area you can pull off into for cool pictures. You can see the tall buildings of downtown San Fran, the remote island of Alcatraz, and of course, the gleaming red Golden Gate Bridge (which you can pretend to hold up). From the other side of the road, it’s almost impossible to get into this scenic area, so make sure to hit it up on your way out of San Fran!
You can also go up the mountains to get a great view of both the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco in the background and the mountains dropping into the Pacific Ocean on the other side. I always thought the famous pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge were on the San Francisco side, but now I realize they were probably from these mountains.
Finally, the best place to catch a sunset is from the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge. Whether you walk, bike, or drive across the bridge, make sure to plan it for sunset to watch the sun drop into the Pacific Ocean.
Painted ladies refers to Victorian and Edwardian houses in 3 or more colors that enhance their architectural details. San Francisco’s Painted Ladies are so famous that they appear on a map, making this row of houses easy to find. Also known as “Postcard Row,” these houses are across from Alamo Park on Hayes and Steiner Streets. It’s one of the most photographed locations in San Francisco. Have you seen painted ladies anywhere else?
Full House House
I took a trip back to my 90’s childhood and scouted out the Full House house (minus the red door)! It was high on my list of things to see while in San Francisco. Surprisingly, many of the houses along this street look very similar so I had to google the house number to get the exact house (it’s 1709 Broderick Street, by the way). I was expecting to see Danny, Jesse, and Joey running behind DJ, Steph, and Michelle in the park…but sadly no one was around.
The house was on the market for a while, but on December 5, 2016, Full House creator and producer Jeff Franklin appropriately bought the house (for $4 million, yikes). That was only 2 weeks after I was there!
Mrs. Doubtfire House
You can find the house made famous by Mrs. Doubtfire in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, on the corner of a sloping street with incredible views of the bay. As iconic as it looks in the movie, it looks like a normal, typical house of the neighborhood so make sure to map the address instead of going by sight (2640 Steiner Street). In September, 2016, the house went on the market for $4.5 million. Who wants to live in the Mrs. Doubtfire house?! Would you wear a cake face around the house?
San Francisco has some of the steepest street in the country, but it does boast one that outranks all the others. Known as the crookedest street in the world, Lombard Street is famous for a small, steep, one-way road with 8 hairpin turns. With flowers in bloom and beautiful Victorian mansions on either side, Lombard Street is a popular street for tourists. The Real World San Francisco house and the house from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo are all located in this neighborhood too.
Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39
Away from the popular filming locations in San Francisco is historic Fisherman’s Wharf. There are plenty of places to grab a bit to eat, including seafood restaurants, amazing bakeries, and the infamous In N Out Burger that only the West Coast has. Pier 39 is well-known for the sea lions that lounge on the dock. You can hear them barking at each other, see them diving into the water or jumping out of the water, or just lying around soaking up the sun. Over 1,000 sea lions call Pier 39 home.
San Francisco is famous for its cable cars! They’re a perfect and iconic way to get around San Francisco. The cable cars have been around since 1873, although some changes have been made since then. A day pass costs $13. You can actually hang off the sides of them!
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to take the tour of Alcatraz, but after second thought, I figured it might be kind of depressing to tour an old prison that people died trying to escape from. It is interesting to see the secluded island that doesn’t look too far away (in fact, it’s only 1.25 miles off shore), but is surrounded by freezing waters and strong currents. The Alcatraz cruise is the same company that runs the Hornblower cruise at Niagara Falls and Statue of Liberty cruise. Tickets are around $40 and run almost every half-hour.
In N Out Burger
This fast food burger chain fascinates people who don’t live on the West Coast. For someone like me from the East Coast, I had to try In N Out Burger to see what the big deal was. They serve burgers, fries, milkshakes, and everything that goes along with those things. Being a newbie, I ordered a generic burger, fries, and soda. How touristy of me.
I found out later that there’s a secret menu you can order off if you know what it is you want. You can order “animal style,” which means extra Thousand Island spread, mustard grilled patties, and extra pickles. “Animal style” fries have cheese, spread, and grilled onions on top. You can order “protein style,” which means a burger wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun. You can order “double meat,” “3×3,” or “4×4” for extra beef patties. Finally, you can order grilled cheese, which means no meat. I hope this helps you with your first time to walk into In N Out Burger like a local and order something off the secret menu.
Right at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf is Ghirardelli Square. This square is the original Ghirardelli chocolate manufactory, but now is a square full of restaurants, bars, and places to hang out and enjoy the local chocolates with excellent views. There is still a Ghirardelli Chocolate Outlet and Ice Cream Shop where you can taste the dream.
Just outside San Francisco are the famous giant Redwoods in Muir Woods National Park. There are lots of places to see the Redwoods, but Muir Woods is a good spot for a number of reasons. First, it’s really close to San Francisco so you can do a day trip without losing much time in the car. Second, it’s part of the national park service so if you buy a pass good for all national parks in California, this counts. Third, senior citizens, military, and local Californians get discounts. And finally, it’s part of Mount Tamalpais, so you can cross that off your list too. There’s also Muir Beach and Stinson Beach at the foot of the mountain, so you can get the best of all worlds.
In Muir Woods, there are different paths you can take. There are six miles of trails, including some boardwalk and mostly dirt paths. There’s a half hour loop, a one hour loop, a 1.5-hour loop, and longer hikes that extend into Mount Tamalpais State Park. There are photo ops along the way inside and around the big trees! Make sure to bring lots of water, warm clothes, and possibly a map. And don’t forget to look up and enjoy those huge, 300+ foot (90+ meters) trees!
Stinson Beach’s white sand and blue water make it one of the most picturesque beaches in Northern California. It’s also one of the best places to escape the hectic city life, relaxing and enjoying laid back beach life. Stinson Beach is a popular spot for surfing, boogie boarding, wind surfing, hang gliding, and kayaking. Many nearby surf shops rent equipment and give lessons. Take a quick lunch break at the picnic tables or bbq grills, or explore nearby restaurants and shops. Finish off the day with a hike up the beautiful trails of Mount Tamalpais.
Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway, or State Route 1, stretches along the west coast of California, but that doesn’t mean you have to start at one end and go until it ends. You can pick up the Pacific Coast Highway anywhere and drive a long or short distance to see the sights! We jumped on the Highway on our way from Stinson Beach to San Francisco. The road weaves the mountains as close to the ocean as it can get, offering incredibly views of the coast. Be careful though, driving around mountains tends to bring on car sickness pretty fast.
I read about Mt. Tamalpais in a book and had to see it when I visited San Francisco. Most of the mountain is protected by Mt. Tamalpais State Park and the Muir Woods. Mt. Tamalpais, fondly known as Mt. Tam, is the highest peak in the Marin Hills. It’s a popular hiking, picnicking, bicycling, horseback riding, and hang gliding destination with over 100 miles of trails. The western slope descends into Stinson Beach.
Have you been to San Francisco? What did you see? If you haven’t been, what do you want to see? I didn’t have much time to explore San Francisco itself, but I did accomplish a lot in the city and surrounding area during my quick trip to the West Coast. If I missed anything important, please let me know in the comments below!
Like this post? Share it on Pinterest!
P.S. You might also like Napa Valley or Carmel by the Sea