Experience San Francisco in a Weekend!
If you're like me, you've been wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to San Francisco. Having friends and family in Los Angeles, I've visited that California destination many times, but never San Francisco. Everyone I know raves about the city, many even preferring it to L.A. So naturally, I was curious and eager to visit when my husband and I had a chance to extend our yearly visit to L.A. up the coast to "The City".
One problem: we had only two days to do it. As someone who loves to travel and see new places, I was worried that we wouldn't get the true 'San Francisco experience' in such a short amount of time. Even without a plan, however, we got to see many of the sights the city is famous for. (That being said, I KNOW that we missed some interesting places, so keep that in mind before commenting :)
Hotel and Downtown
Since my husband travels a lot, we were able to use points to stay at the Hilton at Union Square. There are several Hiltons in the downtown area, but this one had the best reviews and put us in the heart of the action. (The other Hiltons looked nice and were in good areas as well.) The Hilton at Union Square was beautiful inside with modern and surprisingly spacious rooms. It is important to note, however, that this hotel is on the border of the 'Tenderloin District', where the majority of the homeless live. We were not prepared to see so many homeless people, but apart from some requests for food and money, it was not a problem.
Our hotel was about two blocks from Union Square, a quaint piazza surrounded by great restaurants and shopping (Cheesecake Factory, Macy's, Nike, H&M, etc) and during our stay in mid January, the city had set up a small ice skating rink in the middle. It was a great area to roam at night and was a comfortable walking distance to our hotel.
Super Sightseeing Tours
By far, the smartest thing we did was purchase tickets for the Hop On - Hop Off bus tour through Super Sightseeing Tours. While a bit pricey ($37/person for a 1-day pass), it was well worth it to see the city quickly and easily without worrying about parking and finding our way.
We had returned our rental car the first night because the guest rate at the Hilton was $53 per day! So when the concierge told us about this tour, we were grateful for the option. It turned out to be the perfect solution! The buses run all day, stopping at 17 of the most popular landmarks, and you can sightsee at your own pace as a new bus comes by every 20-30 minutes. Their brochure clearly maps out the routes and stops.There were times that we waited for more than 20 minutes and wondered if we were at the right place, but we just called the office and they told us how long it would be for the next bus to come along. It really was carefree sightseeing - all we had to do was make sure to be on the last bus before they stopped running for the day. Pretty easy!
Some of the buses are open top, which was not always the most enjoyable way to see the city with highs in the 40s, but we bundled up and the drivers graciously offered us blankets.
Oh, the drivers!
They were the best part! Think Vince Vaughn's character in The Break Up where people signed up in advance to get him as their tour guide. All of the drivers we had were like that! Very funny while also being informative. We learned so many historical and fun facts from the drivers.
Fisherman's Wharf is the popular tourist area on the northern waterfront of the bay. This area is rich in history and culture. For a small fee, you can climb aboard the fishing boats that call the wharf home.
Fisherman's Wharf is well known for its food, most notably fresh Dungeness crab and clam chowder served in sourdough bread bowls. Let me tell you, after a long day walking in the cold and wind, this meal was a slice (or should I say bowl) of heaven! I still remember dipping pieces of the "lid" into the chowder. Mmm...
There are many restaurants that line the wharf, all serving fresh, local seafood. Food vendors even serve fresh chowder on the street! You can't go wrong grabbing a meal in Fisherman's Wharf.
As "chocoholics", my husband and I knew that we could not visit San Francisco without making a stop at the mecca of chocolate - Ghirardelli Square. Just a few blocks's walk from Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square is a charming collection of shops and upscale apartments and should be added to one's travel itinerary. The Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop was a much welcomed respite from the biting cold, and I could not wait to wrap my hands around a steaming mug of hot chocolate. It certainly did not disappoint!
When you enter the chocolate shop, you are handed a free square of chocolate.(I took advantage of this only a few times ;) You can order a variety of decadent treats at the counter, and then take a number to your seat. In the corner of the shop, you'll find working machinery that shows the process of chocolate making. It was all I could do not to jump in the vat of liquid chocolatey goodness! Once we got our hot chocolate, we fought over who would get the last sip. It was by far the best hot chocolate I've ever had!
The "crooked-est street in America" is in the middle of a residential area of San Francisco. It is certainly an interesting site, and a steep one at that! Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, as there are several hundreds steps to climb. However, you'll be rewarded at the top with a great view of the city.
Japanese Tea Gardens
Located inside Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Gardens are the oldest of its kind in the United States and open to the public. It is a beautiful, serene oasis within the hubbub of the big city. Enjoy a green tea at the outdoor cafe or take home your own a Japanese tea set from the gift shop. Take a break from your site seeing schedule and find your zen in the Tea Gardens.
(Go Monday, Wednesday, and Friday before 10 AM and it's free - otherwise it's $7/person for non residents)
Other Notable Sights
- Little Italy: Taste some authentic pasta or cannoli
- Chinatown: The nation's largest - sample Chinese cuisine, watch fortune cookies being made, or find the location of the daycare in the film "Pursuit of Happyness" with Will Smith.
- Golden Gate Bridge: Walk it, bike it, ride across, or enjoy the view from afar
- Alcatraz Island: Home to the infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Take a ferry and tour the prison. Make reservations well in advance, and plan to spend most of the day on the tour.
Which San Francisco sight would you most like to see?
San Francisco Guides
- Super Sight Seeing Bus Tours
San Francisco Tours | Alcatraz Sightseeing Tours | Napa Wine Country Tours | Yosemite Tours
- Golden Gate Bridge - What To Do
- Alcatraz Island - Official Tickets Site - Guaranteed Lowest Price