Writing yesterday I realized that I could write for quite a few days and not cover all the places to go & things to see in San Francisco for a first time visitor. You really need to have at least 3 days to get a real taste for this wonderful city.
Pier 39 is one of the biggest tourist attractions in San Francisco. Locals avoid it like the plague. I like to go here with my children and still visit every year. I also like to stay in this area because it is kid friendly and you can walk around a relatively small area and have many options for them. Pier 39 consists of tourist shops, restaurants (many of which are seafood) and activities. I am a big fan of the Boudin Bakery which has been making great sourdough bread since 1849. The store sells clam chowder or chili in sourdough bowls and other great items. I prefer to walk a short distance from the pier to their Bistro Boudin for a restaurant style meal. Lastly you can’t visit Pier 39 without visiting the famous sea lions on the West Marina side of the pier. They are adorable and kids especially love listening to them talk.
From Pier 39 you can walk to the Hyde Street Pier and visit the “San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park”. There are floating historical ships that you can tour and imagine how life used to be. My kids love exploring this area. You also have great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay from here.
Continuing southwest you can walk up an incline to Ghirardelli Square. There are a few shops and restaurants here and our personal favorite, the “Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop”. This is the place to satisfy your sweet tooth. Ghirardelli chocolate is manufactured and marketed out of San Francisco and is a tradition that started with the Gold Rush of the 1840’s – 1850’s. On our last visit to San Francisco we went one the evening for some great hot chocolate and ice cream, yummy!
Heading towards the Pacific Ocean another must see spot is Golden Gate Park. This park covers 1,017acres and there are many things to see and do. Entering from the west you can stop at the “Beach Chalet” for a meal or drink, or go to the smaller “Park Chalet” and dine outside while your kids play at the edge of the park. The Beach Chalet faces Ocean Beach and is a great place to go to watch the sunset. The building dates back to 1925 when it was a restaurant and had changing rooms for people going to the beach across the street.
Entering the park from the east side you can visit Haight Ashbury, which once was the center of the hippie movement in San Francisco. Famous musical groups from the 1960’s once inhabited this area including ‘The Greatful Dead’, ‘Janis Joplin’ and ‘Jefferson Airplane’. Visiting today you can still experience the Bohemian feel of the neighborhood going to the shops, restaurants, bars and bookstores.
In the center of Golden Gate Park there are a number of things to see. There is the Japanese Tea Garden, the California Academy of Sciences, the De Young Museum, the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum to name a few highlights. Throughout the park you can play sports, rent a boat to ride on Stow Lake, picnic, and visit playgrounds. Golden Gate Park is the third most visited park in the United States so be sure to stop by and see some of what it has to offer.
Two other attractions to visit while in San Francisco include Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world, and the Coit Tower, which sits on Telegraph Hill and offers great views of the city and has interesting murals on look at inside. Be sure to leave your car to visit most of these sights as it is easiest to navigate the city by foot or public transportation or taxi. When you make it there be sure to let me know what your favorite spot is!