San Francisco is one of the most iconic and culturally rich cities in America. Situated in Northern California and surrounded by San Francisco Bay, the city has a Mediterranean climate and is often shrouded in fog.
The city is home to many famous landmarks, such as Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. Steep city centre streets are a prominent part of San Francisco’s image – the steepest being a 31.5% incline on Filbert St (between Hyde St and Leavenworth St).
Dating back to 1878, the city trams (called cable cars in North America) are a historic icon. They’re also the world’s last manually operated cable car system! Despite having 23 different lines at its peak, the system now only serves 3 lines.
Fares are quite expensive nowadays and the trams are largely used by tourists. For their history alone though, I’d say they’re worth seeking out when in San Fran.
Sea Lions at Pier 39
Your best chance of spotting wild animals in San Francisco is at the bustling Pier 39. Floating wooden wharfs act as beds/play areas for hundreds of sea lions. The viewing area can get pretty busy but there’s plenty else to do on the pier with its numerous eateries and entertainment options.
Claimed to be the crookedest street in the world, Lombard St between Hyde & Leavenworth is a steep and winding section of road lined with colourful flower beds. Unfortunately it is extremely touristy, but in my opinion still worthy of a quick visit.
Traffic queues are common around the entrance to this section of street so I would advise arriving by bicycle or public transport. Photo opportunities are best in the morning and from the bottom of the street on the other side of the road (looking back up at the curved section).
Golden Gate Bridge
Probably the most iconic part of San Fran is the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. It’s well worth a visit when in the city – just pray it’s not covered in fog! (Although that could make for some cool pictures.) From nearby you can also see the historic Alcatraz Island. If you’re really interested in the history of the prison etc then consider booking onto a boat tour that visits the island (cruises depart from Pier 33).
Don’t rush your viewing of the GG Bridge!
I left myself virtually a single day to see all the sights of San Francisco. While this isn’t too much of an issue for the other locations on this list, I really wish I’d been able to spend more time around the GG Bridge. There are so many different perspectives to be had: up-close vs far away; from the water/beach/land; viewed length-ways vs side-on – all worthy of someone’s attention. Not to mention, there are beautiful parks on either side of the bridge, ready to be explored. Oh, and course you have to traverse the bridge – be it by foot, bicycle, car or public transport.
Due to its many hills, San Francisco naturally has many viewpoints too! The top of every street offers a potentially different view – it’s all about finding those sweet spots with a colourful house in the foreground and an epic view as a backdrop.
As a hilly city, San Francisco isn’t the easiest of places to get around.
This is particularly true if you’re a budget-conscious traveller trying to use your own leg power! You’d need legs of steel to last anything more than a few minutes on those ridiculously steep and unforgiving hills.
Cycling is a similarly exerting method, albeit one that I was guilty of trying. I spent a whole day riding around San Francisco on a rented mountain bike – by the evening my legs were like jelly! However, bicycles do come in handy in some places; the shore of San Francisco Bay is lined with promenades, piers and gravel tracks – all beautifully flat and perfectly suited to a bicycle.
Luckily, San Francisco does have a comprehensive public transport system. This includes buses, trains, trams (referred to as cable cars in San Fran), ferries and more. To decipher all these options, check out the official website: www.sfmta.com/muni.
Time to move on? Why not head to LA via the Pacific Coast Highway in a rented Ford Mustang convertible?!