Just back from a fabulous trip to San Francisco – what a cool, laid back, chilled out city – I am officially in love with the place. The people are also amazingly friendly and helpful.
We stayed in the Orchard Hotel, 665 Bush St at Powell, Union Square, a relatively inexpensive, funky little boutique hotel very conveniently located two blocks away from Union Square.
Here are my top things to do if you’re ever lucky enough to go:
1. Take an evening trip to Alcatraz Island, once a maximum security prison and now a national park and top tourist attraction. The best audio tour I’ve ever experienced and you get to see the sun setting over Bay Bridge and the dramatic evening views of the San Francisco skyline.
2. Take the All Loops Tour with San Francisco City Sightseeing. This includes the Downtown Loop, the Golden Gate Tour, the San Francisco Night Tour as well as the Park Loop. The ticket is valid for 48-hours but the relaxed tour guides may even let you use it for your entire stay as long as it doesn’t extend into months! These tours get you acquitted with the city and show you all the hot spots like Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, North Beach (aka Little Italy), Russian Hill, Civic Center, Financial District, Tenderloin, South of Market or SoMa, the Embarcadero, Pacific Heights, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Alamo Square home to the world famous “Painted Ladies” Victorian houses, Haight-Ashbury home to the hippies and where the beat revolution took place and the Golden Gate park home to the De Young Museum, Japanese Tea Gardens and Academy of Sciences which features an aquarium, planetarium and a natural history museum all under one roof. The best thing about the tours is most of them are Hop On Hop Off so you can wander around in all these places.
3. Bike the Golden Gate Bridge. I won’t lie to you, it isn’t the easiest eight-miles but well worth the pain and effort for stunning views and a fun day out. We went with Blazing Saddles but there are loads of bike hire places. My advice is to rent them at Fisherman’s Wharf which is the closest ride through the Marina, pass the Presido, along Crissy Fields (a beautiful beach) and onto Fort Point. There are a few hills to reach the bridge but from there it’s plain sailing all the way over the bridge and then all downhill to the beautiful village of Sausalito. You can spend an hour or two in Sausalito before catching the ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf.
4. Speaking of Fisherman’s Wharf – don’t forget to check out Pier 39 to see the Sea Lions – noisy and smelly but part of the attraction to see hundreds of them basking in the sun.
5. Another tour well worth taking has to be out to Wine Country of Sonoma and Napa Valley. I’d recommend the half-day tour. We visited three wineries, the first of which was the best, Jacuzzi Winery, a beautiful Italian-owned, small, family-run winery in the most stunning setting. We also stopped off at two others along the way and by the third one you could feel the effects of the wine!
6. Of course no trip to San Fran would be complete without an experience on a cable car. The longest one stretches from Powell St all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. You get to experience the ups and downs of the hills while hanging on for dear life!
7. Definitely check out Lombard St, the crookedest street in the world – truly impressive to walk/drive down.
8. For the shoppers among you, check out Union Square where you’ll find Saks, Tiffanys and Macys, Market St. and the big Westfield Mall where you’ll find Bloomingdales. For the discount shoppers, the outlet malls seem to be out further, we spotted them en route to the Wineries so head towards Marin County.
9. Check out a show – we went to see Wicked in the Orpheum Theatre. Very impressive theatre in a dodgy part of town. Wicked was well wicked!
10. For those who like clubbing with a difference, check out Slide, 430 Mason St at Geary, Theater District. You can choose to access this underground dark club by sliding down a serpentine slide.
11. For those who like their home away from home, you’ll be delighted to hear you’ll bump into an Irish bar on virtually every corner. We liked the Irish Bank, 10 Mark Lane at Bush, Financial District. They have their own confessional booth if you have anything to get off your chest!
12. Lastly would definitely recommend the french toast at Sears, 439 Powell St at Post, Union Square – well worth the long queues to get in.