To explore the rolling streets of this crazy city, you would probably need a lifetime.
Unfortunately, life tells us that time is of the essence. And when the clock is ticking with a day (or less) to explore San Francisco, a quick guide to the must-sees of the city can come in handy.
Below is my version of the best way to explore San Francisco, the bay area and beyond, in 24 hours…
1. Fisherman’s Wharf
Grab a cup of joe and stroll along the popular Fisherman’s Wharf at the break of dawn. With stunning views of the bay, explore San Francisco’s lively fishing fleet, famous for annual hauls of Dungeness crab. With multiple piers along the wharf, you’ll want to stop at Pier 33 where the Alcatraz Cruise tour departs.
I was reluctant to visit at all, but a tour of the infamous prison grounds is a must. I had heard rumours of the island being run down which it is; however, I hadn’t been told of the incredibly interesting audio tour that guides visitors around the grounds of the prison. It was chilling to see where some of America’s most dangerous convicts were held as prisoners. View the cells of notorious inmates like the Birdman and Capone and learn about the many, unsuccessful prison breaks of Alcatraz.
Tours leave from the pier as early as 9:10 am during the week. Be sure to buy your tickets well in advance as this tour routinely sells out! Tickets are $30 for adults.
“Break the rules and you go to prison. Break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz.”
3. Pacific Heights
This stylish district embodies the upper class with blocks of Victorian homes and its breathtaking views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Fillmore Street is the hub of Pacific Heights and offers a memorable shopping experience with boutique shops, quaint cafés and delicious restaurants. Be sure to visit a boutique wine shop like D&M, to find an array of unique wines and liquors. The store owner hand-picks the inventory and, if he’s there, will tell you the story behind every bottle – a welcome change from what we know in Ontario and the government regulated LCBO.
4. Golden Gate Park
Transport yourself from the bustling downtown core and visit Golden Gate Park for a stroll or an afternoon siesta. Locals and tourists make use of the public space – hippies hang out and jam all afternoon, while families have picnics and traverse the park trails. Other sites worth visiting on the park grounds include the conservatory of flowers, the botanical gardens and the Japanese tea garden.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America. Get lost in the busy streets and peruse the shops filled with Asian herbs, delicacies, porcelains and trinkets.
6. The Painted Ladies
Relive your childhood (and your Full House crush on Uncle Jesse) with a visit to Alamo Square’s most photographed scene: the Painted Ladies. A row of brightly coloured Victorian homes is a scenic image of downtown San Francisco.
7. Golden Gate Bridge
Head to Vista Point for sun down as the last rays set on San Francisco’s global symbol: the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the most iconic bridges of all time, the drive across this 1.7 mile-long bridge is just as exhilarating as the view from the other side.
9. Slanted Door
End your day the way you began it, and head back to the Fisherman’s Wharf for a dinner you won’t forget. Local ingredients deliver an inimitable twist to traditional Vietnamese cuisine at the famous (and always packed) Slanted Door. Make your reservation well in advance – I called a month before my visit and was only able to secure a 9:30 pm reservation…on a Wednesday. But the late dinner hour was well worth it – with stunning views of the illuminated Oakland Bridge, an experience at Slanted Door will only leave you wanting more of Golden Gate City.