San Francisco has so many iconic locations that you’ll be hard-pressed to see everything in a single day. Below you’ll find a San Francisco Travel Guide that will take you around to all of the highlights if you only have one day to explore the city.
Golden Gate Bridge
Start your day underneath one of the most legendary bridges in the world, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. To get there, set your GPS to Fort Baker (on the other side of the bridge from the city.) Follow the signs (or you know, the giant bridge) to the water where you can walk out onto a small pier. If you’re there early enough, you’ll get an Instagram worthy shot of the bridge basking in the rising sun. Once you’re done, follow the signs for the viewpoint which will take you up on the hill to a group of pullouts giving you fantastic views of the bay, the bridge, and the city beyond.
If you’re old enough to recognize these houses, then you likely spent some part of your youth watching Full House. These iconic houses were the external shots for Full House and where the Tanners lived. Park your car at the park right across the street and walk up the hill to get a gorgeous view of the painted ladies with the city and skyscrapers behind them. Reminisce in your fond memories of Uncle Jessie and Aunt Becky and take in the beauty of your surroundings.
You may not know this street by name, but chances are, you’ve seen a photo or a video of it. If you use Apple Maps, type in Lombard Street and you’ll see a little icon representing what you’re about to experience. Otherwise put in 1099 Lombard Street in your GPS and this will take you right to the top of the street. From there, open your windows, take down the roof of your convertible and slowly drift your way down the twisting turns as you drive down the curviest street in the world. Just make sure you don’t get too lost in the beauty of it as the turns are tight and require the driver to be paying close attention, especially at how much traffic this section of the road sees.
If shopping is your thing, Pier 39 definitely has you covered, but the best reason to visit this area is for the California sea lions that haul out on the docks. You’ll know you’re getting close to the right place when you start to hear the unmistakable barking sound that they make. From the boardwalk you can watch them as they fight for space on the docks, push each other off, and often do acrobatic maneuvers in the water. It’s a fantastic way to experience wildlife without having to visit something artificially confining like a zoo or aquarium.
Ride the Cable Car to Chinatown
Just down the street from Pier 39, you can catch the cable car on the Powell/Hyde line which will take you up the hill into some of the other shopping districts, or into Chinatown. Plus, here you’ll be able to see how the cable cars turn around! A one-way ticket will cost you $7, which you can pick up through the MuniMobile app or at the ticket counter in front of the cars. They also offer full-day passes for $12 if you want to ride to multiple locations. Hop off at the corner of Washington and Powell and you are right in Chinatown which gets you access to some fantastic Chinese food.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and holds the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. Walk down to the intersection of Bush Street and Grant Avenue to witness the Dragon’s Gate. One of the more photographed locations in San Francisco, this ornate piece of Chinese architecture is the entry point to Chinatown and is adorned by a lion on each side. Just be sure to be mindful of traffic as you try to get your photo! Wander down the streets taking in the awesome street art, shops, and Chinese restaurants.
You can’t write a San Francisco Travel Guide without talking about Alcatraz. A quick 15-20 minute ferry ride from Pier 33 at Fisherman’s Wharf will get you onto “The Rock” as it was commonly known. Originally an army fort, it’s best known for when it was turned into a federal prison and housed notorious gangsters such as Al Capone and the “Bird Man.” Grab the free audio tour equipment and take a journey back through time as you experience some of the histories of Alcatraz.
Of course, San Francisco is well known for having some fantastic (vegan) food and after all of that walking around, you’re bound to be hungry. Stay tuned for the upcoming Vegan Guide to the Bay Area post which will highlight some of the best vegan food spots in and around San Francisco.