San Francisco Sights

Greetings, my fellow travelers! Below is a list of suggested fun stuff to consider should you find yourself in the City by the Bay. The list is in no ways complete, nor is it meant to contain all the official information; you can find that online or in the guide book you probably have. Instead, it's a brief list of some of my personal favorite things, whether or not I have guests in town. Please, if you have any questions about San Francisco or the Bay Area or northern California do not hesitate to contact me. If I don't have or know the answer I will certainly get it, or help you find it.

Stuff To Do!
Get out there, have a blast and happy trails.

Crissy Field to the Golden Gate Bridge - Walk or run or rent a bike, and from the East Beach parking lot follow the Bay Trail to Fort Point beneath the GGB. The southern arm of the trail is paved for bikes and roller blades; the northern arm is hard-pack gravel and is bike/walk appropriate.  Both pathways skirt the new tidal lagoon that was built during the remarkable 12-year restoration of Crissy Field started in 1998. Lots of fresh air, beautiful views and people watching, sand dunes, native plants and probably some wildlife to boot. From the entrance gate to Fort Point you can hike up a staircase through the Presidio and continue on, if you like, to the toll plaza at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Coit Tower - Walk from Washington Square in North Beach or catch the #39 MUNI bus at the corner of Union Street and Columbus Street. Coit Tower is an architectural gift from socialite and amateur fire-chaser Lillie Hitchcock Coit, built posthumously to honor the brave fireman of San Francisco and the city itself. Some say the tower's shape resembles a fire hose nozzle; others say it vaguely reminds them of another fireman kinda thing-y that Lillie might have appreciated. Whatever, the views from up top are lovely, even finer from the observation deck of the tower if it's open (entrance fee charged), and on the bottom floor inside are some very handsome New Deal Public Works of Art Project murals painted in the early 1930's.

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Westin Saint Francis Glass Elevator Ride - Absolutely free, and an absolute blast! Enter through the revolving doors of the historic building on Powell Street (another survivor of the 1906 quake) and traverse the lobby straight back, past a lobby bar area, and to the right. Unfortunately The Compass Rose - a classic, old-timey San Francisco bar to the left when you enter - is gone, so you will never again get to see it, but on a clear day from the elevators you will be treated to a vertiginous amusement park ride with views of Union Square, parts of downtown SF, the bay, Oakland and the East Bay hills.

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Get on the Bay - Take the ferry to Sausalito, Tiburon, Angel Island, or to Alcatraz Island for a tour. Take an hour-long bay cruise under the GGB and back. Rent a kayak. Hell, piece together a Kon Tiki-style raft from discarded branches and twigs; I don't care how you do it, but do it! Pack a hat, scarf and layers of clothing for the ferry, especially if you want to sit outside as I like, and take some sunscreen just in case. Unless the fog has TOTALLY obscured the view you will be rewarded with an unforgettable look at San Francisco and the Bay Area (and I was kidding about that raft idea).

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Get on the Bay, Part II - Should you crave the beauty and grace of a highly recommended, afternoon and sunset sailing experience, click on the link below for a special shout out to Captain Josh and The Ruby.

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Aquatic Park and Fort Mason - Save the aroma of steaming dungeness crab, the occasional view of Alcatraz and the bay, and your hub for fishing and watery sightseeing excursions (see above), Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 look like they could be anywheres-ville, coastal tourist town USA, lined with tacky shops and mostly "who cares" eateries. A quick look-see is fine, I guess, as the area does harbor some interesting San Francisco treats: Boudin Bakery for the legend of sourdough bread; historic Hyde Street Pier and the Buena Vista Bar; the Aquarium of the Bay; Ghirardelli Square; some okay restaurants; and of course the noisy sea lions at Pier 39 when they're in the house. If you haven't before you'll wanna peek around; but do it and get out, because a little further west is one of my favorite bayside spots, and a short walk over the hill will lead you to another.

The curving concrete pier at Aquatic Park is a bit dilapidated, but the views are priceless: the Golden Gate, the Marin Headlands, Sausalito and Mount Tamalpais; Alcatraz and Angel Island; Coit Tower and the East Bay, back to Ghirardelli Square, Hyde Street Pier, and part of the SF Financial District skyline.

Historic Fort Mason District has a whole lot to offer. The old army piers are home to restaurants (Greens, a long-time vegetarian classic, is the anchor), several art galleries, theatre, seasonal shows and fairs, Octoberfest, a Sunday morning farmer's market, a slew of non-profits like The Oceanic Society and much more. On a hill above it all is The Great Meadow: a wide open grassy knoll perfect for frisbee, for relaxing, for a picnic.

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San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park - Explore a fleet of historic ships (I mentioned Hyde Street Pier above), check out the beautifully restored murals inside the Aquatic Park bathhouse building, and make sure you visit the park's official visitors center, housed inside an historic 1908 brick building at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Hyde Street. The displays inside celebrate the San Francisco waterfront in all its fabled glory, past and present; it's definitely worth a stop for some colorful, infamous local history. Plus it's free, I believe.

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Baker Beach - There are plenty of good views of the GGB from inside the bay on the northern shores of San Francisco, but this without a doubt one of the finest from outside the bay looking back. Like many northern California beaches it is often windy and is not necessarily for swimming, but it is  always dramatic, absolutely worth a trip. Walk, jog or beach-comb; definitely relax on a blanket and picnic; watch people, dogs, wildlife and the sunset. You can drive, bike or even take public transit (consult MUNI for routes).

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The Ferry Building - After surviving both the 1906 San Andreas and 1989 Loma Prieta earthquakes, and after the insult of being hidden for 35 years by a double-decker eyesore called the Embarcadero (Damn-barcadero) Freeway, the historic Ferry Building underwent a 4-year, multi-million dollar facelift and reopened in 2003. Since that time it has been embraced by locals and tourist alike.

The Exploratorium -

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Union Square - In 1995 Union Square underwent a transformation from a dirty and dingy old piazza to a modern, open and clean one. Although some are critical of the design it is now worthy of a place like San Francisco: the anchor of an upscale shopping, dining and theatre district. On many afternoons the square plays host to arts shows or musical performances. Unfortunately it also plays host to lots of homeless people and panhandlers.

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North Beach - Spend the afternoon and evening hours peeking about Beatnik and Old World Italian central. Cap it off with a delicious dinner on the cheap or not; sure there's plenty of tourist traps, but tasty options exist in all price ranges. More walking by the light of the moon after dinner, with perhaps a last and final at one (or two) of the neighborhood's many watering holes.

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Golden Gate Park - You could spend a whole day here, maybe two or three, and maybe a lifetime. Over 1,000 acres to explore, both outside and inside: The M. H. de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Conservatory of Flowers, Stow Lake for one of several, The Japanese Tea Garden, a Dutch Windmill, the Beach Chalet, the Music Concourse, wide open Lindley Meadow for one of several, buffalo!, and so much more to see and do. On the western edge is the mighty Pacific and Ocean Beach, a long, wide open and flat stretch of sand where you can walk, jog, watch the surfies and beach-comb to your hearts content.

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Hill 88, aka The Loop - Okay, so you have a weekend in San Francisco and love to hike, but you didn't rent a car. Fret not, my amateur naturalist, because on Saturdays, Sundays and selected holidays the #76 MUNI bus makes hourly trips from the city, across the Golden Gate to Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands. The bus ride alone is worth the price of admission ($2.25 as of this posting, with a 2-hour transfer window for the return trip), as you will get some spectacular views along the way and just visiting Rodeo Beach and lagoon is enough: classic, wind-swept Northern California. Should you desire and have the cash for another fare back to the city you should take the time to crank out this hike, one of my all-time favorites. Anytime of year is good, but in spring you will be witness to one of the best (and most accessible) native wildflower displays in the Bay Area. Search online and consult the map at the beach for specifics, but what you want is the Coastal Trail north to the Wolf Ridge Trail, Wolf Ridge east (don't go down into Tennessee Valley unless you crave more) to the the Miwok Trail/Fire Road, a right on Miwok back down to Rodeo Lagoon, then west back to the beach. The last bus returning to SF is early (6:30 p.m., I think), even in summer, so check the MUNI schedule.

The Vital Statistics
Distance: 4.8 mile loop
Time: Allow 2 hours at least, especially if you're a newbie, because you'll want to stop often and take in the beauty (and catch your breath).
Ouch Factor: 900 foot elevation gain, most on the first half of the hike, with some steep sections up and down.

The #76 bus makes several stops along the way to Rodeo Beach; the ones up and down steep and curvy Conzelman Road just across the GGB are totally worth a stop: for exploration, for hiking and a picnic lunch, perhaps, and for some spectacular views back toward the city.

Stuff To Eat!
This is a very short list and includes just those places that have recently been on my mind. There are many others that I love and would wholeheartedly recommend, and I will report on/add more later.

SPQR - A tiny Roman trattoria with killer food and an eclectic Italian wine list. Pastas are hand-made, toothsome and almost always superb. Love the joint.

Waterbar - Lively waterfront restaurant with a bayside patio and somewhat boisterous bar, serving pristine seafood and the most extensive selection of oysters on the West Coast. Expect stunning views of the bay and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, creative flavorful cuisine and friendly professional service.

EPIC Steak -

Tony's Pizza

Blue Barn -

The Slanted Door - It might be difficult, but try to snag a lunchtime reservation at "The Door" and combine it with a look-see around the Ferry Building. The food is fresh nuevo Vietnamese, and most always worth the effort.

Farallon - I opened the place and worked here as Wine Director for 14 years, just so you know, but I'm still a huge fan and love the place for the chef's unique take on extremely fresh seafood (the restaurant's freezer is tiny: the size of mine at home), the awesome wine list, the fantabulous decor, and the fine dining service at break-neck speed.

More Stuff To Do!

Mount Tamalpais East Peak Lookout & Muir Woods

Wine Country - Napa Valley, Sonoma County, and the Santa Cruz Mountains

Farallon Islands Natural History Voyage

Sanctuary Cruises Whale Watching