10 San Francisco must do's
San Francisco is a manageable size so it's possible to do 10 great things in just a day, and see most of the city. Here's a one-day itinerary that will take a first-timer methodically through some of the most interesting places San Francisco has to offer.
1. Get up early and go to Fisherman's Wharf to check out the sea lions that lounge like giant, stinking dogs, around Pier 39 (Cnr Beach St & the Embarcadero). This, by the way, is the only thing you should do at Fisherman's Wharf, and only do it around dawn, before the tourists arrive.
Photo: iStockphoto.com / Joe_Patato
Afterward, head down Stockton St. into North Beach, the formerly Bohemian part of the city. Get yourself a serious breakfast at Mama's (1701 Stockton St), which makes the best breakfast in town; it gets crowded on weekends, so get there early or expect to wait about half an hour. After breakfast, you won't feel like eating again for some time.
2. Every great city needs its proud civic phallus — the Empire State Building, the Washington Monument, the Eiffel Tower. In San Francisco it's Coit Tower, which some say resembles a fire hose nozzle. It gives good views of the city, though, perched as it is atop historic Telegraph Hill. It's free to get inside the city-owned monument, but if you want to take the elevator to the top to dig the views, it's $7 for adults, and a little less for pensioners and kids. Take the Muni bus 39 from Washington Square Park.
Photo: iStockphoto.com / LUNAMARINA
3. Now it's time to take the stairs, all 400 of them down Telegraph Hill. Along the way, you'll get to see some beautiful houses, gardens and, most times of the year, brightly coloured wild parrots.
Walk all the way to the bottom of the hill, then head east toward the Bay, to the Embarcadero, where you can hop on a historic trolley car (you're looking for the F line) and you can ride it all the way to the Castro. Seventeen trolley cars are in service, painted in the colours of the originals from the 1920s and '30s.
Photo: iStockphoto.com / pikappa
Hop off at First Street for lunch at Sam's Grill (374 Bush St), a classic fish place; they have an authentic sourdough loaf on each table, and they don't serve farmed fish or endangered species.
4. Get back on the trolley, and take it to the Castro Street station, the end of the line. San Francisco's Castro neighbourhood was initially settled by gay servicemen discharged here from the Armed Forces (for being gay) during World War II. Historically, the neighbourhood has always been in flux: At the turn of last century, it was known as Little Scandinavia; then it became an Irish neighbourhood, until the Gay Pride Movement of the 1960s made it safe for all the ex-servicemen to come out. Nowadays it's overrun with fashionable and rich straight people.
Photo: iStockphoto.com / DanHenson1
Grab a delicious cookie or brownie at Hot Cookie (407 Castro St) and view the snapshots of store patrons showing off their Hot Cookie underwear. Next-door is the famous Castro Theatre (429 Castro St) a pristine, 1920s movie palace that shows excellent art and repertoire films and has a real live Wurlitzer player some nights.
From the Castro, you can walk to the Haight — it's a little less than a mile — or take Muni bus 33.
5. The birthplace of America's counter-culture, the Haight was Ground Zero during the summer of 1967, a.k.a. The Summer of Love, baby! Hippies used to live here, but at some point the Jefferson Airplane moved out, and affluent yuppies moved in, buying up all the colourful Victorian homes throughout Haight-Ashbury and replacing its head shops with high-end boutiques, chic restaurants and hip cafés. My favourite spot in the Haight is Amoeba Music (1855 Haight St), which is in a former bowling alley and boasts one of the biggest collections of CDs (new and used) in the world.
Photo: iStockphoto.com / Full-dukeyman
From Amoeba, head west a block along Haight Street to its end. Cross the street and you're just inside Golden Gate Park, at famous Hippie Hill, which you'll either love or loathe, depending on your feelings about drum circles and wheat-free pot brownies.
6. I've always thought NYC Central Park was the coolest park in the USA, but it's got nothing on Golden Gate Park and its million trees. Be sure to visit the Conservatory of Flowers (closed Mondays), which is the oldest Victorian greenhouse this side of the Thames, and the carousel on Kezar Drive, both on the eastern edge of the park. If you're feeling spry, walk to the western edge of the park to check out the herd of bison at the Bison Paddock, then hop a trolley or bus back east.
Photo: iStockphoto.com / Akropot
7. Next stop, the Exploratorium (Pier 15), San Francisco's legendary science museum in the Presidio. Make sure you experience the tactile dome, a pitch-black maze that you have to navigate by touch (it's worth the $20 premium on top of the $15 admission fee); blow the world's biggest soap bubble.
8. From the Presidio, you can walk to the Golden Gate Bridge, which isn't really golden at all - it's more of a rust. The bridge is an engineering marvel and one of the most beautiful walks in the country.
Photo: iStockphoto.com / coleong
9. The one good thing to come out of the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 was the revitalization of San Francisco's waterfront. Case in point the renovated Ferry Building - a magnificent structure on the Embarcadero, at the foot of Market Street. Okay, the real reason to come here is the food (that, and the ferry to Marin County): There's a fabulous farmers market on Tuesdays and Saturdays until 2 pm, and no shortage of great places to eat.
Photo: iStockphoto.com / rramirez125
10. If it's baseball season, you owe it to yourself to take in a baseball game at the AT&T Park (24 Willie Mays Plaza). Not to mention that you've never had better food at a ballpark: the garlic fries and Sheboygans (bratwursts with kraut), oh my! If you find yourself downtown at lunchtime and there's a day game, wait a few innings then pay half-price for a ticket from one of the many scalpers standing around.
For a late night cup of the best blended French-press coffee you've ever had, go to Philz Coffee (201 Berry St) nearby.
Photo: iStockphoto.com / photoquest7
What are you waiting for? WOW air is going to fly you all the way to San Francisco from the UK or Ireland via Iceland. Book cheap flights to California with WOW air and you can also make a WOW stopover in Iceland on the way for almost as long as you want. When you book your flights you can also book some of the best tours in San Francisco.
Text: Cindy-Lou Dale