San Francisco is quickly becoming one of the most visited cities in the U.S. and it’s easy to see why. "The City by the Bay" packs a lot of fun into just a 7 mile-by-7 mile area. With an eclectic mix of neighborhoods, there’s truly something for everyone in San Francisco. From the rugged coastline and the redwood tree-filled parks, to the busy streets of the city itself, there’s plenty to do.
As a Bay Area native, I’ve spent many a foggy day playing tour guide in San Francisco for visiting friends and family. If you’re nervous that San Francisco may be a bit over your budget, fear not! We’re hosting a new show on Travel Channel called Shoestring Getaways that will show you how to get the most out of your travels on a shoestring budget, in San Francisco. Tune in this Sunday, June 11 at 3:30pm|2:30c.
For now, here are my top 11 must-see spots in San Francisco.
The iconic bridge is illuminated as the sun sets over San Francisco in the western USA
Photo by: DavidCallan
1. View of Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach
Perhaps one of the most iconic sights in all of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is an absolute must see. There are a few good spots to view it from, but my personal favorite is Baker Beach. Not only do you get an awesome front row seat to the bridge, but you can dip your toes in the chilly Pacific. This is a particularly good spot to grab a meal from a local market, lay down a blanket and enjoy a picnic basking in the view of the famous bridge.
2. Visit the Musee Mecanique
Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the most touristy areas of San Francisco and the overpriced, crowded sights can be draining. But if you head down the water to Pier 41, there’s a unique attraction that’s relatively under the tourist radar: the Musee Mechanique. This interactive museum has one of the largest collections of antique arcade games in the world. Entry is free and it’s only a couple of quarters to play the games.
3. Eat at Spark Social Food Trucks
With such a diverse population, it can be difficult to decide what cuisine to enjoy for dinner. Luckily at Spark Social Food Trucks in the Mission Bay, you can try a little bit of everything! Not only is the food delicious, but the food truck has a community feel with weekly events and free s’mores.
4. Have Tea at the Japanese Tea Garden
If you’re craving some calm amidst the somewhat hectic streets of SF, the Japanese Tea Garden is perfect. Located in Golden Gate Park, the gardens are landscaped to look exactly like Japan. And you can enjoy tea in the traditional Tea House overlooking the pond.
5. Soak Up the sun at Dolores Park
San Francisco is known for its fog (dubbed endearingly by the locals as “Karl”) but certain areas of the city receive a surprising amount of sunshine, especially in autumn. If you catch the city on a sunny day, head to Dolores Park in the Mission. It can get a bit crowded on the weekends, but if you can squeeze in on a slice of grass, grab a scoop of ice cream from nearby Bi-Rite Creamery and enjoy.
6. See the Mission Murals
Although San Francisco has plenty of museums, you don’t need to pay entry to enjoy some art. The Mission neighborhood has plenty of street art and murals that reflect the culture and history of the community. My personal favorite is the mural on the Women’s Building. Don’t miss it!
7. Visit Haight Ashbury
Another important part of San Francisco’s identity is its hippie culture. During the ’60s and ’70s, Haight Ashbury was home to iconic singers like Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead. Now the neighborhood is full of hippie memorabilia and street art honoring the anniversary of 1967’s Summer of Love.
San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury
9. Visit Treasure Island
No, you won’t be finding any buried treasure on this island. The real treat is the fantastic view of the city and the Bay. Just a short ride across the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island is definitely worth a visit for the picturesque views and a stroll around the old military base.
10. Visit California Academy of Sciences
Cal Academy is one of San Francisco’s coolest museums. With an array of science-based exhibits, this interactive museum is fun and educational for all ages. The 21 and over crowd should visit Cal Academy’s "nightlife" every Thursday night where you can enjoy the exhibits with live music and delicious cocktails.
11. Take a Cable Car to Lombard Street
This last tip is a 2 for 1. Hop on an iconic cable car and cruise down Hyde St. Then hop off at Lombard to walk down the world’s crookedest street. The views at the top are stunning!