TOP THINGS TO DO IN SAN FRANCISCO – MY HEN DO CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP (PART 3)

Truth be told, I didn’t know much about San Francisco and what it offered. All I knew was that it was a city of high-tech and start-ups. Little did know that it has diverse restaurants, quirky roof-top bars and fun little neighbourhoods. 

This was the fourth leg of my amazing hen do – the first being Simi Valley, then San Diego, then Las Vegas before finally taking a plane to SF. We only had three days to explore this condensed city filled with a quirky energy unique to San Francisco. 

San Francisco is crammed into about 47 square miles of hills and coastline. One advice I would give is to make sure you pack your windbreakers and warm layers because you are essentially guaranteed a visit from the affectionately named, Karl the Fog. 

So here are top 7 things to do during your visit to the ‘City By the Bay’!

North Beach (aka Little Italy)

We went to Little Italy on our first evening in San Francisco, mainly because we were super hungry and this is were Tony’s Pizza was. This small town-treasure is a historically Italian neighbourhood and you can still the prominent influence it still holds. We really enjoyed just walking around and exploring the cutest little cafes and restaurants.

Tony’s Pizza Napolitana 

We were told by almost EVERYONE that if you want to experience North Beach like a local, to end the day with a slice of Tony’s pizza and then walk up to Coit Tower or Telegraph Hill for panoramic views of SF and the Bay area. Little did we know though that the queue was going to be MASSIVE and was more than 2 hours waiting list. Stubbornly, we put our name on the list and walked around the neighbourhood. 

pizza-san-francisco

Lombard Street

After walking towards Coit Tower, we walked to Lombard Street. This is where you will get a view of the famous 8 hairpin turns of ‘crooked street’. The street leading up to it was so steep that we had to walk backwards. Just by pure excitement of seeing this street, I was walking way ahead and my friends kept calling me the ‘cub scout’ – nice.

lombard-street-san-francisco

Mama’s on Washington Square: 

My friends and I remember reading about this place prior to our visit, but then just stumbled upon it whilst walking to Lombard Street. For over 50 years, this small restaurant on the corner of Stockton and Filbert in the Washington Square of San Francisco has been attracting crowds with its delicious breakfast food. Menu items include fluffy benedicts, homemade jam, fresh omelettes, spicy Italian sausage and 5 types of French toast. However, like all of the good restaurants in SF, Mama’s tends to have a pretty big line, especially on the weekends. Luckily, we only had to wait for 30 minutes, which wasn’t too bad. The food was definitely worth it!

Visit Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf

Visiting the Fisherman’s Wharf in SF is a must-do for anyone visiting the city. It is central to the Historical Waterfront District in the city and is so popular with tourists. Popular attractions here are Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square (try the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company amazing chocolate and ice cream sundae – its well worth the calories!) and honking sea lions. You should also try Boudin Bakery Café to try the infamous clam chowder.

Visit the Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco’s top tourist sight, it would be almost criminal if you visited San Francisco without stopping by to see the Golden Gate Bridge! It’s a beautiful structure and draws your eye no matter where you view it from. No trip to SF would be complete without visiting here. At its completion in 1937, the suspension bridge was considered an engineering marvel – the longest main bridge span in the world. 

There is a pedestrian walkway that spans the entire mile-wide bridge, as well as a bike path – but we just took an uber to get to the other side because of the time constraints (or because we were lazy). We went to a more local spot recommended by my cousin for a great viewpoint – Battery Spencer. We took an uber to the top of the huge hill and was also blown away (like… literally). The wind was incredibly strong, especially while you still have to walk a little longer to get to the top. Once we got to the top, we were spoiled with beautiful views of San Francisco. 

Once we got down, we were about to order an uber before realising that none of us have signal! Worst of all, there were no taxis and hardly anyone present. We had to wait a while to eventually hitchhike our way to the side of the bridge. It was lucky we spotted two guys getting out of a taxi that they’ve rented for the day and they were kind enough to cram us in the back. It did make for some funny conversations! 

Once we got down, we were about to order an uber before realising that none of us have signal! Worst of all, there were no taxis and hardly anyone present. We had to wait a while to eventually hitchhike our way to the side of the bridge. It was lucky we spotted two guys getting out of a taxi that they’ve rented for the day and they were kind enough to cram us in the back. It did make for some funny conversations! 

Ride a cablecar

San Francisco is home to one of the world’s last manually operated cable car systems. We used it to get from the pier to Union Square – but the convenient exit and entry stops also happens to be located at some of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. We waited for almost 45 minutes but getting on – but it’s one of those things that you cannot leave without doing. 

Go shopping in Union Square

We didn’t actually have time to go shopping, but we walked around Union Square. Union square actually used to be where Civil War rallies were held, but the square has since morphed into a hub for high-end shopping in SF. It is a part of the city that is bustling with life with its fancy boutiques, department stores, art galleries, luxury hotels and theatres. 

Explore Chinatown

I don’t usually go to Chinatowns but after hearing that the one in SG is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest in USA, I had to go. Established in 1848, it boasts an impressive display of markets, speciality shops and restaurants. More importantly, it has played an integral part in the history, culture and livelihood of Chinese immigrants.

Many tour guides would almost mention to pop into Fortune Cookie Factory to learn more about the cookies history – did you know that fortune cookie was actually created in SF? 

I loved just taking a stroll here and enjoying the ambiance. It looks like we are in a different world altogether as its maintained many of the old traditions and customs for years. 

Alcatraz

You’ve probably seen it in movies or at least heard of it – but now, you can get the chance to see it in person. Alcatraz is an island in the SF Bay and was once a military and federal prison. It has since been converted to a National Historic Landmark that you can tour. I didn’t know much about it before I went, but it was fascinating hearing about the atrocities meted out of the prisons – its scary and gruesome. When the federal prison was in operation, it was believed to have kept the hard criminals at bay. Most notorious of them all was Al Capone, who was imprisoned here. They moved there due the to its isolated location and since the waters of SF Bay are so cold and the currents so strong, they thought that it was impossible to escape the island.

The prison was built in 1910 – 1912 as a military prison; it became a federal prison in 1934 and operated until March 1963, when it was closed due to the very high maintenance costs.

My friend and I took a guided tour of Alcatraz Island first thing in the morning. You really should book it a few weeks in advance if you can as it can get fully booked. We were quite lucky as we kept a tab on the website the day before and luckily two tickets became available for the time slot we wanted. It is usually a 1.5 to 2 hour guided tour and you would have to a 15 minutes ferry ride each way.

Charmaines Rooftop bar

We were recommended this rooftop bar by my cousin, and no wonder Charmaines rooftop bar is the hottest roof bar at the moment in San Francisco. The views are amazing and the interior is flawless – so modern and chic. When we got there, we found ourselves a firepit outside and sat around it chatting. I am such a sucker for views – but this one was amazing!

One tip from me is to get there as early as you can. This bar is so popular (and for good reason), so you could potentially face a long time of waiting to get into the bar. It is really worth the wait and you will have a fabulous time there!

Accommodation:

We stayed in Courtyard by Marriott San Francisco Union Square. Its a great hotel if you want to stay somewhere central, clean and affordable!

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