If you're going to San Francisco… you could follow Scott McKenzie’s advice and wear some flowers in your hair. But more importantly, be sure to bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes because this city, built on over 40 hills, guarantees a day of challenging exercise combined with a view of some of America’s most beloved landmarks.
There’s no better way to start a Saturday than strolling through the weekly farmer’s market by the Ferry Building. It hosts a large selection of local produce, flowers and other culinary delights. Indulge in plentiful free sampling and a cup of Peet’s coffee – the Bay Area’s response to Starbucks Coffee. The journey continues along the beautiful waterfront towards one of San Francisco’s most popular destinations: Pier 39. With the adjacent Fisherman’s Wharf, it is the epitome of a tourist trap and yet always worth a visit. After all, how often do you get to watch a colony of fat sea lions happily dozing in the sun next to cruise liners and sailboats against the background of the legendary Alcatraz prison island?
Move on to the famous Boudin Sourdough Factory for a serving of tomato soup in a sourdough bread bowl. Over lunch you can watch baskets of oven-fresh bread floating along the ceiling from the demonstration bakery into the shop. But remember to leave some room for dessert as Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory is just around the corner. Enjoy your complimentary square of chocolate or sit down for a sinfully good ice cream sundae.
Already tired from all the walking? Hop onto one of the city’s greatest attractions: the iconic cable car. Although the manual operation may require some getting used to and the ticket comes at a premium price, it is too fun to miss out on and is truly the best way to travel along the steep streets of San Francisco. Three cable car routes are still active today mapping the city centre. The California-Street line resembles an exhilarating roller coaster ride down California Street whilst the Powell-Mason line (from Union Square) passes through some of the city’s most popular sights including the Financial District, China Town, North Beach and the elegant Nob Hill district before terminating near Fisherman’s Wharf. You’ll even catch a glimpse of Lombard Street – the most crooked street in the world.
The Castro and Haight-Ashbury
One of the first gay neighbourhoods in the US is easily recognized by the rainbow flags lining the streets. With plenty of unique establishment and curious characters, The Castro is always good for a surprise. Don’t miss out on the ultimate customer experience at Philz Coffee where every cup of the 30+ blends is individually brewed to perfection. Walking along Castro Street northwards will take you uphill through a gorgeous residential area lined with San Francisco’s famous Victorian Houses. Buildings and people will steadily become more colourful until you reach Haight-Ashbury. In this edgy neighbourhood crowded with original shops, bars and street artists, the hippie spirit has survived throughout the passing decades.
San Francisco’s very own Italian district is a hub of delicatessen shops, cafés and pizza places. Brilliant white churches and trees decorate this idyllic neighbourhood only a stone’s throw away from China Town and the Financial District. North Beach has some of the best gelato in town – best enjoyed bathing in the sun in Washington Square Park whilst listening to street musicians. Saints Peter and Paul Church, the location of Marilyn Monroe and baseball star Joe Dimaggio’s wedding photos, overlooks the square. Climb the hill up to Coit Tower for a panoramic view over San Francisco and the Bay Area.
Golden Gate Park
So much more than just a park, this recreational paradise offers endless activities and entertainment options, ranging from numerous walkways, lakes and playgrounds to an actual bison haddock. The California Academy of Science, the De Young Museum and the Japanese Tea Garden are some of its cultural treasures alongside the Conservatory of Flowers and the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Athletes will love the choice of tennis courts, baseball fields, the polo field and large green areas to exercise. On weekends, the park is closed to cars and the roads are reserved for the hundreds of visiting rollerbladers and cyclists. Ocean Beach stretches along the park’s western side with a stunning view over the Pacific. But don’t expect to spot the Golden Gate Bridge anywhere near. The park’s namesake remains hidden behind yet another hill.
Photo courtesy of the author, edited by Ruoting Tao.