By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com San Francisco Blogger
Perhaps San Francisco’s best attribute – some argue its best quality – is the fact there is so much to do here.
There are museums, great restaurants, huge parks, hiking and biking. Even walking around town is a refreshing experience.
There’s shopping at Union Square (Sack’s, Neiman-Marcus, Norsdstrom, Macy’s and such), Oriental culture in Chinatown and, of course, Fisherman’s Wharf. No local would be caught anywhere near the latter, but tourists sure seem to enjoy it. The place is always packed and it’s almost guaranteed a wayward kid will bump into you at least once. This is where the ferries run to Marin County and the famous prison at Alcatraz (book Alcatraz trips in advance on weekends). Seafood is served from carts or in swanky restaurants. There is at least one tacky t-shirt shop for every tourist.
One cool thing to do on a nice day is to rent a bicycle and ride it across the Golden Gate to Sausalito, a cute little seaside town just over the bridge. Then, ride the ferry back to the city. Or rent a kayak, then have drinks.
Sausalito is in Marin County and around the bend (a beautiful drive, by the way) is Tiburon, another cute little town with the area’s best Sunday bar, the patio at Sam’s. The ferry serves Tiberon, right next to Sam’s (now, is that convenient, or what!?).
One of the top things to do in San Francisco is getting on a boat to visit a national park. This one is a rock that was once an unescapable (perhaps anyway) prison, Alcatraz. There, you can get in the actual jail cells, walk down “Broadway” and see what the prisoners saw, all with one big exception: you get to leave whenever you’ve had enough of it. This is the most popular sightseeing activity in San Francisco so it’s advised to get tickets ($53) as soon as you plan your trip to “the City.”
An excellent day journey is to take a trip to the Northern California Wine County. Napa and Sonoma counties, a little more than an hour from the city, have nearly 400 wineries between them (better not try and visit them all in the same day). There are train tours to the different wineries, although most people drive (carefully, though, after a couple of stops). The cities of Napa and Sonoma also have shopping, dining and lodging.
Another great drive is down the California coastline (go south toward Half Moon Bay). It’s beautiful and is dotted with little towns, lighthouses, parks, and cute bars and restaurants. Sand dunes and jagged cliffs stand between US1 and the crashing Pacific; it’s an incredible, seemingly endless sight. This trip can take as long as one desires, anywhere from a couple of hours to all day. Keep going and head to Monterey and Carmel, although at 2-plus hours, it’s a bit far for a day trip.
And, of course, just driving across the majestic Golden Gate Bridge is an experience.Take the first exit and get the view back toward the city but for an even more spectacular view, go under the 101 (following the signs toward San Francisco but don’t get on the freeway) to the Marin Heights. It’s a series of hills far above the bridge, offering spectacular views of the Golden Gate and the city. Hearty bikers pedal hard up the hills for a great workout.
Locals love their sports teams and the city boasts the Giants and 49ers. Getting tickets to the football games are tough, but Giants games at Oracle are a breeze. In fact, one doesn’t really even need a ticket; just go stand outside the rightfield fence and peer in for free. A few dozen people do this each game and it’s turned into a kind of friendly ritual for them. For those wanting a seat, getting a ticket is pretty easy in front of the stadium, even for sold-out games. The 49ers no longer play inwindy Candlestick Park or even in San Francisco for that matter. They are at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara 45 miles to the south.
For those who prefer to participate in sports rather than watch other people play, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio and surrounding hills (particularly in Marin County) are great for biking, running and hiking. One of the best running spots in the city is to go from Fort Mason toward the Golden Gate Bridge. It goes along the waterfront, through newly-designed Crissy Field and right up to the bridge. It’s about three miles each way. It can be quite windy, though, so check the whitecaps on the bay before strapping on the Nikes.The beach there is a great place to hang out, read a book or have a picnic, although it’s too cold for laying out and far too chilly and choppy for swimming.
More natural exercise and culture exists at Golden Gate Park. It has gardens, a science center, riding stables, a lake and acers of open grass. Rent a surry and wheel around or take a picnic and find a place in the sun. It goes from the edge of Haight Ashbury to Ocean Beach and is serviced by MUNI. Another exellent park is the Presido with its picnic area, food trucks and perfect views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
This is a pretty sophisticated city, and the fall opening of the Opera season is the biggest social event of the year. Okay, it’s as much for being in the right social circle as appreciating the actual performance, but all that culture means the city supports several fine galleries, museums, exhibits and theater.
Tours are available at Grace Cathedral, a neo-Gothiccathedral in Nob Hill with 90-foot-high vaulted ceilings and s58 intricate stained-glass windows.