The Ultimate San Francisco Checklist
How to tackle a trip to one of the most iconic cities in both California and the world.
With so much to do in San Francisco, a visit to this west coast culture hub can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned traveler. From its many neighborhoods, hilltop vistas, foodie spots and beyond, this glorious city is basically the poster child for the United States. Although you can virtually never go wrong with a trip to San Fran, here’s what you’ll definitely want to check off your list.
1. Fisherman’s Wharf
If you’re just getting into San Francisco, the famous wharf is a good place to start. Grab a fresh sourdough bread bowl of clam chowder and an Anchor Steam Beer, shop around and enjoy the views of Alcatraz and the bay.
2. Ghirardelli Square
Did somebody say chocolate? Located across from Fisherman’s Wharf is the original home to Ghirardelli. This might be a touristy stop, but who can resist a free chocolate sample (or two… or three)? Visit each of the three shops around the property to fully satisfy your sweet tooth.
3. Golden Gate Bridge
Whether you view it from a distance, or walk the full 1.7 miles across it, no trip to San Fran would be complete without paying this orange beauty a visit. After you cross, spend the afternoon in the quaint town of Sausalito.
4. Union Square
If you’re looking to pick up some new threads, look no further than one of the world’s most famous shopping districts. Home to massive department stores, upscale boutiques and other unique shops, this area of San Francisco could cause a major blow to your wallet if you aren’t careful. You’ve been warned.
A walk in this iconic SF neighborhood is like stepping into a different world. Enter through the Dragon’s Gate and gaze up at the lanterns strung above the street. If you’re hungry, be sure to stop in to a couple restaurants for some unforgettable dim sum.
6. North Beach
Bring your appetite to this area! It can be compared to NYC’s “Little Italy,” although locals hate when you make that reference. Mouth-watering pizza, pasta, pastry and gelato shops can be found on every block. Grab an afternoon cappuccino and sit at one of the many curbside tables to soak up the atmosphere.
7. Haight-Ashbury District
Feeling groovy? Head down to the land of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. One look at the psychedelic flairs all over this part of town, and it’s abundantly clear why it was the center of the 1960s hippie movement. If your nose doesn’t lead you there already, be sure to stop into Ben & Jerry’s (located right on the corner of Haight and Ashbury) for some peace, love and ice cream.
8. Cable Car
Although you’ll never find a local using this historic form of transportation, a ride on a cable car is an experience not to be missed! Only three of 23 lines created in the 1890s still exist today— the most famous being Powell-Hyde. My biggest tip is to avoid standing in line for hours at the turnaround. Instead, head up just two blocks to the North Point St. stop for less than half the wait time as space is intentionally left on board to accommodate additional passengers.
9. Alamo Square
“Whatever happened to predictability?” If you’ve ever watched Full House, you’ll probably recognize the view from this cozy square. Better known as the Painted Ladies, this stretch of six colorful houses is a sight for sore eyes. Stop by for a walk or grab a spot on the grass and enjoy.
10. Golden Gate Park
Believe it or not, this massive San Francisco landmark is actually larger than Central Park! Among many other attractions, visitors can relax in the Japanese Tea Garden, smell fresh blooms in the Conservatory of Flowers, sprawl out on Hippie Hill and enjoy panorama views of the city on the observation deck in the de Young Museum.
11. Dolores Park
On a warm day, this is the perfect place to soak up the sun in a hip atmosphere. Not to mention, it’s a great place to people watch! Locals adore this spot for its incredible views of the city.
Located just offshore from San Francisco, you’ll find this small and supposedly haunted island. Hop on the ferry at Pier 33 to take a tour of the abandoned maximum-security prison, which held notorious criminals including Al Capone, and learn about the many escape attempts. I recommend the self-guided audio tour, which features stories from former inmates and guards. Be sure to purchase your ticket early, especially if you’re interested in the night tour!
13. Lombard Street
Take a stroll down the most crooked street in the world. This steep and winding trail is best viewed from the bottom looking up. The Powell-Hyde cable car stops here, in case you want to knock two items off your list at once!
Have something to add to my Ultimate San Francisco Checklist? Leave a comment with some of your favorite San Fran spots!