The crimson bridge, wooden cable cars, and streets lined with elegant Victorian homes – are some of San Fransico’s iconic features. It’s a city where you can spend weeks in, but still not experience everything it has to offer.
One of my best friends from college now studies at Berekely, which is just across the bay from San Franciso – a perfect excuse to visit her and see the ‘City by the Bay’. For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to explore San Francisco, and last month I finally got to tick it off on my bucket list.
Located along the coast of Northern California, the city measures less than 50 square miles. And although the city is geographically small, it’s ‘big’ in terms of attractions and amenities. It’s pretty easy to see and do many things in a short period of time.
The city is built on 43 hills but it’s pretty walkable. Just think of those slopes as a naturally occurring stair-master.
Best time to visit
While visitors tend to assume that since San Francisco is in California, the weather will be warm, they are often faced with a rude awakening when they find themselves shivering in summer clothes under the city’s notoriously fog-filled sky.
In the mornings and evenings the fog rolls in during the summer months but rarely persists – just be sure to have a light jacket handy otherwise you might end up buying an overpriced jumper from Fishman’s Wharf. August through October are usually the warmest months of the year and temperates rarely rise above 21°c, but you can’t count on it as the weather in San Francisco can change by the hour.
Where to stay
San Francisco hotel room rates are incredibly expensive and you can end up paying at least $200 per night. As I was staying alone in San Francisco (there wasn’t enough room in Naomi’s flat in Berekely to host all of us) I opted to stay in a hostel in Downtown San Francisco.
At the heart of Downtown San Franciso, you’ll find Union Square, which is one of the cities main hotel and shopping district, plus it’s a major junction for transportation lines. There’s a couple of shady streets nearby, but you really can’t beat it because of its central location.
What to do whilst you’re there
San Francisco’s signature landmark is the Golden Gate Bridge, and as far as best views go there’s nothing quite like standing at Fort Point to truly take in its beauty. But if you want a view of the city, rent a bike and cycle the bridge’s 1.7-mile span and head to Martin’s Vista Point for striking views.
Another viewpoint you need to hit up is the one from the top of Coit Tower (although go on a day when it’s not foggy or you’ll be really disappointed). Walk up Lombard Street Steps to Telegraph Hill, then take the lift up for panoramic views of the city and the bay.
Head East towards down Lombard Street to see one of the world’s windiest streets. With its redbrick pavement and beautifully tended flowerbeds, it’s no wonder tourists flock here to watch cars navigate the sharp turns of the road.
Take a tour of one of the world’s most famous prisons; Alcatraz was once a formidable fortress in the middle of San Franciso Bay. It’s a pretty haunting experience and the audio cell-house tour is narrated by former inmates and guards. Be sure to book in advance as the tours do sell out quickly in the summer months.
Check out the piers. The one of most note is Pier 39 where amind the street performers, souvenir shops and seafood restaurants you’ll find groups of sea lions. They’ve been a permanent fixture on these docks for at least 25 years.
Head down into Mission and walk through Clairon Alley and Balmy Alley. These alleys are a mix of incredible street art expressions of political and human rights issues which have been around since 1992. The Mission also has some unique shops and delicious Mexican food, so browse and wander through this vibrant neighbourhood.
Where to eat and drink
You can’t visit San Fransisco without heading to Boudin Bakery on Fisherman’s Wharf. Its bread is still made from the same mother culture which was made back in 1849. They even have a museum where you can have a cheeky look into the showcase kitchen. But make sure you head to the cafe and sample their soups served in a sourdough bread bowl.
Clearly, San Franciso is a bread mecca. If you find yourself in The Mission you must head to Tartine. It’s a corner space packed full with baked goods, salads and sandwiches. Their most popular pastry is by far the morning bun, a type of croissant that’s rolled topped with sugar, orange zest and cinnamon.
Pull up a pew at Magnolia Brewpub. With high, dark wooden booth it has an English pub feel (so it’s no wonder I felt right at home here and ended up staying for at least a couple of hours…). It boasts around 20 beers on tap, but make sure to head here on a Tuesday as all house beers are $3.
As I didn’t have the biggest budget for this trip, I didn’t eat out as much as I usually would and ended up buying salads from Trader Joes a lot. I’d recommend checking out The Infatuation for the best eats in San Francisco.
How much does it cost?
I won’t lie, San Fransisco is expensive and your bills can start to rack up pretty quickly. The average price of a meal in a restaurant without alcohol is $20, and a pint can set you back everywhere from $4 to $7.
Hotels actually come in almost all price ranges, but cheaper ones will inevitably be in less desirable locations. The public transportation system is pretty decent, The Bart (sort of like the tube) runs all the way from San Fransisco airport, through downtown and out into Berkely.
But don’t let the cost of things put you off, you need to try and visit San Francisco at least once in your lifetime.
Beyond San Franciso
I spent half of my time staying in Berekely during my visit. It’s home to the University of California which is home to some pretty vocal activists. If you have time to spare whilst you’re visiting San Francisco, hop across the bay and spend a day wandering around campus and the botanical gardens.
For healthy food in Berekely check out Sweetgreen, a place dedicated to sourcing local ingredients to make their wholesome salads. Everything is seasonal and organic, you can either order off their menu or build your own salad. Plus, they also ask if how heavy you would like your dressing, perfect if you’ve spent the majority of your trip eating doughnuts and sourdough…
Or if you fancy something naughty and indulgent, you’ll want to check out Homeroom in Oakland. It’s a restaurant dedicated soley to mac n cheese. It’s comfort food at its best, and so popular they opened a second location just for takeout.
Yosemite National Park
Even though I’m a city girl, I’m a massive nature lover. Yosemite National Park is about a four-hour drive from San Francisco and we spent two days there. If you’re ever in California, I insist that you make time to go and visit Yosemite.
The best way to see this stunning national park is on foot, so make you sure you pack some decent walking boots or trainers. I wish I could have packed more hikes in, but there wasn’t enough time.
We stayed inside the park in an Air BnB, just a 20-minute drive away from Yosemite Valley, but you’ll want to get to the park early so you can nab a decent parking spot in the more popular areas of the park.