We’ve been to SF multiple times & continue to check out more areas of the city every time we drive in. So, for those who are overwhelmed and can’t decide just where to spend their limited amount of time, we got your back! These are the areas that we visit EVERYTIME we come back to this beautiful city!
Pier 39 is a must see for all tourists. It’s right against the bay and is a perfect hang out spot for families. There are sea lions that freely choose to call this place their home, which is an awesome chance to see these beautiful creatures up close!
There is also a large collection of shops that have great food options and a ton of SF souvenirs. For parking, we recommend parking at Pier 39 Parking since you can stay there until the shops close which is at 9pm. If that lot is full, we also parked at Hotel Zephyr. Their prices are cheaper for those who are only staying at Pier 39 for a couple of hours.
As for eating, we definitely recommend Bistro Boudin
Estimated Time to Enjoy: 3 hours
Filled with local shops, two Ghirardelli’s, and an outdoor hangout area for adults packed with a ping pong table, and bean bag toss corn hole game! It’s an iconic stop for tourists to come and relax for an afternoon.
Outside of Ghirardelli!
Estimated Time to Enjoy: 2 hour
Alcatraz is an amazing tour that everyone should check out! Remember that it does get booked quickly so ensure you reserve your date prior to your trip. Hopefully, a month before your trip to ensure you can get the date and time that you desire.
We chose the night time tour since they said it’ll add an extra eerie feeling to the island, as well as being able to look back at the SF skyline during sunset. This tour comes with an audio tour that tells unimaginable stories that took place there when the prison was open.
Estimated Time to Enjoy: 2 – 3 Hours
So when we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, we didn’t really know where that road was going to take us, so we started to just turn down random side streets and ended up finding this beautiful getaway from the city. It’s a small boardwalk of souvenior shops, coffee shops, local food restaurants, and local clothing stores. There’s also a grassy area to sit & look out into the bay for some relaxation!
Backdrop outside of the local shops
Estimated Time to Enjoy: An Afternoon
Now we don’t recommend actually going to this museum. However, if you follow the directions to this museum, you’ll actually find our second hidden treasure. To the left of the parking lot, you’ll see bunkers that were built during the Civil War era that you can walk through. Our first time visiting SF we were overwhelmed with how expensive the hotel rooms were, so we ended up sleeping in our car near this museum because we just loved the background! Greatest view at the greatest price for lodging!
Estimated Time to Enjoy: 1 hour
On the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge is Muir Beach. This beach is usually deserted when we come. It’s also a lot foggier than the other side of the bridge. But it’s a cool little hide out spot to relax and feel the breeze from the bay.
Estimated Time to Enjoy: 2 hour
The Coit Tower has a very tiny parking lot so we do recommend walking to it! With that being said, it is all up hill! It was a sweaty, rewarding walk. To actually go up the Coit Tower there is a fee per person, so we just stood on top of the high sidewalks in front of the Coit Tower to take in the amazing views of the city.
When you’re leaving by foot, if you walk towards the southeast corner of the roundabout (near Christopher Columbus Statue) you’ll see this tiny trail that seems to go through people’s backyard. Take it! It’s a very cool, non invasive walk that leads you down near Pier 19.
Estimated Time to Enjoy: 40 minutes
SF Cable Cars
If you want to see more of the city but don’t really want to keep driving around in circles, the Cable Cars are a great idea. You can get off and on when you please.
For those who take trips without an itinerary and are up for an adventure, we went down to Santa Cruz one day when we wanted a break from the city. It’s a two hour drive from the Golden Gate Bridge. But is great for a little fun adventure!
It’s an amusement park filled with roller coasters, arcade games, great carnival food, a pier that has some sea lions napping on a boat dock, and a beach! All in one place! Santa Cruz was one of the top highlights from our first SF trip!
Estimated Time to Enjoy: 5 – 6 hours
Now if all of these are even too much to schedule into your visit, the ones with the asterisk are our top, top choices that we think you should check out!