Oh this city is magical, you could spend an entire week here or just sample a few days. This was home to me for many years and even after all of my travel it is still my favorite city in the world. One reason I love it so much is the diversity which can be found all in a walk and all in one day. I will share with you some of my favorite places so you can get to know the real San Francisco.
When I lived in the city, (no NOT San Fran or Frisco!) I worked at Union Square in an amazing top-notch hotel. I lived for a while in the Lower Haight as well as a few years in Russian Hill. I think I have walked, driven or rode my bike over every inch of that city. When people would come to visit, I had a special local tour for them. I wanted people to see beyond the sourdough bread at Fisherman’s Wharf, the seals at Pier 39, or the Chocolate at Ghirardelli Square.
Don’t get me wrong those are all amazing places and full of great fun, junk food and activities. Not to mention the perfect places to watch the street performers and buy goods from local artisans. Yep, I know because I used to make jewelery on the side and sell it over near the Buena Vista near Ghirardelli Square.
Side note: do stop by the Buena Vista and have the most wonderful Irish coffee in town!
What do I mean by the Real San Francisco?
I just mean the places that aren’t in every single guide-book. The places I loved to visit, when I lived in San Francisco. Now some of are a little more off the beaten path, but when you live in the city, you seek out nature and green. These will expose you to much of the nature San Francisco has to offer. Yes, nature right in the city! These are places I highly recommend you explore, if you have time.
Golden Gate Park
How cool is it to have a huge park right in the city! Here you will find some great hiking trails as well as some of the best museums. I used to like to go for a picnic or play frisbee with friends, as there are so many green grass areas to enjoy as well. This really could take a full day or two to explore. It runs right from the city all of the way out to Ocean Beach. If you do make it all of the way out towards the beach, do stop and check out the Cliff House as well. It is full of vintage arcade games and the ruins of the Sutro Baths.
This one doesn’t get on everyone’s radar, but it is well worth a drive through. The Presidio is a national park within the city limits. It’s a lush getaway with hiking and biking trails, golf, charming neighborhoods peppered with restaurants, interesting old military structures, and beautiful, historic former military homes. Of course you can also stop off at the end of the Golden Gate Bridge and learn how it was made and go through the museum.
It is an easy and beautiful drive from the Cliff House along the coast towards the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Presidio. You will pass the Legion of Honor, and also go through one of the most elite neighborhoods in town, Sea Cliff. Oh and if you want to swing by Baker Beach, that is where Alan and I were married. Click here for more information on the Presidio
If you want one amazing view of the city, then Twin Peaks is the place to get it. I like it both during the day and at night, as you really get a different feel for the city when it is all lit up. Twin Peaks is located within the city and is about 900 feet above sea level, so you will see sweeping views of the city and the bay from up so high. It is well worth the stop and there are loads of activities up there as well. Click here for more information on Twin Peaks.
The Painted Ladies
I know this is a top tourist stop, but it is in a great neighborhood, so do take the time to go. Of course you will see the gorgeous row of Victorian and Edwardian homes all lined up, as you stand across from them in Alamo park. The famous Postcard row is located at 710–720 Steiner Street. This was one of my favorite parks to visit and I went there with friends to walk their dogs. It’s right by Alamo Square and there are great little coffee shops to hang out and just soak up the surroundings. Click here to read more about the Painted Ladies.
Where to Stay?
Of course there are limitless options when it comes to places to stay in San Francisco. My heart is near and dear to the Marina and Cow Hollow area. It is close walking distance to many of the attractions and amazing neighborhoods, yet you have the nature all around you as well.
- San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Youth Hostel – This is a stunning location and it isn’t your standard youth hostel. It is located right in the heart of the activity and next to the Marina Green. It is a perfect walking location, but they book up quickly, so check out their availability and deals here.
- Holiday Inn on Van Ness – You can’t go wrong with a Holiday Inn and just 1 block from where I used to live on Van Ness and Union. You will be in a local neighborhood with all of the tourist attractions at your fingertips. Click here to see what deals they have on offer now.
- The Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf – these are apartment style hotel rooms with kitchens. It is a great way to save money on eating out. There will be so much just out your front door and a great walking location. Check out what their availability and prices.
- The Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf – We’ve stayed here a few times when going back to visit family and friends. I know this entire post is on the nature of the city, but why not stay in the thick of things and then you will get the full flavor of the city. You really can find some great deals in the off-season, so check them out now.
Do you need a Visa to visit the USA?
So many of our readers aren’t from the USA, so you may want to check out the current guidelines for entry for your country. I know lately, it may seem that visitors from other lands aren’t desired, but it is worth a visit. Please visit the Department of Homeland Security to check your requirements to enter the USA.
If you are coming for 90 days or less you may want to look into the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). They offer help with the Visa Waiver Program and is available for the 38 countries (at of the time of writing this article it included the UK, Taiwan, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, South Korea, Slovenia, Slovakia, Singapore, San Marino, Republic of Malta, Portugal, Norway, New Zealand, Netherlands, Monaco, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Latvia, Japan, Italy, Ireland, Iceland, Greece, Germany, Hungary, France, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, Czech Republic, Chile, Brunei, Belgium, Austria, Australia and Andorra).
Check ESTA for a current list of countries and all of the FAQ’s.
Have you visited San Francisco or do you plan to? Tell us all about it!