The beautiful city by the bay is a fabulous place to explore on foot or by public transportation. With just a few stops of the cable car, you can tour San Francisco's Chinatown, see the Golden Gate Bridge, or explore the shops of Haight-Ashbury. From Fisherman's Wharf to the city's many dog-friendly parks, you'll find plenty to enjoy in this gem of a city.
San Francisco experiences unique weather for northern California. On most days, fog wraps the city up in a blanket for the morning hours. In the early afternoon, it consistently clears and warms up, offering blue, sunny skies and pleasant California temperatures. The hilly terrain and limited land-mass of San Francisco explains its trend toward town-house style buildings and tall, narrow homes. And because of its strong Victorian architectural style, a stroll through San Francisco offers up all the colors of the rainbow.
Because of its temperate climate, San Francisco has gorgeous gardens and parks. You'll find palm trees, bottle-brush trees, and flowering plants growing year round, decorating front yards and patios. Many restaurants and shops have pocket gardens in the back where they grow herbs, lemons, or flowers.
The best way to visit San Francisco is without a vehicle. Park your car or RV in a small town outside the city and ride the train (Cal Train) or take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) into town. BART will also help you get around within the city, or you can take the MUNI (city train/bus) and cable cars. It's always smart to travel with a little cash in your pocket, so you can hop on a car when your feet get tired.
You can take a nice walking tour of the city by starting in the downtown area, then heading to the waterfront. Explore the shops in the piers along the water at the Ferry Building Marketplace, then head toward the Maritime National Historic Park (there are plenty of signs directing you to famous landmarks). From Fisherman's Wharf, take a cable car or walk to Chinatown, where you'll find shops, amazing restaurants, and all the international flair of this vibrant neighborhood. In the North Beach part of the city, San Francisco also has a thriving Italian area that's filled with outstanding restaurants.
Here's a tour of San Francisco's famous, and less-well known, attractions:
Visit the wharf to see sea lions basking in the sun, to shop for Ghiradelli chocolate, and stroll down Pier 39, browsing through the shops and souvenir stands. While you're there, visit the Musee Mechanique, set on Pier 45 at the end of Taylor Street. You'll see more than 160 coin-operated automatic musical instruments and an old-fashioned penny arcade.
Golden Gate Bridge.
Take a stroll across the bridge or take a picture from one of the ferries that carry passengers across to the north shore (home of Sausalito). At Golden Gate Park you'll find miles of trails to walk along, beautiful views, and live concerts on weekends and evenings. This is the city's largest park. Be sure to visit the Japanese Tea Garden, the Strybing Arboretum, and the Conservatory of Flowers.
The famous former prison used to be one of the most feared destinations in the criminal justice system. Today, it's one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Take the ferry to Alcatraz and see what it was like to be locked up like a real prisoner.
If you're traveling with the kids, head to the Exploratorium, a hands-on science museum at the Palace of Fine Arts. You'll find Rodin sculptures, including the famous Thinker, at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. The Cable Car Museum houses the gigantic motors that spring the cables, hauling the cars up and down San Francisco's steep streets. At Mission San Francisco, you can see the city's oldest building, dedicated to preserving this area's history.
Marin county -- Muir woods
Muir Woods National Monument offers a quiet sanctuary, just 14 miles north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. Known for its giant old growth stand of coast redwood trees, people from all over the world come to visit this special ecosystem. Muir Woods contains 6 miles of trails. There is a 1/2 hour loop, a 1 hour loop, and a 1 1/2 hour loop as well as longer hikes on trails that extend into surrounding parks. All of these walks afford views of thousands of old-growth coast redwoods, the tallest living things in the world. Picnicking, pets, bicycles, smoking, and camping are not permitted within the park. The park opens at 8:00 AM - go early to enjoy the park before the tour buses.
San Francisco is very dog friendly, and it's a great place to travel with children, provided that you take enough cable car breaks. People of all ages get tired hiking up and down those hills! As you explore the city, be sure to set aside a little time for wandering the neighborhoods and going where the people are. You'll find hip and happening coffee shops, restaurants, and local food stands that are filled with local flavor. San Francisco is a city in action, and you can soak up some of that energy while you're there.