San Francisco is one of the top American tourist destinations. Just like the Big Apple, the Windy City, and Sin City, “The City” (as locals call it) is an American treasure and has much to offer first-time visitors.
While California receives tourists from all over America and the world, San Francisco remains the state’s best-kept secret. Perhaps this is because the city doesn’t live up to the rest of California’s image of movie stars, sunshine, and beaches. But if one sticks around long enough, perfect weather can hit the City and uncrowded, clean beaches are only a short walk from one of San Francisco’s main attractions, the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco has several efficient, sustainable modes of public transportation. By making use of all the city has to offer, one can see amazing sites either by foot or convenient, eco-friendly use of bicycles, buses, cable cars, or Bay Area Rapid Transit.
Begin the day in Chinatown. Many people opt to use the cable cars, which were first used by San Franciscans in the early 20th century. Horses lugging people and goods had a difficult time navigating the steep inclines that define the City’s landscape. As a result, civil engineer Andrew Hallidie designed a simple but innovated rope system that is still in use 150 years later. Cable cars run frequently throughout the downtown area, and are $5 each way. If one plans to primarily use public transportation, it’s more economical to invest in a one, three, or seven-day MUNI Passport ($11, $18, $24 respectively) which features unlimited use of all MUNI-operated vehicles.
Chinatown is one of the most visited districts in San Francisco, but if one ventures off Grant St, which intersects the heart of Chinatown, one will find less populated shops and authentic dim-sum restaurants.
Next, hit up the Haight Ashbury district. While this hippy-era borough may not play to your senses, it is an integral part in San Francisco’s history, and aptly reflects the progressive, liberal culture that makes the City so unique to America. While stores bedecked in tie-dyed clothes and fumigated with incense imported from Asia don’t open until around 11am, Haight-Ashbury is home to many cute, locally-owned cafes that offer organic food and coffee.
After a fulfilling meal, head to the Golden Gate Bridge via bus. The bridge opened a year after the Bay Bridge in 1937, and at the time of its completion, was the largest suspension bridge in the world. The 1.2 mile long bridge connects the City to Marin County and has received over one trillion pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Contrary to popular belief, its infamous name does not reflect its ostentatious color, but rather, the Gold Rush of 1949. It’s quite a bit cooler (and windier!) at the base of the bridge, so be sure to pack a light sweater. San Francisco is known for its fog, and often times the bridge is hardly visible; walking the length of it allows one to experience an essential symbol of the city.
Head back towards the city and follow signs for the Cliff. A short, narrow path leads to several semi-secluded beaches. An amazing sight— the bay on one side and the ocean on the other! This is a great spot for a picnic, and there are bathrooms and water fountains located just above Bluff Beach. Continue to walk along the cliff path, and follow signs for “Cliff House.” Enjoy a relaxing drink while watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.
Afterward, head to Union Square, appropriately named for the historical site where rallies took place in favor of the pro-Union Army during the Civil War. Take MUNI bus 18 toward 19th street and transfer to MUNI bus 31 (towards Stewart and Mission). Union Square is known for its shopping. High-end stores like Prada, Macy’s, and Tiffany’s & Co. line the sides of the park, but if indoor shop is not your thing, have no fear! Small booths displaying beautiful, supposedly handcrafted, jewelry are manned by minimal-English-speaking Asian women. Prices can be inflated depending on how much of an out-of-towner one looks, but these women tend to like a good haggle and prices are negotiable.
There is plenty to do in this progressive, hip, yet culturally rich city and one or two days is simply not enough to fully absorb everything the City graciously offers.
Golden Gate Bridge: (415) 921-5858; www.goldengate.org/
Writer Bio: Christine Beaderstadt is a freelance writer and tour guide based out of California, and promotes sustainable, responsible travel.