A California road trip along the coast, second stop San Francisco III (activities)

How to walk & explore the City by the Bay in 4 days

After giving tips where to stay and where to eat as travelers in San Francisco appreciating the finer things in life, there is no way around mentioning some worthwhile things to do. I am sure that you are able to name at least a few of the well-known landmarks of the city but it does not harm to recall some of
them. In addition, I would like to focus on how to experience them by walking as much as possible. As mentioned in my first post about California – itinerary, first stop Mendocino – there is no better way to truly taste a place than by exploring it by foot.

My plan how to walk San Francisco is for 4 days and covers a big part of the sights of this magnificent city. While the proposals for the first 3 days are especially suitable for first-timers, day 4 is also a great suggestion for returning visitors.

Day 1

Golden Gate Bridge to Aquatic Park: views of bridge & skyline (2 h) & Ghirardelli Square – Lombard Street – Fisherman’s Wharf (2 – 3 h)

A good starting point in a San Francisco adventure is certainly at the most well-known landmark of this city, the Golden Gate Bridge. I suggest that you not only gaze at this iconic emblem from one point but do this at several spots, favorably on a clear day. The tour that I have in mind starts at Golden Gate Overlook (1) at the southwest side of the Golden Gate Bridge and ends at the Aquatic Park just west of Fisherman’s Wharf and takes totally about 1 ½ to 2 hours and offers numerous locations to view the bridge and the city skyline.

From the Golden Gate Overlook you go in the direction of the Golden Gate Bridge
and you use the underpass to get to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center (2). Do not linger here – there are tons of tourists –, but take a trail towards the water
and go to the Torpedo Wharf (3), which today is used as a fishing pier.

Continue along the bay towards east, pass Crissy Field (4), a former military airfield, and enjoy the stunning scenery, the bridge on one side, the approaching city on the other one. When you reach the Aquatic Park (5),
you are at the end of the first tour.

The second tour covers the northern waterfront, which is one of the busiest tourist areas in San Francisco, with a side trip to Lombard Street.

Ghirardelli Square (6) is right above the Aquatic Park. It is originally home of the first Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory and now a place full of shops and restaurants. After having explored this site, your next stop is the Lombard Street (7) between Hyde and Leavenworth.
This section is considered the “crookedest street in the world” with 8 switchbacks in one long block (about 15 minutes to walk from Ghirardelli Square). Then head back to the waterfront and stroll through Fisherman’s Wharf (8) with its souvenir shops, seafood restaurants, colony of sea lions and historic ships to tour. I have to admit it is not my favorite place in town, but you probably have to see it … Once you have reached Pier 39 (9),
the tour has found its end.

Day 2

Alcatraz (3h) & Chinatown – Financial District – Union Square – South of Market (Museums) (2 – 3 h)

The starting point is not far away from where the tour ended on the day before, at Pier 33 (1) where the first ferry for the Alcatraz Island (2)
leaves at 9:00 AM. As usual it is very much recommended to buy tickets in advance. Included in the ticket price is the award-winning cellhouse audio tour, where former Alcatraz inmates and correctional officers report on their life on this island. Do not miss it, it is really great! A much-welcomed side effect of this trip is also the view you can enjoy of San Francisco’s skyline.

Back on the mainland, you may explore the northeast of this city a bit closer. In a walk of about 30 minutes you can reach Chinatown (3)the oldest one in North America and the largest one outside of Asia.
Then head to the nearby Financial District and check out “The Wall Street of the West Coast” with the city’s tallest building, the Transamerica Pyramid (4).
Next stop is San Francisco’s most visited neighborhood, Union Square (5), a shopping paradise.
Finish your tour by visiting one or more of the museums in the South of Market, e.g. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (6),Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (7) and/or the Contemporary Jewish Museum (8).

Day 3

Marina District – Pacific Heights – Painted Ladies – Golden Gate Park (4 – 5 h)

This day is devoted to the northern and central northern part inclusive the eastern half of the Golden Gate Park.

Start your walk in one of the city’s nicest areas, the Marina District, more precisely at the Palace of Fine Art (1),

one of San Francisco’s most monumental buildings with a beautiful lagoon. Head south along the Presidio, a former military base that is now a park. When reaching Chestnut Street (2) go to the section between Divisadero and Fillmore Street and check out the eclectic mix of shops, fun bars and hip restaurants.

Back at the Presidio head further south until you come to the Lyon Street Stairs (3).
These exceptionally steep and beautifully landscaped stairs bring you to Pacific Heights with its striking mansions. Explore the area, which was named the United States’ most expensive neighborhood, by walking along Pacific Avenue in western direction, passing the hotel we stayed at, Hotel Drisco (4) until Fillmore Street (5). Here most of the area’s boutiques and restaurants can be found, follow it further south. After about 30 minutes you reach one of San Francisco’s most popular sights, the Painted Ladies (6).
This “Postcard Row” of Victorian houses is directly located across from Alamo Square park.

Another half hour’s walk via Hayes Street (7) brings you to the Golden Gate Park, where the de Young Museum (8) (art & observation tower),
the Japanese Tea Garden (9) (oldest public Japanese Garden in the U.S.) and the Stow Lake (10) (man-made lake with an island, pedal boats & Chinese pavilion) are worthwhile places to visit.

Day 4

Hike along California Coastal Trail Sutro Baths – Golden Gate Bridge (2 h) & Marin Headlands (1 – 4 hours)

This hike along California Coastal Trail is a great activity for nature lovers as well as fans of the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB) as you can view this impressive landmark from different angles and distances while approaching. As far as the Marin Headlands is concerned, one of the Bay Area’s most popular hiking destinations just across the Golden Gate Bridge, I only went to Battery Spencer outlook, from which you have a jaw dropping vista of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The starting point for this section of the California Coastal Trails runs from the Cliff House (1), a restaurant at Lands End. A few minutes later you pass the Sutro Baths (2)
a former swimming pool complex that burned down in 1966 and is now in ruins. From here the Lands End Trail winds along the coastline. Every now and then, you get glimpses of the GGB. There is a path down to Lands End Point (3), which is a great spot to view the GGB.

After leaving Lands End, San Francisco’s wildest, rockiest corner, you reach the Sea Cliff neighborhood. Go down to China Beach (4) to have another splendid view of the GGB
and to find the closest trail by the sea to resume your hike.

Shortly afterwards, you arrive at the Presidio and it is already time for another spectacular view of the GGB, now from Baker Beach (5).
Continue your way towards the bridge along Marshall’s Beach until you come nearer and nearer to it and there is an increasing number of people around. At this point, you are probably close the Golden Gate Overlook (6), the end of this hike. Take a last picture of the GGB and decide whether to visit the Marin Headlands (7) as proposed or to do it some other time.

As mentioned above, I only visited Battery Spencer outlook (8),
in fact on another day and by car, I would not know whether this other amazing viewing point of GGB can be reached by foot from the Golden Gate Overlook. Does anybody know whether this is possible?

My next post will be about Cambria, a pretty town midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. As usual, I will report on where to stay and eat and what do do when traveling in style.

Did you try out one or more of the tours I proposed? If this is the case, do you anything to add?

Last date of stay: October 2017


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.