Ten things not to miss in San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The Golden Gate Bridge from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

If you’re going to San Francisco, advised Scott McKenzie in 1967, be sure to wear flowers in your hair. Whether or not you’re up for donning a floral headdress now you should certainly have a look at our top ten tips for a trip to the City by the Bay.

Delicious ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery
Delicious ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery

1. Eat an amazing ice-cream
Even if it’s not ice-cream weather it would be rude not to sample at least one scoop from one of San Francisco’s amazing ice-cream outlets. We loved Bi-Rite’s whose ice cream is crafted in small batches. They were the first ice cream shop in San Francisco to use an organic dairy farm for all of the organic milk and cream for their ice cream and soft serve. Their flavors rarely have more than five ingredients, most of which are organic and locally-sourced. There are often lines around the block but trust us: their salted caramel ice-cream is worth the wait! You might also want to try Humphry Slocombe who created the “Secret Breakfast” ice cream flavor which incorporates vanilla, cornflake cookies and Jim Beam Bourbon.

Pier 39 and the sealions
Pier 39 and the sealions

2. See and smell the sealions
They may be smelly, noisy and frankly a bit disinterested in you but that’s no reason not to visit the sealions who have made the docks at Pier 39 their home since September 1989. In late June last year, they inexplicably left their dock for a few weeks – no one knows where they went or why – but now they’re back so why not go and say hi!

Inside Alcatraz at night is scary!
Inside Alcatraz at night is scary!

3. Escape from Alcatraz
“The Rock” was been America’s first military prison, and went on to be a maximum-security penitentiary and disputed territory between Native American activists and the FBI. It was also the setting of a film starring Nicolas Cage so it doesn’t get much more exciting than that. Seriously though, a visit to Alcatraz taking in one of the genuinely brilliant tours is well worth your time. We went at night-time when it was impossible not to feel just a teensy bit terrified walking around the abandoned and dimly-lit cells. No prisoner has escaped alive from The Rock; but you will… probably.

The cocktails at Smugglers Cove are amazing!
The cocktails at Smugglers Cove are amazing!

4. Party in a Tiki Bar
There ain’t no party like a tiki party! Rum lovers of the world will have a ball at ‘Smugglers Cove’ – home to more than 200 types of rum, highly-potent cocktails and kitsch “nautical but nice décor”. Maybe don’t visit on an empty stomach but don your best Hawaiian shirt or Hula skirt and prepare to have a lot of fun!

The Golden Gate Bridge from below
The great Golden Gate Bridge!

5. Cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge
As you whizz along the bridge on two wheels you might want to reflect on how it earns it’s show-stopping hue – it’s orange vermilion, deemed “International Orange” – and a team of at around 28 painters battle wind, sea air and fog to keep it looking so smashing. You might want to recall the time you’ve seen it in The Maltese Falcon, Vertigo, A View To A Kill or Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Or you might want to look below and see if you can spot any seals swimming in the bay below. Cycling from The Marina, through Presidio National Park, across the bridge and onto Sausalito for a pit-stop is a splendid way to spend a sunny day in SF. And if your legs are tired or your lunch too large – you can hop on a ferry back!

The crookedest street in the world
The crookedest street in the world

6. Stretch your legs
There are at least 40 hills for you to climb to take in a jaw-dropping vista of San Francisco. Huff up Buena Vista Park, puff up Corona Heights Park or try “The most crookedest street” – Lombard Street – located in the Presidio which has a one-block with eight hairpin turns and a 27% gradient. If steep hills are your thing then try out Filbert Street and 22nd Street: two of the steepest navigable streets in the Western Hemisphere, at a gradient of 31.5%!

There's some great art dotted about
There’s some great art dotted about

7. See cool street art
Whilst you’re strolling around the city keep your eyes peeled for art. My favourite Cupid’s Span, on the Embarcadero – just south of the Ferry Building – is a 60 feet tall bow and arrow. How romantic. Or stroll into The Mission and you will be able to find around 400 murals – check out Balmy Alley or Carion Alley in particular – and maybe reward yourself with an aforementioned ice cream or a burrito in the Mission afterwards.

The cable cars are great fun and take the pain out of the hills!
The cable cars are great fun

8. Catch a cable car
The San Francisco cable car system is the world’s last manually operated cable car system. First tested on the city’s hilly streets in 1873 – and then worryingly called the “wire rope railway” – Andrew Hallidie’s victorian contraptions are an icon and used by 7 million passengers a year. Cable cars still require burly gripmen (there have also been two gripwomen) to lean hard on the hand-operated brakes so try not to think too much about the 15,000-pund cable car careening downhill, instead hold on tight and enjoy the ride!

Cocktails at Bourbon and Branch
Cocktails at Bourbon and Branch

9. Drink Prohibition style
Fancy taking your date or your mate to a speakeasy? Bourbon and Branch – behind an unmarked door in the Tenderloin – accessible with a secret password once you’ve made a reservation is a stunner. Dim candles light up leather banquettes and red velvet walls whilst the bar-tenders make accomplished, boozy cocktails. Just keep it under your hat, yeah?

The Conservatory in Golden Gate Park is modelled on our own Kew Gardens
The Conservatory in Golden Gate Park is modelled on our own Kew Gardens

10. Kick back in Golden Gate Park
Welcoming 13 million visitors a year to it’s 1,017 glorious acres Golden Gate Park is bursting with attractions. From the tranquil Japanese Tea Garden, to the boistrous bison who’ve been grazing in the park since 1892. We loved the Dutch Windmill and the Conservatory of Flowers; home to rare tropical plants including a 100-year-old giant Imperial philodendron.

What incredible San Francisco activity that you love did we miss off the list? Let us know in the comments below…

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