Visitor's Guide to San Francisco Bay Area - Part 1

One of the most sought-after tourist destinations in USA has to be the city of San Francisco, which, like New York, is termed as the city that never sleeps. A beautifully designed city on the Bay at the western coast of US, this place has something interesting, exciting and fulfilling to offer to every individual; whether you are a nature-lover, a water-sports person, love architecture and history, are an avid shopper, an adventurer or a foodie like me, you will never be disappointed in SFO, and will always come back for more too! But 2 days is a very short time to capture the essence of the city; ideally, you at least need a week to revel and appreciate what SFO has to offer. But not many of us have the luxury to spend more than a weekend for short getaways. So as a resident of this area who loves travelling and blogging, I am honored to play a guide to your San Francisco Bay trip, guiding you through the must-see places and tourist attractions in and around the city, and making sure that you can experience the most of this place in a short span of 2-3 days!

Main Attractions
The first thing you need to check before booking your tickets is the weather! SFO is generally chilly and covered with fog, and rains are a common story here. So make sure you choose a correct time and season for your trip. If you are planning to stay at a hotel in SFO, choose one close to the downtown; another option would be to rent a car and find a more affordable accomodation someway closer to SF like San Mateo. Then plan your day around the attractions I discuss below, preferably in the order I've given as it will be the best use of your time.

Pier 39 - The first stop in your trip, and also the most convenient to start your sight-seeing is the Pier 39 in downtown SFO. There are several paid parking lots around the pier, but I'd advise you to park your car in the first empty lot that you see and walk along the sea for a beautiful view of the city, the bay and also for saving on parking fees. Using the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)is another convenient option, and you can plan a trip by checking available routes and schedules here. This Pier has a lot of shops and a few restaurants, and a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. On a clear day, you can easily see the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge and the Alcatraz form the pier. As you walk inside, there's a fresh-fruit shop which has luscious strawberries, cherries and other fruits served with chocolate dipping sauce; these are the best fruits I've seen in the area, so be sure to try some! And when you walk to the other side of the pier, you'll see a large colony of sea-lions, more than you have ever imagined! The place stinks though, and is filled with the noise of the animals, so you might want to take a quick picture and walk on.

Aquarium of the Bay - Located right on Pier 39, this exhibit features over a thousand new animals, and opens up a fascinating world of the acquatic life in and around the bay. The adventure continues through a moving walkway which will take you through 2 crystal clear tunnels, 300 feet in length & with a view of more than 23,000 aquatic creatures. It also features touch pools, where you can touch live bat rays & leopard sharks, something your kids would surely fascinate!

Fisherman's Wharf - A short walk from the Pier 39 is the Fisherman's Wharf, and the walk is a lovely one with chocolate and food shops lined up along the street. To add to the merriment, you'll also find a lot of performers trying to entertain you, artists with stalls making funny caricatures for a minimal fee, some vendors selling artificial jewellery and some others selling sea-shell ornaments. Fisherman's Wharf is famous for its freshly-served lobsters, so if you are a seafood-lover, be sure to try one of these.

Ghiradelli Square - Coated in tradition and history, Ghirardelli Square is one of San Francisco's most treasured landmarks, the most famous one being the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, where you ca not only savor the delicious chocolate and goodies, but also see how it is actually made! And you cannot go without tasting the Chocolate Brownie Sundae!!! There are also other restaurants and shops in the square that you can browse, or just sit and relax a bit enjoying the cool air and your ice cream.

Union Square - Union Square is the central shopping, hotel and theatre district in San Francisco, California. It boasts six major department stores, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Barneys New York, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus. Union Square is also home to several famous upscale boutiques like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, Chanel, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Marc Jacobs, and Hermes. The Macy's building is huge and impressive, and you can also catch a live performance at the small outdoor stage, or join in the fun yourselves when they host free-form dancing and salsa.

Lombard (Crooked) Street - This street is more famous by the name of "Crooked Street",and is basically a winding road between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets. The whole San Francisco city resides on a hill, and all roads are like a roller-coaster ride. Lombard street has 8 sharp turns or switchbacks, and is lined by magnificent homes on both sides, and an abundance of flowers and blossoms. It's exciting and fun to drive down this street, or just walk down through the steps on the side. The top of the street also offers spectacular views of the city set out across the bay.

SFO City Tour - There's a lot to see in the city, but if it is your first time here, be sure to ride one of the SFO City Tours on Motorized Cable Cars or the open-top Double-Decker Buses. They are the best way to get acquainted with the city, and they also cover major attractions in a span of 2-3 hours, places where you'd rather just take pictures and walk on. Some of the major sites it covers are the Palace of Fine Arts - a beautiful palace with brilliant architecture located by a lake in a serene setting, The Coit Tower which offers a beautiful birds-eye view of the city from the top of the observatory, The Presidio of San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, Pacific Heights, Union Square and Financial district and the world famous Chinatown and Little Italy. Priced at an affordable $25 per person, this surely is a fun way to take a quick glimpse of the city so you know where you'd like to spend more time. Another highlight of this tour would be that you'd be able to enjoy the lovely old Victorian homes in downtown SFO, and also revel in the beauty of ancient architecture with a spanish charm. The houses and some buildings are adorned with beautiful arches, balustrades and balconies; truly something anyone would be interested in looking at!

Chinatown - San Francisco's Chinatown is one of North America's largest and also the oldest Chinatown. Established in the 1850s, it has been featured in popular culture, such as in film, music, photography, and literature. The entrance to this town is marked by the famous Dragon Gate on the corner of Bush Street and Grant Avenue; St. Mary's Park is home to a statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, a war memorial to Chinese war veterans, and a plethora of stores, restaurants and mini-malls that cater mainly to tourists. The other end at Stockton Street mainly presents an authentic Chinese look and feel, reminiscent of Hong Kong, with its produce and fish markets, stores, and restaurants. Another major focal point in Chinatown is Portsmouth Square, an open space that bustles with activity such as Tai Chi and old men playing Chinese chess. A replica of the Goddess of Democracy (made of bronze and weighing 600lb) used in the Tiananmen Square protest was built in 1999 by Thomas Marsh, and stands in the square. You can easily spend 2-3 hours in this small town if you are interested in the culture and the food.

Restaurants and NightLife- How can we mark the end of a day without relishing the large spread of food that this city offers! And San francisco is also considered to be one of the most happening places in USA, and is home to several mediocre and up-scale nightclubs and lounges. A quick look at the websites I list below should help you find what you need. Food options range from every possible cuisine and is hard for me to list the restaurants here. But there's plenty to explore, so enjoy your evening and have a good night's sleep to begin fresh for Day 2 of our trip as we have more to cater to in this dazzling city!!

Useful Resources:
San Francisco/Things to do
San Francisco Shuttle Tours
SF Travel/ Attractions
Restaurants and Hotel Guide

With this, we complete the first day of our SFO adventure. Hope this provided a comprehensive guide about what's most important on your first visit. We've covered all the major San Francisco attractions, and will dedicate the second day to Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, the beautiful Japanese Tea Gardens, and finally find some time to explore the quaint town of Sausalito. So stay tuned for Part 2!!

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Nishant said...

Amazing! Brilliant writeup and great summary!! You shoukd seriously consider being a professional writer Mansi!! I've already been to SFO and yet your description was so vivid I could actually see myself doing all the things you've described all over again! You made me relive those moments, and also made it inviting enough so I'd visit this palce have a great gift, thanks for sharing it with all of us:)


Preeti said...

Mansi, you made me want to take the train and go to SF right now...lovely blog :)

Johanna said...

I have heard so rave reviews of this city, but after reading your blog i think I just can't wait long enough!! I'm printing this and keeping it filed in my drawer, and eagerly waiting for pert 2 Mansi!


Mansi Desai said...

Nishant - I'm glad my post made you reminisce fond times! maybe you can take an SFo trip again!

Preeti - what are you waiitng for, the weekend's coming up, so go take that train trip:)

Johanna - start packing your bags girl! SFO calls out to you:)

Kribha said...

I've been there 5 years back. Brought me back so many memories. Very nice write-up. For people who have not seen it before it is very much convincing to visit atleast one time.

Sreelu said...

Manasi, excellent guide SFO is such a beautiful place and its never enough though I used to work there. Good Job !!!

Richa said...

very informative post, Mansi!
crooked st no pic bau saras che!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful pics and a very nice writeup. Want a vacation now :)
SFO is beautiful


musical said...

San Francisco is one of my favorite cities! Lovely pictures of the city!

Susan said...

I've never been to SF, but I want to rent a car right now and drive down Lombard Street! Love the bridge photo of the crashing bay. Happy travels! Can't wait to see your other shots.