First of all, there’s to be no muttering about the iconic San Francisco fog or how your legs hurt from climbing up hills. It’s all in your head (alright it’s not, but no one wants to hear it). Instead, we’re going to let you in on 10 things to do in SF recommended by locals so you can make the most of your time on the peninsula. We like to keep things pretty outdoorsy, so this guide to San Francisco will show you the best places to hike and bike, soak up the natural beauty of the Bay Area and get the perfect snaps of the Golden Gate Bridge. And we might just let you stop for something to eat and drink along the way too. If you’re lucky.
Sutro Baths and Fort Miley
On the western edge of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area you’ll find a web of hiking trails which offer hidden perspectives of the Golden Gate Bridge. Nestled amongst the tracks are the Sutro Baths, a saltwater swimming complex that burned down in 1966 and Fort Miley, which was built for the Spanish-American war but never saw combat. The area is always popular with locals hiking at the weekend or walking their dogs, so if you want to blend in but can’t find anyone willing to lend you their pooch for the morning, just throw on some hiking gear and make sure you get some snaps for your instagram. Because did you even go hiking if no one saw a picture of you in yoga pants in front of the Bay? No, is the answer to that one.
Photo credit: evens.us
Since 1893 this charming little bar has been a favorite watering hole of the lively Inner Sunset neighborhood. It’s one of the oldest bars in SF, second only to The Saloon. Nothing pretentious, just a good old Irish pub with friendly bar staff, a great selection of ales, board games if you get sick of the company you came with (don’t worry, you don’t have to admit to that one) and free popcorn. See you there!
Golden Gate Park
There is something for everyone within the 1,017 acres of the park. The MoMa to tennis courts, Academy of Sceince to Lawn Bowls, Dutch Windmills, Casting Pools, Strawberry Hill, and a frisbee golf course… just to name a few. The park started life as what was little more than a huge sand dune, and is now an oasis for those San Fran locals who want to escape the city. So spend an afternoon getting active outdoors, or bring a picnic and rug and spend your time a little more horizontally. We certainly won’t judge if you pick the latter.
Photo credit: El Farolito
We’re about to make a pretty bold statement. So prepare yourselves please. El Farolito is where you’ll arguably find the best burritos in the whole state (and we’re certainly prepared to argue the point), and without a doubt the best in the city. This no frills Mexican joint serves up a unique selection of meat from pollo asado to beef tongue to intestine. Not your thing? Maybe just stick to the rest of the classic comfort food at our favourite taqueria then, we promise it won’t disappoint. And as if it wasn’t perfect enough already, they’re open late so you can drop by after a night of partying for a late snack on the way home. Just be warned that the queue to get your hands around one their burritos is often out of the door, but the wait is worth it!
On sunny days in San Francisco, locals go to Baker Beach to wade in the waves, enjoy a BBQ, or take in a unique view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The beach is the original site of Burning Man festival before it moved out to Nevada, and with such stunning views you’ll see why it would have seemed like the perfect location for an art festival! But word to the wise, on the northern part of the beach clothing is optional, so if nudist beaches aren’t your thing maybe stick to the south side!
Privately Owned Public Open Spaces
Since the passage of a development plan in 1985, buildings in SF’s downtown are required to have POPOS. These spaces are different to public parks and can come in pretty much any form from rooftop garden terraces to walkways adorned with roses so are worth checking out while you’re in town. They’re the perfect spots to enjoy lunch on the move, take a breather or catch up over a with friends over a coffee. And whilst these spots are all publicly accessible, as they’re privately maintained some of the best can be pretty well hidden, so why not book a local to show you the best kept POPOS secrets?
Once home to a US Army airfield, Crissy Field is now a massive public recreation area. People from across the Bay Area flock here to watch Fourth of July fireworks, take in Fleet Week, or enjoy the occasional ray of sunshine. A local favourite spot to just hang out for the day or spend the evening enjoying the sunset, we’d recommend heading down with a picnic or if you’re feeling a little more active hiring a bike and exploring the park and surrounding area on two wheels.
From Al Capone to the 1969 occupation of the island, if you’re a history buff Alcatraz is a must on the list. But we’d definitely recommend booking as far in advance as you can since it’s one of the most popular attractions in the city. If you can’t get tickets, make sure you at least head out on a boat trip to get a little closer to the infamous Rock!
Kayak McCovey Cove
Still searching for that unique shot of the Golden Gate Bridge? You know, the one that’s from a different perspective, an angle that none of your friends will have? We’ve got you covered. Rent a kayak and experience our favourite views of the city from the water; you’ll paddle past AT&T Park, home of the Giants baseball team through McCovey Cove to the Mission Creek Floating Community. This is one of the city’s most unique neighborhoods, where you’ll find a collection of floating houses and boats, from the sleek and modern to those that look like they wouldn’t make it very far out of the Bay... Or if you’re feeling bold, follow the sea lions (okay fine, we can’t promise that part but you might spot some if you’re lucky) and paddle past the South Beach Harbor, venturing out into the open water underneath the Bay Bridge.
Our last recommendation would have to be a drive, bike or hike up the twin peaks to get an unforgettable panoramic view of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. The two hills have been affectionately named Eureka and Noe. We’re not exactly sure why these were the names chosen, but we are sure that thanks to their central location you’re guaranteed great views whichever peak and whichever route you decide to take to the summit. The east facing slopes get a little more sun though and are slightly warmer, and we’re all about the sunshine so we’d say head up that side. Don’t say we don’t spoil you with local San Fransisco tips!
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