San Francisco To Do

The best things to do in San Francisco for an amazing trip.

San Francisco To Do header image 1

7 Most Romantic Getaways Within 60 Miles of San Francisco

June 27th, 2014 · Activities

Have just a day or two to escape from the city and do something really special? There are many special destinations in the surrounding area that provide a perfect getaway for romance. Rent a luxury car, head out of town and enjoy time with your partner. Here are our top seven picks for dreamy day trips and whimsical weekends:

1. Mud Baths and Wine Castles in Calistoga

castello di amorosa

Calistoga is a city in Napa County, the romantic wine country north of San Francisco. It’s filled with things to see but isn’t quite the tourist trap that Napa proper is. Located about two hours drive from the city this is one that you can do in a day or with one overnight stay. If your time in Calistoga is limited then start with a wine tasting tour at Castello di Amorosa and end with a couples mud bath.

Castello di Amorosa (which translates to Castle of Love) is a stunning castle winery built in this century but designed to be a perfect replica of an Old World castle from seven or eight centuries ago. When you take the tour you’ll learn that old bricks from historic buildings were brought over from Europe along with custom masons skilled in working on old buildings in order to make sure that this castle feels truly real and not like a cheesy Disneyland version of a castle. Tour through the many layers of caves and end with a wine tasting. Add a chocolate pairing to your wine tasting for an extra aphrodisiac.

castello di amorosa

As for the mud baths, Calistoga is home to natural hot springs that are put to use in several spas in the area. Couples can sit side-by-side in their own mud tubs, relaxing into the healing heat in a private room, ending with a shower, relaxation in a Jacuzzi and a warm body wrap rest. Of course, there are other couples’ spa treatments as well for those who don’t find mud baths romantic.

If you have more time during your trip, it’s worth it to check out the Petrified Forest of California, the downtown shopping on Calistoga’s main road and some of the other vineyards and wineries.

2. Beaches of Big Sur

Enjoy a stunning scenic drive south along the coast to this overnight getaway destination. Big Sur is located just past the tourist hot spots of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Those locations are also popular couples’ destinations but if you go just half an hour further from Carmel you can get a more intimate experience. That’s about 3 hours drive from San Francisco. Stay in a cabin in the redwoods, picnic on the beach and stoke the fires of your relationship.

The main thing to do in Big Sur is to enjoy the wilderness (and each other of course). There are a number of state parks where you can go hiking. You’ll also want to spend time on the beaches. While you’re there, keep an eye out for the beautiful semi-precious jade stone, which can be found naturally on many of the Big Sur Beaches. Also make sure to check out McWay Falls, a short drive south of the main village of Big Sur, where you can see stunning waterfalls drop eighty feet into the Pacific Ocean. There is only one other spot on the entire US Pacific Coast where a waterfall drops into the ocean (at Alamere Falls, north of San Francisco).

3. A Day in Half Moon Bay

beachAlso located south of San Francisco on the coast but not as far of a drive as Big Sur, Half Moon Bay makes for a great romantic day trip. Enjoy a meal at the beautiful Moss Beach Distillery (but hold each other close because this destination is reportedly haunted!) Take a horseback ride on the beach at sunset. Look for grey whales off of the coast of Gray Whale Cove State Beach (or even book a whale watching tour.) Cap off the evening with a drink at one of the local wineries or breweries. And if you can’t bring yourself to head back home at the end of the day, there are plenty of romantic bed-and-breakfasts to choose from here.

4. Art and Nature in Mendocino

Another coastal town that has some great bed-and-breakfast options is Medocino, but this one is north of San Francisco instead of South and it’s far enough away that you should plan an overnight stay. You have the option of driving the four-hour route up the coast or taking Highway 128 through the majestic redwoods.

Medocino is known as an artsy town so if you enjoy art galleries and studio tours then it’s a particularly favorite spot. Sprinkle your day with stops at the cute local cafes, bistros and intimate restaurants. There’s a lot of beautiful nature here as well, including gray whale sightings off of the coast during the months of February- April. And make sure to spend some time together at Mendocino Botanical Gardens, offering more than 40 acres of gardens on the seaside.

5. Thunder Valley Casino

If you’d love a romantic getaway to Last Vegas but can’t steal away for quite that long then your next best bet is a stay at Thunder Valley Casino. Stay up all night partying with your partner playing slots and table games at this 24/7 casino. Like any good casino you can enjoy dining, lodging, entertainment and spa services all on site. There are nine restaurants to choose from as well as five additional bars and lounges. And if you need to get out of the casino hubbub for a bit consider golfing at Whitney Oaks Golf Club just fifteen minutes down the road.

6. Wine Tasting and White Water Rafting

Enjoy the thrill of an adrenaline rush with your lover by going white water rafting together in nearby Auburn, located about two and a half hours away from San Francisco in the Greater Sacramento Area. Rafting takes place on the American River. There are many different guided tour options available, including at least one that combines rafting with wine tasting!

Auburn is a small town, the highlight of which (other than rafting) is Old Town Auburn. You’ll find cute shopping options, seasonal street fairs and farmers markets, and several restaurants to enjoy with your sweetie. There are a few lodges and inns. Auburn is located on the Placer County Wine Trail, a series of family-run boutique wineries. You can find lodging in any of the other small towns on the trail as well.

7. Harbin Hot Springs

Seeking an experience in nature that’s a little bit more on the lowkey side? Look no further than the Harbin Hot Springs retreat center. This clothing optional center has natural hot springs pools, sunbathing, yoga sessions, massage and other bodywork and a variety of different workshop options including sensual couples’ workshops. (Plan in advance for workshops as schedules vary.) Harbin is located in the midst of beautiful nature, with meadows and groves and hilly hikes all around. Lodging includes rooms, cottages, cabins, and camping so there is something for everyone. There’s an on-site restaurant that offers romantic fireplace meals prepared with local organic foods. Harbin Hot Springs is located about two hours drive north of San Francisco (inland, not coastal).

→ No CommentsTags:

Enter the Dungeon.

June 17th, 2014 · Fisherman's Wharf

Dungeon San FranciscoSan Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf now has a great new attraction to give you a bit of a horrifying scare, and learn about the history of the City.  The new San Francisco Dungeon is filled with interactive, live-actor exhibits to share the history of the city in a creative and engaging way.  It’s a semi-horror experience to let you have fun, be a little bit scared, and learn about San Francisco.  Some of the exhibits include:

  • Gangs of San Francisco:  Thugs and hoodlums control commerce in San Francisco and demonstrate all of the “creative” ways they motivate their customers…. and debtors….
  • Court Room of San Francisco:  Crime and punishment with no mercy.  Check out a real courtroom with the hilarious crimes and punishments to teach a real lesson…
  • Miss Piggott’s Saloon:  Crazy and fishy business in a San Francisco saloon.  Watch out for what may be a trap door in the floor!

The dungeon features intricate period costumes designed in the UK and assembled in San Francisco by local costumer, Wee Scotty.  The actors get to enjoy amazing sets by Daniels Wood Land Inc., using beautifully-crafted reclaimed wood.   You’ll see scary folks with captivating make-up artistry led by MAC Pro Cosmetics.

You can see from the example rooms, that your (approximate) $19 ticket price will give you quite a creative day.  With the new Dungeon located right in Fisherman’s Wharf (the only one in the USA or North America), it’s a great option and particularly for bad weather days.  Have you checked out the Dungeon, what did you think?

→ No CommentsTags:

How about a horrifying campout experience?

June 16th, 2014 · Activities

Via ThemeParkAdventure.com

What if you could immerse yourself in a horror experience that you are living; in the dark; overnight?  A new concept in truly scary entertainment is “The Great Horror Campout” which is headed for the San Francisco area July 11 and 12 at the Alameda campground near Pleasanton and many other cities soon.  For a cost of approximately $140-$200 for a 2-4 person group, you can stay overnight with your breakfast covered — and have truly “one hell of a scary night”.  Some of the things you will experience would be:

  • A hideous scavenger “Hell” hunt — where the hard to find items may be hidden in (thankfully replica) human body cavities; dirt; bushes; or only by convincing scary participants to give up the goods.  The scavenger hunt is challenging; scary; and a main event of the campout.
  • The Homestead obstacle course where you crawl on your hands and knees through very authentic replicas of dead people, animals, and other body parts drenched in blood and imitation bodily fluids (we hope!!!).
  • Monsters roam the grounds, randomly terrifying participants and maybe even grabbing their food while they try to eat.
  • And of course they show horror movies on the big screen.

It’s a unique and scary event that is like no other.  You’ll be scared, but hopefully not harmed.  Campers may shout the safe phrase “I WANT MY MOMMY!” to put an end to any nightmare.  Participate at your own risk!!!  An excellent and detailed review of the event is found here.

ONLY THE DAWN WILL SAVE YOU.

 

→ No CommentsTags:

New Sports Wax Figures at the SF Wharf: Jeremy Lin and Gabby Douglas!

June 16th, 2014 · Activities, Fisherman's Wharf

Although the wax museum at Fisherman’s Wharf is pretty darned touristy — your next visit will include some great new sports figures being added for this summer.

Jeremy LinJeremy Lin is known for his global fan club “Linsanity” and currently plays basketball for the Houston Rockets.  Jeremy led an amazing winning streak for the New York Knicks which brought him into the public limelight.

Gabby Douglas

Gabby Douglas was a member of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team at the 2012 Summer Olympics and won gold medals in both the individual all-around and team competitions.  She is also the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion.

Madame Tussauds in San Francisco is at 145 Jefferson Street in Fisherman’s Wharf and tickets are approximately $19 per person for all ages.  The museum hours are 10am to 7pm daily.

→ No CommentsTags: ··

3 Great Restaurants for your San Francisco Trip

March 10th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Here are three great restaurants to try out on your next trip to San Francisco.  After our visit to all three, we wanted to share these ideas.  Let us know what you think!

5562747874_b7be2b6cac

Tacolicious  

Expect to wait in a long line to be seated at this casual Mexican restaurant. Once seated, they do offer you chips and salsa. I wasn’t too crazy about the chips- they were on the thick side. The salsa on the other hand, tasted fresh and yummy. On our visit, we tried the kale salad, 4 different tacos that were all delicious, and we shared a pitcher of margarita! The kale salad tasted fresh and delicious. It was perfectly balanced using a cider-cumin vinaigrette. The salad was big enough for two people to share. Then on to the tacos…we had the fried rock cod, shot-and-a-beer braised chicken, traditional carnitas, and their taco of the week. All were delicious in their own way. The pitcher of margarita de la casa was tasty and strong. Over all, we were happy that we decided to go to Tacolicious. We came a little later in the evening so we didn’t have to wait long for a party of 2. We also enjoyed the loud music playing which made the ambience better.

Limon Rotisserie

We came here on a Saturday night and much to our surprise, they were able to seat us within 45 minutes! Needless to say, we felt fortunate to not have to wait too long. We started out with the house made red sangria and the pisco sour. This was the best sangria I’ve had in a while. The pisco (Peruvian brandy) sour was tasty as well. On this visit, we ordered a whole chicken – pollo a la brasa – which came with 3 different delicious sauces. It was a lot of food, leaving us with some leftovers to take home, but I can’t complain about that! Along with the chicken, we had the yuca fries and the tacu tacu. The yuca fries were good but cut on the thicker side. They had minimal flavor beyond the flavor of yuca itself. The tacu tacu was flavored rice, an interesting side dish but not spectacular. If I were to come back, I would like to try the vegetable salteados.

 Mission Beach Café

Don’t get me wrong, the food is delicious but I’m just not sure it was worth the 1 hour 15 minute wait to be seated. There is no calling ahead (for brunch) for this restaurant – you have to come and put your name down on the clipboard that is hanging in front by the door of the restaurant. We decided to walk around since we were pretty far down on the list. When we came back, we had to wait some more. After noticing a few patrons walk into the restaurant and out with coffee cups and pastries, we realized that we could have had their coffee while waiting to be seated. I only wished they had told us about this.

On this visit, we had the lamb hash and the MBC scramble. Both entrees were good. The lamb hash was topped with two overeasy eggs. It was a little rich, but I polished off the whole plate. The MBC scramble was good and it came with a side of brunch potatoes. The brunch potatoes were cooked perfectly – a little crunchy on the outside, just right on the inside and full of flavor. We wished we had ordered a side of bacon as we caught a glimpse of it coming out of the kitchen and looking crispy.

The experience would have been better had the wait time not exceeded the dining time, but overall, we were happy with the brunch.

 

By:  Florinda Davis, Copyright JL7 Ventures LLC

→ No CommentsTags:

10 Best San Francisco Date Spots for a $0 Budget

March 8th, 2014 · Activities

You don’t have any money but you don’t want to stay home bored. Luckily there are lots of great things that you can do in San Francisco without spending a penny. Here is our roundup of the ten best free San Francisco date spots.

1. Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park BBQ BarbequeYou can spend an entire day in Golden Gate Park without seeing all of its magic and you don’t have to spend a cent. You can walk hand-in-hand amongst the beautiful trees. You can spread a picnic blanket out and take a nap on a sunny day. You can play Frisbee or ride your bike.

In addition to all of these regular park activities, here are some other free options in Golden Gate Park:

  • Take the elevator up to the tower lookout at DeYoung Museum for a great aerial view of the park. No charge if you’re not going to the rest of the museum. When you exit DeYoung take a moment to enjoy the beautiful view of the living green roof across the way on the top of the California Academy of Sciences.
  • See the buffalo roam. The wild bison lounge about in their enclosure in the center of the park for you to see at no charge.
  • The free gardens. The rose garden, the garden at the windmill, the AIDS Memorial Grove and the flowers planted on the outside of the Conservatory of Flowers are all beautiful bits of nature to see at no cost.

There are also some activities in the park that normally have a fee but can be free if you go on the right day and time. Some examples:

  • DeYoung Museum offers free admission to all regular exhibits on the first Tuesday of the month. This museum is also always free to children under age 12.
  • The California Academy of Sciences is free on selected Sundays quarterly throughout the year. There are also free neighborhood days for San Francisco residents. Check the website for exact dates.
  • The San Francisco Botanical Garden is always free to San Francisco residents. It’s free to everyone early in the morning (7:30 – 9) and is also free the second Tuesday of each month and selected holidays. This is a beautiful date spot.
  • The Conservatory of Flowers is free on the first Tuesday of each month.
  • The Japanese Tea Garden is free if you enter before 10am on Monday, Wednesday or Friday.

If you plan in advance, there are also a lot of fun free events to enjoy in Golden Gate Park. Perhaps the most popular of these is the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival each October.

2. Other San Francisco City Parks

Golden Gate Park is the largest and most famous of all of the parks in the city but there are plenty of other parks here to enjoy on a free date. Dolores Park is a popular sunny spot for picnics as well as free outdoor summer movie nights. Washington Square Park, Alta Plaza Park, Alamo Square, Duboce Park and Lafayette Park are just a few of the other city parks that make great date spots. See our guide to great SF Parks here.

3. San Francisco City Beaches

San Francisco’s beaches aren’t the first pick on the list because it’s often so cold on the coast here. However, if you wear the right layers and enjoy walking along the beach then these can be terrific spots to spend the day without spending any money. Go to Ocean Beach to do the longest walks along the coast. Try Baker Beach if you want an edgy date at a clothing-optional section of beach. Go to Aquatic Park or Crissy Beach for brave wading in the bay. If you’re at Aquatic Park on the first Saturday of the month check out the free Sea Chantey Sing-Along about the historic ships at nearby Hyde Street Pier.

4. Union Square

san francisco february weather

Photo By: JC Cristobal

This city square right in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District has a lot to offer, not the least of which is some great free people watching. In the winter months you can see the big Christmas tree and watch people ice skating on the temporary rink (including the free Drag Queens on Ice annual performance). Summer evenings are a great time to catch free outdoor movies. Other performances happen at lunchtime and in the early evenings throughout the year. And even when nothing formal is happening there is usually a street performer or two playing music in the square. Take your camera and go around to the four corners of the square to take pictures with your sweetheart at each of the San Francisco heart art sculptures.

5. San Francisco’s Street Fairs

There is at least one street fair each month in San Francisco and usually many more (especially during the summer months when you can hardly go a weekend without one!) If you can avoid the temptation to spend money on artisan wares and overpriced food then these can be fun people-watching, music-listening date spots. Note that a few of the annual street fairs (San Francisco Pride, How Weirde Street Fair) do have by-donation fees, though payment is generally not required for entry.

6. More Free Museum Days

As mentioned above the museums in Golden Gate Park offer free days at various times throughout the month. So do most of the other museums in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of the museums have their free day either the first Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of the month but these do vary from place to place. If you mark your calendar you can fill a good chunk of any month with free dates to see art, science and other smart exhibits.

7. San Francisco Art Gallery Openings

And speaking of art, don’t forget all of the free San Francisco art gallery opening events that take place throughout the year. The annual month-long SF Open Studios is a great opportunity to see artists at work in their spaces. Other free events include the First Thursdays Free Gallery Art Walk and the North Beach First Fridays Art Crawl, plus of course there are individual gallery openings all of the time.

8. Free Sunday BBQs

In an effort to get you in their doors in the hopes that you’ll buy drinks there are several places in San Francisco that offer free grub. On Sundays get the free BBQ at Malotov’s in Lower Haight or Bender’s Bar & Grill in the Mission. Check SF Fun Cheap for other similar free food deals throughout the week.

9.  Stairway Walks

tiled stepsThere are some beautiful, unique stairways in San Francisco, many of which are remote and romantic. The Filbert Street Steps, the 16th Avenue Tile Steps, and the Lyon Street Steps are all popular choices but a quick search online will turn up many, many more options for your romantic walking pleasure.

10. The Local Library

Many people forget about all of the amazing things offered through the local library system. Nearly every day you can attend something interesting for free at the main San Francisco library or one of the city’s many branch libraries. These include lectures, film screenings, art shows, various classes and more. Additionally, the library hosts SF City Guides, which are free walking tours all around the city every day of the week.

→ No CommentsTags: ···

Best New Year’s Eve Parties in San Francisco

December 23rd, 2013 · Activities, New Years

New Year's EveDecember 31st is an annual milestone in our lives, and there’s something for everyone this New Year’s Eve in San Francisco. From fireworks exploding over The Bay to all-night revelry, we’ve compiled our favorites:

Fireworks over San Francisco Bay

San Francisco launches fireworks over the Bay, between the city’s jewel, the Golden Gate Bridge and the strikingly long Bay Bridge at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday.  Some of the best places to see the fireworks are:

  • All along the Embarcadero from Mission to Folsom
  • Pier 14
  • Treasure Island.
  • Twin Peaks
  • Grandview Park at Moraga and 14th Avenue

Party People

Some of the best parties this year are at our favorite hotels, which makes it easy to avoid an unsafe drive home!  ;-)    Check out the revelry at:

  • Palace Hotel – NYE International Ball, Tickets priced $85-$150
  • Westin Saint Francisco Hotel – Passport to the World, Tickets $125-$700
  • Fairmont Hotel – Cirque NYE, Formal Attire and Tickets $50-$150
  • Hotel W – W NYE 2014, Tickets $90-$175

Kick Back with Bowling and Drinks

Lucky Strike San Francisco will host a New Year’s Eve Party from 10:00 PM – 1:00 AM. Guests can bowl, enjoy Lucky Strike’s rustic comfort food and delicious drinks, and dance the night away with their resident DJ spinning tunes. Lucky Strike San Francisco will make New Year’s Eve an unforgettable experience with party favors, a complimentary champagne toast, and balloon drop with game cards and cash dropping from the ceiling as guests countdown to 2014 at midnight.  Tickets priced $60-$100 with online options here.

Of course, as with nearly all cities on NYE, hitting the town means paying big for entry almost everywhere. If you’re a drinker but are on a budget, and still feel the need to see in the New Year at one of the city’s parties, consider choosing an all-inclusive events; i.e. where your ticket includes alcohol. This way you’ll know what your maximum costs are once you’ve bought the ticket.

If anything, be sure not to miss the free fireworks over the Bay. The city lights up at midnight, the multi-colored sparks illuminate the Bay and a collective countdown and cheer reverberates from the ocean to the hills.   Whatever you choose to do – be safe, smart and never drink & drive.    Taxi info here and towncar info here.

→ No CommentsTags: ·

Chinatown with Open Eyes

December 17th, 2013 · Chinatown, Travel Apps

best dim sum in san franciscoThe last time I was in Chinatown, I was hungry. And I knew exactly what I was looking for: delicious, meat or seafood stuffed dumplings could solely curb this craving. I pulled out my phone and located the nearest-by joint with high reviews and let’s also filter by affordable price tags—this was just a snack I should clarify, as I had a nice and rather expensive dinner planned for later that evening.

Delicious Dim Sum was the name that came in first on my search and it met all the aforementioned requirements. I made the decent down the steep sidewalk, traversing one half block and there it was on my left. I hopped right in and gazed through the glass display at the mouthwatering options. Glistening, plump, and just a little transparent, the dim sum dumplings were just what I had in mind. “So, which are your most popular?” I asked. The lady responded but I didn’t understand her – I gathered this would be one of those point-to-what-you-want and use-theatrical-facial-expressions types of situations, though that didn’t throw me off as I happen to be decently talented in this department.

dim sum in chinatownThe ordering was underway, pointing and nodding in full-swing, but I really had no idea what I was filling my to-go container with. How do I know which of these dumplings swaddled succulent bits of pork, and which bundled something not-so-pleasing to my personal palate? Labels or a menu would have been helpful. Actually, labels in English, were what I was missing. There was a hand-written menu on the wall above the dumplings, but on top of not understanding spoken Chinese, I don’t know how to read it either.

chinese translation app
Since this lovely dim sum visit, I’ve stumbled upon an app that would have made this experience a lot less like a game of Russian roulette. It’s called Waygo, and is free to download from the iPhone App Store. If you point your phone camera at any Chinese script, the app will translate the words to English, so next time I won’t accidentally order chicken feet.

Thankfully, everything turned out to be tasty and satisfying that time around, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t eat anything that I hadn’t had before.

But Delicious Dim Sum isn’t the only spot in Chinatown where this straightforward app would prove sidekick-worthy. There are plenty of little shops and mini-markets where I could see this app coming in handy. I remember a handful of occasions where I could have used a personal translator in my pocket. In particular, shopping in a Chinese medicinal shop trying to make sense of one label or another, eventually giving up and walking out empty handed.

Since Chinatown is a major tourist attraction in San Francisco, hosting more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge, Waygo is a practical and easy tool to add to the pack-list for those planning a trip. For those San Francisco natives, Chinatown frequenters, or those planning a vacation to China itself, all the more convenient instant translation could be.

The idea for Waygo came about as CEO & Co-founder, Ryan Rogowski, was working in China, building mobile games. While in the process of learning the language but also needing to translate quickly and easily, he conceptualized this tool that could look up characters by simply pointing a phone camera at the text. Beyond helping someone in a similar state of learning Chinese, he realized that a tool like this could help any traveler in any country see with new eyes.

Here’s more information about Waygo and downloads for iOS.

→ No CommentsTags: ··

Day of the Dead Comes to SOMArts Oct12-Nov9

September 17th, 2013 · Art, Events

Image Credit:  Rio YanezThe annual Day of the Dead exhibition at SOMArts is a unique way to see multi-dimensional art installations that are inspired by celebratory rituals.  This year’s exhibition, “Imagining Time, Gathering Memory” will run October 12 – November 9th and totally free during the gallery’s hours.  Gallery hours to view are Tuesday-Friday noon-7pm; Saturday 11am-5pm, and Sunday 11am-3pm.

More than 80 artists will participate in this year’s exhibition and this year – the exhibit is dedicated to those whose lives have been affected by cancer.  The theme encourages artists to imagine time in relation to life and death and utilize memories in their art.  Some of the most unique exhibits include:

An interactive, computer driven installation that invites viewers to understand the pervasiveness and randomness that cancer impacts our lives.  The exhibit combines photos of the viewers with statistics on cancer’s impact in the world.

Cancer survivors have installations dedicated to their own personal journeys with cancer and have partnered with area youth to build a joint alter.

Other installations honor teens lives that have been lost to suicide due to bullying.  Artists exhibit works that honor those affected by AIDS and who protested at San Francisco’s U.N. Plaza in 1985.

You can find out all the details on this moving and meaningful show here.

→ No CommentsTags:

A Full Week to Enjoy San Francisco’s Parks: The Perfect Trip

September 2nd, 2013 · Activities

For a city that’s less than 50 square miles in size, San Francisco has a surprising amount of space dedicated to public parks. In addition to the amazing pleasures you’ll find in the famous Golden Gate Park, you can discover treasures in parks here ranging from remote hiking areas to tiny temporary parklets. This itinerary offers you the opportunity to explore all of these gems in a one-week parks-oriented vacation in San Francisco.

Sunday: Golden Gate Park

Start your week with a visit to the famous Golden Gate Park. With tons to see, you’ll get a good start to your trip when you begin it with a full day spent here. It offers museums, indoor and outdoor gardens, windmills, sports centers and more. And of course it also offers plenty of regular park space to just walk around and enjoy.

A day spent in Golden Gate Park gives you the opportunity to check many of the city’s top attractions off of your list. Those include the California Academy of Sciences, De Young Museum, the local Botanical Gardens and aroboretum, the Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Gardens.

Would you rather explore the parts of the park that are a bit more off-the-beaten-path? The bison paddock, the AIDS Memorial Grove and The South Windmill are all great less-traveled spots in this park. Learn more about all of these places and other options from our main article on Golden Gate Park:.

Here are five top tips for your day at Golden Gate Park

  1. Plan ahead. There is a lot to see in this park and you can’t actually get it all done in one day.
  2. Wear comfortable walking shoes. The park is more than 1000 acres in size and stretches across about forty blocks of the city so you will be getting your exercise as you explore!
  3. Consider alternative transportation. Check out San Francisco bike rentals in the park.
  4. Dress in layers. The temperatures will vary throughout the day and can change from one part of the park to another. Bring a sweater or jacket.
  5. Print out a Golden Gate Park map to take with you. The park has maps here and there but they aren’t regularly posted or easy to find so it’s smart to have one with you if you aren’t familiar with the layout of the park.

Monday: The Parks of the Mission

Every neighborhood in San Francisco seems to have at least one park to its name but The Mission is a special place when it comes to parks. This neighborhood offers a range of parks from the popular large Dolores Park to the small parklets lining busy streets. A day spent exploring the parks of The Mission will give you a lot of insight into not only the neighborhood but the city’s whole breadth of park styles.

Start your day Dolores Park. This park, located between 18th and 20th Streets and between Dolores and Church Streets, sits right on the border between The Mission and The Castro neighborhoods. It is usually one of the sunniest spots in the city and so it’s a great place to get out and enjoy a nice day in San Francisco. With stunning views of the city skyline it’s great for visitors as well as locals.

Some of the things that you might enjoy at Dolores Park:

  • A relatively new and impressive children’s playground
  • Courts for tennis and basketball
  • Soccer field
  • Ample space for picnics, Frisbee games and other park activities
  • Various seasonal and holiday activities; check out the festivities on Easter Day for example

In addition to visiting Dolores Park, some of the other parks to check out in The Mission include:

  • 24th St Mini Park. Mini parks are popular in San Francisco. They turn abandoned corners into beautiful little spots where kids can play. This mini-park, found at the corner of 24th and York, has bouncy rubber floors under the kids’ play area for safety. It also features beautiful local artwork including a mosaic snake sculpture called Quetzalcoatl.
  • Fallen Bridge Mini-Park. Here’s another mini-park option and one with an interesting history dating back to the 1970s. Find it under the freeway at 18th and Utah.
  • Garfield Square Park. This San Francisco park is home to a clubhouse with a pool, which is pretty rare here in San Francisco. It also has areas for barbecuing, which makes it popular for various celebrations. It is particularly known for Day of the Dead celebrations.
  • Franklin Square Park. Located at 16th and Bryant, this 5-acre park has been designed with kids of all ages in mind. It is home to one of the favorite playgrounds in the city and is also a popular spot for playing soccer.
  • Jose Coronado Playground. If you’re looking for a place to play sports then check out this small park, which has blacktop soccer and baseball as well as a basketball court and tennis court. Plus there is the playground of course. It’s locate dat Folsom and 21st.
  • Parque Ninos Unidos. Want to check out a newer park in The Mission? Parque Ninos Unidos at 23rd St and Treat was recently built with a clubhouse, lawns, gazebos, a community gardening and a gated-and-fenced play area.
  • Seward Street Slides. Not just for kids! Bring a piece of loose cardboard to slide down these concrete slides in the tiny tree-lined park located at the corner of Seward St. and Douglass St. Technically this is in Castro neighborhood but it’s close enough to make it park of your Mission parks day.
  • La Raza Skatepark. This urban skatepark is located at 25th and Utah. It’s a great spot if you love skateboarding. Kids are welcome but parents be forewarned that this area can get a little sketchy so you’ll want to stay and supervise your kids there just in case.
  • Parklets. San Francisco recently implemented a program called Pavement to Parks, which turns small areas right on main streets into little public parks. They’re located next to businesses but are open for anyone to use, no purchases necessary. Each parklet has a different style to it so it’s fun to find as many as you can. Many of them are located in The Mission; just walk down Valencia Street to start finding them.

Tuesday: Hiking Day

Put your hiking shoes on for the day, enjoy some exercise and experience some history all while enjoying beautiful ocean views!

Start your day by heading out to Ocean Beach, one of San Francisco’s best beaches. Located at the West end of this beach you’ll find The Cliff House restaurant alongside the historic Sutro Baths Ruins. Take a moment to soak in the beauty of the ocean waves crashing against the shore there as you get ready for your hike.

Before you start hiking, check out Sutro Heights Park. This 22-acre park was the home of Adolf Sutro for whom the baths were named. It has views of the historic Cliff House and the ocean. It once had beautiful gardens and statues. It’s no longer the monument it used to be but is still a great park to visit while you’re in the area. From here, head over to the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center on Point Lobos Avenue, a new visitor’s center with lots of information to help you along your trek.

Ready to hike? Head West on the Lands End trail, where you’ll have the chance to continue enjoying stunning ocean views. Keep your eye out for things bobbing in the water. If they’re moving, then they’re probably sea lions (although dolphins and sharks can also occasionally be spotted here). If they seem to be staying in one place then you might be looking at the buried remnants of the many ships that wrecked along the coast long ago.

As you walk you’ll come across the USS San Francisco Memorial. Stop here to see the statue and learn a little bit about the history here. You can detour off of Lands End Trail if you’d like and do a loop to Eagle Point Labyrinth, for some unique views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The loop will take you right back to Lands End Trail and you can continue on. At this point you’ll be located close to the Legion of Honor Museum so you might want to stop there. Even if you decide not to check out the art at the museum, it’s worth it to see the architecture of the building. Then you can continue on Lands End Trail all the way to its Western End, which is Eagles Point. When you get here you’ll be at approximately 33rd Avenue and Lincoln Highway.

If you’re ready to keep walking your next stop will be China Beach Park. This is a small park set in a cove. It has beach access and areas for picnics, making it a great place to have lunch. From here you can walk along the coast to Baker Beach. Be forewarned that a portion of this beach is considered clothing-optional.

Now that you’re at Baker Beach, you’re officially on the edge of The Presidio. There is a lot of beautiful parkland to enjoy here but you probably won’t have enough time to do it all today. For this part of the hiking trek we recommend sticking to the coast or walking along Lincoln Boulevard towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Check out Historic Foint Point. Enjoy the Golden Gate Bridge visitor’s center. If you aren’t completely exhausted by this time, you can finish your hike with an ambitious walk across The Golden Gate Bridge. When you get to the other side you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of the San Francisco city skyline. Enjoy!

Wednesday: Presidio and Maritime National Historical Park 

Since you started to see The Presidio yesterday but barely got a glimpse of it on your hike let’s give it a little bit more time and attention. This home to historic army barracks is filled with trees and other beautiful nature that a park lover will enjoy. Some of the things that you will want to check out during your trek through this neighborhood include:

The Presidio has about 25 miles of hiking trails; the visitors’ center can point you in the right direction. If you’re dealing with bad weather and want to be indoors, The Presidio has some good options for you to consider. If you still want to be active check out the rock climbing gym or House of Air, located next to each other. If you’re feeling a little less active, enjoy a visit to The Walt Disney Museum. Just outside of the Presidio you’ll find The Palace of Fine Arts, offering beautiful sculptural architecture and a grassy area surrounding a lake.

If you’re up for some more hiking then a nice choice is to walk along Marina Blvd. This will take you past Marina Green and Fort Mason, through more beautiful coastal parklands all the way towards Ghirardelli Square. You can spend the rest of your day in this spot rich in tourist attractions including Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. While you’re in this area, you’ll also want to check out Maritime National Historical Park. See the historic ships here, at Hyde Street Pier and at the USS Pampanito Submarine Museum.

Thursday: Back to Nature 

There are several parks located inside of San Francisco city limits that you feel remote. It’s as though you’ve truly gone into nature even though you can easily get to them using public transportation. Enjoy one or more of these parks today.

  • Mount Davidson. San Francisco is a city of hills and this one doesn’t seem too special at first glance but it holds some secrets. First of all, it’s the highest natural point in San Francisco. Second, it’s located really close to the geographical center of the city, affording some great 360-degree views. And finally, it is home to a massive 100+-foot-tall historic cross; you have to see it to believe it. There are short hiking trails here.
  • Glen Canyon Park. This 70-acre city park has everything you could want from playgrounds and rec centers on the edges to the more remote internal trails loved by hikers as well as rock climbers. A popular feature is Islais Creek, which flows for about a mile through the canyon. Keep your eyes out for hawks, coyotes and other wildlife here.
  • Twin Peaks. These two peaks, located not far from Mount Davidson, offer a popular opportunity to see great views of the city. Other than the tourist traffic, this place feels remote because you’re so high up away from the bustle down below. Be aware that even on a nice day it’s going to be terrifically windy up here!
  • Mt. Sutro Open Space Preserve. This is a 60+ acre undeveloped hilly area owned by UCSF and located near the center of the city. It Is open to the public and is home to the beautiful Sutro Forest, made up mostly of eucalyptus trees. You can enjoy hiking and biking trails here. You might also want to check out the Rotary Meadow, a garden of native plants that also has a view of the forest.

Of course if you actually do want to get out of the city and into nature you could also do a day trip to surrounding Bay Area parks. Muir Woods in the North Bay, Tilden Park in Berkeley and Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the South Bay are all great day trips.

Friday: Parks that Locals Love 

Getting tired yet? Today’s a good day to enjoy some of the city’s smaller parks besides those that you’ve already visited in The Mission. Every neighborhood has a park to love so you have a lot of different options. Here are some of your choices:

  • Take the City Guides SF Public Walking Tour called City Scapes and Public Places. It’s offered free most Fridays and gives you a chance to explore the Financial District’s hidden public parks and rooftop gardens.
  • Do a tour of the city’s waterfront parks. Explore the parks located along the South Bay of the city. You can start anywhere along The Embarcadero and head south towards AT&T Park until you reach approximately Pier 90. Some of the parks you’ll find along the water include Bay Front Park, Warm Water Cove Park, Heron’s Head Park and India Basin Shoreline Park. From here you can head to Candlestick Point, a waterfront park in the Bayview neighborhood. This neighborhood is up-and-coming and can be considered sketchy so keep your eyes open but the park is a popular State Recreation Area.
  • Pac Heights Parks. The Pacific Heights neighborhood is bordered by Van Ness and Lyon Streets and Green and California Streets. If you add in the lower Pacific Heights neighborhood it stretches down to Geary Street. This neighborhood is one of the neighborhoods rich in unique city parks including parks popular with families and dogs. Check out Lafayette Park and Alta Plaza Park, which are both large parks that have terrific views of the Bay (and sometimes even Alcatraz and The Golden Gate Bridge). You may also want to visit Allyne Park (a small corner park with beautiful plant life), Hamtilon Rec Center (which has a playground, pool, soccer fields and library), Cottage Row mini-park (bordered by historic houses pre-dating the 1906 earthquake) and Raymond Kimbell Playground / Park. If you’re visiting this neighborhood it’s also worth it to hike the Lyon Street Steps, a plant-lined staircase at Lyon and Broadway with beautiful views.
  • Washington Square Park. This is a popular neighborhood park in the North Beach neighborhood. It’s located right next to St. Peter and Paul Church, made famous in part because it’s where Marilyn Monroe took her wedding photographs when she married Joe DiMaggio. This park is frequently home to music festivals during the summer months. On any given day it’s a great place to take some gelato, a picnic blanket and a good book. 

Saturday: The Catch-All Day

What do you feel like you’ve missed even after six days rich in San Francisco Park explorations? There remain many options for you to check out on your last day in the city. Here are some top choices:

  • Stern Grove. Many locals know about this beautiful 30+-acre park because of the popular free summer concerts held here each year. It’s a great park all year round, though, with lovely trees, a dog park section, playgrounds, places to play sports and more. It is home to Pine Lake.
  • Lincoln Park. You’ve actually already seen this park if you’ve been following this itinerary but there’s more to see than what you might have noticed the first time around. This is a 100-acre park located off of Lands End and is the home to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. It is also home to an 18-hole San Francisco golf course.  Check out the Children’s Theatre Association, the small playground area and The Holocaust Memorial as well.
  • Corona Heights, Buena Vista and The Panhandle. Take the MUNI to the Castro Street Station and you’ll find yourself right near Corona Heights Park. This park has huge views atop an earthy hill. From here make a stop at Buena Vista Park, the oldest official park in the city. Then you can head to the popular Panhandle, a stretch of park area located between Fell and Oak Street near Masonic.
  • Pioneer Park. Many locals don’t actually know that this is the name of the park at the top of Telegraph Hill. It is a small park but it’s rich in things to see. It is home to Coit Tower. Enter for free to see the historic murals made during the WPA era. For a small fee you can go to the top of the tower and enjoy terrific hilltop views. Surrounding the tower you’ll find historic statues and a small grassy area. From here you may want to walk down the Filbert Steps, which trek past many historic homes filled with wild outdoor gardens. Keep your ears open; this park is home to the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

 

Enjoy your week of back-to-back park visits when you follow this week-long itinerary. Alternatively, bookmark it and use it as a guide whenever you get in the mood to check out another local park. San Francisco is rich with them.

→ No CommentsTags: