San Francisco, California
Perched atop steep rolling hills that overlook the San Francisco Bay, San Francisco resides on the edge of the peninsula and acts as a guardian for one of the Pacific’s largest natural harbors. The ‘City by the Bay’ is undeniably one of the greatest cities that draw millions of visitors from all over the world. It is easy to see why after you have strolled along its sloped streets, listened to the romantic bell chimes of passing cable cars, and marveled at the fine architecture of the Victorian-style houses. The city leaves visitors in a mist of enchantment after exposing them to its significantly rich history, trend-setting cuisine, and scenic beauty that towers high over its celebrated blanket of fog.
Although San Francisco has substantial offerings in terms of landmarks and attractions, the city is quite compact in comparison to other metropolitan giants. Despite being condensed to nearly 47 square miles, every district in San Francisco exudes its own certain unique flair and culture. This creates a more intimate environment that cultivates personalized experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE: The Golden Gate Bridge is the most iconic landmark that is synonymous with the city of San Francisco. The suspension bridge connects San Francisco to Marin County and spans the Golden Gate strait, which is the channel between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. The engineers of the bridge utilized Art Deco architectural elements in the design of its streetlights, railings, and tower decorations. The Art Deco motifs are prevalent features that compliment the burnt orange coloring of the bridge perfectly. The most frequently admired overlooks on the San Francisco side of the bridge are the Golden Gate Welcome Center, Golden Gate Overlook, and Fort Point:
Golden Gate Welcome Center – Besides being a center that is dedicated to the stories and history of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Golden Gate Welcome Center is also a great place to take pictures. From the Art Deco themed Roundhouse Café to the Joseph Strauss Statue surrounded by flowers, the welcome center is an inspiring location to become acquainted with the Bay Area’s trademark bridge.
Golden Gate Overlook – The Golden Gate Overlook is on the western side of the bridge and provides onlookers with a straight-on view of the Golden Gate in a northerly direction. The lookout is in amongst the various batteries, which were defense fortifications that mounted artillery guns to defend the coast against ocean threats during the World War I and II.
Fort Point – Fort Point is a masonry fortification from the Civil War era that offers a spectacular ground-level vantage point of the Golden Gate Bridge. Whether inside the fort or along the roadway, the perspective from this location effectively illustrates the bridge’s overwhelming prominence over the San Francisco Bay.
Marin Headlands – The Marin Headlands are a vast, naturally exquisite, and diverse wilderness that is set along a hillside peninsula with stunning views of San Francisco. The cliffside landscape abounds with hiking trails, historical sites, and family-friendly picnic areas, which make this expanse of land a breathtaking attraction. Popular destinations in the Marin Headlands include Vista Point, Battery Spencer, Fort Baker, Kirby Cove Beach, and the Point Bonita Lighthouse.
Vista Point – Vista Point is off of Highway 101 and just before the Alexander Avenue off-ramp in Sausalito. The view from Vista Point is a straight-on, southbound view of the Golden Gate Bridge with a view of San Francisco to the southeast. Along with a spectacular panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay, Vista Point is also home to the Lone Sailor Statue, which commemorates all of those who serve(d) in the U.S. Sea Services: Navy, Marine Corps, Merchant Marines, and Coast Guard.
Battery Spencer – The view from Battery Spencer is the ultimate perspective that pits the Golden Gate Bridge looming proudly in front of the city of San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay. The lookout is perched on top of a bluff so that tourists are at eye level with this modern masterpiece, which reinforces why this outlook is the quintessential perspective of the Golden Gate Bridge. Parking in the immediate area is extremely limited and, since this is a tourist hotspot, congestion along Conzelman Road is to be expected with motorist often stopping to wait for a spot. Despite the lack of immediate parking, there is the North Tower Golden Gate Parking Lot, which serves as an overflow lot for sightseers who don’t mind the steep trek back up the road to the overlook.
Fort Baker – Fort Baker is a U.S. Army base located on the northeastern side of the Golden Gate Bridge. To access the fort, take Highway 101 over the Golden Gate Bridge and take the Alexander Avenue off-ramp heading west. Signage will direct motorists to this secluded enclave of intact historical structures, scenic landscapes, and ample parking. Once at Fort Baker, take time to walk around the marina and then head to the Moore Road Pier. The Moore Road Pier extends into San Francisco Bay and provides onlookers with a southwestern view of the Golden Gate Bridge with the Needles rocks in the foreground. For an elevated view, make your way up behind the Cavallo Point Resort to the Chapel Steps Trail, which offers a tremendous overlook of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Baker, and San Francisco Bay.
Kirby Cove Beach – Kirby Beach is a secluded, course-sand beach and camping area with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge facing east. The beach is situated at the base of the Marin Headlands and can be accessed via the Kirby Beach Trail, which is a 2-mile round-trip hike that starts just west of the Battery Spencer parking lot. The trail is relatively steep, so take caution as the decent to the beach may be easy, but the return trip can test your mettle. After everything is said and done, the demanding effort of this excursion will prove worthwhile for its alluring scenic views.
Point Bonita Lighthouse – The Point Bonita Lighthouse is a working lighthouse that warns ocean vessels of the dangers at the entrance of the Marin Headlands. The lighthouse is surrounded by the rough ocean waters that surge and crash against the craggy coast. To get to the Point Bonita Lighthouse, take Conzelman Road from Battery Spencer westward until the road intersects with Field Road. Here there will be parking available along the road or in the lots adjacent to the road (NOTE: The Point Bonita YMCA Parking Lot is not available to tourists, but there are additional dirt lots towards Battery Alexander that will require a longer hike). The trail down to the Point Bonita Lighthouse is a moderately steep, semi-paved trail that passes through the lush landscape of the Marin Headlands. At the end of the trail, a narrow suspension bridge transports visitors across the gorge below and deposits them in front of the black-domed Point Bonita Lighthouse.
PRESIDIO: The Presidio was a former U.S. Army military fort that has been transformed into a park consisting of historical museums, restaurants, and recreational activities. The area is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and has become a haven for any outdoor enthusiast. The park is characterized by its immense fields, densely wooded areas, sandy beaches, and expansive views of the Golden Gate Bridge. A few of the main attractions within the Presidio are the Golden Gate Promenade, Crissy Field, Baker Beach, and Marshall Beach.
Golden Gate Promenade – The Golden Gate Promenade is a relatively flat pathway that begins at the entrance of the Presidio and culminates at Fort Point, which is at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The distance of the promenade varies depending on the chosen route, but the trail spans anywhere between 2 and 6 miles. The most basic promenade route is 2-miles and is frequently utilized by runners, dog walkers, and pedestrians that wish to take in the scenic shoreline in a beautiful urban setting.
Crissy Field – Set along the northern peninsula of San Francisco, Crissy Field was once a U.S. Army Airfield that has now been transformed into a national park. Extensive efforts were put forth in the rehabilitation and restoration of the natural landscape, so that the area now encompasses a park, beach, and wetland all in one. Crissy Field has become a recreational paradise for locals wanting to enjoy the California sun and peaceful atmosphere.
Baker Beach – Baker Beach is a mile-long stretch of beach that resides at the western base of the Presidio’s rugged cliffside. What makes Baker Beach such a popular destination is its northern view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. Many tourists and locals flock to the beach for basking in the sun, picnicking, and other outdoor activities, so be prepared for crowds. Another important note that visitors should be advised about is the fact that the northernmost end of the beach is clothing-optional, so there may be nude sunbathers and pedestrians strolling along the beach.
Marshall Beach – North of Baker Beach and below the jagged coastal cliffs of the Presidio lays the more secluded Marshall Beach. Unlike Baker Beach, which is easily accessed from the parking lot, Marshall Beach requires a short hike on the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. Due to this moderately steep decent, as well as limited parking along Lincoln Boulevard, the beach is not as crowded as Baker Beach. The lack of a crowd on this remote shorefront creates a more intimate atmosphere with profound views of the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge.
Land’s End Trail – An isolated treasure of the northwestern San Francisco peninsula is the Land’s End Trail that can be accessed through the Coastal Trail. The hike meanders along the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean and culminates at a man-made rock labyrinth that overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge. The trail is an easy 2-mile out-and-back hike that starts at the Land’s End Main Parking Lot and traverses crushed stone and dirt pathways with a slight grade. Early morning treks are highly recommended since these trails are quite popular and become heavily trafficked with dog-walkers, joggers, and mountain bikers by mid-morning.
Palace of Fine Arts – Within the Marina District of San Francisco stands a relic that attracts visitors from all over the country to marvel at its architectural beauty. The classically designed landmark is the Palace of Fine Arts, which was designed to feature a pergola of Grecian-style pillars and an iconic rotunda alongside a brilliantly landscaped lagoon. The neighboring reflecting lagoon was a deliberate engineering technique so that a glimmering mirror image of the structure could be admired from a distance. Visitors can walk along the paved pathway that circumnavigates the pond and admire the architecture, the reflections, and the local wildlife that frequent the area.
Lombard Street – Located between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street, this famed section of Lombard Street features eight hairpin switchbacks along well-landscaped residences. The crooked street is paved with red bricks and provides onlookers with an elevated view of Coit Tower, the Bay Bridge, and the San Francisco Bay. This section of Lombard is a one-way street, but there are steps on either side of the road where pedestrians can walk the expanse of the famous roadway.
Alcatraz – Alcatraz, also known as ‘The Rock,’ is an island in the San Francisco Bay that used to be a federal penitentiary, but is now a National Historical Landmark and tourist attraction. The prison formerly housed notorious inmates such as Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, and Robert Stroud aka the Birdman of Alcatraz. Tours of the grounds are offered daily and ferry transportation to the island is included in the price of admission. A visit to Alcatraz explores the cellblocks, recreation yard, lighthouse, library, and other locations with deep historical ties to the former federal prison. Along with its historical significance, Alcatraz also offers fantastic views of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge.
YERBA BUENA ISLAND: The Yerba Buena Island is a land mass that sits in the San Francisco Bay and connects the eastern and western spans of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. Formerly an Army camp and then a U.S. Naval Station, the island is now under the control of the U.S. Coast Guard, so certain areas are restricted to visitors. From Yerba Buena Island, motorists can gain entry to Treasure Island, which provides spectacular views of the eastern and western spans of the Bay Bridge as it crosses the San Francisco Bay:
Treasure Island – Treasure Island is an artificial island that is connected to Yerba Buena Island via a man-made causeway. The isle has an active marina, roadways, and many historical buildings, but has recently broken ground on a construction project to increase housing on the island that expects to be completed in 2020. Upon completion, this run-down area will get a much needed facelift that includes over 8,000 residences, 3 hotels, and quality restaurants with a view. The western side of the island provides a sweeping panorama from the Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline to the Golden Gate and Marin Headlands. Treasure Island is a popular spot for locals to catch fireworks and sit back and marvel as the Blue Angels soar overhead during San Francisco’s Fleet Week.
Oakland Bay Bridge (Eastern Span) – The Oakland Bay Bridge, also referred to as the eastern span, finished construction in 2013 and abandoned the previous double deck span for the single deck design with eastbound and westbound lanes on either side. The new design employs a single tower with self-anchored suspension cables and roadways that are adorned with skyway light poles. The improvements created a more visually appealing, and structurally sound, bridge so that motorists may safely travel over the San Francisco Bay. The best location to view the Oakland Bay Bridge is either from the Bay Bridge Trail Lookout or the Treasure Isle Marina.
San Francisco Bay Bridge (Western Span) – The San Francisco Bay Bridge is the western expanse of the Bay Bridge that connects Highway 80 from Yerba Buena Island to San Francisco. It is an elegantly designed suspension bridge that features four towers with cables that connect each tower. The decorative lights on the bridge are visible from dusk until dawn to commemorate the 75th anniversary since the Bay Bridge opened. Although these lights were supposed to be only temporary, a deal was made with the State of California so that the lights would remain a permanent fixture of the bridge’s luminance.
Fisherman’s Wharf – Fisherman’s Wharf is San Francisco’s most famous waterfront community that is known for its vivacious atmosphere, eclectic shops, and delectably fresh seafood. The district encompasses the northern waterfront from Ghirardelli Square to Pier 35, which is just past Pier 39. The neighborhood is also home to the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, which features a fleet of historic vessels like the C.A. Thayer and Balclutha. A stroll along the harbor will have visitors overwhelmed with the sights and smells of the various vendors selling their assortment of seafood offerings.
Ghirardelli Square – Ghirardelli Square was originally home to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory before it was adaptively reused for unique retail shops and fine dining restaurants that embodied the San Francisco lifestyle. The square features old brick buildings, a stately clock tower, an ornamental fountain, and a large marquee that reads ‘Ghirardelli’ and illuminates the shopping center at night. No trip to San Francisco is complete before stopping by the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop, or the nearby and less crowded Ghirardelli Chocolate Marketplace, to enjoy one of their ice cream sundaes smothered in their world famous Ghirardelli chocolate sauce.
Pier 39 – Pier 39 is a bustling boardwalk that is a main attraction for tourists in search of restaurants, souvenir shops, and exciting activities. This beloved destination attracts tourists to its docks to observe its most treasured residents, the California sea lions. These adorable marine animals have called the marina home and provide endless entertainment from their loud barking to their playful antics. Pier 39 is on the Embarcadero waterfront and is within walking distance to Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square along the lively San Francisco sidewalks.
THE EMBARCADERO: The Embarcadero is on the eastern waterfront of San Francisco and is home to one of the most enjoyable stretches of walkway along the San Francisco Bay. The pathway is a local favorite that is often frequented by pedestrians, runners, and bike riders, looking to enjoy the San Francisco atmosphere. During the winter months, the Embarcadero Center constructs a public ice skating rink where anyone can buy an admission ticket and ice skate rental to enjoy gliding across the frozen water. The Embarcadero Center is also home to local artists and vendors who set up their tents to showcase their arts and crafts for the passing crowds. As tourists meander further along the Embarcadero, they will encounter a myriad of attractions, eateries, and shops that are sure to impress.
Rincon Park – Rincon Park is home to the Cupid’s Span, which is a massive bow and arrow sculpture that resides along the Embarcadero. Despite the park’s diminutive size, the perfectly groomed grass and well-manicured landscape provides a peaceful setting to relax along the San Francisco Bay. Rincon Park is also a great area for photographers to set up along the railings and capture the sunrise as it crests over the Bay Bridge and East Bay.
Pier 14 – Pier 14 is a concrete and metal pier that extends into the San Francisco Bay and affords sightseers with breathtaking views of the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. The pier is open from 7am to 8pm and can be found north of Rincon Park and south of the San Francisco Ferry Building along the Embarcadero. Near the end of the pier there are swiveling bucket chairs that are permanent fixtures for visitors to sit and enjoy while taking in the gorgeous backdrop.
San Francisco Ferry Building – The San Francisco Ferry Building is not only a terminal for the ferries traveling across the bay, but it is also a marketplace and food hall. The iconic structure features a span of large archways and a centralized clock tower that extends overhead 245-feet, casting its shadow over the Embarcadero. Gazing at the skyline from the bay at night, the ‘Port of San Francisco’ sign is illuminated in bright red lights, which helps make this landmark stand out.
Pier 7 – Pier 7 is a slender, public access berth that is adorned with cast iron lampposts and long wooden benches. The benches are made of wood and iron circular armrests that provide a unique perspective when photographed face-on. Unlike Pier 14, Pier 7 is open 24-hours a day and is often occupied by fisherman and crabbers trying their luck at the end of the dock. Views from the end of the pier include panoramas of Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge, but make sure to face the city to marvel at the direct view of the Transamerica Pyramid.
Coit Tower – Coit Tower stands 210-feet tall atop Telegraph Hill and has served as a welcoming landmark for anyone entering San Francisco. The art deco tower was constructed in the shape of an unpainted concrete column and is listed on the National Register of Historical Places for its significance to the city. The interior of the tower is filled with different fresco murals that depict how life was in California during the Great Depression. The murals are tastefully done and provide an added bonus of historic and cultural reference for those admiring the artwork. Visitors may purchase tickets to ride an elevator to the observation deck, which gives onlookers a 360-degree view of the city and San Francisco Bay Area. There is a small circular parking lot available out front, but it fills up quickly and creates significant vehicle congestion on Telegraph Hill Boulevard. If you’re up for a scenic detour, and a bit of a work out, walk up the Filbert Street Steeps or Greenwich Street Stairs for a hidden detour.
Transamerica Pyramid – The Transamerica Pyramid is now the second tallest building in San Francisco and is comprised of one city block at the gateway of the city’s Financial District. This prominently-shaped building is an emblem of San Francisco and adequately represents the character of the city. The beacon at the top of the pyramid is considered the building’s ‘crown jewel’ and during special occasions it illuminates and can be seen sparkling from all over the city. The building used to have an observation deck, but since the 2001 terrorist attacks it is not opened to the general public; however, their visitor center offers a visual observation by way of four live video cameras that are placed on each side of the building. Despite not being able to go to the top, the structure is visually appealing from every angle and is extremely photogenic from street level.
Columbus Avenue – Columbus Avenue is a street that runs diagonally from the base of the Transamerica Pyramid, passing through Chinatown and North Beach, and terminating at Fisherman’s Wharf. The North Beach District is the home of San Francisco’s Little Italy, which is a small, but charming part of the city. Little Italy is bursting with bustling Italian restaurants, impressive paintings, and savory cafés that cater to the passing foot traffic. A surefire way to know you have crossed into Little Italy is by looking at the streetlamps and how they are adorned with the colors of the Italian flag. Within Little Italy is Washington Square Park, which acts as a prime setting to sit and relax while enjoying the tranquility of the neighborhood.
Chinatown – San Francisco’s Chinatown is a unique cultural experience in the oldest Chinatown in North America. The region is an enclave for new Chinese immigrants who needed a starting point where they could preserve their language, customs, and beliefs. The Dragon’s Gate, found on Grant Avenue and Bush Street, marks Chinatown’s landmark entrance, which encompasses 24 city blocks. After passing through the gateway you will be stunned at the intricate Chinese architecture and sculptures that line the streets. Examples of this architecture can be seen while walking along many of Chinatown’s famous alleyways, like Waverly Place. It is recommended to begin any tour of Chinatown at the more ‘touristy’ Grant Avenue, but then to venture deeper for a more enriching and fulfilling experience.
Union Square –Although Union Square is one-block public plaza, the retail and cultural hub extends past its borders and encourages visitors to eat, shop, play, and stay. The landmark park, and surrounding neighborhoods of Powell, Geary, Stockton, and Post Streets, is home the city’s largest collection of boutique shops and luxury departments, as well as fine dining and entertainment. Every major fashion and design label has set up shop along Union Square and helps boast the plaza as one of the worlds’ premier shopping districts. Besides shopping, Union Square is also a gathering place where visitors can relax and take in the sights and sounds of the city. During the holidays, the park erects a Christmas tree that is over 80-feet tall and covered in thousands of LED Christmas lights and ornaments, as well as an ice skating rink that resides next to the Dewey Monument.
Alamo Square Park – The Alamo Square Park is a four city block park that resides on Alamo Hill and provides an outstanding vantage point of the ‘Painted Ladies’ and a part of the San Francisco skyline in the background. The ‘Painted Ladies,’ as they have been affectionately nicknamed, are a row of architecturally significant, Victorian-style houses that are on Steiner Street and are facing the park. The ideal location to photograph the ‘Painted Ladies’ is from the southeastern edge of the park near Steiner and Hayes Street. From this location there are newly paved paths, a fountain with surrounding foliage, and a well-maintained lawn that amplify the spirit of the photograph. Despite being surrounded by Steiner, Hayes, Scott, and Fulton Street, parking is not always guaranteed due to the popularity of this tourist attraction. If you are lucky enough to find a spot, then be prepared to parallel park into some tight spaces.
Twin Peaks – Twin Peaks are two adjacent hillside peaks that are located in the center of San Francisco and offer an elevated 360-degree view of the city. Most visitors park at Christmas Tree Point and enjoy the view from the observation point, but there is an option to hike up the steps to the North Peak and South Peak via the trailhead across the street from the parking lot. Both locations offer great views, but keep in mind that you are in San Francisco and at a higher elevation so bundle up! The overlook from Christmas Tree Point features Market Street that directs the spectators gaze towards the downtown skyline. Another feature is the hairpin turn of Twin Peaks Boulevard, which provides a fascinating foreground element alongside the thick vegetation. There are no shortages of perspectives since you can see the entire San Francisco Bay Area on a clear day. The viewpoint is a great sunrise location because it faces the east and you do not have to fight for a parking spot. Twin Peaks is a treasured spot by locals and a wonderful place to listen to the wind whip along the hillside, while watching the fog roll into the bay.
Lincoln Park Steps – Nestled in the Richmond District at the end of California Street, the Lincoln Park Steps are a tiled mosaic that runs the length of the stairwell. These once neglected stairs now serve as a colorful entry into Lincoln Park and the gateway from the urban neighborhood to Land’s End and the Legion of Honor. The psychedelic design of the tiles was inspired by historic photos of the buildings of the World’s Fair of San Francisco and of the Sutro Baths. The revitalized Lincoln Park Steps are now part of the growing list of magnificent hidden stairwells that are tucked away throughout the city.
16th Avenue Tiled Steps – The narrow 163-step stairwell is a distinctively tiled staircase that can be found at the end of Moraga Street, connecting 16th and 15th Avenue. The art installation was a neighborhood collaboration where they designed and implemented a mosaic of crushed tiles to form an ascending themed portrait of sea to stars. The names of the contributors can be found on handmade named tiles that were in the shapes of animals, fish, and shells, and then placed within the mosaic. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps is a popular destination that embodies how a neighborhood coming together can brighten the hearts of everyone who ascends the stairwell.
Hidden Garden Steps – The second installation of tiled steps in the Golden Heights Districts comes at the base of Kirkham and 16th Avenue and has been given the moniker of Hidden Garden Steps. Like the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, the Hidden Garden Steps were a community led public art initiative that created the 163-step mosaic and wall mural. The remarkable design scheme includes striking artwork that forms rainbows, flowers, mushrooms, and butterflies. Albeit off the beaten path, the Hidden Garden Steps are worth the detour to fully experience the steep flight up the stairway to happiness.
AT&T Park – AT&T Park, formerly known as Pacific Bell Park, is a professional baseball stadium and home of the San Francisco Giants. The ballpark sits along the edge of the San Francisco Bay and is infamous for its ‘splash hits,’ which are home runs that clear the 24-foot high right field wall and land in McCovey Cove. The stadium is also known for its 80-foot Coca-Cola bottle slide and an oversized representation of an old-time, four-fingered baseball glove, which are located above the left field bleachers. The stadium boasts that no seat within AT&T Park is a bad seat, which is true, but my favorite seats are along the first base line and anywhere between sections 302 and 307. The seats from these sections may not provide an up close and personal outlook of the game, but if you’re looking to take pictures then the views of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco Bay are worthy tradeoffs.
*Attractions outside of San Francisco:
Muir Woods National Monument – Muir Woods National Monument is part of the National Parks Service and was established in order to protect the redwood forest from logging companies. The park is over 550 acres and is situated on Mount Tamalpais near the Pacific Coast, just 12-miles north of San Francisco. It seems hard to believe that visitors can be transplanted from the bustling city streets to the secluded, ancient growth of coastal redwoods within close proximity to San Francisco. Muir Woods is an outdoor paradise for enthusiasts wanting to test their endurance on one of the trails, which vary in difficulty, while meandering through diverse habitats and topography. When walking along the redwood sanctuary you can’t help but crane your neck skyward to fully appreciate the size of these behemoths. The aptly named Cathedral Grove is a section within the park that pays homage to the redwoods and where visitors can’t help but feel as if they entered a place of worship. As if instinctual, the quiet and stillness of the forest creates a deep respect for these ancient giants, which encourages visitors to listen, rather than speak, in order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the environment.
Mount Tamalpais – Mount Tamalpais, or Mt. Tam, is Marin County’s tallest peak that provides spectacular panoramas of the Pacific Coast and the San Francisco Bay Area. The terrain is covered with sweeping hills and profound canyons that are blanketed in willowy grasslands, redwood forests, coniferous woodlands, and wetland vegetation. The park is open from 7am to sunset and offers a myriad of well-networked hiking trails that traverse the terrain at varying degrees of difficulty and length. Along with hiking, Mount Tamalpais is also popular for sightseeing, cycling, horseback riding, and picnicking. A drive along East Ridgecrest Boulevard will pass by different overlooks like Trojan Point, as well as many trailheads and picnicking areas, before culminating at the Mount Tamalpais East Peak Parking Lot. From here visitors can take the short hike from the parking lot to the Gardner Lookout, which gives visitors a 360-degree view of the Bay Area. Since this is a recreational haven for local outdoor enthusiasts, it is recommended to arrive early because the roadways can get congested with traffic, especially on weekends and holidays.
SECRET PHOTO SPOT:
Lowes Hotel 40th Floor Patio – Although many locals will argue which ‘secret spot’ they find to be the best, I cast my vote that the 40th Floor Patio at the Lowes Hotel gives visitors what they want. Granted the Fairmont and St. Regis are a close second, but the up close and personal vista of the Transamerica Pyramid and the San Francisco Bay, from the Golden Gate to Treasure Island, has to be one of the best. There are two drawbacks that make this such a secret spot. The first is that the elevators require a keycard and the second is that the door to the 40th Floor Patio remains locked and can only be accessed by its staff. So, if you are staying at the Lowes Hotel, then both of these issues are resolved as you will already be in possession of a room key and can call the front desk to access the patio at your leisure. If you are not staying at the hotel then you have to try your luck at talking with the front desk and hoping that you interact with an understanding staff member that will allow you to shoot from their patio. Once all is said and done, jumping through all of these hoops will seem inconsequential when standing on the patio with one of the best sunset views in the city and not having to deal with the crowds of tourists ruining your shot. Furthermore, once the sun sets over the city and you review all of your photographs, you may very well agree that the view from the 40th Floor Patio may be one of your most cherished photographs of San Francisco.
Recommendations for Local Eats:
Tartine Bakery – Tartine is a local bakery in the Mission District that serves breads, pastries, desserts, and hot pressed sandwiches that use only the finest organic ingredients. The bakery has gained national acclaim for its sensational creations that have patrons lining up around the block before the doors open. I always order their Museli – whole grains and yogurt that have fruit and nuts mixed in – and follow it up with a tasty Morning Bun as a treat – a large, sticky cinnamon-sugar pastry with candied orange flavoring.
Boudin Bistro – The Boudin Bistro is located along Fisherman’s Wharf and is a restaurant, café, and bakery. Boudin’s is most renowned for their sourdough bread, which is used in all of their bread bowls, pizzas, and sandwiches. Many people prefer the clam chowder, but my all-time favorite has to be the Boudin Sourdough Bread Bowl with Tomato Soup, when it is available. If you are looking for a bread bowl that is more of a grab-and-go, then stop by the Boudin Bakery and Cafe at Pier 39. Here they offer a variety of soups or chili in bead bowls, as well as other delicious selections.
Fisherman’s Wharf – The Fisherman’s Wharf Chowder and Crab Takeaway Stands run along the corner of Taylor and Jefferson Street and are a popular destination for seafood aficionados. Depending on the season, the offerings will include fresh crab, lobster rolls, shrimp cocktails, and other fried seafood. All of the stands offer something delicious, but I leave this to each individual’s personal choice as to what calls out to you. Vendors along this stretch include the Crab Station, Alioto’s Crab Stand, Sabella and LaTorre’s, and many more, so be sure to peruse all of the menus before settling on a dish.
Ghirardelli Square – An absolute must before leaving San Francisco is stopping by Ghirardelli Square for one of their mouth-watering ice cream concoctions. I prefer to avoid the extensive wait times at the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop; instead I head further into the square towards the Ghirardelli Chocolate Marketplace. Here they have the same extensive menu, but they have shorter wait times, ample indoor seating, and an outdoor patio where you can enjoy your ice cream next to one of their fire pits. My standard order bounces between the Treasure Island (Warm Brownie Sundae) and the Golden Gate (Banana Split) depending on what my food mood is.
#SanFrancisco #California #GoldenGateBridge #GoldenGate #GoldenGateWelcomeCenter #GoldenGateOverlook #FortPoint #MarinHeadlands #VistaPoint #BatterySpencer #FortBaker #KirbyCoveBeach #PointBonitaLighthouse #Presidio #GoldenGatePromenade #CrissyField #BakerBeach #MarshallBeach #LandsEndTrail #LandsEnd #PalaceofFineArts #LombardStreet #Alcatraz #YerbaBuenaIsland #YerbaBuena #TreasureIsland #OaklandBayBridge #SanFranciscoBayBridge #OaklandSanFranciscoBayBridge #FishermansWharf #GhirardelliSquare #Pier39 #TheEmbarcadero #EmbarcaderoCenter #Embarcadero #RinconPark #Pier14 #SanFranciscoFerryBuilding #Pier7 #CoitTower #TransamericaPyramid #ColumbusAvenue #Chinatown #UnionSquare #AlamoSquarePark #AlamoSquare #PaintedLadies #TwinPeaks #ChristmasTreePoint #LincolnParkSteps #16thAvenueTiledSteps #HiddenGardenSteps #ATTPark #MuirWoodsNationalMonument #MuirWoods #MountTamalpais #MtTamalpais #MtTam #MountTam #MountTamalpaisStatePark #TrojanPoint #LowesHotel #TartineBakery #BoudinBistro