5 Days in San Francisco

September 14, 2014

Day 4: Lombard St, Bike Tour, Golden Gate Bridge & Sausalito

Today we would cover a greater distance and to do so, we would rent bicycles, another very popular thing to do in San Francisco. We started our day early, as you need the time on a day like this. There are many bike tour companies in San Francisco and one the most popular ones is Blazing Saddles. They offer a wide range of bikes and good prices ($32 per day) as well as multiple locations in the city. There is no need to book but locations get crowded, especially on weekends, so get there early to avoid the queues.

San Francisco Cable CarOn the way to pick up the bikes, why not take advantage of the view? We headed out to Market and Powell and bought one-way tickets ($6) for the cable car (you can actually pay on board, cash only). Your ticket here also gives you 10% off at Ghirardelli’s and that would come in handy later on. The ‘best’ line is the Powell – Hyde line, which takes you all the way down to Fisherman’s Wharf. This is the starting point and the queue here is horrendous. If you want to skip the queues, simply walk a few blocks up Powell St to Union Square and catch the cable car from there. It’s not the nicest thing to do but if you think about it, it’s quite smart and makes sense (not everyone catches the bus at the same station – right?).

Riding a San Francisco cable car is a must. This piece of engineering marvel has been negotiating the city’s steep hills since 1873. There is no practical need for them today but being as iconic as they are, Muni keeps them running (though not very efficiently). If you want to learn more, head to the Cable Car Museum at some point, admission is free. Snaking up and down the hills, with a few turns in between, make sure to stop at the corner of Lombard Street. This is one of the best spots in San Francisco. With Alcatraz straight in the background, you’ll see cable cars climb up and down the hill. It’s one of the best photos ops in town.  

And now for Lombard Street. This famous street snakes its way down the hill via 8 steep curves and is famous around the world. Originally conceived to help drivers safely negotiate the hill, this section of Lombard Street is popular with the tourists who drive down the hill in endless amounts. For those of us on foot, it’s great to walk down and admire the landscape, along with the panoramic views that the lucky (or unlucky) residents of this street enjoy.

  • Lombard Street San Francisco

We continued straight down Hyde St to pick up the bikes. The staff here will explain to you various bike routes you can take and you’ll get a very useful map to take with you. Be sure to bring with you plenty of water and sun screen (as well as a light wind jacket). Each bike is equipped with a pouch.

The most popular bike route is to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and return by ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf (and then cycle back to return the bikes). Since this is my second time doing this, I’ll actually be giving two options here. More on that later.

To start off with, there’s pretty much one way to go and that’s along the water until you reach a steep climb towards Fort Mason. The view from here is fantastic and gives you the first good glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. We continued along the path through the grassy park and down to Marina Boulevard (don’t worry, you’ll see many other cyclers with you). To your right, great bay views and to your left, amazing modern Victorian houses with million dollar views (literally).

Fort Mason Park San Francisco

The first real stop is the Palace of Fine Arts which is on your left side. This is another famous landmark in San Francisco and you’ll surely recognize this open classical rotunda. Built for a fair in 1915, the palace has since managed to go through a period of decay and reconstruction. It’s popular with the swans in the center pond and couples on pre-wedding photo shoots (the houses around it aren’t too bad either).

Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco

Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco

Back on the bikes, we continued along the San Francisco Bay Trail which takes through Crissy Field Marsh and by a beautiful beach with great Golden Gate views (everything is well marked).

Golden Gate Bridge

Eventually, we got to Crissy Field, a huge park very popular with locals on weekend BBQs. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city behind you keep getting better and better and there’s no better to enjoy it than grabbing lunch from the Warming Hut Cafe and eating outside with a view. Sandwiches are amazing here and the view, well, have a look at the picture.

Golden Gate Bridge

After fueling up you are now faced with two choices: either cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge or cycle towards Baker Beach across the Presidio, eventually getting to Golden Gate Park. Both options involve climbing up a hill and getting to HWY 101.

Option 1: Cycle Across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito

 

Golden Gate BridgeWhen you think about San Francisco, the image that first comes to mind is no doubt, of the Golden Gate Bridge. After 4 years of construction (costing over $1B in today’s money), the bridge opened in 1937. This beautiful suspension bridge (spanning 1,200 meters between towers) is the symbol of the city and connects Marin County to San Francisco, almost 3 kilometers away. Continuously pounded by the Pacific winds (it’s pretty windy up here), the bridge was designed to endure the worst that mother nature can swing at it and hanging over 60 meters above water, is, unfortunately, a popular spot for suicides.

Crossing the bridge is certainly another ‘achievement unlocked’ and only when crossing by foot or bike, you really get a true sense of this engineering marvel.

Cycling on Golden Gate Bridge

It can get pretty crowded on the bridge but you do have some spaces to stop and soak in the sites. When crossing the bridge heading north, you’ll be on the opposite side of the city. However, there are plenty of good viewing spots when you cross the bridge. One option is the vista point just as you cross the bridge, but we’ll cover that with the car the next day when we head out to Muir Woods.

As you finish crossing the bridge, you’ll just follow the path that takes you onto Conzelman Rd, below the bridge then onto Moore Rd and finally East Rd and into Sausalito.

Sausalito is the kind of town you’d love to live in. Its tiny but cute main street is filled with restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. Its hills are lined with beautiful cottages that have million dollar views, and its houseboats further to the north have become iconic. The marina in the city center make Sausalito extremely accessible for day-trippers and you’ll take the ferry back to town.

We parked the bikes near the marina and headed for a stroll in town. If you have a sweet tooth (and you deserve some candy after all that riding), head to Munchies Candy and try their saltwater taffy. After a nice stroll in town, we hopped on the bikes for a 1km ride to Wellington’s Wine Bar. No need to make reservations here but the highlight is definitely to sip a glass of wine with an appetizer outside on the deck. The action here is to watch the boats come and go and maybe a few seals if you’re lucky. It’s a very popular place with local Marin residents.

For early dinner, we made reservations at Sushi Ran beforehand, just across the street. This busy place requires a reservation and it’s the perfect way to end the afternoon. The sushi is great with fine finishing touches and ever so fresh.

  • Wellington’s Wine Bar Sausalito

After dinner, we caught the ferry back to the city. The ride back offers great sunset views of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. Check the ferry times here and be sure to come back before Blazing Saddles closes for the night (they are open until pretty late).

  • Sunset Golden Gate Bridge

Option 2: Cycle to Baker Beach and Golden Gate Park

 

The Presidio San FranciscoIf crossing the bridge is not your thing or if you are fine with crossing it by car – here’s an excellent option for you. Instead of crossing the bridge when you reach HWY 101 just after climbing from The Warming Hut, turn left and continue on Merchant St and then Lincoln Blvd. You are now deep in the Presidio. A military fort for 218 years, this now national park is filled with hills, beautiful mansions and lots of paths. Just Follow Lincoln Blvd and walk if the climb is too much. You will eventually be rewarded with a fun downhill ride right onto Baker Beach.

Not too many tourists venture out to Baker Beach. That’s a shame because this beach is one of the nicest city beaches you’ll come across. With a unique view of the Golden Gate Bridge to the east, stroll along the fine white sand and watch as huge ocean liners enter the bay. Don’t be alarmed if you see a few nudists in the northern part of the beach. This beach is the birthplace of the legendary Burning Man festival which now takes place in Nevada – so you can imagine it’s quite a free spirit spot.

Baker Beach San Francisco

From Baker Beach, you are faced with two options.

If you’re too tired at this point, head back via Lake and Clay streets, eventually making it back to Hyde street, where you drop off the bikes. The drive is mostly flat and on the odd hill, just walk the bikes. You’ll pass through one of the nicest (and quietest) parts of town and be amazed that in the heart of the city, you have such grand Victorian houses as you see here.

  • Victorian Houses San Francisco

If you still have some gas (and daylight) left, head down via 25th Av to Golden Gate Park. Rivaled only by New York’s Central Park, this is one of the finest city parks you’ll come across. It’s quite huge and really deserves its own day to explore but if you don’t have the time and have a bike, it makes for a pleasant ride, with plenty of trails and roads to ride on. There are a few highlights within the park, with the most famous (and touristy) one being the Japanese Tea Garden – the oldest Japanese garden in the US. The gardens ($8 for non-residents) are filled with small footpaths, pagodas, bonsai and cherry trees, ponds and everything you’d expect from such gardens. Other highlights include the famous bronze Buddha sculpture and the oversized U-shaped bridge. Be sure to unwind in the tea shop, where you can choose from a wide range of selections.

  • Japanese Tea Garden Golden Gate Park San Francisco

If you’re still up for some adventure, cycle east out of the park to Haight-Ashbury, the iconic peace movement area. Once again, this place does deserve more time for exploring. There are cool vintage shops, restaurants, and bars. Here too, you’ll smell a lot of Marijuana and parts of it are a bit rough around the edges. From here, it’s about 4 miles back to Blazing Saddles so it is quite a long ride.

All the cycling options I’ve mentioned here are an excellent way to discover this side of San Francisco (and even beyond the bridge). It can be challenging, but you are definitely rewarded with an experience of a lifetime.

Ghirardelli’s San FranciscoAfter all that cycling, you really deserve a sweet break. Conveniently enough, Ghirardelli’s is just a block away from Blazing Saddles. Famous for their chocolate squares, Ghirardelli’s is also famous for sundaes. What a perfect way to welcome the evening with a sundae in Ghirardelli Square. Your cable car ticket also gives you 10% of your sundae.

If you want to head back home, the Powell – Hyde line starts just one block away. Be warned though that queues can take well over an hour. Of course, you can climb up the hill and catch the cable car from there too. We took a taxi to Washington Square and to Tony’s Pizza Napoletana for dinner. This is one of the best places in San Francisco for pizza. You can either try your luck in the restaurant or if the queue is too long, order takeaway at their spin-off location just 2 doors down. Slices are big and the pizza is excellent!

Any Regrets?

  1. The queues to the cable car are quite long at the start / end points. We did wait for a while in line before we thought about walking further along the line and hopping on.
  2. There’s a lot to see on any of the options I’ve described here. Some areas do deserve their own day but it really depends on your time. We finished the day exhausted but ecstatic!

email

20 comments

  1. hi! we’re goin on a trip in august and i love your recommendation for biking over the Golden Gate to Sausalito ..but if we bike there,is there a place to drop off the bikes so we can take the ferry back over? ..i missed that in case u mentioned..
    ps thank you for your trip itinerary! VERY helpful!!

    1. Hi Stephanie!

      Thanks for the feedback, glad you find it useful! Nothing keeps me more motivated to continue writing that fellow travel readers joining the newsletter 🙂

      As for your question, the Sausalito ferry is very bike friendly so you’ll actually take the your rented bike on the ferry. It’s all very organized.

      Have fun in SFO and don’t forget to pack some warm clothes 🙂

  2. Hi Avichai,
    I’m planning a vacation for my family in September in California. We plan to fly into San Diego and drive to San Francisco making our way through important points such as disneyland, LA, coasts, etc.
    I’ve started with planning the San Diego side of the trip and there are so many things we want to do there that I was planning to give it 5 days (Seaworld, zoo, safari park, USS Midway, Coronado, etc, etc) [Your post was very helpful btw!] I was only planning for 1-2 days in San Francisco but now that I see you took 5 days there I’m a little confused. Do you think we should spend less time in San Diego and more time in San Francisco? We want to go to the parks as well as the beaches!

    1. Thanks for reaching out. I can understand why you would want to spend this amount of time in San Diego. There’s more family stuff to do there with the Zoo, Seaworld etc. I think 5 days might be a bit too much though, depending on how old the kids are and how quickly you can get from place to place. Keep in mind that you’re talking about a very long drive with both L.A and the PCH on the way. Since I spent a lot of time in San Francisco, I got to see a lot of it. I wouldn’t think places like The Mission, Golden Gate Park & Chinatown are musts if you’re on a family trip with young children so perhaps 3 full days in SFO are OK. I would say the musts in SFO are: crossing the bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf area (for the kids), Alcatraz, a bit of nature (Muir Woods) and a bit of walking around. So to make a long story short – if the kids are young and you’re looking primarily to entertain them, your plan seems to be right. Maybe just reduce SD by one day. Have a great trip and feel free to ask anything else!

  3. Great guide! I used to live in San Francisco and it always makes me sad that tourists waste their time going to Pier 39, which only contains restaurants and stores you can find all over the US, if not the world. That being said, I guess I don’t really understand the tourist mentality having lived there. To add to your list: hiking Land’s End, exploring the Presidio, Lyon Street steps in Pacific Heights for some beautiful views and breathtaking mansions, walking down Clement Street in the Richmond, shopping and dining on Fillmore Street, California Science Academy in Golden Gate Park, and taking a tour of the Anchor Steam brewery (with free tastings – must reserve in advance).

  4. Hi there. Great info and so thoughtfully laid out! My husband is travelling to SF for work the first week in March and my 13 month old daughter and I are going to join him. We get a Tuesday-Friday, just the two of us, to explore and have an adventure, then will be staying Friday-Sunday with my husband not working so we can enjoy the area as a family. I feel confident that we can do most of what you suggested and am so excited. The only part that’s a bummer is the biking, because she’s just too young to haul around in a bike trailer. I wear her and have a lightweight, very fold-able stroller. Any tips for substituting the biking with a combo of walking and public transit? Perhaps other travelers with small children would gain some insight from this as well. Again, great post!

    1. FYI, we are staying in near Fisherman’s Wharf the entire time. Tues-Fri my husband will be working, so it’s just the baby and myself exploring. Friday night through Sunday night (taking a red-eye home, so have all day Sunday as well) my husband will be off work and joining us.

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I just came back from San Francisco and it helped me so much, basically I did everything you have in this itinerary and I really I felt like I didn’t miss a single thing of the city.
    You should do this to every other city in America!, this guides help us so we can avoid wasting time in the middle of our trip asking ourselves what can we do next.

    1. Thanks so much Madeleine!

      I’m glad you found the itinerary useful. Working on getting more published, so stay tuned, and tell your friends 🙂

  6. Hello, do you have a recommendation re. where to stay/what area is a good central location, if a family with teens is planning to do this itinerary?

    1. Hi Shannon

      You can’t go wrong with Union Square area hotels. Though on the expensive side, the location is central and you’re close to everything. Another option is by Fisherman’s Wharf. There are lots of family hotels just behind it. Airbnb has a lot of options if you’re comfortable with that. For the ‘real’ experience, you can find a place in Nob Hill or Russian Hill (though you’ll have to negotiate the hills). I put a few recommendations for hotels I stayed on the second page. Enjoy!

  7. Hello Avichai,

    Considering your 5 day itinerary, do you think is usefull to take a hop-on hop-off bus service? or your itinerary considers to walk and use of public transportation to reach every spot.

    I am going to stay 5 1/3 days in SF and your itinerary looks fantastic. Let me know your opinion.

    Thanks in advance

    Ricardo

    1. Hi Ricardo

      I used the trams to get down to fisherman’s wharf, subway to get back from Bernal Heights and cable car to get back from that day of cycling. We did a lot of walking though (a lot), which is something I enjoy very much. My friend who went with her mom to SFO (who can’t walk so much), did the hop on / hop off bus and it was ideal for them. The bus does stop at all these attractions and if you don’t want to use public transportation, it’s probably a convenient thing to have. Let me know if you have more questions and have fun in SFO!

  8. Hello,
    We’re coming from New Orleans to SFO and Napa. Our first time visiting.
    Any suggestions for our trip there? We’ll be staying 6 days and would like to do the wine train and coast as well.
    Thanks in advance for all info.

    1. Hi Beverly

      If it’s your first time in the area, I would recommend doing a combination of days 1,3 & 4 from this SFO itinerary http://xdaysiny.com/5-days-san-francisco-california-itinerary-guide/ and days 2 & 3 in this Pacific Coast Highway itinerary http://xdaysiny.com/3-days-pacific-coast-highway-california-road-trip-itinerary-guide/ Napa Valley requires one day from SFO and simply means one person will need to be the designated driver. It’s a bit tight to squeeze everything in 6 days but possible. Enjoy!

  9. Hi Avichai,

    Really interesting subjects covered. Thank You

    Me, my wife and two kids (2 & 4months) are staying in fremont with family and plan to visit SF in three days. Few questions we had was how to travel (Car back and forth or bart train ) We are not staying in SF so would visit , see sites and come back to fremont each day. Can you suggest some itenaries and also how with kids one would reach from one point to the other (For eg Union Square to Fishermans Wharf ). Further down we will drive down to LA from fremont and spend 5 days there (staying in a hotel). and then moving to San Diego for 3 days and back to fremont.

    1. Hi

      So normally I would suggest to take the BART and then Uber around town but you need car seats… If that’s not an issue then you can probably leave the car behind and avoid the parking fees in town. As for itineraries considering you have small infants, that’s difficult for me to say b/c I don’t know how comfortable you are carrying the kids around. However, I would say that Golden Gate Park, Crissey Field area (waterfront + Golden Gate Bridge), Fisherman’s Wharf area (watch the seals), Bernal Heights (get a ride there), Alcatraz – are all sites that you can enjoy as a family (Alcatraz is probably more for the adults). You could also check if Blazing Saddles rents bicycles with child seats or small ‘carriages’ in the back and then enjoy what is (for me) the highlight of visiting SFO – riding across the Golden Gate Bridge. If you do have a car, you can also check out Muir Woods. Hope this helps. Enjoy!!

Post a new comment

CommentLuv badge

Google+