Katy Perry once crooned, “Nothing comes close to the Golden Coast.” And although I never thought much of the phrase, after my recent trip to San Francisco, I have to say I agree with her.
San Francisco has great weather, picturesque sights, fantastic food, but most of all, steep hills. It’s undisputedly one of the best cities in the world, home to many iconic sights. If you’re considering making your way to San Francisco for a holiday, here’s the 411 on what you should cover in San Francisco:
In and around the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf, there are a whole host of things to see and do. Among others, there’s a vintage arcade museum, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience, the famed Pier 39 and some seriously good nosh — more on all these in a bit.
Simply strolling around the wharf is already an activity in itself. Check out the kitschy souvenir shops and take in the gentle ocean breeze, all while dodging pesky seagulls.
2801 Leavensworth Street, San Francisco, CA 94133
While at Fisherman’s Wharf, make it a point to head to Musée Mécanique, a lovely 20th century penny arcade that doubles up as a museum. There are a variety of things to do inside, from a photo booth to pinball and arm wrestling.
There are also machine palm readings, if you’re into that sort of thing. Alternatively, spice things up by using the ‘love rating’ machine to determine if you’re a ‘five-star lover’. (To do so, you ring the machine’s bell as fast as you can. Ha!)
Most of the games cost 25 or 50 cents, although the photo booth costs $5. I think it’s worth it though, as we had a ton of fun strategising how the four of us could squeeze into the tiny booth, and we got a cute little keepsake to bring home.
Pier 45, San Francisco, CA 94133
You’ve probably heard of Ghirardelli chocolates, and you may even know that this popular brand hails from San Francisco. But what you don’t know is that there’s a Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience that you can see for yourself right here!
From all the chocolate bar flavours you can possibly dream of to a drool-worthy menu of sundaes and drinks, any chocolate lover will be in heaven. We sampled the luscious hot fudge sundae and sea salt caramel hot chocolate, and both were absolutely to die for!
Witness your dessert being prepared live at the counter, and keep a lookout for the chocolate tap that’s the stuff of dreams!
900 North Point Street F301, San Francisco, CA 94109
When in this city, one dish you absolutely have to dig into would be a staple of the city — clam chowder, Fisherman’s Wharf style. One look at the heaping scoops of piping hot chowder piled into a freshly-baked sourdough bread bowl, and you’ll be drooling.
There are many good places to sample this iconic dish, but we’ve heard locals gravitate to Chowders, a chowder and seafood spot along Pier 39 that’s been around for 36 years.
2 Beach Street, San Francisco, CA 94133
Around the pier, see if you spot any adorable seals in the wild, just soaking in the sun, chilling on the docks! You’ll hear them before you see them — their barks really do resonate.
The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133
Oreo and Biscoff fans, rejoice! There are a plethora of food carts around the wharf peddling noms like Oreo churros, the perfect treat while sightseeing the wharf.
If you’d fancy a heartwarming beverage to warm yourself up while walking around, I definitely recommend heading into Biscoff Coffee Corner to grab a delectable Biscoff Latte.
213 Pier 39, San Francisco, CA 94133
Often dubbed the most crooked street in the world, you’ll be surprised to know that Lombard Street it’s actually the second most crooked — the most crooked street is Vermont Street, also situated in the same city, although Lombard is decidedly more scenic.
Anyway, with eight hairpin turns descending a hill lined by picturesque houses and immaculately manicured greenery, you have to see it for yourself. You can walk down the stairs lining both sides but even better if you have a car and can drive down.
1070 Lombard Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
Sticky chewy chocolate, anyone? For many of us, family dinners at Swensen’s have been a memorable part of our childhoods. And since this popular restaurant hails from San Francisco, you absolutely have to treat yourself to a scoop or two at the international chain’s first outpost when you’re there.
1999 Hyde Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
Chock-full of history, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest and one of the biggest in the country. The neighbourhood boasts rows after rows of shops selling anything from ornate statues and glistening crystals to woks and cheesy souvenirs.
Foodwise, expect to embark on a gastronomic journey here, with old-school joints situated just a stone’s throw away from buzzy speakeasies. We dined at Sam Wo Restaurant, a uniquely Asian-American eatery that has served hungry diners for over a century.
Chinatown: Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94108
Sam Wo Restaurant: 713 Clay Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
This popular dim sum kiosk in Chinatown is rarely seen without a snaking queue of both locals and tourists alike. At Good Mong Kok Bakery, don’t bank on stellar service, or service of any sort.
Be prepared to tell them your order once prompted, lest you get chided by the grumpy counter staff. But I’ll tell you one thing — you’ll get to eat spectacular siew mai and har gao that rivals those from the best Chinese restos in Singapore.
1039 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is, as its name suggests, a fortune cookie factory in a (slightly sketchy-looking) alley in Chinatown. Upon entering the cosy space, you’ll be greeted by the friendly owner who’s more than generous with the cookie samples. Beside the walls of cookies are ladies hard at work, rapidly slipping fortunes into steaming hot cookies.
You may purchase packs of fortune cookies in original, green tea, strawberry and chocolate flavours. Even better, you can customise your own fortune to be placed inside a cookie or even get a taste of making fortune cookies yourself!
56 Ross Alley, San Francisco, CA 94108
One of the first gay neighbourhoods in America is now a thriving district that’s still a prominent symbol of LGBTQ+ activism. From the pretty road crossings to the landmark Castro Theatre, carve out the time to explore this larger-than-life neighbourhood. Keep a lookout for Cliff’s Variety Store, an interesting store selling all sorts of bits and bobs, from party decorations to home improvement tools.
The Castro: The Castro, San Francisco, CA 94114
Cliff’s Variety Store: 479 Castro Street, San Francisco, CA 94114
With an eight-storey-high Macy’s building and more, Union Square is a bustling area brimming with every retail brand you can possibly think of. Basically, this is the place to shop. Set aside at least half a day to spend in the area, as each time we planned to leave, we spotted another store we wanted to hit up.
333 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
You may find this name vaguely familiar, and that’s because Mel’s Drive-In, arguably America’s most famous diner. Dishing up plates after plates of classic American diner fare — scrambled eggs, buttermilk pancakes, thick milkshakes and the like.
We ordered an old-fashioned chocolate shake and were delighted to get a bonus serving of the leftover milkshake from the blender, yum! Oh, one last thing, remember to ask your server for a table with a functioning jukebox that’ll play classics.
Available at multiple locations
An icon of San Francisco, you definitely have to ride a cable car around the city. Although it’s more of an attraction in itself, there are two routes that will take you from central Union Square to north San Francisco (Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39).
The cable cars are actually manually operated by skilled staff, and it really is quite the experience. For a bit of a thrill, opt for one of the standing spots where you essentially hang out of the car — frankly, the best way to see the city!
Commence your journey at the intersection of Powell Street and Market Street, where you’ll see a snaking queue for the trams. Off to the side, there’s a booth where you can purchase tram tickets at US$8 per person.
Market Street and Powell Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
Did you really go to San Francisco if you didn’t check out this prominent red bridge? Painted a shade titled International Red, so the bridge would remain visible even in the foggiest conditions — the Golden Gate bridge is arguably one of the most well-known attractions around the globe.
I found that the best spot to view the gate is by the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, which has a nearby café with views. If you walk a couple minutes, you can even get to the foot of the bridge and cross it.
Golden Gate Bridge Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94129
With San Francisco’s idyllic weather, it is perfect for a picnic. So why not do it at Alamo Square, where you can bask in views of the city skyline and The Painted Ladies, a prominent row of Victorian and Edwardian houses. Also, if you’ve watched Full House, yes, these are the very houses seen in the credits of the show.
Hayes Street, San Francisco, CA 94117
Up for an easy peasy short hike where you’ll be rewarded with awe-inspiring views of the vast Bay Area at the end? At the top of one of the Twin Peaks, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world, with views stretching as far as the eye can see.
As someone who’s not into hiking, I actually rather enjoyed this journey, although I did regret wearing my gorgeous pristine white and baby pink Adidas Stan Smiths that day. The hike is casual enough that you don’t have to don activewear, although you should learn from me and wear more appropriate footwear.
501 Twin Peaks Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94114