It seemed like a daunting task: tour San Francisco only by foot or bicycle in two and one-half days. No rental car, no taxis, just the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to get us from San Francisco airport to downtown; and, of course, the obligatory ride on a cable car-- to say you’ve done it--and the ferry to Alcatraz Island to view the notorious prison. In the end the task wasn’t that daunting, and the tour was a blast!
After landing from the east coast we had part of an afternoon and evening to explore. From our hotel in the financial district we walked Columbus Ave through North Beach and to Fisherman’s Wharf. North Beach is full of Italian restaurants and “barkers” who stand outside restaurants letting you know the dinner specials and in some instances offering free drinks to entice you to eat at their establishment. If time allows visit Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in the heart of North Beach. The architecture is stunning and for baseball fans this is the church where Joe DiMaggio’s funeral was held. DiMaggio grew up in San Francisco.
Shops and seafood restaurants dominate the scene at Fisherman’s Wharf and nearby Pier 39 and can be a bit overwhelming with so many tourists. However, it is part of the San Francisco experience and shouldn’t be missed. After a seafood dinner we walked along the piers stopping at Pier 1. This is the terminal for ferry service throughout the bay area and where there are delightful shops. We continued walking to AT&T Field, not too far from Pier 1. This baseball stadium is the home to the world champion San Francisco Giants. At this point we walked back to our hotel, passing the famous Transamerica Pyramid (actually a skyscraper) and called it a night. The extended walk was great. It got the kinks out from a long airline flight and it also allowed us to familiarize ourselves with the city so that the next day we could go full throttle with our sightseeing. Safety wasn’t a concern.
We woke early and walked down to Pier 33 and caught the first ferry to Alcatraz Island. Touring Alcatraz Island and the prison is a must-do event. Plan your time carefully; it takes about three hours to complete the tour. It is a short walk from Pier 33 to the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park where you can catch a ride on the famed cable cars. You can get off just about anywhere but a couple of places are not to be missed. First, the curvy s-turn section of Lombard Street is a treat. And second, after walking up Telegraph Hill view the city from the top of Coit Tower. Try to hit Coit Tower in the afternoon when the fog has the best chance of lifting. If viewing a street or hiking to a tower isn’t your thing, then there are places to shop and museums to visit all over the city. But our day was quickly ending so a quick check at the bicycle shop for the next day’s rentals and off for an Italian meal in North Beach.
With our bikes waiting for us at the bicycle shop the next morning we began our day by pedaling down to Fisherman’s Wharf then out along the waterfront on bike paths to, and then over, the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito, a quaint town on the other side of the bay from San Francisco. You can stop here and take the ferry back to San Francisco or you can continue along the bike path through town and then turn around and head back. We decided to head for Muir Woods, a national park with giant sequoias. This ride is not for the beginner. The terrain is steep both to Muir Woods and back. But the trees are spectacular once you get there. People along the way are most helpful and will make sure you follow the best route. Forty miles and six hours later we returned to San Francisco. For those that don’t wish to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, try biking around other parts of the city. There are places galore to bike. That night, with some good wine, we celebrated our two and one-half days of sightseeing in and around a beautiful city.
Cost of transportation to explore San Francisco
The commuter rail ride from the airport to downtown San Francisco costs $8.10 per person
Cable car costs = $5.00 one way; $13 dollars for day pass per person
One day bicycle rental about $36 per person
Alcatraz Ferry and tour $26 per person
The best of San Francisco
Biking the Golden Gate Bridge
Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower
City of Sausalito
Muir Woods National Monument
People—the friendliest around
For tourists out there trying to pick and choose a moderately priced restaurant along their way the food wasn’t anything to write home about. At Fisherman’s Wharf the seafood was generally greasy and not particularly well prepared, and the Italian food at North Beach was just so-so. Even Mexican food in Sausalito was bland. Now, with a bit of prior planning there is no doubt that there are great moderately priced restaurants in the city. The lesson: find out where they are before you leave and don’t try and run into one in the normal tourist areas.