Have you ever stood on a hill in San Francisco contemplating the beauty and serenity of the Golden Gate Bridge? This is a city that calls to you to return because there are so many dimensions to explore. I’ll touch on a few of my favorites in no particular order.
Golden Gate Bridge: The Frommer’s travel guide describes the Golden Gate Bridge as “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world.” All it takes is a picture of this marvelous bridge and you know its San Francisco. At the time of its opening in 1937, it was both the longest and the tallest suspension bridge in the world, with a main span of 4,200 feet and a total height of 746 feet.
Chinatown: This electric neighborhood of 100,000 people is not to be missed, and it’s not hard to find: listen for the clack of mahjongg tiles and nose out the salty spicy squid. San Francisco Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America. It is one of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco. Go for the food but you’ll find so much more in a myriad of shops amongst the steep hills. Ladies, don’t wear high heels. Walking downhill in them is nothing less than treacherous.
Pier 39: Your visit to San Francisco starts at PIER 39 located in Fisherman’s Wharf. From the amazing views to contemplate, and a sea of sea lions, to chowder bread bowls and California wines, there’s something for everyone. Parking is convenient and directly across from the entrance.
Union Square: My favorite place to stay in San Francisco is Union Square, in particular the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. It’s perfectly located to jump on a cable car, walk into Chinatown, or go shopping! But ask for a high floor with a view of the bridge or you could end up facing a brick wall.
Cable Cars: Of course everyone thinks of cable cars when you think of San Francisco and of course, you have to ride on them. But there’s plenty of other transportation available. Rent a car if you want to travel a bit north or south or drive Lombard Street; parking is not an issue. But you really don’t need a car if you’re just staying in the city. Taxis, buses, Uber, Muni buses above ground, and Muni Metro underground are some of the ways to get around. And there’s an app you can use to get your taxi or Uber or find out the Muni schedules. Life is easy.
Muir Woods: Head north over the bridge on Highway 1 to wind your way to Muir Woods, my favorite spot on earth. Here you will feel quite Lilliputian as the 1000 year old, enormous redwood trees towering 260 feet high dwarf you and make you quite humble. Just relax, take a seat, and let your mind go with the wonder of this place.
Carmel: No exploration of California’s central coast is complete without a sojourn to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a town as well known for its shopping as it is for its most famous former civil servant, the Honorable Mayor Clint Eastwood. This quaint amalgamation of art galleries, boutiques, hotels, shops, fine restaurants and whimsically styled homes evokes a storybook ambiance that can be appreciated by romantics of all ages. It’s no wonder why Travel + Leisure has named it as one of the “World’s Best Cities for Romance.”
Sausalito: Sausalito has its own magic. It is an art filled, small town of only 7,500 residents, whose homes cling to a steep, wooded hillside above shoreline tidal flats. It’s filled with restaurants, art galleries, and scenic walkways. From the Sausalito waterfront, you can see Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge, the San Francisco skyline, and waterfront. Getting to Sausalito is worth the trip, too, whether you take the ferry or drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Reminiscent of hilly Mediterranean villages, Sausalito provides a break from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco and gives visitors an opportunity to escape from the San Francisco fog and soak up the sun in a slightly warmer climate.
Napa Valley: Of course you have to drive through Napa Valley! More than 400 wineries dot the fertile soils of Napa Valley. But wine, as visitors quickly discover, is only the beginning. Stay in lavish resorts, charming bed & breakfasts or modern hotels. Find top-rated chefs at scores of restaurants who work alongside the farmers who tend this land. Take a hot air balloon ride or taste the bounty of the valley on a wine tour. The Napa Valley Wine Train is keeping alive the tradition and art of food preparation in a confined space: on board an operating train. Whatever your pleasure, the result is something understated and exceptional.
Some places on the planet simply require more than one visit. Plan your trip to San Francisco but know you’ll never see it all or do it all in one visit; the city will call for your return.
Picture credits: Napa, aaa.com; Sausalito, wheretraveler.com; Carmel, travel.usnews.com; Muir Woods, baycityguide.com; Cable Cars, baycityguide.com; Union Square, wikipedia.org; Chinatown, tripsavvy.com; Golden Gate Bridge, ge.com.