San Francisco Things to Do Tips by riorich55
San Francisco Things to Do: 3,259 reviews and 5,827 photos
Rick Evans - Your Tour Guide
UPDATE: Looked at his website on March 23, 2013. His price for this tour is now $40. That is double for what I paid back in November, 2010.
There are many tours offered in San Francisco. There is the most famous of course which is the Alcatraz Tour and then the typical Gray Line Bus Tours along with any number of off the wall excursions. If you can think of something you'd like to explore in depth in San Francisco there is probably a tour designed especially for you.
While we had taken the Gray Line Tour on our other personal visit to San Francisco back in 1994 and signed up this time for the Alcatraz Tour, I wanted to take one other tour of the town to see something I hadn't seen in my many business trips to the area in the 80's and 90's. At first I thought that a Ghost Tour on Halloween Night in San Francisco might be a cool thing to do, but then the timing just didn't seem right with dinner (we didn't want to rush dinner). So after more searching and trying to figure out a typical but a little out of the ordinary type of tour I happened upon the Rick Evans Architectural Tour.
The timing was just about right starting at 11:00 a.m. and lasting for 2 hours. We figured this would be a good thing to do on the Monday after Halloween Night. We wouldn't be rushed to get there, we could walk from our hotel, have lunch after the tour and then get ready for our 4:30 p.m. tour of Alcatraz.
The tour meets in the Financial District in the Lobby of the Galleria Park Hotel. You meet Rick in the Lobby, give him your $20 per person (cash only) and wait for other parties to show up. You don't necessarily need reservations, but it would probably help in the busy season. Since we went kind of off season the tour consisted of Sue and I and 2 other couples. He sometimes will have up to 30 people on a tour which might make it a little difficult to hear.
The tour consists of a walk around part of the Financial District (about a 1 mile walk or so) and you do go up and down a few stairs. One of the highlights of the tour is going to a couple of POPOS which as Rick explains are Privately Owned Public Open Spaces. HUH?? Without going into too much detail here is a quick overview. Newer buildings in downtown SF have to designate a certain amount of space for the public to use. But not wanting to take away from too much foot space or revenue they often have these places on top of buildings or in little spaces off the main drag. As Rick explains (and which is very true) they are for the most part unmarked and not easy to find. The first one we went to was accessed from the elevator of the Galleria Park Hotel. Interesting.
You are also given a history of some of the buildings in the area and get to go inside a few of the bank buildings and learn a little bit about their history as well.
Rick gives you a guide to everything he talks about and also a guide to all the other 40 something POPOS around town that you can try and find on your own.
A well done tour. I would recommend checking it out.
Directions: Meet in the Lobby of the Galleria Park Hotel
We did a semi-sunset cruise our last time in San Francisco back in 2010 when we did the night Alcatraz Tour. We left SF in late afternoon, toured Alcatraz and then saw the lights of the city from the bay on our way back to the city after the cruise.
There are several companies that will take you out on either a night cruise or a dinner cruse on the bay.
In Chicago, my hometown, one of the boat cruises I always recommend is the Sunset dinner cruises where you can see the lights of the city turn on. It's an amazing display. Since San Francisco is my second favorite U.S. town outside of Chicago I would probably recommend seeing the City by the Bay at night also when the lights turn evening back into day.
Although these pictures aren't the best, you can get an idea of what you might see.
And you've got to try my favorite intro to SF. Riding the length of the Hyde Powell Line Cable Car line starting at Market Street and ending near the bay with a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. This was my first introduction to San Francisco almost 27 years ago and still one of most awe inspiring moments was cresting the hill on that line and my first view of the San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz island.
I've been to San Francisco many times on business in the 1980's and 1990's and just got back from a trip to California last November where we spend the last 3 days in San Francisco.
Alcatraz is a very good tour, and I would certainly recommend the Night Tour (you actually leave in the daylight hours, but get to see a beautiful sunset if the weather is nice over the Golden Gate Bridge). Get your tickets for this about 2 months ahead of time.
Get either the 3 day or 7 day Muni Pass which will give you unlimited transportation within the city using the Cable Cars (a must to ride), the Trolley Cars, Buses and Light Rail. You can get anywhere within the city with those options. The only transportation they don't include is BART, but that is the line the takes you out of San Francisco to the surrounding towns.
If I was going for the first time these would be the things I would have to see:
1) North Beach and Chinatown - Have dinner one night in either section depending on if you want Italian or Chinese. They are right next to each other so you can easily walk from one to another.
2) Coit Tower - Take a walk up here to check out the view.
3) Rick Evans Architectural Tour - I have a tip on this and we really enjoyed his insight into some of the SF architecture. He has tours for both Chinatown and the one we took in the Financial District.
4) Golden Gate - You can look at it, ride a car or bus across it, bike across it or walk across it. I haven't taken the bike or walked across it yet but hope to sometime in the future.
5) Don't spend too much time in the Wharf area. That's where a lot of the tourist go and you really don't get a true feeling of the city (I don't think anyway). You can walk a little along the Embarcadero, but try and limit the time to about 2 hours.
6) Have an evening drink and or dessert at the Buena Vista Cafe. I have a tip on that on another page. Great Irish Coffee to warm you up and the desserts are also really really good.
7) The Cable Car will pass right by Lombard Street (the crooked street) You can get off the Cable Car walk up and down and then hop back on the Cable Car with your pass if you so desire.
8) Mission District and Castro District - Take the bus, trolley or light rail to this area of town. They are right next to each other. Mission District is the Hispanic area and the Castro District is the Gay area. Both are interesting to explore and are really only about a 15 to 20 minute trip from where you will be staying via bus.
9) Enjoy a seafood dinner. You can get some good ones along the wharf area but obviously the touristy ones are along with wharf. Check out other reviews on line to get a better feeling for what others think.
If you have any other questions let me know. SF is my favorite U.S. city outside of my home town of Chicago.
On my very first trip to San Francisco in the mid -80's I made it out to Cliff House for a Saturday afternoon lunch. Earlier in the week I had my first taste of calamari as an appetizer and I thought this isn't too bad. It was fried and dipping it into a sauce was quite good. When I got to the Cliff House for lunch I saw calamari salad and said let's see what it taste like when it's not fried. Well you can probably guess what happened. I felt like I was eating small bits of rubber tire. Thank goodness I was able to pick them off and have just the plain salad. I still like fried calamari, but beg off eating it in other dishes.
Anyway, back to the Cliff House. On our most recent visit we were able to get out to Cliff House on our next to last day of our trip thanks to Sue's friend Sue, a college sorority sister, who lives in the area. We had dropped off our rental car when we got to San Francisco and even though we probably could have reached the Cliff House by bus, this was far easier.
We stopped and took a few pictures of the house, seal rocks and were entertained by a gentleman on the beach who was producing a huge San Francisco Giants Logo in the sand since they had won the baseball World Series (1 team is from Canada and some players grew up outside the U.S.).
If you go you might want to consider eating at the restaurant (changed quite a bit from when I ate there my only time in the mid 80's), walking along the beach below or the walkway above the beach, taking pictures of the seal rocks and watching and listening to the seals or walk on down to the old Suto Bath House ruins.
This is not on the top of the list of things to do in San Francisco, but if you have the time or are on your 2nd, 3rd trip, etc. it is worth a couple of hour stop.
Address: 1090 Point Lobos
Directions: Follow Geary to Ocean Beach.
The Front Entrance to Grace Cathedral
We arrived in San Francisco on a Sunday morning around 11:30 a.m. I dropped Sue off at the hotel we were staying and then drove our rental car, which I had put over 900 miles on during our week traveling from San Francisco to the Wine Country to Yosemite and back, a few blocks away to the rental facility. After a quick walk up the hill back to the hotel and some quick organization, we were out the door ready to begin our 3 day tour of the City by the Bay.
We noticed when we got to the hotel a Notre Dame type church just up California Street where we were staying. So with no particular game plan in place for the day (our big planned day was Monday) we headed up the first of many hills to see what turned out to be Grace Cathedral.
Just a little history first (the remainder you can Google or Bing or whatever search engine you use to find out the rest). Grace Cathedral is today an Episcopalian Church located on the top of Nob Hill on the site where the Crocker Mansion used to stand prior to the 1906 earthquake. Before you even enter the church you will be greeted by a set of impressive doors called the Ghiberti Doors. These are not original doors from a church in Florence, Italy as once thought but replicas shipped and then installed for the 1964 official dedication. I can't remember the entire history of the church, which was given to us on the tour, but I was really surprised with how young the church really was even though it had been built in steps with the final completion in 1964.
The tour I believe started at 1:00 p.m. and we had arrived shortly after the tour began so we missed the first couple of minutes. The docent giving the tour takes you through the entire church talking about the history and also explaining a number of the very impressive modern day stain glass windows that depict over 1100 figures from Adam and Eve to Einstein to John Glenn the first American Astronaut to circle the earth. The tour lasted about 90 minutes with people coming and going throughout. Once we arrived we did stay until the end of the tour.
Inside the church near the front entrance is a labyrinth that is based on the famous medieval labyrinth of Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Chartes located in Chartes, France. We didn't get a chance to walk the pattern of the labyrinth which would have brought us to a meditative state, but we didn't have time to meditate (in fact other then my periodic Yoga Classes I don't really meditate all that often).
The light coming through the stain glass windows made for some really interesting pictures. Besides the 5 pictures I have for this tip, I will also share the others through a travelogue.
A gift shop is also inside the church. Sue always feels a little guilty about getting tours for free so she ended up spending a few $$$ in the shop before we left.
Address: 1100 California Street, Nob Hill
Chinatown Commercial Street
After we had checked into our hotel and walked 2 block up California to tour Grace Cathedral out next venture was to start walking down toward the wharf area past Chinatown. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday and when we entered Chinatown the town was just buzzing with activity not of tourist, but the Chinese community.
We walked through a couple of the streets and then happened upon Portsmouth Square Plaza between Washington and Clay Streets. This is where the real action was. Most of the pictures from Chinatown this day were taken in the park. There were a number of different card games going with both women and men. They were segregated groups and while you could see the women's game going on up close there were so many men around the men card games you really couldn't get close enough to see what was being wagered in each game.
They also had a live band playing traditional Chinese music. A few days later we went back through the same area and it was very quiet as the men and women who were there on Sunday enjoying there day off were I'm sure hard at work.
So my advice is if you really want to get a good flavor for what Chinatown is all about venture a little bit off the beaten path were all the stores catering to tourist are and go the parks and churches in the area where the "real" community works and plays.
Address: Bordered by Broadway, Bush, Kearny, Stockton sts.
Directions: Ornamental gate at Grant and Bush intersection.
A View from Fort Mason
I have always been fascinated by bridges. Maybe the fascination began when I was a young boy and my parents took my sister and I across the Mackinac Bridge in Upper Michigan or maybe the time on another family vacation when we crossed the Chesapeake Bridge in Virginia. Whatever event it was that sparked this wonderment, the one bridge that captures the inner child in me has always been the Golden Gate Bridge.
I probably saw the Golden Gate Bridge in picture books as I was growing up and then when I finally made it out to San Francisco in 1985 at the age of 33 and saw my first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge from Fisherman's Wharf I was hooked.
On that first visit in 1985 I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge a couple of times. The first was just a one way trip in a stranger's car coming back from Sausalito with a co-worker/student of mine. That's a story for another day. Then the very next day when I had my own rental car for a day I crossed back over it in its famous fog enshrouded cover. What struck me and what I can still envision from that ride over was the fog literally boiling over the foothills like the steam coming over the side of a witches boiling cauldron.
I've been over the Golden Gate Bridge numerous times since then, but they have only been by car. We had planned to either walk or ride bikes across this past trip, but again 3 days in San Francisco is just way to short to do everything in this wonderful town. At least it gives me something to do on my next trip out here.
Address: Northwestern Tip of San Francisco Peninsula
Directions: The bridge is Highway 101's link from San Francisco to the counties North.
Phone: (415) 921-5858
The Ferry Building at Night
On my first trip to San Francisco back in 1985 I went to the Ferry Building to catch a ferry over to Sausalito across the bay. I hadn't been back since even though I have been back to SF many times since. This time Sue and I came back to check out the shops that have been added inside.
They've done a nice job to a space that apparently had been in disarray for many years. There are a number of small eateries and other small shops inside. And yes, you still catch the ferry over to Sausalito and other islands on the bay from this site.
Address: Pier 1 - Embarcadero
Walk around most major cities and you will find people playing their instruments trying to make a few honest bucks. A lot of people tend to ignore them and walk on by. Sometimes the music is really quite bad, but other times you'd be amazed at the quality of the songs.
We captured two of the local San Francisco street buskers plying their trade on the streets.
Directions: All Around Town
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