My parents and I booked a whirlwind week down to the iconic San Francisco to immerse ourselves in the Cali lifestyle.
How to Get There
We flew with Air Canada from Vancouver’s YVR Airport. The flight is just under two hours, and I suggest an early morning flight so you can arrive at SFO with a full day ahead of you. Our return trip was with United, but we booked the flight as a round trip on FlightHub. I also suggest ensuring you get a window seat, as the views over the Bay Area – the bridges especially – are not to be missed!
Where to Stay
My parents and I booked into a hotel out in Palo Alto, the Courtyard Marriott, in the heart of the Silicon Valley, along the well-known El Camino Real, and used the Caltrain and our rental car to get in and around San Fran. I haven’t looked into San Francisco accommodation, but given the massive tourist industry, a range of hotels, motels, b&bs and hostels wouldn’t be hard to find. These sites (The Guardian, Tripadvisor, Hostelworld, AirBnB) would be a good place to start.
How to Get Around
To see San Francisco, you should go by car, on foot, or by public transit – of which I extensively used all three. We arrived into the city on our first morning straight from the airport in our rental car, so used this as the easiest means of jumping around between each spot we wanted to hit.
We rented a car at the Avis in the San Francisco Airport, which can be reached via the AirTrain, a free airport train taking you between the different terminals and access points. A car is also the best idea for getting out of the city and seeing other parts of the bay area and down the Cali coast.
On my last day in the city, I spent the entire day walking the northern coast (more on that here).
The San Fran bus system is quite straightforward: an adult ticket plus transfer costs $2.25 in exact cash which you pop in the ticket machine at the front of the bus. The buses run very logically along the grid-like streets and the maps at each station are very clear and easy to follow. Know that if you want a bus to actually pull over for you, you have to wave your hand at the driver. They’ll just drive past you otherwise (believe me, it happened to me more than once).
A highly popular form of transport in the city, especially if you’re looking to get from town to the Golden Gate Bridge, is to rent a bike and do the ‘bucket list’ item and cycle across the bridge. I didn’t opt to bike during my stay this time round, but from the looks of the fun everyone else was having, it’s absolutely on my list for my next visit!
The Caltrain is a straightforward train system that brings commuters directly in on one line from San Francisco to San Jose, stopping multiple times in between. I caught the Caltrain in from San Antonio station, an approximately 1h10m ride, and caught it back to Palo Alto at the end of the day. The station is on the east side of San Fran, near the baseball stadium on King’s Road.
What to See
Often hidden under a blanket of fog, fondly named Karl, the Golden Gate Bridge is a stunning structure that is best viewed by driving or biking across it, or from one of the many viewpoints on either end. Note that this bridge is a tolled bridge.
Find the Painted Ladies, the well-known backdrop of the hit TV series ‘Full House’.
With eight steep turns offering a view of the city as you crawl your way down the hill, Lombard Street is usually packed with tourists but offers a weird, quirky stop right in town.
One of the things you ‘must do’ in San Fran, hop on a cable car to whiz around the city!
Wander along the waterfront at Hyde Street Pier, taking the time to visit the shipbuilders at the shipyard.
If it’s a sunny day, Fisherman’s Wharf will be absolutely packed with people trying to get the most out of their San Fran adventure. I suggest walking as much as possible to see the most that you can – I walked from the Caltrain station on the eastside by the baseball stadium, all the way to 25th avenue past Baker’s Beach on the west side.
Battle the crowds at Pier 39. It’s absolutely teeming with families and tourists trying to get their hands on food, roller coasters, amusement attractions, Alcatraz tours and the likes. It’s a tourist attraction in itself. I have no photos of the crowds simply because pulling out my camera would have resulted in an elbow to the face.
I think going to visit the ex-penitentiary at Alcatraz would be super cool, I just didn’t have the time in my day to go this time. Instead, I settled for a zoomed in photo from the pier.
Although usually completely shrouded in fog in the summer months, the winding coastal roads of the Marin Headlands are a stunning escape from the city.
Perched on the edge of the coast in the Marin Headlands, offering spectacular city and bridge views on a clear day, the Point Bonita is only open on weekends during specific hours, so try to plan your visit around those times. Seals can be spotted dotted along the rocks on the coast.
Home to buildings such as Gates Computer Science and Hewlett Packard Electrical Engineering, Stanford is a world-class university situated right in the Silicon Valley. My parents and I wandered the beautiful campus at sunset.
While you’re at Stanford, visit their on campus Mausoleum.
Heck, peep in at the Cactus Garden too, on Stanford grounds. It’s quite something for those who aren’t as accustomed to hot deserty climates (me).
Not to be confused with its sister the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge stretches out from the east side of San Francisco across to East Bay and is usually never hidden in the sea fog that so often puts the Golden Gate Bridge out of sight.
An ex-US army post, Fort Mason is situated directly on the waterfront, offering a historical glimpse into the military’s past, as well as beautiful bay views.
Pause at the Marina to take in the sights and smells. Note, there are restrooms here, which is a good break on your walk along the coast. However, they are one of the few on the entire walk, and you will likely wait upwards of 20 minutes to use the single stall.
The Presidio offers some of the most stunning viewpoints for the Golden Gate Bridge; I suggest walking the length of the coastal path and taking the time to enjoy the beaches along the way.
Fort Point, a short walk up from the Presidio, is hands down the best view of the bridge, especially when Karl the Fog decides to lift a little.
Baker’s Beach offers the most awe-inspiring view of the bridge and harbour, as the waves crash in along a huge stretch of rocks and sand. The beach can be accessed from Fort Point by walking along the coastal path next to the main road, also full of stunning viewpoints.
Whether or not Land’s End is actually the edge of the world will remain a mystery. The beauty of this area, and the surrounding ruins of the Sutro Baths and the iconic big trees of Point Lobos, however, are obvious.
Listen to the waves crash down on Mile Rock Beach, an escape within the city.
Take in the views of the horizon from the ruins of the Sutro Baths.
Find the iconic heart-shaped rock from the shores of Point Lobos.
Feel small in the incredible cypress trees of Land’s End.
Visit the magnificent City Hall in the centre of the city.
Spend time wandering the gorgeous Embarcadero, the city’s northern road. It winds its way along the coastline, and provides for a beautiful walk in the sunshine.
Given that you’re in tech heaven, try and scout the social media HQs. We spotted Box (Redwood City), Facebook (Palo Alto), Google (Mountain View) and Twitter (San Francisco); it’s a neat experience seeing virtual worlds in tangible form.
You probably spotted the Dumbarton and San Mateo bridges from the sky as you flew in, as they are absolutely massive and stretch across the bay from the Silicon Valley to East Bay. They are both tolled, but the views are entirely worth it as you whiz alongside the water.
The world-famous Highway 1 is a gorgeous scenic route that hugs the coast of California. Unfortunately, the view is often covered in sea fog, but the drive is stunning nonetheless. Check out my road trip guide here!
One of many state parks dedicated to the preservation of the gorgeous Redwood giants, take the time to appreciate the history of these stunning trees at Henry Cowell Redwood Park.
If you peek under the slats of the Santa Cruz Wharf, you can spot seals napping in the warmth of the Santa Cruz harbor. They sound like barking dogs when they make noise and look fat and lethargic – a perfectly cute combination!
An eclectic university town on the southern end of the Silicon Valley, San Jose can easily be reached by Caltrain and is a wonderful place to spend a warm afternoon.
The iconic Pacific Coast Highway 1 drive down to Big Sur via Carmel offers some famous views of California, including Carmel-By-The-Sea’s beach, Bixby Bridge and of course the waterfall at McWay Cove. Check out my full guide here!
In the middle of the city at 16th Avenue, a set of ceramic steps guide you up to a most stunning park with a 360 view of all of San Francisco.
At Grandview Park, you can spot the little boxes that make up the perfect little streets of San Francisco. A red bridge peeks out over the hills in the distance – the famous Golden Gate.
For stunning views out over Stanford, Palo Alto, and pretty much the entire Bay Area on a clear day, visit the iconic Dish Trail that towers over the city.
Explore the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in Palo Alto for a taste of culture and a magical land.
Explore the quaint Redwood City, featuring a gorgeous little old movie theatre.
Where to Eat
For fresh, healthy and delicious dining, visit Tender Greens. I got their kale salad, which I rightfully captioned ‘Kalefornia’ on Instagram.
For upscale dining on the scenic 49 mile drive, head to the Blue Mermaid on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
For really, really good American burgers and shakes, head to Santa Cruz’s Surfrider Cafe.
For delicious vegan meals that are so good you forget it’s healthy, find a Veggie Grill in loads of locations (we hit up the Los Altos one).
For the best scrumptiously delicious acai bowls, head to Nekter Juice Bar.
For a typical American meal, go for the all-you-can-eat soup and breadsticks with your entree at any local Olive Garden.
For homestyle breakfast in an old Victorian house featuring stellar oatmeal pancakes, make your way to Alana’s Cafe in Redwood City.
Did you really go to California if you didn’t go to In’N’Out?
Searching for the Silicon Valley’s best crepes? Go no further than the Crepevine.
Build your own burgers at the Counter Bar. Mmmmmm.
For fresh-baked almond scones at 3:00am, find a Klein’s Bakery.
*Including photos by Mum & Dad