Walk San Francisco: A Visitor’s Guide

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Most famous for its steep hilly streets, warm California sunshine, and the bright orange Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is a well-known destination city. Luckily for visitors, the city is largely navigable by foot! A tourist’s day might start with a sunrise viewing of the Golden Gate Bridge, from Fort Point. If it is not too foggy (which it often is), you would be lucky to watch the sun throw pinks and oranges across the sky to compliment and illuminate the Golden Gate Bridge. From Fort Point, you see the Bridge extending across the Bay into the mountainous mainland, and the salty sea air fills your lungs as the waves come splashing in a circle around the rim of the boulders bordering the walkway. Idyllic doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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After the sun makes its grand entrance, the city is ripe for exploring. From the Bridge, you can walk along the water through the Presidio and watch the locals and their dogs playing fetch in the wet sand beach. Make your way through the Marina District to Fort Mason, where you can enjoy the waterfront with other walkers, bikers, and sightseers. The waterfront at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park is a popular spot to view the Bridge and Alcatraz, to sit in the grass and watch people going by, to rent a bike and explore more of the coast, and to play in the water at the beach. The sunny skies, smiling folks around you, sea air, and views out over the mainland make it a great spot to relax and have a picnic!

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Nearby is the Ghirardelli Square, where the famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Company got started. The Square also offers a number of nice boutique shops, restaurants, a fountain, and live music. The smell of chocolate comes wafting out of the chocolate shop, luring visitors to wait in line for an hour to place an order for ice cream! It’s so delicious that you may just find it’s worth the wait. Around the corner from Ghirardelli Square is the Black Point Café which boasts quality coffee with interesting flavors like lavender latte. Walk down Beach Street where there is a tent market offering photos, art, and jewelry. Then at the bottom of Hyde Street you’ll find Buena Vista Café, famous for being the first bar in America to offer an Irish Coffee. It’s worth a stop in to try this creamy caffeinated hard drink!

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Continuing to walk along the water, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, a quintessential boardwalk. Tourist shops and crab shacks are the standard here, though some people come for the Madame Tousssards wax museum, and nobody escapes without stopping in to investigate the tempting scent of sourdough emanating from Boudin Bakery. As if the bread doesn’t smell and taste good enough already, they shape their breads into creative loaves of alligators and turtles too! There are plenty of piers to explore on your walk through Fisherman’s Wharf. Hyde Street Pier and Pier 45 boast historic naval and maritime attractions, while Piers 41 and 39 have a more traditional boardwalk style.

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At the end of the Jefferson Street, either continue your walk along The Embarcadero, or pop over to Beach Street to catch a streetcar trolley for another quintessential San Francisco experience, for $2.25 exact cash. The Muni, which operates the streetcars in San Francisco, has done an excellent job of buying and refurbishing streetcars from other cities as their trolley systems were being retired. These cars from 33 cities across the continent are featured on the San Fran tracks, each with its unique history posted on the car’s wall. The trolley will take you to the Ferry Building Marketplace, which has a lovely offering of shops, stores, and farmer’s market stands!

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From the Ferry Building, you can walk down Market Street through the Financial District until you reach Union Square. This is where the shopping begins! Tire out your wallet in the stores around Union Square. Then hop on a bus or in a cab to continue down Market Street and over to Twin Peaks, where you will go up to one of the highest points in the city and see wide sweeping views over the city. If you are up here at sunset, you will be treated to some really lovely sights.

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There you have a walking tour of San Francisco sure to tire out even the most avid walker! But San Francisco has so much to offer that it really cannot be accomplished in just one day. For the rest of your trip, be sure to see the Japanese Tea Gardens and De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, the cliffside beaches at Lands End park, views of the Bridge from Baker’s Beach, the steep and zigzag slopes of Lombard Street, and a tour of Alcatraz (book in advance!). And on your way in or out of the city, stop at Treasure Island in the middle of the Bay Bridges for a view of the city from across the water!

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