There have been many wonderful things said about San Francisco over the years, but this one by Rudyard Kipling hits the nail on the head. “San Francisco has only one drawback: ’tis hard to leave.”
I have been to a few cities in the United States but none were as beautiful, as lively and people as nice as San Francisco. And though the city is right there in my backyard, every time I visit it, I’m hooked and I don’t want to leave.
When traveling, I prefer to walk through a city, take the public transport, eat at the local joints. I feel like there is no better introduction to a city than its streets, its people, and its watering holes. Sure after a vacation, I often need to rest my aching feet and sometimes I might not have covered all the tourist spots or the landmarks, but I feel like I know the city.
Over the years we have done parts of this walking tour with friends as well as family and I can recollect the sights and smells of San Francisco as I write this article. If you are like me and love to explore the city on foot, then follow my walking tour and rest be assured you will fall in love with the city.
Ferry Building, Embarcadero:
Pier Zero or Ferry Building was once a terminal for ferries traveling across the San Francisco Bay and has now been converted into a wonderful marketplace. It houses within it some amazing artisanal food merchants and some of the city’s most popular restaurants.
It also plays host to an incredibly popular (think 40,000 shoppers every week) Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays with a host of fresh produce and prepared food options.
Whilst there don’t forget to take in the beautiful views of the Bay Bridge and take a photo with the statue of Mahatma Gandhi.
Pier 39, Embarcadero:
After you’ve fortified yourself with some Blue Bottle Coffee, turn right outside Ferry Building and begin your walk towards Pier 39. If you notice the Pier numbers increasing in odd values as you walk ahead, Pier 3, Pier 5, know that you’re on the right track.
This part of the city is perhaps my favorite and I love to walk the Emabarcadero. There is so much energy with people running, walking their dogs, families enjoying a nice meal. Of course, the piers along the way are quite interesting too. Some piers to check out as you walk towards Pier 39 would be:
- Pier 3: Interested in a cruising the bay? Check out the Hornblower Yacht Company, they have cruises starting from here.
- Pier 15 and 17: The Exploratorium is an amazing hands-on science museum and great for adults as well as children. If you want your kids to be interested in STEM, bring them here and watch their eyes light up with curiosity.
- Pier 33: Planning to visit the ill famed Alcatraz Islands? This is the departure pier for the only ferries allowed to disembark on the island.
Notice towering blue and white flags flying in the sky? Notice a large crowd of tourists spilling onto the sidewalk. You have reached Pier 39.
Pier 39 is one of the most popular destinations in the city, probably after that great big red bridge you see in the backdrop of the city (Golden Gate bridge for the uninitiated.) There are tons of restaurants, shops, a video arcade, Aquarium of the Bay and you can spot some of those adorable sea lions whilst there. Watch a crepe being made, eat some amazing seafood and buy a souvenir from one of the stores before continuing your walk ahead.
Pier 39 is part of the bigger Fisherman’s Wharf district and it is thronging with tourists too. Enter the wax world of Madame Tussauds or get hypnotized watching bread being baked at the Boudin Bakery. Before you move on, sample some clam chowder in bread boule, because it’s just that awesome.
As you walk on ahead you will reach Ghiradelli Square, that’s right the Ghiradelli from the famous premium chocolate bars you buy. A public marketplace, Ghiradelli Square consists of stores, a pub, and restaurant but the true touristy thing to do would be to visit the Original Chocolate Manufactory. Order yourself a nice hot fudge sundae and pocket some free chocolate samples.
You are going to be very glad that you had all that chocolate and all that sugar because we are going to be walking on those famed San Francisco hills. Exit onto North Point Street and turn right at Hyde Street and walk uphill for 4 blocks to reach the most crooked street in the world.
This crooked part of the Lombard Street is basically a one- way block between Hyde and Leavenworth street consists of 8 hairpin turns. Just watching a car slowly weaving its way across it is tons of fun and there are stairs alongside the road you can take to reach Leavenworth all the while taking in the sights of this wonderful street.
Chinatown San Francisco
You must be exhausted what with the uphill streets and the long stairs down to Leavenworth. You might just be ready to call it a day too. Well, you could, but I would urge you to walk to one more destination before that. Chinatown. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia and this bustling neighborhood is a must visit.
From the intersection of Leavenworth and Lombard Street, head east on Lombard Street towards Jones Street and turn right onto Columbus Ave.
Walk ahead and turn right onto Broadway.
Turn left onto Grant Avenue and you would have reached San Francisco’s famous Chinatown. Shop for souvenirs, some wind chimes, maybe a lucky bamboo. Sample some dumplings or pick a restaurant, any restaurants and fulfill your kung pao chicken cravings.
Do take a note of the architecture in Chinatown, even the Bank of America has a distinctly oriental building.
Once you reach the intersection of Grant and Bush you would have arrived at the Dragon’s Gate.
As you leave Chinatown through the Dragon’s gate you will reach Union Square, THE shopping destination in San Francisco. Splurge at the numerous stores here including a flagship Macy’s store. Sit on the steps of the Union Square Plaza and give your tired aching feet some love.
I hope you find this self-guided walking tour of my favorite city wonderful and easy to follow. I will leave you Tony Bennett’s eternal song
The glory that was Rome is of another day
I’ve been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan
I’m going home to my city by the Bay
High on a hill, it calls to me
To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars
The morning fog may chill the air, I don’t care
Above the blue and windy sea
When I come home to you, San Francisco
Your golden sun will shine for me