Afoot & Afloat in San Francisco
Ask a native European traveler about their favorite U.S. city, and youll often hear the answer, "San Francisco...and the Bay." The answer is even more likely to be the City by the Bay for U.S. residents. San Franciscos unbeatable allure grabs you with each new view -- the bays constant parade of watercraft, the Golden Gate Bridge peeking through a fog bank, or the citys steep hills wrapped with Victorian homes. Then theres the Citys friendly and varied cafes, restaurants, galleries, museums, and clubs. What more could a traveler want?
Its a special combination of land and water that gives San Francisco its uniqueness, so there is no better way to enjoy it than both "afoot and afloat." As previous long-time residents who often return to our favorite city, we always find something new and exciting here. Come share some cherished San Francisco walking and boating discoveries. Mix some of these ideas into your own itinerary grab bag for your next stay in the worlds most beautiful city.
Afoot three great half-day tours
|Pacific Heights to Union Street: Victorians, Views, & Shops. (Map preview). This walk starts in lower Pacific Heights at the corner of Sutter and Octavia. The striking facade of the Queen Anne Hotel welcomes you inside for a glimpse of its lobby/salon with period antiques and furnishings recapturing San Franciscos golden turn-of-the-century. Walk up four short, steep blocks on Octavia to tiny Lafayette Park. Along the way youll see some interesting churches and Victorians. The park was the center of early San Franciscos first suburb in 1855. Climb up the path to the treed summit and peer down across two miles of city streets to the glistening bay.|
From the park head west along Clay Street, strolling five blocks to Alta Plaza. Then climb the stairs at the corner of Clay and Pierce Street into the Plaza. All around you are multi-colored Victorians. Youre at the center of Pacific Heights.
Its all down hill from here as you descend Steiner Street, going five short, steep blocks, then, turning right onto Union Street. Now youre in the center of the relatively flat Cow Hollow district. This region was once the home of truck gardens and dairy farms. Take your time exploring and browsing both sides of energetic Union Street, along the five blocks between Steiner and Octavia. You'll be enticed to stop and enjoy breakfast or lunch at one of the many cafes. Linger in the boutiques and galleries which tickle your fancy. A recommended dining spot is Pregos, 2000 Union Street, with a great Northern Italian and pizza menu.
Fishermans Wharf to Aquatic Park. (Map preview). Start at Pier 39, the long wharf of shops and restaurants extending into the bay. Browse the pier, and then wind west along the Embarcadero to Fishermans Wharf. Here youll find fresh-seafood street vendors and famous multi-generation restaurants such as Aliotos and Sabellas. As you walk along the wharf bordering Jefferson Street, take in the sights and sounds of the boats that pull in daily catches of San Franciscos world-famous Dungeness crab.
|Two blocks farther west youll come to the Cannery, now remodeled into a tiered network of bricked shops and plazas. Youll likely catch a good musical group here in the main plaza of open air cafes. Leaving the Cannery on Beach Street, youll cross cable car tracks and come upon the Buena Vista cafe, birthplace of Irish Coffee. The long bar and scattered tables are always busy. If you can find a free spot, enjoy a lunch break of corned beef with a glass of Irish stout. Just a block farther west, youll come upon Ghirardelli Square, a converted chocolate factory that now houses a great array of shops and restaurants. Here again youll hear some good musicians, playing tunes with the inspiration of bay views.|
If you have the energy, two great options still await. You can walk out along the curved Aquatic Park pier for vistas of the bay and city. Or you you can retrace your steps to the Cannery and rent a bicycle for a flat pedal west past the pier and along the Marina to wave-pounded Fort Point, situated at the foot of the Golden Gate. This is one of the most enjoyable city bicycle rides you can experience. En route youll pass Crissy Fields wind-surfing beach and catch views of white-cap-leaping sailboarders.
Cable Car Excursions Union Square, Nob Hill, Chinatown, Russian Hill, North Beach. (Map preview). You can take advantage of the Citys cable cars to connect you with a variety of districts. Start by exploring San Franciscos most exclusive shopping district around Union Square, on Post Street and Maiden Lane. Pick up the cable car on Powell Street from Union Square up to Nob Hill, home to mansions of early California barons and four exclusive hotels. Exit at California Street and walk two blocks west to appreciate Grace Cathedrals neo-Gothic architecture. The east front doors are cast from Ghibertis doors in Florence, Italy. Take the California Street cable car downhill five blocks to Grant Street. Browse your way through Chinatown for six blocks along Grant. Then veer left on Columbus Street into the North Beach district. An interesting stop is the City Lights Bookstore at 261 Columbus, a haven for poets and authors during the 60s beatnik era. When you reach Green Street, walk east for a good variety of original Italian restaurants such as New Pisa and Green Valley. Walk back to Columbus and continue on past lovely, neighborhood Washington Park back to Mason Street to pick up the cable car back downtown. Youve just experienced some exciting slices of San Francisco.
Afloat Ferries and Sailing
Dont miss the opportunity to view San Francisco and its bay from the deck of a boat. The Red and White Fleets one-hour bay cruise leaves from Pier 43-1/2. The Blue and Gold Fleets variety of ferries leaves for Alcatraz, Sausalito, Tiburon, Vallejo, or Oakland from Pier 39 and Pier 41. But if you are a sailor, there is no better way to appreciate the Bay then via a sailboat. South Beach Harbor at Pier 40, a mile south of the Ferry Building, has mooring for sailboats coming into San Francisco. The firm, Spinnaker Sailing of South Beach Harbor, also provides sailing lessons and rents 22 to 43-foot bareboat charter sailboats. (Pier map preview).
My father and I enjoyed some windy August days on the Bay last year on his 34-foot sloop. The west winds from the Golden Gate were ripping at 25 knots through "The Slot" between Alcatraz and Angel Island. We at first underestimated the Slot's wind strength, sailing with just a little too much mainsail. We experienced a rollicking, white-water ride, with the deck rail dipping from wave to wave. Although we loved the action, we decided to reef the mainsail just a little lower before crossing the exciting Slot in the opposite direction.
Throughout our sails we enjoyed the sunny Bay and views of the City's skyline, the Gate, and the Bay Bridge. Its hard to find better sailing than what the Bay serves up. South Beach Harbor provided clean, safe mooring, with a good selection of restaurants within a short walk along the Embarcadero. We also had enjoyable sailing to harbors in the San Francisco Bay towns of Oakland, San Rafael, and Vallejo.
San Francisco Awaits You
Afoot and afloat, San Francisco is one of the worlds most beautiful and exciting cities. On each visit youll make new discoveries of neighborhoods, restaurants, entertainment, or of neighboring waters and towns. The hills and waters of San Francisco await your exploration!
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