San Francisco

When I first set off to visit San Francisco, California, I was expecting to find hot, sunny weather and a very walkable city environment. What I found when I got there was a beautiful city set on surprisingly steep hills and chilled by fog that regularly rolls in from the bay.

San Fran is a culturally rich city filled with fun (and often free!) things to see and do; just make sure you bring a jacket and wear comfortable walking shoes.

After spending a week traversing the city on foot and by bike, bus, and trolley, here are some of my favorite places to visit (and even one to avoid!):

1. San Francisco is full of free sites worth seeing.

On a sunny day, take some time to visit Alamo Square and snap some photos of beautiful architecture, the famous Painted Ladies. Or, take a few minutes to admire the twists and turns of Lombard Street. Say hello to the sea lions that rest on the docks at Pier 39, or soak up the smells and sounds of the city while roaming through Chinatown.

If you want to get away from the city streets and get a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, check out Baker Beach. If you’re daring, take a walk along the beach to the northern end and climb the rocks that jut out into the water. Just be aware that this side of the beach is welcome to nude sunbathers.

Baker Beach

Or, just enjoy walking the streets and exploring different neighborhoods and areas of the city. The famous area around the crossroads of Haight and Ashbury has an eclectic vibe and is filled to the brim with vintage clothing stores and record shops reminiscent of the 60s counterculture movement.

Haight Ashbury

Less touristy, but just as charming, is the Lower Haight neighborhood, full of unique shops and coffee joints. If you want to admire a particularly decadent area of town, explore the streets of Nob Hill, but stay away from the Tenderloin District, which can be dangerous and discomforting to traverse on foot.

2. Take some time to enjoy nature.

Of all the beauty that the city streets behold, the most remarkable sight in the area is arguably Muir Woods, a remarkable redwood forest with towering trees and lush flora. There is an entrance fee to access the park, and the winding roads that lead to the forest are not for those who get easily carsick, but the trek is more than worth the sights.

Miur Woods

3. Tips worth noting.

San Francisco is a progressive city, and if you want a disposable bag to carry your purchases in, you’ll need to buy it separately. Take note from the locals, and bring a canvas tote bag or backpack to the store if you plan on making any purchases.

In my opinion, Alcatraz is overrated. You can purchase tickets to be ferried over to the famous prison, and tour a fraction of the inside once you arrive, but the experience was unremarkable overall. Skip the tourist traps, and explore some unique neighborhoods instead.

Something that really surprised and startled me about the city was the alarming rate of homelessness that pervaded nearly every district I visited. In a city so full of beautiful parks, remarkable architecture, and decadent hilltop homes, it was common to see men shaving on the sidewalk, to step over puddles of urine, or pass women huddled under tattered comforters and blankets. It was a heartbreaking sight to see so many people suffering in such a wealthy city, and it left a distinct impression on my trip.

San Francisco is a city of contrasts. From the towering trees of Muir Woods, to the remarkable architecture throughout the urban streets, San Fran has no shortage of things to see and do. Each neighborhood is unique and full of things to explore, and some of my best memories are simply exploring local restaurants and shops. From nature lovers to urban explorers, San Francisco has a little something for everyone.

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