My favorite cities around the world all share one thing in common: they are all walkable. There is nothing better to me than exploring a city on foot, even if that means never stepping foot in a museum – especially on a first time visit. So it should be no surprise that when I had the chance to spend one day in San Francisco before attending a conference in the Bay Area, I set out to explore armed with my camera, comfortable walking shoes, my journal and a map (and GPS on my phone…you know – just in case).
Take Your Own Walking Tour of San Francisco
Can you really see San Francisco in one day? No…of course not. But you can get a good sense of the city by the bay when you spend it on foot.
I had a few things on my must see list including the Painted Ladies, Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard Street – and charted a course on the map that would loop me around and through San Francisco for the day.
First stop: The Painted Ladies
There are a plenty of hotels in San Francisco to choose from, but I knew that I wanted to be centrally located for my one day walking tour as well as a morning run the next day. I chose to stay downtown near Union Square – which provided the perfect launching point for my walk. Heading out of the hotel, my first stop was to see the Painted Ladies. I’ve seen pictures of the colorful Victorian houses that are known to some as “Postcard Row” and wanted to see these charming architectural landmarks for myself. I’ll be honest…the houses – each painted with three or more colors – themselves underwhelmed me but would still recommend including the Painted Ladies on your walking tour. Don’t get me wrong – I’d happily live in one of those houses any day. But, I found myself more interested in Alamo Square – the park that overlooks the houses. The park was full of life – families, tourists and locals snapping selfies in front of the homes with skyscrapers in the background. Dogs were playing and the green hill offered a welcome resting spot for those sprawled out on the grass as if they were at home in their living room.
Dream of living in Pacific Heights
Without knowing what awaited me, I found myself in the Pacific Heights neighborhood. Situated on a ridge, the quiet streets are like a candy store of beautiful homes. One after the other, I found myself dreaming of coming home to one of these charming houses each day. (Plus, since most of the hosues are on steep hills – even going to get the mail provides an excellent leg workout). The neighborhood is centered around a park with a view at Alta Plaza – where the steep stairs lead park goers to panoramic views of the city and bay. I didn’t make it a few blocks over to Fillmore Street, but I later found out that the Pacific Heights section of this street are full of cafes, restaurants and boutiques for anyone needing a jolt of caffeine or snack.
Stop for lunch in Cow Hollow
The best part of walking around a city is the sense of discovery when you stumble onto charming neighborhoods full of locals, like Cow Hollow. Restaurants, boutiques and galleries make Cow Hollow the ideal spot to take a break during your San Francisco walking tour. Intrigued by groups of women lunching at the outdoor tables, I found myself at Rose’s Cafe for a much needed refueling. My choice for lunch as a salad with roasted beets, arugula,orange and Ricotta Salata – but I was tempted by the pizza with artichoke hearts and goat cheese and could easily see myself regularly enjoying an evening Bellini with a group of friends if I lived in the area.
Take in a Wonder of the Modern World
If you are lucky enough to be in San Francisco on a fog-free day, you will be handsomely rewarded with views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marina neighborhood. One of my regrets from my time in the Bay Area is not having walked across the Golden Gate Bridge to fully grasp the magnitude of this architectural wonder. Even on a foggy day, you can’t skip getting up close and personal with the Golden Gate.
Skip Ghirardelli Square and walk along the water at Fort Mason
You might be wondering…How can a chocolate lover possibly suggest skipping Ghirardelli Square? Honestly, other than stopping in to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company for an afternoon pick-me-up of the dark chocolate variety, I suggest exploring Fort Mason instead of the more touristy shopping destination. Especially popular with runners and walkers in the early morning, explorers can stroll along the Aquatic Park pier for glimpses of Alcatraz off in the distance.
Marvel at Lombard Street
I am a walker, pure and simple. But as tired as my legs were from the many hills of San Francisco (and trust me, I paused many times while walking up the steep sidewalks), I preferred taking pictures of passing cable cars to actually riding one. If you want to experience a cable car, a ride up the steep hill towards Lombard Street is the spot to climb aboard. You will know you’ve reached Lombard Street when you see large groups of tourists with cameras and cars with GoPros and selfie sticks extending from the windows. Famous for its eight hairpin turns, the sounding Victorian mansions and landscaped greenery make the crowded walk to the bottom worth it.
Walk like a local in Nob Hill
I am happy exploring neighborhoods anytime I find myself outnumbered by locals going about their everyday. Nob Hill is one of those places. Set atop one of San Francisco’s original seven hills, the residential neighborhood offers a glimpse into daily life and stunning views of the surrounding city. Apart from the historic buildings and luxury hotels tucked into Nob Hill, I was seduced by corner barber shops, moms or dads walking their children home from school and hipster grocery stores where the staff know everyone by name.
Travel without a passport to Chinatown
The largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the largest in the United States, 24 blocks of bustling sights and sounds help differentiate Chinatown from other San Francisco neighborhoods. Here you’ll find herbal shops, food markets and historical landmarks like the Bank of Canton. My only regret about visiting Chinatown is that because I arrived there late in the day, I missed exploring the market and shops frequented by locals on Stockton Street.
If you still have time (or if you want to go for a run or walk the next morning)…
The Ferry Terminal and Embarcadero area are worthy of a visit. Apart from the historical and architectural importance of the building itself, you can shop for your favorite book at a small outpost of the Book Passage bookstore.
Grab a seat at the bar at Liholiho Yacht Club for dinner
San Francisco is a foodie city. You probably cannot go wrong no matter where you choose to have dinner. But, if you only have one night – I’d suggest a meal at Liholiho Yacht Club. Reservations need to be made well in advance if you want a table, but a seat at the bar serves up the same delicious food with even more energy thanks to chatty bartenders and diners. The best part about sitting at the bar is tht you can take your time with a glass of wine to watch plates coming out of the kitchen before choosing between tuna poke, halibut sashimi, spam fried friece, manila clams or twice cooked pork belly. (If you are anything like me, you might be tempted to order one of everything).
This post was written in partnership with Trip.com, but all rants about the benefits of walking through a new city are my own.