San Francisco, California – a city both old and new. The area where San Francisco is currently situated was first occupied by humans, according archeological evidence, in 3000 BC by the Yelamu group of the Ohlone people until Spanish explorers arrived in 1769. The area is under Spanish rule for nearly 80 years until the area is claimed for the United States in 1846. The Gold Rush, beginning in 1848, drew people from all over America which grew the population from a mere 1,000 to 25,000 in just one year.
Obsessors of the Gold Rush not only added population to the still-growing city but it also added culture, which leads me to my first stop on your tour of San Francisco. Sourdough bread, characterized by its large amount of lactic acid from the fermentation process, was brought to the area by the French and has lingered here ever since. There are dozens of places to buy and enjoy sourdough bread throughout the city but there’s only one place that I’ll recommend.
Boudin Bakery, located at the heart of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, was established in 1849 by Isidore Boudin (pronounced boo-DEEN) who came from a long line of master bakers in Burgundy, France. It’s hard t tell whether or not he knew his sourdough bread
would become a staple of San Francisco culture when Isidore brought the family recipe over during the Gold Rush and settled down next to the seashore. According to the website, the recipe hasn’t changed since establishment regardless of several ownership changes. The establishment offers an eat-in option at Bistro Boudin as well as a large marketplace, Bakers Hall, which features the Boudin Café and a coffee bar if you’re in a rush. However, if you have the time, my recommendation is to have a nice sit-down dinner at the Bistro with a hot sourdough bread bowl full of crab (caught fresh right off the wharf) and corn bisque. If that’s not your thing or you have dietary restrictions, they have an extensive menu.
While you’re already in the neighborhood, explore the rest of Fisherman’s Wharf. The wharf, which has been a functional and successful area for selling fresh fish since the mid-1800s, developed into a full-fledged tourist attraction during the 1970s. Alongside active fishermen are many seafood restaurants (no surprise), Pier 39, the Cannery Shopping Center, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, and the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Most of the restaurants in this area are proudly family-owned but a few other chain alternatives, like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., have emerged in recent years. One thing you won’t find much of, however, is fast food. Locals rejected the idea to install fast food restaurants in this area in order to keep preserve the family feng shui. They did make one exception for In-N-Out Burger, though – typical California.
Pier 39, another popular tourist area that resides between the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach, is home to (you guessed it) more restaurants, shops, street performers, and the Aquarium of the Bay. However, one need not pay admission for the
aquarium to experience the marine life of the Bay as a sea lion colony also calls this pier home.
Sea lions have dwelled near Pier 39 for as long as residents of this area can remember. However, in the last 30 years, the sea lions have begun to prefer the docks over Seal Rock. No one is quite sure why this migration has occurred; locals do speculate that the removal of ships in 1989 to refurbish the docks could be to blame. Though, no one seems to be complaining as this migration offers a rate up-close encounter with these animals. To ensure that you get this experience, be sure that you’re conscious of what time of the year you visit the Bay Area as the sea lions tend to migrate out of the bay between November and April.
San Francisco is known for a number of other things – the Painted Ladies, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge – but there is a downside. Most of these attractions are not within a reasonable walking distance from one another. Not to mention, San Francisco is one giant (and I mean giant) hill. Luckily, San Francisco has one of the most intricate public transportation systems including buses, taxis, ferries and, most popularly, trolleys. While a bit pricey at $7 for a single ride, you can’t miss the opportunity to hang off the side of a cable car like they do in the movies. How this is even still allowed is beyond me but it is exhilarating and was one of the highlights of my few days spent here.
If public transportation isn’t your thing and you’ve decided to drive your own car (or rent one), I’d highly recommend taking a drive down the infamous Lombard Street. There’s not much history behind this street other than it’s wavy hairpin turns and beautiful shrubbery. Also, don’t worry if you don’t have a car – you don’t need it to go down (or up) this street. It’s just a bit more fun that way!
Things to see just outside the city
The city is wild and diverse and beautiful and it’s hard to pull yourself away from it. But be it your out of money, sick of seafood or drinking, or just need some peace and quiet, there are many things to do just outside of the city.
San Francisco is on the outlying edge of Northern California wine country. With Sonoma Valley a little over an hour away and Napa Valley just a bit further than that, you can easily make a day out of a wine tasting or wine tour – or both! There are an abundance of wineries to choose from but the one I’ll recommend is the Benziger Family Winery.
This quaint little winery nestled in Sonoma Valley was founded by newlyweds Mike Benziger, his wife Mary, and his four siblings: Bob, Joe, Jerry, and Patsy. The family purchased the historic Wegener Ranch in 1980 and turned it into what is now Benziger Family Winery. They pride themselves on their sustainable, organic, and biodynamic
certified wines as well as their plan to keep the winery in the lineage for the foreseeable future.
The Benziger family winery offers several tours of the estate, wine tastings, and pairings of the two that range from $25 to $100. When I visited this winery in 2015 with my parents, we took the Biodynamic Vineyard Team Tour – this is the cheapest of the tours and tastings and it was worth every buck. We took a tour of the vineyard, learned about the bottling process, and got to taste their award-winning wines.
If your wine tour has you feeling responsively good and you’re up for an adventure, stop by Muir Woods National Monument on your way back into the city. Muir Woods is a 554-acre forest (240 of which is red wood Sequoias) just 12 miles north of San Francisco. It was founded as the 7th National Monument on January 9, 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Muir Woods is known for it’s redwoods. The tallest one stands at 258 feet but, fun fact, they start as a seed that’s no bigger than the size of a tomato seed. The redwoods in the National Monument are also extremely old; the average age is between 500 and 800 years old. However, scientists believe that the oldest one is more than 1,200 years old.
Visitors over the age of 16 only have to pay $10 to enter and this allows entry for the whole day. Children under the age of 15 and anyone in a family visiting with a fourth grader receive free admission. Once you pay your fee, Muir Woods is your oyster; visitors can enjoy camping, hiking, biking, learning about ecology and conservation at the Visitor Center, shopping at the Muir Woods Trading Company gift shop, and much more. More details can be found here!
Other things you need to know
San Francisco may be located in California, a state known for its beaches and sunshine, but don’t let that fool you. Of the biggest metropolitan cities with the lowest daily temperatures in the United States, San Francisco comes in first place 61°F while most other cities on this list average around 70°F according to CurrentResults.com. Simply put: bring a jacket and some long pants. Also, consider a hat if your ears are sensitive – the wind gets wicked the higher up you get.
This sea-side city is, unsurprisingly, of the most expensive cities in the United States. In fact, just last year, it was ranked the second most expensive city in the entire country just behind New York City. With that being said, you need to be frugal when spending, especially if you plan to stay longer than a few days. Below, you’ll find a list of free or cheap things to do in and around San Francisco.
- Take a City Walking Tour (FREE)
- Catch an afternoon ballgame at AT&T Park (Starting at $9)
- Spend a day at the Beach in Santa Cruz (FREE)
- Grab lunch at a food truck (Lunch prices lol)
- Peruse a museum or two (FREE)
- Hike the California Coastal Trail & catch a nice glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge (FREE)
Lastly, keep your wits about you and don’t let your guard down at night. With the year-round moderate temperature and outrageous living costs, the homeless populations is unfortunately very high. It’s best to avoid places like the Civic Center after the sun goes down.