Overview : The new Exploratorium on the waterfront completes this classic walking tour of downtown San Francisco. This walk will take you through... more »
Overview : The new Exploratorium on the waterfront completes this classic walking tour of downtown San Francisco. This walk will take you through... more » iconic San Francisco landmarks like the Ferry Building, Coit Tower, Transamerica Pyramid and Old St Mary's Church. You will also get to see Chinatown, North Beach, vestiges of the infamous Barbary Coast, a peek of the Golden Gate Bridge, maybe some wild parrots on Telegraph Hill, and a gourmet chocolate factory. Note that on Sunday, some of the POIs will be closed (Redwood Park by Transamerica, Sotto Mare restaurant, Ciao Bella, Wells Fargo History Museum) less «
San Francisco can be foggy and cold so dress in layers (a base T-shirt layer, a middle shirt layer, and a wind-resistant jacket). But ... more »do not let the marine layer discourage you from this walk. Fog adds character (or so locals like to think).
This trek is not suitable for wheelchairs or strollers as it does have several flights of stairs and some steep downhill portions.
Hotels within walking distance to the ferry building include the Hyatt Embarcadero and Hotel Vicente. However, the ferry building is easily accessed via public transit from other hotels. less «
The Ferry Building was built 1898. It was THE hub of transportation back then as the only way to get to San Francisco from East Bay cities was by ferry.
The building with its iconic clock tower (modeled after the Seville cathedral in Spain) survived the 1906 earthquake with little damage. However, it could not survive the construction of the Bay... More Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge that allowed commuters to switch from ferries to cars. The ferry building soon fell into disuse.
Ironically, it was the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that resurrected the ferry building as the monstrous Embarcadero freeway that blighted the waterfront had to be torn down. This triggered redevelopment and today, the Ferry building has been restored to its former Beaux Arts glory. It is a foodie haven with gourmet stores and hosts a bustling farmer's market every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings with fresh produce and free samples. Oh -- it's also a working ferry building with service to East Bay and North Bay cities.
1 Ferry Building San Francisco, CA (415) 983-8030Less
Begin your tour with coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee -started in Oakland with a promise to only serve coffee roasted within the last 48 hours. If the line is too long, check out Peets Coffee round the corner, started by Alfred Peets in Berkeley. If you have kids, they might prefer the Humphry Slocome ice cream store right across the hall instead.... More If the smell of fresh bread wafts your way, grab a loaf of Acme sourdough bread and think about how the gold miners slept with their sourdough starter back in the 19th century.
From the shop, look down the fully restored Great Nave filled with natural light from above. Wonder what's on the 2nd floor (just offices) and gaze up at the skylight. From the main entrance, run upstairs to check out the marble mosaic floors with the great seal of California.
Marketplace Shop #7, Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA Less
Hands down the best hands-on science museum for all ages, a "learning lab to explore and tinker" -- well worth the $25 admission. Expect to spend 2-3 hours here so pack a lunch or grab Welsh Rare-bit and fresh sushi at the SEAGLASS restaurant. If the weather is nice, choose a table in the back to enjoy the marvelous view of the Bay.
15/... More17 Pier, San Francisco, CA (415) 528-4444Less
Continue along the Embarcadero and and wave at tourists riding on the vintage "F" trolley cars passing by. Cross safely at the crosswalk to Levi's Plaza and walk towards Coit Tower (up on the hill) on Filbert Street.
Levi's Plaza houses the HQ of the famous company that invented and patented the first "riveted men's work pants out ... Moreof denim" (aka blue jeans) in 1873. The Plaza is a hidden green oasis by the waterfront and is the gateway to the next stop: The Filbert Steps.
But make a small detour to the lobby for exhibits of Levi's jeans from the gold rush era.
1155 Battery St, San Francisco, CALess
The Filbert Street steps allow visitors to scale the 280 feet up Telegraph Hill -- one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Francisco. Vegetation abounds, from wild poppies growing at the base and wild blackberries for picking against the hillside, to carefully landscaped flowers in privately owned gardens by the stairway.
Look for the wild parrots... More of Telegraph Hill, made famous by the book and documentary of the same name. Make way for joggers getting a workout on the steps and turn back every now and then for expansive views of the Bay.
125 Filbert Street, San Francisco, CALess
Make your way up the steps to Coit Tower, a National Historic Site. The tower was constructed in the 1930s as a memorial to San Francisco's volunteer firemen (yes -- they were all men in those days). Note the distinctive murals and enjoy the views from the top of the tower ($7 fee).
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA (415) 362-0808
This catholic church started by the first Salesians to America has an unfortunate "666" address. The original church ministering to immigrant Italians was built in the 1880s but was lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The current structure was built in the 1924 and is impressive from the outside. It's even more impressive inside and... More well worth a look. Imagine local-boy-made-good Joe D'Maggio and Marilyn Monroe being married at the altar (they just took wedding pictures here and were not allowed to marry at the church as they were both divorced).
Opposite the church is Washington Square Park. If you're lucky, there might be a festival or someone performing. Cross the park and walk down Columbus Avenue -- knowing that Beach Blanket Babylon has been performing a block away (on Green St) since 1974.
666 Filbert St, San Francisco CA (415) 421-0217Less
If you need energy after the walk up Telegraph Hill, take the cannoli with a cup of Lavazza-bean espresso. Stella Pastry has been baking traditional Italian pastries since 1942.
446 Columbus Ave, San Francisco CA (415) 986-2914
If Italian pastries are not your cup of tea, how about some fresh oysters? Just don't be taken aback if you encounter gruff service: that's part of the charm for this fairly new restaurant.
552 Green St, San Francisco, CA (415) 398-3181
North Beach used to literally be a beach. However, the surrounding land was "reclaimed" later in the 19th century and Italian immigrants settled down soon after.
The Beat generation of poets hanged out around North Beach in the 1950s and the term "Beatnik" was coined afterwards to refer to the stereotypical guy with a beard... More and sandals reading poetry and smoking contraband. Beatniks were the precursor to Hippies. Round the corner on Broadway is the Beat museum ($8 admission). But be careful with kids -- there are still several "adult clubs" in the area east of Columbus.
City Lights Bookstore is famous not just for being around during the Beat era, but for surviving in the age of Amazon.com. It is a good stop for book-lovers today and has consistently been rated the best book shop in the world by Lonely Planet.
261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA (415) 362-8193Less
Walk down Grant Ave (the oldest street in SF) and cross Pacific Avenue -- one one of the more notorious streets of the old Barbary Coast (the former seedy red-light district).
Imagine what it was like in the 1850s in the midst of the Gold Rush where sailors were shanghaied and prostitutes roamed.
Look down for street markers that guide visitors ... Moreto the old Barbary Coast.Less
As you walk down Grant, you will know you've entered Chinatown because of the bright red lanterns hanging overhead and the little shops along the way. Stop for the famous egg custard tarts (dan tart in Chinese) at the Golden Gate Bakery. It's not always open -- check to see at http://www.is-the-golden-gate-bakery-open-today.com/
1029 Grant Ave,... More San Francisco, CA (415) 781-2627Less
Who invented the fortune cookies is a matter of debate. But what is clear is that fortune cookies did not originate from China, and the first automated fortune cookie machine was invented in San Francisco.
Although the bulk of fortune cookies are no longer manufactured in SF, the original machine is still churning out cookies in Chinatown at Ross... More Alley.
Watch how the cookies are made, pay for any photos you take and then walk down the oldest back alley in Chinatown: Ross Alley.
56 Ross Alley San Francisco, CA (415) 781-3956Less
Continue on and look in on Waverly Place with its colorful balconies and the 天后 (Tien-Hau or Tin-Hau which literally means empress of heaven) Buddhist temple. Tien-Hau is supposedly the first and oldest Buddhist temple in the US but is more of a tourist destination today.
If that's too touristy for you, there are temples from other sects nearly.... More On the same block is the Tibetan Norras Temple (also supposedly the oldest temple). Around the corner is the Gold Mountain Monastery and a two blocks away is the largest Buddhist Church in the country: Buddha's Universal Church.
Tien-Hau 125 Waverly Place (415) 986-2520
Norras 109 Waverly Place (415) 362-1993
Gold Mountain 800 Sacramento St (415) 421-6117
Buddha's Universal 720 Washington (415) 982-6116Less
Where else can you get a haircut for $5 in the United States? Sure, you may have to communicate via hand gestures but isn't that part of the adventure? There are several salons offering $5 haircuts in Chinatown. Check them out and drop in for the ultimate tourist souvenir of your visit. And if you don't like it -- just wait 3 weeks for it to grow ... Moreout!Less
Continue down Grant Ave to California Street. California's first cathedral, built in 1854, is an active church with daily mass. Make a mental note of the noontime concert programs for the future and inspect the red bricks that were shipped all the way from New England. Take photos of the Chinatown gateway arch two blocks further down and make your... More way down the hill on California St.
Wave at the tourists from the cable car passing by. If you have a MUNI pass, hop on and read up on how cable cars work. Or visit the Cable Car Museum (1201 Mason Street up the hill) if you still have time to learn more.
660 California Street, San Francisco, CA (415) 288-3800Less
Make a left on Montgomery Street towards the Transamerica pyramid. On the right, hidden away, is the Wells Fargo History Museum. It is worth dropping in to see an original Wells Fargo stagecoach and learn about California's gold rush history. See real gold nuggets and real bank notes from that era. Kids might like sending messages via telegraph --... More assuming they know what that is.
420 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA (415) 396-2619
The 853 foot (260 m) high Transamerica Pyramid is a SF landmark and the tallest building in all of Northern California. Unfortunately, the observation deck was closed after the 9/11 attacks -- though a visitor center and gift shop is now available. Visitors can also enjoy the tranquil and serene park at the Pyramid Center that has tall redwood... More trees transplanted from the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Hundreds of people step on this historical marker without realizing it. It denotes the original shoreline. Everything from the marker to the ferry building is landfill.
End the tour with dinner at One Market - a San Francisco favorite of food critics and people on expense accounts for 20 years.
If you decide to skip One Market because it lost its Michelin star recently, there are many choices nearby for almost every taste. Alternatives to One Market include Boulevard, Waterbar, Tadich Grill, Kokkari, Slanted... More Door, Ozuma, Quince, etc.
1 Market St San Francisco, CA (415) 777-5577Less