PSA: Long Post with lots of pictures!
A combined total of just under 13 miles walked and the equivalent of 53 flights of stairs (because of the hills) makes a walking tour of San Francisco difficult or impossible for some, exhilarating for others and exhausting for everyone! My son and I decided to walk as much of San Francisco as we could so that we could see as much as possible, stop when we saw something of interest and really get a feel for the city.
We had 3 full days to experience all that San Francisco has to offer. Our first day was full of my Captain for a Day events with Alcatraz Cruises and A Visit to Alcatraz Island, so we spent days 2 and 3 exploring on our own and I’m thrilled that we did it our way. I had recently written about 6 Absolute Must-See’s in San Francisco that are Free and wanted to see as many of those places that I could. I’m happy to say we were able to cross off most of them but I still wish we had more time to explore San Francisco.
Hilton San Francisco Union Square
We were staying at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square which is a beautiful, high-rise hotel right in the heart of Union Square. Our room was located on the 47th floor of Tower One which offered a gorgeous view of the city.
Hilton San Francisco Union Square is located in the Theater District and puts you in walking distance to cable cars and Moscone Center and is about 1 mile from Chinatown and Nob Hill. The Union Square area of San Francisco is full of wonderful stores, shops, and restaurants and can take a full day to explore.
Cityscape Lounge, high above the city, is the perfect spot to end your day with a cocktail and 360 degree views of San Francisco. The hotel offers several options for meals and a great lobby bar/lounge. Poached, located on the lobby level offers breakfast with an extensive selection of cooked-to-order eggs and delicious local, regional and international breakfast options. The food is good and the service is excellent. However, be prepared for the cost! I admit I was blindsided when I received the bill. Just under $100 for a buffet breakfast is outrageous – no matter how good the food and the service is. Needless to say, we didn’t have breakfast there again. We did, however, enjoy breakfast the following morning in the Herb N’ Kitchen off the lobby that offers a large selection (and reasonably priced) breakfast items as well as food all day long.
Day One – Start Walking!
After a very expensive and early breakfast we set out towards Chinatown. The walk from Union Square to Chinatown isn’t really far but it is up-hill! On our way to Chinatown we passed high end department stores with some of the most beautiful holiday displays in the windows.
We spent a little bit of time in the heart of Union Square’s iconic plaza decked out for the holidays with an enormous Christmas tree and lights. This is also the location of a San Francisco holiday tradition that appears each year – the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink. An outdoor ice skating rink right in the middle of the city!
After leaving the plaza, the rest of the walk to Chinatown was a window shopping – looking all around you – kind of walk. There are so many different things to see in San Francisco – everywhere you look you see something else that catches your attention. Something else that makes you stop to get a better look.
It took longer than it should have to arrive at Chinatown because we continually stopped to look at interesting and different features and items along the way. Many of the art stores offer some odd items for sure!
We finally arrived at Chinatown and within minutes felt like we were taken back in time to another world. San Francisco Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America. The well-known, iconic Chinatown arch was somewhat smaller than I imagined but stunning non-the-less.
I created a slideshow of some of the beautiful things I saw in Chinatown to shorten the post length:
I particularly loved all of the mural street art in Chinatown which seems to be around every corner you turn. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory was lots of fun to find and visit. It sits down a small alley full of interesting shops like this one for a tailor.
I loved watching the fortune cookies being made. The shop is full of thousands of fortune cookies in just about every flavor you can imagine and the proprietors are friendly and kind, giving out samples for you to taste. They welcome visitors to take pictures but do ask for a small donation when you do.
After an interesting morning exploring Chinatown, we decided to head towards Fisherman’s Wharf for the afternoon. We sort of went about it the long way by heading back into Union Square (by a different route than the morning to see more sites) to hop on a cable car to take us down to Fisherman’s Wharf. I admit the Rice-A-Roni song kept running through my head and I found myself wanting to hang off the side of the cable car like a TV commercial!
As soon as we arrived, we went right to Boudin Sourdough for lunch. Boudin is home to the original sourdough bread and you can smell the bread baking from locks away. Of course, we had to have one of their famous Sourdough Bread Bowls filled with claim chowder for lunch!
After lunch we headed towards the Ghiradelli Square – After all, we needed a little dessert after our meal!
After enjoying some sweets and purchasing some gift items we had a hard time deciding which way to go since there was something of interest in whatever direction we headed. We decided to head over to Pier 39 to check out the famous sea lions. The walk over was full of art studios and art shops, street performers and lots to see, so it was a slow and leisurely walk.
View of Alcatraz from Pier 39 area (it was super foggy on the bay):
After visiting with the very loud (and somewhat smelly) sea lions, we decided to head to the Cable Car Museum and then call it a day. We had lots of other things on our “must see” list for the next day and to be honest, the hills do a job on your legs! We hopped a cable car to head towards our next stop – the museum, which is located in the historic Washington/Mason cable car barn and powerhouse. The museum deck overlooks the huge engines and winding wheels that pull the cables. Downstairs is a viewing area of the large sheaves and cable line entering the building through the channel under the street. I will admit to being fascinated by how the cable cars work so the visit to the museum was a great way to end our day.
Day Two – Started in an Uber!
First thing we had to do was move our belongings to the Parc 55 San Francisco. The Parc is owned by Hilton and since Hilton was one of my sponsors they split our stay between their two properties. The Parc 55 was actually just a half block away so we dropped our bags with Bell Services and started our day from there.
We had quite a few things on our must-see list for our last day so decided to start at the furthest point and got an Uber to drop us on the other side of the city closer to where we were heading for the day. Our Uber driver was great and gave us lots of interesting information along the way. I will say that each time we ubered in San Francisco our drivers were full of lots of interesting bits of information they were willing to share.
At the bottom of a very long hill we started our trek through a great neighborhood of houses heading towards our first destination – Haight Ashbury. Since I was a teenager during “those years” – the “Haight” was on the top of the list of things to see. I also discovered during this trip that my son (born in the 80’s) was definitely an old soul born during the wrong decade!
Roaming around the “Haight” definitely takes you back in time. Shop after shop of vintage clothing, hippies, cafes and an area that time as left at a stand still!
We made sure to make a stop at the Grateful Dead house that in present time looks like a beautifully restored row house on a quiet San Francisco street! I’m sure it looked much different as the 1960’s communal home for the members of the Grateful Dead. During the “Summer of Love”, this was where Jerry Garcia and his band-mates blew minds, amps and brain cells. After their 1967 drug bust, the “Dead” held a press conference here arguing for decriminalization and claimed if everyone who smoked marijuana were arrested, San Francisco would be empty! I will admit that this old lady was amused and amazed how easily people are approached walking around Haight Street to buy a little bit of pot.
After exploring the Haight Asbury area and stopping by a small Mexican cafe for a taco lunch, we continued our walk to the Golden Gate Park. I will say that I wish we had more time. Even though we stayed in the park for a good portion of the rest of the day, I feel like there was so much more to see. The park is full of beautiful places, museums and trails. Golden Gate Park reminds me a little of Disneyland – a beautiful escape right in the middle of a bustling and busy city.
Hippie Hill, best know for a spot in Golden Gate Park where Janis Joplin would come to write her music!
The carousel near the children’s playground in the park:
The deYoung Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco is also located in Gold Gate Park and offers a view of San Francisco from the observation floor that is stunning. We could have spent much more time in museum since the exhibits were many and super interesting. Trying to fit so much into a couple of days does put it’s limitations on your time. This museum is one of those places that I think I can visit several times. They had some of the most interesting exhibits and art I have seen in a long time.
Right in the heart of the park – is the Japanese Tea Garden. We decided to go in, have some tea and a snack and look at all the Bonzai trees.
After our stop at the Japanese Tea Gardens we decided to call an Uber and head to the Legion of Honor Museum – part of the deYoung and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco but in a totally different location. We reluctantly left the Golden Gate Park and uber-ed our way to Lincoln Park where the Legion of Honor is located. I’m thrilled we took the time since this museum also held some fabulous exhibits. Several Egyptian Mummies were just one of the exhibits that held our interest for quite some time. The location of this museum offers some beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge as well.
Uber once again had us heading back to the Parc 55 in Union Square. We were delighted the day before when we learned that the only Michelin Star Rated Thai restaurant in the country was tucked away in a corner of our hotel. My son LOVES Thai food so we couldn’t leave town the next morning without dining at Kin Khao. I’ve never been a huge fan of Thai cuisine but OMG! What a great meal. The restaurant is small and casual. Everything is locally sourced. The prices are reasonable, the service is outstanding and I’m glad I decided to try it for my son.
The next morning it was time to head home and Uber to the rescue once again as we were on our way to San Francisco Airport.
I was provided an all expense paid trip as part of the Alcatraz Captain campaign held by Alcatraz Cruises. Sponsors included the Hilton Union Square San Francisco and Park 55 by Hilton hotels as well as San Francisco CityPass. All opinions are my own.