Cool Things to See in San Francisco

by | Apr 5, 2013 | Travel

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge as seen from a vista point on Lincoln Blvd.

My daughters and I love to go on day trips to San Francisco. We often don’t have any destination in mind when we begin our trip and will just spend the day exploring the city.  Today I am sharing with you some of our favorite spots and some of the places we take our visitors.

The 16th Ave Tiled Steps in the Sunset area

One of our favorite spots in San Francisco are the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps. Not many people know about these steps. Each of the 163 steps has a unique and colorful mosaic and together the steps create a design that starts out as a swirling river filled with sea life and surrounded by plants, insects, and wildlife that runs into an ocean that leads to the moon and then the sun. At the bottom, on the sides of the steps is a well kept botanical garden. The steps are in a residential neighborhood, so parking is free and can be easy to find.

The view from the top of the steps includes the Pacific Ocean

A walk to the top of the steps is a must as the view is great. However, an even grander view is just a hundred or so more steps higher. If you walk to the top of the steps and take a right a right, there is a set of steps built into the retaining wall that lead to Noriega Street above. After climbing those steps there is another set of steps built into the side of a hill that lead up to Grand View Park. Just like the name, the view is grand from the park. From this vantage point, you can see the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Park, and downtown San Francisco.

One of the great views from Grand View Park Map with Grand View Park

The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is one our favorite places. During the weekends finding a parking place can be very difficult unless you arrive in the morning. The tea gardens are serene and beautiful. And, tea and snacks are served in the tea house. Admission to the park is $7.00 for adults, $5.00 for youths, and $2.00 for children. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday admission is free if you enter BEFORE 10:00 am. 

The bridge in the Japanese Tea Garden and one of the pagodas

An egret in one of the koi ponds

Enjoying tea and snacks at the tea house

On a clear day, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge can provide you with some beautiful views of San Francisco and the bay.  There is limited parking on both sides of the bridge. If you want to take a hike to the bridge and then walk across the bridge, there is a vista point on Lincoln Blvd. (on the east side of the bridge) with the Battery East Trail passing by.  For a small fee you can park there and walk or unload your bike and ride. Check out this website for some important information about other means of getting to the bridge and paying the toll:

Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge

If walking across the bridge is not for you, but you would like to get some good photos of the bridge, Baker Beach has a great view of the bridge. From this beach you might even see a whale making its way into the bay. On a sunny day, Baker Beach can be a great place to play on the beach or just sit and watch the boats go by.  If you have seen the movie Princess Diaries, the beach party that “Mia” attended was at Baker Beach.

Baker Beach

The Palace of Fine Arts was part of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition which opened in 1915. From 1969 until January 2013 the Exploratorium discovery museum was located here, but has moved to Pier 15 at the Embarcadero. This old beauty is very photogenic and is just a great place to explore and take pictures. The Palace of Fine Arts is located on the edge of a residential neighborhood, so parking is free.

The Palace of Fine Arts

A stop in North Beach (an Italian neighborhood off of Columbus Ave.) for a cannoli and latte is always a must. If you are visiting in the late afternoon, be on alert for the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. My only sighting of these birds was right around the corner from Club Fugazi. The parrots were making quite a racket and they were easy to locate by following the noise they were making.

A non-fat latte and cannoli in the North Beach neighborhood

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Just a few blocks from North Beach in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood, Coit Tower is perched on top of Telegraph Hill. You can take steps up to Coit Tower from the residential neighborhood below or you can also park in the free parking lot at the tower. Some of the stairs leading up to Coit Tower can be found at the end of Filbert Street. During the peak tourist season you may need some patience waiting for a parking place in the tower’s parking lot.

Coit Tower

The tower opens at 10:00 am and it is free to walk around inside the lower level. Inside the lower level are some great murals that were painted in the 1930’s. There are some great views of San Francisco from the top of Coit Tower. For a fee you can take an elevator ride to the top. The last time we were there the people running the elevator said it closes at 6:30 pm year round. The view is gorgeous after dusk, so the fall and winter months are the only months you would be able to see the view in the dark. One place you can get a great photo of the Bay Bridge and Ferry Building after dark is if you walk around the back of the tower. To get in back of the tower, you will need to walk up the steps in front of the tower and enter the gate on the left side.  There is a walkway that leads to a lawn area in the back. Once on the lawn area, walk to the back and at the left you will see an opening with some great views.

One of the murals inside Coit Tower

Another Coit Tower Mural

A view from Coit Tower at dusk

My daughters and I just visited the Ferry Building, which is located on the Embarcadero, for the first time a few months ago. We had made some earlier attempts, but we either could not find parking or the building had already closed during our previous attempts. The Ferry Building is home to several shops and a few restaurants. One of San Francisco’s hottest new restaurants, The Slanted Door, is inside the Ferry Building. Most of the restaurants have outdoor dining and offer a great view of Treasure Island, the Bay Bridge, and the Bay.  On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays there is a farmers market in front of the Ferry Building.

The front of the Ferry Building

The inside of the Ferry Building

Outdoor dining at the Ferry Building

When I was a kid my parents would sometimes drive though “Haight Ashbury” when it was a haven for hippies from all over the world. We never, ever stopped. Today the Haight is an interesting area to explore and visit. In this neighborhood you can find some good restaurants, interesting boutiques, and vintage clothing shops. There are some eclectic buildings and some beautiful Victorian homes. There are some people here that you should not trust, so use caution if you visit this area.

Some of the sights in the Haight

Another thing we like to do is take our visitors to see places they might recognize from TV shows or movies. The house that starred in Mrs. Doubtfire can be found at 2640 Steiner Street, which was the actual address used in the movie. Nearly 1.25 miles south on Steiner Street are the “Painted Ladies” Victorian homes that were seen in the opening credits of the Full House TV series. They are located across the street from Alamo Square Park.

The house from Mrs. Doubtfire located at 2640 Steiner Street

The Painted Ladies at Alamo Square

If you are going to San Francisco, be sure to take a jacket. It can get cold and foggy there.

~merry carter~