10 Things to do in San Francisco

10 Things to do in San Francisco

By Guest Blogger, Jim Byers

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There are so many ways to see and enjoy one of the world’s favourite cities. Which San Francisco you see depends, like a lot of places, on what you like. With that in mind, here are 10 ways for folks of almost every taste to explore the City by the Bay.

FOR THE FOODIE: This is one of America’s best food towns, with ample fruits and veggies year-round and inventive, free-wheeling cooks not afraid to take chances. Alice Waters’ famous Chez Panisse is across the bay in Berkeley, but the city has a ton of great chefs, including Gary Danko, Casey Thompson and others. Food lovers also should check out the fresh cheeses, wines and small restaurants at The Ferry Building, a great spot on the water just north of the Bay Bridge. Foreign Cinema, in the trendy Mission District, is a lovely spot with inventive cuisine and movies playing in the background. I also love Gitane, a romantic French spot on the narrow street near the financial district called Claude Lane.

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FOR THE LITERATURE LOVER: San Francisco is a haven for authors of all stripes; a city that perfected and practiced liberal thinking during the years when Republicans like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush ran the country and was once to home to beat poets and writers such as Jack Kerouac. One of the magnets for book lovers is City Lights, a venerated and independent book store on Columbus Ave. in North Beach with a decidedly left-wing bent.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

FOR THE HIKING ENTHUSIAST: For a city with a pretty intense urban form in terms of its downtown, you’ll find a lot of wild spot in and around San Francisco. The Presidio is a former military base that has hundreds of kilometers of walking and hiking trails through stands of aromatic cypress, pine and eucalyptus trees. There are outstanding hikes along the waterfront in northwest San Francisco, particularly around Baker Beach and the Palace of the Legion of Honor, where you’ll admire magical views of the Golden Gate. Another great option is to take the walk up a steep series of stairs and paths that lead from the waterfront and Embarcadero up to Telegraph Hill, home of Coit Tower. You’ll pass stunning homes right out of Architectural Digest, not to mention the odd flash of colour or noisy squawk from a group of wild parrots that nest in the area.

FOR THE BRIDGE LOVER: The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the engineering marvels of the world, a towering and beautiful structure over a windswept, choppy entrance to San Francisco Bay that some thought would never be built. There are great views from Marin, as mentioned above, and from Baker Beach. One of my favourite ways to see it is from Fort Point, where you can park BELOW the bridge and admire its awesome supports and gain, I think, a deeper appreciation for how it was done. There’s a small interpretive centre, and you also can watch surfers brave the cold water – and occasional shark. The fort was built to defend the city from Confederate and foreign attack during the U.S. Civil War; now more than 150 years ago. Hint: The fog and wind can be huge factors here. Bring a sweater. Or three.

FOR THE CAFFEINE FIEND: There are a lot of places serving great coffee, but it’s hard to beat the atmosphere in North Beach, the long-standing centre of Italian culture in San Francisco. Pull up a chair outside Caffe Roma and sip your cappuccino while you watch the world go by.

Mission Delores,  San Francisco

FOR THE HISTORY BUFF: Mission Dolores was built in 1776, a rather famous year in the history of the United States. But this was when California was under Spanish control and was being “settled” by missionaries charged with converting the heathen natives to Catholicism. It’s the oldest original intact Mission in California and the oldest building in San Francisco. There’s a pretty chapel and a graveyard with tons of atmosphere. Nearby Dolores Park is a fine spot for a picnic.

FOR THE ART LOVER: The Palace of Legion of Honor sits on a hill west of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a beautiful, Beaux Arts edifice with gorgeous columns and a wonderful sense of arrival. You’ll find many masters inside, including Pissarro, Picasso, Seurat and more. Not to mention Rodin’s The Thinker.

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FOR THE CRIME FANATIC: Alcatraz remains one of the city’s most popular attractions, a former federal prison that held some of America’s toughest prisoners, including Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. The island and the old prison buildings are downright spooky; eerie and deathly quiet and windy and cold most of the time. This is a U.S. National Park, and advance tickets are required. So plan ahead.

FOR THE ANIMAL LOVER: The barking sea lions of Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are always a big hit with tourists, especially kids. Some are quite massive, yet they’re oh-so-graceful in the water. You’ll also find a fine zoo in the southwest corner of the city, not to mention bison roaming a paddock between Spreckels Lake and North Lake in the northern part of Golden Gate Park.

FOR THE BOATING ENTHUSIAST: San Francisco Bay is a boating paradise, with beautiful hills, towering skyscrapers, world-class bridges and several small islands to navigate around. Hornblower Cruises offers a variety of options, including dinner and dancing cruises (I’d suggest these for September or October; often the warmest months of the year in northern California). One great way to enjoy the water is by taking the ferry from the Ferry Building to nearby Sausalito, home to fun waterfront restaurants and cute shops and gleaming marinas. You’ll get great views of the city, as well as Alcatraz and, assuming the fog has lifted, the Golden Gate Bridge.

Looking to visit San Francisco this summer?
Aeroplan has a number of travel partners in San Francisco, so you can book your trip and accumulate when you stay, and when you rent a car. You can also use your miles to book your travel with specific partners and even earn miles for doing so. To see bonuses that will help make your travel even easier this summer, go here

Photo Credit: Jim Byers

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