8 Unique San Francisco Experiences

After the John Muir Trail, we spent a day kayaking in Mammoth and that night literally chasing a bear off the hood of my car!

Here’s the picture to prove it:

Then we headed over to the great City by the Bay. We spent four days running up and down the steep hills of San Francisco, exploring different neighborhoods by day and rum bars by night. The city offers a truly endless amount of things to do… here are some of the best:

Bike Across the Golden Gate Bridge

As cliche as it sounds, biking across the Golden Gate bridge is truly a remarkable experience. Almost everyone who visits the city will drive it one way or another, however it’s hard to really appreciate this architectural masterpiece from the road. A bike brings the bridge’s immense size into scope and makes the 1.7 mile long journey more bearable than your own two feet. Along the way you will get picturesque views of the bay, some 200 feet below, and the great city you just left behind. That is, of course, if it isn’t socked in with fog! For us, this made the ride even more neat. When else do you get to ride through a cloud!

Drive down Lombard Street

This is perhaps the most famous one-block section or road anywhere in the world. For much of it’s length, Lombard Street is like any other. But between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets it descends a 27% grade via 8 hairpin turns. Dubbed the most crooked street in the world, it’s worth a go on any occasion. Just don’t expect to have the road to yourself. Most likely, you will crawl down the street in a line a mile long. Then circle back around and let someone else drive!

Explore Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is one of the best urban parks in the country. It really seems to have everything. On our bike ride through, we passed a functioning Dutch Windmill, bison, a Japanese Garden, numerous lakes and sporting fields, a garden dedicated to Shakespeare, and two of the best museums in the country; the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. It can easily take up an entire day. Be sure to also check out nearby Land’s End and the decrepit Sutro Baths. If you’re thirsty, grab a drink at the epic Cliff House.

Gorge Yourself at Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli has been pumping out their god-sent chocolates here since 1893. Grab yourself a few samples, before stuffing baggies full of the little squares. But don’t stop there, the square houses several other restaurants, shops, and bars as well as a Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop. Load up on calories before burning them off on the way back up the hill.

Alcatraz Island

If you are lucky enough to get tickets, don’t miss out on a trip to the Rock. The boat ride across the bay is worth it in of itself, though the self-guided audio tour is seriously one of the best I have ever been on. As you shuffle from cell to cell, former inmates and guards relay the history of this infamous prison. You will see the pockmarks on the wall from the Battle of Alcatraz and the ventilation holes used in the famous escape. Notorious names such as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and Mickey Cohen all served time here.

Eat Dim Sum in Chinatown

Since before the Gold Rush of 1849, Chinatown has existed in San Francisco. It is the oldest in North America and the largest Chinese community found anywhere outside of Asia. By stepping into this area of the city, you are literally being transported across the world. With that said, the best way to understand a culture is to eat its food. What better way than dim sum, a style of cuisine that lends itself perfectly to the uninhibited. Food is served in bite-served portions and you are able to try all kinds of dishes without the fear of picking the wrong thing. There are tons of options for Dim Sum in Chinatown and I don’t think you can really go wrong with any of them.

San Francisco Chinatown

Go on a Walking Tour

Walking tours are by no means unique to San Francisco. However, they are the best way to begin to learn some of this city’s long history. From it’s early beginnings as a Mission in 1776, to the Samuel Brennan’s call of “Gold! Gold! Gold” in 1849, guides will take you through chapters in time. They will explain how this complex city came to be and point out buildings and shops you would otherwise miss. They are also a wealth of knowledge when it comes to restaurant recommendations and bars/clubs. Check out www.sfcityguides.org or www.freetoursbyfoot.com for daily times and meeting locations. I highly recommend taking a tour through Chinatown.

Camp at Kirby Cove

As part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a good section of land across the bridge remains under the control of the National Park Service. As such, hiking trails abound and several campgrounds are available for reservation. Probably the most desirable of these is Kirby Cove. Nestled on the edge of the bay, the campground commands one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Just don’t expect to get much sleep. Between the mischievous raccoons, the blaring fog horns of ships, and the potential for one hell of sunrise shot, you’ll be up all night.

Written by Jake G

I'm a 26 year old who loves to hike, bike, backpack, and explore the outdoors. I'm a Midwesterner who currently resides in sunny Arizona. I hope to inspire others with my adventures and maybe give some advice for your future vacations. Follow me as I travel around the country and...
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