Golden Gate Bridge view July 2012

We are planning a long weekend in San Francisco in July. We’re meeting another couple their, friends from way back, so planning will include agreeing on activities we all will enjoy. I have several bucket list things I want to do in San Francisco, but I know some of them are not going to work, but I hope we can check at least one thing off my list.

There are several sources of information when you search Google for things to do in San Francisco. Many of them either sell tours, or offer links to tours. I’m not big on guided tours. There are times when they are useful, especially when visiting historical places, but I don’t generally enjoy being led around places… I would rather do some planning and explore on my own.

We spent a couple of days in San Francisco in July 2012 on our Honeymoon following our wedding and stay in Big Sur. That trip was a road trip and we are planning to drive again, but we are not planning to drive from San Diego to Big Sur again this time. We’re taking a week off, but plan to spend half the time in San Francisco and the other half in Lake Tahoe, so no time for a long coastal drive on this trip.

We’ve arranged for a condo for the four days we’ll be staying in the city through Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO). We’ve used this website for several trips and have always been very satisfied with where we stay. Be sure to look at the reviews before renting. I avoid places that have no reviews even if the pictures look terrific. It is too easy to make a place look good in pictures even if it has issues. In 2012 we stayed in a Hotel in the Market area, this time we will be a little closer to the center of things in Nob Hill.

We also want to do new things and things we didn’t have time for in 2012. So here’s the list so far:

1. Ride a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. We had considered taking our bikes with us, but we are taking our car instead of the Jeep, so we will rent bikes if we do this one. There are several places to rent bikes, and we’ll be watching the local living daily email deal sites for bargains. When you are planning a trip it is a good idea to sign up, several months in advance, for emails for the places you are visiting from sites like Groupon, Living Social, and Goldstar. this one activity gives you a chance to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, get unique views as you cross the bridge, visit Sausalito for lunch, and the ferry ride from Sausalito to San Francisco should give us plenty of great views of the city from San Francisco Bay.

2. Visit Alcatraz Island. The site of the famous prison is now a National Park. Anytime I visit a National park I start with a visit to the appropriate National Park website to the Plan Your Visit section. In this case it helped me avoid a lot of tour companies selling this tour in combination with other tours to get more money. The National Park website pointed me to the official tour company so I can get my tickets directly and skip any additional fees.

View of Alcatraz July 2012

3. Wine tasting day trip! We considered spending an overnight in wine country. This would likely be a good idea when sampling wines from multiple vineyards! But this part of the trip is short so we will make it a day trip and someone (likely me) will volunteer to be the DD. There are almost too many choices. I could do an entire post researching and planning even just a good day trip to this area. Since this will be my first visit to this area I think I’ll suggest the easy way out. We can start at Sonoma Plaza (about an hour drive from San Francisco), do some wine tastings there and then visit a couple wineries in the hills nearby. If we take a few bottles (or cases) home I’ll still get to have the full effect, just delayed a couple of hours!

4. Hike in one or more of the National Parks and Recreation areas in and around San Francisco.

  • Muir Woods. This park has a wide variety of trails from paved to challenging. This would be a great place to hang out for a longer visit on a future camping trip!
  • Marin Headlands area of the Golden Gate National Recreation area – In addition to the National Parks site the Golden Gate National Parks ConservancyGolden Gate National Parks Conservancy organization site is a good information resource for this park. This is my top choice for a hike with a huge payoff – views of the Golden Gate bridge and San Francisco.
  • Mount Diablo is on my bucket list, but it is most likely for another less urban focused trip!

5. Take a scenic drive. The closest drive would be the Reyes National Seashore drive, but it is mostly through rolling hills but the first section to Stinson Beach looks amazing. If we do this one it would make sense to do it at the same time as a visit to the Marin Headlands area and to plan to do another couple few short hikes to lookouts like the Muir Beach Lookout and maybe a section of the coastal trail. The much longer drive to Santa Cruz would be gorgeous, but would take us away from San Francisco for too long and this is a visit to San Francisco…

6. See the 16th Avenue Steps. If we get ambitious maybe even walk up them! If we get really ambitious maybe continue up the steps to see the view from Grand View Park! Looks like a nice climb and I’m a sucker for a grand view!

7. Eat some terrific food from Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and maybe some of my favorite Italian dishes in North Beach. We can also take time to explore these areas before and after we eat!

8. Cable Car Museum. Of course we’ll ride one, but this might be a cool place to check out too.

9. Explore the Nob Hill area on foot. Since we are staying in this area it makes sense to check it out. The area has Grace Cathedral, Union Square, several historic hotels, and lots of high-end shopping…

10. Visit the James Lick Observatory. This is a bit geeky and probably for a future trip, but wanted to capture the thought here, because I would love to check this place out. Might be good in combination with a visit to one of our newest national parks Pinnacles National Park.

View of St Peters and Pauls Church from Lombard Street July 2012

San Francisco is one of the great urban areas in California. It has a unique location, a unique history, and a unique population. We are looking forward to spending time exploring the city and finding even more things we have to do next time.

The more I research things to do, the more I wish we were spending more than 4 days in San Francisco. I’m sure we will be very busy, have a great time, and that we’ll be ready for at least one day of rest and relaxation when we head over to Lake Tahoe for the rest of the trip. However, there will be tons to do there too, not to mention Hot August Nights going on in nearby Reno while we are there!

Posts for the trip:

A Few Days in San Francisco (Day 1 – 26 July 2014 – Cable Car Museum and Dinner on Nob Hill)

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