Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect San Francisco tour. Some days on this blog, I take to to my favorite hidden gems in a city. The places that are just for locals, secret, off-the-beaten track.
But that day is not today! On this San Francisco tour, we’re going to take the world’s cutest bus to some of San Francisco’s most famous attractions. Ever heard of the Painted Ladies? Haight-Ashbury? The Golden Gate Bridge? Fisherman’s Wharf? Of course you have because everybody has. And now we’re going to see them too! Just follow me!
San Francisco Tour
Where to Stay?
Location is so important in San Francisco. That’s why I recommend spending your night of your San Francisco tour at the Cartwright Hotel. It’s located right by Union Square so it’s in a convenient location where it’s easy to take the bus or walk to get to the start of this San Francisco tour, it has free wifi, coffee makers, and an airport shuttle, and it might be haunted! What more could you want?
If you’d like to join me at the Cartwright, just click here. If you want to find deals on hundreds of hotel rooms in San Francisco, just click here. This search engine will help you find the best hotel for your taste and budget.
San Francisco Tour
Morning: Painted Ladies Tour
The Painted Ladies are gorgeous Victorian-style houses that are unique to San Francisco. We’ll definitely be seeing them later on our San Francisco tour. But I believe the Painted Ladies in the name of this driving tour company refer to the WV bug vans that they use to drive around their guests.
That’s right, if you book this San Francisco tour, you get the special experience of riding around SF in an adorable, colorful van with eyelashes glued to its headlights. (Each van has a name; our yellow van is called Daisy.) The citizens of San Francisco will smile and wave at you as you go. Plus, it’s the best way to see some of San Francisco’s more far-flung attractions.
You can book this fabulous tour for yourself by clicking here. Then get ready for…
Approximately Top 5: San Francisco Tour
1) Lombard Street
Lombard Street is the most famous street in all of San Francisco because it’s so crooked. The reason for this is that the street was so steep because of San Francisco’s hills that it was dangerous to drive straight down. I’ve walked past Lombard Street before, but that’s not as fun as driving because the walking path is straight. If you want to take the turns, you need to be in a car.
Fortunately, Daisy was perfect at taking those smooth curves. It was almost like being in a slow-moving roller coaster. And the best part was all the people standing nearby who waved at us and yelled that they loved in Daisy. It felt as if we were celebrities for one brief shining moment.
2) You Can’t Fight City Hall
San Francisco isn’t the capital city of California; that would be Sacramento, a place I have never been. But San Francisco does have a city hall where Mayor London Breed works, and it’s this beauty in my photo. Of course a city as gorgeous as SF would also have a stunning City Hall.
But if you’re a classic film fan, this City Hall also has another bit of significance. It’s where baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and screen goddess Marilyn Monroe were wed. (They posed for photos outside a San Francisco Catholic church, but they weren’t married in a church, in part because DiMaggio was divorced.)
San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods, and Haight-Ashbury is famous for being the neighborhood where all the hippies used to hangout and play. Before I took the Painted Ladies tour, I had no idea why it was called Haight-Ashbury. The clue is in my photo above. Can you spot it?
That’s right! We’re at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury. That’s such a logical reason for a neighborhood name. Who would have thought hippies could be so practical?
Here we started to see some of those painted ladies, which is just any Victorian-style house painted in at least three different colors. But don’t worry! There’ll be more painted ladies very soon.
4) More Painted Ladies!
Here they are! They’re not as ostentatious as the ones we saw in Haight-Ashbury, but they’re quite lovely. We stopped at Alamo Square to take a picture of some of the most famous homes in the city. (And get a free bathroom break.)
These houses are apparently famous because they appeared in the opening of a TV show called Full House. I’m apparently the only person on the planet who has never seen this show because while I was taking pictures, people kept coming up to me and asking if these were the Full House houses. All I could answer is, “I guess?” Now I refuse to look up the answer because I want it to remain a permanent mystery.
5) Palace of Fine Arts
This complex, which looks like a whole bunch of Roman Ruins, is actually called the Palace of Fine Arts, even though no king lives here, and there’s no art that I could see. It was built over 100 years ago for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, a great showcase for San Francisco’s rebuild after the terrible earthquake.
This is probably the best photo spot in San Francisco because it’s a bit out of the way, so it’s not crowded with tourists all the time.
I had seen this spot before in an excellent 1970s thrilled called Time After Time, in which Jack the Ripper steals HG Wells’s time machine and HG Wells has to chase the Ripper to San Francisco in the 1970s to stop him from killing more women. On the way, Wells tries to use the pseudonym Sherlock Holmes and falls in love with Mary Steenburgen. It’s great; please watch it!
6) Some Bridge? I Guess?
Well, here it is, San Francisco’s crown jewel: the Golden Gate Bridge! You really can’t go on a San Francisco tour without stopping here. And I was impressed because the Painted Ladies tour brought us to the perfect spot for taking photos of this citrus-colored stunner. Even though the GGB is legendary, it’s not easy to see from many parts of the city, so it’s hard to know where to go for the best photo op if you are a tourist.
That’s approximately five of my favorite highlights of the tour, but I didn’t share everything we did! If you want all the fab photo ops, fun facts, and sweet tunes, you’ll have to book the tour for yourself by clicking here!
San Francisco Tour
Afternoon: Fisherman’s Wharf
As fun as the Painted Ladies tour was, there was one spot we didn’t get to see, and that’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Fortunately, the tour lets out near enough Fisherman’s Wharf so you can just walk right down there and explore. There’s definitely enough things to do to occupy your time until dinner.
I can’t tell you about every single thing in Fisherman’s Wharf, but I can get you started with…
Three Fun Facts: Fisherman’s Wharf
1) Where Should I Eat?
We’re on the water, so why not try some fish! A lot of restaurants on Fisherman’s Wharf are touristic or very expensive, so why not stop at a hidden gem called The Codmother for some high quality fish and chips. When I was ordering my fresh fish and chips here, I overheard someone say that this is a spot that tourists don’t know about yet.
Well, too bad, people of SF! I’m telling all the locals about it! The fish was piping hot and perfect with just a little bit of tartar sauce, and the chips were divine with a very English side of salt and vinegar. (As an American, I do prefer ketchup, but when in Fake Britain, do as the Fake Brits do.)
For dessert, walk on over to Ghirardelli Square for some chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce on top at the famous original Ghirardelli shop. There might be a line, but it’s worth it to get a taste of this creamy chocolate, and a little bit of chocolate history as well.
2) Are There Any Museums?
There are two museums that I recommend on this San Francisco tour, and they’re actually both free. (Although the second museum will take your money in a way that’s a bit unusual. The first museum I recommend is the Maritime Museum, right near the Ghirardelli store. This museum is free because it’s run by the national parks service, and they have small exhibits on famous boats that have sailed in the Bay Area.
My favorite thing about the Maritime Museum is its stunning Art Deco exterior. Don’t miss these Egyptian designs by Sargent Johnson, who was one of the first famous Black American artists to work on the West Coast.
The other museum that I recommend is the Musee Mechanique, which has been around since the 1930s. This museum is dedicated to old pinball games, mechanical animations, and the like. It’s free to enter, but if you want to turn on one of the coin-operated machines and see the figures move and hear the music play, you’ll need some quarters.
Some of the devices are Very Rare…
And of course, there’s an opium den.
After all, this is San Francisco.
3) Are There Boats?
This is San Francisco! Of course there are boats! If you want to see some historic boats up close and personal, just head to Hyde Street Pier. There’s an entrance fee to go inside, but I think the fee is pretty reasonable, considering all the cool photos you’ll be able to take.
Ever wanted to see an English paddle tugboat named Eppleton Hall that was over 100 years old? This is the place to do it!
Even better is this gorgeous steam tug with the mighty name Hercules.
And perhaps this most impressive is this giant ferry boat called Eureka. This ferry is so massive that it’s still filled with vintage cars, a Ghirardelli truck, and more!
And that’s not even half of all the great boats on Hyde Street Pier. When you head to Fisherman’s Wharf, be sure to explore here and find out what your favorite boat will be.
San Francisco Tour
Evening: Dinner at Californios
We’ve bopped all around the city of San Francisco today, so tonight let’s take our shoes off and relax at one of the finest restaurants in SF: Californios. This restaurant has two Michelin stars and some of the finest Mexican and South American food you will ever eat in your life. (And Mexican is one of my top five favorite cuisines, so that’s saying something from me.)
Californios is a tasting menu only restaurant, which means that what you see when you dine there will be different than from what I ate. But I want to give you a taste of the deliciousness you can expect:
As with any tasting menu restaurant, the meal will start with some amuse bouches or, as I like to call them, fancy snackies. In our case, we started with five of them and were instructed to eat them in a particular order.
So there was a light little truffle chicharron, and then there was Serrano ham on a slice of pluot, a zucchini arepa with caviar, a Oaxacan cheese and mushroom croqueta, and the last one was a fried heirloom green tomato that burst in the mouth.
When you’re getting medley of delights like this, the way the textures and flavors all vary is almost as interesting as each dish itself. And with all the caviar, ham, cheese, and truffles, we were off to a decadent start!
We’re still on snack time, but now we just have two to focus on. On the left was a rare black masa chilapita, which is a special dish from Guerrero in Mexico. It was served with sturgeon mousse and caviar, and it’s the sort of dish you have to eat in one bite or it will explode all over your face!
On the right was a hamachi tostada with red pepper and lemon jelly. In terms of both texture and flavor, it was the complete opposite of the chilapita, except that both were amazing.
Palette cleanser time! This granita is made with Candew melon and mint from Californios’ own garden. Any restaurant that has its own garden is aces in my book.
Here we have a trio of ceviches, which I had never experienced before. I mean, I have a ton of ceviche every time I go to Puerto Rico, but never three different kinds in one meal. One of the ceviches was yellow peaches, the next blue fin tuna with watermelon and jalapeno, and the last was shrimp with cherry tomatoes.
The blue fin tuna was the most familiar to me because of the sweet and spicy flavors, but I have never had ceviche before with fish of this high quality. And who knew that you could have ceviche made with yellow peaches?
Can you guess what this is? Doesn’t it look like fish? But instead, it’s a grilled banana with dulce de leche and caviar. The combination of sweet and salty was sinful–like the world’s most delicious caramel and cheese popcorn combination. I never, never would have thought to put these two items together on my own.
And now we come to a medley of taco or taco-like dishes, each with a very different base. Up first was a Tlacoyo, which is a street food that pre-dates the arrival of the Spanish in the Americas. It was made with blue corn, red beans, nopales cactus, and smoked cotija cheese. This is our vegetarian taco, and I admit I wasn’t expecting the vegetable to be cactus–yum!
If you’re ready for a fish taco, we’ve got red snapper al pastor on a gold masa tortilla. I love pork al pastor, but I had no idea that you could prepare fish this way! The red snapper is definitely a sturdy enough fish to handle the heat.
And for the meat taco, we have squab on a housemade sourdough tortilla, served with a tomato and fenugreek broth. These wonderful dishes just highlighted how versatile the taco can be.
Haven’t had enough to eat yet? Poor thing! Let’s fix that with some ribeye steak with a smoked tomato and summer squash. I always love any summer dish that prepares a tomato as if it’s meat. Even better if it gets served with a flawless steak like this because the tomato soaked up all the meat juices.
Just as we started the meal with an array of snacks, we end the meal with a parade of desserts. Up first: the fruit parade! We’ve got a golden raspberry with a ginger digestivo, a dessert tamal with strawberries, and sweet corn ice cream with strawberry sorbet. I loved the use of the seasonal berries and corn, which couldn’t have been more summery. And I hope dessert tamals is something that catches on.
And as befits any Mexican meal, our final course is a celebration of chocolate. There was a honey truffle with white chocolate and bee pollen, spun sugar with a pina colada paleta–my favorite kind of Puerto Rican popsicle–and the world’s most gourmet bubulubu, which is a popular Mexican chocolate bar.
This bubulubu was made with Jivara chocolate, tonka beans, and cherries, which are the perfect summer fruit. It was the most decadent end to an exquisite meal! Who knew this San Francisco tour would start with a VW van with eyelashes and end in one of San Francisco’s best restaurants?
San Francisco Tour
- An excellent small cell charger so you can keep taking pictures of your San Francisco tour
- My favorite guidebook to any San Francisco tour
- My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
- The most reliable travel umbrella that is small enough to fit in my purse, but strong enough to stand up to powerful winds on our San Francisco tour
- These great TSA approved clear toiletries bags, so I can always keep spare toothpaste and travel sized toiletries in any carry-on.
San Francisco Tour
How to Get There?
By Car: This is an easy way to get to your San Francisco tour, if you are coming from somewhere else in Northern California. However, I don’t know how to drive, so this wasn’t an option for me. Fortunately Uber is widely available in San Francisco. If you need to rent a car, you can use the search engine Expedia to find the best price from the available car rental companies.
By Plane: Fortunately, there is an airport in San Francisco! Since I live in New York City and don’t know how to drive, I found that flying was one of the easiest ways to get to the best things to do in North Beach. (Again, I recommend using a search engine like Expedia to search for the best prices on flights.)
By Bus or Train: You can use Flixbus to get to San Francisco from nearby cities like Las Vegas. It’s a pretty cheap ride–if you are car-free and coming from a fairly nearby destination, this might be the way for you.
That’s a Perfect San Francisco Tour!
What do you think are the best things to do on a San Francisco tour? Have you ever ridden on a VW bug with eyelashes? And are you a fan of fancy snackies? Email me at [email protected] and let me know.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY try a one day in San Francisco tour.