September and October are great times to visit San Francisco – the cool summer fog is gone. And in nearby Sonoma and Napa Valley Wine Country, harvest season is in full swing. As locals, we love playing tourist for the day – the “city by the bay” and surrounding areas offer so many fun things to do and see. Here are a few suggestions for visitors and locals alike:
1. Take a fun Alcatraz and San Francisco City Tour. Book early because it sells out almost every day. Once an infamous Federal Penitentiary, Alcatraz (“The Rock” ) was home to Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud.The “Cell Block” audio walking tours are fascinating. See famous waterfront views of San Francisco Bay and the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. Visit fun local attractions, including Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Victorian homes, North Beach… and more!
2. See San Francisco as you’ve never seen it before – it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Take a Helicopter Tour and get a bird’s eye view of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island and the SF skyline. Fly over the spectacular Pacific Coastline, Marin Headlands (offers the best vantage point of the Golden Gate Bridge), Tiburon (home to Sam’s, our favorite outdoor brunch cafe) and the quaint waterfront town of Sausalito (a “must-see” destination when visiting San Francisco).
3. While visiting San Francisco, take a fun half-day trip to Muir Woods and see California’s Giant Redwood Trees – they’re among the oldest and tallest on earth. Muir Woods is a very popular Marin attraction and it can get very crowded. If you’re driving, arrive early because the parking lots fill up quickly. We suggest that you take a leisurely tour and leave the driving and parking hassles to someone else 🙂
4. Treat your honey to a romantic Champagne Brunch Cruise – what better way to cruise the picturesque waters of San Francisco Bay than sipping on champagne and mimosas and enjoying a lavish brunch. .
5. Looking to do something fun and completely different? Take an eco-friendly San Francisco Waterfront Segway Tour – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a great way to see the city.
6. Take a guided Walking Tour of Chinatown – it’s one of the largest Chinese communities outside of Asia. Have fun exploring Chinese markets, restaurants, theaters, herb shops, temples – and visit a fortune cookie factory too! Enjoy dinner at a popular Chinese restaurant.
7. If you love wine, you won’t want to miss the chance to visit Napa Valley and SonomaWine Country, especially at this time of the year when harvest season is in full swing. Visit a mix of boutique and large-scale wineries, enjoy wine-tasting and learn how wines are made in California’s historic wine region. No need to worry about drinking and driving – take a fun California Wine Country Tour from San Francisco and leave the driving to someone else. California has very tough drinking and driving enforcement. Cheers!
8. Foodies love San Francisco! And one of our favorite places to eat, walk and people-watch is North Beach (SF’s Little Italy). It’s dotted with quaint little cafes and outside seating everywhere. Take a Little Italy and North Beach Walking Tour and enjoy tasting everything from great coffee, truffles, breads, olive oils, specialty meats… and more! North Beach has so many great restaurants – here are a few of our favorites: Rose Pistola (great buzz), The Stinking Rose (you gotta love garlic) and Ristorante Mona Lisa (feels like you’re in Italy). Buon Appetito! North Beach also offers fabulous entertainment – we highly recommend seeing Beach Blanket Babylon – it’s an internationally acclaimed San Francisco institution and one of our favorite shows!
9. Take a fun “Hop-On Hop-Off” Double Decker Bus or Trolley Tour – it’s what we do in every city we visit. It’s a great way to see the city at your leisure and then you can come back and spend more time at your favorite places. Or… take a San Francisco Shuttle Tour – the in-depth 5-hr guided tour includes a one-way ferry cruise across the bay to or from Sausalito.
10. If you have the time, don’t miss seeing Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias – it’s one of the most naturally beautiful places on earth. See its majestic granite cliffs, giant Sequoias and spectacular flowing waterfalls. Bet ya won’t want to leave.
11. Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge – it’s one of the most amazing views you’ll see of the SF skyline, Alcatraz, Angel Island, SF Bay (usually filled with sailboats), and the Pacific Ocean. Scenic Vista Point areas are located at each end of the bridge – it’s perfect for snapping photos. If you like to sail, take a San Francisco Sailing Cruise and sail under the Golden Gate Bridge.
12. Visit one of San Francisco’s fabulous museums. Our favorite is the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park – it’s the only place in the world that houses one of the world’s largest Planetariums, an Aquarium and Coral Reef, a Natural History Museum, and a glass-domed Rainforest – all under the same roof! The de Young is another “must-see” museum (located opposite the California Academy of Sciences). And if you have time, visit Golden Gate Park’s beautiful Japanese Tea Gardens, located next door the de Young.
13. Ice-cream lovers won’t want to miss a stop at Ghirardelli Square’s world-famousIce-Cream Shop. Ghirardelli Square is a fun place to visit – it offers fabulous waterfront dining, upscale art galleries, fine shops, live entertainment, and great people-watching. Of course, no trip to San Francisco would be complete without a ride on a historic Cable Car – you can catch one opposite Ghirardelli Square, at Aquatic Park on Beach Street. Experience riding up and down San Francisco’s famous hills. Hold on tight!
14. Check out the Sea Lions at Pier 39 – your kids will love ’em! Pier 39 also has fun shops, restaurants and attractions, including Aquarium of the Bay and their amazing jelly fish.
15. Spend a day biking, walking, or picnicking at Chrissy Field and the Marina Green. We love walking along the water – and you can’t beat the views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. FYI… there’s a big Safeway opposite the Marina Green where you can pick up a sandwich or deli items for a picnic.
16. If you like to shop, head over to Union Square – it’s the Bay Area’s premier shopping destination, featuring high-end fashion boutiques, major retail stores, specialty shops, fine jewelry stores, gourmet restaurants, top hotels, theaters and art galleries. One of our favorite restaurants in Union Square (Cheesecake Factory) sits atop Macy’s – get a table at the outdoor Sky Terrace Patio for an incredible view of Union Square and downtown San Francisco. Westfield San Francisco Center is another fun shopping destination, located near Union Square – it’s the largest urban shopping mall this side of the Mississippi and includes great restaurants, a luxury spa and a movie theater.
17. Drive or walk down Lombard Street – the crookedest street in the world. The views from the top of Lombard Street are stunning. You can see Coit Tower and Alcatraz. The Cable Car (Powell-Hyde line) stops here to let passengers take pictures.
18. On a Saturday morning, THE place to be in San Francisco is the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market at Ferry Building Marketplace. It’s a “must-see” for Foodies!
We hope these suggestions help narrow down what to see and do in San Francisco – there’s still a lot we haven’t mentioned, but this is a good start, especially if it’s your first visit. Whatever you do… have FUN!
Tell us about YOUR favorite things to do and see in San Francisco and the Bay Area – we’d love to hear from you.
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