The original ‘49ers came armed with pickaxes, but it’s possible to mine the pleasures of the City by the Bay without striking gold. Jump aboard a ferry or streetcar for a cheap tour of San Francisco’s scenic splendor, grab a burrito from a Mission District taqueria and catch a glimpse of wild life, from the sea lions barking away at Fisherman’s Wharf to the two-legged denizens of the Haight Ashbury District.
A couple makes their way onto the Hyde Street Pier near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.• Photos: San Francisco
GETTING AROUND: A seven-day adult pass for San Francisco municipal transit including cable cars is $24. For $59 you can buy a City Pass that also includes a ride on the Blue & Gold fleet and entrance to a number of museums, including the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park (famous for a 2.5 acre living roof).
Free guides and maps are available at the Visitor Information Center of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau (SFCVB) located at the cable car turnabout at the foot of Market and Powell streets. The center also has information on free walking tours of the city. For more info go to SF City Guide'.
FAMOUS PLACES: If you’re going to San Francisco you may or may not want to wear some flowers in your hair but you will definitely want to put comfy shoes on your feet, as a lot of the city is best seen by foot.
Walk the winding outlines of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth and appreciate its steep curves.
Take a daytime stroll in the green oasis of Golden Gate Park or amble along the kitchsy but still entertaining Fisherman’s Wharf. At Pier 39, sea lions bark for free and a few blocks away, at Pier 45, the Musee Mecanique offers old-time thrills with an antique arcade that includes famous Laughing Sal; fork over 50 cents to hear her creepy cackle. Ghirardelli Square on the west side of the wharf at Beach and Larkin streets has a collection of shops, restaurants, an ice cream shop and two wineries.
From the wharf you can take SF Muni Route 30 and transfer to Route 28 at Laguna & Chestnut to reach the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, where you can snap pictures and walk across if you’re feeling spry.
Sightsee like it’s 1967 with a visit to the Haight Ashbury District and poke through the area’s eclectic mix of head shops, boutiques, second-hand clothing stores, cafes — and more head shops.
For a foggy interlude visit Ocean Beach and stroll the wide sands or trace the outlines of the ruined remnants of the Sutro Baths, an old pleasure ground. (And do remember to bring long pants and a warm jacket for your visit — yes, even in high summer.) The restored Cliff House, 1090 Point Lobos Ave., offers a variety of options from an upscale dinner at Sutro’s to more casual fare at the Bistro or a drink at the bar.
Visit the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street and admire the produce on display on the Tuesday and Saturday farmers market. You can pick up a hefty burger from Taylor’s Refresher and, weather permitting, eat it on the picnic benches outside, watching the ferries come in and out.
Chinatown starts with an elaborately decorated gateway on Grant Avenue and unrolls from there, a dense and bustling neighborhood threaded with tiny alleys.
CHEAP EATS: Get some java with a kick at the Buena Vista Cafe near Fisherman’s Wharf, said to be the home of the original Irish coffee, 2765 Hyde St.
Pick up a slice of pizza in North Beach, or a burrito from one of the many taquerias on 24th Street in the Mission district. Eat potstickers in Chinatown or get some takeaway crab and sourdough (or clam chowder in a bread bowl) from Fisherman’s Wharf. Another al fresco option is to stop at the deli at the Marina Safeway, 15 Marina, and picnic across the street on the grassy expanse of Marina Green.
For a high-low experience, window shop the boutiques of Union Square in downtown San Francisco and then pick up a latte at the Emporio Rulli right on the square. Go ahead, have a pastry, too, it’s a well-known fact calories consumed on vacation don’t count.
And besides, you’ll be doing all that walking.