Even the most quintessentially touristy things are worth doing in San Francisco. For me, hanging out in Union Square, Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf never gets old. But the City by the Bay, with its colorful history, trend-setting attitude and eclectic vibe is a treasure trove of many more things to do. Here are some of our favorites, including a few recommendations from people in the business of making any San Francisco visit especially memorable. And we’re merely scratching the surface.
Skip the Car, Rent a Bike
Parking rates at San Francisco hotels are notoriously high -- $50, $60 or more a night! So rent a bike instead. Mother Nature will thank you, and you’ve seen those San Francisco hills – it can be a great workout, too! Options abound, but we like Blazing Saddles, with multiple locations; your 24-hour rental includes a helmet and bike lock. Once on your two-wheeler, what to do? Jessica DeBolt, senior sales manager in Travelzoo’s San Francisco office, likes to “ride from the city, across the Golden Gate Bridge and over to Sausalito for lunch and ice cream.” And her tips for visitors on the go: “When heading north over the bridge, bike on the left side to avoid pedestrians; just use the tunnel under the bridge to find this less-traveled path. And due to the hills on the road back, I suggest taking the Sausalito ferry to the Embarcadero (they have bike parking on the ferry) for $10.75 one way.” And one more biking tip: guests at any of the eight Kimpton hotels in San Francisco have free use of boutique PUBLIC bikes on a first-come, first-served basis.
Skip the Hills, Hike Point Bonita
True, the dozens of hills that define this city’s landscape can be the ultimate pedestrian workout. But Chris McGinnis, longtime San Francisco-based travel journalist and founder of the popular TravelSkills blog, prefers Point Bonita. Located in the ruggedly beautiful Marin Headlands and home to a still-active lighthouse, this area is “very cool and relatively unknown to most people,” he says. “It’s only about a 20-minute drive from downtown San Francisco and it’s free.” Explore on your own or sign up for a guided tour through the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.
Skip the Theater, Do the Pier
Pier 39 is already on your radar. The 45-acre waterfront complex draws millions with its dozens of shops, restaurants and attractions, not to mention its spectacular views of the Bay. “But this is also a haven for hugely talented street performers,” says San Francisco native and Travelzoo associate producer Allie Paver. “World-class magicians, comedians and jugglers gather here daily to wow visitors.” Check them out at the Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water Stage, and be sure to pause for a performance by the local musicians who set up at the Entrance Plaza. The schedule for these shows changes daily, and they are free to the public. One more tip: when you visit the Aquarium of the Bay, check out the new 270-seat theater, which runs a full lineup of marine-inspired films, documentaries and animated shorts.