The icon of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge may not seem like a cool thing to go to but trust me, up close it is a beast of construction awe. I was, really, in awe of this. I've driven over it several times and it's just breathtaking. Pay attention though because if you drive INTO San Francisco over the bridge there is a $4 toll you have to go and pay online. Learned that the hard way. Thank you $12 trip across the bridge later. Anyways. On the SF side there is one spot to take a few pictures but if you cross the bridge into Marin County there is a road that takes you around to several different areas to stop and take pictures. I personally like this side a lot more. You can really get creative in your picture taking skills.
Located near Fisherman's Wharf, Ghiradelli's Square is a city block with beautiful architecture and a two levels of Ghiradelli chocolate store. There are also several boutiques and stores scattered on the different levels to visit as well. If you love Ghiradelli's, you'll love this. I am not a huge chocolate fan so I basically walked through it, got my free piece of chocolate and kept on walking. It wasn't my thing but it could easily be yours. Free of charge to walk through.
Another iconic San Francisco must-do. The Cable Car Trolley have several different pickup locations, 2 in Fisherman's Wharf and 1 in Union Square. It costs $6 for one way, $17 for a day pass. I suggest doing two tickets for $12 so you can get there and back between Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf depending on where you started and what you plan on doing next. I enjoyed doing this the first time with my Mom but of course I had to do it again when the rest of my family was there. It's fun to stand on the cable car while riding but it really is a do it once kind of thing. The lines are alwasy ridiculously long and it takes forever for them to load the next car. Expect to wait at least 30-60 minutes depending on the time of day. It's a must-do, but only do it once otherwise you're doing a lot of waiting around.
Fisherman's Wharf is one of my favorite places. Pier 39 has a ton of fun touristy shops, seafood restaurants, and places to get ice cream and take pictures. We ate at Alioto's, a little ways off Pier 39. The service was awful but the food was great. Simple seafood cuisine, fish and chips was my course and it was exactly what I was looking for. $14 for a meal not including drinks. Depending on what you're looking to do you can spend as little or as much time in Fisherman's Wharf as you want. You can easily walk along the shore-like stores for hours and find restaurants to eat at. There is a Madame Tussaud's, Ripley's Believe It or Not, The San Francisco Dungeon, and SO many other things to do. I didn't see or do a fraction of what there is to offer. And even if you don't do any of that, it's still a beautiful place on the water to walk around or sit and enjoy the scenery.
Alcatraz Island, home to the infamous prison dating back to the 1930's is my one and only must must MUST-See of San Francisco. It is such a surreal and cool experience that I urge anybody going to SF to buy tickets ASAP because they sell out week in advance. We did the night tour in order to see the city lit up on the ferry back but really, not a necessity and any time of day works. You take a ~20 minute ferry ride out to Alcatraz and after arriving on the island you're led up to the prison. Our night tour includes the audio tour so if you go during the day BUY THE AUDIO TOUR. It is hands down, the best audio tour I have ever done and I tour a lot of shit. The narration is perfection, the directions around the prison are clear and idiot-proof and the stories are haunting. Seeing the cells and walking through the hospital ward is eerie as all hell. You also are privy to details about the attempted breakouts and they are FASCINATING! The tour was so informative and I love learning but I was not alone. My whole family was obsessed with finding out more and queue'ing up the movies that have taken place there. If you do one thing in San Francisco, make it this. Prices are $30 for a day tour and $37 for a night tour and it's worth every penny.
The Painted Ladies
The term the Painted Ladies refers to the Architecture of these kinds of Victorian and Edwardian houses and also very San Francisco culture. But we all know that we know these types of houses because of Full House. This is a total picture pefect spot if you recognize Alamo Square from the opening credits of the show. Located on Steiner Street and Grove Street, this is a picture stop or a relaxing point in your day if you want to take advantage of the park and pack a lunch or just sit in the sun. It's beautiful and overlooks some great scenery that is unique to San Francisco. Parking can be a problem because it's only street parking but I've lucked out both times when going. Earlier is better to avoid some crowds.
The Walt Disney Family Museum
Another Must-See if you're an avid Disney fan is the Walt Disney Family Museum. Admission is $20 and worth it if you love Walt. The beginning of the tour is a little dry with the family history but then we learn how Walt and his brother got started and how Mickey Mouse was not his first cartoon animal character. I really enjoyed doing this with my family who are all Disney obsessed. I especially loved reading about the role Walt and his company played in WWII and I never knew he made cartoons and movies to help Americans supports the war effort. Amazing pieces of history there...and it all started (so they tell us) with a mouse.
Miur Woods National Park
Miur Woods National Park is a must see if you're in San Francisco. Located about 15 minutes past the Golden Gate Bridge, this national park is towering with Redwoods--see what I did there? I felt like Katniss in the Hunger Games traipsing through these woods. Won't lie, the drive up is winding and high and can cause car sickness. I, myself, felt a headache coming on and as the passenger just had to close my eyes. It's a beautiful drive up and down but more than a little dizzying. Parking can be a problem. With one small lot for the entire park the alternative is street parking and can be back up for quite a while. I'm talking half a mile or more down the road. Plan to go on a weekday as weekends can be crazy. I went on a Saturday morning and we were LUCKY as all hell to find parking. The admission is $7 and worth it. There are several differnt trails you can follow and because this was a pitstop on the way home we did the short one just to see the trees and experience the Redwoods up close and personal. Depending on your fascination with nature and trees you can spend a few hours there walking around the trail or you can spend as little as 30-45 minutes for a quick jaunt. Regardless of how long you spend there, it is a must-see.
The Painted Ladies
The Golden Gate Bridge