When you live in South Africa and you are given a business class ticket to any destination of your choice where would you go? Well, I looked at a destination map of the airline that gave me that ticket and chose the one that was furthest away. Two long haul flights each 11 hours long, a transfer-time in the middle of about 6 hours and I landed in San Francisco. Just me! Airport shuttle and hotel booked well in advance, a SIM card that works in the US loaded with data and ready I was for my four days adventure in San Francisco.
After much consideration I decided to stay in a hotel in Nob Hill.. Oh well, the view from that hotel was just amazing! Arriving just in time for an incredible sunset, I fell in love with SF almost instantly. Here are my top things to do in SF when traveling on your own and you don’t know anyone in that city:
1. Hire a bicycle:
San Fran is a bicycle friendly city – well, if you don’t count the hills into consideration and if you stay in the flatter parts of the city.. I guess it is more of a tourist attraction than a local thing. There are a lot of bicycle hire shops spread all over the city. Most of them are located along the Waterfront anywhere between Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. The most famous thing to do with a bike is probably to ride over Golden Gate Bridge. The city caters for it and the infrastructure from the Waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge is bicycle friendly with dedicated bike paths etc. And don’t be afraid to get lost, just follow the paths (or the crowd for that matter) and it will take you straight to the bridge). The ride over the bridge itself is noisy (with all the cars hammering past you), windy (and mostly foggy) and be aware of having to dodge all the pedestrians. But it is so worth it! Once on the other side in Marin County you basically just roll down hill straight into the beautiful sea-side town of Sausolito. It’s the perfect spot to have lunch and enjoy a bit of sun. If you are too lazy to ride all the way back (like I was), you can take the ferry back to San Francisco harbor – they also take your bike!
2. Downtown, Financial District and China Town:
Nothing spectacular but a should-do, I guess. A must-do for me was to go shopping at a yoga brand clothing shop that we don’t have here in South Africa, hence going downtown had to be done. What I really love about SF is that it’s not a big American City, it is rather small and hence walkable as everything is also just so close by. If you are too lazy to walk up (or down) those famous SF hills, take a cable car, in fact, I think it is a must-do to ride on one of them. There are dedicated stops all over downtown, the waterfront as well as in Nob Hill, you just jump in and pay the conductor 7 USD. Which is a an adequate fee, I believe, because you get your ride plus your tourist sensation, so basically a two in one!
3. Little Italy and Lombard Street
A short walk from the Waterfront is a neighbourhood called little Italy. A cute little space with European flair, a lot of gelaterias and Italian eateries. From there, take another short walk to the bottom of Lombard Street – the crookedest street in the world. Go, and you’ll see why:-)
Nah… not my cup of tea to be honest. I expected more and as soon as I got there, I made my way out again. Not my vibe and it also didn’t feel the safest to be honest. But give it a try. The houses on my way were amazing! lots of old and renovated Victorian Houses.
5. Painted Ladies
Well, what should I say.. another rather disappointed experiences. It is nice to have seen them and the weather was warm enough to chill in the park opposite for a bit, but to be honest you find more beautiful Victorian houses in Nob Hill. The view from the park, with the Painted Ladies in front and downtown in the background makes for a great Instagram shot. But that’s about it.
6. Mission District
Definitely worth a visit. Especially if you are a fan of Street Art like I am! I booked an Airbnb Experience in advance which was the best thing I could’ve done. So, in case you are not aware yet, but Airbnb also offers experiences, which are excursions, cooking classes, painting classes, dance lessens.. let you imagination run wild or check out their website. I booked a guided tour with a local Mission artist to one of the oldest Mural sited in SF (first mural dates back to 1971!!!), Balmy Alley. Patricia who has painted and co-painted murals in Balmy Alley herself took us on a tour through Balmy Alley explaining the history and background stories of the various murals and giving us an insight of the neighborhood. It was definitely one of the best experiences of my whole SF trip. You can go on your own, but understanding the murals is a different story than just looking at them.
7. Hiking along the coast line
Another Airbnb experience I booked was a hike along SF’s coastline, passing Golden Gate bridge all the way to Baker’s Beach. There a quite a lot of hiking trails and you don’t necessarily need a guide to do it. I guess I booked it, because I didn’t know, I was traveling solo and it turned out to be a nice way to meet some other fellow travelers.
8. Rock-balancing at Lands End
Lands End itself is a worth a trip out of the city. It is a beautiful nature’ spot with a short hiking trail to a small beach from which you have a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Down at that beach, you’ll find quite a few hipsters doing rock balancing. It’s a beautiful art of meditation and testing your will power as well as your patience. To learn how to do rock-balancing I booked my last experience and Travis, a local rock balancer, took a group of 7 down to the beach and tried to teach us the art of rock balancing – more successful to others than to me… Yet, it was the most fantastic experience and the timing was perfect! We ended our session just in time for a beautiful sunset over the Pacific.
This is my top things to do round-up for a solo trip! There is plenty more to do – So, I guess I need to go back one day.. See you soon again SF!