The song lyrics end with:
My love waits there in San Francisco
Above the blue and windy sea
When I come home to you, San Francisco
Your golden sun will shine for me
One of the most beautiful and charming cities in this country has to be San Francisco. Anytime you can make time to visit this unique and culture-rich city is one you always remember. Each time I return, I always think about the Tony Bennett song, “I left my heart in San Francisco.” He was right, once you have visited this city by the bay, you will find a way to come back. So the next time you have a weekend to spare and want to have fun & see the sites, here is a good way to spend a charming & romantic weekend.
Breakfast in Sausalito
Nothing starts a day off better than a good breakfast. Across the bay from San Francisco is Sausalito, a sleepy waterside town with colorful homes stacked against the hillside like a Californian Positano. The slower pace of life in San Francisco’s smaller sister town is a nice respite from the buzz of the big city. Barrel House Tavern is a superb choice. They have a weekend brunch that is out of this world.
The restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows plus balcony seating, which allow you to gaze at San Francisco while enjoying a great classic Californian cuisine and watching the boats slowly away on the water.
Riding the Cable Cars
A hop on these iconic mode of transportation will provide you with some of the best views in the city. Visit Nob Hill, one of the San Francisco’s most expensive neighborhoods. Grace Cathedral looms over Nob Hill with its Gothic architecture and hidden backyard labyrinth.
If you want to step off the cable car and visit Huntington Park it is a quiet green space with locals going about their daily routines of dog walking and aerobic exercises.
Jump back on another cable car and glide down steep hills exploring some of the city’s historic hotels. In front of The Fairmont you can peek inside for a glimpse of the famously ornate lobby, or order a drink off the extensive adults-only drink menu at The Top of the Mark across the street at the Mark Hopkins.
Visit Lombard Street
Though it won’t take you long, a visit to Lombard Street should be on every visitor’s list. Known as the crookedest street in the world, it is another signature spot emblematic of San Francisco’s uniqueness. If you’re on foot, use the sidewalk to descend for a picture at the base, otherwise you will have a lot of cars honking at you to get out of the way.
The famously twisted Lombard Street leaves visitors surprised that cars can even make it down the hill. It is a crucial stop because this street is the type of thing you can only find in San Francisco. Take your pictures, hike up or down the super steep hill, and prepare for your next destination. This place will leave a lasting impression in your mind.
Lunch and Explore Fisherman’s Wharf
Since you have had a busy morning you need to relax and refuel with some lunch and exploring. Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf gives you the opportunity to do both. The pier is overflowing with restaurants, museums, shops, sea lions, and tons of boats. It may be smelly in some parts, but it’s so incredibly classic, you won’t even mind. There are so many restaurants to choose from, I recommend that you take your time and visit several to pursue the menus.
After lunch you can wander and enjoy the hundreds of views and people watch. There are frequent street performers and vendors that will catch your eye on every block. I recommend taking your time here, stopping wherever you want and watching the sea lions flop around. There are also countless places to pop in and shop.
Sunset at the Golden Gate
To finish a fantastic first day in San Francisco, a must see is the sunset at the Golden Gate Bridge. From Pier 39, you can take a bus if you don’t have a car. There is a bus which will take you straight to the bridge. The 47 bus connects with the 28 and the 20-minute bus ride should be optimal timing for getting there as the sun sets.
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most beautifully grand landmarks in California. Seeing it in person, you’ll realize it’s even bigger and better than you imagined. Soak up the last few minutes of daylight, and soak in the romantic views. Hugging and kissing only please.
If you have any energy left or want to sooth your leg muscles with a beverage, it’s time to check out the abundant nightlife. Options for having a drink and dinner at a cool bar/restaurant in this city are almost endless, so it’s hard to go wrong no matter what neighborhood you pick.
I recommend the Cliffhouse. Near Ocean Beach and Lands End Trail, this iconic historic site located on a headland above the coastal cliffs is home to two restaurants and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Whale and sea lion spotting is quite definitely a possibility. The camera on the deck for landscape gazing is on the National Register of Historic Places. Sutro’s offers an upscale setting, while The Bistro offers a more casual experience, with burgers, sandwiches and other California favorites.
Start the day at one of the city’s iconic structures perched high on top of Telegraph Hill in North Beach. Coit Tower is a 210-foot tall structure that has been a distinguishing feature of the San Francisco skyline since the 1930s. Visitors can take an elevator to the open-air observation deck that offers unbeatable views of the city and surrounding area.
One of the great features of Coit Tower, along with the great views, are the Great Depression-era murals at the base that depict scenes of life in San Francisco and political commentary of the time. The highest part of Telegraph Hill’s Filbert Street leads you up a staircase flanked by lush vegetation and bohemian homes. Be on the lookout for the famous parrots that have been known to squawk at visitors.
At the eastern end of Golden Gate Park sits Haight-Ashbury, the counterculture neighborhood made famous by the influx of hippies during the 1960s. Yes this non-discrete intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets in San Francisco served as the hub for America’s counterculture movement beginning in the summer of 1967, known as the Summer of Love. You can recapture the spirit of the movement by picking up some vintage threads and buying a few vinyl records, state-of-the-art music back in the day, from Haight-Ashbury’s range of one-of-a-kind, independent shops.
Haight-Ashbury is the spot for vintage shopping. The numerous clothing, costume, and record stores are all odes to the period slogan of ‘flower power’ days of Haight Street. A must photograph is the colorful Victorian homes of the neighborhood and the lady with the dangling legs of Piedmont Boutique.
Refresh at Union Square
Union Square is the teeming commercial hub of the city. Many major hotels and department stores are packed into the area surrounding the actual square. Numerous upscale boutiques, restaurants, nightspots and galleries occupy the spaces tucked between the larger buildings. At the intersection of Powell and Market streets, tourists huddle to view one the city’s most unique sites, the manual cable car turnaround.
Union Square is always busy, loud, and amazing. This is a definite for practically anything you might have on your must-see list. This area contains all you want in a visit from tall buildings, restaurants, shops, events, street carts, and music. As the heart of San Francisco, the area showcases the charm and beauty this city offers. During winter they even have an area for an ice rink.
You’ll probably spend quite a bit of time here, so it might be a good idea to grab lunch in the area as well. Walk to Chinatown to enjoy some authentic and delicious Chinese food, or walk around and try one of the many restaurants surrounding the square.
Night Tour of Alcatraz
Finish your day with a night tour of Alcatraz island. Sitting on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was an early military fort turned maximum security prison in the mid-20th century. The island served as a lighthouse and military site before becoming a Federal prison in 1963. Alcatraz operated as a federal penitentiary for 29 years, and during that time housed prisoners who had been problems at other locations. Some of the most infamous criminals in history were housed there, and it’s claimed that no prisoner ever successfully escaped. Two of the famous inmates were Al Capone & Machine Gun Kelly.
Nowadays, tours operate to and from the island regularly, transporting visitors by ferry. The ferry also serves as a prime spot for pictures as you travel across the Bay. The Alcatraz night tour is a good way to avoid the crowds of the day while experiencing the prison in a rather spooky setting. The tour offers both individual audio guides and group guided tours. I find the Cellhouse Audio Tour particularly chilling as it tells both sides of prison life, with the voices and words of inmates and correctional officers who lived on the island. Book in advance for tickets to make sure you don’t miss this amazing tour.
There are so many great things to see and do in San Francisco. If you only have a weekend to visit this great city on the hill, you will leave with a lasting memory that the “golden sun did shine for me.” Your passion will grow longing to return for another visit. You too will have - left your heart in San Francisco.