As one of the most vibrant cities in California, San Francisco can be a great place to travel to in the Summer months, especially if you’re in the local area. And with the heatwave that occurred recently, there’s no better time to visit the city that caused Mark Twain to exclaim ‘dang, this city is cool!’ Ok, so maybe those weren’t his exact words, but besides the climate that Twain was clearly referencing, the city features amazing food, cultural diversity, various museums and parks, an active population, natural and historical sights, and beaches that will draw you in and keep you coming back for years. Plus, it’s near wine country so you can easily change your urban exploration to a rural expedition on a whim. Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH as the native Californians know it, is regarded as one of the most stunning routes in the country; it becomes a two-lane highway in northern California where it twists and turns, managing to squeeze between the ocean and the hills. This route is not recommended for travelers in a hurry, but be aware that what it lacks in speed, it more than makes up for in views. So, San Francisco is that rare place where getting there is actually part of the experience. This summer I went up to San Francisco for their famed “Bay to Breakers” 7 mile run which literally spans from the Bay to the Pacific. Yeah… it was rough, but afterword I rehydrated and refueled at an Asian Heritage Festival that happened to be going on downtown. And the summer before, I found some brand new, racing 195 skis in a thrift shop for $20. That’s the best aspect of this city, you go there for one thing— like a run, or the beaches, the sights, the food— and you leave with an entirely different and unexpected experience. As you can probably tell, I could go on and on about San Francisco, but instead take a look at my suggestions for your next visit.
1. See Chinatown
If there is one thing that everyone should do in any large city in the US, it’s visit the local Chinatown. The food is one of the most delectable, scrumptious, mouth-watering things I have encountered. My buddy and I once spent $40 each ordering peking duck, noodles, fried rice, dumplings, chicken, green beans, shanghai rice cakes, soup, and dessert to the horror of the waiters and the people around us, but WHEW, what a meal that was! I don’t think I’ll ever be as blissfully happy again. If you can find them, I recommend ‘taro buns’—they’re a bit of an acquired taste, but extremely delicious for dessert. Aside from the food (can you tell I’m a college student yet?), the area itself is fun to explore. There are shops everywhere willing to bargain, people bustling through the streets, and it gives visitors a glimpse of another culture transplanted. Try either the Chinatown Walking Tour
, which lasts about 3 hours and features a Dim Sum Lunch after exploring the city or the Chinatown Cultural Discovery
which also lasts about 3 hours, but focuses more on tasting the cuisines and exploring unique places in the city. They are both great tours, just slightly different.
(Photo Courtesy of (matt) on Flickr)
2. Wine Tasting
San Francisco is known for the varied and characteristic wineries that lay just above and below the city. The main areas for wine tastings are Napa and Sonoma, which both lay north of the city, but there are a few sprinkled around the south in areas like Santa Cruz. If you want a trip that is active and adventurous, there is an 8 hour Mountain Biking & Wine Tour
combo, which features wine tastings paired with mountain biking on a single track trail that is maintained by locals. Want to see the famous beaches? Then take a look at this Winemaker Tour
, which features a different, local winery every Friday while aboard the Chardonnay II for 2 hours, sipping the fine wines and enjoying the surf as you glide through the water. For you cosmopolitans out there that wish to stay in the heart of San Francisco, the Wine Bars and Cable Cars Tour
lasts 5 hours and covers many wine bars in the heart of San Francisco over the course of an evening. If you want the best of both worlds—a tour of the city and a wine tasting—check out the 8 hour long, Green Dream Wine Tasting Tour
—it includes a look at the city followed by a picnic lunch, as well as a trip to Sonoma, wine tastings, and even chocolate and cheese tastings.
3. Tour the City
Tour the city and learn about some of its history, explore the streets, or maybe just see the sights; there is a plethora of opportunities available on our site depending on the time of day, season, activity, etc so you should definitely check it out for a full listing. That being said, here are a few that stood out to me.
If you’re looking for a glimpse into San Francisco’s past, then check out these three trips first. They all claim to offer a unique perspective of San Francisco in a number of different decades. The first is 20′s inspired Postcard San Francisco Tour
featuring an in depth 3 hour ride on a 20′s inspired passenger car (a 5 hour tour that also includes Alcatraz can be located here
). With a guide sporting full driving attire of the time—goggles and all—one can’t help but wonder if this is Mr. Toad’s wild ride! Moving from the 20′s to the 40′s, the very unique Fire Engine Tour
plops you aboard a 30′s-40′s fire engine from San Francisco’s past. Not only is your tour guide in full firefighting attire, but they even provide you with a costume of your own on this hour long tour of the city. Moving from the 40′s to the 60′s, there is the famed Magic Bus
tour, which provides riders with a glimpse into the 1960′s, all while touring the city juxtaposing the 60′s with today’s SF; Far out! Moving away from the past and into the present, for the active there is a 4 hour Golden Gate to Sausalito
bike tour featuring amazing views and routes only accessible to pedestrians—providing views most other tours can’t.
Now for the more traditional tourists, there is a longer, very comprehensive tour called Dylan’s Famous Tour
which encompasses the city, the nearby Muir Woods, Sausalito and more in 5 hours’ time. It even points out homes used in movies and allows you to trek through the woods amongst the trees for an hour. However, if you’re looking to just focus on the city, there is the Real San Francisco Tour
, which focuses on urban exploration and urban trekking and covers all of the city in 6 hours—definitely wear some good shoes on this tour! Lastly, but not least, there are two different Segway Tours available here
. They are both run by the same company, but one offers more in depth viewing of the wharf, while the other focuses on exploring the city.
(Photo Courtesy of Chris Willis on Flickr)
4. Drive PCH
Like I mentioned earlier, Pacific Coast Highway is in my opinion, the most gorgeous roads someone can take, and I’ve traveled up and down the east coast so I know my pretty roads. Some tours will likely take you down the coast, but nothing beats doing it yourself on your own time. That way, you can snap some photos and stop when you want to stop. Do it. You won’t regret it. And if you do, email me here, but I’ll have you know that as of now, the inbox is still empty.
5. Go to a Concert or Event/Break the Mold
Personally, I’m the type of traveller that only books my flight, and plans nothing else. As a consequence, I’ve missed 4 flights, a train, and had to book several motel rooms at 2 or 3 in the morning, but I have formed great friendships during those same trips as a consequence—when you have to find a place to stay for the night, you end up knocking your heads together in a way that creates lasting bonds. Now, will I continue this practice later on in life? Hell no! And I only recommend it for young people who can still be reckless and unreliable without those words having a negative connotation for them.
What I do recommend is the deeper underlying tone to these actions: Getting out of your comfort zone. I know it’s trite by now, but when you do, it makes for some amazing memories. This summer, I stumbled upon some $20 skis in a thrift shop and wandered through an Asian Festival after running Bay to Breakers, and last summer I stumbled upon a Gay Pride Parade/Festival when I was in SF. And when I think back, I don’t think I would have done many of those things knowing about them beforehand—they were the types of experiences made better by stumbling upon them. So what I am really getting at here is go out, meet new people, and explore. These trips are meant to aid in that process as much as possible, but nothing beats sheer curiosity and human interaction.
(Photo Courtesy of smi23le on Flickr)
AdventureLink is the key to the doorway, it’s up to you whether you walk through or just peer in. I say run through it.
-Richard, Team AdventureLink Member Since ’12