There is so much to see and do in San Francisco. Obviously make sure you go to the main highlights when you visit: Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island Pier 39 (as detailed in an earlier blog post). However, if you do have a bit more time to spend in this city, there are plenty of other things to keep you busy.
While you are visiting San Francisco, you have to take a ride on the famous cable cars. These are the last manually-operated cable cars in the world and are a fun way to travel and explore the city. Rarely used by locals these days, you will find the vast majority of passengers are tourists. Three lines are currently operating: one runs along California Street while the other two routes both start at Union Square and head towards Fisherman's Wharf, passing the famous Lombard Street (see below) and offering great views of the city. While we were able to jump straight onto the cable car at Union Square, there was a huge queue coming back from Fisherman's Wharf so be prepared to wait. Then, once you're on, make sure you hold on tight!
Escape from the bustling city of San Francisco and pay a visit to Muir Woods National Monument, just a short trip across the Golden Gate Bridge and out of the city. Here you can walk amongst the tall, old-growth Coast Redwood Sequoia sempervirens trees that range from 400 to 800 years in age and reach heights of up to 250 feet tall. Named after the conservationist John Muir, the forest boasts a great diversity of flora and fauna including black-tailed deer, garter snake, sonoma chipmunks, northern spotted owls and winter wren, to name just a few. There are many walking trails throughout the forest suitable for all ages and abilities with multiple bridges that lead you across the Redwood Creek which flows through the wood and is home to Coho salmon and steelhead trout, both of which are keystone species in many Pacific ecosystems.
Whale watching in the Bay
Whether you're completely new to whale watching or have been numerous times before, you will not be disappointed if you go for a boat trip in San Francisco Bay. Humpback whale sightings are frequent throughout the year, occurring more and more regularly in the Bay and San Francisco Whale Tours offer exciting boat trips to go to see them. The guides are excellent at spotting the whales and really knowledgeable and informative, providing tourists not only with information about the wildlife but also facts on San Francisco itself including the Golden Gate Bridge as well as Alcatraz Island (more information on visiting Alcatraz can be found in an earlier blog post). When the guides are not taking tourists out into the Bay, they also carry out important research to understand whale behaviour in the Bay and work on various conservation projects.
Also, if you go on this trip and do not see any whales, then you will be invited back free of charge until you do see a whale. We were very unfortunate when we went on this boat trip in 2015 - we must have picked the worst possible day for whale watching; with strong winds and very rough water, it was almost impossible to see anything at all. In fact, it was the first day that year that there had been no whale sightings! Although we didn't manage to make it back out again in 2015, I emailed the tour company prior to our 2018 trip and they were more than happy to let us join again for free. The weather was considerably better on this occasion and we were lucky enough to see two humpbacks in close proximity and stayed near the boat for quite a long time.
As if seeing these impressive animals wasn't enough, we also saw harbour seals, California sea lions and glimpses of the elusive harbour porpoises briefly appearing at the waters surface to take a breath of air. An abundance of seabirds also passed by the boat. Species included: brown pelican, Brandt's cormorant, common murres and elegant terns and a full species species list is written up on a whiteboard at the end of the trip. It really was an amazing and worthwhile experience and I highly recommend going to seeing these incredible animals!
Lombard Street -"the crookedest street in the world"
Stop off at Lombard Street and admire this unusual steep road comprising eight hairpin bends. It is said that the road has been designed in this way because the hill would otherwise be too steep for vehicles (despite many other streets in the vicinity being of a similar gradient). We started at the top of the street where you can observe nice views of the city and the Bay before zigzagging down to the bottom, watching the cars slowly wind their way around each bend. While only a short visit is needed here, it is certainly worth passing by.
Mrs Doubtfire's house
Finally, if like my partner you are a fan of the film Mrs Doubtfire, make sure you pay a visit to the house that features in the film. The address is: 2640 Steiner Street, CA 94115-1142. Bear in mind though that people do actually live there so try not to linger too long. However, we noticed we were not the only visitors to this house so residents must be used to plenty of visitors.
I really hope you enjoy your time in San Francisco and have chance to visit all the fantastic sights it has to offer! :)