I always appreciate advice from a local when planning a boomer trip. In today’s guest post, San Francisco resident Steve Juba offers tips for visiting “The City by the Bay.”
If you’re a boomer who has never been to San Francisco, now is the time to visit. My thriving hometown offers some of the best food, wine and dining experiences in the U.S. Add in San Francisco’s rich culture and history (including the Bay area), and you’ll stay busy for days!
You don’t want to miss the obvious hot spots on your first boomer trip to San Francisco, but don’t get stuck in the tourist traps too long because there are many hidden treasures to see.
First, Be a San Francisco Tourist
This iconic symbol of Northern California ― one of the modern wonders of the world ― is truly a breathtaking feat when viewed in real life. Completed in 1937, the bridge’s vibrant red paint job stands out for miles. Take a drive through the Presidio, a huge park and residential area with a mini forest of it’s own, golf course, Legion of Honor (fine art museum) and some great hiking, on your way to the Golden Gate. Park at the bridge itself and walk up to the edge for a photo opp or even walk across the two-mile span. Be sure to bring your jacket as the wind is constant and the ghastly San Francisco fog (known as the marine layer) can creep in at anytime bringing the temperature down 10 + degrees.
Boomer travel tip: Be sure to make it to the other side of the bridge because the views of the San Francisco skyline are stunning from the Marin headlands.
From the Golden Gate, head toward Pier 39 for a quick dose of San Francisco tourism at its finest. Boomer travelers won’t find many locals here but the street performers, shops and pier itself are worth the jaunt. Eat a crab roll and walk down to the end of the pier to meet the families of sea lions that call this place home. Their obnoxious roars and squeals can be heard for blocks ― hold your nose, they don’t smell too great ― but this doesn’t take away from their charm. Photographers can get pretty close for good shots, plus there’s a nice view of the floating docks where these enormous creatures hang out.
After you’re finished exploring Pier 39, take the famous San Francisco cable cars, or trolleys, toward downtown and Union Square. Here, you’ll encounter the big city part of San Francisco — hotels, tourist trap restaurants, malls and quality shopping. Continue toward Market Street, one of the oldest streets in the city, which will take you to the bay and the newly renovated Ferry Building. This great pier was once an important industrial center that has been converted into a fantastic venue of farmers markets (every Saturday and Sunday), boutique shops and restaurants. There is also a phenomenal nighttime view of the Bay Bridge here.
Are you ready to step off-the-beaten-path?
The Cliff House and Sutro Baths are well known to locals and tourists alike but often missed on a first trip to San Francisco. The views of the Pacific Ocean and Ocean Beach are vast, overlooking the ruins of the once thriving Sutro Baths. The natural salt water baths, which burned down more than once, offered exercise, sport, recreation and relaxation to thousands back in its heyday. The Cliff House, at the top of the hill above the baths, is a bit pricey but worth it for the stunning views, fantastic food and drink.
Golden Gate Park is huge and full of hidden treasures so bring your camera. Check out the archery range, fly fishing pond, bison paddock (yes there are real bison here) and Lindley Meadow for some nice shots. At the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden and Botanical Gardens prepare for a great walk full of color and exotic foliage. The city’s aquarium and science museum, called the Academy of Science, and the DeYoung Museum (fine arts) are also located in Golden Gate Park.
Don’t forget “The Haight” to see Jerry Garcia’s old house (remember the Grateful Dead?) and an eclectic street full of hippies, record shops, great restaurants and more hippies. Just past this famous neighborhood of peace and love is Buena Vista Park, which offers nice views of the area.
Last but not least on our off-the-beaten-path tour is the Mission neighborhood and Dolores Park. The Mission is an Hispanic neighborhood where you’ll find wonderful Mexican food and culture. Grab a bite to eat at one of the countless taquerias (my favorite is Puerto Alegre) and soak in the sun at the warmest and sunniest neighborhood in the city. Be sure to check out Dolores Park, a popular hang out for locals. Residents from all over the city come here on a nice day to relax and enjoy the views of palm trees scattered in front of the city skyline. At the top of the park is an often overlooked picture perfect viewpoint of downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge.