We are pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post from Eric, a member of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook. Eric is from the United States, and submitted the following report about San Francisco. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Solo travel rating: 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Languages spoken: English
Reasons to go: Along with New York City (which is in my backyard), San Francisco has become my favorite U.S. city to visit. The city combines a big city feel with a great natural setting. Each neighborhood is distinct. There is a wide variety of things to do and places to explore. The physical setting, surrounded by the bay and ocean, the hills, and the fog that seems to roll in each afternoon give it an atmosphere unlike anywhere else I've visited.
I first visited San Francisco in the fall of 2011. The city was easy to reach from San Francisco International Airport: I simply took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train directly downtown, which only takes around 35 minutes. The Powell Street station will put you right in the middle of the action. This is the transit hub, and the starting point for two of the city's famous cable car lines.
I found it easy to get around the city without a car. The combination of cable cars, streetcars, and buses are easy to use and will take you to most points of interest. There are transit passes available which include unlimited use of the mass transit (BART excluded). These are a steal considering the cable cars cost around $6 per ride!
There are lots of accommodation options, but on all of my trips there I have stayed near Union Square. This is the main area for hotels as well as big stores and restaurants. I like staying in this area because it is lively well into the night, and it is also easy to get to other parts of the city via transit from here. While Union Square is nice, the area just to the west (Tenderloin) isn't, so keep that in mind when looking for a place to stay.
For a first-time visitor, I'd suggest hopping on the Powell/Hyde cable car and riding it all the way to Fisherman's Wharf. Not only will you get to ride through many different areas, but you will get your first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, surrounded by mountains. This is one of those scenes that sticks in my mind the most. The cable cars also go by Lombard Street, which is the famous “crooked street.” At the end of the cable car line is the Buena Vista Café; supposedly, Irish Coffee was invented there. It's a cool place to grab a drink.
Fisherman's Wharf is touristy, but it's fun to walk around. It's always lively and busy with street musicians. I like to walk to the end of Pier 39 and watch the sea lions bark and swim in the bay. From here it's a short walk to where the ferries depart for Alcatraz. If you're planning to visit, I'd book far in advance, as tickets often sell out.
My absolute favorite thing to do in San Francisco is to walk west from the wharf all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. There are also bike rentals available. The walkway, busy with joggers,
bikers, and walkers is pleasant, and the scenery is magnificent. I love to stop by Crissy Field, which seems to double as a dog beach, and take in the view of the bridge in the distance and the sailboats plowing by.
Walking over the Golden Gate Bridge is one of those things that must be done. The bridge is impressive up close. Many times it is foggy and cold, which adds to a mystical feel. A quick detour will take you to the Palace of Fine Arts, which is a leftover from a World's Fair and one of the most photogenic places in the city.
A quick, 5-minute bus ride from the bridge visitor center is Golden Gate Park. The park is huge, about the size of Central Park, and you could spend an entire day there. There are two large museums there: the California Academy of Sciences and the DeYoung Art Museum. Nearby is the Japanese Tea Garden, which I found very serene and calming. There is much more in the park, including gardens, windmills, and the Conservancy of Flowers. The western end borders Ocean Beach. The beach is nice considering it's right in the city, but be aware the water is freezing!
Back into the heart of the city, two great areas to check out are Chinatown and North Beach, San Francisco's Italian area. Chinatown is fun to wander around and is always bustling, especially along Stockton Street, which is where many of the authentic Chinese markets are. There are tons of places to eat: I can recommend Hunan Home's restaurant on Jackson Street for great authentic food.
Chinatown runs right into North Beach. Here, the Chinese markets give way to coffee houses and sidewalk cafes. Washington Square is a great spot to relax and people-watch. In the distance, Coit Tower can be seen. From North Beach, steps lead all the way to the tower at the top of Telegraph Hill. Apparently, parrots hang out along the stairway, but I've never seen any. The view from the top is spectacular.
One of the nice things about visiting San Francisco is its location in relation to other places that you may wish to visit. There are many tours available to places such as Napa Valley, Monterey, and Yosemite National Park. A great half-day out is a visit to Muir Woods, which is just north of the city. This is a grove of huge redwood trees. Many tours which visit Muir Woods also stop at Sausalito, which is a cool (rich) scenic little town across the bay with shops and places to eat.
Within the city, check out SF City Guides, which offer free (by donation) walking tours of many different areas. I've taken one of the Civic Center, and it was quite good.
One final thing to keep in mind is the weather: pack layers! It seems like overcast mornings often give way to clear, warm afternoons. This is, of course, until the wind whips up late in the afternoon. Most days seem to follow this pattern. To see something cool, head down to Aquatic Park and watch the fog roll in over the towers of the Golden Gate.
I have been to San Francisco a few times and there are still places I haven't had a chance to visit. I'd recommend it to a solo traveler. It's a place I return to again and again.
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety – 2 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language – 1 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 1 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 1 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult)