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Drive Your Friends Around San Francisco

Tys from CA

So, you've got friends coming into town and you want to show them around. Or, you've hit San Francisco, and despite what everyone says about the public transportation options here, you drove or rented a car, and want to see the City. Well, this is the route to take. It's a big loop around SF that hits everything people want to see.

"Strobe light's beam creates dreams, walls move, minds do too,
on a warm San Franciscan night."
- - San Franciscan Nights, The Animals, Winds of Change - -

It can start at any point on the circle, but an important point is to get going either early in the day (before 10am) or wait until about 4pm to go. You could do this by bike or by bus, but I'll write it for cars, since it's a pretty big loop.

A Circle Around San Francisco

Beginning at the southern side of the circle:

Alamo Square

The classic 'postcard view' that everyone needs to see. Obviously, you'll want to stand in the park on the Southern side, top of the hill, so you can look over the Victorians towards downtown. Best parking strategy: circle the park, you might find something, but the best hope is at the NE corner, and you'll have to walk up hill.

Hayes Valley

Going East on Hayes St. from Alamo Square, drive slowly along, enjoy the neighborhood feel and cuteness factor. Stop and shop if you must look at expensive shoes and nice antiques. Parking? Yeah, right. Try next to the vacant lot at SE Hayes and Octavia.


Continue E., take a right on gough, then a hard left in 2 blocks onto Market. Go up Market to say, 5th, go right, and go as far down into SoMa as you want to get a flavor of that area. You could go all the way to Townsend, take a Left, then Left on Third, then your next Right and go into the cute little South Park, former green space playground of the dot com era. A lovely bit of lunch places and the French cafe there is very nice.

Financial District / Chinatown

Head back to the financial district, going across Market. Enjoy the tall buildings. Go Left on California and tailgate a cable car until you've had enough of that noise - or you get to Grant St. where you can take a Right and go through Chinatown. If you want to really get stuck in traffic and enjoy the authentic weird food sights of Chinatown, take a left and get to Stockton St., and continue North (right) on that market street. Keep the windows rolled down to enjoy the fish smell.

Little Italy

You'll hit Broadway. Take a right and cross Columbus, remembering everything you've heard about Beat poets, Little Italy, red light districts, and the Barbary Coast. A good stopping point, the only real way to park here is public parking lots. There's one on the left right after Columbus and the 4 adult book stores. There's a lot of others.

Once parked, you should walk up Grant St to Cafe Treste, and if it's not packed, get a coffee and soak up the atmosphere. Also, further up Grant there's nice stores. There's plenty of other spots for coffee, including The Steps of Rome.. Kind of cheesy tourist spot, but it's operated by young Italians who are probably breaking green card rules, and they're having fun.

Coit Tower

Back in the car, you go E on Broadway to the first Left you can take (that's not a one way) zoom up the hill and wander around the streets until you start seeing signs for Coit Tower. Follow the signs up the hill until you either hit the parking lot of the tower, or hit the line for the lot. If you are from SF, tell your tourists to get out and hike up to the lot and take a quick look. When they're done, have them come back to the car and pull out of the line and go back.

Parking and going up the tower isn't worth it. (unless there's no wait.. It's a nice place, but costs like $3 to go up the tower)

Fisherman's Wharf

Back down the hill, go downhill to Columbus Ave, go right, and get out to the W. end of Fisherman's wharf. Again, good luck parking, but one secret is down at the end of Van Ness Ave. Go to the Nautical Museum, it's free, and cool.

Walk out to the end of the pier at Aquatic park. Enjoy the view of the 3 mast ship that's part of the park/museum thing. If you feel ambitious, walk over the hill along the water to Fort Mason and the park there. Very nice.

Back in your car, go S 1 block on Van Ness, then take a right. Go along Fort Mason, take the next right. Point out the 'straight person's' Safeway store. Drive along Crissy Field, take a left at Broderick and start to look for parking for the Palace of Fine Arts. Get out, walk all the way round the water.

Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge

Back in the car, go S to Francisco St. go R, and cross Richardson at the light. Take the weird L and go up the hill to Lombard, go R into the Presidio. Get lost enjoying the military architecture but keep working your way W and N. Try and find where a view back to the right of Crissy Field and the City are on your right, and instead of going up to the Golden Gate bridge lookout area, go down the hill to Fort Point. Drive all the way out to the fort and park right there. Check it out. Look at the bridge from underneath.

Legion of Honor - Art Museum

Get back up the hill and find your way to Lincoln Blvd, still going West and North until it forces you south. Then enjoy the views of the Pacific as you drive above Baker Beach. Follow the road around and around until you get to 25th. Take a right and drive into Sea Cliff and look at the ostentatious houses there. Work your way west to the road that goes up the Legion of Honor, the main art museum of town. Park down the hill to the N of the building if you're going in.

Otherwise, just drive by, go out the other way to the south and take a right. and work your way to Land's End and the former Sutro Baths. Park by the curve with the stunning view of the ocean, and take 2 minutes to look over the wall at the former baths and the rocks with seagulls.

Ocean Beach

Head down the hill to Ocean Beach. Park and walk out on the sand if you want. There's that restaurant there with all the windows facing the water. I hear it's good, and if it's not directly lunch time, there's not much of a wait.

Golden Gate Park

After you've left the beach, go E into Golden Gate Park, again getting lost enjoying yourself. But always working East. (I'll try and write another expo of the park itself).

Important points to hit: Stow Lake -- hike to the top of the island, go deep into the Botanical Garden, wander around the hippies near the lawn bowling area.

The Haight / Twin Peaks

Then head out of the park along the Panhandle. You'll be on Oak St, going East. Take a Right onto Clayton, and I suppose stop at Haight St if you haven't been there yet. No, you won't find parking. Continue up the hill (South) on Clayton, over 17th take the soft R and head up to Twin Peaks (that's the next Left after 17th) Get out, be amazed by the view. Bring a jacket or buy one of those fleeces they're selling in the parking lot.. They're a good deal.

The Mission

Coming down off the hill, head into East into the Mission. Again, just get lost enjoying the streets. My advice is work towards 24th and say, Harrison, where you should try and find parking, get out and get yourself a celebration burrito.

You've just driven all over this City.

"Got the blues from my baby, Left me by the San Francisco Bay.
This big ocean liner took her so far away.
Didn't mean to treat her so bad, She was the best girl I ever have had.
She said good-bye, and she made me cry. I'm gonna lay right down and die."
- San Francisco Bay Blues

Tys lives in San Francisco. www.ideamountain.com

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