Erica Schlick is a former San Francisco local who can’t resist coming back to the iconic city on a regular basis. “You can’t visit California without heading to San Francisco,” she says. “The city has a notorious reputation for being pricey, but don’t let that stop you. There are plenty of things to do here that don’t cost a penny.” In her recently-published city guide, she reveals how to wander the scenic streets, relax in the picturesque parks, and catch the must-see landmarks like a local.
Exploring San Francisco like a local
San Francisco is a city with something to see around every corner. “Every neighborhood and street has something to explore,” Schlick remarks. “Getting lost just adds to the fun.”
Being only seven miles across in any direction means visitors can walk pretty much anywhere they want to go. Furthermore, the city’s public transportation is easy to navigate. Most visitors find renting a car only gets in the way. “If you are flying in, you can take the BART train into the city from the SFO airport, or catch an Uber,” Schlick suggests. “Once you’ve arrived in the city, you can explore by train, bus, Uber, or even take the cable car trolley for a historical view of the city.”
How locals enjoy the iconic sights of San Francisco
A trip to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without either walking or biking across the world’s longest suspension bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge is 1.2 miles long and spans the Golden Gate strait separating the bay from the Pacific Ocean. After strolling the bridge, many locals head to iconic Baker Beach nestled on the shore below the bridge. “The Fog lingers year-round,” Schlick reports, “but you can lounge on the beach and soak up the salty Pacific air.”
Sometime during their wanderings, visitors find their way to the city’s cable cars. “There are two routes: Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde,” says Schlick. “Each of these is on a busy intersection and guarantees a long line. Instead, head to the less-crowded route that picks you up on California and Van Ness. The cars come roughly every ten minutes and are a fun way to give your feet a rest as you explore the city.”
The SF Ferry Building is a well-known terminal across San Francisco Bay. “Local SF foodies head to the Farmer’s Market to get the best ingredients in the city,” says Schlick.
San Fran’s shopping and tourist traps that even the locals recommend
Visitors who enjoy adding a little shopping to their wandering won’t want to miss Valencia and Haight Streets. Haight Street is an eclectic strip dotted with music shops, bookstores, cafés, and antique stores. Nearby Valencia Street offers modern restaurants, indie shops, bars, and murals.
“Fisherman’s Warf can be a bit of a tourist trap,” warns Schlick, “but it’s a must-see if you’ve never been to the city.” Street musicians, bars, restaurants, clam chowder, seafood, and a classic arcade all wait to greet the city’s visitors. Guests can explore the USS Pampantinito, a floating naval submarine, and watch the sea lions play on the shore.
A local’s guide to the museums and cultural highlights of San Francisco
Museums abound in San Francisco. “The Science Museum isn’t just an art exhibit; it’s a full-fledged destination with interactive exhibits and events,” remarks Schlick. “If you happen to be in town on a Thursday, you can enjoy some adult refreshments and entertainment here after sunset.” In addition to the Science Museum, visitors can browse antique relics at Musee Mecanique, learn about aquatics at the SF Maritime Museum, and drop by MoMA for the quintessential modern art experience.
San Francisco is a classic melting pot. Some of the city’s best cultural destinations are right out in the streets.
The Mission District is a San Francisco landmark steeped in spirited Latin culture. According to Schlick, locals come here to catch the live music, authentic Mexican restaurants, taquerias, and the over 900 murals lining Clarion Alley.
Visitors can’t miss SF’s Chinatown. This neighborhood, located on Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, boasts the world’s largest Chinese population outside China. It is bursting with galleries, temples, karaoke bars, and traditional Chinese eateries.
A local’s pick for the best parks in San Francisco
San Francisco is home to several of the world’s most picturesque parks, none of which cost a penny to enter and spend a day purusing. For a breath-taking panoramic view of the city, visitors can climb winding streets up to the 64-acre Twin Peaks Park. Photographers can snag iconic skyline photos to their heart’s content.
Another must-visit park is a thousand-acre oasis of nature right in the middle of the city. Golden Gate Park allows visitors to escape the bustling streets into tranquil gardens, fountains, and lakes. On Sundays, JFK Drive is closed to cars, providing the perfect spot for biking and skating.
Most visitors also make it a point to catch a glimpse of the Painted Ladies of Alamo Square Park. “If you’ve ever watched the old sitcom Full House, or browsed Instagram photos of San Francisco, you’ve seen them,” Schlick remarks. “The pastel-painted Victorian homes make a stunning backdrop to the park where locals and tourists lounge.”
A visit to San Francisco isn’t complete without a sunny afternoon in Mission Dolores Park. Schlick recommends picking up snacks and a bottle of wine at BiRite Market before staking out a spot to sunbathe and people-watch. The day wouldn’t be complete without a BiRite Creamery Ice Cream. To hack the inevitable line, she suggests purchasing a pint at BiRite Market.
Best way to see San Francisco
Schlick advises visitors to hit San Francisco during September or October. During these two months, the fog clears, the weather warms up, and the crowds thin. “Summer is peak tourist season,” she says. “If you wait until school’s in session, you can enjoy all the best sites without the lines.”The Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, sea lions — there are so many reasons to fall in love with this historic city. Visitors can check out Schlick’s city guide for more information about unique restaurants, local bars, exciting day trips, and memorable places to stay.