See San Francisco in 1 Great Day

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

Decaf to-go on the 15 minute city tour...

We were en route to a destination wedding, but didn’t want to miss the sites along the way. Did we have time for a pit stop in Philadelphia? There was no guide book for the quick, down and dirty on where to go, what to eat, and how to make it all work within our extremely limited time frame. So, we created our own speed tour! What could we see in Phili in fifteen? The Liberty Bell. An obvious choice. This was the day we invented the 15 minute city tour. Let’s find the Liberty Bell and eat lunch. Two goals. Go!

Fifteen Minute Phili

We put “Liberty Bell” in the GPS, and pulled off the freeway. We were able to park in a public garage, walk to the Bell, avoid the line to enter by looking through the side window which provided a most excellent view, snapped a photo, roamed through a Ben Franklin Museum with free admission, found a food court complete with ladies in colonial dress while knitting, took more photos in front of a statue, used the bathroom, and we were back in the car within 15 minutes! OK, maybe it was a little longer, but who's counting? Had a great time, no one complained, and we didn’t miss any of the wedding festivities at our destination!

On The Home Front, The Frisco Frenzy

Want a quickie in the Bay? Here is a San Francisco pit stop. It is not quite a “15 minute Phili,” but let’s call it “The Frisco Frenzy.” I do this tour a lot, because we get many visitors who don’t have tons of time and want to see the highlights. I can hook you up with a one stop scenic moment, or give you the two or three day tour, but let’s start with the choices for an inexpensive, one day visit to our magical city-by-the-bay.

Transportation choices are key. Consider trying to take as many modes of transport as you can in one day! Car to the ferry, bus to the cable car, pedicab to the BART train, taxi back to the car. Or, if you are staying in the East Bay, and don’t have me to drive you around, then I highly recommend taking BART or, my preference, the ferry, to the city. There are ferry ports in Alameda, Oakland, and Larkspur. Once you are in the city, use ride share apps to get you around. Public transport in SF is not really easy to navigate and won’t get you to where you want to be, exactly. Honestly, it is almost easier to rent a car. Parking can be a hassle, but follow my tips, and you should be fine!

Top Three (Free) Must Sees

The Icon. I recommend driving across the Golden Gate Bridge from the north side so you can see the stunning views as you enter the city. However, if you are coming from the south, or city side, then just drive across the bridge, make a U Turn and you will be wowed by the eye candy. The views entering the city are beyond words. Never enough of this majestic and phenomenal experience! Being on that bridge in fog or sun and looking up at those towers from the road below is special every time I do it! Pull off to the right as you exit the bridge. There is a parking lot area up a short hill. You should be able to find a spot and can walk down along a path that will take you onto the bridge. (If you can’t find a spot, drop off passengers so they walk and enjoy photo ops, while you drive around the loop a million times waiting for them, and then switch drivers when they are done! Not ideal, but you gotta do what you gotta do!)

There is a shop, a café, and bathrooms at the foot of the bridge, just in case you need stuff! Every spot is more beautiful than the next. Views of the bridge, the skyline, the hills. If you have never been, and you only have time for one thing. This should be it. (And, did I mention it is free?)

Get Crooked. Now take your tour guide, or your rental car, off the bridge, straight onto nearby Lombard St. The long stretch of Lombard will lead you to the most famous and, not exactly, crookedest street in the world. Yes, it is a crazy tourist attraction but has an interesting history. Essentially, in the 1920’s, streets like it were too steep for cars. Cars were selling, but this real estate was not. The landowners proposed to the city the idea of a wildly curved street. An earlier design from 1905 was found, and the city created the terraced, eight turn section of Lombard Street based on those plans. You can read more about the gardens and the stairs to gain even more appreciation for the preservation of this landmark. A photo of Lombard Street ended up on a post card in 1961, when the hydrangeas were in full bloom. And, just as if it were an Instagram pic, the street became one of San Francisco’s most popular (and free) tourist spots.

I take my tourists down in the car, and then they hop out to take photos at the bottom of the hill. I turn left and always find a place to pull over for a few minutes while waiting for them to jump back in the car. Look around at the city, Alcatraz, the architecture, the flora and fauna. Again, you would have to do the driver switch routine, assuming I am not with you! Will you survive if you miss seeing it? Absolutely. But will you be sad? Probably. Hundreds of people and cars walking and driving slowly down and taking photos is part of its charm!

The Spacific Ocean. By now, you have seen the Bay from the bridge and Lombard St., so it is time for the Pacific Ocean. (Also free!)

Put Ocean Beach in your map app and wind your way through the city hills and get to Golden Gate Park. Enjoy the rose garden, the buffalos, and Stowe Lake, as you drive straight to the beach! Where the wind mill meets the ocean you have choices. If you turn left, you can park at the beach, walk, enjoy, and even dine across the street at the Beach Chalet. If you turn right, pass the Cliff House on the way, see Seal Rock out there in the ocean, curve up the hill and park at the Sutro Baths lot.

Make sure you have cash, because after you walk down to the water and explore the ruins of the old bath house, you will want to wait for a table at my favorite lunch spot, Louis’ Cafe. And they don’t take credit cards!

Now, THAT is a fun filled, covered a lot, in the city, day! Additional time on the tour would get you to Haight/Ashbury, Japanese Tea Garden, Fisherman’s Warf, China Town, Cable Car ride, Fort Funston, museums, Muir Woods, and on and on. Come to our Bay, ask my advice, I’ll get you set up on a Frisco Frenzy you will never forget!

Do you have more than 15 minutes? Let’s pour a cup of decaf and create a “Chicago Challenge,” a “Boston Blowout,” or a “New York Minute!”

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