Whenever I plan long-distance international adventures, I try to squeeze in a long layover at a major city, especially within the US. Living on the east coast, I had to make the trek across the US in order to embark on my international flight to New Zealand. I quickly realized that San Francisco is an amazing stopover city with a lot to offer. While not an entirely inclusive list, here are just some of the highlights of the city to explore in a short amount of time.
See the Golden Gate Bridge
One of the modern wonders of the world, the Golden Gate Bridge is the number one landmark of the city, and it surely not to be missed! If you love walking like I do, I highly recommend starting at Baker Beach then climbing along the trail all the way to the start of the bridge for an up-close view. Full disclosure: if choosing to visit Baker Beach, I highly recommend staying towards the south end. The more north on the beach you wander, you will soon discover the “clothing optional” sunbathers.
Take a cruise to Alcatraz Prison
Located about 1.25 miles offshore from the city, Alcatraz Island was developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military prison, and a federal prison from 1934 until 1963. All island tours depart to and from Pier 33, on The Embarcadero. Visitors are provided headphones for a semi self-guided tour, sharing the history while exploring throughout the prison.
Make friends with the sea lions at Pier 39
California sea lions began taking over Pier 39’s K-dock back in the 1990’s and have not left since! Most of the sea lions at Pier 39 are male (you can distinguish between male and female sea lions males develop a bump or “crest” on their heads at four or five years of age).
Other fun facts about San Francisco’s residents: their average lifespan is between 20-25 years, are “opportunistic feeders” eating any prey in sight, and the male sea lions can grow up to 800 lbs!
Visit Fisherman’s Warf/Rest of Pier 39
One of my favorite ways to explore a new city is to simply wander around discover what’s out there, without a particular itinerary in mind. If enjoy shopping and American cuisine, I highly recommend exploring Pier 39. While a busy tourist spot, it’s a fun way to spend a few hours, watching the boats roll in, grab some lunch, shop and see the sea lions, of course!
Ride in a Cable Car
Regrettably, I did not have the chance to ride the iconic cable car during my stopover in San Francisco. However, it is highly recommended that you hop on these cable cars with a destination in mind, as it can be busy and confusing. Three cable lines run through the city, linking to Ghiradelli Square, Lombard Street, Chinatown, and Union Square.
Tips for your stopover:
- Spend 2-3 days for sightseeing
I flew in on a Saturday afternoon, spent one night in the city, then departed Sunday evening to New Zealand. Honestly for me, my stopover was a little short and I highly recommend spending 2 nights, 3 days in the city. Next time, I’d like to ride in a cable car, explore Ghiradelli and Union Square, and explore more of San Francisco’s hidden gems.
2) Take advantage of BART transportation system
The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) serves San Francisco and the Bay Area and is a very convenient way to travel from the airport to the center of the city. Even during my most luxurious trips, I always try to take advantage of public transportation whenever possible. You can purchase a transport ticket to suit your needs (for me, I made sure to have enough money to get me to and from the airport).
Is San Francisco on your bucket list?!