San Francisco is a walker’s town, best seen up close, personal and on foot. Here are seven classic San Francisco locations that — provided you’re in reasonably good shape — will reward your investment of time and shoe leather.
1) Golden Gate Bridge to Crissy Field and Fort Point
An artistic as well as engineering triumph, the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny day is a thrilling sight and it’s free and open to walkers during daylight hours. From the south (San Francisco) vista parking lot you can walk onto the bridge itself or, if you’re not keen on heights (and wind), take a short, winding path to the base of the hill and either turn east toward the Warming Hut Cafe and gift shop at Crissy Field or walk northwest along Marine Drive to historic Fort Point directly under the bridge, which was built soon after the Gold Rush by U.S. Army engineers to protect the entrance to the bay.
2) Lombard Street to Aquatic Park
Technically it’s only the *second* crookedest street in San Francisco but the hairpin-turning stretch of Lombard Street, between Hyde and Leavenworth, is first and foremost on many tourists’ gotta-see lists. From the intersection at Hyde you can get a good look at the snaking line of cars crawling down Lombard toward Coit Tower on the horizon. Turn north and either hike down the steep section of Hyde Street to Aquatic Park or hop aboard a cable car for the brief but bracing ride (which will likely cost you the full $5 fare if the conductor is an enforcer). The ride ends across the street from the famous Buena Vista Cafe, a San Francisco institution where Irish Coffee was introduced to America. Also worthwhile: a visit to the tall ship Balclutha on the Hyde Street Pier, one of several maritime museums in the immediate area, and Ghirardelli Square.
3) Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf gets a bum rap from snooty locals. While it’s true there is much here to avoid, The Wharf also affords many pleasures and shouldn’t be ignored. From the Hyde Street Pier, an easy 3-block stroll along Jefferson Street, past fishing boats, restaurants (and one good blues bar) gets you to the crab stands along Taylor Street at Pier 45. Forget Rice-a-Roni, it’s cracked Dungeness crab right out of the pot, served with fresh sourdough bread, that’s the real San Francisco treat. Local crab season begins mid November and ends in late spring, so summer visitors will be eating crab from Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Nearby attractions: Musee Mecanique, Boudin Sourdough Bakery, Fishermen’s Grotto #9, USS Pampanito (submarine), S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien (liberty ship), Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Wax Museum, Pier 39, Aquarium of the Bay
4) North Beach / Chinatown
If you were somehow forced to stay in just one San Francisco district for a whole year you’d be lucky if it were this one. From the corner of Columbus Ave. and Broadway where San Francisco’s ‘Little Italy’ meets Chinatown, there’s more to see and do (and drink) here than you can experience in a week, much less a walk. With a street map in your pocket for security, just start hiking up and down Columbus Ave., Grant Ave., Stockton Street — plus as many alleys and side streets as you’ve got the stamina for. Places to look for include City Lights Bookstore, Vesuvio, Tosca Cafe, The Saloon, Caffe Trieste, Saints Peter and Paul Church, Bimbo’s 365, Condor Club, Empress of China, Spec’s saloon, Portsmouth Square, Waverly Place and — if you’re ready for a steep climb up Telegraph Hill — Coit Tower.
5) Union Square and Market Street
Union Square is the hub of the San Francisco shopping, hotel and theater districts. Here’s a meandering route you can follow to get a feel for the place. From the intersection of Powell and Market, go north on Powell, turn left (west) on Geary, then north on Jones, east on Post, walk all the way to Market Street and turn right (southwest) and then right (north) onto Kearny for a few paces then left (west) at Maiden Lane and back to Union Square. On this route you’ll pass: the Powell-Market cable car turntable, the Gold Dust lounge, the St. Francis Hotel, Lefty O’Doul’s restaurant, the Curran Theatre, the Clift Hotel, Gump’s, Lotta’s Fountain, Biscuits & Blues, Ruby Skye.
6) Castro Street to Mission Dolores
Though the idea of a ‘gay mecca’ seems almost quaint nowadays, The Castro still qualifies. Starting at its intersection with Market Street walk south on Castro Street past San Francisco’s best-loved movie palace toward 19th St., making short, one-block sidetrips at 18th. Turn left (east) on 19th St, and go four blocks to — and through — Mission Dolores Park. On the far side of the park you’ll emerge onto Dolores Street. Turn left (north) go two blocks to Old Mission Dolores, built in 1776, adjacent to the more modern Basilica. At 16th Street you can either turn west and head back to Market Street or turn right (east) and explore the Mission District if you have plenty of time. Don’t miss: Twin Peaks Tavern, Castro Theatre, Cliff’s Variety, Mission Dolores
7) Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is vast but its most popular attractions are conveniently close together. Starting at the Conservatory of Flowers, a historic botanical museum, a short walk along John F. Kennedy Drive to Music Concourse Drive gets you to the two boldest expressions of 21st century museum architecture San Francisco has to offer — the California Academy of Sciences and the deYoung Museum of art. Nearby is the Japanese Tea Garden, a venerable and colorful GG Park attraction since 1894.
-James Irwin, CBS San Francisco