The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Chinatown, Union Square, North Beach – travelers to San Francisco will likely recognize the names of these popular tourist attractions and neighborhoods of San Francisco.
But what if you want to go native? What if you’ve been there, done that, and are looking for a new adventure; be it a new place to eat breakfast, or the perfect place for expansive photo-worthy vistas. Or maybe you’re the kind of traveler that thrives on surprise and spontaneity.
One of the best ways to discover new places is to simply ask one of the staff at your hotel.
Whether a five-star hotel or a bed and breakfast, hotel and hospitality pros always have the best insider tips. And, there’s a good chance they live in the city. Most welcome the chance to talk about something a little bit personal, while doing their job and being helpful at the same time. It must be refreshing to answer a question like, “What’s your favorite place to eat breakfast,” compared to, “How do I get to Chinatown?”
I asked the staff at the Hotel Nikko to share their favorite insider tips, and they graciously complied. If you’d like to know more about my stay at the Hotel Nikko read, The Best Place To Stay In San Francisco. As if the title isn’t spoiler.
I now give you:
Insider Tips From Hospitality Pros: San Francisco
1. San Francisco is only 50 miles across, hence a great place for walking. The San Francisco library offers free educational walking tours by local volunteers who love the city, its history, lore, and legends. The tour is free but donations are appreciated and accepted. Tours run daily. Please check the website www.sfcityguides.org.
2. Cable cars are an iconic attraction in San Francisco. Usually a cable car is boarded at the turn around. The most popular place to hop on is the Powell Street turn around.
To avoid the long line there walk one block to the cable car stop in front of the H&M Store on Union Square. The conductor will usually reserve a few spaces for people waiting in front of the store.
Another option is to take the F Line which runs along Market St. and the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. Get off there, walk to the cable car stop near Ghirardelli Square (the California St. line), where you can catch a ride all the way back to Union Square.
3. How to score tickets to Alcatraz. People are passionate about visiting Alcatraz Island and tours sell out very quickly. Go to this website www.alcatrazcruises.com several times a day to check for available tickets. Keep checking until you score a ticket.
There are tour companies selling packages and those are advance only tickets. Anything not sold for that day, or up to four days in advance is released back to the official website.
4. Want to take your yoga practice to a new level? Visit Grace Cathedral, a beautiful gothic church with a labyrinth, on Nob Hill. Grace Cathedral offers free yoga classes every Tuesday from 6:15 – 7:30 pm. (donations are greatly appreciated).
5. When I was in Monterey, California last year I visited Phil’s Fish Market, famous worldwide for their cioppino. Apparently there’s a place in North Beach that gives Phil’s a run for the money, Sotto Mare. Sotto Mare is widely believed to be the best cioppino in San Francisco.
Reservations for groups of four or more are accepted. If you find yourself waiting for a table you can step next door to Gino & Carlo Cocktail lounge. They’ll let you take your cocktail with you if you haven’t finished it by the time your table is ready.
6. Photo-op tip. San Francisco has a lot of famous parks and vistas but why not try one not so famous? Ina Coolbrith Park on Russian Hill feels like a secret garden and has killer views of the Bay Bridge and the City. Located at Taylor and Vallejo St.
My tip: Russian Hill is also where you’ll find the famous one way stretch of Lombard Street, with eight hair raising sharp turns. Some may say it’s too touristy, but if you’ve never been there it’s worth doing.
7. One of my favorite insider tips was a referral to this website: SF.funcheap.com , with tips on what is happening daily in San Francisco. SF.Funcheap.com truly does live up to its name. Great site for off-beat suggestions.
8. Another great photo-op can be found at the Wave Organ located on the eastern edge of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
There is a panoramic view of the city across the narrow channel. On one side you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, and on the other, the city. Bonus: the park and trail to it are wheelchair accessible, with the trail head at the Marina Green park.
Many thanks to these fine folks for sharing their city with us: Theresa Vaillancourt, Conceirge; Reggie Harris, Doorman; and Anne Estiva, at the Nikko Front Desk.
ONE MORE TIP: from my friend Megan, 4 Essential Island Stops in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have some great tips to share about San Francisco? Leave a comment.
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