So on Christmas eve I got a craving for adventure. I did some Google searching and discovered a few lists of beautiful viewpoints in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. I decided to knock a few of them out in one day and Christmas day seemed to be a perfect time since the forecast was clear skies and no rain. Originally I planned to go on my own but when my cousins decided to join I was thrilled to have company. I know I’ll have many journeys on my own as I continue to travel so I’m more than happy to have good company when I can.
This itinerary can obviously be customized to your tastes and preferences. Maybe you want to jog through the entire park before moving onto the next view. Luckily many places are within walking/biking distance and I think this plan encompasses a good portion of the city. You’ll see a small part of the Financial District (Civic Center), City Hall, The Painted Ladies (Alamo Square), Haight st., Buena Vista park, Corona Heights park, the Castro district, Dolores park, and end at the Mission district (16th & Mission). The possibilities are endless for route additions. You may find yourself spending more time in one location over another. You may decide to split these destinations over 2-3 days or longer. Rather than explain all the possible outcomes, I’ll just give you a run down of what I actually did on Christmas day. Except for taking bart to the starting point, all of the destinations were reached by walking, so bring some water and a snack if that’s your plan too 🙂 Oh and of course, a hoodie.
1. Bart to Civic Center/UN Plaza
I didn’t spend too much time here since I’m pretty familiar with this area. Within walking distance from here is Fisherman’s Wharf, the Westfield Shopping center, Union Square, Yerba Buena gardens, and more. During Christmas day the streets were eerily isolated, except for the multiple homeless people who were out and about. It almost felt like a post-apocalyptic scene. From the bart station I walked towards Market and 8th. You’ll see a Burger King and the SF Public library there. Take Grove st. all the way to Alamo Square. You’ll walk right past City Hall and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. This walk will take about 20-30 minutes.
2. Arrive to Alamo Square and take some selfies with the Painted ladies
These houses are pretty iconic of San Francisco. That show “Full House” always showed this place in their opening theme song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUlgBSz3AkY The houses you’ll encounter while walking to this spot are just as pretty in my opinion, but these ladies get all the glamour. I stayed here for about 20 minutes, but on a warm day it’d be a great spot to have a small picnic. However, the area itself isn’t too large if you want a picnic spot with the ladies right in front of you and I imagine on a rare warm day this place is packed, but I don’t know for sure.
3. Buena Vista (good view) Park
As the name implies, you’ll have a good view of the city. On a clear day you’ll be lucky enough to catch the Golden Gate bridge in the distance. My photo doesn’t do it much justice, but it was nice to sit down on a bench and take this view in. I didn’t explore much of the park, but it seems like a lovely place to wander around surrounded by nature. To get here from the painted ladies, take Steiner st. up to Haight st. (just about 5 streets up). When walking towards Haight st. the ladies will be on your left. Turn right onto Haight st. and follow the street until you reach Buena Vista park. This walk should take about 20-30 minutes.
Not too far from here is Golden Gate Park, but I would dedicate an entire day to exploring this place as well as the de Young Museum and California Academy of Sciences.
Also, the well-known crossing of Haight and Ashbury is a short walk away. Just keep walking on Haight past the park and make your way back after you’ve gotten some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Easy place to spend an hour or so with all the little shops, boutiques, cafes, and eateries to peek into.
4. Corona Heights
Right next door to Buena Vista Park is Corona Heights Park. This place took my breath away. I was amazed at the 360 degree view of the city, with all types of scenery. The city of San Francisco, the surrounding Bay Area, the bay itself, the bridges, hills, other parks, homes, and the not so distant rainbow flag waving proudly in the Castro. I stayed here the longest. I would have loved to stay past sunset to see the view at night, but I also wanted to continue on with my exploration. I must return here for a night view! I can’t entirely remember how we got here since the streets were a bit confusing, but it’s easy enough since this park is literally right next to Buena Vista. You’re bound to stumble into it if you try hard enough. I think I walked through Bpark, ended up on the opposite side from where I started, found Upper Terrace and walked on that until reaching Masonic. From there I could see the park and walked towards it. It should be about a 5 minute walk depending on where you start in Buena Vista.
5. Unwind in the Castro
By this point we were getting hungry and since the sun was going down it was getting much colder. We decided to walk to the Castro district in search of a warm place to relax and eat a meal. We went back the way we came and ended up on Roosevelt Way. From there we went down this random street called Levant st. and from there we took States st. all the way down to Castro st. We turned right on Castro and found ourselves back in the city life with the twilight colored sky above us. In total I think we spent about 3-4 hours exploring the city.
From here we just walked around and decided to eat at a Gyros/kebab place. Next, we found this chill bar called “Last Call Bar” on 18th and Noe st. and shared a toast to the day of new discoveries. I had a tasty beer for $3.25 and my cousin had an Irish Coffee for $5. The warm fireplace made this a cozy spot to warm up and recap our day.
Ending up at the Castro just around sunset is a great idea. Perfect location for night life, restaurants, bar hopping, and getting the city-vibe. Not too far away is the Mission district where there are more bars to stumble into and great Mexican food to be had, although the surroundings can be a bit sketchier.
My itinerary originally included a visit to Dolores Park since it’s a short walk away from the Castro, but it was best saved for another day. We still walked past it on our way to 16th and Mission bart. After leaving the bar we continued on 18th st. and made a left at Dolores st. We walked until finding 16th st. where we turned right and walked until reaching the bart station.
Overall, it was quite a successful day. I’m excited to see and learn more about San Francisco and the Bay Area since I feel like I don’t know enough to truly call myself a native. Traveling abroad has reminded me that I grew up in a special place and now is the time to really get to know it better. Hopefully I’ll have many more itineraries to share in 2015!
Happy New Year 😀