Heading to San Francisco soon and looking for the perfect weekend itinerary? The city has so much to offer that it can be quite stressful to cram it all into just a couple of days. You can take the time to enjoy everything from architectural wonders, historical sites, and great food and drink, but in just a couple of days you can only do so much. Fortunately, we did exactly that when we visited the nearby Sonoma Raceway, and will let you know what’s worth taking the time to see!
Save Money: Stay In a Hotel Outside of the City!
While we love to travel, we also strive to be frugal when traveling so we can afford to travel to more places! One of the ways we saved some money on our San Francisco trip was staying at a hotel outside of downtown San Francisco. We also took into consideration that we’d be visiting Sonoma Raceway, so we settled on the Holiday Inn Express in Benicia. We utilize IHG hotels as much as possible because we have an IHG Rewards account, and we especially love the Holiday Inn Express line because (actually good) breakfasts are included! No matter what hotel you choose, staying at one outside of San Francisco will save you a boatload of money on your trip, even if it means you have to add the cost of a rental car.
Golden Gate Bridge
One of my favorite stops was our first of the day – the Golden Gate Bridge. Prior to crossing the bridge to head into San Francisco, we pulled off and checked out the Golden Gate View Point, which provided beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco from an excellent vantage point. After enjoying the view we paid our (electronic) toll and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge into the city.
Explore the Presidio of San Francisco
Immediately upon entering the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge, we arrived in the Presidio of San Francisco – a beautiful area including trails, beaches, historical sites, and scenic viewpoints overlooking the bay. We checked out the Golden Gate Overlook before making our way toward Fort Point.
Fort Point National Historic Site
Fort Point was built sometime in the mid-1800s as part of a defense system for the San Francisco Bay, and is located right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge on the San Francisco side. Its intent was to sit in defense of San Francisco Bay, warding off attacks that never came. Since the fort has never seen battle, it’s almost perfectly preserved. Its proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge also makes it an easy stop worth making to enjoy the history and architecture of this historic site.
Drive Lombard Street
One of the most famous streets in all of San Francisco is Lombard Street. A steep, hilly street, Lombard Street is known for its crooked design featuring sharp curves – a safety measure put in place to combat the steep grade of the street. We encountered a lot of traffic in our quest to drive Lombard Street; since it’s a popular tourist attraction, many visitors line up each day to drive this unique street.
After visiting Fort Point, we moved on to Fisherman’s Wharf. Fisherman’s Wharf is a waterfront area on the northern side of San Francisco that encompasses the area from Ghirardelli Square to Kearny Street. Ghirardelli Square isn’t far from Fort Point, so we started on the Ghirardelli Square side. When you’re there you’ll find all sorts of attractions (some of which we will mention below), and a plethora of sea lions as you stroll along the piers.
The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop at Ghirardelli Square
I have a soft spot for sweet treats, so of course we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop, right off of Fisherman’s Wharf. We enjoyed a rich chocolate shake which hit the spot perfectly on a warm San Francisco day. They also make delicious-looking sundaes full of gooey caramel and chocolate. But, since we were planning to eat and walk a shake made more logistical sense for us. For any chocolate/dessert lovers out there, I highly recommend making a stop here.
SS Jeremiah O’Brien
As we began our walk along the piers of Fisherman’s Wharf, we enjoyed the variety of restaurants and shops along the water. On Pier 45, we encountered the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, one of only two fully functional Liberty ships built during World War II. They will even let you climb aboard and tour the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, where you can explore the interior of the ship and some of the items kept there from the past.
Items to Note
If you do decide to stay outside of the city like we did, prepare to battle some pretty heavy traffic driving into and out of the city. As mentioned above, we experienced traffic in the area around Lombard Street, but also on the Bay Bridge and throughout the Presidio of San Francisco. Parking can also be something of a challenge, so prepare to find a spot and then do some walking! We walked into Fisherman’s Wharf and left our rental car in a parking lot outside of the wharf (check out our thoughts on the Porsche Cayenne S we rented here).
Wish List for Next Time
We knew we didn’t have a lot of time to explore this trip, so we focused on hitting as many of the highlights as possible. However, there are still a lot more things to see, so we’ve already got a list running for our next visit!
- Muir Woods National Monument – we tried to visit Muir Woods National Monument, but it was completely full when we arrived! Muir Woods now requires a reservation for entry. You can make a reservation for a shuttle that will drop you off at Muir Woods, or reserve a parking spot at Muir Woods if you’d like to drive there yourself.
- Drive more of Highway 1 – We briefly hopped on the world-famous Pacific Coast Highway on our way to the Muir Woods National Monument. It was one of the most beautiful highways we’ve ever driven, and we would’ve loved to spend more time on the road. However, we were tight on time AND the road was completely packed because it was a Saturday. We’d love to go back at a non-peak time to more thoroughly enjoy the drive.
- San Francisco Zoo and Aquarium of the Bay – As an animal lover I would’ve loved to visit both the aquarium and the zoo, but by the time we made it to the Aquarium of the Bay they were closed for the day. We’ll definitely be sure to make the stop on our next trip!
Have you been to San Francisco? What are your favorite sites to see?