48 mi / 78 km
San Francisco (SFO)
Our San Francisco route navigates the hills and handsome neighborhoods of the so-called Paris of the West. In a short 48 miles of weaving and winding through the metropolis, you'll check off all the bucket-list sights – from the elegant Victorian mansions of Nob Hill to the bohemian cafes of Mission – and get a taste of the city's wilder side.
Talking of the city's wilder side…begin on the long, sandy run of shore that is Ocean Beach. It's 3.5 miles of pounding Pacific surf. From there, the plan is to cruise up bending Ocean Avenue to the heights of the hills that frame San Fran to the south. You'll soon arrive at the Twin Peaks lookout, a scenic point with 180-degree panoramas that take in the whole Bay Area and beyond.
Let's lose that altitude, dropping down the famous hillsides of central San Francisco. Along the way, you'll glimpse the iconic Painted Ladies, a row of elegant Victorian townhouses fronted with wood-carved balconies painted in ochre, daffodil yellow, and sky blue. They were once the grand mansion homes of the prospectors and miners who struck it rich in the California Gold Rush. Today, they're a favorite backdrop to sitcoms and TV ads.
Uber-cool Mission District takes over next. A rambunctious place of hipster taquerias and groovy jazz bars, it's famed as one of the most liberal and creative neighborhoods in America. You'll see evidence of that at every turn, whether you're strolling between the vibrant Latin American street murals of Balmy Alley or people watching with a takeaway burrito on the slopes of Mission Dolores Park.
As you get ever closer to the steel-clad skyscrapers of the Financial District, San Francisco's downtown, expect culture to come to the fore. A visit to the Asian Art Museum will reveal 2,000-year-old Buddha statues from China and bona fide Samurai armor. There's also the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), where priceless canvases by the likes of Matisse and Paul Klee adorn the walls.
It was here in 1859 that a man named Joshua Abraham Norton shocked San Francisco by declaring himself "Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States." What seemed like a whimsical act turned into an extraordinary tale. Emperor Norton roamed the city streets in a self-made royal uniform, issuing eccentric decrees and even printing his own currency.
Despite lacking formal authority, he became a beloved figure, known for his compassion and speeches on social issues. When he passed away in 1880, his funeral procession drew a crowd of over 30,000 people. Emperor Norton's audacious spirit and unique story continue to inspire as a symbol of San Francisco's captivating history.
Hungry? Good! Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf are just around the corner. They both brim with street-food kiosks selling comforting clam chowder, crab sticks, and sourdough – a true SF combo! Once you've eaten, you could consider launching expeditions over to Alcatraz Island to trace the footsteps of infamous cons a la Al Capone!
Don't be too long, though – the Golden Gate Bridge beckons. You'll glimpse its iconic red metalwork from the Battery East lookout and Lincoln Boulevard, before hitting Golden Gate Park, a 1,000-acre bout of greenery that even includes hikes to waterfalls on Strawberry Hill, mystical Japanese tea gardens, and a huge Victorian glasshouse packed with tropical flowers.
The climax of the whole thing comes courtesy of Lands End. There's a hike that takes you through groups of soaring pines to a lookout point over the mouth of San Francisco Bay, complete with the skeletons of shipwrecked boats and visions of the Golden Gate back to the east.
As the road trip through San Francisco comes to an end, the memories forged on this journey linger. From the exhilaration of the Golden Gate Bridge to the laughter shared over a bowl of fortune cookies in Chinatown, this adventure captures the essence of San Francisco's spirit.
For something special, stay at The Fairmont, The St. Regis, The Inn at the Presidio, The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel or The Palace Hotel.Driving in San Francisco does not require any permits, but there are some regulations to keep in mind, such as parking restrictions, tolls, carpool lanes, and speed limits.
Use a FasTrak toll tag to avoid extra fees when passing a toll.1. Sign up to Scenic Finder premium for San Francisco's best places to park.
2. Popular attractions like Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the cable cars can have long lines and sell out quickly. Consider booking tickets or reservations in advance to avoid waiting in line or missing out on the experience.
3. San Francisco is generally a safe city, but it's always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions against theft or pickpocketing, especially in tourist areas.All roads are sealed. View current alerts and warnings from the San Francisco DEM.
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