Appease Visiting Tourists With This 1-Day Drive Through San Francisco
I’m sure I’m not the only one that dreads having to accompany visiting friends and family to all of the San Francisco tourist-y destinations. I figured out a solve though. Having lived here for most of my life, I’ve developed the perfect 1-Day Driving Tour of The City with short stops at tourist attractions and some of my local favorites.
By the end of the day, everyone has seen the “must see” spots and we can use the rest of the visit going to the locals-only spots.
Assuming you might have some family or friends visiting this weekend, I thought I’d share my driving tour. The first part of the drive is mostly photo opportunities. Then, you’ll stop to get lunch and make your way to The Ferry Building for souvenirs and dinner supplies.
First Stop: The Golden Gate Bridge (GGB)
Assuming you are starting your day in San Francisco. Start as early as you are able. I like to start around 9am. We will stop for breakfast, don’t worry. This will be the perfect timing later on in the drive.
Your first stop is our favorite not-so-golden stunner, The Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t have folks walk across the bridge. Rather, we drive across with the moonroof open and I take my guests to the perfect spot to take a photo, Battery Spencer.
Starting at The GGB is a fun way to see the city from a birds eye view. If there’s fog, that’s even better! If you start in the morning, you won’t have as many tourists taking all of the parking spaces at your photo spot at The Battery. This spot is on the West Side of the bridge. Your photo will get the bridge and the city in view (assuming Karl The Fog hasn’t come to say hello).
Now that we’ve covered the aching needs all tourists have to take a photo of the GGB, we will get ourselves some breakfast.
Breakfast or Brunch at Outerlands or Java Beach House Cafe
Drive around the long way and stop at Lands End Lookout for a quick snap of the ocean. Depending on your budget, you have a couple breakfast options right at the end of Judah. Java Beach is filled with surfers and neighborhood locals grabbing coffee and a light breakfast before they head over to Ocean Beach.
If you want something a little fancier and are envisioning a sit down breakfast, head over to Outerlands. You might have a bit of a wait there but it’s worth it. Their Dutch baby haunts my dreams, I swear.
Address & Information – Java Beach Cafe:
2650 Sloat Blvd., San Francisco, CA
Address & Information – Outerlands:
4001 Judah Street, San Francisco, CA
Now, let’s grab those photos of SF Classics
After we’re full and ready to continue our day of tourism, I have everyone pile in the car and get their phones ready. We head to these locations… making our way across the city.
- The Bison Paddock – always fun to first make a beat about whether there are bison in SF before they see these cute animals.
- Golden Gate Park (GGP) – If there are kids, I’ll try to find a parking spot and show them where the hidden fairy doors are in the park. If there are no kids, I’ll spit out some GGP facts as we drive through.
- Haight-Ashbury – This feels like a must-see to me. Get a family photo right at the Haight-Ashbury sign really quick as we move on to the next iconic spot.
- The Painted Ladies – Another great spot for a family photo. Parking around here can be tricky. My tips is to allow your guests to get out of the car real quick while you drive around the block a couple times.
- Lombard Street – I’ll then take us to Lombard Street and we drive down the windy road until we make our way to the bottom and get a quick photo here before we then head off to lunch.
Let’s get Lunch at Scoma’s!
On the map, you’ll see I have you driving to the Williams Sonoma Corporate Offices at Van Ness. This is a mini parking pro-tip. I avoid having to search for parking around Fisherman’s Wharf by parking at the end of Van Ness and walking along the beach to the end of Fisherman’s Wharf. During this walk, you can see The Rock from the tiny beach you’ll pass on our way to lunch.
My advice is getting lunch at Scoma’s along the water.
Scoma’s is one of the oldest restaurants in the area. The fish is so fresh here that they call it “pier to plate”. Crab and salmon come right from the fisherman to the kitchen. Sure, you can get a bread bowl from a local vendor or the Boudin Bakery, but Scoma’s is a place your guests will never forget.
Address & Information:
1965 Al Scoma Way, San Francisco, CA
Grab dessert at Mara’s Italian Pastries in North Beach or AA Bakery in Chinatown
At this point in the drive, people are going to be a little tired after a little walk around the wharf and lunch. My next stop with my guests is always dessert. I give the guests a choice – Chinatown goodies or something tasty from North Beach. I don’t look for parking here, I usually double park or drive around the block while folks get their desserts. We have other places to be and that neighborhood has horrible parking.
Mara’s in North Beach is my personal favorite. I give strict instructions to my guests to pop out of the car and get a box of cookies from my favorite Italian bakery. Usually I’ll see them with a whole slew of goodies to take home. These cookies pack well and are great treats for flights home as well.
Address and Information:
503 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA
For something a little different, egg tarts from AA Bakery on the edge of Chinatown will wow your guests. They are soft, sweet, buttery and addictive. The best egg tarts in the city by far. But if those aren’t your jam, AA Bakery has one of the largest selections of baked goods in Chinatown. Grab a pineapple bun for an afternoon pick-me-up or any of their fluffy breads. Tourist bonus: this bakery is just a 3 min walk to City Lights – showing out of towners where the beat poets hung out showcases your deep knowledge of SF.
Address and Information:
1068 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA
Get a drink at Pier 23
Now, at this point, I start heading to The Embarcadero. I can usually find parking downtown (especially on a weekend), but if parking is harder I’ll find parking in Embarcadero Center’s parking garages. I love to take people to Pier 23 to grab a beer along the water. It sets the stage to slow down the rest of the day after a long day of driving around. I used to love coming to this bar after work back in the day. Opened for almost 40 years, Pier 23 has that locals-only vibe and beautiful views of The Bay and Telegraph Hill.
Address and Information:
Pier 23, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA
Last Stop: Grabbing Dinner Supplies from The Ferry Building
The Ferry Building is not only one of our most famous landmarks, it’s an iconic artisan marketplace with everything you need to make the most epic meal of your life at home if you’re exhausted by the day’s drive. It’s also a great place to grab some classy souvenirs from small businesses and local food producers. If nothing else, I recommend grabbing a loaf from Acme and some cheese from the cheese shop, The Epicurean Trader.
Address and Information:
One Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA
So, what would you add to this driving tour?
At this point in the day, I’m personally burnt out. There’s still so much to see but most of the big tourist must-sees have, in fact, been seen. After this beast of a day, I can pepper in a couple more spots throughout the rest of my guest’s visit. Living in The East Bay, I will likely take them on a couple trails and visit some hidden gems. We could end up in wine country for a day or maybe we will pop into The Mission to see some murals and get lunch. It all depends on what my guest is still wanting to see while in the area.
This is an epic adventure worth sharing with family and friends. Whether you take bits from this 1-day driving tour or tackle the whole thing, you are sure to make some memories along the way.