San Francisco city shot

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Coit Tower

Touring the Streets of San Francisco

November 4, 2019

If you’re a walker, there’s no better place than San Francisco. Why not carve out time to get outside Moscone Center and its environs? These three walks can take a couple of hours or all day, depending on your pace and the number of stops you make along the way. Put on comfortable shoes and loose-fitting layers, do some stretches, and explore a few of the visual and culinary delights of the City by the Bay.

Filbert Stairs

Christopher Beland [Public domain]

Walk #1: Stair Master (1.4 miles)

Filbert Steps to Union Square

START: Find your way to the Filbert Steps at the corner of Filbert and Sansome streets (about 1.5 miles from Moscone Center) and start climbing. Enjoy the beautiful private gardens along the way. There are roughly 400 steps, so stop occasionally to catch your breath and take in the beautiful view of the Bay Bridge behind you. At the top, you’ll find one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, Coit Tower. Walk the tower’s base to view murals painted in 1934 by artists depicting life in California during the Depression. Then, pop into the gift shop between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. for a ticket to ride the elevator up. The cost is $9, less if you’re older than 61 or younger than 18.

Coit Tower

© Faina Gurevich - AdobeStock

Coit Tower

Photo Opp: On a clear day, at the top of Coit Tower, you’re treated to  stunning 360-degree views of the city.

At this point, you’ll need a pick-me-up. Head over to Grant Street, turn left, and stop at Caffe Trieste (601 Vallejo) for a great cup of espresso or glass of wine and a chat with regulars who’ve been visiting the café for decades.

Food Detour: A short jaunt west to Columbus Ave. will take you to Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe (566 Columbus). No, they don’t sell cigars, but they do have smokin’ good Italian sandwiches at moderate prices.

Continue south on Grant through the city’s historic Chinatown. Eat delicious baked pork buns, sample teas, and purchase souvenirs before heading further south through Union Square, where—depending on your budget—the real shopping can begin.

Chinatown gate

chensiyuan [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Photo Opps: At Grant and Bush Street, the Dragon Gate marks the entrance to Chinatown. Walk two more blocks and turn right on Post Street, stopping at Powell to see the 400-pound Hearts of San Francisco heart statue painted by Tony Bennett. It’s one of many heart statues created for an annual art fundraiser to benefit “The General,” San Francisco General Hospital Foundation.

END: From Union Square, it’s just a few blocks back to Moscone Center. You can make it!

Embarcadero building, at dusk

© Rafael Ramirez - AdobeStock

Embarcadero building, at dusk

Walk #2: Bayside (2.1 miles)

Embarcadero, Pier 24 to Pier 39

START: Photography lovers can start at Pier 24 Photography (1.1 miles from Moscone Center) for a quiet walk through a remarkable photo collection. The location directly under the Bay Bridge offers a panoramic view of the Bay. Entry is free, but the space is open only on weekdays, and you need to book in advance for one of three showing times: 10 a.m.–12 p.m., 1 p.m.–3 p.m., or 3:15 p.m.–5:15 p.m. Book your visit at pier24.org. From there, head northwest on Herb Caen Way/San Francisco Bay Trail, and in about four minutes, you’ll be at Rincon Park. Take a rest!

Photo Opp: The park’s giant bow-and-arrow sculpture, “Cupid’s Span,” makes a great backdrop.Continue northwest along the San Francisco Bay Trail until you reach the Beaux Arts style Ferry Building (1 The Embarcadero). Grab a cappuccino or a cold brew at Blue Bottle Coffee or enjoy soul food from Tanya Holland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen. On a nice day, sit outside and watch the ferries heading to Sausalito, Tiburon, Angel Island, and other destinations.

Ferry Building events: Saturday, Nov. 9, Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market (8 a.m.–2 p.m.); Sunday, Nov. 10, Fog City Flea Market (10 a.m.–5 p.m.)

Keep following the San Francisco Bay Trail. If you have plenty of time, stop at the Exploratorium, San Francisco’s museum of “science, art, and human perception” ($29.95 for adults).

Food Detour: Take Battery Street’s winding path to Fog City (formerly Fog City Diner, 1300 Battery) for fresh oysters, hand-crafted cheeseburgers, and wood-fired pizza.

Sea lions

© jon_chica - AdobeStock

Continue north on Battery to get back to the Embarcadero and walk to Pier 39, where even the locals can’t resist a trip to see the colony of wild sea lions who’ve called K dock their home for more than 20 years. No time to go this far? Catch them on webcam at pier39.com.

END: There are dining and tourist attractions galore at Pier 39, but at this point, no one would blame you for hailing a ride back to Moscone Center. Or, walk another half-mile west on Jefferson Street to reach the classic kitsch of Fisherman’s Wharf.

Haight Ashbury street sign junction corner

© Michael Urmann - AdobeStock

Walk #3: All Is Groovy (1.6 miles)

Haight Street to the Japanese Tea Garden

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START: From the northwest corner of Buena Vista Park (about 3 miles from Moscone Center), walk north on Central for a block or so to see the “painted ladies” pictured on the magazine’s cover. Then, turn back down to Haight Street and start walking west toward Golden Gate Park.

Photo opp: At the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets, you’re at the epicenter of the 1967 Summer of Love, when as many as 100,000 mostly young people converged to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

The hippie vibe remains strong in the Haight. Catch it at the organic, fair trade Coffee to the People, gaze up at the “Haight Ashbury legs” above the Piedmont Boutique (1452 Haight), and cruise past the 1904-built Red Victorian Inn (1665 Haight), now a “community-run cooperative” that—in addition to hotel rooms—features classes and “skillshares,” music, art shows, and family dinners.

Food stop: Fast food vegan? Yep. VeganBurg (1466 Haight) has a 100% plant-based menu, moderate prices, and a 4 or 5 star rating from most Yelp reviewers. Can you dig it?

Buddha in San Francisco

© Shreyas Chandaria - AdobeStock

Cross Stanyan Street and head into Golden Gate Park. Walk northwest toward John F. Kennedy Drive but don’t cross. Instead, walk along the path south of the drive to Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive. Turn left and walk until you see the Japanese Tea Garden on your right. Admission is free on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when you enter the garden by 10 a.m. Otherwise, nonresident adults pay $9 and can enter until 4:45 p.m. each day during the winter months. The garden covers 5 acres and features classic elements such as pagodas, stone lanterns, stepping stone paths, and koi ponds.

Photo opp: The entire garden is Instagrammable, but favorite photo spots are atop the high-arching drum bridge and in front of the 11-foot-high, bronze Buddha. The bridge was built in Japan and shipped to the city in 1894 when a smaller version of the garden was installed for the San Francisco Midwinter Exhibition. At the center of the garden is a tea house where you can purchase a cup of hot tea and Japanese snacks.

END: You’re about 4 miles from Moscone Center. If you’re not ready to head back to the conference, take a ride through the Presidio and up to Chrissy Field for a cool view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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