A Walking Tour of San Francisco
The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. ~ St. Augustine
Originally posted August 2, 2020
So when I first moved to the Bay Area a little over a year ago, I started exploring San Francisco. There were activities like doing a whale watch to the Farallon Islands, checking out some local eating places, museums but mostly a lot of walking to different areas of the city. COVID put a stop to that as well as any other travel. Recently I’ve been trying to find ways to travel closer and locally. I did a road trip about a month ago up to Reno, Virginia City and Sacramento. And this weekend I decided it was time to start exploring San Francisco again.
I settled on an eight mile loop across a lot of the main attractions, most I’ve done but a few I haven’t and the walk would take me through some areas of the city I hadn’t walked before. The thing about most big cities, and especially San Francisco is that you never know what you’re going to find. There are always surprises and little adventures. On this walk I was panhandled by a guy, around my age, who was obviously lying about being a disabled Vietnam Army vet. I was in a good mood so I gave him a buck and asked him what unit he was in, he immediately said he was flying. So I asked if he’d been a pilot, that was when he looked at me and told me he was Superman. Just another day in the city by the bay.
I settled on a loop starting and ending at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. First off, that’s an easy ride from home on BART, and second, since the Ferry Building had recently opened, it would like have open restrooms. On what would be a four hour walk, the reality is, you’re going to need a rest stop and normally that would be a lunch stop at a restaurant, but with little to no indoor dining, that wasn’t likely going to be an option. While we’re on the subject of restrooms, let me tell you, the public restroom stations in San Francisco are in fact still accessible and operating, the Ferry Building, Pier 39 and other tourist area bathrooms are also, for the most part, open.
On Saturdays there’s a pretty large farmers market outside of The Ferry Building as well as a lot of vendors there, so it’s a great place to pick up a drink and some fruit for the walk. From the Ferry Building you head toward the Bay Bridge and take a right on Mission Ave. The first stop on the tour is the rooftop gardens at the Salesforce Tower. This is 4.5 acres of a little loop trail framed with gardens at the Salesforce Tower. It’s not spectacular, but it’s a nice little tranquil spot in the heart of downtown amongst the tall towers.
From the Salesforce Tower I continued up Mission to Yerba Buena Park across from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Taking a right off of Mission Avenue I headed up third street toward the Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue, the entrance to Chinatown. Well, that was the plan, but I got distracted by some music and headed up Mission another block and ended up circling back to the Dragon Gate via Union Square, which added a good half mile to my route.
The Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue is the cliche starting point to enter Chinatown in San Francisco and Grant Avenue is what most people think of when they think of Chinatown. It’s fully of really interesting shop and any side street off of Grant offers additional little shops and restaurants to explore including the fortune cookie factory.
Grant Avenue eventually hits a funky intersection and I mean that in every way. At the intersection of Columbus, Broadway and Grant you’ll find a number of things. Some really cool old sign work for places like Big Als, the famous bookstore, City Lights Bookstore, and next to it a totally funky place called Vesuvios.
Continuing up Grant, be careful to stay on Grant and not end up on Columbus. You flow through really nice neighborhoods and you really get a feel for the hills of San Francisco. Happily, not because you’re walking up them, but because you’re walking across them and can see them climb up and down in either direction. this route effectively does a loop around Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, which if interested is an easy, but stair filled side trip. You so climb going up Grant but never steeply, you’ll see Coit Tower off to your right on the entire walk. and eventually you’ll come back down to the water and the Embarcadero at Pier 39. At some point before you hit Bay street, you’ll need to take a left two blocks and turn right no Stockton as Grant dead ends at Bay and Stockton leads all the way to the Ocean at Pier 39. As you crest the hill heading back to the Embarcadero, if it’s clear out you’ll have a view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
Once arriving at Pier 39 you’re entered the thick of the Fisherman’s Wharf tourist zone. At this point Pier 39 is directly ahead, and to the left is the Fisherman’s Wharf area. Having walked the wharf many, many times I headed into the Pier 39 to do one touristy thing and that was to check out the sea lion colony that lives at the pier.
After a quick restroom stop I headed up the Embarcadero the final mile or so to the Ferry Building. I finished off the day by getting an ice cream and sitting on a park bench on the bay and enjoyed my ice cream watching sailboats go by.
A final stroll up to BART and my day was over. As I said, about an 8 mile walk, one really nice thing about this loop, is that any point you can turn right and head over the hill and back down to the Embarcadero. So you can really shorten up the walk if you want to do something shorter. There are LOTS of places to eat, even now by take out or outside dining along the route. Anything from Chinese restaurants, seafood places, Italian restaurants and of course pizza places, so I grabbed a slice across from City Lights. At Pier 39 there are all manner of places to eat and lots of food options at the end in the Ferry Building as well.
All in all a happy day and a great walk, have a happy day as well my friends. ~ Rev Kane