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A first-timer’s guide to San Francisco

Golden Dawn Bridge HDR.jpgCaption: A photo of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California taken during sundown. (Local Guide Edward Manson)


Now one of the 15-largest cities in the United States, San Francisco’s beginnings are rooted in the international quest for domination on the Pacific Coast. Spain settled the area, establishing their empire’s northernmost outpost in 1776 with the Presidio. There, 200 colonists settled at the military fort, guarding California’s largest harbor from occupation by other world powers.


Today, the city is home to more than 884,000 people. It’s a bustling hub for technology, banking, tourism, academia, wine, and commercial fishing. The city itself is known for its eclectic neighborhoods, but those fit into a much larger geographic puzzle. The sprawling San Francisco Bay Area is home to over 7 million people who live in 101 surrounding cities including Berkeley, Mountain View, Napa, Oakland, Palo Alto, and San Jose.


San Francisco is unlike any other place in the world. Here’s a guide of can’t-miss destinations for first-time visitors to get the most out of their time in the Bay Area.


Muir Woods National Monument


2018-01-10.jpgCaption: A photo of a trail meandering through tall California redwoods (Local Guide 邱潔心)Located just 13 miles from San Francisco, Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley, California is the best place in the area to experience the wonder of the world’s tallest tree species, the endangered coastal redwood. The fragile ecosystem attracts 1.2 million annual visitors who marvel at 600 to 800-year-old trees that stretch over 200 feet toward the sky. Redwoods play a significant role in carbon, nutrient, and water cycling in the forest, helping to support more than 50 species of birds, two different species of salmon, and abundant invertebrates at Muir Woods. Reservations are required, so be sure to make one before you go.


Pier 39


Pier39.JPGCaption: A photo of many sea lions floating on rafters at Pier 39 (Local Guide Dustin Fortier)

A visit to San Francisco is incomplete without a stop through Pier 39. The attraction in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf offers something for everyone: a carousel, street performers, musicians, an aquarium, specialty shops, and endless options for food, including San Francisco specialties like sourdough and seafood chowder. You’ll find photo ops at every cornerespecially at the K-Dock which has been home to hundreds of protected sea lions since 1989, following the Loma Prieta earthquake. The animals reach up to 850 pounds in size and are known for their loud barking and playful splashing.


Alcatraz Island


alcatraz island.jpgCaption: A photo of historical structures that remain on the rocky Alcatraz Island. (Local Guide Ramsey Midani)

Alcatraz Island is the setting of Hollywood films and page-turning mystery novels. It’s all at once a Civil War fortress, a historical federal prison, a bird sanctuary, the birthplace of the American Indian Movement, and the site of the first lighthouse on the West Coast. “The Rock,” accessible only by boat, is infamous for its time as the most secure federal prison in the U.S. when it housed Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and “Bird Man” Robert Stroud. The prison closed in 1963. Ten years later, The National Park Service opened Alcatraz to the public as a museum. Now, visitors can learn about the site’s history through exhibits, video presentations, and audio tours. If you plan to visit, you should reserve your tickets several weeks in advance.


Oxbow Public Market


Oxbow.jpgCaption: A photo of a cheese, beer, and wine shop at Oxbow Public Market. (Local Guide Angela Armagost)

In the heart of downtown Napa, you’ll find a gathering place for food and wine at Oxbow Public Market along the Napa River. Tenants include local food vendors, artisan cafes, and organic produce stands for local farms. The market is a great spot to shop and sample regional specialities if your time in Napa is limited. It supports sustainable farming and small businesses while providing customers with a one-stop shop to try merchants including Hog Island Oyster Bar, Napa Valley Distillery, and Oxbow Cheese and Wine Merchant. After shopping your way through the market, consider hitching a ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train and checking out V. Sattui where you can sip and picnic in a casual, lively outdoor space.


The Presidio


Crissy Field.jpgCaption: A photo of the Golden Gate Bridge, native trees, and two historical buildings at the Presidio’s Crissy FIeld. (Local Guide Abhishek Shukla)

End where it all began with a visit to the Presidio, which today is the largest urban park in the United States. The Presidio is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Areaa biodiverse park with 49 miles of newly created hiking and biking trails that meander around 870 buildings, 470 of which are on the National Registry of Historic Places. Among the things to see and do: a Visitor Center, restaurants, hotels, art installations, the Walt Disney Family Museum, Officers’ Club Heritage Gallery and Archaeology Lab, a World World II Memorial, archeology dig sites, a National Cemetery, the El Polin Spring, Mountain Lake, a cannon demonstration at Fort Point, playgrounds, an indoor trampoline center, a golf course, a spa, a bowling alley, a Starbucks, free educational programs, and Crissy Field, one of the top-two most-visited areas in the entire National Park System.


Do you have a great place to add to this list? Link to it in the comments below!

Connect Moderator
Connect Moderator

Re: A first-timer’s guide to San Francisco

Wow, @brittym

you are giving me a lot of ideas for my next visit in San Francisco, mid of October.

Thank you for sharing

DSC03567.jpgCaption, Cable cars at Union Square

bdmafuz Level 8
Level 8

Re: A first-timer’s guide to San Francisco

 Hi @brittym thanks for share with us. It will help new visitors.

VBenedict Level 8
Level 8

Re: A first-timer’s guide to San Francisco

Lots of memories awakened by your beautifully written review of San Francisco @brittym


One data point I was not aware of is that the Native Americans' movement sprouted in Alcatraz.


Great horseback riding in the area is one of the things I greatly miss.


San Francisco, like New York, is a great city.



AbdullahAM Level 9
Level 9

Re: A first-timer’s guide to San Francisco

Thank you @brittym for sharing a wonderful post.

I think your post will help a lot for Local Guides who's travelling to San Francisco to attended the Local Guides Connect LIVE in this October.


Connect Moderator
Connect Moderator

Re: A first-timer’s guide to San Francisco

Oh, did not know about the public market, going to have to see if I can make my way there on this upcoming trip @brittym!!

And of course, knowing me, I'm adding something that is food related. I would like to add Arsicault Bakery to the list. How can one go exploring in a city without any snacks??? =P 

This was me pulling a ham and cheese croissant apart, video by @iyudhi. So yum! 

@SP31, this was what I was talking about!!

asifMojtoba Level 8
Level 8

Re: A first-timer’s guide to San Francisco

Thank you so much for this post; really looking forward to explore the city while attending the Connect Live 2018 <3 :D 

Connect Moderator
Connect Moderator

Re: A first-timer’s guide to San Francisco

hi @brittym I have just closed all of travel vlogs about San Francisco..then @Shirley told me about this post. Thanks so much of your information. Even it is not my first timer going to SF, this year would be my first to explore the city. I am curious about San Francisco's train system, historical buildings, and many more. I think I want to research about public transportation in SF. 



Indonesia Local Guides
LucioV Level 10
Level 10

Re: A first-timer’s guide to San Francisco

Dear @brittym I've been three times in SF, and I loved this city and energy that transmits.

Last time was in May 2018, and I had the opportunity to visit the Academy of sciences during a Google SVT event; it's a great place, where young can find a lot of things to learn, and enjoy some djsets during the night. A must visit place!


KinWanGoGo Level 8
Level 8

Re: A first-timer’s guide to San Francisco

Thanks for the wonderful guide of SF. I'm amazed to see lots of exciting places there.