Get out there in S.F.: 7 stellar ways to see the 7x7 city
Whether you’re hang gliding above the San Francisco Bay, sailing through it, or plunging into deep ocean waters alongside great white sharks, you’re in for an adventure when you visit San Francisco. With an area of 7x7 miles, this fun-sized city packs a punch. Here are seven of our favorite knock-out activities.
1. Explore the mural scene
San Francisco’s Mission District is an aesthetic masterpiece, with murals on seemingly every wall. Begun in the 1980s to protest human rights violations and political abuses in Central America, today’s murals are an ever-changing commentary on current events—from gentrification to gay rights. For a quick fix, visit Balmy Alley, a block-long corridor of street art. The pieces here change frequently, so there’s a decent chance you’ll catch an artist at work. For a deeper dive, sign up for a walking tour with Precita Eyes Mural Arts. Originally started to celebrate urban community mural art, the organization’s muralists will tell you about the murals’ history, their role in shaping social justice issues, and the mural painting process. After your tour, head to 24th Street, where you can eat at El Farolito, a top competitor for the city’s best burrito.
2. Hike the steep steps of San Francisco
Hiking isn’t just for the wilderness anymore. Skip the trails and hit the streets on one of three urban hiking adventures in San Francisco. The Urban Jungles and City Heights tour takes you to the Twin Peaks summit for city skyline views, through a hidden eucalyptus grove behind Sutro Tower, and up Tank Hill for a stellar view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Want to burn some calories? Try the Tales of the City route, where you’ll climb staircase after staircase to the top of such San Francisco landmarks as Coit Tower and Lombard Street. Most tours cover 4-5 miles and take two to three hours to complete, so talk to a guide to find the right adventure for your itinerary, and bring your comfy walking shoes.
3. Sail San Francisco Bay
Sail under the Golden Gate Bridge on the Temptation, a 7-foot sailing yacht guided by a certified sailing instructor. Choose from two-, three-, or four-hour journeys, which will take you out to some of the Bay’s most famous sites. You’ll launch out of the city’s marina to Pier 39, check out Alcatraz, and sail to Angel Island. You can also gather a group of your friends for a private, fully-customized cruise. Choose a waterfront restaurant for dinner and, in true baller style, arrive on your boat.
4. Discover Your Inner Scientist
When you step into the California Academy of Sciences (55 Music Concourse Drive, SF, CA 94118) at Golden Gate Park, you’re walking into an alternate universe. Wander through the 90-foot-diameter dome, which has been transformed to mimic a rainforest, replete with free-flying birds and tropical butterflies. Check out the academy’s 100-plus aquariums, which feature rare white alligators, piranhas, and an African penguin colony. Navigate your way through bat caves, learn about space in the planetarium, or climb to the living roof to smell the wildflowers and other plants that grow there. Insider tip: Head across the street to the top floor of the DeYoung Museum for panoramic views of Golden Gate Park and the Richmond District.
5. Trek the Wild Trails
If you’d rather navigate through wooded trails than through city streets, you’re in luck. At Mount Tamalpais State Park (3801 Panoramic Hwy, Mill Valley, CA 94941), you’ll weave through 50 miles of trails in redwood groves and oak woodlands before reaching the 2,571-foot peak. Look out 25 miles to spot the Farallon Islands, or gaze at the Marin County Hills, San Francisco Bay, or Mount Diablo, all visible from the peak. Go on a moonlight or moonrise hike with the volunteer organization, Friends of Mt. Tam, or stop by the visitor center to learn about the flora and fauna in the area. Or, enjoy a guided tour that you can book through ZOZI, where you’ll get insight on Bay Area geology, Native American history, and Mt. Tam as you explore the beautiful coastal bluffs or the forested redwood trails. Insider tip: Go on a weekday for less crowded trails. If you want a weekend hike, get there early to avoid the crowds.
6. Hang Out Above the Bay
Forget hanging ten. Instead, hang glide your way over San Francisco Bay. Just south of the San Francisco Zoo by Lake Merced, Fort Funston (a hang-III intermediate site) attracts hang gliders from around the globe to its 200-foot-high sandy bluffs and unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean. Beginners can sign up for lessons or take a tandem flight with an experienced instructor—check out Big Air Hang Gliding, which was featured on “Mythbusters.” Insider tip: wind conditions are usually ideal in March and October, but you can typically soar year-round here.
7. Say Hey to Jaws
Aspiring marine biologists and Shark Week fans will get a thrill out of the Farallones Great White Shark Adventure. You’ll sail 25 miles from San Francisco to the Farallon Islands (nicknamed the Devil’s Teeth for its jagged peaks) on the Baylis, a 65-foot auxiliary powered sailing vessel. On your way to the island, your ship’s naturalist will tell you about the island’s history and native wildlife. Once you drop anchor near the island, the bravest of the bunch can climb into a cage and plunge underwater for a chance to see great white sharks in their natural habitat. On your way back to the city, toast your bravery with complimentary beer or wine.