14 In California/ Dark Tourism/ North America

San Francisco Highlights: Our 2 Day Itinerary With And Without A Car

San Francisco highlights - city life

We arrived for many San Francisco highlights with the rental car a day earlier from our 2 Week US Road Trip itinerary as snow stopped us from entering Yosemite the day before. We couldn’t wait to visit locations like Land’s End, Sutro Baths, Alcatraz and Fishermans Wharf. In total the car was used to visit 5 locations, before visiting the rest of the San Francisco highlights by public transport, bike and by foot.

So to start off the San Francisco highlights that we had planned, we started with places that were easy to visit with the car. Since we had the car for our last day we wanted to take advantage of it, even with the driving nightmare of getting lost the day before. Free breakfast at the Travelodge by Wyndham Presidio San Francisco was a good start to the day, and setting off in the car to some things further away from the city centre.

San Francisco Highlights – With A Car

We had chosen the following 5 San Francisco highlights to visit with the car.

Land’s End

This was first on our places to drive to from our first nights stay in San Francisco. We parked at the top and walked down, which was very nice to do at 10:00am as it was still peaceful and hardly any tourists. Only locals running or walking their dogs. Along the route there are side routes that take you to viewpoints along the water’s edge. Most paths were fine to do with walking shoes or trainers, or possible with a mountain bike. Well worth a relaxing walk here as one of the San Francisco highlights!

You can see some amazing views of the landscape and sea, with the Golden Gate bridge in the background. From Land’s End we walked to the Sutro Bath ruins which were below at the end of Land’s End.

The Sutro Baths

The Sutro Baths was a luxury public bathing area, once the largest in the world. It struggled with high operating and maintenance costs that it was in the process of being demolished after many years ,but burnt down in 1966 during the process.

What’s left now are just the remains of the 7 pools areas, the amphitheatre and the dressing rooms. There is also access to a cave which was once used for a control room pump, to refill the pool areas if the level was too low. This also was used to recycle the water back into the sea.

By the time we were walking back to our parked car, there were definitely more tourists and the peacefulness was replaced with the sound of chatter. So we timed it well to leave to our next stop at the Devils walking route and the WW2 bunker on the coast.

Devils’s Walking Route

This was our next stop, taking this walking route along the coast towards the WW2 bunker at the end. This walk is where we encountered a very large bird of prey circling us! Again, only locals walking along this route with their dogs so it was nice to enjoy the peace of San Francisco. Along this route there is a WW2 lookout tower that can just be seen from the path, unfortunately closed to the public.

WW2 Bunker

At the end of the Devils route we arrived at the bunker. This bunker is one of the original 19 along the coast which was used as defence against the Japanese during WW2. These days it’s a spot for photos as the bunker is rather unique sitting on top of the rock. The inside is closed to the public, but you can still climb up to the entrance. We loved exploring this as part of the San Francisco highlights!

Computer Museum

Arriving a little later than expected, we explored the computer museum that is situated in Silicon Valley. Completely full with all computer things imaginable, following the history timeline of development as well as expanding into other topics like gaming, robots and space.

With only 2 hours left with the car, we really wanted to see Silicon Valley’s large technical companies. But with driving around we ended up getting a little lost looking for the android statues as well as needing petrol. It didn’t go so well as we were also pretty hungry by this point and our stress levels of driving in circles were increasing. We abandoned our search and cursed at the confusion of google maps before heading to the airport to drop off the car at Avis.

Renting from Avis was great for our 2 week US Road Trip!

San Francisco Highlights – Without A Car

Here are some of the things we visited after we had delivered the car back to the rental company. After 10 days of using the car we were sure going to miss it. The next things we did in San Francisco includes walking, a boat and cycling!


What a unique place to visit with an audio tour. We booked in advance our early bird tickets to be on the first boat going to the prison island. This worked our great as we would have been queueing for quite a while otherwise! We were very impressed with the organisation and friendly staff at Alcatraz.

We have written a full post about our Alcatraz visit here!

Rent A Bike

It’s most definitely recommend to rent some bicycles in San Francisco and enjoy the many bike paths in the city and waters edge. It was awesome to do just the two of us, but we noticed many other tourists doing the same. There are some skyline viewpoints that you can stop at as well.

We have a full post about cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge here!

Cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Fishermans Wharf

We found it to be extremely busy along Fishermans Wharf, maybe as it was September and gorgeous weather. Maybe it is just always like that. We did enjoy the street entertainment and rented our bicycles from one of the locations here. We definitely didn’t want to rush this unique spot in San Francisco so we took our time and had lunch there too.

This is definitely of the San Francisco highlights as its a great place to experience the lively atmosphere of the city. Theres lots to see, do and eat here. There was also a submarine and historic museum that you can visit within one of the many piers. We didn’t as my Dutch partner is pretty tall and being stuck on a submarine would not be comfortable!

Downtown San Francisco

Walk the streets of San Francisco for some shopping and food. Unfortunately we missed out a lot of experiencing downtown San Francisco but had a small walk through the streets before we left with our suitcases. We saw some of the colourful trams and the city life on a busy Monday morning.

Zig Zag Lombard Street

Visit what we believe as one of the most popular and busiest road sections in San Francisco. With our rented bicycles we cycled past to see what all the fuss was about regarding Lombard Street. We personally didn’t think too much of it except for it being pretty with flowers and busy with tourists.

Where To Stay

We had chosen to stay at Travelodge by Wyndham Presidio San Francisco as this was perfect for parking the rental car on their private property. We also were allowed to lock our rental bicycles up for the night in a safe location too! Breakfast at the location was perfect for a day of adventure. The staff we had met were very friendly and super helpful with questions regarding public transport and places to eat in the area. Highly recommended!

Summary Of Our San Francisco Highlights

Even though it was a lot of confusion to drive in San Francisco, it was also pretty amazing. We took our time to follow our Google Maps navigation to the 5 San Francisco highlights with the car. In San Francisco we absolutely loved taking walks and cycling in this beautiful state. Many locals that we had spoken to were so friendly, and tourists too! There was a really good vibe and safe feeling too.

We loved that San Francisco was at the end of our 2 Week US Road Trip!

Unfortunately we missed out on exploring downtown San Francisco based on lack of time, but that is a good excuse to go back right?!

San Francisco highlights - boat to Alcatraz

Tips for driving in San Francisco:

  • Mandatory to know that you must turn your front or back wheels into the curb when parking on the hills.
  • Don’t expect to get to your destination first time – our google route made us go multiple routes that didn’t even get us to the correct place!
  • Plan way more time than you think to drive – especially during rush hours
  • Stay calm and just try enjoy the crazy experience haha!

Tips in general:

  • We squeezed in lots of things during visit and wish we had longer, but it was definitely doable. But take your time too!
  • Plan in advance to be better organised for your time, such as buying Alcatraz tickets.
  • Join the locals by being active – cycle, walk or go for a run!

P.S We had some great experience using Uber throughout the city after we had handed back in the car to Avis. Leave the driving to the locals!

Pin for later:

San Francisco Highlights - Our 2 Day Itinerary With And Without A Car, such as seeing the WW2 bunker, Sutro Baths, Alcatraz and Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge! See more at togetherintransit.nlSan Francisco Highlights - Our 2 Day Itinerary With And Without A Car, such as seeing the WW2 bunker, Sutro Baths, Alcatraz and Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge! See more at togetherintransit.nl

Have you visited San Francisco before with or without a car? What did you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  • Reply
    19th January 2019 at 11:05 am

    Great post. We are currently planning our first trip to San Francisco. We will be there for 6 days, but without a car (well we might hire one for a day trip, but haven’t decided yet). So great to see so many things to do in SF without a car. And yes, renting a bike and peddling across Golden Gate Bridge sure is one of those things on the list already.

    • Reply
      21st January 2019 at 6:54 pm

      Thanks for commenting Sarah! Sounds great that you will be there soon (totally jealous of that!). If you don’t rent a car there you can always try Uber, we used them once when we were too tired to walk the long distance back to the hotel one evening!

  • Reply
    19th January 2019 at 2:17 pm

    San Francisco is my love! I have been living in LA for 3.5.years and went on trips to SF quite a few times. There is always something to do in this city, great post!

    • Reply
      21st January 2019 at 6:56 pm

      Thanks for commenting Anya! We were gutted that we couldn’t actually drive south to LA when we did our road trip, as the landslide closed of the roads we wanted to take. The Big Sur is something for us to return to in the future 🙂

  • Reply
    19th January 2019 at 2:36 pm

    We are talking about a California trip in our future (we’ve never been at all!) and it’s great to know that there are things to do in San Francisco without a car! I hadn’t thought about the issues of height within a submarine!! We visited one in Charleston, but at the time my oldest son was 10. Now at 18, he stands over 6’5″ (barefoot) and does have to duck through shorter doorways.

    • Reply
      21st January 2019 at 6:53 pm

      Very tall indeed! I wouldn’t recommend the submarine to you then, but the others like renting a bike and exploring the less touristic areas are pretty cool!

  • Reply
    19th January 2019 at 3:16 pm

    WOW! I definitely learnt about some new attractions I didn’t know SF had! Next on my to-do list: Get a USA visa XD

  • Reply
    Adele Gee
    19th January 2019 at 3:34 pm

    Great tips! We were in S.F. 4 years back on a road trip with a rental car which we left behind while sight seeing by walking and with the bus. Lands End is something we missed and looks really interesting !

  • Reply
    Flora Baker
    19th January 2019 at 4:08 pm

    Ahh this brings back so many memories! I lived in SF for my year abroad at uni and haven’t been back since then. I miss it so much!!

    • Reply
      21st January 2019 at 6:55 pm

      Sounds like an amazing experience to be able to live there for a year!

  • Reply
    19th January 2019 at 8:44 pm

    Great tips! The Sutro Baths and Devil’s Walking path look especially interesting and off the beaten path.

    • Reply
      21st January 2019 at 6:51 pm

      Thanks for commenting Stephanie – we sure did enjoy those more as there were with less tourists.

  • Reply
    Sujenne Macaay
    20th January 2019 at 1:02 am

    San Fransisco looks beautiful. Never saw this raw side of it, since most people show only the culinary side of it.
    Great post !

    • Reply
      21st January 2019 at 6:58 pm

      Thanks for commenting Sujenne, I’ve also seen lots and lots of posts about where to eat there (which isn’t our focus when we travel). Maybe if we return to SF we will look into some of the delicious places to eat at.

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