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