Top 5 Things for Backpackers To Do in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco is one of my favourite places in the whole world. It just has so much character with it’s pastel Victorian houses juxtapositioned against the bold steel of the Golden Gate Bridge and the cool architecture of the Bank of America building. It lacks the hustle and bustle of cities like New York or London, but it makes up for it with laid back beachy vibes. It’s a treat.

I don’t think a lot of backpackers consider San Fran, but most round-the-world tickets allow you a stop in America, and I just think it’s miles better than LA. Seriously.

There were a lot to choose from but here are my top 5 things to do for the backpacking crowd.

1) Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge

Bike Rentals at Pier 39
Bike Rentals at Pier 39

This is one of my favourite experiences and costs a matter of dollars – perfect for the backpacker budget!

Rent a bike from Pier 39 and cycle your way to and across the Golden Gate Bridge. You can do a bicycle tour but it’s just so much cheaper to do it yourself. Most rental places provide you with a map attached to the front of your bike with the route drawn out so it’s super easy to find your way around. And the route is really gorgeous – through lush green gardens, along a beach by the river and across the iconic landmark that is the bridge itself.

Cycling to the Golden Gate Bridge
Cycling to the Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

The only thing is that a bicycle tour will usually pick you up at this point and take you back to Pier 39 via boat. But doing it yourself means cycling back to the start point. I really didn’t mind though as it was such a pretty route! Especially seeing as the ride there was pretty foggy and the ride back was brilliant sunshine…

Cycling to the Golden Gate Bridge
Cycling back from the Golden Gate Bridge
Pretty route to the bridge
Pretty route from the bridge

So a full day of seeing the beauty of San Francisco only cost a few bucks!

I really think this is the best way to see the bridge. I also did a boat ride under it but it was a foggy day and bloody freezing out there… I did get to see the seals but you can see them at Pier 39 when you pick up your bike!

Seals at Pier 39
Seals at Pier 39

2) Go Vintage Shopping in Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury
Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury is like stepping back in time with rows of vintage boutiques and psychedelic murials on the buildings. This is where the hippie movement originated and you will feel like you’re in the summer of love in this neighbourhood!

It’s a pretty cool place to just wander around, but as a massive vintage clothing junkie, it was a good excuse to shop! Lots of on-trend seventies styles were available when I visited but who knows what treasures you’ll find…

Haight-Ashbury
Haight-Ashbury
Haight-Ashbury
Haight-Ashbury

The best part is that these vintage shops aren’t the pretentious types you find in East London where everything is ridiculously overpriced. Authentic vintage at a few bucks a piece. It’s also pretty cool when someone asks where your top is from and you can say “a vintage boutique in San Francisco

Haight-Ashbury
Haight-Ashbury

3) Alcatraz

Alcatraz
Alcatraz

I didn’t really know much about Alcatraz before I visited San Francisco. I went to the former high-security prison just because it’s one of those things you’re meant to do. But I was pleasantly surprised!

For a start the ferry ride over to the island is lovely, and as I went first thing to beat the queues, I got beautiful morning views of the city.

Ferry to Alcatraz
Ferry to Alcatraz
Hanging out with a travel pal's mascot on the ferry to Alcatraz
Hanging out with a travel pal’s mascot on the ferry to Alcatraz
Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island

In the building itself, I used the audio guide to hear all about the Alcatraz stories of the convicts and both the attempted and successful escapes. It’s super interesting! Even if you don’t think it’s you’re kind of thing, I would recommend giving it a go.

Alcatraz
Alcatraz

4) Cable Car the Hills to Alamo Square

Alamo Square, San Francisco
Alamo Square, San Francisco

I’ve cheated a little and combined a couple things to do here. Firstly, you need to experience the famous San Fran cable cars. Secondly you need to see the extreme landscape of the city with it’s winding roads and steep hills. Lastly, you should make a visit to Alamo Square.

Alamo Square, San Francisco
Alamo Square, San Francisco

Alamo Square is a pretty green atop one of San Francisco’s steep hills. It’s famous for both it’s fabulous views of the city skyline as well as a beautiful row of pastel-coloured Victorian houses, or ‘painted ladies’ as they’re often referred as.

It’s a must-see to really appreciate the beauty of this gorgeous city.

Victorian house, San Francisco
Victorian house, San Francisco

5) Dinner in Chinatown

San Francisco Chinatown
San Francisco Chinatown

Chinatown is an addition to most of the big cities of the world, but they never quite cut it for me. I mean the London Chinatown is cool, New York is just ok… but I really love Chinatown in San Francisco.

It may just be the layout with the steep inclines giving it a bit more character… But I would recommend a meal here if you can. It’s really affordable and it just feels like a key part of San Francisco to me.

San Francisco Chinatown
San Francisco Chinatown

Do you agree with my top 5? Anything you think I’ve missed? Leave a comment and let me know!

Bank of America building, San Francisco
Bank of America building, San Francisco

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