Walking Tour of San Francisco

San Francisco Walking Tour

The sun was shining on Saturday morning, and while I’ve learned that that doesn’t mean it’s warm outside, it does mean that it’s a great day to throw on a sweater and take in the sights and sounds of the city. I wanted to get ambitious and go on a real hike, but instead we opted to check out the city on foot. We started our jaunt by fueling at Nook, a nearby coffee shop in Nob Hill that’s become a bit of a work haven for me, and then began our jaunt down Hyde Street en route to the ever-touristy but always charming Fisherman’s Wharf.

San Francisco Walking TourSan Francisco Walking Tour

As a preface, I should say for anyone wanting to follow our self-guided San Francisco Walking Tour, do know that it’s amazing but it’s hilly. Yes, hills are typically a given in San Francisco but it’s a pretty decent decline when you’re heading towards the water. If you’re coming the other direction, be prepared to put your quads to work.

Hyde St. Pier + Fisherman’s Wharf

San Francisco Walking TourWalking Tour, San Francisco

After our jaunt down to the Hyde Street Pier, we made our way to Fisherman’s Wharf to keep up our tour of the city’s highlights going and grab lunch. I’ve been to the wharf on a number of occasions, most memorably as a child ordering clam chowder in a bread bowl. In keeping with tradition, Scott and I headed to Sabella & La Torre’s, a little fish-laden crab stand doling out clam chowder, fried calamari and fish sandwiches to hungry visitors. We have friends that live in San Francisco that hate Fisherman’s Wharf, mostly because it’s a haven for tourists to the area and average institutions charge inflated rates for everything. All of that may very well be true, but I actually like Fisherman’s Wharf in spite of all of that. Chalk it up to nostalgia, but I love the act of sitting on the wharf with a gooey sourdough bread bowl while watching the world pass by. For anyone visiting San Francisco, this is a must-have experience. Even if you end up hating it and find the area off putting, at least you’ll have made that declaration on your own.

Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco Walking Tour

Pier 39

Pier 39, San Francisco Walking Tour Pier 39, San Francisco Walking Tour

Afterwards, we perused nearby shops and loaded up on tons of saltwater taffy before making our way down to Pier 39. Now, I’ll admit, while I love Fisherman’s Wharf in spite of all of its touristic qualities, I find Pier 39 can be a bit overwhelming at times. Everything about it screams tourist trap to me. Sure there are the sea lions that everyone goes to see, and maybe it’s because I grew up with them that I don’t find them all that much of a draw, but the entire area just seems rather inauthentic. Still, if you want to see the sea lions and do a bit of shopping, there are some cute (albeit, touristy) shops that dot the pier.

Our stop was brief before we moved onto one of my favorite areas in San Francisco: North Beach.

North Beach

North Beach, Walking Tour of San Francisco

Oh, North Beach. If you haven’t experienced North Beach, it’s really something that should be on every person’s agenda. Despite it’s raw, somewhat-gritty quality, it’s one of my favorite parts of the city. Italian bakeries abut pizza places and butcher shops while people sit outside drinking espresso and Peroni. There’s something about it that I just love, though I realize it’s not for everyone.

North Beach, Walking Tour of San Francisco

For a lunchtime stop in North Beach, there are a few great options:

  • Take some artisanal goodies and enjoy a picnic lunch in Washington Square Park if the weather’s working in your favor. For great local bites, check out the Ferry Building on a Saturday to stock up on picnic goods.
  • Grab a hearty sandwich from Molinari’s Delicatessen. I’ve never personally gone this route since I don’t eat meat, but Scott loves the artisanal meat and cheese options for crafting a great sandwich on the go.
  • La Boulange in North Beach is a great for brunch or lunch. It’s a chain, which some folks will fundamentally dislike for that reason, but I always find their food and coffee to be great!

Chinatown

Chinatown, Walking Tour of San Francisco

After committing to walking home (I had half thought we would hop on a bus at some point), we made our way through Chinatown en route to our home base in Nob Hill. I’ve never been to China, but I imagine that San Francisco’s Chinatown is a pretty decent representation of the real thing. The population density in the area is absolutely insane and every inch makes you feel like you’re in a foreign country: dim sum on every corner, peking duck hanging in shop windows, jewelry shops laden with jade and stores selling shark fin (is this legal?) and packaged bird’s nest dot every inch of the street. It’s truly an experience. Despite the fact that I’ve wandered through many times, I had never really spent time perusing the goods that shopkeepers peddle.

 Chinatown, Walking Tour of San Francisco

A 10-pack of birds nests for $1250, a shark fin running around $775 and a massive mushroom at $250 and I couldn’t help but wonder: who buys this stuff?! Honestly, does anyone know?

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the biggest in the US, if not the biggest, and it’s a great place for an authentic meal. You’ll have choices of Szechuan, Cantonese, Yunnan, etc. For those that are used to ‘Chinese food’ being lumped together and represented greasy takeout, you’ll be surprised by all of the options you’re afforded in this area. For dim sum, don’t miss The Great Eastern, one of our go-to places for brunch!

After weaving our way through Chinatown, we were back in Nob Hill, where we started the day. If you’re intersted in following a similar path, check out the route below:

Walking Tour of San Francisco

xoxo from San Francisco,

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect, formerly The Traveling Scholar. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. She is a former resident of London and San Francisco and now calls the island of Anguilla home. In addition to The Wanderlust Effect, Shannon is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort and is on the Board of Directors of the Omololu International School in Anguilla.