A Day Trip to San Francisco’s Waterfront

categories: Northern California

People have been escaping to San Francisco at least since the cry went out from California in 1849 that there was “gold in them thar hills”. There is not as much gold in California, but still plenty of hills in San Francisco and plenty of places to explore. I jumped at the chance to show off one of my favorite cities and to test drive the new Ford Escape in the process as part of a promotion for Ford Escape Routes. One of my favorite “escape routes” in San Francisco is along the waterfront.


We started in the Marina district on the North end of San Francisco with its views of Alcatraz. If you have time take the boat out to Alcatraz and tour the old Federal Penitentiary. Plan ahead as the tickets can sell out days in advanced for tours as there are a limited numbers of boats making the journey. Spring for the audio guide that is narrated by former convicts and guards. The guide makes the place come alive.

The Marina

As you might suspect, the most notable feature in the Marina District is a large marina. It is a great place to watch the sailors or perhaps find a way to stow away yourself for a longer escape.

The Wave Organ

At the end of a breakwater that protects the Marina you will find what may be one of the strangest science projects since the potato clock – the Wave Organ. The Wave Organ plays “music” or at least sound through tubes that extend out into the bay. It is best to visit on a day with some wave action. This project was created by one of the designers at the nearby Exploritorium museum and was designed to look like the ruins of a ancient civilization.

Palace of Fine Arts

Only a block or so from the Marina is the Palace of Fine Arts which was built as part of the  Panama-Pacific Exhibition in 1915 which both celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and the recovery of San Francisco from the devastating 1906 earthquake. All of the 9 other halls built for the exhibition have long since been torn down but this picturesque spot is a favorite for photographers. It used to host the Exploratorium hands-on science museum but that museum has moved closer to Pier 39.

Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge

Further west along the waterfront takes you to Chrissy Field and Fort Point which are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Chrissy Field is an old Army Air Corp base which worked much better as an airfield before they built a big bridge near it. Fort Point houses a fort built to keep San Francisco out of the hands of the Confederacy should they make a play for it in the Civil War.

There is also just above Fort Point a bridge that you may have heard of. The Golden Gate Bridge is even visible some days but the best time of day to see it is between 10am and 3pm after the morning fog burns off and before the evening fog rolls in. Always bring a jacket when you visit San Francisco because even the sunniest day may end in a foggy evening.

If you add in a visit to Alcatraz this itinerary can easily fill much of your first day in San Francisco, but there is much more to explore as we have not yet even seen how the Ford Explorer will do on San Francisco’s famous hills.

Ford Sponsored me to write this post and also let me drive the new Ford Escape… how cool is that?

Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won numerous awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine. He move to California in 1964.

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