Palace Of Fine Arts
Yes, downtown is on the driving tour.

Want to see the most sights in San Francisco in the least amount of time possible? Then you need my patent-pending, Best Damn Driving Tour of San Francisco. It’s the most efficient way to tour the city of San Francisco without coughing up tons of money for a helicopter ride.

So who’s this driving tour of San Francisco really for?

View of san francisco from twin peaks
San Francisco as seen from Twin Peaks.

My tour is for people who’ve never been to San Francisco before. People who’ve never driven across the Golden Gate bridge, never taken a Red Line boat to Alcatraz, never heard the sea lions of Fisherman’s Wharf, and never watched the sunset from Twin Peaks.

In short, people who either own their own car, or are old enough —and have the credit rating—to rent a car.

PRO TIP: Do not rent a convertible. While the air temperature in San Francisco is often a cool 55-degrees, the sun is super-bright and will give you skin cancer, fast.

—YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

What makes my driving tour the “best damn” one, you ask?

San Francisco's seal lions lounging around
Sea lions in front of a sailing restaurant.

Experience, plain and simple. You see, I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1997, and I know what tourists want to see and do while visiting this fair city.

They want to see everything in San Francisco that they’ve seen in movies and on TV, and the only way to do that is by driving—especially within the short time most of them have before Dreamforce or OracleWorld ends.

(Don’t get me wrong, BART and Caltrain are both decent mass transit systems, but they take a while to figure out if you’re not from a big city.)

My laziness is your gain! Use my favorite route through San Francisco.

TransAmerica building in evening light

Friends and family from the East Coast who visited the Bay Area always asked me to give them a driving tour of San Francisco. It has happened so many times, in fact, that I finally made a Google Map of my route.

That way, I didn’t have to keep reinventing it every time somebody I knew visited the Bay Area—which was often. But there are plenty of very good reasons that people from all over American come to San Francisco.

Is this the best damn driving tour of San Francisco? Yes.

Here’s just a small sampling of what you’ll see when you pilot your rental car around on my best damn driving tour of San Francisco:

San Francisco as viewed from the East Bay.
  • (A) Caltrain Station – aka, the OG San Francisco Station
  • (B) PIER 39 – see giant sea lions snoring on the docks
  • (C) Ghirardelli Square – a landmark public square with shops and restaurants
  • (D) Coit Tower – a 210-foot tall tower with great views
  • (E) City Lights Bookstore – founded in 1953 by beatnik poets
  • (F) Chinatown – the oldest Chinatown in North America
  • (G) Cable Car Museum – exhibits the San Francisco cable car system
  • (H) Fairmont San Francisco – luxury hotel featured in many films, including, The Rock
  • (I) Union Square – a popular shopping, hotel, and theater district
  • (J) Lombard Street – the crookedest street in the world
  • (K) Fillmore Street – the largest jazz scene on the west coast
  • (L) Palace of Fine Arts – museum, originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition
  • (M) Crissy Field – have a picnic while staring at the Golden Gate Bridge
  • (N) The Presidio – a bad movie, also a converted military base that’s now a park
  • (O) Sea Cliff – a restaurant on the Pacific coast that burns frequently
  • (P) Great Highway – a major road headed south along the Pacific coast
  • (Q) Twin Peaks – a weird TV series, and two 900+ foot tall hills in the center of San Francisco
  • (R) Haight-Ashbury – one of the main centers of the hippie and counterculture of the 1960s
  • (S) Alamo Square – a square including the “Painted Ladies,” a well-known postcard image
  • (T) The Castro – San Francisco’s mecca for LGBTQ+ folk
  • (U) Mission Dolores Park – where to smoke pot on a blanket
  • (V) City College – a hangout for one in nine San Francisco residents

My self driving tour is a fairly comprehensive—and speedy—route, covering the most popular “Jewel Of The Pacific” highlights. Honestly, San Francisco is a pretty damn attractive city and, with so many sights to see, you’ll want to get started on my driving tour of San Francisco as early as possible. Traffic is a little lighter at 4am, but not that much lighter.

Here are some additional tips for driving in San Francisco.

SF Bay Bridge
The San Francisco Bay Bridge

Remember to wear several layers of clothing, always and everywhere. Seriously, it gets damn cold in San Francisco, even in the summer (just ask Mark Twain). It gets effing hot, too, even in the winter. Basically, the weather in San Francisco is the world’s most annoying.

Rent the smallest car you can stomach, because parking anywhere in San Francisco can be a real bitch. Get the SpotHero parking app to make parking in the San Francisco Bay Area a lot easier.

When you park your rental car on a hilly street in San Francisco, you must legally curb your wheels (i.e., turn your front wheels hard towards the curb before putting the car in park). That’s so—if the car rolls, for some reason—it won’t roll down the hill and kill innocent people.

Don’t get caught in an intersection, the cops will ticket you for that.

Also, sourdough bread kinda sucks. There, I said it.

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