1. Visit Lombard Street. OK, it may not actually be the crookedest street in the world, but it feels that way as you descend, hoping your car’s brakes will hold. If you’re there during tourist season, expect to be videotaped by at least 800 tourists, after waiting in line to go down this brick-lined lane. The best photos are actually from the bottom, in case you want to station someone there in advance to memorialize the moment. Located on one block between Hyde and Leavenworth streets, it was built with eight hairpin turns to reduce the 27 percent grade to 16 percent, making it accessible to cars.
2. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge. You can walk or bike for free daytime across its 1.7-mile expanse, though some people go halfway and then turn back. You can also drive outbound for free, though you'll have to pay a $7.25 toll to return south into the city, which requires Fastrak or a special effort to pay (check the website). Note that it’s nearly always cold and windy on the bridge. Details: www: goldengate.org.
3. See the Coit Tower murals. The landmark tower, built in 1933 high on Telegraph Hill near Fisherman’s Wharf, provides a chance to see some interesting murals and offers an outstanding view of the entire area. The murals inside the structure were painted in 1934 by disciples of Diego Rivera, who’d been painting in San Francisco during the same era. The tower base is free to visit. If you want to go up to the observation deck in the elevator, tickets are $8 ($5 for kids). Details: www.sfrecpark.org/destination/telegraph-hill-pioneer-park/coit-tower.
4. Tour the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. As you’re strolling Chinatown, duck into Ross Alley, where you can find perhaps the last remaining place where they make fortune cookies by hand. You can go into this tiny factory, opened in 1962, and watch the women make cookies for free, though they ask you to pay 50 cents if you want to take a picture. They also sell bags of fresh cookies and – a really cool deal – you can buy a fortune cookie with your own message inside for only $1. It comes in a miniature take-out box and they'll make it in only two minutes. Details: www.sanfranciscochinatown.com/attractions/ggfortunecookie.html.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
5. Visit Fort Point. Few visitors know about this fort, now a National Historic Site, built in 1861 to protect San Francisco Bay. Nowadays, it provides an attractive walk, bike or drive across Crissy Field in The Presidio, ending at the fort, with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge and great photo ops. (If you’re a Hitchcock fan, this is the spot where Kim Novak jumped into the bay in “Vertigo.”) They have regular cannon-loading demonstrations, free guided tours and historic video showings. It’s open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Wednesdays and major holidays. Details: www.nps.gov/fopo.
6. Take a free walking tour. Spirited volunteers will show you around some of their favorite places on these tours sponsored by the public library. There are around five tours each day of all varieties, from Chinatown to the Japanese Tea Garden. Feel free to make a donation afterward, as you see fit. Details: www.sfcityguides.org.