Through the years my husband Rob and I have driven our own vehicle to San Francisco. More frequently we searched for reasonable airfare and rented a car. Eventually we found a much easier way to revisit our beloved City by the Bay.
If you're lucky enough to be on a West Coast cruise, San Francisco offers a wealth of port attractions. We have gone on three very enjoyable California or West Coast Princess cruises with San Francisco port visits. For maximum time ashore, we fuel up with a hearty breakfast before our ship docks. The cruise ship terminal at Pier 27 is about a 20-minute walk on flat pavement from Fisherman's Wharf.
From the wharf, we caught the 9 a.m. San Francisco City Sightseeing luxury bus for the narrated Sausalito and Muir Woods tour. As the bus meandered through the Marina District and the Presidio, the driver gave a running commentary. While we crossed the famed Golden Gate Bridge, we sang along to the recorded San Francisco song. www.city-sightseeing.us.
After a 10-minute photo stop at Vista Point, we passed through Marin County's natural beauty. Next we marvelled at Sausalito's gorgeous ocean scenery and gazed in awe at pricey homes clinging to cliffs.
We never tire of the fragrant, clean piney scent of giant Coastal Redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument, just 30 minutes from Fisherman's Wharf. The redwoods massive height reminds me of an outdoor cathedral where sunlight filters through the branches. Walking among these cherished giants is pure joy. The fresh earthy scent and peaceful environment are great for the soul.
In the past Muir Woods had limited food options, so before boarding the bus we buy a picnic lunch to eat after our hike. Savvy visitors wear comfortable walking shoes and bring rain gear when appropriate. Muir Woods admission is not included in tour fare, so bring your National Park pass if you have one. www.nps.gov/muwo
In the afternoon, a different City Sightseeing bus took us to picturesque Sonoma County where dozens of vineyards dot the landscape. While tasting award-winning white and red wines at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, we learned about the Italian Jacuzzi family history, then sampled olive oils and strolled through the beautiful grounds.
We also tasted wines during an informal talk at Larson Family Vineyards where a friendly dog was part of the scenery. At our third stop we enjoyed a humorous interactive wine tasting at Roche Winery. After a lingering visit and sampling at a cheese store, the City Sightseeing bus returned us to our ship in time for dinner. www.city-sightseeing.us
After the Muir Woods tour, City Sightseeing buses will return you to Fisherman's Wharf where you can connect to another tour, venture out on your own or ride a cable car.
Tour guides say the Hyde Street cable car end terminal on Hyde & Beach often has long queues. If you walk a block up the Hyde Street hill to Hyde & North Point (or another block to Hyde & Bay), you can board a cable car without waiting.
Occupying a prominent spot between the cruise terminal on Pier 27 and Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39 beckons tourists with a colourful array of eateries, shops, attractions, tour operators and discount booklets. First-time visitors and kids enjoy watching the sea lions and listening to their dog-like barking. Pier 39's Aquarium of the Bay is worth a visit. Don't miss the underwater tunnels sand outstanding jelly fish exhibit. www.aquariumofthebay.org/
Laurie Armstrong of the San Francisco Travel Association, offers a bevy of ideas for one-day visitors. Walk to the Exploratorium, a hands-on museum for science and gadget buffs of all ages at Pier 15. www.exploratorium.edu, www.sftravel.com
Travel to the Presidio, by taxi, Uber or Lyft to see the Walt Disney Family Museum, the Presidio Officers Club, and/or visit Yoda at the Letterman Digital Arts Center. www.presidio.gov/places/Pages/letterman-digital-arts-center.aspx, Www.presidio.gov
Armstrong suggests using the Muni Passport in the San Francisco CityPASS to ride the California Street cable car line from the Embarcadero. Get off at Chinatown for shopping and have lunch. Or get off at Nob Hill to visit the grand hotels (Fairmont, Mark Hopkins Intercontinental, Scarlet Huntington and Ritz Carlton) and the beautiful Grace Cathedral. Ride the cable car all the way to Van Ness to see the colourful neighbourhoods, and then ride it back to the Embarcadero. www.citypass.com/sf-plan
If you can do most of the above in a single day, you're entitled to a relaxing dinner in one of hundreds of fine eateries or back on your ship. We returned to the Crown Princess for a lovely Italian dinner surrounded by the spectacular San Francisco city lights. Finally we walked out on deck to watch the Bay Lights, a unique nightly LED art installation, play across the Bay Bridge.
Rob and I have left our hearts in San Francisco many times. Exploring this fascinating city from a cruise ship is the easiest and most relaxing way to do it—without worries about traffic and parking. Most cruise ships spend an entire day here. Visit www.princess.com to learn which ships call there. To learn more about San Francisco's many attractions and local transportation options, visit www.sftravel.com