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Explore the Real San Francisco

I want to take the time to share with you my newfound love for domestic travel. As a kid, my “influencers” were books, science, global issues and National Geographic. When I could afford a passport and ticket, no travel within the United States was appealing—I was going to purchase any ticket I could and fly to a mosquito-ridden international location.

Much hasn’t changed.

Being outdoors and connecting with people and nature is my calling. I look for culturally enriching experiences. However, something has shifted in my outlook. My appreciation for everyday things has increased. Instead of strictly wanting to travel to a location featured on my favorite Netflix show, or travel for the sake of vanity, I am more open to exploring a local trail, striking up a conversation with a stranger and slowly taking in the joys of this earth.

Who said that culture or people in your backyard do not have something meaningful to share with you? Or how about a different part of your country?

I hope the highlights from my visit to the San Francisco Bay Area helps as you plan your next trip. The city and vibe are undeniably different. The bay views and hills are reminiscent of a town nestled along the coast of the Mediterranean, the climate is never too hot or cold, and locals work extremely hard in their conservation and restoration efforts. You know the saying, “build a life you do not need a vacation from?” How about, build a city/state you do not need a vacation from.


San Francisco International Airport supports active relaxation. There is plenty of light, a soothing color palette, flowing lines, yoga rooms, spas, museum exhibits, a reflection room, a reading room, an outdoor terrace and four interactive kids activity locations. Talk about appreciating the present moment and making the best of being “stuck at the airport.”

With plenty of options to get around—like public transportation, bicycles, scooters, scoot coupes, trolley cars, Uber, or skateboarding—renting a car isn’t necessary to tour the city. If you do think driving is best, Turo will fit perfectly into your Instagram storytelling. Nissan, FIAT, Porsche, Tesla, Ferrari and BMW are all featured brands. The service is quite easy to use, similar to an Airbnb rental for cars.

PHOTO: Turo is much like an Airbnb for cars. (Photo by Ciara Cartwright)

Things to Do:

Alcatraz Island

Even if learning about notorious criminals isn’t of interest to you, what about a ferry ride, bird watching, gardens or a lesson in survival and humanity? The self-guiding audio tour is impressive, connecting your presence to the past to the point that you can almost smell the food in the mess hall and hear the clanging of dishes. It is advisable to purchase your tickets well in advance of your planned visit.

Alcatraz Island, located in San Francisco Bay
PHOTO: Alcatraz Island, located in San Francisco Bay. (Photo by Ciara Cartwright)

Fisherman’s Wharf

As a Jersey Girl, I’d describe Fisherman’s Wharf as a mix of the Jersey Shore Boardwalk and Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal. There are the market and sea air aromas, art shops, seafood stands and souvenirs. Reserve a window seat at Crab House39, where you can enjoy a sourdough bowl with seafood bisque and catch a glimpse of the sea lion colony at pier 39.

Muir Woods National Monument

The Redwood forest experience should be on everyone’s bucket list. The ride along routes 1 and 101 is fantastic! The park is only 12 miles outside of San Francisco and there are several accessible features. I recommend preparing your thoughts for a quiet nature observance before going. You may be left speechless as you approach the Redwood Trees. Founders Grove, Canopy View Trail, Cathedral Grove and Bohemian Grove all offer moments to pause and reflect. You must make a reservation to visit the park.

Muir Forest in San Francisco
PHOTO: Muir Forest in San Francisco. “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir, 1890 (Photo by Ciara Cartwright)

Presidio of San Francisco

I know this whole story isn’t about me, but let’s make it about me! I could live in this park! The Presidio has wildflowers, beaches, golfing, coyote pup protection areas, owl watching and more. The list of activities are endless here. Whether you have 10 minutes or two days to explore, the location will not disappoint. Park services have done a phenomenal job in crafting an experience of adventure and respecting the beauty of nature.

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