I’ve travelled a lot for business for in the last few years it’s always the same – get in, get out, and next thing you know you’ve haven’t seen more than the few blocks surrounding your hotel… If you’re lucky!

Last week I spoke at a conference and decided to stay an extra day to see the sights.  I was in San Francisco.  I’d never been and didn’t know when I would be back.  Also, I’m a huge Full House fan, and who doesn’t remember the opening scenes of that show?

But how do you pack a whole city in one day?  Where do you go? What do you see?  I decided to challenge myself,  ‘around the world in 80 days’ style, and see how much I could get done while not going completely mad.

Oh and by the way, I was touring the city alone.

Yeah you heard me.  A woman.  Alone.  In a foreign (ish?) country where horrific mass shootings are sadly becoming the norm; in a state known for really bad earthquakes.  My worst nightmares had me stuck at the bottom of a rumbling pile of rocks and no one would find out I was missing until the next day.  I watch too many cop shows. 

When Grey Line of San Francisco heard about my mission (insert theme song from ‘Chuck’) they let me hop on their Ultimate City Tour and Bay Cruise.

WOW! I ended up taking the early tour, then visiting the pier for a while before doing the cruise, followed by more walking and a mad dash to the airport.

City tours are the sampling menu fare of travel's happy hour. Click To Tweet

Tours are the ultimate sampling menus. 

Not only did I get to see most of the major sites, I also found out a bunch of nifty facts and local lore I wouldn’t have discovered if I were on my own. When I go back, I know exactly which areas I want to explore.  The tour guide was funny, I got to take many amazing pictures (see the slideshow below) and I met some interesting people.  If I’d had more time I knew exactly what I wanted to order from the full menu.

Also, I felt safe.

California has Welcome Centres in major urban areas!

When I heard about this I was ecstatic.  Though my day was already planned, welcome centres offer many other services.  For a small fee I was able to leave my luggage for the day in a secure area… A bonus since I’d already check out of the hotel and my carry-on was becoming a problem.

I’m sure most states have them, and I know in Canada the major cities have tourist information centres and welcome areas.  Check them out – it could make the difference between a great day and an awesome day.

You can’t buy a swimsuit in California…

Well… Maybe you can, but I had terrible luck.  It was cold in San Francisco, but the hotel had a heated pool and I was tempted.  5 stores later I’d found bikini tops…. and nothing else.  Needless to say I didn’t buy one, but I did post a comment to my Facebook page.  My friend Meghan?  She’s a funny girl:

Relax and enjoy the ride!

I started the day with a tight schedule and that flew out the window when I woke up 2 hours late.  All I knew is I had to make it to the bus on time, and at some point take the cruise.  It would appear one can’t just snap one’s fingers, yell ‘Garcon!’ and expect a boat to appear.  But otherwise?  I stuck to the touristy area, taking free shuttles when I could, and enjoyed the sunshine on my nose.

Avoid public restrooms and hot dog stands.

If you don’t head this advice, the latter and former go hand in hand.  Trust me.

Make memories, not just great pictures.

I enjoy photography as much as the next camera geek – see the slide show – but don’t fall for the ‘click-click-we’ll-see-the-landmark-in-the-pictures’ mentality.  At several look-outs and stops I saw so many people taking loads and loads of pictures of themselves with the landmark.  No one was taking the time to appreciate the beauty and grandness of the sights.  Do you really want to remember your trip as a series of poses?  Not me.  I’ll admit to a total of 3 selfies, but otherwise I filled my camera (and phone…) with the sights that impressed me. I sat down on a bench with a coffee and people watched for 10 minutes. I had a conversation with the sax player on the corner who made an old lady dance to ‘Blurred Lines’.  I’m sure that woman would be scandalized if she knew what she was dancing to, and the thought made me smile.

The tour was great for this.  We had about 20-30 minutes at each stop to take in the sights as well as use the facilities and indulge in our need to memorialize our faces in front of large monuments.

Its not always about the new roller coaster

As with the Time Squares NYE Ball debacle I had a must see on this tour – the Golden Gate Park and the house from the opening credits of Full House.  Our guide didn’t disappoint.  We’re not allowed out of the bus anymore – the guy who owns the house is tired of people showing up at his door looking for the Olsen Twins – but he did drive by r-e-a-l slow for me.

Don’t be afraid to tell your guide if there’s something on the tour that’s really important to you.  By that point I’d made a few funnies and there was a feeling of camaraderie on the bus.  No one minded the extra 45 seconds it took to drive in front of those houses and the only thing that would have made it better for me was if John Stamos was leaning against the rail in those tight leather pants, flashing those pearly whites and offering me a ride on his motorcycle

Focus!  So.  Not about the biggest roller coaster.  Its your trip after all – make the most of it!

Roll with the waves

If your destination has a waterfront and offers 1 to 3 hour cruises – TAKE IT!  Not only is the view fantastic and picture perfect, but again you’ll get a bit more history about the wonderful sight’s you’re seeing.  I really can’t say enough about these – I’ve done them in my home town too, and its a great way to put your feet up for an hour and still manage to see some sights.  Pack a lunch – or pick something up on the way – and when you’re done you’ll still have plenty of time left to get those few souvenirs.

I had 8 hours to enjoy the city.  I have no regrets and look forward to going back there with my family one day.  Definitely schedule San Francisco Tours if you can squeeze it in.  It’s a great primer to your vacation if you’re staying a few days or longer, and if you only have a day you’ll leave knowing that though you may not have experienced it all, you definitely saw the great stuff to see.

How about you?  What are your best tips for braving the big city on your own? Let’s talk 🙂

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