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12 FREE Things to do on a Stop Over in San Francisco

Home > San Francisco > Day Trips | Free | Lookouts | Places of Interest | Walks
by Emmanuelle M. BAREA (subscribe)
I m a freelance Travel Writer who believes that
Published January 21st 2018
Short lay over? Make plenty of memories in San Francisco
San Francisco from Marriott Marquis View Lounge
View all the way to the bay from the Marriott Marquis View Lounge, San Francisco

What would you do? Stay at the airport? Certainly not! Get yourself a BART ticket (Bay Area Rapid Transit). From SFO airport, the yellow line takes you downtown for $9 US (one way).

The plan: get off the train at 24th St Mission and walk north, towards the Embarcadero (ferry terminal).

Once on Mission St. You are struck by the music, colours, the murals… what a lively street on a weekday afternoon, with a very Hispanic feel.

826valencia san francisco pirate supply store under-resourced kids writing programs
The Place to get Your Pirate Supplies and Help Kids Write, right ! only at 826 Valencia, San Francisco (pictures by J. Hart, M. Millman, D. Berberi and 826 Valencia)
The Pirate Supply Store:
826 Valencia St.
Open 12 to 6pm

Discover Black Bart's secret, get yourself a hook or just browse this fascinating unique store. Let your inner pirate child come alive and don't worry, all the profits from the store support under-resourced students between 6 and 18 in helping them develop their creative writing skills.
Check out Co-Founder Dave Eggers TED Talk


Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP): btw 17th -18th and Mission and Valencia St.
Since 1992, volunteer artists and community members have developed this venue. Sadly, numerous tours are said to give wrong information and don't support the CAMP project. For proper tour and true information, contact

Women s building and Maestra Peace mural san francisco
Women's building and Maestra Peace Mural in San Francisco

Women's Building & Mural
corner 18th and Lapidge St.
Open 9-5, week only.

Completed in 1994 by a group of 7 artists, the Maestra Peace mural is one of San Francisco's landmarks and a tribute to women's causes. This women-owned community center is dedicated to help women developing confidence and skills to better their lives and therefore, better the community.

Mission Dolores High School and Park:
corner of 18th street and Dolores

Take a look at the Mission High School and its impressive front. That same building is said to have been used as the Mission milking quarters. Mission Dolores Park stretches just opposite the school. Its inviting green grass is perfect for a stop and being on a slope, you can enjoy the view over the buildings all the way to the bay.

Mission high school dolores park san francisco
Mission High School and view from Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco

19th St.: from Church to Castro St.

Going downhill, this nice little portion displays an interesting diversity of buildings, in architectural influences, in sizes, style or material used, very typical of Frisco…

Castro street district gay san francisco
Castro Street, San Francisco
Castro St. and the Castro Theatre:

Rainbow flags hanging along the way, this is the official gay district's main ave. The Castro Theatre, with its Spanish Colonial Baroque front and neon sign, is a longtime symbol of the city. Over almost 100 years, it has shown countless movies but specializes now in repertoire cinema and galas. It has1400 seats in an orchestra/balcony layout, what is said to be the last leatherette ceiling in the world and a "dramatic Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ", playing before each event!

Castro Theatre, San Francisco
Harvey Milk Statue:
corner Castro and Market St.

In 2008, actor Sean Penn immortalized California's first "openly gay elected official". City supervisor Harvey Milk didn't stay long in office prior to his assassination in 78, but certainly left his mark in helping gay rights. The Castro Theatre hosted the movie premiere and a commemorative statue stands on the corner of Castro and Market St., for us to remember his legacy and be inspired in making the world a better one for all.

cable car san francisco
The last cable car system, manually operated, in the world !

Market St and Street Car line F

Eclectic architectural style, this wide transit artery lined with palm trees, thanks to the mild weather, crosses the city from North West to South West: South East being perpendicular and parallel to Market St whereas North West are oriented north-south and east-west. Almost 5 km long and 37m wide, Market St. is the chosen street for city parades such as a Giant's victory or its colourful annual Gay Pride.

Both ways along market street runs the F line, with the heritage streetcars, another symbol of San Francisco!

Mission Adobe and Mission Dolores Basilica:
on the corner of 16th and Mission St.

Next to the Mission Basilica, stands the adobe chapel that resisted time - it is one of the oldest building in town! Peaceful holy grounds and the place where it all started… the birthplace of San Francisco.
Marriott Marquis View lounge san francisco
From the View Lounge up the Marriott Marquis Hotel in San Francisco
Marriott Marquis View Lounge

Perched on the 39th floor of the Marriott building, overlooking the city, The View Lounge is the place to be. There, you can enjoy a drink with "Bar Bites" and take in the beautiful view of the city as the sun sets. With prices ranging between $10 and $20 USD, The View Lounge is open from 4pm till 1am, closing only on Mondays. If you don't feel like stopping, go up for the view!

View lounge marriott marquis hotel san francisco
From the Yerba Buena garden to the Bay, view from the View Lounge up the Marriott Marquis Hotel in San Francisco

Yerba Buena Gardens:
On Mission St.

Across Mission St. is the Yerba Buena Gardens, enjoy the grassy patch with the wall fountain. Yerba Buena was actually the name given to the settlement when California was under Mexican jurisdiction.

panorama san francisco
The Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco

palace hotel san francisco
The Palace Hotel, Montgomery St., San Francisco
Palace Hotel: Montgomery St between Mission and Market St.

Passing in front of the Palace Hotel, you have to peek inside and admire the city's first luxurious and sophisticated hotel dating back in 1875 and still "a first in time and place".

From there, hop back on the BART from the corner of Market and New Montgomery St. or keep walking on Market St. towards the Embarcadero.

Maybe sunset on the Golden Gate and a visit to Alcatraz are on your list, well, there's so much to see in San Francisco, enough to keep you busy for days, no matter what your interests are. The point is, even with a small time frame, it's worth leaving the airport to wander around. You'll get a nice taste and next time, you could plan a proper visit to "The City by the Bay".
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When: Year round
Where: San Francisco, CA
Cost: FREE
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