The First-Timer's Travel Guide To San Francisco

15 Things You HAVE To Do In And Around San Francisco As A First-Time Tourist

WOW WOW West Coast.

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I recently traveled to the West Coast for the very first time, where I stayed in San Francisco for a little over a week. My family researched things to do in and around the San Fran area before and while on our vacation, and saw some amazing things. I'm writing this for the person who does not want to do countless days of research for things to do because I'm that person. I hope this convinces you to go see this amazing city and explore it to your heart's content!

1. Rent a car

Trust me, if you don't half of your money will be going towards transportation and you don't want that. Rent a smaller sized car, big cars aren't very easy to drive on the tight streets

2. Bring warm clothes

"The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco" — Mark Twain

Yeah, it's literally like early spring in the East Coast in the summer in San Fransisco. I did not come prepared when it came to warmer clothes, so remember to pack long pants, sweatshirts, and sneakers. Locals can pick out tourists easily because of their shorts and tank tops.

3. Go to the Golden Gate Bridge

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You cannot go to San Fran and skip this. The city even offers free tours that take you on the bridge itself and offers a great history of the bridge and the men who made it. Have a good pair of walking shoes on because your feet will be sore in anything else. Oh, if it's sunny, wear sunscreen and a hat, I got a horrible sunburn and didn't even realize it.

4. Go to the San Francisco Zoo

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Grizzly bear sisters, I repeat, GRIZZLY BEAR SISTERS. This zoo has everything from adorable wolverines and wolves to gorillas, lemurs, giraffes and big cats (tigers and lions). Highly recommend going to this zoo, it has scheduled feedings throughout the day people can go see, where a staff member will talk about the animals while you watch them chow down.

5. Visit Muir Woods

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Go take a hike through Muir Woods to see the amazing Redwood Trees of the West Coast. You can take a simple walking path like my mom and me, or take a more challenging hike throughout the woods for gorgeous scenic views from high up. Either way, it's an amazing park and it forces you to be off your phone and one with the wilderness because as soon as you enter, there's no cell service.

6. Take a stroll down Fisherman's Wharf

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There are countless shops to visit, ranging from tacky tourist places that I love to restaurants and even a place to mini-golf indoors. You can sign up to rent bikes or simply relax on a bench with some Ben & Jerry's and people watch.

7. Take a scenic boat ride from Pier 39

You can sign up online or in person, and the prices range widely. Either way, a scenic boat ride throughout the bay under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz is something I wouldn't pass up on.

8. Eat breakfast at Christie's Resturant, lunch at the Elephant Bar, and dinner at Calzones

Christie's is a local mom and pop restaurant that offers some of the best breakfast food I've had. The Elephant Bar offers a wide array of food choices for my picky self and was a two-second walk from my hotel. Calzones is in Little Italy near the Fisherman's Wharf which had the best homemade gnocchi EVER. It is one of the many amazing Italian Resturants in the area.

9. Go to Stinson Beach

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Soft sand and the Pacific Ocean, what more can you ask for? Stinson Beach also allows dogs, so yeah, there are pups too. The surrounding area has cute beachside restaurants and shops worth checking out as well.

10. Drive down Lombard Street and take pictures in front of the cute houses afterword

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"The Crookedest Street in the World" lives up to its nickname. You have to drive down Lombard Street nice and slow, and take pictures while going down and as soon as you're done in front of the cute and colorful houses.

11. Go to Alcatraz

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This has to be booked months in advance, which is what I didn't do. Unfortunately, I didn't get to visit the Island itself but I did go by it on a boat tour. From what I've researched it's pretty amazing and offers night tours where you might get to experience some of the ghostly activity on the island.

12. Visit and tour a winery in Napa or Saint Helena

Being under 21 at a winery didn't phase me, because I got to learn all about the wine making process and how these vineyards got their start. The pictures you'll get are breathtaking and it's worth the two-hour drive from San Fran.

13. Tour the Winchester House

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Anyone from Connecticut has to tour this amazing home since the widow Sarah Winchester was originally from New Haven. The tour is a little over an hour and goes through multiple rooms in the home, as well as showing the stairs which lead to nothing and a seance room. The home is also rumored to have spiritual activity, since it may have been created as a sanctuary for the spirits killed by the Winchester Rifle. It is only about an hour and a half drive to San Jose.

14. Drive the famous 17 Mile Drive to Pebble Beach

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It's a bit of a drive from San Fran, but it's so worth it guys. The drive brings you along multiple stops like beautiful beaches, expensive houses and a famous lone tree for only $10.25. There is also a drive you can make along Route 1 on the highway which turns into one lane that's also super scenic and 100% free.

15. Visit the Japanese Tea Garden and the Botanical Garden

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Both of these places are a few minutes walk from each other, so that's why I put both together. Get to the Japanese Tea Garden before 10 A.M. and you get in for free, so do that first and see the beautiful buildings and pagodas, as well as the adorable coy fish before you make your way over to the Botanical Garden. Although not everything is in bloom anymore, it's still a gorgeous and easy walk.

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12 Unhealthy College Habits That Never Should Have Become Normalized

No, you shouldn't have to pull an all-nighter to pass every exam.

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College is a weird time in our lives, but it doesn't have to be bad for our health. Here are some trends I've seen on social media and watched my friends practice that really never should have become a "thing" for college students in the first place.

1. The "freshman 15."

Everyone has heard of the dreaded "freshman 15," where college freshmen gain 15 pounds because of access to all-you-can-eat dining halls. Rather than eating healthier options at the dining halls or, you know, only eating until you're full and not stuffing yourself, we've just accepted our fate to gain what's really a large amount of weight. Not a very healthy mindset.

2. Eating only junk food because we're "too poor" to buy real food.

For off-campus students, the theme is ramen and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. This is really not how it needs to be. You can buy a bunch of romaine lettuce for around $1 at the grocery store I go to in my college town, and other produce like broccoli, potatoes, and apples are always cheap. Shop sales and keep your pantry stocked on staples like dry pasta, rice, beans, and other canned vegetables. It's not that expensive to eat decently.

3. Gorging on food at the dining hall just because you can.

This is what leads to the freshman 15. Just because you can eat whatever you want doesn't mean you should.

4. Procrastinating EVERYTHING.

I'm always ahead of my schoolwork, but all of the people in my classes push things right down to the wire. It creates unnecessary stress. Just get things done in advance so you don't have to worry.

5. Being generally unorganized and struggling to keep your life together. 

Actually using my planner is one of the best things I've done for myself in college so far. I don't know why it became popular for college students to be a hot mess all the time, but again, do what you can to avoid putting unnecessary stress on yourself.

6. Pulling all nighters, ever.

If you don't understand it by midnight, you won't understand it any better by five in the morning. You'll do so much better with less studying and more sleep than the other way around. Take the L and go to bed.

7. Waiting until the very last minute to start studying for your finals.

This is what typically leads to the aforementioned all-nighters. If you have an exam in two weeks, start studying NOW. Give yourself time to figure out what you need to focus on and get in contact with your professor or a tutor if necessary. Do yourself the favor.

8. Getting blackout drunk Friday and Saturday night...every weekend.

A lot of college students like to drink. That's fine, I get it, college is stressful and you just want to have a good time. But you don't have to go out every night of every weekend and drink so much you don't remember anything that didn't occur between Monday-Friday every week. Give yourself a break from drinking every so often.

9. Getting iced coffee before class and being late because of it.

I always make sure I get to campus early if I plan to get Starbucks, which I often do. It's rude to come in late, and it's detrimental to your education to consistently miss class. Your coffee can wait if you're running late. Plan better next time.

10.  Committing to 10 different extracurriculars because "it'll boost your resume if you have more on it!"

If you only participate in one club where you're the head of marketing and the treasurer, that will look SO much better than if you participated in five clubs but were just...there for all of them. Excel in one thing rather than being mediocre in many.

11.  Skipping class whenever you feel like it.

You can take the occasional mental health day, but if you're just being lazy, you're only hurting yourself. Go to class. You're paying a lot of money for it, after all.

12.  Spending every last penny you have to go somewhere for spring break (Daytona Beach, anyone?).

"Broke" college kids always end up taking the most extravagant spring break vacations. I'm sure it's fun and you'll cherish the memories, but wouldn't you cherish that $500 more if you saved it for things you actually need rather than living off of ramen for a month when you get home?

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Keeping A Journal Handy Keeps Me From Forgetting My Eventful Past

Also, it's genuinely the best way to get out pent up emotions.

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Time is flying by so quickly, and it's so difficult to keep track of every little event I'm a part of. At the same time, though, I find myself sitting at my desk wide awake every Saturday at midnight just writing in a journal about the past week.

Who did I see? How did I feel? What did I accomplish?

Even the most minute of details becomes the most important topic in the world, and I find myself enthralled in memories now immortalized in a notebook. The moment in which I'm writing as much as I can remember is peaceful, and I think that I am most at home when it's the middle of the night and no one can disturb the flow of thoughts.

After all, the purpose of having a journal is to expose one's future to reminders of the past otherwise unforgotten. One of my essays from eighth grade is wedged between two pages in an older book of mine, and when I stumbled upon it just a few weeks ago, I spent the next hour dissecting every little feeling I could remember from the time when I wrote that piece.

There's something amazing about having a journal to presently write in and eventually look back upon with open ears and listening eyes. There's something magical about being able to recount the tirade of feelings I experienced three, four years ago even now. It's as if I've envisioned a pathway to walk down (some would call "Memory Lane"), and I can find myself walking down that road at any given time.

In freshman year, I would spend an hour every day of the weekend just writing. About anything and everything that came to mind, only as long as the pen I was holding wasn't lifting itself off the paper. The amount of vivid description I put into every nit-picky part of my day was astonishing to read. I didn't want to forget anything, and I thought I could avoid forgetting by telling my future self what I knew.

Recollecting plain information, whether it be facts and figures or charts and data, can seem mundane, something one is unable to relate to and therefore "care" about, but recollecting emotions is putting on those same shoes one wore in a previous time and revisiting a slew of old memories.

It's embarrassing sometimes to find little mistakes in my writing or little places in which I attempted to sound profound but ended up sounding paranoid, but that characterized who I was as a writer back then (and maybe even today). Because I have journals full of pages and pages of sketches and words and feelings, I know who I used to be. I can remember who I was two years ago because of a journal entry from January 2017.

There was a day in sophomore year when I realized that high school was meant to be stressful, not a carefree adventure. I wrote down everything I felt that day, down to the sound of the bell ending the school day. And when I sat there a month ago and reread everything I had poured out, I laughed to myself, thinking that this rude awakening I had been ranting about was just the beginning.

It's comical and heartbreaking at the same time to sit through a journal written so long ago, but I think it's all worth it. The weeks are counting down as this school year is coming to a close, and while I spend all my time ranting aloud about how stressed I am, my true emotions only show up on the pages of my journal. Safe to say, I feel more at peace knowing that there's someone in the future going through this journey with me.

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