San Francisco has it all. When the Golden Gate is covered in fog, it might be sunny with clear, blue skies in the Mission. Cable-cars, 43 hills and endless views. Dot-Coms, great surf, diverse communities and world-class cuisine, all within 49 square miles.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking to stay in the heart of the city, close to shopping, restaurants, BART and more, get a hotel in Union Square. But if instead, you want a more touristy vibe (and close proximity to some of the best sourdough in the city) try Fisherman’s Wharf.
Plus, some of our favorite hotels (all with accessible locations, friendly staff and amazing service):
What to Do
Where to start? Each neighborhood in SF has its own allure, depending on what you’re seeking.
The usual stops
- Walk the Golden Gate Bridge. This iconic bridge can be ogled from afar but it’s more fun to get up close. Ride a bike instead if you want to explore the Marin Headlands on the other side.
- Ride the cable cars. Beat the San Francisco hills by riding the world’s last manually-operated cable car system. While only 3 of the original 23 routes remain, these cars will still get you between major tourist areas like Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf.
- Take a snap of the Painted Ladies. If you’ve seen the television show Full House, then you’re very familiar with the Painted Ladies; this row of Victorian houses on Steiner St (built back in the 1890’s) was featured on the show’s opening credits.
- See the sea lions in Fisherman’s Wharf. Check the docks of Fisherman’s Wharf and most days you’ll find a group of talkative sea lions.
- See the cars drive down Lombard Street. There’s a one-block section of Lombard Street that’s famous for its steep eight hairpin turns. Walk by and you’ll see cars making the slow descent (and a group of tourists snapping pictures of it).
- Wander North America’s oldest Chinatown. Built in 1848, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia. Don’t miss seeing the Dragon Gate.
And those more off-the-beaten-path
- Explore North Beach. This historically Italian neighborhood may no longer be full of Italians, but it is still the place to go if you’re craving a bowl of pasta. Plus, much of the beatnik culture was centered here so wandering around you’ll find Kerouac haunts like City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Cafe.
- Spend an afternoon at Dolores Park. Any sunny day and you’re sure to find young techies camped out at Dolores Park. And who can blame them? The Mission’s usually (slightly) better weather and the park’s incredible views are worth an afternoon of your time. Plus, amazing people watching.
- While you’re there, eat tacos in the Mission. Dolores is located in the heart of the Mission so don’t leave without getting some street-style tacos. Hot tip: go to Gracias Madre if you are meat-free.
- Run along the Embarcadero. Lying along the city’s eastern waterfront, this road and walking path will take you all the way from AT&T Park to Fisherman’s Wharf. Along the way, stop for refreshments at the Ferry Building and reward yourself at the end with a chocolate at Ghirardelli Square.
- Explore the Palace of Fine Arts. If you keep heading down the path past the end of Embarcadero, you’ll eventually find yourself at the Palace of Fine Arts. The buildings were constructed to house art for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.
- Bike the 9-mile loop of Golden Gate Park. Larger than NYC’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park is 1000+ acres and stretches from Haight-Ashbury to Ocean Beach. While there, check out the Botanical Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, and the California Academy of Sciences.
- Pay a visit to the newly expanded SF MoMA. The museum features 33,000 works with everything from painting to photography to architecture to design.
- Surf Ocean Beach. Throw on a wetsuit and hit the waves at the well-loved surf spot. But be wary, tides can be strong so make sure you are prepared.
Snag a view
- Top of the InterContinental Mark Hopkins. This hotel is perched atop Nob Hill so it already has a height advantage. Head up to the top to take in a jaw-dropping view of San Francisco.
- The View Lounge at the Marriott Marquis. The View’s massive arched windows overlooking the city are a sight themselves. Get here early if you want a window seat.
- Hike Twin Peaks. These 922-ft-tall peaks (just a 20-min ride from downtown) offer up 360-degree views of the city. Worth the effort.
- Check out Coit Tower. Coit Tower is a 210-ft-tall art deco tower in SF’s Telegraph Hill. Climb to the top and you’ll have a panoramic view of everything from Lombard Street to Alcatraz.
Where to Eat & Drink
- Del Popolo. We’d argue these Neapolitan-style pizzas are some of the best in the city.
- Alioto’s. For fresh-caught seafood, head to Alioto’s in Fisherman’s Wharf. And if you’re lucky, you’ll snag a table with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Rouge (aka Nick’s Crispy Tacos). Head to Nick’s Crispy Tacos for $2 Taco Tuesdays. Will the tacos be the best you’ve ever had? No, but you can buy a pitcher of Margaritas and the ambience can’t be beat.
- Boudin Bakery & Cafe. Boudin is famous for their San Francisco sourdough. Come here to try it as a bread bowl full of clam chowder.
- Sam Wo. Sam Wo is the oldest restaurant in Chinatown and there’s a reason it’s been open 100+ years. Stop in for the best Chinese food in SF.
- Taqueria El Farolito. Want some cheap, messy tacos that just might change your life? Head to this no-frills spot on Mission and you won’t be disappointed.
- Caffe Trieste. Another hang of the beat poets, Caffe Trieste is the kind of place you want to order a cup of coffee, bring a good book, and post up all morning. And on certain days, they host live music.
- Blue Bottle. Blue Bottle is a San Francisco favorite for quality coffee. Stop by any of their locations and get a cold brew. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, try our favorite the NoLa (chicory-brewed iced coffee mixed with whole milk & a hint of sugar).
- Americano at Vitale. With an outdoor patio that overlooks Embarcadero, Americano is the perfect place for a weekday happy hour.
- Dirty Habit at Hotel Zelos. Swanky outdoor patio with a creative and extensive cocktail list. Try to reserve a spot on the patio so you can be sure to get a seat outside.
- Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel. Live DJ on certain nights, amazing cocktails, and a vibrant atmosphere make Redwood Room one of our favorite late-night hangouts.
- The Dorian. One of the best happy hours in the Marina. $1 oysters and 1/2 price craft cocktails. Need we say more?
- Brixton. A friendly neighborhood bar (serving food too) that is a great choice for after-hour drinks. Be prepared for a slightly rowdier crowd on the weekends as well as cover.
- El Techo. El Techo’s rooftop bar is a happy hour must (just know that everyone else thinks so too–it’s going to be crowded). Get some tacos and guac and watch the sun set over the Pacific before heading out for a night on the town.