Things to do in San Francisco, CA

Get Your Bearings in San Francisco

By Tom Molanphy
San Francisco Expert

Stay
Eat
See & Do
Party
Shop

Where to Stay

San Francisco hotels are as varied as its hilly landscape. If you have the means, you can live it up at The Palace or spoil yourself silly at The Sir Francis Drake. If you're on a more modest budget, many Fisherman's Wharf and Inner Sunset hotels are a good fit. A business traveler can stay near the airport and zip downtown easily on BART. There are boutique hotels in North Beach for the romantics, and low-budget hostels for the adventurous. Wherever you stay, all 49 square miles of beautiful San Francisco waits right outside your door.

Avoid:

The Tenderloin - until the revamp of 5th and Market is complete.

Hot Tips:

Take the glass elevators at the Saint Francis Hotel for an unbelievable view.

What to Eat

Whether it's dim sum in Chinatown, pasta in North Beach, burritos in the Mission or the hot strip of Valencia Street for the latest in California cuisine, San Francisco continually reinforces its reputation as a top spot for eating. One wondrous meal can make an entire trip unforgettable, and San Francisco offers endless opportunities for that perfect dining experience. 

Caution:

Not every food truck is created equal.

Take It or Leave It:

Clement Street is often overlooked but a great spot for foodies.

Hot Tips:

Valencia Street in the Mission has a new restaurant almost weekly.

Be Sure to Sample:

Dim sum in Chinatown.

Things to See

Besides offering the attractions of most world-class cities, such as sophisticated museums and top-notch restaurants, San Francisco's geography makes it truly unique. Between Ocean Beach and the bay, and nestled in the hills of North Beach and Chinatown, are more parks and hiking trails than most counties, let alone cities, can offer. And whether you're exploring the Golden Gate Bridge, infamous Haight Ashbury or the continually expanding downtown area, take San Francisco by foot as much as possible. The hills might be challenging, but seeing this gorgeous city on foot is a memory for a lifetime.

Caution:

Hold onto those electronic MUNI transfers.

Hot Tips:

The Golden Gate Bridge is all electronic tolls; no cash.

Places to Party

San Francisco will always be a young city - no matter how old you are. Whether you're up for a dance club all-nighter in the Castro, or laughing your heart out at an open mic in the Mission or needing an intimate table for two in North Beach, San Francisco days are only beaten by San Francisco nights.

Avoid:

Bars with a cover charge.

Hot Tips:

"Ride shares" are replacing taxis as the quickest ways around town at night.

Where to Shop

San Francisco's famous Union Square and the recently restored Westfield Centre will meet your standard shopping needs, but if you want to pick up that special San Francisco trinket, wander through Chinatown. Even for those who don't like shopping, the back alley shops and delicious dim sum restaurants make this shopping trip fun for everyone.

Caution:

Keep your shopping bags and valuables in front of you on crowded buses and streetcars.

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Things to do in San Francisco


San Francisco is known for...

Five of San Francisco's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Fog:

San Francisco’s Mediterranean climate is mild (the temperature nearly always hovers between 55 – 75 degrees F year-round), but when that pesky fog invades, be prepared for the massive chill down. Most prominent in the summer months of July and August, the natural air-conditioning is both loved and hated by locals. Yes, we crave hot, sunny days and warm nights when the rest of the country enjoys them in excess; however, we’ll haughtily brag when we’re frolicking on the city beaches in March or November. Whether the tidal wave of fog is pouring over Twin Peaks or seeping through the soaring suspension cables of the Golden Gate Bridge, one thing can’t be denied – it’s an uncommonly beautiful sight.

2. Hills:

Boasting 47 named hills, these mini-mountains are no joke; you’ll find yourself huffing and puffing up and hanging on for dear life down as the cable car descends. But oh, the views! Stare in awe at the rows of cars parked at 90-degree angles, side by side, like dominos on the brink of toppling over one another. It’s impossible to designate where the best vistas are – Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, Nob Hill, Twin Peaks, Potrero Hill, Buena Vista Heights, and Pacific Heights are just a few knolls, among many, that showcase unique panoramas of land and sea.

3. Food:

Few places on earth offer the bounty of epicurean delights like San Francisco. The birth of California cuisine, pioneered by Alice Waters of the world famous Chez Panisse, turned the world on to locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients. The large Hispanic and Asian population contributes to the profusion of fantastic ethnic cuisine in every neighborhood; the city has some of the best Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, and sushi you’ll find outside of the respective countries. San Francisco is ground zero for food fads that are imitated worldwide, the latest being made-to-order artisan ice cream produced with liquid nitrogen, and a proliferation of mobile, fancy food trucks. You will not go hungry.

4. Festivals:

There always seems to be cause for a celebration in this town. From the world’s oldest gay pride parade to the largest Chinese New Year’s festival outside of China; from the dozens of film festivals and annual street fairs to the unruly Bay to Breakers road race; from Stern Grove’s free concerts to the weekend extravaganza of Outside Lands; don’t be shy with the glitz and glitter - San Francisco knows how to party.

5. Counterculture:

The early Gold Rush Days paved the way for the beatniks, dreamers, entrepreneurs, and trendsetters who call San Francisco home. From the 1967 Summer of Love to the legalization of gay marriage (and subsequent prohibition), the city is ever heretical and always accepting. Nixed ideas from the east coast will be revered, funded, and celebrated here. Despite all of the fun to be had, San Franciscans are an industrious bunch. It’s no accident that the city is home to online dynamos Twitter, Zynga, Craigslist, and Yelp, with Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Paypal just down the road.