San Francisco is one of my favorite cities to visit – and I generally don’t like cities, so that should tell you a lot. What I love about it is that it’s a walking city with a vibrant history and great culture. You can find almost everything here – beaches and ocean views, beautiful parks, cultural landmarks, and great food scene. Here are things you need to know before you visit San Francisco.
San Francisco has a pretty mild climate; however, it tends to be windy and chilly in summer months. In addition, you will get regular rains between November and March. Typically, there can be significant weather differences in parts of San Francisco because of the city’s large hills and maritime location.
Even on a sunny day, things can get chilly! Your best bet is to always carry a jacket, no matter what season.
Where to Stay
Driving in the city can be challenging and parking is hard to find. There are many centrally located hotels close to attractions near Fisherman’s Wharf, Russian Hill or North Beach. your best bet is to stay in those areas.
Getting Around the City
San Francisco is a large city with steep hills making walking challenging at times. One of the best ways to explore San Francisco is to use a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. There are multiple companies that offer the service, click here for details.
If you’re willing to brave the hills, you can also rent a bike to explore the city.
We would not recommend exploring San Francisco by car,. Finding parking is usually an issue in tourist locations and you will pay high fees as well. If you have to bring a car, find one of the all day parking garages around town, park there and then explore the city on foot or by public transportation.
Things to Do and See
Here are few top things to see in San Francisco. There are many more, these are just tops ones to see in a weekend.
Fisherman’s Wharf / Pier 39
Located along the historic San Francisco waterfront, Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place for some fantastic fresh food, amazing views, sea lions on K dock basking in the sun, and shopping/entertainment attractions. There are outdoor stands with fresh Dungeness crab or gourmet restaurants serving freshest seafood from today’s catch.
Come to Fisherman’s Wharf walk around and hang out. Also, most San Francisco tours leave from Fisherman’s Wharf, such as Segway tours, walking tours, boat cruises, etc.
San Francisco has some of the steepest and most crooked streets in the country. The most famous one is Lombard Street, this scenic road on Russian Hill features tight turns, beautiful gardens, historic Victorian mansions and views of the bay and Alcatraz. In the spring and summer, the street is colorful from beautiful flowers in bloom. Even though Lombard Street is most famous, it’s actually not the most crooked street in San Francisco – that’s Vermont Street (between 20th and 22nd streets). But Lombard Street is more picturesque and therefore more known.
If you decide to drive on Lombard Street, be prepared for major traffic jam waiting to enter the street and the 5-mile an hour speed limit driving down. It may be more fun to walk the street.
Alcatraz Island Tour
The Alcatraz Island is 1.5 miles off the shore of San Francisco. The island was developed as a military fortification, a military prison and later a federal prison.
As a prison, it housed infamous prisoners like Al Capone, George Kelly, and Robert Franklin Stroud. Today, the island is a tourist attraction and offers tours of the prison, surrounding grounds and homes of people who resided there.
Most boat tours for Alcatraz leave from Fisherman’s Wharf and sell out pretty quickly in peak season, so make sure to book it in advance. There are day and night tours offered. The tour will take 2-3 hours.
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge, once called the bridge that couldn’t be built, today is one of the most recognizable bridges in the world. It was built in 1937 and at the time was the longest suspension bridge ever created. Best views can be seen from Baker Beach / Marshall’s Beach (or Lincoln Blvd above the beaches) on the west side of the bridge, Crissy Field on the east side, or Marin Headlands from the north. You can also bike, drive or walk (5AM-6:30PM) across the bridge for views of the city and bay. Normally, it’s really windy and cold on the bridge, so make sure to bring extra layers.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is home to some of San Francisco’s most cherished locations. On the 1,017 acres you’ll find gardens, lakes, playgrounds, picnic areas, trails, and monuments. Places such as Conservatory of Flowers, the Academy of Sciences, de Young Fine Arts Museum, Arboretum and Japanese Tea Garden.
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The entrance to the park itself is free, but some of the individual attractions charge fees. Click here for a park map.
The San Francisco cable car system is a National Historic Landmark and the last manually operated system in the world today. In its glory days, it used to help with travel around San Francisco. Today it’s more of a tourist attractions with three lines remaining in operation. Hop aboard to see Nob Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf, Cable Car Museum, Russian Hill and the Bay.
One thing to know about the cable cars is that there is usually a long line at the turnaround. Sometimes it’s easier to walk up to one of the further away stops and catch a ride from there.
Ghirardelli Square started as a chocolate factory that was owned and operated by Domenico Ghirardelli in 19th century. After the company relocated to San Leandro, a group of entrepreneurs bought the property and re-purposed it as a mixed-use retail and restaurant area. The area is also the spot for many local events and festivals. Check out the event schedule here.
Best Eats of San Francisco
San Francisco is the place to get some amazing chowder bread bowls. Here is a list of the best places to try these.
One of the best ways to explore San Francisco food scene is to take one of the food tours. Whether you choose Chinatown Walking Tour, Little Italy Tour, or Mission District Food Tour you can’t go wrong. Each one offers the unique flavors and cultures of its area. For the list of food tours click here.
Here are some other restaurants that should be on your list:
- Tadich Grill – the oldest restaurant in all of California, it started when three immigrants from Croatia set up a tent on Long Wharf selling coffee and grilled fish to sailors.
- Delfina – this restaurant helped put the Mission on the map as the dining destination. If you are in the mood for spaghetti or pizza, this is a great choice.
- Gary Danko – with 17-year history Gary Danko restaurant continues to redefine the award-winning combination of classic French cooking mixed with fresh, locally grown and raised foods.
- Fog Harbor Fish House – family owned and operated local PIER 39 restaurant that offers a San Francisco waterfront dining experience with amazing views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Enjoy the sourdough bread baked in-house, and freshest sustainable seafood and meats available.
- The Slanted Door – located in Ferry Building 1 is a unique restaurant serving modern Vietnamese with great Bay views. It gets very busy so reservations are recommended.
- The Stinking Rose – if you love garlic this is the place for you! Named after the historical term for garlic, the stinking rose, they offer fabulous contemporary California-Italian cuisine. They are located in the North Beach area (San Francisco’s Little Italy).
Above are just a few major attractions in San Francisco, it would take much more than a weekend to explore this city fully, but that’s for another trip :-).
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