Today, California’s Bay Area is known as a tech hub—but visit San Francisco and you’ll see the city’s artsy, creative spirit is still alive. Are you planning a trip to San Francisco? Take our team’s expert tips on the best things to do in San Francisco while you’re there!
Best way to get around: On foot—or take a ride on a cable car!
Phrase to know: “Karl is out.” San Francisco’s famous fog is affectionately named “Karl.” When he appears, you may want to grab your sweater.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT SAN FRANCISCO
Late spring or early fall. San Francisco is known for its foggy weather, but you’ll find less of it (and fewer crowds!) during the shoulder season. “It’s warm and there’s more sun!” says our staffer Kiley.
WHAT TO PACK FOR SAN FRANCSICO
Two things to know when you’re packing for a trip to San Francisco: There are big hills and some chills. So, layers and good walking shoes are essentials in your suitcase!
Layers! California is known for its warm weather, but staffer Emily notes that’s not always true for the City by the Bay. “The wind draws in daily fog and makes the weather more temperate,” she says—which means you’ll want a light jacket or sweater even on sunny days. “The weather changes in different parts of the city,” adds staffer Lora, so you may find yourself switching out layers depending on where you are! “The city goes from foggy and chilly to sunny and warm as you go farther East.”
Really good walking shoes. San Francisco is very hilly, which means that you’ll get a great workout walking around—and you’ll want comfy shoes to tackle every hill with ease. Take staffer Lora’s advice: “Pace yourself!”
PLACES TO VISIT IN SAN FRANCISCO
San Francisco has more than its fair share of famous landmarks, and it’s worth it to spend extra time to hit them all. Here are just of some of our favorite places to visit in San Francisco.
The Golden Gate Bridge It’s hard to miss this San Francisco icon. Head to Fort Point, a former military base right along the bay, for some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Coit Tower. Check out 360-degree views of San Francisco from the observation deck of Coit Tower, which is perched on top of Telegraph Hill.
Alcatraz Island. “Take the ferry to Alcatraz,” says staffer Emily. There’s a reason it’s one of the top San Francisco attractions. “This federal-prison-turned-national-park is so well-known, but I promise you’ll come away with even more knowledge after taking a tour of the island. You’ll learn about the many escapes from Alcatraz, the infamous inmates, as well as the living conditions in the prison. It feels like a world away from the city, but the history was eye-opening and made the visit more than worth it.”
Murals in the Mission District. San Francisco’s Mission District is practically an outdoor art museum, with hundreds of murals painted on buildings throughout the area. “Carnival Alley and Balmy Alley are two famous stretches of streets that are covered in really amazing and powerful art,” says staffer Jamie.
The Painted Ladies. “These are the city’s iconic pastel, Victorian row homes,” says staffer Emily. “Some people know them as the Full House homes. Scenes of the area were used in the show’s opening credits, but the house used for the exterior shots of the Tanner home is located in another part of the city.” (Fun fact!)
Haight Ashbury. This neighborhood is one of the most famous San Francisco attractions. Like much of the city, Haight Ashbury has changed a lot since its heyday as a countercultural hub back in the 1960s. But you’ll still find some remnants from the Summer of Love if you explore here.
Visit San Francisco on tour
WHAT TO DRINK IN SAN FRANCISCO
From cocktail bars to craft breweries and coffee shops, there’s no shortage of sips in San Francisco. Here are some not to miss.
Ethiopian coffee at Folklores Coffee Traders. On the menu at this locally-owned coffee shop is traditional Ethiopian coffee, which is brewed in a clay pot called a jabena and served unfiltered. Folklores also serves food, so you can pair your coffee with a delicious (and filling) staple like foul, a type of stew.
Irish coffee at Buena Vista Café. The Buena Vista Café is where bartenders perfected the whipped-cream-topped coffee-and-whiskey drink. It’s a can’t-miss!
California wines. “Nearby Napa and Sonoma valleys are world-famous, but while you’re in California, try wines from up-and-coming Pablo Robles, too,” says staffer Jamie.
WHAT TO EAT IN SAN FRANCISCO
If you’re looking for things to do in San Francisco, restaurant-hopping is one activity you’d never tire of. We could go on (and on) about the amazing cuisine and what to eat in San Francisco, from fresh seafood to Asian fusion eats. Here are just some of our favorite restaurants and dishes to try.
Dim Sum at Hang Ah Tea Room. Hang Ah is the oldest dim sum restaurant in the US—they’ve been serving up Chinese staples for over 98 years.
El Farolito. This taqueria is in the Mission District is beloved by locals and visitors alike. Pro tip: It’s cash only, so come prepared!
Humphrey Slocombe. After you visit El Farolito, head just down the street for dessert at Humphrey Slocombe. “They have really unique ice cream flavors and toppings—don’t pass up Secret Breakfast if they have it,” says staffer Jamie.
Hog Island Oyster Company. Hog Island grows and harvests their oysters from nearby Tomales Bay—making them extra-fresh and delicious.
È Tutto Qua. “INCREDIBLE Italian restaurant with hilarious wait staff—feels like being in Italy,” says staffer Jasmine.
Sourdough bread. San Francisco sourdough is famously tart (and delicious). Staffer Jules recommends Boudin Bakery—“I had chili in a sourdough bread bowl!” Tartine is another favorite, and is famous for their country-style loaf as well as delicious pastries.
FREE TIME TIPS FOR SAN FRANCISCO
Some of our favorite things to do in San Francisco during free time involve soaking in the city’s surrounding natural beauty.
Walk over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin. “Cross the Golden Gate Bridge to one of the forts in Marin, where there are beautiful views of the city and bay,” says our staffer Sara. “Last time I was there, I spotted some whales!” says staffer Jasmine.
Museums, museums, and more museums. Whether it’s modern art or beautiful gardens, there are plenty great museums to explore in San Francisco. Here are just some of our favorites:
Have a picnic in Golden Gate Park. You can walk from Haight Ashbury all the way to the bay through Golden Gate Park (which is home to the Botanical Garden!). Bring lunch and stop along the way to soak in the scenery.
Go for a hike at Lands End. “It’s really beautiful, and they have a variety of easy or harder trails,” says staffer Lora.
Visit Pier 39 to see the sea lions. If you’re visiting in late summer, you might spot hundreds of sea lions hanging out on the pier!
SOUVENIRS TO BUY IN SAN FRANCISCO
From the artsy stores in the Mission to the high-end boutiques along Sacramento Street, shoppers will find no shortage of things to do in San Francisco. Check out a few of our top things to bring home from your trip.
Books from local bookstores. City Lights is the famous shop started by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and a historic haunt of other well-known Beats like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. If you get the chance to head over the Bay Bridge to Oakland, stop by the equally historic Marcus Books—it’s the oldest black-owned bookstore in the United States.
Boudin sourdough bread. If you follow staffer Jules’ advice and visit the cafe, grab a loaf to bring home with you, too!
A bottle of wine. California wine is famous the world over, but you’ll be able to find bottles from smaller vineyards, which might not be widely distributed. It’s a great way to remember and celebrate your trip.