San Francisco Travel Guide
The buzzing center of the arts, innovation, and technology is perched above the heart of the Bay Area. An exciting gateway to a number of experiences and destinations, from mighty redwoods to dramatic cliffs and beaches, a vibrant and eclectic mix of invention, creativity, and a collection of subcultures both old and new, every visitor will discover something in San Francisco. Whether you seek an exciting variety for the senses between Mayan Poc Choc, Cantonese Dim Sum, or a meticulously crafted coffee, something will delight you. If you’re looking for workshops and artists tucked away in the city, or a trip with a little bit of everything, San Francisco offers everything on a golden platter. It’s a hard city to tackle, but we’ve got you covered. Read our guide to San Francisco and feel armed and ready to go on your adventure!
Golden Gate Bridge
Of course, being San Francisco, we couldn’t forget this icon. The Golden Gate Bridge is as much of a local favorite as it is a formidable sight on its own. Whether you’re coming to the city just to see the Bridge, or if you’re passing by on your way to Marin, the redwoods, or wine country, this is a staple on any itinerary. Regardless of fog or sun, the views through the Bridge and over the bay are amazing to take in and make for a solid photo opportunity. Visitors can take it while driving over the bridge or stopping at the bridge’s visitor’s center, where you can learn about the history of the bridge, spanning back to its ambitious inception over a century ago. Aside from the visitor and pedestrian sections of the bridge, the city side also sports a number of stunning views over the Pacific and the Bay. This is a great stop for groups and individuals alike, to watch the waters for a while or just explore. There’s also the former battery and numerous picturesque parks nearby for a stroll on nice days. To make the most of the bridge, we recommend combining it with a trip into or out of the city, so you can experience going over the bridge and also the surrounding area on the city side.
Palace of Fine Arts
Take a step back into the romance of 1915 Panama by entering the Pacific International Exposition. This place gives you the wonder and imagination to picture the world of a century ago in the Palace of Fine Arts, one of San Francisco’s most beautiful sights. Constructed as part of the expos from the early years of the 20th century, the anachronistic flair and elegance of this site has remained well past its original debut, an endless life for architecture and the arts. Whether you stop for a while, have a romantic date, or take the chance to listen to a live musical performance or even simply marvel at the construction, the Palace of Fine Arts is a great addition to any plans in San Francisco’s northern limits.
Don’t let the name fool you - the Ferry Building is a foodie’s paradise, boasting a number of unique and talented kitchens, local chefs, and fresh produce all year round. Both inside the concourse and in the lots surrounding the building, visitors can treat themselves to delicious cuisines such as bread fresh from the oven, hearty lamb empanadas, an endless variety of pastries, and much more. Sit-down service in more traditional restaurants are also located here, along with the open-air market just outside, sporting some of the best produce in the Bay Area and California as a whole. Fresh honey, amazing wines, carefully cultivated flowers and microgreens, and more produce await in the open-air market. Aside from the food, the Ferry Building does also serve as a ferry, giving you the opportunity to take tours of the Bay by boat, travel to Alcatraz and other major points of the Bay Area all by simply taking the ferry. Whether you’re wanting to stop and fill up on delicious food or just looking for a variety of options, Ferry Building has everything you need.
Japanese Tea Garden
In the center of the city is the Japanese Tea Garden, one of the city’s most serene spots, perfect for photos with an idyllic backdrop. This spot is perfect for a romantic destination, with a landscape of intense colors, the iconic pagoda, the moon bridge, and the mix of greenery. The Japanese Tea Garden is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, with a teahouse that serves six varieties of strong, traditional Japanese tea, as well as a small eating menu. Great for a party, a coupled date, or even solo, the Japanese Tea Garden is a welcome reprieve to any who enter.
Arguably North America’s most famous, and one of the oldest, Chinatowns, San Francisco’s is one of the city’s most storied characters, known locally for its vibrant festivals, amazing cuisine, and independent shops tucked away in streets and corners. Out of all that you can see and taste ere in Chinatown, food is one of the biggest draws, sporting Chinese-style bakeries with savory delights for grab-and-go, elaborate Dim Sum halls and family restaurants sporting Cantonese, Shanghainese, Sichuanese and other regional cuisines. Fans of Chinese cuisine will delight in the number of legendary options at a variety of price points. It’s not just the food in Chinatown that draw people in - it’s also the traditional Chinese furniture, wares, and intricate decor items perfect for your home, along with the smaller number of cultural institutions. Be sure to check your calendars before coming, as those visiting on a major Chinese holiday can also stop to experience the full color and excitement of the Mid Autumn Festival or Chinese New Year, complete with music, performances, and of course, more food.
A smaller highlight of the city, but no less worthy of praise, this serpentine street winds with impossibly sharp turns down a hill, a sight to behold in of itself. Those in the area will love taking in the view and watching drivers dare to do the impossible, heading slowly down to better navigate its narrow corners. Aside from being a small attraction and a great picture, visitors who are feeling especially brave can choose to drive down the street themselves. However, we recommend getting a more comfortable vehicle and preferably a smaller one with a great turning radius - the traffic preceding the street is quite heavy, and you’ll need all the luck you can get to navigate this challenge successfully!
Whether you’re there to take a picture, try your hand, or gawk at the oddities of an arcade from a century ago, the Musee Mecanique is a land of unique attractions, boasting the title of being one of the largest privately-owned collections of mechanical machines. From nickel shows to tests of strength, endurance, and races to games, visitors can enjoy the cutting edge of the early 20th century and engage with the bizarre at this unique attraction. The sights, sounds, and uncanny surroundings make for an interesting backdrop for photographers or those wanting a truly uncommon spin on the arcade setting. Families, couples, and visiting parties of all sizes will enjoy Musee Mecanique. Bring your change and explore the arcades of the 20th century from old to new.
One of the nation’s most iconic gayborhoods, The Castro is known throughout the city as a vibrant and inclusive collection of famous bakeries, independently-owned stores, live music, and nightlife. Visitors can’t miss it, proudly ordained by rainbow flags and crosswalks at the neighborhood limits and throughout the area. Take a stop at the famous Hot Cookie or enjoy a live musical performance on the street and take an adventurous wander through the neighborhood. The many small boutiques, selling sweets and gifts, are of particular interest to visitors seeking a souvenir.
Another highlight is Baker Beach, providing amazing views of sunrises, sunsets, and plenty of recreation on the coast of the Pacific. Whether you’re wanting to watch ships pass by, the sunset, or partake in the many activities that take place in this popular spot, Baker Beach’s sands, views, and buzz are a wonderful atmosphere to absorb and take in.
For those who want to do a bit of hiking but can’t afford the trip out of the city to elsewhere in the bay, Land’s End provides a great option, with 3.4 miles of trails. It has great views of the landscape and water off to the city’s northeastern edge. Land’s End is a local favorite for jogging, hiking, and walks, an escape from the city while still being within its limits. The trails provide beautiful lookouts and views over icons such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sutro Baths, Seal Rocks, Lincoln Park, and Mile Rock Beach. Whether you’re looking for a quick walk in nature or a proper hiking experience without going out of the city, Land’s End is a great option for hikers of all levels.
Another major point of interest in San Francisco and the Bay Area is San Francisco’s Japantown, the largest and oldest in the States. Today, it represents a small collection of Japanese businesses and culture. Fans of anime, J-Pop, all things Japanese, or just wanting to browse a section of the city renowned for its cultural festivals and food will enjoy Japantown thoroughly. Visitors can pick up Takoyaki, Onigiri, or Okonomiyaki at any of the casual stalls that draw loyal customers in droves. Browse Daiso and Nijiya Supermarket for rare goods, like the apple-flavored Coca Cola that comes highly recommended, or enjoy sit-down service at one of the many ramen, sushi, and yakiniku restaurants. There’s also a Taiko studio, plenty of artists, tea shops, and stores for fandoms and artisanal crafts alike. Whether you’re engaging your fan side, looking to enjoy delicious food, or learn about the history of the Japanese-American community in San Francisco, you’ll find something at every corner in this city within a city.
Golden Gate Park
While this attraction technically encompasses many large attractions of the city, we highly recommend a stop to any side of the Golden Gate Park. With its myriad of trails, hidden gardens, and serene corners, Golden Gate Park offers a wonderful place to have a picnic or a stroll. Golden Gate Park is centrally located and full of things to do and see any day that you’re there. The park itself is worth at least a walk through, surrounded on all sides by attractions and major landmarks.
Home of the famous park, with its wide spaces serving as a favorite spot for festivals, marchers, and picnickers alike, as well as its own unique blend of stores and shops, Mission Dolores is known for being a walkable and storied neighborhood. Named after one of the oldest European presences in San Francisco and the state of California, the Mission Dolores today is home to the Mexican-American community and a number of cultural and art collectives. It’s a favorite for parties and get-togethers, as well as parades. This is just another reason to check your calendars and the community boards before coming to the city, as you might have the chance to catch a street parade, festival, fair, or performance in the neighborhood during your visit.
For those who are seeking the best views over the Bay area, the historic Coit Tower is a great option, with its many murals and windows. It allows you the opportunity to learn about every chapter of the city’s history, from its beginnings as a sleepy peninsula to its current form. This tower and its surrounding neighborhood boast great views over many of the surrounding areas - a quiet park or lookout in the nearby area might be something you bump into if you’re staying nearby.
Another treat for the visitors who come to San Francisco for nature and hiking are the Twin Peaks, the outdoor alternative to the Coit Tower. Day or night, the Twin Peaks offer amazing views over the city’s neighborhoods, all at a gentle hike up the hill. However, due to the height and lack of major skyscrapers, the wind can make the peak quite chilly, so bring a jacket! Your reward at the top is an unobstructed view of the night sky and city, as well as the sprawling trail throughout the park.
This lively waterfront area is another highlight for those traveling with their stomachs, featuring some of the freshest and best in seafood, bread, and chocolate. Boudin, a local staple to the Bay Area, bakes their famous sourdough daily, where you can grab your own fresh loaf and tour their facility. There are also many stalls for clam chowder, fish and chips, or fresh oysters all competing for your heart (and stomach), as well as other sit-down restaurants. Ghirardelli, a more famous local name, also has sugary headquarters here, where visitors can tour the cacao-scented world of chocolate or try one of the many varieties of chocolate they offer. Whether you have a sweet tooth, you’re a seafood lover, obsessed with bread, or just want to visit a part of the city known for its specialties and food, Pier 39 is as delicious as it is energetic.
The San Francisco of Modern Art is another great attraction of the city, with 16,000 square meters of exhibition space featuring the works of famous American artists and other talents from around the world like Matisse, Metzing, Warhole, Barque, and Frida Kahlo. With its acclaimed permanent collection, and a number of engaging and captivating exhibitions throughout the year, SFMOMA is another solid option for your itinerary.
Mission District Dining
That’s right - Mission District makes two appearances on our list, but for good reason. The dining here deserves its own entry, with diversity and options like no other. Whether you’re looking for that mom-and-pop, hole in the wall atmosphere, a casual family-owned restaurant, or somewhere a little fancier for a date, Mission District truly has an underrated collection of restaurants. From a Guamanian feast to Mayan barbeque, Senegalese fried rice and generously spicy Nepalese Momos, diners can throw a dart at the map and eat here in the neighborhood. Be sure to bring your appetite - you can come every night and never eat the same thing twice.