San Francisco, California – The Ultimate Guide


San Francisco is a city of contrasts. But it’s those very contrasts that make it such an intriguing city to visit.

One of the most recognised cities in the world, San Francisco is best known for its natural beauty, rich history, diverse culture and progressive spirit.

From its original establishment as a Spanish settlement, through the California gold rush, the Summer of Love Movement of the 1960s and 1970s to becoming the gateway to Silicon Valley. San Francisco has a rich and diverse story that continues to build and shape the city to this day.

Also popularised in movies and TV shows, it’s no wonder that tourists flock to San Francisco each and every year to discover the amazing, eclectic and occasionally outrageous things that make this city so famous.

So, let’s dig into everything you need to be aware of before heading to San Francisco.

Where is San Francisco

Where is San Francisco

If you don’t have any previous reference points, San Francisco is located on the west coast of the United States of America in the state of California.

You can find more general advice about visiting the United States in this post.

For those a little more familiar with the geography of North America, San Francisco is actually in Northern California, approximately a 6-hour drive (383miles/616km) north of Los Angeles and a 2-hour drive (87miles/140km) southwest of Sacramento, the state capital.

Situated on the northern end of the San Francisco Peninsula, which is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west, San Francisco Bay to the east, and the Golden Gate Strait to the north. San Francisco is a coastal city and is known for its hilly terrain, which offers breathtaking views of the city and the bay.

While the Bay Area actually made up of several different cities, the largest being Oakland and San Jose.

A Brief History Of San Francisco

I touched on the history of San Francisco in the introduction, but San Francisco’s history dates further back to the pre-colonial era when the Ohlone people inhabited the region.

The Spanish explorers arrived in the late 18th century and established a mission and a fort, which led to the original colonisation of the area. Remnants of this history can be discovered in the Mission district of the city to this day.

In 1848, gold was discovered in the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains, sparking the California Gold Rush. This firmly established San Francisco as a city as it grew rapidly as the main port for the influx of fortune seekers.

In 1906 the city experienced one of the most devastating natural disasters recorded in the United States when an earthquake and subsequent fires destroyed much of San Francisco. The following rebuilding efforts shaped much of the city we now see today.

During World War II, San Francisco played a critical role as a military and shipping hub for the Pacific Theater. The job opportunities in the city created another boom in the population of the city.

But it’s the economic downturn following the war that probably had the biggest impact on the city when it became a magnet for America’s counterculture leading to the city’s diverse population and liberal attitudes.

All of these made San Francisco a centre for social and cultural movements, including the Beat Generation, the hippie culture, and the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

Most notably, in 1967, the Summer of Love brought thousands of young people to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, cementing the city’s reputation as a hub of social and cultural experimentation.

Today, San Francisco is a global centre of innovation and technology, with a rich cultural heritage and a vibrant arts scene. Despite its ups and downs, the city has remained a symbol of resilience and progress, attracting millions of visitors from around the world every year.

What’s The Best Time Of Year To Visit San Francisco

The very brief answer is that summer is the ideal time to visit San Francisco. But let’s delve into it a little bit further.

San Francisco has a mild climate year-round, with temperatures rarely dipping below freezing or soaring above 80°F (27°C). However, there are more factors to consider when deciding when to visit.

The peak tourist season in San Francisco is during the summer months of June to August, and for good reason. This is when the weather is typically sunny and warm. However, this is also when the city is the most crowded and accommodation prices are at their highest.

You might find that the fringe seasons, Spring (March to May) and Fall (Autumn for the non-Americans) (September to November), better suit your travels.

During these months, you will find that the weather is still mild and pleasant, but most importantly, the crowds thin out. This is also when the city hosts some of its most popular events, such as the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

In the Winter (December to February), at least in my experience, San Francisco is very rainy. Which really isn’t ideal when the city’s outdoor attractions are one of the big appeals of visiting. That said, the festive events, most notably the holiday lights at Ghirardelli Square and Pier 39, may make up for the rainy days.

One more common weather phenomenon to keep in mind for San Francisco is the fog. More prevalent in the summer, this typically low-lying fog makes for some stunning images of the Golden Gate Bridge from the higher elevations around the city.

How To Get To And From San Francisco

Getting Around the United States of America

Second only to Los Angeles, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is not only one of the busiest airports on the west coast of the United States. It’s also one of the two primary arrival points for international travellers into California.

As such, flying into SFO is the most common way for visitors to arrive in San Francisco. The airport is located south of the city, 13 miles (21km) from the downtown area.

SFO is well connected to the city, with the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) linking the airport directly with the city. Just note you will need a Clipper Card to ride public transport in San Francisco, but I’ll get into that in more detail in my getting around the city section below.

However, if you are travelling as a group or just not comfortable navigating public transport on your first day in a new city, there are a couple of other options for you.

Being the birthplace of ride-sharing services, most notably Uber, the airport is well set up to use these services, with dedicated pickup areas right outside the terminals. Just note if you are travelling from overseas, you will need a data service when you arrive. Something I delve into deeper in my guide to visiting the United States for the first time post.

If you really want to simplify your arrival in San Francisco, the best option may be to pre-book a charter to take you straight from the airport to your hotel. There are several recommendations for these services on the SFO website.

Alternatively, if you are already in the United States, another option is taking a bus or train to San Francisco. The closest Amtrak station is in Emeryville (Oakland), where you can link with the BART for the rest of the trip. Several bus companies, including Greyhound and Megabus, also service the city.

One more note, which I’ll get into it in a little more detail in the next section, but San Francisco is probably one of the few cities where I wouldn’t recommend renting a car.

How To Get Around San Francisco

How To Get Around San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the easiest cities in the United States to get around, with plenty of transport options.

Let’s start with the city’s established and interlinked public transport system. Within the heart of San Francisco, you will find well-connected buses, streetcars, cable cars and light rail operated by Muni Transit.

The busses will get you to most places, but one of the unique experiences of San Francisco is the historic cable cars which are also run by Muni. I’ll give you more details about the cable cars later in this post. Also, keep an eye out for the historic street cars for another unique transport option.

To explore more outside the city, there is a train/subway system known as the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), which interlinks the other cities of the Bay Area.

Not only does the BART link San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to the downtown area. Other lines connect San Francisco to Oakland and San Jose.

To ride public transport in San Francisco, there are a few different ways to buy tickets, but the Clipper Card is universal across all of them. The best part of the Clipper Card is that you can buy them with your phone before you arrive in the city.

In addition to the public transport options, being so close to the home of start-up and tech industries, all of the ride and car-sharing services are well represented in San Francisco. Even several you haven’t heard of yet.

You can definitely use the ride-sharing service you are most comfortable with. But also keep an eye out for the new services pioneering the use of driverless cars and other leading-edge technologies. Especially if you are a fan of trying the latest and greatest things and want to novelty experience.

One other thing I will mention while I typically recommend renting a car to explore the areas surrounding a city. San Francisco is one of the places where I suggest you don’t rent a car.

Due to the amount of petty crime in the city, something we’ll delve deeper into in the next section of this post, rental cars have a huge target on them for smash-and-grab style theft. It’s so common that you’ll often see locals leaving their cars unlocked and open so they don’t have to replace the windows regularly.

To avoid experiencing that inconvenience and frustration, I’d strongly suggest skipping the rental car while visiting San Francisco. Instead, maybe look to using one of the car-sharing services (like Uber or Lyft, but you actually get to drive the car) to use a car for a day of exploring some of the destinations outside of the city.

How To Stay Safe In San Francisco

As I touched on in the previous section, petty crime is a pretty common occurrence in San Francisco.

So much so that even simple things like toothbrushes and toothpaste are often kept in locked cabinets within supermarkets. When you arrive in the city, you’ll almost immediately notice the heavy gates on every building and security guards (private police) everywhere.

Now part of this is to do with the incredibly large homeless population in the city. While another part is to do with the more liberal laws San Francisco is well known for, even around theft.

That said, the divide between the good and bad areas of the city is very obvious. And by simply avoiding the bad areas, you’d be almost none the wiser as to how bad some of these issues are in San Francisco.

I’ll dig into a lot more with my recommendations on where to stay in San Francisco section, but where you do stay will have a big impact on the sort of experience you have while visiting the city. As a very simplified rule, the closer you are to the bay (the water), the better the area is.

The worst of the issues are in the Tenderloin, Hunters Point, and the Western Addition, where the homeless situation is very confronting, and I would strongly recommend avoiding these areas. But in saying there are a couple of other places you need to be extra vigilant and generally avoid at night, particularly parts of the Mission District and SOMA.

My best suggestion is to take advantage of a hop-on hop-off bus tour on your first day, particularly the Big Bus Tour, to not only get your bearings around the city but also help you work out where the good and bad areas are around San Francisco. That way, you will know where you are comfortable exploring for the rest of your time.

The bad areas will be immediately obvious, where all the businesses are closed. If you start to see tents and tarp structures, just turn around and go somewhere else. At the very least, cross the street and go around them.

Now onto some general safety tips.

  • Be aware of your surroundings – Be mindful of your surroundings and the people around you. Avoid dark and isolated areas at night, and stay in well-lit, populated areas.
  • Don’t show off flashy gear – It’s quite common for people to walk around with generic-looking backpacks in San Francisco, so take one of those with you to hold your camera or anything else that you want to carry around that might otherwise grab too much attention.
  • Use public transportation wisely – San Francisco’s public transportation system is generally safe, but it’s important to be aware of your surroundings when using it. Avoid empty train cars or buses, and keep an eye on your belongings at all times.
  • If it looks sketchy, it probably is – Enough said.

For more general advice on how to stay safe while travelling, check out this blog post.

The Best Things To Do In San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

Probably the most famous icon of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is a world-famous suspension bridge spanning the entrance to the San Francisco Bay.

Completed in 1937, Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its construction, spanning 1.7 miles (2.7km). While it gets it distinctive orange colour is a result of the paint used to protect the steel from the salty sea air.

While you could simply see and photograph the bridge from a number of amazing locations around the city, the best way to experience the bridge is to cross over it yourself.

Both walking and cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge are popular amongst visitors over San Francisco, and there are several viewpoints along the way where you can take in the stunning views of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island, and the city skyline.

If that all sounds a little too strenuous, may I also recommend a hop-on hop-off bus tour like Big Bus with an open-top bus.

Just keep in mind it is extremely windy crossing the bridge, so make sure you hold onto your hat (or any other loose items you might be carrying).

Pro Tip: Don’t confuse the Golden Gate Bridge with the Oakland Bay Bridge; while Oakland Bay Bridge is also impressive (possibly more so, given its size), it’s not orange.

Pier 39 & Fishermans Wharf

Pier 39 & Fishermans Wharf

Technically these are two separate attractions, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf are San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions, located right next to each other northern waterfront.

Pier 39 is a shopping and entertainment complex, home to a number of touristy shops, restaurants, and attractions. But the most famous residents of Pier 39 are the California Sea Lions that sunbathe and frolic on and around the docks.

Fisherman’s Wharf, located just a short walk from Pier 39, is a historic waterfront district that dates back to the mid-19th century. This area was once the centre of San Francisco’s fishing industry, but now it is home to several seafood restaurants, including the famous clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

In addition to the shops, restaurants, and attractions, both Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf offer stunning views of San Francisco Bay, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

I’ve already mentioned hop on hop off bus tours a couple of times in this post, and for good reason. I personally find it’s the best way to get orientated in a new city that you’ve never been to before.

This is especially the case for San Francisco, given the hills that the city is also famous for. Plus, everything else I’ve already mentioned.

My personal suggestion in San Francisco is Big Bus Tours. They offer a couple of routes and package options, but the main Red Route is all you really need as it covers all of the city.

I would recommend dedicating a full day to do the complete tour. While you can go back to see most of the key attractions during the rest of your stay in San Francisco, a couple of the stops will save you from having to organise another mode of transport later.

In particular, the stop crossing the Golden Gate Bridge so you can explore the lookouts on the northern side of the bay. Also, Lombard Street, which we’ll get to later in this post.

Ferry Building

San Francisco Ferry Building

The Ferry Building is a historic landmark located on the San Francisco waterfront.

Built back in 1898, it was once the main transportation hub for commuters and travellers arriving in the city by ferry from other parts of the Bay Area.

Today, the Ferry Building has been transformed into a bustling marketplace and food hall featuring a variety of artisan food vendors, specialty shops, and restaurants. Despite the changes, the architecture of the building has been beautifully preserved, including its clock tower, which remains a distinctive feature of the San Francisco skyline.

In addition to the permanent vendors, the Ferry Building also hosts a farmers market three days a week: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for those looking for an authentic local food experience.

Musée Mécanique

Musée Mécanique

Matching the unique and quirky vibe of San Francisco, the Musée Mécanique features one of the world’s largest collections of antique arcade games and mechanical instruments, including vintage pinball machines, fortune tellers and old-timey music boxes.

Located large warehouse-like space at Fisherman’s Wharf and features over 300 machines, many of which are fully functional and available for visitors to play.

Musée Mécanique is a fascinating, fun and nostalgic destination that offers a glimpse into the history of arcade games and mechanical amusements made famous by carnivals and side shows.

It’s also where you’ll find the USS Pampanito, a World War Two submarine credited with sinking six Japanese ships. These days it’s a memorial and museum that you can also visit right next door to Musée Mécanique.



Best known as the site of the infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, which operated from 1934 to 1963, Alcatraz has served many purposes over the years.

Made famous for housing some of the country’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone and Robert Stroud, this small, rocky island is in the middle of San Francisco Bay. The popular belief is that the island was inescapable, but it’s the escape attempts that add to the history of the island.

Today, Alcatraz is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and for a good reason. Tours to the island allow you to explore the prison ruins and other historic buildings and landmarks on the island. Allowing you to get an in-depth understanding of how Alcatraz has been used over the years.

The audio tour through the prison section provides an immersive experience, with commentary from former inmates and guards, walks you through the entire prison and details the entire history (even beyond being a prison) and daily life for the inmates. This alone makes the tour worthwhile.

Video game fans, particularly players of the Call of Duty franchise, might recognise some of the features of the island as a couple of the gameplay maps over the years have been based on Alcatraz. The island has also been featured in several movies.

One thing I will mention, given the limited number of ferries to the island, tours tend to book up very quickly. If you are keen on seeing Alcatraz while you are in San Francisco, I would strongly recommend you book a tour once you’ve locked in your dates of travel.

Check out the Alcatraz City Cruises website for availability and costs; as far as I’m aware, they are the only operator approved by the National Park Service who manage the island to provide access.

Inside Alcatraz

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is a massive urban park located in San Francisco. Covering over 1,000 acres, it’s one of the largest urban parks in the United States.

Originally established in the late 19th century, Golden Gate Park is home to a number of the city’s popular tourist attractions as well as being a beloved recreational area for locals.

Within the grounds of the park, you will find the famous Japanese Tea Garden, a traditional Japanese garden featuring a koi pond, and a tea house. It’s also home to San Francisco Botanical Garden, the Stow Lake Boathouse, and the Dutch Windmill.

Golden Gate Park is also where you will find the de Young Museum, one of San Francisco’s most famous art museums, and the amazing California Academy of Sciences. But we’ll get to those shortly.

Lombard Street

Lombard Street - San Francisco

Known as the world’s crookedest street, Lombard Street is a famous street in San Francisco with its steep incline and winding switchback design.

While Lombard Street stretches from the waterfront to the Presidio, the famous section is a single block between Hyde and Leavenworth streets in the Russian Hill neighbourhood.

Popularised in movies and TV shows set in San Francisco, visitors will often line up in traffic to drive down this unique section of road. While many others will walk up and/or down the stairs on the side of the street, taking in the views of the city and the queue of cars slowly making their way down the hill.

It’s a bit gimmicky, but you have to do it while you are in San Francisco. Make sure you take in the views from the top before making your way down.

Pro Tip: Tick off two unique experiences by taking The Powell/Hyde Cable Car to the top of Lombard Street, but I’ll get into more detail about that later in this post.

California Academy of Sciences

In my personal opinion, the California Academy of Sciences is one of the best things to do in San Francisco.

A world-class natural history museum located in Golden Gate Park. The California Academy of Sciences is home to a wide range of exhibits and attractions, including several incredibly immersive experiences, notably its aquarium, planetarium, and rainforest dome.

The aquarium is one of the best in California, with over 40,000 live animals from around the world, including sharks, rays, and penguins. The planetarium is equally amazing and explores the wonders of the universe. At the same time, the rainforest dome showcases the incredible biodiversity of tropical forests with its own lush and vibrant ecosystem. All must-dos while you are in San Francisco.

In addition to these major attractions, the California Academy of Sciences also features numerous other exhibits detailing the geology and ecology of the region.

de Young Museum

While San Francisco has a rich and diverse art culture, the de Young Museum stands out as one of the city’s most celebrated art museums, with an amazingly diverse collection.

Originally founded in 1895 as the Memorial Museum, it was later renamed in honour of Michael H. de Young, a newspaper publisher who played a significant role in the museum’s early history.

These days the de Young Museum is home to a diverse collection of American art dating back to the 17th century. In addition, it also features a permanent collection of art from Africa, Oceania, and the rest of the Americas.

Best known for the art collection inside, the museum’s building is also a work of art. The current building, which opened in 2005, was designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron and features a striking copper facade meant to evoke the natural beauty of the surrounding Golden Gate Park.

Keep an eye out for temporary exhibitions that visit the de Young Museum. There is always something new to explore.

Between the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum, you could easily spend a full day in this part of Golden Gate Park. Especially handy if you have a rainy day during your time in San Francisco.

San Francisco Cable Car

San Francisco Cable Car

A prominent mode of transport in the city’s early days, cable cars are synonymous with San Francisco and a quintessential tourist attraction.

Invented in San Francisco in the 1870s to transport people up and down the city’s steep hills, there were over 20 cable car lines across the city, but today, only three of these historic lines remain in operation, mostly to the benefit of tourists.

Given their popularity, it’s best to ride the cable cars early in the morning (they commence services at 7am); otherwise, you could end up stuck in a lengthy queue of other tourists also out to have the same experience.

The Powell/Hyde Cable Car is easily the most popular linking the waterfront to Powell Station and Market Street. Not only does it start right next to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. It also connects other popular attractions in the city, including Lombard Street (which I mentioned earlier) and the Cable Car Museum.

Slightly less busy is the Powell/Mason Cable Car, which links the Fishermans Wharf precinct to Powell Station and Market Street.

While my recommendation is if you are just purely looking to experience the Cable Car on its own. Take the California Cable Car, which links Market Street and Van Ness Avenue, as it is usually the least busy of the three lines.

Riding a cable car is a great way to experience a piece of San Francisco’s rich history and culture.

Listen out to the conductors and gripmen who operate the cars as they often interact with passengers and share interesting facts and stories about the city.

The Painted Ladies

The Painted Ladies - San Francisco

Icons of San Francisco, this row of Victorian and Edwardian houses located on Steiner Street, was made famous by being the intro to the popular TV show Full House.

They’ve subsequently been featured in several other TV shows and movies centred around San Francisco, leading to their popularity as a tourist attraction in the city.

Beyond their pop culture fame, the Painted Ladies are significant for their historical and architectural value. They were built between the 1890s and 1910s and represent a unique and distinctive style of residential architecture that was popular in San Francisco during that time.

For the best view of the Painted Ladies, make your way to Alamo Square. This park not only offers the best views of the houses but stunning views out over the city as well.

Also, just remember that the Painted Ladies are people’s homes. So there is nothing more to see than what you can see from the street.

Ghirardelli Chocolate

Ghirardelli Chocolate

Founded in San Francisco in 1852 by Italian chocolatier Domenico Ghirardelli, Ghirardelli Chocolate has become an iconic part of the city’s culinary heritage.

Established during the gold rush era of the city, Ghirardelli built its name by producing high-quality chocolate. Constructing an impressive factory in the Fisherman’s Wharf district, overlooking the bay, as the company grew.

While the business operations have long since moved, the company’s historic factory has been repurposed and become a tourist attraction in its own right – Ghirardelli Square.

With the famous name in lights, it’s hard the miss this iconic location. This is where you will also find the flagship Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience and The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. It’s also home to a number of other restaurants and stores.

By simply entering either of these stores, you’ll be given a free sample of the famous chocolate. But the real star of the show is their World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae. People will queue around the building just to buy one. If you only have one ice cream while you are in San Francisco, make sure it’s this one!

Want a unique experience while in San Francisco? Why not stay in the former chocolate factory? While most of the premises were repurposed as shops and restaurants, the main factory area has been converted into a hotel – The Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square.


Want to get hands-on with science? The Exploratorium is the experience for you.

Located in San Francisco’s waterfront district, The Exploratorium features many interactive exhibits that cover a wide range of scientific topics. The combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits are designed to be engaging and interactive, allowing visitors to touch, manipulate, and experiment with various scientific concepts and principles.

The brainchild of Dr Frank Oppenheimer, it’s a fun experience that combines education and entertainment. Encouraging visitors to ask questions, make observations, and draw their own conclusions about the scientific concepts they encounter throughout the museum.

If for no other reason than curiosity, I’d definitely recommend a visit to The Exploratorium.

City Hall

San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall is a historic landmark located in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center.

One of the largest municipal buildings in the United States, San Francisco City Hall was built in Beaux-Arts style featuring a grand dome and completed in 1915.

While the architecture of the building is impressive, it’s the history of the building that is probably the most significant. In 1945 it is where the United Nations Charter was signed.

The best way to find out more about this impressive building is to do one of the organised tours.


Originally established by the Spanish in 1776, the Presidio served as a military post for over two centuries.

Today, this national historic landmark is a large park managed by the National Park Service. Best known for its several historic buildings and structures, including the Officers’ Club, the Presidio Chapel, and several former military barracks and residences, the park also incorporates a large green space with several hiking trails and lookouts.

The Presidio is also home to several cultural institutions, including the Walt Disney Family Museum (which I’ll get to shortly), the Presidio Theatre, and the San Francisco Film Centre. These institutions offer a variety of educational and cultural programs, including film screenings, art exhibitions, and performances.

Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is a popular destination in San Francisco due to its stunning architecture and picturesque setting.

The palace was originally built to celebrate San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake and fire ahead of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and was designed to showcase art and culture from around the world. And has served as a symbol of the city’s resilience and creativity ever since.

A popular destination for wedding photos, the Palace of Fine Arts is actually a large event space, but most people just visit to appreciate the building’s classical design, inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture and get their own photos.

It’s well worth a quick visit while exploring the rest of the Presidio.

Walt Disney Family Museum

While Anaheim and Orlando might be the first places you think of when I say Walt Disney, you can discover more about the life and legacy of Walt Disney at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

Located within the Presidio, the museum features a variety of artifacts and memorabilia from Walt Disney’s life, including original sketches, drawings, and storyboards from classic Disney films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia.

One of the museum’s main attractions is a series of interactive exhibits that allow visitors to explore the creative process behind Disney’s work.

If your trip to the United States also includes visits to either of the Disney resorts, or you are just a lifelong fan of Disney, then I would highly recommend visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

An iconic landmark of the San Francisco skyline, Coit Tower stands 210 feet tall on Telegraph Hill, offering stunning views out over the city and the bay.

Access to the observation deck at the top of the tower is via elevator; however, given that the elevator is 90 years old, you may be required to climb the stairs up the 13 stories to the top.

In addition to the views, the tower is also known for its beautiful fresco murals created during the Great Depression by a group of artists hired by the Public Works of Art Project.

Twin Peaks

If you want to get a stunning panoramic view over the entirety of the city, Twin Peaks is your best option.

Located in the centre of San Francisco, the two peaks rise to an elevation of approximately 922 feet and provide a stunning panoramic view of the city and the Bay Area.

While there are hiking trails to the top, my best suggestion would be to take an Uber (or any other ride-sharing service) to the top to take in the views. There is a roadway that will take you all the way to the top, including a car park at the main viewpoint.

Given that it gets super windy at the peaks, being the most exposed point in San Francisco, being able to quickly get your photos and leave is a good idea unless you are 100% confident in the weather for the day.

Madame Tussauds

If you happen to be visiting San Francisco during a rainy winter, then Madame Tussauds is a good indoor option.

Famous for its amazingly lifelike wax figures of celebrities and historical figures, Madame Tussauds is well worth a visit if you haven’t been to any of its worldwide locations before.

What makes the San Francisco location unique is the local sports stars section and leaders and entrepreneurs section which features prominent personalities from Silicon Valley. However, overall it isn’t dramatically different from any of the other Madame Tussauds locations you may have visited.

If you have never been to Madame Tussauds, then I’d strongly recommend it. But if you have, then I wouldn’t prioritise it in your travel plans. There are plenty of other things I’ve already mentioned, specific to San Francisco that I would make sure you do first.

Aquarium of the Bay

Located at Pier 39, the Aquarium of the Bay gives you an up-close look at the diverse marine life of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Aquarium of the Bay is a relatively small aquarium very specifically focused on the ecosystems of the Bay Area. As with all good aquariums, its main attraction is its tunnel that allows you to walk through the underwater environment. That said, I found the most interesting thing to be the most interesting enclosure to be the North American River Otters.

To be honest, Aquarium of the Bay is ok, but I actually preferred the one within the California Academy of Sciences that I mentioned earlier in this post. Given the other extra experiences that the California Academy of Sciences has to offer, it’s much better value as well.

Bonus: Secret Roof Top Gardens

Something many people don’t know – the city of San Francisco has legislation in place mandating that buildings need to incorporate gardens and public spaces in their construction. As a result, there are several amazing rooftop gardens open to the public that offer amazing views over the city and great places to relax.

While I won’t list all of them, a couple of noteworthy ones to consider visiting are:

  • 343 Sansome Rooftop Deck – Located on the 15th floor and offers great views of the Transamerica Pyramid.
  • One Kearny Building (23 Geary St) – Located on the 11th floor with great views over Market St.
  • Crocker Galleria Roof Terrace (50 Post St) – Accessible via escalator and then stairs on the fourth floor, this rooftop garden offers plenty of quiet space to sit down and relax for a little bit.
  • Salesforce Park – The best-known and easiest to access, located above the Salesforce Transit Center, this garden stretches four blocks.

San Francisco’s Districts

San Francisco's Districts

Part of San Francisco’s unique appeal is the diverse districts that make up the city.

San Francisco is made up of many different neighbourhoods and districts, each with its own unique character and attractions. Some of the main districts of San Francisco include:

Union Square

Located in the heart of downtown San Francisco, Union Square is best known as the city’s high-end shopping district.

If you are looking for a luxurious experience while you are in the city, Union Square is where you will find some of San Francisco’s fanciest hotels, fine dining, designer boutiques and luxury retailers.

However, it hasn’t always been this way. An important gathering place in San Francisco since the mid-19th century. Over the years, it has been the site of many significant events, including political rallies, concerts, and public demonstrations.

Following a redevelopment in the 1980s, the area has become more up-market, but I would still recommend a visit to the park in Union Square to check out the public art installations.

Haight Ashbury

The Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood of San Francisco is a historic district that is best known for its association with the counterculture movement of the 1960s. During this time, the Haight became a centre of the hippie movement, attracting artists, musicians, and free spirits from all over the world.

Today, Haight-Ashbury is a vibrant neighbourhood that retains much of its bohemian charm. Visitors can stroll down Haight Street and see the colourful Victorian homes, vintage clothing stores, and eclectic street performers that give the area its unique character.


San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest and largest in North America.

Established by Chinese immigrants lured by the gold rush, it now covers 24 blocks of the city and is home to a vibrant community of their descendants.

One of the main attractions of Chinatown is its traditional architecture and decor. The streets are adorned with red lanterns, ornate pagoda-style buildings, and colourful murals. The main entrance to Chinatown is the iconic Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue, which is a popular spot for photos.

However, the most popular destination within Chinatown would have to be the Chinatown Fortune Cookie Factory, where visitors can watch the fortune cookies being made and can even make their own with custom fortunes inside.

Little Italy

Little Italy, also known as North Beach, is a historic neighbourhood in San Francisco known for its Italian-American heritage, food, and nightlife. It is located just north of downtown San Francisco and adjacent to Chinatown.

One of the main attractions of Little Italy is its food. The neighbourhood is home to some of the best Italian restaurants in San Francisco, serving up classic dishes like pizza, pasta, and seafood.

In addition to its culinary offerings, Little Italy also has a rich cultural and historical significance. It was home to the Beat Generation of writers in the 1950s, and iconic figures like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg frequented the neighbourhood’s cafes and bars.

Mission District

The Mission District is a vibrant and diverse neighbourhood best known as the hub for Latino culture in San Francisco.

With its colourful street art murals, eclectic mix of restaurants and bars, and thriving arts scene, there are many reasons to visit the Mission District. Just be mindful that some parts of the Mission District are a little bit sketchy, so it’s best to explore during the day to be on the safe side.

The Mission District is also known for its food, with a wide range of dining options. It’s definitely where you will find the best traditional Mexican cuisine in the city.


The Castro District is a neighbourhood in San Francisco that is known for being a hub of LGBTQ+ culture and activism. It is located in the heart of the city and is easily recognizable by the rainbow flags that fly throughout the area.

One of the most iconic landmarks in the Castro District is the Castro Theatre, a historic movie palace that dates back to 1922. The theatre is known for its Art Deco design and is a popular venue for film festivals and other cultural events.

Best Day Trips Out Of San Francisco

Best Day Trips Out Of San Francisco

Yosemite National Park

Easily a destination in its own right, Yosemite National Park can be visited as a day trip out of San Francisco and an unmissable experience while you are in the area.

This iconic national park is well worth the effort to visit to be able to witness the natural beauty first-hand.

I’d highly recommend getting on the road early to make the most of your time, as it will take you about four hours to drive to Yosemite from San Francisco, let alone the return trip.

My best suggestion is to head to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. This is where you will find the famous Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Vernal Falls. That way, if you see nothing else while you are in Yosemite, you’ve ticked off all the key views.

If you are feeling adventurous, there are hundreds of hikes all around Yosemite. Some of the most popular are Mist Trail, Mirror Lake Trail, and Yosemite Falls Trail. That said, on a day trip, you will only really have time to do one of the trails.

If the hikes sound like too much effort, even driving into and out of the valley are adventures in their own right, with dozens of amazing lookouts to stop at along the way. You’ll see them along the way, and I’d recommend the day trip for those stops alone.

Obviously, there is so much more to see in Yosemite National Park, but as a day trip out of San Francisco, a trip into the Valley will allow you to see as much as possible before having to head back to the city.

Head to the National Parks website for all the latest information about Yosemite National Park.

Muir Woods National Monument

A little closer to San Francisco, Muir Woods National Monument is famous for its towering redwoods.

If getting out into nature and hiking is one of your must-dos, then Muir Woods is the best place, just 45 minutes outside of the city. But at the very least, you visit to see the redwoods. The largest and tallest trees in the world.

Combined with the neighbouring Mount Tamalpais State Park, there are dozens of hikes to explore, from the redwood forest all the way to the beaches. Take the main trail from the Muir Woods Visitors Center to see the key attractions, Cathedral Grove and Bohemian Grove.

From there, you can explore numerous other trails depending on how adventurous you are feeling.

For all the latest information about Muir Woods National Monument, visit the National Parks website.

Napa Valley

Day trips out of San Francisco don’t have to be all hiking trails and lookouts. One of the world’s premier wine regions, Napa Valley, is a short drive outside of the city.

Famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon, there are over 400 wineries to discover in Napa Valley, from small family-run vineyards to much larger commercial operations. Many of which offer tours and wine tastings.

When combined with the neighbouring Sonoma Valley, also famous for its wine, there are too many options to discover on your own during a single-day trip. My best suggestion would be to try one of these wine region tour options that operate out of San Francisco. There are many options available:

That said, if you do decide to drive around yourself, Napa Valley is also home to Northern California’s finest restaurants. So if you do choose to make your own arrangements (remember, wine sampling and driving is a bad idea), there is still plenty to discover.

My best suggestion to sample some of the best foods from the region is to head to Oxbow Public Market. But there are a number of other very good options in the downtown Napa area.

Silicon Valley

As the gateway to Silicon Valley, no trip to San Francisco would be complete without a day exploring the home of the world’s most innovative and successful tech companies.

With Google, Apple, Netflix, eBay and Facebook all setting up their headquarters in this region of Northern California, Silicon Valley has become the go-to destination for tech start-ups.

For super fans of these tech companies, both the Apple and Google campuses have visitor centres with gift shops that sell exclusive merchandise. But for a more encompassing experience, why not do an organised tour showcasing not only where these companies are now but where they started?

While you are in the area, be sure also to visit Stanford University‘s campus. One of the world’s most prestigious universities, it’s also been the birthplace of a lot of these tech companies.

While for a detailed history of the technological revolution brought about by these companies, you should also visit the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

Best Places To Stay In San Francisco

The type of experience you have in San Francisco will be determined by where you choose to stay in the city.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, there is a big divide between the good and well… not so good areas of San Francisco. But as a very vague and general rule, the best areas are typically along the water. With that in mind, let’s get into some more specific recommendations.

Fishermans Wharf

The most touristy area of San Francisco, Fishermans Wharf is also the most centrally located, guaranteeing the best experience while you are in the city. That said, it’s also one of the more expensive areas.

I’ve already mentioned it, but the most unique experience for somewhere to stay is The Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square within the former chocolate factory. But it is easily the most expensive option.

Some other very good, centrally located options are Hotel Caza Fisherman’s Wharf, Courtyard by Marriott Fishermans Wharf and Hyatt Centric Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco.

These three hotels all feature modern, spacious rooms, which is a bit of a rarity in San Francisco. As an added bonus, some of their rooms offer views out over the bay.

Marina District

Accommodation is expensive in San Francisco, but you can find a couple of better value-for-money options in the Marina District area located between Fishermans Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge, typically along Lombard Street.

Hotel Del Sol is the most flamboyant option if you are looking for a unique stay in the city. While the Seaside Inn is a good alternative if you are just looking for something cheaper.

Union Square and Nob Hill

Union Square and Nob Hill (adjacent to each other) are where you’ll find the biggest concentration of hotels in San Francisco. It’s also where you will find the most upmarket options.

That said, you need to pay attention to where you are booking; some very average hotels charge upmarket prices based on their location more so than their facilities. You can get two very different experiences for a similar amount of money.

My best suggestion is the Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel for something a little different. Otherwise, the Hilton San Francisco Union Square and Hotel Nikko San Francisco are exceptional alternatives with modern rooms overlooking the city.

Attending Major Sports Events In San Francisco

Attending Major Sports Events In San Francisco

If you’ve never been to a sporting event in the United States, then you really must. From its iconic teams to the immersive stadium atmosphere, it’s well worth the experience.

Levis Stadium – San Francisco 49ers – NFL

Easily one of America’s most iconic sporting teams, the San Francisco 49ers play their home games at Levis Stadium.

Fans of American Football will need no introduction to the 49ers, as the team’s history stands on its own.

If you plan to attend one of the 49ers’ home games during your visit to San Francisco, you should know that Levis Stadium is actually located in San Jose. It’s about an hour’s drive outside of the city, or 2 hours if you take public transport. That said, the public transport system is really well set up to allow fans to attend games.

All you need to do is catch the BART Green Line service from the city to Milpitas and then transfer to the VTA Orange Line service to Great America Station to get to the stadium. When you leave, it’s even easier because there are big signs directing you to the right service to get back to the city. If in doubt, just follow the masses of 49ers jerseys.

I have used an Uber to get to the stadium, but that actually turned out to be difficult also as there are no areas for them to drop off. So stick with the public transport option.

Once inside the stadium, the atmosphere is something else. If you want to buy team merchandise, there is a store right outside the main entrance (and a couple of smaller ones inside).

As for food and beverages, there are so many fantastic options with the stadium. Just make sure you get there early so you can explore the stadium and find your seats well before the on-field action commences.

It might be a little bit out of the way, but if you are a 49ers fan or even just an enthusiast of the NFL, it is well worth the effort.

Just keep in mind that the NFL has a relatively short season compared with other American sports, on average, only one game every two weeks at the stadium. If you have your heart set on seeing a game while in San Francisco, check the schedule (it comes out well in advance of the season) and book tickets as soon as possible to plan your trip around.

For more details about Levis Stadium, visit their website, and head here for tickets.

Fun Fact: Did you know that you can visit the original home of the 49ers while exploring the city? Look out for Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park.

Oracle Park – San Francisco Giants – Baseball

Baseball is known as the American pastime, so what better to add to your itinerary than attending a Major League Baseball (MLB) match?

One of the most historic teams in the league calls San Francisco home, the San Francisco Giants. Playing their home games at the iconic Oracle Park right on the water.

Much easier to get to than Levis Stadium, Oracle Park is easily accessible by public transport (Muni N-Line) or simply walking along the waterfront.

During the season, baseball teams will do a series of games at home (referred to as a stretch) and then a series of games on the road, so you might find that there are several games (or none) to attend while you are in the city.

Again, if attending a Giants game is on your bucket list while in San Francisco, just check the team’s season schedule. It’s always announced well ahead of the season. Then plan your trip accordingly.

That said, with teams playing a couple of games a week, you will be more likely to see a game, and tickets will be easier to get should you just happen to be in San Francisco when a game is being played.

Another thing I will mention, the food and beverages are amazing. Almost gourmet. Hot dogs might be a staple of baseball games, but in Oracle Park, they make them fancy with bacon-wrapped bratwurst. Or enjoy the Ghirardelli World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae while watching the game.

For all the latest information on Oracle Park, visit the team’s website, and head here for tickets.

The team also has a merchandise store next to the main entrance, open year-round if you want to get some gear, even if they aren’t playing while you are in the city. If you’re a big fan, you can also do a tour of the stadium.

Pro Tip: If you just happen to be in town while a game is being played, you can also wander passed the stadium to get a small glimpse into the atmosphere without buying a ticket. There are a couple of vantage points along the waterfront that offer limited views inside. Just keep one eye in the sky for baseballs; well hit home runs will often end up outside this section of the park.

Chase Center – Golden State Warriors – Basketball

While they might not have San Francisco in their name, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors also call the city home.

Representing all of Northern California (except Sacramento, which has its own team), the Warriors play their home games at the Chase Center, only a 15-minute walk from Oracle Park.

In fact, the two stadiums are so close to each other that they share the same large carpark between them. That said, public transport will still be your best option, with the Muni’s T-Line stopping right out the front of Chase Center.

Again, much like baseball, basketball games often happen in groups of home and away stretches. So you might find that there are a number of games for you to choose from while you are in San Francisco. Also, tickets will be easier to come by.

If you are a casual sports fan and looking to get the American sports experience without committing nearly a whole day of your trip to attending a game (NFL and MLB games do go for several hours), then an NBA game might be better suited to you.

Much like all the other stadiums in San Francisco, the food and beverage options within Chase Center are very good. But there are also a number of restaurants just outside the stadium as well which could be a good option for a meal before heading in. That’s also where you will find the team’s merchandise store.

In addition to NBA games, Chase Center is also home to concerts and a number of other events. For more information, head to the venue’s website or book tickets here.

For tickets to the latest sporting events in San Francisco, check out Ticketmaster.

Where To Find Food In San Francisco/What To Do In The Evenings

Where To Find Food In San Francisco

In a city as diverse as San Francisco, it’s easy to imagine that the local cuisine and nightlife are equally as diverse.

From street food vendors to Michelin-starred restaurants, the city has something for everyone. While I typically avoid specific recommendations, there are a couple of things you can’t miss while you are in San Francisco.

The first is Boudin Sourdough. This icon of San Francisco is a must-visit while in the Fishermans Wharf district. Make sure you try the famous clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl.

If San Francisco is your only stop in California, you also need to make sure you try In and Out Burger, the most popular fast food you can get in the state.

Also, the street hot dog vendors are pretty good if you are after a quick meal.

Now for some more generalised advice. Each district has its own specialty when it comes to food. In the Mission District, you’ll find the best Mexcian food you’ve ever had. Chinatown’s Asian cuisine is amazing. And if you are after Italian, yes, you guessed it, head the Little Italy/North Beach.

As for nightlife, you’ll find that it is also district based. If you are looking for a Cocktail Bar, head to Union Square. The Mission District is famous for its dive bars. SoMa is where you will find the best nightclubs. At the same time, you will find a good number of bars and casual dining options spread throughout the city.

San Francisco, California – The Ultimate Guide

If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around the United States of America, I’ll have some more specific content coming in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, check out my general advice for first-time travellers to the US.

Also, make sure you check out the travel tools I use the most to help you save money when booking your next trip.

Keep up to date with all the latest Here, There & Gone! adventures by following along on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

And if you have a travel-related question, you would like me to answer, head on over to my contact page to get in touch and let me know.

Photo of author

By Rhys Vandersyde

Traveller, Photographer, Content Creator - I've spent the last 20 years actively seeking out new destinations and new adventures. Find out more about me here:

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