San Francisco Travel Guides

Super useful & totally free travel guides, written by locals who love San Francisco

Aerial view of San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and skyline during sunset
The San Francisco skyline at sunset

Why We Love San Francisco: San Francisco is one of the most prominent destinations in California. From the exemplary food and wine culture to the private rocky beaches under the Golden Gate Bridge and cozy Mediterranean climate, San Francisco is a premiere Northern California city. One of California’s biggest cities, San Francisco has long attracted travelers to its welcoming metropolitan atmosphere. Explore local art, try exquisite cuisine, marvel at the grand architecture, and wander through world-class museums in this hilly city. The port town also offers some of the best freshly caught seafood along the Pacific Coast.

Best of San Francisco

Things to Do

View of San Francisco’s Coit Tower and cityscape
San Francisco’s Coit Tower looms over the other Telegraph Hill residencies

Almost every activity in San Francisco is iconic. Try delicious culinary delicacies, explore the steep hills of the city via cable car, and bike across the historic Golden Gate Bridge.

  • Golden Gate Bridge – The historic red arches of the bridge are easily the most recognizable postcard photo of San Francisco. 
  • Golden Gate Park – The number of activities to do and museums to browse in this area will keep you entertained all day.
  • Alcatraz Island – Explore an old penitentiary on the San Francisco Bay that housed world-famous criminals.
  • Coit Tower – Take a short elevator ride and pose for a photo at the top of an iconic San Francisco viewpoint.
  • Fisherman’s Wharf – One of the most popular locations in San Francisco right on the bay with freshly-caught seafood.

👉 Explore all things to do in San Francisco.

🗺️ Where to Stay

You can’t go wrong staying in any of San Francisco’s vibrant neighborhoods. Each has its own charisma and charm but these three take the cake for the best:

  • Mission District – Away from tourists but still close to the main city attractions like Mission Dolores Park.
  • Alamo Square – Home to the famous Painted Ladies Victorian-style houses and the leisurely Alamo Square Park.
  • Embarcadero – Stay close to the waterfront for the best views of the harbor and the chance to spot whales.

👉 Read the complete guide to where to stay in San Francisco.

Exterior view of the Victorian-style homes of the Alamo Square area
The Victorian-style homes of the Alamo Square area

🛎️ Best Hotels

View of the interior of a vintage-style accommodation in San Francisco
The interior of the Vintage Inclined accommodation (photo: Plum Guide)

San Francisco hotels are eclectic and versatile. There’s something for everyone from luxury 5-star hotels to budget-friendly hostels with shared dorm rooms.

  • Vintage Inclined – An art-filled home with an elegant, old-timey atmosphere in one of the sunniest neighborhoods in the city.
  • Palace Hotel – One of the most luxurious hotels in town for visitors who don’t like to sacrifice the finer things on vacation.
  • Noe’s Nest Bed & Breakfast – An affordable bed and breakfast with an included breakfast buffet and garden views.

🍽️ Restaurants

A clam chowder in a bread bowl in San Francisco
A famous San Francisco clam chowder bread bowl

San Francisco is no stranger to culinary acclaim. From delicious Asian soup and noodle dishes to freshly-caught seafood and traditional Italian food, San Francisco meals don’t disappoint.

  • Scoma’s Restaurant – Try tasty seafood at this waterfront restaurant. All seafood is caught in small boats by local fishermen.
  • Fog Harbor Fish House – Treat yourself to an elegant dinner of lobster and pan-seared salmon on the San Francisco Bay.
  • Original Joe’s – A San Francisco staple, Original Joe’s has served the finest family-style Italian food for over 80 years. 
  • Boudin SF – The mouthwatering sourdough bread bowls of Boudin are one of the main waterfront attractions in town.
  • House of Nanking – A classic Chinese restaurant in Chinatown with lines usually out the door.

🚗 Day Trips

Tourists rock climbing on the Yosemite Half Dome Cables
Climb the challenging Yosemite Half Dome Cables from May-October each year
  • Yosemite National Park – The most popular national park in California, Yosemite has hundreds of hiking trails.
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea – One of the best California beach towns. This fairytale village is charming, to say the least.
  • Sausalito – The Mediterranean vibe of this sleepy fishing town attracts SF day-trippers who want to escape the big city.
  • Berkeley – A famous college town, there are many things to do in Berkeley including museums and touring UC  Berkeley.
  • Muir Woods National Monument – Hike under a redwood tree canopy in one of the best old-growth forest preserves in California.

🚗 Read the full list of best day trips from San Francisco.

🏘️ Neighborhoods

Chinese lanters outside the building in Chinatown, San Francisco
Chinese lanterns hang proudly above the streets of Chinatown
  • North Beach – An urban neighborhood known as “Little Italy” with the best Italian restaurants in town.
  • Nob Hill – An up-scale area of San Francisco, Nob Hill holds the largest concentration of the city’s luxurious hotels.
  • Financial District – This business-oriented district has no shortage of bars and restaurants.
  • Castro District – Historically an LGBTQ+-friendly neighborhood, the Castro comes to life with theater performances and bars.
  • Chinatown – The largest Chinatown in the world outside of Asia with delicious food and festive celebrations.

🍸 Bars

A man drinking an Irish coffee in San Francisco
San Francisco’s famous Irish Coffee is a must while in the city
  • Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar & Lounge – Enjoy a classy cocktail with 360-degree views of the whole San Francisco Bay.
  • Bourbon & Branch – Channel your inner Gatsby at this 1920s-themed bar in the Union Square district.
  • Novela – A one-of-a-kind literary-themed bar with drinks named after book characters and bookshelf walls.
  • 440 Castro – An inclusive, LGBTQ+-friendly bar in the Castro District that is popular among locals and tourists.

🎨 Museums

Panoramic view of de Young Museum and courtyard
Panorama of the de Young Museum and courtyard
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – Explore the modern and contemporary art collections at the most popular museum in San Francisco.
  • Asian Art Museum – Enjoy the thousands of Asian artworks at this museum, some of which date back 6,000 years.
  • San Francisco Cable Car Museum – Learn about the historic, downtown cable cars- a landmark of the big city.
  • California Academy of Sciences – Bring your little ones to the SF natural history museum which houses over 46 million specimens.
  • de Young Museum – A fine arts museum in Golden Gate Park, a great way to spend a lazy afternoon in San Francisco.

🎨 See the full list of best museums in San Francisco.

🥾 Hikes

Aerial view of the Lands End Lookout labyrinth and ocean at dawn
The Lands End Lookout labyrinth at dawn
  • Glen Canyon Park – Take a stroll along the 1.8-mile loop at the park and discover wildflower blooms and chert rock formations.
  • Lands End Lookout – Wander down the rocky shoreline next to the Golden Gate Bridge to reach this rock memorial on the sand.
  • John McLaren Park – Explore the 300-acre park’s trails like the 2.7-mile Philosopher’s Way trail or the 1.2-mile McLaren Loop.
  • Fort Funston – Hike up a steep cliff for dramatic views of the gorgeous San Francisco Bay.
  • Marin Headlands – These coastal trails take hikers past the Point Bonita Lighthouse and through backcountry California campsites.

🥾 See the full list of the best hikes near San Francisco.

San Francisco Travel Advice

🗓️ Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit San Francisco is in the summer and fall months when the weather isn’t below freezing and outdoor activities are still accessible.

  • 🌞 Summer –  San Francisco is the hottest from July to September. Most outdoor attractions are the most pleasant at this time.
  • 🍂 Fall –  San Francisco starts to cool down in the fall but the changing fall leaf colors are a must-see.
  • 🌼 Spring –  San Francisco comes alive in the springtime. You don’t want to miss the springtime flower blooms around town.
  • ❄️ Winter –  Winter is the coldest time to visit San Francisco. Make sure you pack plenty of layers and a warm coat.

Read our full guide to when to visit San Francisco.

🚌 Getting Around

Public transportation is so reliable in San Francisco that you don’t need to rent a car. The BART subway system is the most convenient way to get around but ride shares are also widely available.

  • 🚶‍♀️ Walking – Most attractions are within walking distance in the city, a major plus of the area.
  • 🚇 Public Transit – The BART high-speed railway is the most convenient mode of transportation in SF.
  • 🚴‍♀️ Biking – Biking is a great way to get to know the city. Most neighborhoods are within biking distance.
  • 📲 Ride Share – Ride shares are widely available in the big city and are a great way to get around.
  • 🛴 Scooters – Public scooters are available to rent with a credit card on the sidewalks of SF.
  • 🚗 Driving – Keep congested traffic in consideration if you choose to rent your own car in San Francisco.

👉 Tips & Things to Know

  • 🚄 – Use Public Transportation – Save some serious money by using reliable public transportation in SF instead of renting a car.
  • 🔈 – Keep Noise Levels in Mind – Some districts like Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf are noisier than others. Stay elsewhere if you want a better night’s rest.
  • 🧤 – Pack Layers – San Francisco can be chilly even in the summer. Always have a jacket on hand just in case.
  • 💵 – Find Deals in the Off-Season – Most attractions and hotels double in the summer and fall tourist seasons. Visit in the winter if on a budget.
  • 🎆 – Visit During Special Events – Be a part of SF pride by visiting for special city events like Pride in June, 4th of July, and Chinese New Year in February.

🧳 What to Pack

  • 📷 – Camera – San Francisco is one of the top sightseeing destinations in CA. Bring your trusty camera to document the famous landmarks.
  • 🥾 – Hiking Boots – Most people don’t expect to hike when they visit SF. Bring your boots to be prepared for anything.
  • 🚰 – Reusable Water Bottle – Not only is a reusable bottle good for the planet, but it will also save you money in expensive San Francisco.
  • 🧥 – Warm Jacket – Always have a warm jacket on you when visiting the Bay Area. You can also buy one at a souvenir shop along the Embarcadero.
  • 👟 – Walking Shoes – Most attractions are within walking distance in San Francisco. Bring comfortable shoes because you will likely be walking a lot.

🤓 Facts & Info

  • Census Population (2020) – 873,965 (city)
  • Time Zone – PST Time (CA (GMT-8))
  • Area Codes – 415, 209, 408, 559, 831, 510, 925, 650
  • Airports – San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Gnoss Field-DVO (DVO), Oakland International Airport (OAK), Half Moon Bay Airport (HAF)
  • Nickname – The Golden City, Golden Gate City, San Fran, Frisco
  • Demonym – San Franciscan 
  • StateCalifornia
  • CountryUnited States of America

💵 Costs & Budgeting

  • 3 Star Hotel Room – $110/night
  • 1 Bedroom Apartment Rental – $68/night
  • Rental Car – $40/day
  • Public Transit Ticket – ~$5 ($10 to airport from center)
  • Ride Share from Downtown to Airport – $30-40
  • Take Out Meal for Two – $20
  • Sit Down Dinner for Two – $40
  • Draft Beer – $7

💵 See our full San Francisco budget guide for more.

FAQs About Visiting San Francisco

Is San Francisco safe for tourists?

San Francisco is a safe city for tourists. Most visitors have no problems when visiting the city, but you should still take precautions just in case to avoid theft.

What is the best time of year to visit San Francisco?

There are benefits to visiting San Francisco during all months of the year but the high tourist season is typically July-November. San Francisco experiences the best weather at this time and most special events take place between those months as well.

What should you not miss when visiting San Francisco?

You should not miss main San Francisco attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Coit Tower, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, and Alcatraz Island.

Is 2 days in San Francisco enough?

2 days is enough to see most of San Francisco. This does not allow enough time to visit all the major sites and attractions, but it is a good amount of time for an adequate introduction to the city.

Is San Francisco worth the trip?

The sheer amount of things to do in San Francisco makes it worth the trip. It is one of the most popular cities in California, if not the entire United States. Loosely known as the capital of Northern California, this tourist city has a rich history, stunning scenery, and metropolitan commodities.

Meet Our San Francisco Travel Expert

McKenna Mobley

McKenna Mobley is an avid adventurer, traveler, mountaineer, and writer from Southern California. Her goal is to climb some of the world’s highest mountains and visit as many countries as she can. She loves Latin America and has been to almost every Latin country. She also has a thirst for solo adventuring and has hiked 400 consecutive miles by herself through the Arizona desert. You can also find her on her blog.

👉 Read McKenna’s Articles

📰 California Travel Guides

San Francisco is the metropolitan capital of Northern California but California is such a vast state that the Golden Gate City just scratches the surface. Check out the rest of our San Francisco and California travel guides to help plan for your upcoming trip, all of which were written by experts from the areas.

🗺️ San Francisco Map