We've been getting such positive feedback on our travel guides, that I decided to create this one for San Francisco. On a recent trip to the States, The Husband and I spent three days in this incredible city. Let me just start by saying, that three days in San Francisco is way too short. Just like NYC, I could easily spend a month there and still not experience half of what the city has to offer. We made due with the time we had available, and (with my impeccable planning, thank you very much!) we still got to do and see plenty in The City.
From our experiences, and my research online, I created this guide to help you out in planning your trip to San Francisco; below you'll find some recommendations on where to stay, where to eat and what to do. I hope you'll find some good ideas! (Find a helpful map of all the places mentioned in this post, at the bottom of the page!)
Where to Stay
I can highly recommend staying at Hotel G, which is conveniently located close to Union Square. This boutique hotel is affordable, hip, trendy and modern. Our room was clean and comfortable, and quite spacious. They also have a nice gym and free Wifi, and the staff is helpful and friendly (but not overbearing.) The location is what mostly sold us on this hotel though, as it's in walking distance of the bustling shopping district and also close to plenty of great restaurants. And from there, it takes about 40 minutes to get to the airport by taxi. We would stay there again!
More places to stay: Hotel Zeppelin, Hotel Zetta, Axiom Hotel, Hotel Zephyr, Tilden Hotel, Omni, Staypineapple at The Alise
Hotel G lobby
Where to Eat?
Spoiled for choice in San Francisco, you can basically get anything your heart desires. Ours desired In-N-Out (don't judge me!). After a long day of sightseeing, those "Animal Fries" and juicy burgers are just perfection. They are usually quite busy, but also super fast, so you really don't have to wait that long for your food, even if it looks like there are five thousand people in there.
A trip to San Francisco wouldn't be complete if you don't stop by for a tasty pastry at Mr Holmes Bakehouse. This tiny bakery is located in the Tenderloin district, and is quite popular with locals and visitors to the city. Try one of their famous "cruffins" (croissant-muffins) and enjoy it while taking that mandatory Instagram shot in front of the "I got baked in San Francisco" neon sign.
If you're a "coffeeholic", you have come to the right city. There's a trendy cafe on every corner, and you can pick and choose from coffee houses like Blue Bottle Coffee, Ritual Coffee Roasters, FRONT Coffee, Saint Frank Coffee, Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters and Sightglass Coffee. I highly recommend popping into The Mill and grabbing a coffee to go before you head over to view the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square, which is nearby. When you're exploring Haight-Ashbury, stop by Cantata Coffee Company, a quirky little cafe where they sell delicious beverages like Chai tea lattes. If you've got tea on your mind, definitely head over to Samovar Tea Bar to get your fix.
More eateries you should check out is Tartine Manufactory, Mazarine, As Quoted, Zazie and Loló. For a great vibe, you can visit the SOMA StrEat Food Park, which is where you will have multiple options from food trucks. There is also a bunch of restaurants around the Fisherman's Wharf.
More places to eat: 20th Century Cafe, b. patisserie, Craftsman & Wolves, Home Cafe, Pier Market Seafood Restaurant, Sweet Maple
Mr Holmes Bakehouse
Mr Holmes Bakehouse
Mr Holmes Bakehouse
Cantata Coffee Company
Cantata Coffee Company
What to Do
What would a trip to San Francisco be without a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge? There are quite a few spots from where you can view the bridge and we did three of the many options; the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point (North West of the bridge), the Vista Point (North East of the bridge) and the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center (South East of the bridge). Out of the three, we recommend the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point as the best out of these three options. It had the fewest people around and you're also more elevated which gives a better view of the entire bridge. You can also walk or bike across the bridge, which is 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers).
Golden Gate Bridge (viewed from the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point)
Golden Gate Bridge (viewed from the Vista Point)
Golden Gate Bridge (viewed from the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center)
Another highlight from our trip was a visit to Alcatraz. It's a quick 10-minute ferry ride over from Pier 33 to this small island. (You absolutely need to buy tickets for this excursion in advance, as it's very popular.) Once you get there, you can spend as much time as you want exploring the prison buildings and grounds and take any ferry back to San Francisco. They provide you with headphones to follow a guided tour, which is fantastic, and lasts about 45 minutes.
Alcatraz (hole through which three inmates escaped in 1962)
View of San Francisco from Alcatraz
Take a stroll around Pier 39 and the waterfront where there is an aquarium, arcades, clothing stores, souvenir shops and many seafood restaurants. Around Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square you'll be able to keep yourself busy for hours. It's also from this area where you can buy tickets for those red City Sightseeing Hop On/Off buses, which will take your all over San Francisco and even to Sausalito and the Muir Woods.
Just a short walk from Fisherman's Wharf is Lombard Street, the steep street with eight hair-pin turns. The best view of this famous site is from the Lombard and Leavensworth intersection. You can walk up and down this part of Lombard street on the side of the road by following the staircases , but the best experience is to drive down the turns in a car. Another place where you can spend some time is The Presidio, a beautiful park with lots of walking trails and other recreational activities.
Spending some time in Haight-Ashbury is a must! This district is known for its hippie vibe, organic cafes, colorful architecture, diversity and eclectic bars and restaurants. Take a walk around this neighborhood and pop into the many record stores and vintage shops that line the streets, grab a drink at Cantata Coffee Company and people-watch while basking in the '60s nostalgia of the neighborhood.
From Haight-Ashbury you can walk to Alamo Square, where you can view the ever-so-popular Painted Ladies (the houses seen in the opening credits of the TV show, Full House.) This is another place where you can hang out for a bit and enjoy the picturesque views of the city. (Or, in my case, pet the dozens of dogs being taken for strolls in the park.)
More things to do: Palace of Fine Arts, Twin Peaks, Coit Tower, Union Square, Conservatory of Flowers, Dolores Park, Ferry Building
Painted Ladies at Alamo Square
San Francisco is a great city to explore on foot (if you have the calves muscles and stamina to take on the rolling hills!) and of course you can hop on one of the iconic cable cars that will take you up and down the steep hills. Here is a very helpful website that will give you all the info you need on how to use the cable car network, covering costs, maps and good-to-know tips.
Of course, ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft are also a good option when you just can't take on another steep hill, and you can't seem to find a taxi. We also highly recommend the red Hop On/Off City Sigthseeing buses, which has stops all over San Francisco, and even has routes going to Sausalito and Muir Woods. They offer different packages, but we recommend the Alcatraz Package, as that includes a 3-day bus pass for all the available routes, and a ticket to Alcatraz, which is a very good deal.
BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is a great option for an affordable way to get to and from the city and San Francisco International Airport. It takes about 30 minutes and costs around $9 for a one-way ticket. A taxi to and from the airport will cost you around $50 (tip not included).
Cable car on Powell St.
Even though we visited San Francisco in August, it was still cool during the day (around 16℃ / 60°F) and we had to bundle up when we headed up to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point and while taking the red City Sightseeing buses. (So don't forget to pack some extra layers!) I hope this guide will be helpful to you when planning your next trip to this amazing city, and that you got some ideas of places where you can stay, eat at and explore. Happy travels!
A GUIDE TO SAN FRANCISCO MAP