Every summer, the vendors of San Francisco's Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf make a killing. Not off of souvenirs, dumplings, or bread bowls filled with piping hot chowder. Nope, the money pours in for the cheap sweatshirts. Why? Because so, so many people forget the most important detail about visiting San Francisco: the weather.
Who can blame them? Weather is boring, and especially when there are plenty of other things to think about -- which galleries have good shows coming up, what's on at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which restaurant is being buzzed about, when does crab season start, and where can I catch a great rock show?
Whew. Lots to do, but none of it's going to be much fun if you're shivering on top of Nob Hill in shorts and a T-shirt as one of the Bay's bone-chilling winds whips across yet another June day. So get thee to Chinatown, wrap yourself in a bright yellow Golden Gate Bridge sweatshirt, throw on some sneakers and let's explore the city of 43 hills, a little gold rush town that boomed in the mid-1800s and never stopped. After years of growth, San Francisco proudly boasts that it's home of the only moving National Historic Landmark (literally -- the cable cars), birthplace of the Chinese fortune cookie (invented by a Japanese family in true San Francisco multicultural fashion), and a prime travel destination for nearly 16 million visitors every year.The Best of San Francisco
San Francisco is the quintessential melting pot, with young and old from all over the world setting up homes, shops, and communities in the city's various neighborhoods. The beauty of San Francisco lies in the sum of its parts: each neighborhood has a unique personality and charm, and together they make this city one of the best places on Earth to wander around for an afternoon. San Francisco is a relatively small city, only about seven square miles that are easily explored in a few days.
Though locals tend to avoid Fisherman's Wharf because of its tourist traps, it still affords one of the best views of the bay, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge available in the city. If you skip the overpriced restaurants, you can snag yourself a heaping plate of fresh steamed crab from one of a dozen or so street vendors; then grab a bench anywhere along the piers, enjoy your crab, and take it all in.
If you walk toward the Golden Gate Bridge, away from Fisherman's Wharf and across Van Ness Avenue, you'll stumble upon one of the best shopping districts in the city, the tony Marina District, where sorority-girls-turned-publicists and the fraternity-boys-turned-investment-bankers who love them drop hundreds on designer duds, gourmet fusion, and imported liquor.
Full of secret alleyways and underground finds, Chinatown is a million mysteries waiting to be discovered, from swanky tea parlors to underground mahjong games and colorful stores filled to the brim with exotic candies.
If you take California Street from Chinatown, walk up over Nob Hill -- pause here to gaze at the fancy hotels and the stunning 360-degree view of the city -- and wander down into one of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods -- Pacific Heights, where you can ogle mansions, get a facial, do a little shopping, or get a fantastic meal at any number of fine restaurants.
On Geary Avenue, toward the ocean, the Outer Richmond is dominated by the city's Russian population, whose bakeries, restaurants, and shops sell top-notch pierogi (dumplings), smoked fish, and borscht. The Outer Richmond is also one of three neighborhoods to border Golden Gate Park -- 1,017 acres of green wonderland smack in the middle of the city.
In addition to barbecue pits, soccer pitches, and baseball fields, Golden Gate Park is home to a windmill donated by Amsterdam (San Francisco's sister city), the Conservatory of Flowers, two top-notch museums (the newly reopened De Young Art Museum and the California Academy of Sciences, which is under renovation but will reopen in 2008), Stowe Lake, a traditional Japanese tea garden, and a pack of water buffalo. Yep, you read right, water buffalo, also known as bison.
The Fillmore District is a musical hub, with the epic Fillmore hosting shows every night, and a handful of blues and jazz clubs offering entertainment most nights. Japan Town is comprised of several buildings connected by a network of traditional Japanese bridges. Each building contains a variety of Japanese restaurants, teahouses, bars, and shops.
A few blocks South of Market you'll find SoMa (guess where the name comes from), where the majority of the area's publishing, arts, and design companies are headquartered. AT&T Stadium is also South of Market in neighboring China Basin, an area that is booming thanks to extensions to the city's street car (Muni) service, and plans to build a new University of California extension campus and a handful of Biotech research laboratories in the tiny area known as the Dog Patch just slightly further south.
Fast Facts & Info
Fast Facts & Info
Geography and landscape: San Francisco is built onto 43 hills in roughly seven square miles at the tip of a 32-mile peninsula between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The highest of these hills, Twin Peaks, are 900 feet above sea level and provide fantastic panoramic views of the city. Twin Peaks also provide a fog barrier between the northern and southern parts of the city -- you can see the fog spilling over them into the downtown nearly every evening.
The city is surrounded by water on three sides, with bridges leading across the bay to the East (San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge), North (Marin -- Golden Gate Bridge), and South (San Mateo, Silicon Valley -- Dumbarton Bridge and San Mateo Bridge).
General orientation: All those hills can make San Francisco a bit disorienting, as can the one-way streets and random alleyways, but the city is actually laid out on a simple grid -- a quick look at a map and an hour's wander should sort out any confusion. The only streets that don't follow the grid are Market and Columbus Avenue, which cut diagonally across at right angles to each other.
If you do get lost, just remember, you could only be a few miles or so off target, which is no big deal. That said, if you're driving, prepare to be frustrated -- the one-way streets quickly become a real problem in a car, as does the traffic, and parking is an absolute nightmare. Walking is the best way to both see the city and to understand its layout.
Safety: As in any big city, visitors should be aware of their surroundings in San Francisco, especially at night. Though most of the city is safe during the day, the Tenderloin, Lower Haight, Fillmore, and South of Market (SoMa) areas should be avoided at night, unless you know exactly where you're going or are with people who do.
There are quite a few upscale restaurants in SoMa that are worth a visit, but it's a good idea to take a cab there and back as opposed to meandering from your hotel. 6th Street, from Market Street downtown to South of Market Street, is an area that you should also be careful in.
Climate/weather: This is important: summer in San Francisco is late August-late October. June and July are known to be some of the city's colder months, when a marine layer from the Bay keeps the city cool (40s to 50s) from morning 'til night.
San Francisco weather is usually about mid-60s most of the year with occasional dips in summer, rain usually from December to February, and temperature peaks occurring in August to November.
Though the weather is never really extreme, you can easily experience several different types of weather in one day: Mild and sunny in the morning, rain in the late morning, more sun in the early afternoon, overcast by later afternoon, then a big gust of chilly wind for a clear, cold evening, and finally a big fat fog attack for a cold and misty night.
The key: layers of clothing and plenty of 'em. To get a birds-eye view of the weather and a five-day forecast, check out the webcam and weather info on UC Berkeley's Lawrence Lab.
If you're thinking about taking a trip to San Francisco, check out the next section for everything you need to know about getting around the city.
Getting In, Getting Around San Francisco
Three airports serve the San Francisco area, and the city itself boasts an excellent public transportation system. Below you'll note all the transportation options available for getting to San Francisco and getting to your destination within the city.
From the Airport
There are three airport options for San Francisco. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is the city's main airport, just south of San Francisco. Oakland International Airport (OAK) is located in East Bay, over the Bay Bridge. The Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) is an hour south of the city.
Rental car: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty car rental counters are located on the fourth floor of the San Francisco Airport Rental Car Center, which can be accessed via the terminal's AirTrain, on the Blue Line. AirTrain, SFO's fully automated people-mover system, operates 24 hours a day and provides convenient and frequent service throughout the airport. AirTrain stations are located in all terminals, parking garages, the Rental Car Center and the airport's BART station.
At Oakland International Airport, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Fox, and Thrifty have desks at the Rental Car Center, which is a few miles away from the terminal. Rental Car Center shuttle buses operate every 10 minutes during the day and "on demand" between 1:30 am and 4:30 am. While the Rental Car Center is open 24 hours a day, travelers should check with their car rental agency's reservation center for hours of operation at Oakland Airport and make arrangements for special arrival and departure requests.
At Mineta San Jose International Airport, each terminal has a clearly marked Rental Car Shuttle stop. The shuttles provide regular transportation to and from the terminals and the Rental Car Center daily from 4 am to 12:30 am. Should you arrive during off-hours, call (408) 277-3661. Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Fox, Hertz, National, Payless, Enterprise, and Thrifty all operate out of the airport's Rental Car Center.
Taxis: You can take a taxi from the San Francisco Airport to most locations in the city for between $40 and $50. The taxis are located outside each terminal's arrival area in the lower level. Since public transportation doesn't serve certain areas well (the Richmond, Pacific Heights, Nob Hill, North Beach, or the Marina), travelers to these areas should plan on taking a cab to and from the airport.
Two cab companies service Oakland Airport and it will cost you between $50 and $60 to get to San Francisco.
At San Jose Airport, taxis are located near the Terminal A lower-level parking garage and curbside on the east end of Terminal C's baggage claim area. Expect to pay a little more since San Francisco is an hour away.
Public transportation: From San Francisco International Airport, you can take the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway system directly from the terminals into either downtown or the Mission. From BART transfer stations, you can take the Muni, a light rail transit system, which will get you to Duboce Triangle/Upper Market, South of Market/China Basin, Inner and Outer Sunset, Noe Valley, Cole Valley, and the Haight. When transferring between BART and Muni, just ride the escalator up one level and hop on a train. (Keep in mind that the locals just call it BART!)
From the Oakland Airport, the AirBART bus will take you from the airport to the nearest BART station for $2, but it's a little unreliable so you may have to wait awhile. Don't trust it on your way back, though, or you might miss your flight. If you want to stick to public transportation, you could feasibly take BART downtown ($5) and then grab a cab (there are plenty to be had on and around Market Street).
From San Jose Airport, you can take the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority Airport Flyer bus from the airport to either the Metro Link light rail station, where you can catch a train to the Civic Center and then an express bus to a BART station, or to the Santa Clara Caltrain Station, where you can catch a train to San Francisco. There are almost always cabs waiting in front of the station when you arrive and it's in a safe neighborhood (China Basin).
Shuttles (vans you share with others) are another option. From San Francisco Airport, a door-to-door shuttle will take you directly to your hotel for about $15.
The best deal going from Oakland Airport are the door-to-door shuttles, which will take you anywhere in the city for about $22. You can book a BayPorter Shuttle online (at least 48 hours in advance) for a discount at the company's Web site.
There are also door-to-door shuttles at San Jose Airport, which will charge from $69 to $79 to take you into the city (remember, it's at least an hour away).
When you're leaving, keep in mind that public transportation in San Francisco doesn't operate from 12:30 am to 6 am. If you have an early flight, you may have to make other arrangements.
Rush hour: Rush hour into the city from San Francisco Airport (SFO) and San Jose Airport (SJC) starts at around 3:30 pm. From SFO that's less than an hour stuck in traffic, but from SJC you could feasibly be stuck in it for 2 hours or more, so it's something to consider.
From Oakland Airport (OAK), it's a reverse commute over the Bay Bridge, but you have to get through most of Oakland first and could hit a bit of traffic -- still, it's nowhere near what you'll hit in San Francisco or San Jose.
If you come to the city in the morning, you'll be fine from all of the airports. When you're leaving, if you're flying out of SJC you might want to get a hotel next to the airport if you have a morning flight -- morning rush hour is brutal from the city down the peninsula. It can be bad to SFO as well, so be sure to leave yourself some extra time for traffic if you're going to the airport between 7:30 and 9 am.
Rules of the road: Whether you rent a car from the airport or drive in to San Francisco in your own car, make sure you have a map of both the region and a detailed map of the city. The freeways crisscross over each other and there will be construction on them for at least another couple of years, so exits appear and disappear and bridges are shut down some nights.
The Bay Bridge is being rebuilt at the moment, so be sure to check the project's Web site for an updated construction schedule before planning a trip that involves crossing it.
Most tourist attractions and neighborhoods are well marked by signs throughout San Francisco. Locals, cab drivers, and bus drivers are usually happy to help with directions if you get lost, as are the employees and owners of most stores. Driving a car is a hassle in this town, and everyone knows it, so don't be timid about asking for directions.
Public transportation, fares: San Francisco public transportation is great, except that it doesn't quite reach every single neighborhood. The city's trying to do something about that, but until it does, you can take the Bay Area Rapid Transit subway system (BART) to and from the Mission, downtown/Financial District/Union Square, the Embarcadero, to the South Bay as far as Fremont, and on over to the East Bay well past Oakland into Walnut Creek. BART fare depends on where you start and where you're going, but it starts at $1.40 and goes up to around $7 for the longest distances (SFO to Walnut Creek, for example, which is over 60 miles). Discounted tickets for senior citizens and children can be bought online.
You can take Muni, a light rail transit system, to and from downtown/Financial District/Union Square, South of Market (SoMa), China Basin, Embarcadero, the Castro, Duboce Triangle, the Mission, Noe Valley, Cole Valley/Haight Street. You can take a Muni Bus anywhere you want in the city. If you find the bus route map confusing, just ask the driver -- they're used to it and usually happy to help. Buses tend to run a little behind schedule, and then come one right after the other for some reason. Bus and/or Muni fare with a transfer (either to a different bus/train or from a bus to a train and vice versa) are good for two hours (though they usually let you push it), and costs $1.50.
The cable cars and street cars are another option -- cable cars service Russian Hill, Nob Hill, Chinatown, North Beach, Fisherman's Wharf, Downtown/Union Square/Financial District, and Pacific Heights; the street cars (retired train cars brought over from Europe and refurbished as light rail trains) run up and down Market Street from Castro down to the Embarcadero. Street cars are the same price as buses and trains -- $1.50 including transfer. Cable cars are far more expensive at $5 per trip (one-way, no transfer).
A great way to save on public transportation while you're in town is to buy a City Pass, which gets you access to several attractions plus a seven-day Muni and Cable Car pass for $49. You can also buy a Muni Passport that includes Cable Car access -- one day for $11, 3 days for $18, and 7 days for $27.
Taxis, on foot, or by bike: For whatever reason, taxis are expensive in San Francisco. Basically anywhere you need to go in the city, even if it's just one neighborhood over, it always costs at least $10, and usually $15.
Walking is the best way to get around the city and to really see it, but certain areas are dangerous at night (see the Fast Facts safety section).
Biking is also a great option, and you can take your bike on all public transport, except at rush hour (7 to 9 am and 5 to 7 pm). Just be careful and be sure to wear a helmet -- there's a strong bicycle coalition in San Francisco that has done well advocating for biking rights, bicycle lanes, etc, and a general respect for cyclists, but it's still a busy city with a lot of not-so-great drivers.
Now that we've covered the basics of getting around in San Francisco, we'll move onto the things to do. The next section introduces the city's myriad of festivals, as well as some popular attractions for visitors.
San Francisco Special Events & Attractions
As in all big cities, there's absolutely always something to do in San Francisco. In addition to the cultural outlets you'd expect in any city, San Francisco offers a surprising number of outdoor activities, and the city's diverse population makes for a wide variety of festivals and celebrations throughout the year as well.
In the summer, there's a different street festival practically every weekend. Don't surprised to see the same group of food booths, bands, and artisans again and again as the festival rotates to different neighborhoods.
There are four particularly popular festivals held in San Francisco during the year, beginning with the fantastic dragon parade, which snakes through Chinatown in celebration of the Chinese New Year in early February. A few months later, Japan Town hosts the Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration of Japanese culture and tradition, highlighted by a Grand Parade and the crowning of the Cherry Blossom Queen. During the summer, the Mission plays host to the loud and lively Mission Carnival in May, and the annual Gay Pride Parade draws the entire city and thousands of visitors to Market Street for a four-hour-plus show every June.
In addition to its people, San Francisco's surroundings make it a unique city -- few cities in the world are surrounded by so much natural beauty, and even fewer incorporate that beauty into the city's core. No trip to San Francisco is complete without a walk along the waterfront, a bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge, a trip to Alcatraz (a former maximum-security federal penitentiary) or a wander through Golden Gate Park. And that's just the beginning.
In addition to Golden Gate Park there are a few other large parks in San Francisco, plus dozens of neighborhood parks, and countless hiking, biking, and walking paths, most of which afford stunning views of the city or the bay and its surroundings.
To really get into the spirit of San Francisco, sign up to walk or run the annual Bay to Breakers race in the spring (May 20th). Or forget signing up, and just show up. Equal parts Halloween Party, block party, and serious foot race, Bay to Breakers is to San Francisco what Mardi Gras is to New Orleans. And, yes, with just as much nudity. The race starts down on the Embarcadero and runs the length of downtown, up the hill and past Alamo Square, into Golden Gate Park and then all the way to Ocean Beach. Rain or shine, thousands of locals and visitors join every year, half of them showing up unofficially and stopping or joining at various points along the way.
San Francisco is home to two professional sports teams -- the NFL San Francisco 49ers, who play football at Monster Park, and the MLB Giants, who play baseball in a beautiful new stadium in China Basin, the name of which changes seemingly every year thanks to revolving corporate sponsorship. Right now it's AT&T Park, but everyone just calls it "Giants' Stadium." Even if you don't like baseball, the stadium is worth a visit, with dozens of gourmet food booths and bars, and excellent people-watching opportunities.
Though Alcatraz is an extremely popular attraction (and for good reason -- it's well worth a visit both for its historical interest and for the beautiful ride over and back), there's another island in the Bay equally worthy of a visit: Angel Island. Its history is less known, but every bit as interesting as that of Alcatraz. Though currently uninhabited except for a handful of overnight campers, Angel Island's Civil War-era buildings once housed soldiers and their families, and an "immigration station" dating back to 1905 once detained Chinese immigrants on their way to San Francisco. Angel Island was a Nike Missile Base during the Cold War, and housed quarantined sailors and immigrants in its "quarantine station" in the late 1800s. Now a state park, Angel Island is a beautiful place, right in the middle of the Bay, with marvelous views. Bike trails encircle the island and visitors are encouraged to explore both its nature and history.
Beyond the festivals, sports, and Alcatraz, travelers will find a fantastic arts scene in San Francisco. On the next page, learn about San Francisco's art museums, film festival, and world-renowned ballet, opera, and symphony.
San Francisco Arts & Culture
San Francisco has a reputation as an artsy city, and for good reason. Four major art museums, a handful of smaller museums, and dozens of galleries present a dizzying schedule of exhibits ranging from world-famous stars like Matthew Barney at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to up-and-coming local artists at the tiny but amazing Jack Hanley Gallery in the Mission.
In addition to art museums and galleries, San Francisco has a world-renowned ballet (San Francisco Ballet), opera (San Francisco Opera) and Symphony (San Francisco Symphony).
The city is home to a number of formal concert halls where classical and jazz legends perform on a regular basis. Several theaters are spread throughout the city to accommodate one of the nation's largest dramatic communities, and San Francisco is also home to a variety of unique movie theaters -- the Castro, the Red Vic, the Roxie, and the Parkway across the Bay in Oakland.
Every year the San Francisco Film Festival screens films from all over the world in the city's theaters, as it has done for nearly 50 years. Long a center of literary activity, it's a little-known fact that most author book tours begin in San Francisco at any of a number of fantastic bookstores.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in San Francisco
Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in San Francisco
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (MoMA -- 151 Third St) has long been the city's most popular art museum, but there are a number of other museums within the city's limit that are equally worth an afternoon trip.
Yerba Buena Gardens (760 Howard St), next door to the MoMA, hosts several interesting exhibits every year, in addition to the rotating collection of sculptures in its outdoor garden, and a variety of performances in its theaters (ranging from musical to dance to dramatic).
The fabulous DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park is worth a visit for its newly renovated building alone.
The Legion of Honor (100 34th Ave) has a revolving exhibition schedule of classic, fine arts (film lovers should visit to wander through the same halls Janet Leigh visited in the film Vertigo).
The new Asian Art Museum (200 Larkin St) in the Civic Center always has a mix of modern cultural exhibits and historically intriguing collections.
The California Academy of Sciences is in a temporary home on Mission Street near 3rd while it waits for the completion of a fabulous new Renzo Piano-designed building in Golden Gate Park. The facility is great fun, especially for kids, as is the Exploratorium (Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon St), which allows visitors to really get into science and figure out how things work.
In addition to the museums, San Francisco has a number of private galleries that regularly host exhibits of everything from Impressionist Painters (Christopher Clark Fine Art -- 377 Geary St) to photography (Fraenkel Gallery -- 49 Geary St) to the work of up-and-coming and successful local artists (Jack Hanley Gallery -- 395 Valencia St; Hang Art -- 566 and 567 Sutter St).
The theatrical community is alive and well in San Francisco, with dozens of productions playing every couple of weeks, ranging from award-winning plays at the renowned American Conservatory Theater (415 Geary St) in Union Square to quirky one-woman shows at Theatre Rhinoceros (2926 16th St) in the Mission.
As you explore some of San Francisco's art collections, you may notice that the buildings that house them are especially spectacular, like the Legion of Honor pictured above. In the following section, you'll learn about San Francisco's architectural treasures, which range from classical Roman (Palace of the Fine Arts) to ultra-modern (DeYoung Museum).
San Francisco Architecture & Landmarks
You can't walk two blocks in San Francisco without seeing an architect's office, and you can scarcely walk a block without passing a landmark building. This city lives and breathes architecture and design, from the sweet Victorians around Alamo Square to the TransAmerica pyramid to the super-modern Herzog and DeMeuron stunner that is now the De Young Museum.
Like most other American cities, Art Deco left a big mark on San Francisco, evidenced by much of the architecture downtown and in the Marina District, and, like every other aspect of the city, San Francisco's architecture has been influenced by its international population from the super-authentic Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park to the gates bordering Chinatown to the mural-covered walls of the Mission.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in San Francisco
Lombard Street is not actually the crooked-est street in the world, or even in San Francisco for that matter, but it doesn't stop it from being a landmark. You'll learn this and other fun facts through a handful of free, architecture-specific guided walking tours offered by the San Francisco Public Library (100 Larkin St).
Though not technically a museum, Limn (290 Townsend St), an interior design store in South of Market may as well be. The store is worth a visit if only to see its huge steel doors and gawk at the ridiculously pretty modern furnishings inside.
The Haas-Lilienthal House (2007 Franklin St) is one of few San Francisco Victorians that you can tour inside and out. For those planning an event in the city, this historic home also can be rented for dinners, retreats, or weddings.
Some older historical landmarks worth visiting include the Palace of Fine Arts (3301 Lyon St), Legion of Honor (100 34th Ave), City Hall (1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place), Louise M Davies Symphony Hall (401 Van Ness), Coit Tower (1 Telegraph Hill Blvd), and The Ferry Building (One Ferry Building).
San Francisco is home to several modern landmarks and landmark-buildings-in-progress -- Renzo Piano designed the California Academy of Sciences being built in Golden Gate Park, Daniel Libeskind designed the Contemporary Jewish Museum being built on Mission Street around the corner from Museum of Modern Art, Thom Mayne designed the new "green" Federal Building being built South of Market, and Herzog and DeMeuron designed the new DeYoung Museum. Rem Koolhaas also designed a Prada store for San Francisco before the label decided to hold off on expanding its retail empire.
There are also a handful of stunning churches dotting San Francisco's hills, including Grace Cathedral (1100 California St), which is the largest Gothic structure in the West on Nob Hill. The Swedenborgian Church in the Marina (2107 Lyon St) built in 1895 is considered one of California's earliest pure Arts and Crafts buildings. Mission Dolores in the Mission (3321 16th St) is the oldest building in San Francisco).
The cable cars and Market Street's restored street cars are San Francisco landmarks in their own right, and several San Francisco hotels are considered historical landmarks. If you have brunch at the Palace Hotel (2 Montgomery St), you'll be eating where its first guests used to park their carriages.
In addition to San Francisco's architectural wonders, visitors will find ample shopping opportunities. Whether you're seeking high fashion, unique interior design, or vintage threads, you'll have plenty to choose from. Move onto the next section to read our insider's guide to shopping in San Francisco.
San Francisco Shopping
San Francisco's Union Square Shopping District has long been known as a shopping destination, particularly in December, when the square is transformed into a winter wonderland. In recent years, the city has been trying to catch up with fashion-forward New York and Los Angeles, with more and more great independent boutiques cropping up in the Mission, Hayes Valley, North Beach, and the Marina, and two successful San Francisco Fashion Weeks.
On the interior and product design front, though, this city's got no need to play catch up. Extravagant design palaces like Limn and Gumps are great places to find that perfect something for your well-to-do friend who has everything. For those on more modest budgets, specialized local boutiques like Zinc Details, Friend, Nest Egg, and Little Otsu (they stock vegan-friendly stationery, bags and gifts) carry the work of local designers (OhBoy stationery, Jill Bliss journals, Heath ceramics, and Dwell sheets). Add the thrift and vintage furniture stores of the Mission to the mix, and there's no shortage of stores to look for a perfect gift or unique home accent.
And you can't forget the music! San Francisco is home to a number of unique and amazing music stores, not the least of which is the world-renowned Amoeba records in the Haight.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Shopping in San Francisco
Union Square and downtown are where you'll find all of the established labels, and the city's three malls. Practically every brand you've ever heard of has a store in these few blocks, from Old Navy on up to Chanel. Venture a block or two off Union Square on Sutter to find the city's largest assortments of unusual sneakers at HUF (808 Sutter St).
More and more local designers are opening up their own storefronts, and some are combining forces to sell their wares. In Hayes Valley, Residents Apparel Gallery (541 Octavia St) stocks the clothing, accessories and gift-y items of 30-odd local designers. Neighbor Minnie Wilde (519 Laguna St) carries the eponymous owner's hip blazers, culottes, and newsboy caps.
The rest of Hayes Street is dotted with small boutiques carrying mostly high-end designer threads from the likes of Marc Jacobs and Catherine Malandrino and an assortment of this month's must-have jeans, with the exception of Modern Appealing Clothing (M.A.C., 387 Grove St), which stocks predominantly avant-garde Belgian designers (Walter van Bierendonck, Anne Demeulemeester, Raf Simons, etc.) and Nomads (556 Hayes St), which stocks hipster/skater/DJ wear for men.
Hayes is also home to some of the city's best shoe stores such as Bulo (418 Hayes St), Gimme Shoes (416 Hayes St), and Paolo Shoes (524 Hayes St), and a handful of top-notch home design stores like Friend (401 Hayes St), Find (425 Hayes St,) and Propeller (555 Hayes St).
The Haight is not all head shops and tye-dye, it's also one of the best places in the city to find shoes. Every shoe store in the city has an outpost here, and some (ShoeBiz) have more than one. Haight is also a great place to shop for vintage threads, with local favorites like Wasteland (660 Haight St) and La Rosa Vintage (1711 Haight St) stocking everything from worn-out logo tees to vintage Pucci.
The Mission is a great place to find something uniquely San Francisco, whether it's a super cool recycled-paper-and-soy-ink journal at Little Otsu (849 Valencia St), local designer threads at Candy Store (3153 16th St), Sun Hee Moon (3167 16th St), Saffron Rare Threads (3579 17th St), House of Hengst (924 Valencia St), or Nisa (3610 19th St), vintage classics from Virginia Howells (2839 24th St) or Shauplatz (791 Valencia), thrift-store T-shirts from Community Thrift (625 Valencia St), or new and vintage modern furniture and housewares from X-21 Modern (890 Valencia St), Monument (572 Valencia St), and The Drug Store (3149 Mission St).
North Beach has seen an explosion in new boutiques over the last five years or so, starting with the bright and charming racks of Ooma (1422 Grant Ave), and now including In Lieu (528 Green St).
Look for a few cutting-edge finds from folks like Geren Ford and Borne, Custom Originals (1314 Grant Ave), where you can have owner Al Ribaya tailor one of his creations to you or create something entirely new, and Mixed Use Boutique (463 Union St), which stocks mint condition classics from Dior, Gucci, and Yves St. Laurent.
You don't have to stick to the thrift and vintage stores to find a bargain in San Francisco. Jeremy's (2 South Park St), in a tiny enclave South of Market (SoMa) known as South Park, draws dozens of fashion forward men and women every day for deep discounts on samples from Prada, Marc Jacobs, and Gucci, and overstock from J Crew and Anthropologie.
Loehmann's (222 Sutter St), near Union Square, is another bargain hunter favorite, with three floors of amazing deals on everything from Seven Jeans to Missoni dresses, Coach bags, Penguin button-ups and Donna Karan ties for men, and Wacoal and Natori lingerie.
Glamour Closet (114 Columbus Ave) recently opened in North Beach to bring blushing brides discounts of up to 75 percent on designer wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses and the Rolo (1301 Howard St) outlet in South of Market (SoMa) offers equally large discounts on hip and casual men's and women's threads (think G-Star jeans for him, Rebecca Beeson tees for her).
For incredible finds and deals on furniture and other house-y things, Cole Valley has an assortment of very cool and surprisingly affordable shops happy to oblige. Stumasa (515 Frederick St) offers a variety of cool gift-y items and home accessories, and they also build unfinished furniture, for which you can either buy stains, paints, and finishes or have them finish and stain whatever color you like, all at very affordable prices; they'll also custom build furniture for you. Around the corner, Egg (85 Carl St) stocks hip stationery, gifts, and some great artwork.
Venturing across the Bay to the east will bring you to a dozen or so used furniture stores full of amazing finds, such as Urban Ore (7th & Ashby, Berkeley), Form Vintage Modern (5330 College Ave, Oakland), and Uhuru (3742 Grand Ave, Oakland), just to name a few. To the north you'll find the Heath Ceramics Factory and Outlet Store (400 Gate Five Rd) in Sausalito, where you can score the world's most perfect coffee cup for a whole lot less than it will cost you at any of the fancy design stores in the city.
What better way to cap off a day of shopping than with a night out on the town? In San Francisco, your best bet is a night of live music, be it indie, jazz, or bluegrass. Read about all the hoppin' clubs and hipster bars in the next section.
San Francisco Nightlife & Entertainment
When the San Francisco Rave scene died in the early 1990s, it left behind a lot of club kids with no real club scene. If you're looking for the huge, pumping nightclubs of New York, Chicago, or Miami, chances are you'll be disappointed here. That said, San Francisco does offer its own unique and completely entertaining brand of nightlife, dominated primarily by live entertainment.
First, there are the music festivals: indie rock, hip hop, jazz, bluegrass -- there seems to be a San Francisco festival for every genre of music. Then, in addition to a few huge stadium venues, there are the dozen or so medium-size concert venues, perfect for seeing anything from a big national star to your favorite local band, and they're joined by about 20 or so bars and pubs that offer live music shows most nights of the week.
Despite the lack of a big-time club scene, there are still a handful of talented DJs in San Francisco who spin at the city's handful of medium-sized clubs, and occasionally at a not-so-secret warehouse party.
For a slightly unusual night out, you can have dinner at the circus on the waterfront (Teatro Zinzanni -- Pier 29), see an Asian drag show (Mobil Two-Star AsiaSF -- 201 9th St), experience San Francisco's longest-running (and always-entertaining) musical production (Beach Blanket Babylon -- 678 Green St), catch a stand-up show at one of the city's comedy clubs (the Punch Line -- 444 Battery St; the Purple Onion -- 144 Columbus Ave; or Cobb's -- 915 Columbus Ave), go to Sunday Gospel Mass at Glide Memorial (333 Taylor St), where socialites, drag queens, and ex-cons share pews and shout Amen, or engage in one of San Francisco's favorite nocturnal traditions: karaoke.
Another staple of the San Francisco nightlife scene: the local dive bar. All those unique, well-defined neighborhoods have their local watering holes, where you'll see the neighbors sipping Pabst Blue Ribbon at least a few nights a week.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Nightlife & Entertainment in San Francisco
Insider's Guide: The Best of Nightlife & Entertainment in San Francisco
Noise Pop introduces San Francisco hipsters to new indie bands at the end of every winter (late Feb-early March), the North Beach Jazz Festival brings top talent to the cafes and bars of North Beach for one week in July, and the jazz scene really heats up in late October to mid-November with the legendary San Francisco Jazz Festival.
The free (Hardly) Strictly Bluegrass Festival brings the likes of Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson to Golden Gate Park every year. There are free outdoor concerts at Stern Grove -- a beautiful redwood grove near SFSU in the Outer Sunset -- every weekend during the summer.
Though the music festivals bring more acts to the city at one time than usual, you can catch a wide variety of live music any night of the week at classic San Francisco venues like the Warfield (982 Market St), Great American Music Hall (859 O'Farrell St), Bimbo's (1025 Columbus Ave), and The Fillmore (1805 Geary St).
Both local and national bands also play regularly at smaller local clubs like Bottom of the Hill (1233 17th St) the Independent (628 Divisadero St), the Hemlock Tavern (1131 Polk St), Edinburgh Castle (950 Geary St), Cafe du Nord (2174 Market St) the Rickshaw Stop (155 Fell St) or, metal-head favorite The Pound (100 Cargo Way), just to name a few.
Salsa fans dance the night away any day of the week at CafeCocomo (650 Indiana St), El Rio (3158 Mission St), or Roccapulco (3140 Mission St), and jazz fans can choose from any number of intimate clubs in North Beach or Fillmore, or hop across the Bay to the infamous Yoshi's (510 Embarcadero West, Oakland).
There are bars and restaurants in every neighborhood, but a few parts of the city are particularly well suited to bar-hopping. Try Union Street (in the Marina), the Mission, the Tendernob, the Haight, and 9th Street in the Inner Sunset. Each has a fairly distinct clientele -- the Mission attracts mostly hipsters and arty types, the Marina attracts a more clean-cut crowd, and the Inner Sunset caters predominantly to students. The Tendernob and the Haight are sort of catch-alls with a mix of dance clubs, dive bars, live music venues, and lounges.
The majority of the city's clubs are located South of Market in the SoMa District or Potrero Hill (further south of Market than SoMa, in between the Mission and the DogPatch), where they can find spaces big enough, with the exception of Ruby Skye (420 Mason St) and the Starlight Room (450 Powell St), both of which are in the Union Square area.
In contrast to these high-energy scenes, San Francisco also offers some great "chill" activites. Learn about kicking back and letting off steam on the next page.
Relaxing & Unwinding in San Francisco
Aside from the traffic and the parking problem, San Francisco is a relaxing city. People love to take it easy here, as evidenced by the abundance of restaurants and spas, bike paths, parks, cafes, and lounges. Weekends here are all about taking it slow, enjoying good food, catching up with friends, and appreciating the beauty of the area.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in San Francisco
Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in San Francisco
OK, here comes Golden Gate Park (101 California St) again, making the list this time for Stowe Lake and the Japanese Tea Garden, two of the best places in the city to relax and reflect. Paddle boats are available for rent at Stow Lake -- one of the few activities that is actually made better by a little San Francisco fog, which gives it an eerie, romantic feel. And the Japanese Tea Garden is not just for looking at -- tea service here is an experience not to be missed.
Several other establishments throughout the city also serve tea, including a handful of traditional tearooms in Chinatown for a quiet, zen feel, Samovar (498 Sanchez St) in the Castro for an eclectic, modern take, Lovejoy's Tea Room (1351 Church St) for a "tea with Grandma" vibe, and the Ritz (600 Stockton St) for posh high tea.
The Presidio (102 Montgomery St) is always a popular place to unwind on the weekend, and now it has the added luxury of a massive new destination spa, right in the middle of the park. After the royal spa treatment, you can continue to unwind on any one of the park's nature walks, or go to the opposite extreme and hit the Presidio's awesome bowling alley -- the only place I know of that still serves Budweiser in bottles shaped like bowling pins. Strike!
One of the best ways to relax San Francisco-style is to spend the afternoon lolling about at one of the city's hundred-or-more cafes. Every neighborhood has at least a dozen, usually with good coffee and food, free Wi-Fi, and some sort of free reading material lying about (typically The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and an assortment of magazines). When night falls, treat yourself to a health-filled meal in the city that birthed the "Slow Food Movement," and then take in a movie at one of the city's historic theaters.
For great people-watching, do your best Otis Redding impression and sit on the dock of the Bay. You can watch the tides roll away from any one of a dozen great eateries in the recently renovated Ferry Building Marketplace (One Ferry St, located on the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street). A historical building that has been beautifully restored, the Ferry Building today is a microcosm of the Bay Area, occupied by the retail outlets of some of the area's best-known restaurants, creameries, vineyards, and specialty foods suppliers.
The emphasis is on locally produced, organic fare, and the Marketplace also hosts a Farmer's Market four days a week -- Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Most of the eateries have outdoor tables on the waterfront side -- a great spot to stop for lunch or early dinner. On the Embarcadero side, the Ferry Building Wine Merchant is a popular Happy Hour spot for the nearby Financial District.
If you would prefer to have a guide show you around San Francisco rather than navigate it on your own, see the next section, where we provide an overview of organized tours.
San Francisco Organized Tours Overview
Although San Francisco is a fairly easy city to get around in and major attractions are well marked, the city becomes 10 times more interesting when you know its stories.
One of the best ways to hear them is through a free library-sponsored walking tour. Choose a tour that interests you (there are dozens of options, focusing on everything from churches to San Francisco's seedy underbelly), or take more than one. The tours last one to two hours, so they don't require a huge time commitment, and there are no reservations required unless you have a group of eight or more. Just show up on the specified corner at the specified time.
If you're staying at one of the nearly 20 Joie de Vivre boutique hotels, hotel staff will set you up with a "Golden Gate Greeter," your own personal local tour guide who will take you on a private tour to introduce you to the city, compliments of the hotel.
Tours of the Bay are available from a variety of operators, including one that offers dinner cruises. It's worth taking the tour at Alcatraz, and joining one of the tours on Angel Island if you visit, as both places have very interesting histories that go far beyond what most people think they know about them.
A number of operators also offer city tours with various focal points (history, food, architecture), and there are GPS-guided carts available along Fisherman's Wharf for visitors who want to tour on their own schedule.
Otherwise, the best way to get to know the city is to walk around and to talk to people. Many of the people here now have lived here their whole lives and have more than a couple of good stories to tell if you're willing to listen.
After a busy day walking around the city and hearing its stories, you'll need a place to call home -- if only for a day or two. San Francisco's accommodations range from five-star luxury hotels on Nob Hill to bed and breakfasts in Pacific Heights. For more on hotels in San Francisco, check out the next page.
San Francisco Hotels Guide
San Francisco's luxury hotels are found on Nob Hill. Those gems include Mobil Five-Star Ritz-Carlton San Francisco (600 Stockton St), Mobil Three-Star The Fairmont San Francisco (950 Mason St), and Mobil Three-Star The Huntington Hotel (1075 California St).
Those looking for a unique experience at a slightly lower room rate should check out the Joie de Vivre boutique hotels scattered throughout the city -- each hotel has its own unique personality, from the funky rock 'n' roll Phoenix Hotel in the Tenderloin to the elegant and literary Mobil Three-Star Hotel Rex (562 Sutter St) in Union Square.
The Orchard Hotel, San Francisco's first LEED™- accredited (LEED™ is a rating system used by the US Green Building Council to denote environmental stewardship in building) hotel is another great option -- hip, affordable, brand new, and in a great Union Square location.
San Francisco is also home to a number of bed and breakfast properties including the Queen Anne, a Victorian-style luxury Pacific Heights B&B; the Parker Guesthouse, a bright and modern Castro-area home; the landmark Red Victorian B&B above the Red Vic Theater in the Haight; and the cozy Golden Gate Hotel near Union Square.
Naturally, you'll need to eat while you're in San Francisco, and the good news is that this city has one of the premier restaurant scenes in the United States. Check out the next section for the best of dining in San Francisco.
San Francisco Restaurants Guide
Consistently competing with New York for best restaurant scene in the United States, and holding its own, San Francisco is heaven for food and wine lovers. A new restaurant opens literally every day here, and those that can't compete shut their doors just as fast.
In addition to all the gourmet options, San Francisco is home to hundreds of cheap and tasty cafes, diners, bistros, and ethnic food restaurants of every imaginable variety. You can find food in this city that you may not have even known existed.
To sample the gourmet San Francisco dining scene without sacrificing a week's pay, try to plan your trip during "Dine About Town" month (January), when you can have a prix-fix three-course meal at any of more than 100 top restaurants for $21.95/person at lunch and $31.95/person at dinner. Still not exactly cheap, but a steal for meals that would normally cost at least twice as much. Another tip: You can make reservations for most restaurants in the city online at Open Table, which can be very convenient.
Mobil Two-Star Delfina (3621 18th St) is one of the best restaurants in the city, and has been for several years. Everything on their simple Italian-with-a-California-twist menu is good, and I've been a hundred times (literally) without one disappointment. Reservations are always required, usually a couple of weeks in advance at least. They now have parking (huge bonus), and opened a pizzeria next door last year that's also great and a bit more casual. Their menu changes with the seasons, but the roasted Fulton Valley chicken is a great standby, and you can't go wrong with any of their pasta dishes.
A perfect start to a night out in the Mission, Ti Couz (3108 16th St, 415-252-7373) has some of the best salads in the city (seafood lovers should try the Salade de Mer, a fantastic combination of shrimp, scallops, seared tuna, and loads of fresh vegetables and greens; the small is more than enough for most and runs less than $10), plus delicious French Onion soup and a variety of tasty crepes at good prices.
Town Hall Restaurant (342 Howard St) serves up new American classics in a swanky brick building on Howard Street. Always fresh, often organic, and very tasty, their menu changes regularly, but the seafood is always excellent and the chef always includes at least a few vegetarian options. Order a side of the jalapeno cornbread and you won't be disappointed. Desserts are to die for -- their Butterscotch Pot de Crème is renowned throughout the city.
Mobil Two-Star The Helmand (430 Broadway, North Beach; 415-362-0641) doesn't have much competition in the Afghani food department, but it certainly holds its own against all of its Italian neighbors in North Beach. Afghani food is sort of a cross between Indian food and Turkish food -- very good, and probably hard to find in most other cities. The dining room has a formal vibe, with white tablecloths and fancy Turkish coffee service, but the prices are fairly reasonable (in the $12-$16 range for dinner). If you go, try the leek or pumpkin dumplings (similar to ravioli, but with a Middle Eastern flair); really all of the pumpkin dishes are pretty amazing, as are the lamb dishes (especially the Lamb Lawand, a tasty lamb stew).
Okina Sushi (776 Arguello, Inner Richmond; 415-387-8882) is a tiny, traditional neighborhood sushi place on a quiet street in the Inner Richmond. They're only open Thursday through Saturday from 5 pm-10 pm, and the restaurant seems to be a labor of love for the sushi chef/owner, who serves up super fresh, very cheap sushi and plenty of it. No teriyaki or miso soup here, just sushi, sashimi, and great big beers. Go for the Nigiri Deluxe for the best deal -- 8 nigiri for less than $20, and the chef will always send out a few pieces of his nightly favorite for you to try. One important thing to remember: they only take cash.
Post-modern diner. Is that a restaurant genre? Well, it is now. Q's (225 Clement St, Inner Richmond) serves up scrumptious, huge portions of comfort food in a space-age-future-meets-Texas-past diner in the Inner Richmond. Their chorizo and eggs is one of the best breakfasts in the city; for dinner their spinach salad is huge and tasty, and their fried chicken is excellent.
If you're in the Mission, you need to try one of the infamous Mission taquerias. Although most of them are good, many don't get such high marks on the cleanliness scale. La Corneta (2731 Mission St, 415-643-7001), though, is clean, bright, and really, really good. Everything on the menu is pretty tasty, and you can feel safe eating the seafood as well -- their Baby Shrimp Burrito is a standout.
A great little Belden Lane bistro with fantastic seafood, Mobil Two-Star Plouf's (40 Belden Place, Union Square) mussels are a favorite, prepared in any one of a dozen different ways.
Mescolanza (2221 Clement St) in the Inner Richmond area, is a cozy neighborhood Italian number; their food is authentic, tasty, and cheap -- perfect! You cannot go wrong with the gnocchi.
Another San Francisco legend, Mobil Two-Star Slanted Door (One Ferry Building, No. 3, Embarcadero) started as a hole-in-the-wall and grew into a huge success (yes, Bill Clinton ate there when he was president), worthy of a sleek waterfront space in the Ferry Building. Why? Their tasty modern Vietnamese menu of course. Their spring rolls and crispy Imperial rolls are awesome, as are their "Shaking Beef" and caramelized tiger prawns.
Pacific Catch (2027 Chestnut St, Marina) serves up the best fish tacos in Northern California (try the Traditional Baja Taco), as well as a fantastic Wasabi Ahi Sandwich (seared ahi), healthy and tasty brown rice bowls with fresh seafood, and these sweet potato fries that are absolutely addictive, plus healthier than regular potato fries, so go for it.
Tucked away on Union Square's most posh shopping street, Mocca (175 Maiden Lane, Union Square; 415-956-1188) serves up some of the best sandwiches in the city (fresh mozzarella, with basil and juicy tomatoes, or any number of combinations of organic meats and cheeses, fresh bread) and you can eat them outside for premium people watching.
When it comes time to tip your waiter or waitress, remember that 15 percent is the standard, but most people tend to tip in the 18 to 20 percent range for good service. Most restaurants tack on an 18 percent gratuity automatically to parties of six or more.
It takes a lot of planning to figure out what you're going to eat and do. Fortunately, we're a step ahead. In the next section, you'll find carefully tailored itineraries for one-, two-, and three-day visits to San Francisco.
Suggested Itineraries for Visiting San Francisco
With so many things to do in San Francisco, planning your time can be difficult. That's why we've included the suggested itineraries below. Each set focuses on a particular area of interest and is divided into one day, two days, or three days.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in San Francisco
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in San Francisco
Remember to check out the seasonal events when you visit San Francisco, as there's often a festival or two to be found. Here's an outline for experiencing the must-see attractions in San Francisco:
1 day: Because of its compactness, you can actually see a fair amount of San Francisco in one day. Even though you're pressed for time, the best way to get as much as possible out of the city in a limited amount of time is to ditch the car and go for a mix of public transportation and hoofing it. But first get on a boat.
Book a morning ferry out to Alcatraz Island (in San Francisco Bay) and spend a couple of hours. Get to the ferry docks a little early to wander around Fisherman's Wharf (Embarcadero and Jefferson St) and check out the jugglers. When you get back, wander up Columbus Avenue, which will take you to North Beach in about five blocks. Continue up Columbus past Washington Square, and take a left on Vallejo to Caffe Trieste (601 Vallejo St). Order a coffee and a pastry, sit down and relax for a bit. Once you've caught your breath, head up to Telegraph Hill (Lombard and Kearny Sts) to a 21-foot, fire-nozzle-shaped building called Coit Tower (1 Telegraph Hill Blvd) and take in the views.
Head back to Columbus and take a right anywhere to go up to Stockton Street, the heart of Chinatown (Bush and Grant Sts). Take a left on Stockton and follow it down to Union Square (bounded by Geary, Powell, Post, and Stockton). Here you can grab lunch and meander around, but don't go too far north of the square or you'll hit the Tenderloin. If you hit Leavenworth, it's best to loop back around. The Tenderloin is safe during the day, but probably not where you want to spend your one day in town.
At night you can take the Cable Car to the top of Nob Hill (Sacramento and Jones Sts), snap a photo, and ride the car all the way to Russian Hill for dinner in a charming San Francisco neighborhood restaurant or make a reservation at one of the city's restaurants, such as Mobil Three-Star Fifth Floor (12 Fourth St) for modern French fare like veal tournedos or Mobil Four-Star Aqua (252 California St) for French and California-style cuisine and fresh seafood, and make a night out of eating well.
2 days: Rent bikes at Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals (1095 Columbus Ave) then get on the ferry to Angel Island State Park in the morning. Stop at Coffee Adventures (1331 Columbus Ave) on the way for a coffee, and grab sandwiches and snacks to take with you because no concessions are available on the island. The ferry leaves from Pier 41 near Fisherman's Wharf (Embarcadero and Jefferson St). Spend the day riding around the Island, and have a lunchtime picnic on the shore.
When you get back to the pier, check out the Aquarium of the Bay (Pier 39, Embarcadero at Beach Street), a tube in the Bay under Pier 39 where you can get a peek at what's swimming around beneath the Wharf. Then take a taxi to Crissy Field (near 603 Mason St at Halleck) in the Marina District, and enjoy a sunset stroll through the beautiful wooded tract of Presidio (102 Montgomery St). Continue walking along the waterfront to the base of The Golden Gate Bridge (Highway 101). Then walk up two blocks away from the ocean for dinner at one of the dozens of restaurants on Union, Chestnut, or Fillmore. Mayor Gavin Newsom is a co-owner of Plumpjack Café (3127 Fillmore St), a local favorite, and try a Crawfish Etouffee on rice or an old-fashioned bar burger on a bun.
3 days: Get up early and head to the infamous Mobil One-Star Dottie's True Blue Café (522 Jones St) downtown to fuel up on homemade cinnamon-streusel coffeecake or cornmeal-raspberry pancakes (a frequent special). Wander around Union Square to work off those amazing pastries, then hop on Muni (take the N-Judah light rail train) to Cole Valley. Turn right down Cole Street and walk a few blocks to Haight Street. Make a right on Haight to visit the storied corner of Haight-Ashbury, then walk back up Haight, past Cole, and continue until the street dead-ends at Golden Gate Park (101 California St). You can spend hours in the park doing whatever you like, but we recommend The Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden, Stowe Lake and, of course, the bison! At night take in an MLB Giants' game at their stadium in China Basin.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in San Francisco
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in San Francisco
San Francisco has so much in the way of arts, be it performing or visual, that you could easily spend a week taking it all in. Here are some things you won't want to miss:
1 day: Start at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (151 Third St), spend your morning there, grab a tasty lunch in its café, and shop for excellent and unique gifts in the museum store.
Head next door to Yerba Buena Gardens (760 Howard St), after lunch, then go up 3rd to Mission, take a peek at the future home of the Contemporary Jewish Museum (282 2nd St), a Daniel Libeskind design currently taking shape across from Yerba Buena Gardens on Mission, and make a right on Mission to find the new Museum of the African Diaspora (685 Mission St).
At night, grab dinner in Union Square and take in a play at American Conservatory Theater (415 Geary St) or The Curran (445 Geary St).
2 days: Spend the morning at 49 Geary St in Union Square, which houses several excellent galleries in its five floors. Grab lunch at Café de la Presse (352 Grant Ave), where you can check out vintage Visionaire issues and stock up on hard-to-find foreign art mags, then head over to the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park for the afternoon.
Take a break at Canvas Gallery and Café (1200 9th Ave), just outside the park. At night, get tickets for the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony, or the San Francisco Ballet. Make reservations to dine in Hayes Valley before the performance at Mobil Two-Star Indigo (687 McCallister St), Absinthe (398 Hayes St) or Mobil Three-Star Jardinière (300 Grove St).
3 days: Wax poetic at Caffe Trieste (601 Vallejo St) in North Beach for your morning coffee, then head to the illustrious City Lights Bookstore (261 Columbus Ave), a favorite haunt of the Beat Poets, and on to Kayo Books (814 Post St) in the Tendernob (between Nob Hill and the Tenderloin), one of the only places in the country to find vintage pulp fiction and erotica (we're talking Victorian-era).
Take a cab to 826 Valencia, a Dave Eggers learning center and home of storied literary journal McSweeney's, and wander around to check out the neighborhood's murals, especially on Balmy Street.
Then you should head North on Van Ness to end up at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books (601 Van Ness) for an author reading. Take a cab to Town Hall (342 Howard St) for dinner, where they'll bring you your check in a hard-bound classic novel. If you've still got some energy left, party at one of the city's gallery/bar/clubs – 111 Minna (111 Minna St), Rx Gallery (132 Eddy St), or Mighty (119 Utah St).
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in San Francisco
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in San Francisco
If you're an architectural buff, then San Francisco is the place to be. Here's a guide to the city's astonishing landmarks and buildings:
1 day: Take one of the San Francisco Public Library's architecture tours. The "Rising Steel" tour guides you to 30 landmark buildings downtown in two hours, while other tours highlight Victorian architecture, Art Deco, or the mansions of Pacific Heights. Most tours begin and end downtown, so head up Kearny to North Beach to check out the Gold-Rush-era homes on Telegraph Hill and little Napier Lane, the only wooden street in San Francisco.
On your way, take a detour through Maiden Lane (a two-block long street off of Union Square) to check out the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in San Francisco at 140 Maiden Lane. The current tenant is Xanadu Gallery, so pop in to take a look at the art and the interesting interior of the building.
While in North Beach, check out the infamous Filbert Steps, filled with charming gardens, amazing views and history (Armistad Maupin set his classic Tales of the City here), and Coit Tower (1 Telegraph Hill Blvd) from which you can catch a view of another famous San Francisco landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge (Highway 101).
At night, head back down the hill to Tadich's Grill, a landmark restaurant in the Financial District. Built as the cafeteria for the TransAmerica Building in 1865, in 1967 Tadich's moved to this 1920s California Street location. After dinner, take Muni to Church Street station and walk two blocks west down Market for karaoke at "The Mint" (1942 Market St) which sits at the base of yet another landmark, the San Francisco Mint.
2 days: Have brunch at the Mobil Three-Star Palace Hotel (2 Montgomery St), then take Muni to Cole Valley/Haight, and walk a few blocks to Golden Gate Park (101 California St). Begin at the Conservatory of Flowers, then move around the park to The De Young Museum, The Japanese Tea Garden, the Dutch Windmill, ending finally at Ocean Beach, where the historic Cliff House (1090 Point Lobos Ave) awaits. The Cliff House was once a hotel that hosted U.S. presidents and local celebrities.
Explore the ruins of the early 1900s Sutro Baths next door or the 1940s Giant Camera on the back observation deck of the Cliff House (the last remnant of a huge beachside Coney-Island-style1930s "Playland" that closed back in the 1970s) before dining at either the Cliff House Bistro or more upscale Sutro's.
3 days: Start at the Legion of Honor (100 34th Ave), in Lincoln Park, for beautiful views of the city, a landmark building, and a piece of cinematic history -- Janet Leigh roamed its halls in Hitchcock's classic Vertigo, then head to the Presidio, home of several landmark buildings and gateway to one of San Francisco's best known landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge. Ride over to Sausalito and dine at one of the waterfront restaurants, then catch the last ferry back to San Francisco to see the city's skyline twinkling at night.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Shopping in San Francisco
Shoppers, get your walking shoes on, because there are scads of shops to visit in San Francisco. Whether you're buying or just looking, here are some ways to organize your shopping expeditions:
1 day: Ogle the racks at Dior, Gucci, and Hermes, the heirloom jewels at Lang Antiques (323 Sutter St), and the ridiculously overpriced baubles at old-school Gump's (250 Post St) around Union Square, then pop down Maiden Lane for Marc Jacobs (125 Maiden Lane), Wolford (115 Maiden Lane), and Chanel (155 Maiden Lane).
Refuel on fancy lemonade and tea sandwiches with the ladies who lunch at the Rotunda in Neiman Marcus (150 Stockton St) before catching a cab to Jeremy's (2 South Park) to search for Dior, Marc Jacobs, and Gucci that's actually affordable. Then it's back to Union Square to hit up Loehmann's (222 Sutter St), they're open until 8 pm, and Jeremy's closes at 6 pm. And don't forget to check out the new Agent Provocateur (54 Geary St) store on the other side of the square for saucy (but expensive) lingerie.
At night, throw on your new designer duds and head to the Mobil Three-Star Clift Hotel (495 Geary St), where even the doormen are outfitted in designer uniforms, for a drink in their see-and-be-seen Philippe Starck-designed Redwood Room.
2 days: Having had your fill of labels and San Francisco finery, explore the indie side of the city. Start at RAG (541 Octavia St) in Hayes Valley for choice local designer clothes and accessories (men and women), then grab a cup of the best coffee you've ever had at the Blue Bottle Coffee Company (315 Linden St). Take some beans home if you like.
Head to American Rag (1305 Van Ness) – bypass the front of the store unless they're having a sale and pounce on the assortment of mint vintage finds in the back. Make a quick stop at Venus Superstar (1112 Sutter St) and scan their small but well-selected collection of local and international indie designs before heading to the Mission for the rest of the day, starting with Candy Store (3153 16th St), where you'll find more racks of local designer wares (love the Gytha Mander tees!) along with a smattering of home accents and accessories.
Scour thrift and vintage shops like Schauplatz (791 Valencia St), Virginia Howells (2839 24th St), and Community Thrift (625 Valencia St) for clothing and home finds. Check out home stores like Den (849 Valencia St) for beautiful but expensive modern classics, or Lost Art Salon (245 S. Van Ness) for cool and reasonable artworks, then wander around the boutiques on Valencia, Dolores, Mission, and Guerrero.
Don't forget to look up the numbered streets for hidden finds like local designer Sunhee Moon's (3167 16th St) retail outlet, local collective Fabric8's (3318 22nd St) shop of silk-screened tees and wind-up toys, Nisa's (3610 19th St) funky T-shirt dresses, and Needles & Pens' (3253 16th St) punk-y zines and local artwork.
Also not to be missed in the Mission are Paxton Gate (824 Valencia St) for the quirkiest possible gift (a stuffed Amarillo perhaps?), Aquarius Records (1055 Valencia St) for excellent and hard-to-find CDs, and Chamalyn (3491 19th St) for all things cute and Japanese.
Take a load off in the midst with a coffee and croissant at local favorite Tartine (600 Guerrero St) – if there's nowhere to sit, take it to go and hang out at Dolores Park for awhile. At night, play Mission hipster and head to Emmy's Spaghetti Shack (3355 Mission St) for dinner, then go to a free outdoor movie at Dolores Park (if it's summer), or check out whatever's on at the Victoria Theatre (2961 16th St).
3 days: You should visit the Alemany Flea Market (100 Alemany Blvd) in Bernal Heights, a warm and cozy neighborhood just south of the Mission. This market is all about quality over quantity – lots of good antique and vintage finds at amazing prices.
Take the Bay Area Rapid Transit to Van Ness, then transfer to Muni to get to Cole Valley. Spend the afternoon meandering through the neighborhood's home and gift stores (don't miss Stumasa - 515 Frederick St), then head down the hill to Haight Street and prepare to spend at least an hour at Amoeba (1855 Haight St), the world's greatest music store. They sell both albums and CDs, new and used, plenty of rare finds, plus DVDs and posters.
When you've had your fill, take Muni back downtown and get out at Embarcadero to visit the Ferry Building Marketplace, where you can stock up on "only in the Bay Area" foodstuffs and wine before leaving town.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in San Francisco
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in San Francisco
Live music and unusual adventures are the name of the game in San Francisco's nightlife. For the best of both, follow these tips:
1 day: Start the day off right with brunch at Home (2100 Market St, and 2032 Union St), where a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar and assortment of comfort-food breakfast options will prepare you for a day of revelry.
Head to Stern Grove in the afternoon to check out a free outdoor concert amongst the redwoods, and at night, return to the city and The Plush Room (940 Sutter St), a quintessentially San Francisco spot equal parts elegance, history, and camp. During Prohibition, it was a speakeasy reached via a maze of underground passageways that still exists. Today it's a classed up cabaret that plays host to an assortment of jazzy entertainers like Rita Moreno, Sam Harris, and local favorite Paula West, and a weekly, racy/campy burlesque show, "Dirty Little Secret," presented at 11 pm every Saturday night for only $25.
After the show, catch a late-night drink at Mobil Three-Star Hotel Rex (562 Sutter St) to keep the old-school elegance vibe, or the Owl Tree (601 Post St) for a classic San Francisco dive bar.
2 days: After champagne brunch with the cool kids in the Mission on Medjool's (2516 Mission St) rooftop deck, head over to Glide Memorial (333 Taylor St), for an amazing Gospel Mass. After church, head over to Fisherman's Wharf where the Musee Mechanique (Pier 45) will totally creep you out as only musical carnival machines can.
At night splurge for an all-inclusive feast and nighttime carnival at recently opened Supperclub (657 Harrison St), the San Francisco outpost of an infamous Amsterdam nightspot. If you're still in the mood to party when dinner and the show are over, head up the street to the End Up (401 6th St) where you can dance on into the morning.
3 days: Go for dim sum at City View (662 Commercial St, 415-398-2838) in Chinatown, Mobil Two-Star Yank Sing (101 Spear St) in South of Market, Ton Kiang (5821 Geary) in the Richmond, or get it to go from Good Luck Dim Sum (736 Clement St) in the Richmond. Or if you're really serious about your dim sum, take the subway (Bay Area Rapid Transit, aka BART) to Daly City and go to Koi Palace (365 Gellert Blvd).
When you're good and stuffed, head to Zeitgeist (199 Valencia St) for a lazy afternoon drink in San Francisco's best beer garden. When night falls head out for a free comedy show at The San Francisco Comedy College (315 Sutter St), the BATS Improv at the Bayfront Theater (Fort Mason Center, Building B, third floor) in Fort Mason (near the Marina), Cobb's Comedy Club (915 Columbus Ave), The Punchline (444 Battery St) or the Purple Onion (140 Columbus Ave).
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in San Francisco
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Relaxing & Unwinding in San Francisco
A little R & R is the best medicine after a hectic day of sightseeing or an unexpected layover on your way to San Francisco. The city's got plenty to offer, and we've it mapped out below.
1 day: Start off with a tasty French brunch outside on the patio at Metro Café (311 Divisadero St), a neighborhood gem on Divisadero then catch the bus up Fulton Street to Café Abir (on the corner of Fulton and Divisadero) if you need a cup of coffee and a good magazine from their stand, then head to Golden Gate Park.
Head to Golden Gate Bridge Park's Stowe Lake and rent a paddleboat or just walk around the lake, then visit the Japanese Tea Garden for afternoon tea. Next, grab a cab to SenSpa (1161 Gorgas Ave, Presidio) in the Presidio for a massage before going to dinner at one of the first restaurants to cop on to the whole vegetarian, organic healthy gourmet craze, Mobil Two-Star Greens. Enjoy a gourmet meal and an amazing view from this San Francisco legend in Fort Mason.
2 days: Spend the morning at a café (Atlas Café -- 3049 20th St and Ritual -- 1026 Valencia St in the Mission, Momi Toby's -- 528 Laguna St, in Hayes Valley, Café Organica -- 562 Central Ave in Haight, Café de la Presse -- 352 Grant Ave in Union Square, Moto Java -- 498 9th St in SoMa, Simple Pleasures -- 3434 Balboa St in the Outer Sunset are among some of the best, but there are plenty to choose from), then it's time for another pampering session, this time at the Nob Hill Spa in the Mobil Three-Star Huntington Hotel (1075 California St). It's a little pricey, but worth it and here's why -- in addition to providing incredible services, if you book a spa treatment you get access to the spa's rooftop pool all day. The pool is on top of the tallest building on Nob Hill (Sacramento and Jones Sts), so you get these incredible views and you can lounge in peace next to a soothing, heated pool.
Head down the hill through China Town and North Beach for a pleasant and easy walk to the Embarcadero, then spend the afternoon weaving through the Ferry Building (One Ferry Building), finishing with a glass of wine at the outdoor Wine Bar.
At night, make a trip across the bay to legendary Mobil Three-Star Chez Panisse (1517 Shattuck Ave) in Berkeley for an unforgettable meal prepared by legendary organic and slow-food guru Alice Waters.
3 days: Spend the morning in the Presidio (102 Montgomery St), golfing at the Arnold-Palmer-renovated Presidio Golf Course, biking and/or hiking, and bowling at Presidio Lanes. Grab lunch at The Grove (2250 Chestnut St), an outdoor café in the nearby Marina, then head over to Oakland in the evening to the Parkway Theater (1834 Park Blvd), where you can watch a quality film on the big screen while sitting in a comfy couch enjoying pizza and beer.
For the high-class version of that night, head to Foreign Cinema (2534 Mission St) in the Mission where you can watch a foreign film projected on their outdoor screen while sipping fine wine and eating a gourmet meal.
The "City by the Bay," as San Francisco is known, attracts nearly 16 million visitors each year. And when you consider all that San Francisco has to offer, it's easy to see why. Although you might not meet "gentle people with flowers in their hair," as Scott McKenzie's song San Francisco suggests, you're sure to encounter some of the friendliest natives of any big city. So be sure to bring an open mind (and a sweatshirt) when you go to San Francisco.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Amy Westervelt is a freelance writer who grew up in Southern California and now divides her time between San Francisco and the rest of the world, writing about travel, food, and entertainment for publications such as Travel + Leisure, Modern Bride, and The San Francisco Chronicle.