San Francisco has been lovingly nicknamed, “America’s most beautiful city,” and with rows of pastel Victorian homes, vintage cable cars and idyllic beaches, it is easy to see why. The Golden Gate Bridge contrasted against a blue sky or shrouded in fog is always a top American sight to see! From the vibrant and colorful Castro to storied Chinatown, there is a distinctive neighborhood for every type of foodie, art lover and shopper alike! Taste new flavors blended with local ingredients at top restaurants, farmers’ markets and food trucks. Ride the first moving National Landmark, the cable cars. Learn more fun facts about the cable cars in this video:
Trains: Travel to the Emeryville station along one of the most scenic train routes in the country, the California Zephyr. From Emeryville, you can take the Amtrak bus into San Francisco. Along the California Zephyr, enjoy views of the Rocky Mountains, Utah Desert and the High Sierras. Between Sacramento and Reno, enjoy volunteers sharing the history of the transcontinental railroad route and visit Sacramento’s Railway Museum. Read more about why this is the most beautiful train trip in America here.
Thank you Amtrak for sponsoring this blog post, as always all opinions are my own.
Flights: Fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Take BART rapid rail from SFO to San Francisco, which takes about 30 minutes. San Francisco is 5 hours and 30 minutes from New York City and 10 hours and 30 minutes from London.
Local Transportation: BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit and connects San Francisco Peninsula with the surrounding areas. With the many hills of San Francisco, it is an accessible and affordable way to get around faster than walking.
When to go: San Francisco has a mild climate most of the year, but can be very chilly, rainy and foggy, especially from December to March. The best time to visit San Francisco is in the fall, from September to November, when the city has some of the warmest temperatures year-round and the summer crowds have dissipated.
- San Francisco is built on more than 50 hills, most notably Nob Hill, Russian Hill and Telegraph Hill.
- San Francisco was originally named Yerba Buena in 1835, which is Spanish for “Good Herb.”
- The Golden Gate Bridge is painted “International Orange,” which was the original primer color.
- San Francisco’s fog has a name. Karl the Fog covers the city more than 100 days per year, mostly during July and August and has very popular social media accounts.
- The cable cars are the only National Historic Landmark that can move.
- It has the largest and oldest Chinatown and Japantown in the USA.
- Due to the weather and government help, San Francisco has the largest percent of homeless inhabitants in the USA.
- In 1990, the official instrument was declared the accordion.
- Irish coffee was invented in San Francisco.
- The first Chinese fortune cookies were invented by a Japanese man in the Japanese Tea Garden.
What to do in SF:
- Golden Gate Bridge: Walk across the one of the country’s most beautiful bridges to photograph it from every angle and take in views of the San Francisco skyline.
- Painted Ladies: The well-known opening scene of Full House features this line of seven Victorian houses, which is a classic view in front of the SF skyline.
- Cable cars: The iconic cable cars are the only moving National Historic Landmark and are still a top experience for visitors! It is worth the line to hop on the Powell-Hyde Line at Powell and Market streets.
- Baker Beach: One of the most scenic views of the Golden Gate Bridge is found along the shores of Baker Beach.
- Palace of Fine Arts: The Roman rotunda from the 1915 Expo is one of the most beautiful and photographed locations in San Francisco.
- Golden Gate Park: Explore the expansive Golden Gate Park trails, gardens, and museums. Visit the must-see Japanese Tea Garden with a five-story pagoda and cherry trees. This is the oldest Japanese Garden in the USA.
- Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39: The Wharf is a top tourist spot for a reason with a number of waterfront restaurants and activities. Depart Fisherman’s Wharf on a scenic boat tour under the Golden Gate Bridge and don’t forget to see the sunbathing sea lions on the docks.
- Alcatraz island: Cruise past the historic island on a boat tour, or take the ferry there to learn about the island’s storied past. Adventurous visitors can take a night tour of the eerie former prison, once host to the mobster Al Capone.
- Lombard Street: One block of Lombard Street between Hyde St. and Leavenworth St. is famous for its eight steep hairpin turns, earning it the title, “crookedest street in the world,” and requiring a 5 miles (8km) per hour speed limit.
- Ferry Building: Foodies rejoice! Head to the Ferry Building Marketplace for anything from seafood to coffee. Wander towards the Bay Bridge for amazing views of the skyline.
- Chinatown: The oldest and largest Chinatown outside of Asia is nestled between the Financial District and Nob Hill. The Dragon’s Gate entranceway is beautiful and the storefront souvenirs make for fun window shopping.
For more, read our list of the Most Instagrammable Places in San Francisco.
What to Eat/Drink:
San Francisco is a top foodie city full of coffee shops, locally sourced farmers’ markets and international neighborhoods. Top dining neighborhoods are The Mission for Mexican, North Beach for Italian and Chinatown for Chinese. With new restaurants launching weekly, here are some of our favorite classic San Francisco spots.
- Boudin’s: Order a bread bowl of clam chowder at the home of sourdough.
- NOPA: This is a great spot for brunch, dinner and even late-night eats.
- Tartine: This classic spot is worth the line for everything from bread to ice cream!
- Philz Coffee: Visit this quirky café, which is a local favorite for coffee.
- The View: One of the few tall rooftop bars, visit The View for cocktails at the unique window overlooking the city.
- Ghirardelli Square: Warm up with the salted caramel hot chocolate in the winter, or enjoy a decadent sundae in the summer at Ghirardelli’s original chocolate factory location.
- Swensen’s Ice Cream: Swensen’s vintage sign has beckoned sweet-toothed locals since 1948.
- Bi-Rite Creamery: You must try the famous salted caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery.
Where to Stay:
- Marker San Francisco: Stay at this jewel-toned Instagram dream hotel in the ideal Union Square location.
- Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel: This Kimpton hotel, located in Union Square, has a legendary history of hosting celebrities. The boutique luxury hotel is decked out in dramatic décor.
- Proper Hotel: This flatiron-shaped landmark has been completely reimagined as the new Proper Hotel, complete with award-winning chefs at the hotel’s restaurant, Villion.
- Argonaut Hotel: Anchor down at the nautical-themed and pet-friendly Argonaut Hotel, located in Fisherman’s Wharf. Enjoy clam chowder, pictured above, at their seafood restaurant, Blue Mermaid.
Have you been to San Francisco? What are you most looking forward to seeing next in San Francisco? Comment below!
3 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco”
Great article, photos and video of SF!! I have been to SF and loved it so much. My favorite spots were the GGB, Fisherman’s wharf, the cable cars, Golden Gate Park and Lombard Street. Driving on Lombard Street was a total trip. I really enjoy reading your blogs on your amazing web site. The content is so helpful in planning a trip and it is so well written. You obviously take a lot of time creating your blog and put a lot of energy into doing a great job. You are amazing and very talented. Keep up the great work. Thanks so much.
Thanks for the details description of SF. I really love your insightful comments.
Oh thank you so much, I loved creating this one, really appreciate your comment!