The city of San Francisco is almost completely surrounded by water, which means that although there are breathtaking views and magical sunsets, there are also patches of fog. The weather can be unstable and vary even by neighborhood. Spring in the city brings clear sunny days that are often drier than experienced in other U.S. cities. The summer can mean overcast days and some fog that usually burns off by the afternoon. The autumn is also drier like the spring, and is really the best time to visit, with sunny days and mild nights. Fall temperatures range from the 60s through the 80s and 90s—think of it as summer! The good news is that even winter is relatively mild, with snow being extremely rare. However, the winter months bring most of the rain. In between showers, however, you still get sunny, mild days. As is the case with many city getaways, your best bet is to pack layers. Bring light sweaters, jeans, close-toed shoes, and raingear just in case.
If you’ve never been to San Francisco, then you should go all out and visit the city’s impressive tourist attractions. There are double-decker bus tours that offer a variety of jaunts, including bus-and-ferry tours through the city and to Alcatraz. Most travelers want to tour Alcatraz Island and its famous prison, so plan ahead if you can with advance tickets. It is indeed a touristy-tourist attraction, and if you don’t want to bother going onto the island, then you might be happier on an Alcatraz Lunch Cruise, where you can enjoy a gourmet lunch and sail past Angel and Alcatraz Islands. In good weather it might be worth taking one of the catamaran cruises that passes Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and a sea lion colony. Don’t miss Golden Gate Park, where you’ll find Stybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. The 6,000 plant species housed there include a display of California redwoods, a Japanese Tea Garden, the Asian Art Museum, and a variety of outdoor recreational activities. Other top San Francisco attractions and activities include shopping at Pier 39, sunbathing at Baker Beach, visiting the Aquarium of the Bay, riding a cable car, enjoying the gay life in the Castro District, celebrating Chinese New Year in Chinatown, eating at Cliff House, climbing Telegraph Hill and seeing Coit Tower, observing the flora at the Conservatory of Flowers, saying hi to the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf, tasting chocolate at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, finding your inner hippie in the Haight-Ashbury, walking the pedestrian stairs up or down Lombard Street, checking out the redwood pulpit inside Grace Cathedral, eating an authentic Mission burrito in the Mission District, learning some history at the Presidio, more shopping in Union Square, and of course, seeing, driving across, and admiring the Golden Gate Bridge.
Travel with Kids
San Francisco has much to offer the little ones. Golden Gate Park has a great playground and inside the massive city park you’ll find an aquarium, planetarium, and laserium at the California Academy of Sciences. Visit the Exploratorium for all kinds of exciting science treasures from salt volcanos and bubble bombs to fault lines and frogs. Another favorite children’s museum is Zeum, a community-based, hands-on, multimedia arts and technology experience for kids. Around Fishermans’ Wharf, Pier 39, and Ghirardelli Square there are lots of fun things for kids to do, from watching street performers, to tasting chocolate, to exploring the weird and wonderful at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and the Wax Museum, to playing old-fashioned arcade games at Musee Mechanique. For hungry kids, some of the best bets in San Francisco include Firewood Café, with an open kitchen, kids menus, and wines by the glass for parents. For a big breakfast try Just for You; for a hippy lunch visit Magnolia Gastropub on Haight Street; if you are near Golden Gate Park the family will like outdoor dining at Park Chow; for fun Italian stop at Buca di Beppo.
You can walk from Union Square through Chinatown, North Beach, and Fisherman’s Wharf fairly easily. Be sure to pick up a map. To get a bit farther, try car rental alternatives. Parking is scarce and expensive in San Francisco, not to mention the challenge of parking on the city’s hills! Besides, San Francisco is all about fun transport like trolleys and cable cars. If you purchase a Muni-Passport you can ride buses as well as the trolleys and cable cars all on one ticket. Bus tours are fun and will give you a good sense of the entire city without you having to trek up hills. The city buses are best for Golden Gate and the beaches. Take the historic “F” Line Trolley along Market Street and the Embarcadero from the Castro district to Fisherman’s Wharf. There are also ferries for travel to Sausalito, Tiburon, and Angel Island. For airport transportation and trips with several people, you might consider a taxi, or you can use the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).
Located on the revitalized Embarcadero Waterfront, Hotel Vitale is a 200-room luxury boutique near San Francisco’s Financial District. Also in close proximity is the historic Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco’s gourmet destination. Each of the 200 guestrooms at Hotel Vitale is designed with nurturing in mind, featuring limestone-covered bathrooms, luxurious sheets, and a soft and subtle color scheme. Amenities include complimentary wifi, 28″ or 32″ LCD flat screen televisions, iPod/MP3 docking station, cd player/clock radio, and an honor bar with both decadent and refreshing items as well as healthful options. For a stunning view of San Francisco Bay, the Ferry Building, and Bay Bridge choose a corner Panoramic Suite. Share a bath in the two-person soaking tub, have a cocktail from the wet bar, and relax in this awe-inspiring suite. For outdoor access, try a Terrace Studio, which features sleek and modern custom-designed furniture, rugs, and wood flooring. Each room has its own private terrace with heat lamps and lounge furniture, including chaises, sofas, and tables. Dining options include the Americano Restaurant, where the kitchen delivers a menu that celebrates the essence of Italian farm-to-table cooking, and the Cocktail Lounge, which boasts 180-degree panoramic views. Relax with a treatment at Spa Vitale on the penthouse level of the hotel. Hotel Vitale also offers indoor and outdoor meeting and event spaces that are uniquely San Francisco.
Set within the stunning Golden Gate Park, Cavallo Point is a unique eco-resort and urban getaway. With views of both the Golden Gate bridge and downtown San Francisco, Cavallo Point offers two distinct types of accommodations: Historic Lodging or Contemporary Lodging. The historic former officers’ residences of Fort Baker have been transformed into luxury rooms with organic bedding and the finest amenities. Perched on the hillside above is Cavallo Point’s contemporary modern hotel buildings that combine eco-design with modern styling and architecture. Cavallo Point is pet- and family-friendly, offering family suites and spacious rooms. Murray Circle is Cavallo Point’s Michelin-star restaurant and one of Northern California’s top culinary destinations. Start with a cocktail at Farley Bar, named after the popular San Francisco Chronicle comic-strip character created by the late Phil Frank. Understated and relaxing, Farley Bar features a small-plate menu, cozy fireplaces, leather club chairs, and a bar crafted from a fallen tree. As well as providing the opportunity to sample fantastic cuisine, Carvallo Point also offers the world-class Carvallo Point Cooking School. Inspired by the bounty of organic offerings from the San Francisco Bay Area, all classes are led with a keen eye toward seasonality, sustainability, and stewardship. The Healing Arts Center & Spa at Carvallo Point is designed to remove guests from the hustle and bustle of city life by providing on oasis of tranquility and serenity.
Formerly the Miyako Hotel, the Hotel Kabuki has recently undergone a complete renovation. Situated in the Japantown district of San Francisco, Hotel Kabuki is close to major business areas and tourists attractions, making it a great location for both business and leisure visits. Hotel Kabuki has Room and Suite options that all come with luxurious linens, 26-inch flat LCD televisions with HD channels, wifi, iPod docking stations with radios, bathrobes, desks, ergonomic chairs, hair dryers, iron/ironing board, in-room safes, Asian tea kettles, and honor bars. Marble bathrooms have a bath and shower, with some rooms and suites also including traditional Japanese-style soaking tubs. In the Family Suites traditional East and West sleeping styles converge with a traditional Western-style king-size bed and a second sleeping space behind shoji screens equipped with two futons surrounded by tatami mats. The Japanese Suite features a sunken living space, a separate entry through shoji screens into a raised bedroom with a futon surrounded by tatami mats, and an in-room bamboo and sand garden. Dining at Hotel Kabuki features the O Izakaya Lounge. Inspired by Izakaya houses, the popular after-work watering holes in Japan where people come together to drink sake and nibble on shared plates of food, O Izakaya Lounge includes a contemporary menu with fresh and organic local ingredients combined with traditional Asian flavors.
Hotel Union Square
Part of the Personality Hotels Collection, the Hotel Union Square has completed an extensive modern makeover to emerge as the freshest and most innovative boutique hotel in San Francisco. Remaining faithful to its Art Deco history, guestrooms have been transformed into a new experience fusing contemporary and classic San Francisco–beautiful brick walls, mosaic murals, signature staircases, and opulent moldings are complemented by a warm color palate, sleek custom furnishings by San Francisco-based EQ3, and state-of-the-art technology that caters to both leisure and business travelers. Highlights include platform beds with custom-made cream tufted headboards, 600-thread-count bedding, sleek dark wood desks, velvety chaise lounges, flat screen televisions, custom lighting, drop panel ceilings, and expansive mirrors. Book the Dashiell Hammett Suite, dedicated to the celebrated author best known for his novel The Maltese Falcon (1930). The famous scribe loved the hotel so much that he booked his bride-to-be Josephine Dolan in a suite on the night before their 1921 wedding. Designed by San Francisco-based artist and interior designer Lisa Compagno, the Dashiell Hammett Suite treats guests to a history lesson. From the two stainless steel eyes hanging in the entrance (a reference to Hammett’s short story “The Girl with the Silver Eyes”) to the hand towels adorned with Hammett’s image in the bathroom, no detail has been overlooked in this large corner suite. Special touches include: an antique suitcase filled with Hammett books; an old-fashioned typewriter; a collage dedicated to Hammett books and movies; black and white photos of Hammett’s wife and daughters; a vintage-style radio; and a mural of the shadow of “The Thin Man.”
Hotel Frank is a boutique Union Square Hotel where “bold is the new black.” Formerly known as Maxwell Hotel San Francisco, the newly re-named Hotel Frank offers Union Square accommodations with a bold cosmopolitan style. Hotel Frank is perfect for business or leisure travel, with top-notch services and amenities in a fabulous city location. Interior designer Thomas Schoos expertly blended time-honored style with a contemporary touch. Accommodation highlights include the Skyline Loft, which comes with a private terrace, living room with sleeper sofa, dining area, and a luxurious king bedroom with a striking soaking tub set upon a raised marble slab. Additional features include a fireplace, carerra marble bathroom with sleek glass enclosed shower, flat screen televisions, cordless telephones, and complimentary wifi.
Other San Francisco chic hotel options include members of the Kimpton Hotel group. With several San Francisco locations, Kimpton Hotels offer funky accommodation and chef-driven dining options. For pure luxury and class, stay at the Huntington Hotel in Nob Hill, where you’ll find five-star service in a five-star neighborhood.
With proximity to wine country and a wealth of agricultural resources, San Francisco is foodie paradise. Every neighborhood has several wonderful restaurants, and many feature outdoor dining. In downtown and the financial district there are several treats including Boulevard, Campton Place, and One Market. For a welcoming place and good food visit the one-Michelin-star Spruce in Presidio Heights, a distinctive new restaurant that reflects the charm of its surroundings. Designed by Stephen Brady for Williams Sonoma, Spruce serves American cuisine with local and organically grown produce as well as naturally raised meat and line-caught fish. In the Haight try Southern BBQ at Memphis Minnie’s, Indian at Indian Oven, or tasty noodles at Citrus Club. In the Mission food is simply burritos: try one at Cancun, El Toro, El Farolito, Pancho Villa, or La Tacqueria. For some Mission gourmet try Saison. In the Richmond District, Aziza offers elegant and stylish Moroccan cuisine. Owned by Chef Mourad, Aziza combines artisanal products and organic market ingredients, intense flavors and stunning presentations for dishes with a progressive Californian influence.
A shopper can find anything and everything in San Francisco, from the most exquisite luxury items to the most eclectic vintage finds. Pier 39 is a major stop on the shopping trail and you will already be there visiting the sites. Nearby you’ll find Union Square. With department stores and luxury boutiques galore, Union Square is perfect for the shopaholic. For sophisticated shops and restaurants, walk along Chestnut Street. Head for Chinatown where they sell just about anything you’re looking for. On Fillmore Street there are beauty stores and chic design boutiques like Rachel Ashwell’s Shabbychic furniture and bedroom design store as well as Aveda. In the Haight look for Victorian houses, anarchist bookstores, piercing salons, and funky clothing shops. Music lovers will appreciate a visit to Amoeba Records. For fewer chain stores check out the Hayes Valley, where you’ll find art galleries and contemporary boutiques. Before or after your Mission burrito, do stop in the area’s offbeat shops—they are worth it.
There are plenty of world-class museums in San Francisco. Unlike many museums in Europe, however, you will find that museums can be pricey in U.S. cities. So look for discounted tickets and “free days”—many museums offer free admission on designated days. Here’s a list of some of the city’s top museums:
California Academy of Sciences
M.H. de Young Museum
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
The Legion of Honor
Asian Art Museum
Cable Car Museum
Maritime Park and the Historic Ships at Hyde Pier
Golden Gate Railroad Museum
Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD)
Museum of the City of San Francisco
Contemporary Jewish Museum
San Francisco is a happening city with abundant and diverse nightlife. There is a distinct vibe in San Francisco’s many neighborhoods, so the visitor can really customize an evening—or try a bit of this and that. If you are looking for some sophistication, try the Marina District. The SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood features electronic music clubs, hip hop, and chill art lounges. In the Mission District you can bar hop with hipsters and rockers. San Francisco is a very gay city—you’ll find gay-friendly bars and clubs pretty much everywhere, but especially in the Castro, SoMa, and Polk Districts. Some city highlights include drinks with a rustic and burlesque edge at the Parlor; art, sound, and people-watching at 111 Minna Gallery; dark wood and a jukebox at 15 Romolo; live music at the Rockit Room; cool DJ nights at Ruby Skye; intimate music at the Red Devil Lounge; comedy and jazz at Club Deluxe; Old-Fashioneds at Alembic; warm peanuts and edgy music at the Hemlock Tavern; a big-club scene at 26 Mix; inhabiting the VIP room at Harlot; and much, much more…
San Francisco is known for many annual events, but some of the best to experience include St. Patrick’s Day (March 12), Chinese New Year (Feb 19), the Bay to Breakers 12K race (May 15), the How Weird Street Faire (May 9), the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual And Transgender (LGBT) Parade (June 25-26) (world’s largest), the San Francisco Waterfront Festival (July 4), the Fillmore Street Jazz Festival (July 2-3), the Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival, the San Francisco Blues Festival, the Folsom Street Fair (Sep 25), the Castro Street Fair (First Sunday on Octoer) the San Francisco Jazz Festival, Oktoberfest by the Bay, San Francisco Crab Season, the Tree Lighting Ceremony at Ghirardelli Square, and the Great Dickens Christmas Fair.