High level Information for Tourists:
San Francisco if one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and there is a good reason for that.
As heterogenous the people living in San Francisco the same is for the city, you can find different neighborhoods, views, food and culture in this unique city.
The relatively small city size enable you to explore many areas by foot. This is my recommended way to do it, arrive to a specific destination and discover it by walking around.
You can visit San Francisco in any month of the year, the relatively mild weather, potential rain in winter and dry not so hot summer months will allow you to do almost every activity during any month of the year.
As usual, my blogs are filed with a lot of pictures (some time even too much) I took during my many visits in each location. On top of the text the pictures will give you a good visual idea of what you should expect to see at any specific location.
Note: I will not cover in my blog things like restaurants, bars and nightlife, or specific hotel recommendations. You can find such places anywhere In the city.
Note: I do not live in the city but rather in the south-bay near San Jose, but I visited the city many times and I feel comfortable with the information I’m providing.
As always, use my blogs information in addition to other resources and plan your San Francisco experience.
Remember there is no “one size fit them all” so you need to see what you want to do during your visit and plan accordingly.
San Francisco has a mild weather year-round with temperatures are usually above 45 F (7 C) in cold winter day and below 80 F (27 C) in hot summer mid-day.
It is getting colder during winter months but even then, it still not so cold and never snows. It rains only during the winter months, but you can also have sunny week brake between cold rain systems.
Spring and fall are perfect time to visit the city from weather perspective + less other tourist, but as I already stated, it is always a good time to visit San Francisco.
When visiting San Francisco, you need to be aware that the weather in San Francisco can change from the morning to the afternoon, come prepared. At summer typical foggy morning can become a hot sunny day during noon and then back to cold windy and covered with fog afternoon and evening.
San Francisco is relatively small city where you can arrange your visit in such way that you can manage for a full day by only walking around without the need for transportation.
I found that for most of my city visits walking is the best way to explore the city. In some sections of the city there are high hills that me be challenging to walk for some, take it slow.
Car is excellent way to visit many areas of the city in one day, there aren’t many traffic issues inside the city except at the afternoon in outbound routs.
Getting to the city from any direction during morning hours or living the city at the afternoon and you will probably have traffic, but they are not extreme as in LA.
Some city sections and tourist attractions are far from the main hotels, and you will need to use public transportation.
I do not think that you must have a car for your San Francisco visit, and from car break-in aspect it is even better not to have a car. Without a car you will also save the costly parking fees in the city or at your hotel.
There are some locations that are better visit with car, the most obvious is the Golden Gate Bridge. It is fun, and for some exiting, to drive down Lombard Street or just drive around in the steep streets of sun Francisco, Visit Twin peek for sunset or drive to Treasure Island for night viewing.
Parking is another problem. There are many large and well-marked parking lots across the city and in main business and touristic area. Parking may be expensive per hour or per day.
Most hotels provide parking arrangements, but they are always with extra charge, thing that can start from $40 or even go up to $50-60 per 24 hr. check in advance with your hotel.
There are street parking almost anywhere in the city, in many places you will find meters that allow only few hours of parking and can be paid by credit card.
All are active and easy to get one in the city, day or night.
There is good public transportation system in the city that many based on bus and light train (subway is relatively limited with number of lines it has).
You can get a Municipal Public Transportation Passport that allows unlimited rides.
This is the best public transportation option to get around the city with relatively low cost.
This is part of the San Francisco Transportation and there are few longs line connecting far neighborhoods to the city center.
San Francisco has a subway, but it is limited only for few lines and can be used mainly for connecting San Francisco to Okland on the other side of the bay.
Operates vintage colorful streetcars run on an electric motor along Market Street and the northeastern waterfront all the way to fisherman wharf area.
There are few operative cable car lines that are used manly as tourist attraction, but they may provide a good way of transportation.
You can find that the simplest (but expensive) way to travel in San Francisco is by using Hop-on, Hop-off sightseeing buss. This option may be good for a day that you want to visit many locations in the city.
See the sights of San Francisco the fun way on a bike - it's the best way to map your own adventure
Where to stay:
I will not recommend a specific hotel; I do not cover this (the same also for restaurants and places to eat) in my blogs …
Excellent place to stay during your visit.
Many options to choose from, main city shopping area and a lot of attractions within a walking distance for the day activity as well as many restaurants, bars and clubs
The downside is that here hotels are usually on the high end of the price range.
Union Square and Financial district:
Here you will mainly find high-end brand-name and local boutique hotels.
South of Market (SOMA): Located near Moscone Center convention center, hotels in the area are mainly high end and business hotels.
Here you can find many options for 2-4-star hotels and Inns lodgings are available in this tourist area.
Outside the city:
This is also one possible option, book a hotel or AirB&B outside the city and travel to city every day, by public transportation or by your car. With that option you will probably find lower cost hotels that also include car parking as part of their service and if you like to discover the city by walking you can manage without a car.
Need to understand that the re is traffic congestions at morning and afternoons and by staying outside the city you do not have the flexibility to go back to the hotel and head back int the city later.
Crime and Safety
I live in the south bay, but I visit the city countless times, have friends that live in the city, member of FB groups with 10’s thousands of people and I rarely hear on violence incidence. Yes, crime and theft issue exist as in any large city (for tourist this is mainly car break-in) but the safety situation is not as bad as it reflect in media, especially if you are avoiding specific city blocks.
You need to be aware of your surrounding and always keep valuable thing close to you. Sometime, especially at night you will feel uncomfortable if you decide to walk and cross long distance in the city and at that time it is better to take Taxi/Uber/Lyft/bus.
There are few neighborhoods that considered to be not safe and even locals try to avoid visiting them if possible.
I do not have crime statistic but probably the most “problematic” neighborhoods is called Tenderloin, that is located not so far from the city center.
This “bad” area is located west of Union Square, east of Van Nass (101), north of the City Hall Plaza and south of California St.
This area is notoriously known for its homeless and crime problem. I do not recommend visiting here even during the day, even if nothing happens and also there is nothing to look for in this area.
I was passing here several times and just seeing the drags and homeless problem in the streets did not make me feel comfortable here.
Unfortunately, San Francisco as all other main west-cost cities are known for having homeless problems. From my, and many other, experience the homeless will not bother you or do anything. Try to ignore them if you will be approach, keep walking and they will not bother you.
In specific ruff neighborhoods you may see sights that you do not expect to see in one of the richest cities in the world, unfortunately when people are living in the streets, in tents and carton boards they are doing there many things.
I’m not getting into the debate what can be done to help them and if the authorities are doing the right thing, just stating this because it can’t be ignored.
I saw that some tourist see the homeless problem and car break-in as major downside in their San Francisco visit, I’m not saying it does not exist but if you will put this in right perspective you will enjoy your visit.
The main tourist related problem is the car break-in, smashing a window and taking valuable stuff. This is practically epidemic problem of San Francisco and can happen almost everywhere.
To reduce the chances that this will happen to you try to do the following:
· Do not leave anything in your car, unfortunately also empty cars get break-in because they want to check if you left anything in the trunk.
· Make sure it looks empty from the outside.
· If you need to drive with your suitcases try that someone will stay in the car.
· Park in organized parking lot, preferable in building and not in open lots.
· Try not to park in the street along the road.
To see where there are a lot of Car Break-in:
How to plan your visit In San Francisco:
San Francisco is one of the most beautiful and fun to visit cities in the world. With
unique architecture and buildings, waterside front and inner sections, diverse culture, people and recent history, and it looks and feel as iconic as in the “movies”.
San Francisco stands for its worldwide reputation, and you will enjoy your visit here.
I tried to give you some high-level ideas and directions how to organize and plan your visit in San Francisco.
There are so many things to see and do in the city so you probably you need to decide what you do not have the time for and what is a “must see” from your perspective.
This beautifully city has so many unique things to discover, and I will try to help you plan your visit.
Try to organize your days with locations in proximate to each other so you will be walk between the locations/attractions, this is the best way to explore the city. Yes San Francisco is built on many hills and in some areas, there are steep streets that you will need to climb but if you will plan correctly and set easy past all is doable and part of the fun.
You do not need a car for most of your stay in San Francisco but for some attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge by car is the preferred way to visit them.
Visiting San Francisco is not about rushing from one place to the other checking V on locations, take your time, explore around and enjoy this unique city tempo.
The list of “must visit” tourist attractions:
Golden Gate Park and the nearby Haight-Ashbury can be view by some in the must visit list, but they can’t be covered in one day.
The same is for Alcatraz Island, it is not on my must visit city attraction although it story is interesting and if you have the time, I highly recommend visiting it.
If you are coming for only 1 day:
This will be difficult to really see all what San Francisco has to offer to tourists in one day. Planning such day also depend on what you want to see, if this is an all-family trip, where your hotel is located, do you like to walk and if you have a car or not.
My recommendation for one day is to focus on the center city and the “must see tourist attractions” from the above list.
My suggested day trip, walking from Pier39 to Union Square:
You want to start your long day near your hotel, probably this will be near the Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square areas.
The distance between those places is around 2.5 km (1.5 mile) and my recommendation is spending a full day between those locations. The distance can be covered by walking around.
You must visit, at least once, the Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, especially if you are traveling with family, kids will like it here.
By many pier39 may be view as a “tourist trap” but it has it charm, and you must visit here even for a short time or just to see the sea lion’s colony.
On your north-south day-walk you will cross the north beach neighborhood, the Italian streets (many café and restaurants), you can walk up hill and visit Coit Tower and rest in sun in Washington Square.
Visit Chinatown, prime tourist destination, that is also on this route, you can explore for few hours this largest, live and authentic Chinatown in the US.
At the south section of this walk, near Union Square and Market st. you will find the shopping district. From fancy high-end stores, flagship brands, art galleries, and also more affordable Department stores.
A day between Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square can fill your day with many different city attractions and things to see.
If you have time, you can ride back the cable car, there is a line connecting Market St. to the north Pier area (near Ghirardelli and the north piers). Plan ahead, there can be a long line of people that are waiting for this tourist attraction “must do” ride.
At the afternoon I recommend driving to one of the Golden Gate Bridge viewing points. Every time I see the bridge or drive on it, I’m getting an awe moment, it one of the most amazing man-made structures in the world. I just can’t get enough of this view, and along the years I took so many pictures from many vantage points.
You must see the view of this city landmark. From both north and south viewing points you can walk over the bridge if it is not too cold or foggy and you have the time.
2-3 days visit planning:
Start with my suggestion for 1 day visit.
You can add to this day another 1-2 days covering more part of the city.
The list below cannot be done in 2 days, and you will need to choose what you want to see and where you want to visit.
You have few day-trip options, you can spend in any above location a full day but probably half day is also possible:
Haight-Ashbury and walking down to Castro St.*
Half a day in Mission District and Dolores Park *
*Haight-Ashbury: Famously known as the origin place of of the hippie movement even today it is still the vibe.
*Castro St.: Synonymous with gay and LGBT culture
*Mission District: Neighborhood with Latino roots and a hipster vibe.
You can do a long half-day trip to Alcatraz Island, need to book ticket in advance.
Visit one of the city museums for art or science (see top city museums list down below), this can easily fill half of the day in one museum.
You can find museums in the city center or in Golden Gate Park.
If you are looking for fun all family activity visit the Exploratorium interactive science museum that is located on bay from Embarcadero at Pier 15, midway between Pier 39 and the Ferry Building.
If you want to include a city park visit during your stay than San Francisco Golden Gate Park is a prime destination (many things to do here) as well as Presidio of San Francisco. In Golden Gate Park museums or gardens, you can easily spend a full day and in the Presidio, you can spend half day and combine it with a visit in San Francisco north ocean beach and Golden Gate Bridge walk.
I can’t write” thing to do” in San Francisco list complete without mentioning Lombard St.
Probably the most famous short street in San Francisco. This street negotiate the step hills of San Francisco with a series of 8 tight switchbacks, something you probably need/want to drive once in your life, I did it 25 years a go 😊
Popular City Viewpoints:
If you already visit the Golden Gate Bridge, you probably want to visit another prime city viewing point.
All the below locations offer amazing view of San Francisco; preferred time, if it is not foggy is around sunset.
Fun Park to visit with a great city view, the perfect location to end you Mission District visit.
One of the most photographed locations in San Francisco, classic San Francisco houses with the view of city center. You can combine the visit here with the not so far Hayes Valley.
One the of the highest points in San Francisco with a great view of the city below. Prime tourist and local attraction point, usually it is crowded and with limited parking.
The flat man-made Island located midway to Oakland on the other side of the bay bridge, provide a unique view of the city.
Tour to the island also provide unique view of the city from the boat and the island itself.
What to do when visiting for more than 2 days:
To the above list you can add the following destinations:
· Visiting in Japan Town and the nearby Filmore st. and Alta Plaza Park.
· SoMa and the financial Districts
· A day trip north of the city to the Marin Headlands, to see the amazing Redwood trees in Muir Woods National Monument or to Sonoma wine county.
· Try to get a ticket to one of San Francisco major-league team’s game: Warriors, 49ers or the Giants.
Not in my top recommendation to visit places:
Places I do not recommend so much to visit because their location near Tenderloin:
San Francisco Public Library
Asian Art Museum
The below Location list has links to detailed blogs with many pictures about each location:
Top Touristic Attractions:
· PIER 39
· Boat Tour in the bay
Top City Museums:
· SF MoMA
· de Young Museum
· California Academy of Sciences
City Areas and Neighborhoods:
San Francisco’s is a diverse city, and its neighborhoods are different from each other, each has its own vibe and local culture. If this is the city downtown with-it modern skyscrapers and business look, to the north fisherman wharf tourist location, if this is Mission, Castro, Haight-Ashbury, Chinatown or Japantown, all have their unique experience.
The list below do not include all San Francisco neighborhoods and it is more a functional view from tourist perspective.
A list of city areas:
· West and the Golden Gate Park and Haight-Ashbury
Interesting Streets to visit:
· Painted Ladies and Hayes St.
What you can do and see in each area:
Fisherman’s Wharf and North Piers:
· Pier 39
· Jefferson St tourist area
· Hyde Street Pier
· Pier 45: USS Pampanito Museum and Memorial
City Center and Downtown:
San Francisco west:
· Battery Crosby
· Baker Beach
· China Beach
San Francisco South:
· Alta Plaza Park
· Buena Vista Park
· San Francisco Zoo
Events and live concerts:
San Francisco has many special annual event days all your long, you need to check what will happen during your specific visit days.
The same is for shows and live concerts and local music shows and bars.
San Francisco Beaches
· Baker Beach
· China Beach (East Beach)
· Lands End
· Ocean Beach
Day trip out of the city:
· Napa & Sonoma Wine Country (this is full day trip)
· Visit the town of Sausalito (you can get there by bike and come back using the ferry)
· Muir wood redwood National Park (this can be half/full day trip)
· Point Reyes National Park (this is full day trip)
· Angel Island National Park (this is full day trip)
· Highway 1, South Of San Francisco on all the way to Santa Cruz (this is full day trip)
· Yosemite National Park (located 4 hours’ drive east, Plan 2-3 days visit)
· Monterey and Carmel (located 2.5 hours’ drive south, plan 2 days visit)
The End :-)