San Francisco is an amazing city to visit. There is so much to do, see, and experience in San Francisco. The hills, the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, the “anything goes” attitude, the food, the diversity – its all wonderful.
My expertise in San Francisco? I went out there one October and ended up staying 10 years. I go back often.
People regularly ask me for recommendations about San Francisco, so I decided to compile this series.
The small print: All photos were taken by me unless otherwise noted. No compensation or anything similar was given to me for any recommendations.
This travel overview is broken into 9 parts:
San Francisco Part 1 – Overview (including getting there, weather, and where to stay)
San Francisco Part 2 – Top 5 Touristy Things To Do
San Francisco Part 3 – Best Walks in San Francisco
San Francisco Part 4 – Top 5 Off the Beaten Path Things To Do
San Francisco Part 5 – Where to Eat and Drink
San Francisco Part 6 – Avoiding the Bad Side
San Francisco Part 7 – Experiencing the Wild Side
San Francisco Part 8 – Amazing Day Hikes Around San Francisco
San Francisco Part 9 – Amazing Day Trips Around San Francisco
San Francisco Part 10 – Further Afield from San Francisco (and Worth It)
“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” – Mark Twain
Before you even arrive, consider the unique San Francisco weather. The city sits on a peninsula between two large bodies of water (Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay) so when everywhere else is hot, the hot air pulls a cold fog over San Francisco.
June, July, August – cool and damp; you need a jacket and warmer clothing, especially at night; you will shiver by the coast. The famous San Francisco fog will hover over the city for much of the day. This is not t-shirt and shorts season. Layers!
Sept, Oct, Nov – warm and dry. The sun will shine all day. This is t-shirt and shorts season. Best time of year to visit.
Dec, Jan, Feb, March – cool and wet. This is the rainy season. It never gets that cold though. There is something nice about a San Francisco rain. December especially is festive.
April, May, maybe June – warm and beautiful. The flowers will bloom and the sun will shine. It may still be cooler at night.
Getting To San Francisco
Unless you are fairly local to San Francisco (and therefore don’t need this guide) you will probably fly there. The two major airports are San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Oakland International Airport (OAK).
- OAK is primarily Southwest
- SFO is most other airlines and all the big international airlines
Note that San Jose Airport (SJC) is far away, in a congested traffic corridor, and hard to get to so I do not recommend it even though tickets are often cheaper.
To get into San Francisco from either airport, the best option is BART if you are staying in the Union Square area. Uber is widely used if you are staying anywhere else. If you land in Oakland, take BART to the city, then get an Uber to your hotel.
Amtrak to San Francisco is also a wonderful experience depending on where you are coming from and how much time you have.
Getting Around San Francisco
If you are staying in the city of San Francisco, Do Not Rent A Car at the airport. Parking costs a few paychecks. Street parking is ridiculous. Driving is not the way to see San Francisco. Again Do Not Rent A Car at the airport. If you want to go on a day trip out of the city, rent a car for the day from one of the local edition rental companies in the city. Far cheaper than the prices at the airport.
If you are planning to do a lot of single or multi day trips, you may consider staying around SFO airport or getting an AirBnB in Burlingame south of SFO. The Caltrain runs readily into downtown San Francisco.
Public transit is everywhere in San Francisco. If you want a truly local and cultural experience take the San Francisco Muni buses or trolleys (on Market Street). Be open minded. A single ticket (good for 90 minutes) is $2.75 or you can get single or multi day passes. Buses run everywhere.
Where to Stay
This is a really hard section to write, but generally plan early, look for specials, read the small print, and consider AirBnB. I do not recommend arriving in San Francisco without a pre-arranged place to stay.
Property is expensive in San Francisco, so hotel rooms are often smaller than normal. Do not be surprised by small, “cozy” hotel rooms with small bathrooms. Some hotels still share common bathrooms in the hallway. Do your homework.
Union Square/Market Street – great, central location. Try to get a place east of Taylor Street or with a cross street number lower than 7. I like Cornell Hotel at Bush and Mason, but as I already pointed out, be aware this is not a predicable Marriott or Hilton – it is unique (and breakfast is wonderful). And don’t be put at all off by what is next door.
Fisherman’s Wharf – good place to stay, though not a central location.
Nob Hill – amazing if you can afford it.
Hayes Valley – wonderful, great location, great food scene. I like the Edwardian Hotel but again be advised, this is not a standard hotel with predicable rooms sizes or layouts.
Financial District – Cleaner and nicer often with better rates. The streets are quiet at night.
Van Ness Corridor or Civic Center or South of Market (SOMA)– I do not recommend these areas. A bit too sketchy and although central, not really close to most attractions.
As a caution: Some of the larger hotels (including the chains) are adding a ridiculous “resort fee” at checkout, maybe $40 to $60 a night. Get your bill printed at checkout and make sure it matches the room rate you reserved for. Refuse to pay it if it was not in the printed room rate in your reservation. They will argue that the coupon book, high-speed internet, and cheap wine were part of that package. Fight this growing ripoff.
Final consideration: There are plenty of boutique hotels all over the city, so consider them depending on what you interests are. Do your homework. I love the boutique hotels.
Next up – San Francisco Part 2 – Top 5 Touristy Things To Do.
PRO TIP for MUNI TRANSIT – There is a MUNI APP – you can buy your bus/streetcar ticket within the APP – no need for change/bills AND it’s fast. Also, Google Maps integrates the different transit options – BART is all underground within the City and more limited in terms of it’s coverage but great to/from SFO.