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San Francisco is a major city in California, the centerpiece of the Bay Area, well-known for its liberal community, hilly terrain, Victorian architecture, scenic beauty, summer fog, and great ethnic and cultural diversity. These are only a few of the aspects of the city that make San Francisco one of the most visited cities in the world.
Although huge in terms of offerings, San Francisco is physically quite compact. It is located on a seven-by-seven mile (11 x 11km) square of land at the tip of a peninsula between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast. It has a population of 812,000 which represents a small fraction of the entire Bay Area population of 7.1 million. San Francisco is just one of the cities which makes up the entire San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco’s neighbors -Oakland and Berkeley east of the Bay Bridge, Marin County north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Peninsula south of the city are all part of separate counties, each with their own governments and local public transportation systems. San Francisco suffers from crime in some downtown districts like the Tenderloin, Mid Market, 6th Street, Soma and the Western Addition. The south-eastern part of the city also suffers from violent crime. Visitors should be aware of their surroundings when walking late at night near some downtown hotels. San Francisco also has a high rate of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities.
Golden Gate Bridge from Marin County with San Francisco in background
Each district of San Francisco carries its own unique and distinct culture. This map is predominantly based on the 11 official governmental districts of San Francisco, but it has been adapted to suit the purposes of this travel guide. Some districts of particular interest to travellers have been broken up into popular neighborhood groupings, while others, mainly residential districts, have been merged together.
Prior to European settlement in the area, the peninsula that now contains San Francisco was home to the Yelamu tribe, who were part of the larger Ohlone language group which stretched south from the Bay Area to the Big Sur of California. Due to San Francisco’s characteristic foggy weather, the earliest European explorers completely bypassed the Golden Gate and the San Francisco Bay.
The first European settlement in the area was founded by the Spanish in 1776 as a mission community surrounding the Mission San Francisco de Asís, in what is today called the Mission Dolores in the Mission District. In addition to the mission, a military fort was built near the Golden Gate: El Presidio.
Upon gaining independence from Spain in 1821, the area became part of Mexico. Under Mexican rule, the mission system gradually came to an end and private ownership of land became a possibility. In 1835, an Englishman named William Richardson founded the town of Yerba Buena, the first significant settlement on the peninsula outside of the Mission Dolores area. As the new settlement gradually grew, Yerba Buena developed a street plan and became attractive to settlers.
In 1846, the United States claimed California, and in July of that year, the US Navy arrived to raise the American flag above Yerba Buena. Over the next couple of years, California officially became part of the United States following the Mexican-American War, and the name of the town was changed from Yerba Buena to San Francisco.
With the California Gold Rush of 1848, San Francisco began to explode in population. Waves of immigrants came to the city to seek their fortunes, including large numbers of Chinese immigrants, forming one of the largest Chinese populations outside of Asia. During this time, many major businesses were created and flourished in San Francisco, and famous (and infamous) personalities settled in the city. Of course, with all this success came problems: the rapid growth of the city outstripped any efforts at city planning, meaning proper sanitation and infrastructure were largely undeveloped, which led to a cholera outbreak in 1855. Violence and corruption were evident, and anti-immigrant violence resulted in many race riots.
In the 1890’s, there was a large campaign to modernize and beautify the city, the success of which led some officials to proudly call San Francisco the “Paris of the West.” But in 1906, a devastating earthquake shook the city and a resulting fire leveled much of the city (in fact, almost 90% of the total damage was from the fire, and not the quake itself). Nevertheless, officials at the time immediately set out on a plan to rebuild the city, with new parks, boulevards, the current civic center complex, and landmarks such as the Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill. In 1915, San Francisco hosted the Panama-Pacific Exposition (where the Palace of Fine Arts complex is currently located) to showcase the completely rebuilt city.
In the wake of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, San Francisco remained largely unscathed. In fact, it was during this time that the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge were conceived and built. It was also during this time that the Federal Government established a prison on Alcatraz Island, which would hold some of the most notorious criminals of the era.
After World War II, San Francisco continued to grow in population. Urban planning projects at the time led to more highrises downtown (including the Transamerica Pyramid) and the destruction of many neighborhoods to build freeways (many of which were later torn down after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake). In the same period, San Francisco became a center of counterculture and the hippie movement, contributing to San Francisco’s liberal outlook. San Francisco also became a center for gay men during this time, leading to the development of gay neighborhoods like the Castro.
More recently, San Francisco has experienced a boom in business. Despite falling victim to the dot-com bubble burst in the 1990s, the city’s economy largely recovered and gentrification of neighborhoods like SoMa continues.
Today San Francisco is known for its liberal outlook and remains one of America’s top tourist destinations. Tourism is the city’s largest industry.
San Francisco has a mild climate, with cool, wet winters and dry summers. In most months, you can expect the high temperature to be in the upper 50s, 60s or low 70s degree Fahrenheit (15-25°C). However, these mild temperature readings belie a unique climate not shared by other major cities in the state or country. Essentially San Francisco is never warmer than 73 degrees but never colder than 50 degrees. The nights are chilly so usually people in San Francisco always carry around a light jacket because the temperatures can drop or rise drastically within an hour.
Summer days usually start out under fog, slowly burning off towards the ocean into a sunny albeit windy afternoon. Measurable precipitation during the summer months is rare, although light drizzle is possible. Humidity is very constant, but rarely uncomfortable. At late afternoon, when the fog and wind returns people generally find themselves needing a jacket (and this is summer!). There are some days when the fog lingers all day.
In the winter, the rainy season is in full swing. That being said, the chances for a calm, windless, sunny day are actually higher in the winter than in the summer! However, the overall temperatures are going to be lower in the winter.
Spring and fall are not so much seasons in themselves in San Francisco, but rather they are quick transitional periods with some days resembling summer and others the winter. Fall in particular is a good time to visit because the summer wind & fog has mostly gone, but the rainy season has not yet started. The late summer month of September, as summer transitions into fall, is the warmest and driest month of the entire year for San Francisco. Heat waves can occasionally occur around this time of year.
Within these general rules, San Francisco also has a series of microclimates created by the city’s topography and maritime setting. Large hills in the city’s center block much of the fog, wind, and precipitation that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean. Because of this, there can be significant weather differences in different parts of the city and the surrounding Bay Area at the same time. Generally, the more windward areas along the coast are cooler and foggier, while the more leeward areas in the east are warmer and drier. Temperature differences of 10-15 degrees or so are common on days where the fog persists on the western side of the city. These differences continues as you move east, out of the city and into the outer East Bay (on the other side of the hills from Berkeley and Oakland), where it can be much hotter and drier. Local meteorologists routinely have three forecasts: one for the coast, one for the bay, and one for the inland areas. In short, if you don’t like the weather, perhaps travel a few miles east or west to your desired climate.
San Francisco literature finds its roots in the city’s long and often tumultuous history, its diversity, and its attraction to eclectic characters; the city was a major center for the Beat poetry movement and seems to also hold an uncanny attraction for science fiction writers. Among the most famous works set in San Francisco:
- Jack Kerouac spent a lot of time in San Francisco, and portions of two of his most influential works are set here: On the Road and The Dharma Bums. Both are accounts of Kerouac examining his place in the universe; the first a tale of a man travelling the country, the second a story of someone looking for the simple life.
- The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett. A gripping detective novel set in San Francisco that would come to define the private detective genre. The novel follows private eye Sam Spade as he tries to retrieve a valuable bird figurine, and has been adapted into film twice, including one where Spade was played by none other than Humphrey Bogart.
- Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin. A famous series which offers an excellent look into 1970’s San Francisco, particularly the city’s counter culture and alternative lifestyles.
- Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson lived in San Francisco in the mid-60s and the city appears in many of his books and articles.
- Anne Rice lived in San Francisco in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. She wrote her best known novel, “Interview with a Vampire” while living in San Francisco.
- Philip K. Dick spent much of his life in the San Francisco area, and among his novels set here are Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, set in a post-apocalyptic near future where androids serve humankind and bounty hunters are called in to “retire” androids that become too independent, and The Man in the High Castle, an alternate universe novel where Japan and Germany won World War II.
- The Bridge trilogy (Virtual Light, Idoru, and All Tomorrow’s Parties), William Gibson. Set in a futuristic San Francisco following a massive earthquake, in which the city has been rebuilt using nanotechnology and a race is on to control the new cyberspace technology.
- Altered Carbon, Richard K. Morgan. Also set in a futuristic San Francisco, where human personalities can be stored digitally and downloaded into new bodies.
- The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon. A renowned novel which follows a woman who sinks into paranoia as she attempts to unravel a worldwide conspiracy.
- The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan. A story of four Chinese American immigrant families who start a club and spend their time playing the Chinese game of Mahjong and tell of their struggles in travelling to America.
- The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe. A nonfictional account which perfectly captures the Hippie movement, following a band of psychedelic drug users across the country in their painted school bus.
- Barbary Coast, Herbert Asbury. For a non-fictional work on the tumultuous early history of San Francisco, this is an excellent choice.
San Francisco has been the backdrop for many films, due in part to the Bay Area’s vibrant film-making community and the city’s proximity to Hollywood. The production companies of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, along with the animation company Pixar are just a few of the big players who call the San Francisco area home. Among the better films set in San Francisco:
- The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941). Humphrey Bogart stars as a San Francisco private detective dealing with three unscrupulous adventurers who compete to obtain a fabulous jewel-encrusted statuette of a falcon.
- Dark Passage (Delmer Daves, 1947). An offbeat film noir featuring two icons of the genre, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. The city’s dark alleyways and side streets are on prominent display throughout the eccentric story of a man wrongly accused of murder and an enigmatic woman who lives in a lavish art deco apartment on top of the Filbert Steps.
- Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958). While it’s not the only Hitchcock film set in San Francisco (portions of The Birds are set here), Vertigo really packs in a lot the city, following a private investigator who suffers from acrophobia as he uncovers the mystery of one woman’s peculiar behavior and travels from one San Francisco landmark to the next.
- Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968). A very popular and highly influential crime thriller starring Steve McQueen (who also starred in the locally-set The Towering Inferno) and featuring one of the best car chase scenes in the history of cinema.
- Psych-Out (Richard Rush, 1968). An incredibly trippy film with psychedelic music (including an appearance from Strawberry Alarm Clock), recreational drugs, and Haight-Ashbury — Hippies aplenty in this one.
- Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971). Another cop film set in San Francisco (in addition, all but one of the sequels were also set here), starring Clint Eastwood chasing down sadistic killers and asking people if they feel lucky. Well do they, punk?
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978). Emotionless drones impersonating people and hatched from pods take over San Francisco in this classic science fiction flick.
- 48 Hrs. (Walter Hill, 1982). Often credited with starting the buddy-cop genre, this flick follows a hot-headed cop who has to team up with a wisecracking convict in order to find two cop killers in the crime-ridden underworld of San Francisco.
- Chan Is Missing (Wayne Wang, 1982). Illustrating the problems experienced by Chinese-Americans, this film tells the story of two taxi drivers searching Chinatown for a man who ran off with their money.
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Leonard Nimoy, 1986). In the 23rd century, San Francisco is the home of Starfleet Command and humpback whales have long been extinct. In this instalment of the popular franchise, Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew have to time travel to a more contemporary San Francisco to bring back a couple of whales and save Earth.
- Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008). A recent biopic on the life of Harvey Milk, the former San Francisco City Supervisor in the late 1970s and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office. This story still holds sway for many San Franciscans given the city’s role in the ongoing gay rights movement.
- La Mission (Peter Bratt, 2009). Ultra-macho ex-con Che Rivera learns the true meaning of being a father when he discovers his son is gay.
- A whole host of great films have been set at Alcatraz; among them are Escape from Alcatraz (Don Siegel, 1979), Birdman of Alcatraz (John Frankenheimer, 1962), The Rock (Michael Bay, 1996), and the very influential Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967), The Room (Tommy Wiseau, 2003).
San Francisco’s visitor information centers offer maps, brochures and other information for tourists.
- San Francisco Visitor Information Center, 900 Market Street (next to the Cable Car turnaround at Market & Powell), ☎ +1 415 391-2000 (fax: +1 415 362-7323), May-Oct M-F 9am-5pm, Sa-Su and holidays 9am-3pm; Nov-Apr M-F 9am-5pm, Sa and holidays 9am-3pm. Closed Easter, Thanksgiving Day, 25 Dec & 1 Jan. Visitor Center run by the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau. edit
- California Welcome Center, Pier 39, Building P, Second Level, ☎ +1 415 981-1280 (email@example.com), One of several California Welcome Centers across the state.
English is the dominant language spoken in San Francisco. Cantonese is spoken by the majority of San Francisco’s large Chinese population, with an increasing Mandarin-speaking minority. Spanish is also commonly spoken in San Francisco, although not as common as in the rest of California.
Map of San Francisco
- San Francisco International, +1 800 435 9736, (IATA: SFO) located about 10 mi (16km) south of the city is a major international airport, one of the largest in the world and has numerous passenger amenities including a wide range of food and drink establishments, shopping, baggage storage, public showers, a medical clinic, and assistance for lost or stranded travelers and military personnel. It is the major hub for Virgin America and United as well as a major international airport with direct flights to Asia, Latin America and Europe from airlines that include British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
- Oakland International, +1 510 563-3300, (IATA: OAK) in the East Bay provides service to numerous destinations in the United States as well as Mexico and Scandinavia. It is a major hub for Southwest airlines.
- Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International, +1 408 277-4759, (IATA: SJC) in Silicon Valley, about 1 hour south of San Francisco attracts Bay Area residents who find SFO to be inconveniently distant from their homes. Daily long haul destinations include Tokyo (ANA) and London (British Airways). Beijing (Hainan) and Shanghai (Air China) are served multiple times a week while Frankfurt (Lufthansa) is seasonal (summer).
Oakland and San Jose tend to offer more discount airline flights, while San Francisco Airport attracts more international flights and can be more convenient for those staying in the city. Private pilots should consider Oakland (ICAO: KOAK) rather than SFO, as the separate general aviation field there is more accommodating to light aircraft.
Public Airport Transportation
San Francisco and Oakland Airports are connected to downtown SF by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system.
Passengers arriving in SFO can walk (5 minutes from United’s domestic terminal) or take a free airport shuttle (AirTrain) to the BART station, which is adjacent to the G side of the International Terminal. The BART ride from SFO to San Francisco downtown costs $8.95 one-way and runs frequently, every 15 or 20 minutes depending on the time of day. Ticket machines accept cash – giving back change – and debit cards. BART trains run through San Bruno, South San Francisco, Colma, Daly City before reaching the city of San Francisco; from there Muni can take travellers anywhere in the city. More information on travel from SFO is available from BART’s website.
SFO is also connected to San Francisco by SamTrans routes 292, 397, and KX. Routes 292 and 397 are $2 to San Francisco, while KX is $5. Large luggage is generally not permitted on the KX bus.
From Oakland Airport, an automated shuttle train connects to the Colliseum BART station, where trains to downtown San Francisco and other Bay Area destinations arrive frequently. The total cost to travel to downtown San Francisco is $10.20. More information is available from BART’s website.
The San Jose airport is served by a free shuttle to both VTA Light Rail and Caltrain called the Airport Flyer — VTA Route #10. Passengers arriving in San Jose can use Caltrain to reach San Francisco directly (this costs $10.50 one-way [4 zone]). Caltrain also links with the BART system at the Millbrae intermodal station. Be aware that public transportation within the South Bay is not as developed as around San Francisco. Also, when riding Caltrain, be sure to buy your ticket at the automated station kiosks before boarding, as they are not sold on the trains.
Private Airport Transportation
Taxis are considerably more expensive than the public transportation options. A taxi from SFO to the city can easily cost more than $40, and over $60 from OAK. Taxi and van prices from San Jose to San Francisco are significantly higher. Shared vans will cost around $14. If you plan to drive from a car rental area near the SFO airport to downtown San Francisco, you can take the 101 freeway. When returning a rental car to SFO, remember to take the rental car exit, otherwise you will have to wind your way slowly back to the rental car center. There are other options around SF like Uber or ShuttleWizard or Chauffeur that are cheap and safe options especially for tourist who don’t know how to move around by public transportation services.
Amtrak, ☎ +1 800 872 7245, serves the Bay Area with long-distance and intercity trains. San Francisco’s long distance station is across the bay, outside city limits. Passengers arrive in Emeryville or Oakland’s Jack London Square Station in the East Bay and may take an Amtrak California Thruway bus over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco’s Amtrak stop at the Temporary Transbay Terminal (Folsom and Beale Streets) and usually several other downtown destinations (note that Amtrak passengers are not subjected to any extra charge for the bus). Travellers on some shorter distance Amtrak routes can also transfer to BART trains at the Richmond or Oakland Coliseum stations (see below). Alternatively, riders approaching the Bay Area from the south may transfer to Caltrain at San Jose’s Diridon Station for a direct ride to Fourth and King Streets in San Francisco.
Amtrak routes serving the Bay Area are:
- The California Zephyr runs daily between Chicago and Emeryville with connections to/from the east coast.
- The Coast Starlight runs daily between Seattle, Portland, Emeryville, and Los Angeles. To reach San Francisco, either transfer to Caltrain in San Jose or to the Amtrak bus in Emeryville.
- The Capitol Corridor runs 16 times daily (11 on weekends and holidays) between Sacramento and Emeryville, with some trains also serving San Jose. Caltrain (see below) is the best bet to get between San Jose and San Francisco, but the most convenient transfer to San Francisco is via the Amtrak bus at Emeryville or to BART at either the Richmond station north of Emeryville or the Oakland Coliseum station for trains continuing south of Emeryville. Discount BART tickets can be purchased in the cafe car.
- The San Joaquins runs 4 times daily between Bakersfield, Stockton and Emeryville. Travelers on the San Joaquins can continue on to San Francisco via the Amtrak bus at Emeryville or by transferring to the BART at the Richmond station. Discount BART tickets can be purchased in the cafe car.
There are two regional rail systems which serve San Francisco:
Caltrain, +1 510 817-1717, operates a regional rail service from San Jose to its San Francisco terminal at Fourth and King. The service also runs between San Jose and Gilroy during rush hour. Caltrain is very useful for travel between San Francisco and communities on the Peninsula, Silicon Valley or South Bay. On weekdays Caltrain provides one train per hour midday and evening (c. 10am-2pm & 7pm-11pm) but up to 4 per hour during commute hours, including “Baby Bullet” limited services that cruise between San Francisco and San Jose in about 1 hour; on weekends and public holidays trains run hourly, except that after 10pm only one train runs, leaving at midnight. The 4th & King terminal is served by Muni Metro (see ‘Get around’ below) giving connections to the rest of the city. Fares vary depending on how far you go. Tickets must be purchased before boarding the train from ticket vending machines at any of the stations or from ticket clerks at staffed stations. Tickets are checked on the trains and anyone found without a ticket is liable to a substantial fine. Cyclists should use the designated car at the northern end of the train, and be aware that bike space is often limited during commute hours.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), +1 415 989-2278, provides a regional frequent rail service connecting much of the East Bay and Contra Costa County with San Francisco and the San Francisco Airport through the Transbay Tube, a tunnel underneath San Francisco Bay. BART operates five routes, of which four run through San Francisco. There are three or four trains per hour on each route; consequently trains within San Francisco require generally less than a 5 minute wait. In the East Bay, BART runs mostly on elevated track; in downtown San Francisco it runs in a subway under Market Street, and several underground stations provide easy access to downtown areas and simple transfers to the Muni Metro subway. BART meets Caltrain at Millbrae. Bicycles are allowed on BART except between stations designated in the schedule brochure during commute hours. Fares vary depending with distance travelled, and start at $1.85 for trips within the city. You will need to insert your ticket into barriers when entering and exiting the system. Tickets hold a balance, deducting the appropriate price for each trip, so someone who plans to use the system several times can buy a $10 or $20 ticket and not worry about fares until the card is used up. Note that the BART vending machines accept primarily cash or debit cards, some accept credit cards but only twice within any 24 hour period. BART also accepts the Clipper Card, and BART ticket machines can be used to refill Clipper Cards, although do not sell them.
Unfortunately there is no central bus terminal or intermodal terminals in San Francisco. Each company has their own terminal or stops located in/around downtown, SoMa and Tenderloin/Civic Center. They are:
- Bolt Bus, Greyhound Terminal, 200 Folsom St (Slip 1 @ Greyhound Terminal), ☎ +1 877 265-8287, Goes down to the downtown Union Station in Los Angeles.
- California Shuttle Bus, Hilton Hotel, 333 O’Farrell St (Picks up Mason St across from Nikko Hotel), ☎ +1 408 294-1798 (firstname.lastname@example.org), offers service to Los Angeles via San Jose. Another stop at Carl’s Jr, 25 Cyril Magnin St (Cyril Magnin & Eddy St). Charter buses with free Wi-Fi, reserved seating, 2 bags allowed for free (3rd for $15), and bicycles allowed for $5. Prices start at $15.
- Greyhound, 200 Folsom St (Folsom & Main, 3 blocks SE from the Embarcadero BART station in downtown San Francisco), ☎ +1 415 495-1569, Travels primarily on Interstate 80 (S Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Colfax, Truckee, Reno); Interstate 5/CA-133 (Los Angeles, Avenal, Gilroy, San Jose, S Francsico/Oakland); US 101 south (San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Cruz, Salinas, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Oxnard & Los Angeles); US-101 north (San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Rosa, Willits, Eureka, Arcata); CA-152/99 (S Francisco, San Jose, Gilroy, Los Banos, Madera, & Fresno); Interstate 580/CA-99 (San Francisco, Oakland, Hayward, Modesto, Fresno, Bakersfield, S Fernando and Los Angeles). Passengers transfer to other buses or Amtrak California in Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, Reno, Bakersfield and/or Fresno to get to other cities.
- Hoang Express, McDonald’s, 600 Van Ness (Van Ness & Golden Gate Ave in Tenderloin/Civic Center), offers service to Los Angeles and San Diego.
megabus.com, Townsend St between 4th & 5th St (The stop is at the passenger boarding zone near the north entrance to the 4th Street Caltrain station in SoMa), ☎ +1 877-462-6342, Express bus service to/from Los Angeles. Double Deck Coaches with WiFi, Restrooms, Power Outlets and seats starting at $1 with dynamic pricing; average prices around $20.
Several regional bus / train systems serve San Francisco from the immediate suburbs:
- AC Transit, +1 510 891-4700, from Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, and other East Bay cities (in Alameda County).
- SamTrans, +1 510 817-1717, from San Mateo County.
- Golden Gate Transit, +1 415 455-2000, from Sonoma and Marin counties.
- WestCAT, +1 510 724-7993, from Contra Costa County.
- Vallejo Baylink, +1 707 643-3779, (in conjunction with BayLink Ferry) from Vallejo.
BART , +1 510 465-2278, runs commuter trains between various places in San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Vallejo and Contra Costa Counties including the San
- Francisco International Airport.
- 511.org, provides streamlined information on getting around the bay area by public transport with various transit agencies, train companies and ferries including a trip planner program.
In many ways a boat is the ideal way to approach San Francisco. The city’s spectacular skyline is best appreciated from the water, and from the deck of a boat the bay and its bridges and islands can be viewed as a whole. Cruise ships and private yachts are regular visitors to San Francisco, and passenger ferries regularly link other Bay Area cities to San Francisco.
Ferries run to San Francisco from Larkspur, Sausalito and Tiburon in Marin County, from Vallejo in Solano County and from Alameda and Oakland in the East Bay. In San Francisco, the ferries dock at one or both of the city’s two piers at Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building, the later of which is a very short walk from the Amtrak San Francisco bus stop as well as Embarcadero Station, where the BART and Muni trains stop, and the stop for the historic streetcars that run above ground down Market Street. For more information on boat connections:
- Golden Gate Ferries, ☎ +1 415 455-2000. Serving Larkspur and Sausalito.
- Blue and Gold Fleet, ☎ +1 415 705-8200. Serving Alameda, Angel Island, Oakland, Sausalito, Tiburon and Vallejo.
- BayLink Ferry, ☎ +1 877 643-3779. Serving Vallejo.
- Alameda Oakland Ferry, ☎ +1 510 522-3300. Serving Alameda and Oakland.
- Harbor Bay Ferry, ☎ +1 510 769-5500. Serving (a different location in) Alameda.
There are four major highway approaches to San Francisco. US-101 comes up the eastern side of the SF peninsula and is the most direct route from the south, although it often backs up with traffic. Interstate 280 is a more scenic route into the city from the same direction, but with poorer connections than 101. The I-280 San Jose Avenue exit (#52, but poorly marked) avoids dense rush hour bridge traffic for drivers going to areas as the Civic Center. Interstate 80 approaches the city from the east over the San Francisco Bay Bridge. From the north, US-101 takes you over the Golden Gate Bridge.
All Bay Area toll bridges have toll plazas that charge tolls in one direction only. That direction is usually north or west, although the Golden Gate Bridge charges tolls only to traffic going south. All bridges except the Golden Gate Bridge still have cash toll booths; simply enter any open lane that has a “CASH” or “FASTRAK/CASH” sign. All bridges have a sign for “last exit before toll.”
As of 2012, the Golden Gate Bridge has closed all cash toll booths and fully converted to electronic toll collection. All users must have a FasTrak transponder issued by one of the state’s various toll road agencies (many California rental car agencies can rent a transponder with their vehicles for a “convenience fee”) or will receive a bill for the toll amount, to be settled within 21 days of crossing. Note that the large-scale rental companies will automatically bill you for any tolls incurred, plus a daily charge ($3 as of June 2013) that accrues on every day of your rental period following your crossing the Bridge) – this can be avoided if you pre-pay, see here for further details]).
The toll plaza is equipped with cameras to record license plates of vehicles that do not have transponders. Tolls can be paid online or at one of several retail locations that take cash. If you want to pay with cash, be advised that even locals sometimes have a hard time calculating the correct toll fees. Consider using this handy tool to estimate the fees for you: Bay Area Tolls.
No left turns (or U-turns) allowed on 19th Avenue
Cross streets. As San Francisco streets are numbered (100 per block) from the beginning of the street, and even and odd numbers are always on opposite sides, it is best when asking directions to ask for a cross street or neighborhood name rather than relying on the address alone. For instance, addresses on Mission Street at 18th Street are in the 2200s, but one block away on Valencia at 18th, addresses are only in the 700s. This is because Mission starts at the Embarcadero, two miles further east than Valencia’s start at Market Street. Local residents rely on cross streets.
Numbered streets and avenues. San Francisco has both numbered streets, in the Mission, the Castro, and SoMa, and numbered streets an alphabetically ordered avenues in the largely residential Richmond (starting with Anza) and Sunset districts (ending with Yorba). Mixing numbered streets and avenues when asking directions may leave you miles from your destination. This can be confusing, as San Franciscans will not say “Street” or “Avenue” unless it is required to avoid ambiguity. Thus, they won’t say “I live on Fifth Avenue,” but will say “I live near Fifth and Geary.” Street signs generally don’t have “Street” or “Avenue” either; they just say “GEARY” or “MASONIC”, although numbered streets and avenues do.
Multiple street grids. One of the most confusing aspects of driving in San Francisco is the presence of multiple street grids, particularly in the downtown area where two grids intersect at an angle along Market Street. Even more confusing are streets in the middle of the standard blocks, like New Montgomery Street.
No left turns. Several key San Francisco arterial streets, including 19th Avenue and Market Street, do not have space for dedicated left turn lanes and therefore bear NO LEFT TURN signs at most intersections. As a result, you will be frustrated when you drive for miles on these streets with no opportunity to turn left. The trick, of course, is to go around the block with multiple right turns after passing one’s desired street, which requires you to stay in the right lane, not the left lane.
Walking can be an enticing option to get from one neighborhood to another, so long as you are aware of where you are and keep your street smarts. San Francisco is a city of friendly neighborhoods, but it is also a big city so be aware of your surroundings and keep in mind the dangers that commonly accompany a city of San Francisco’s size.
However, streets that often go straight up and down hills may make walking challenging when attempting the uphill portions (but provide good exercise). Driving can be difficult up and down hills but have breathtaking views. There are many stairway walks scattered throughout the city when the streets are too steep. You can find maps that include hiking trails, bikeways, and the grade pitch of all streets marked in varying colors by how steep each segment is, that can help you orient to city walks suitable to your ability and temperament, such as the downloadable map issued by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
Note that locals rarely use the designations “street” or “avenue,” even when differentiating the numbered streets and avenues. Numbered roads designated “Street” are located on the east side of the city, south of Market in Downtown, Castro, Noe Valley, and Mission. Numbered roads designated “Avenue” put you in the Richmond and Sunset districts on the west side.
By Public Transit
San Francisco Rail Systems
San Francisco has one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the United States, arguably the most comprehensive system west of Chicago. Transport services within San Francisco are provided by several bodies; they are separate organizations and although they have many interchange stations, tickets are not normally transferable across the systems (except for monthly or longer period passes). The major transit systems are:
- Muni — Metro subway, streetcars, buses, trolley buses and cable cars within San Francisco proper.
- BART — regional subway services in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Caltrain — commuter rail services to San José.
San Francisco Municipal Railway or Muni, +1 415 701-2311, runs a network of local transport that covers most areas of touristic interest well. An all day Muni passport good on all Muni services, including Cable Cars, costs $20. Other passports and passes are available for longer periods: a 3-day pass costs $31, while a 7 day pass costs $40. The passports come in the form of scratch cards; be sure to scratch off the appropriate dates before using.
The Clipper Card was fully introduced in 2010 and is a contact-less, multi-agency fare card similar to Octopus in Hong Kong and Charlie Card in Boston. Clipper cards are free at any MUNI ticket machine and are accepted on BART, CalTrain, San Francisco ferries, and many regional transit systems outside the City of San Francisco, in addition to all of MUNI’s vehicles (streetcar/subway, busses and cable cars). Clipper can either be set up with pay as you go with all transfers calculated automatically or a 1 day, 3 day, 7 day or monthly pass. MUNI has also created a single use “Clipper Ticket” as the new subway turnstiles no longer accept cash. You can still pay with exact change when boarding a streetcar above ground or a bus. Drivers will accept over-payment, but cannot make change.
MUNI operates on a proof of payment basis, sometimes called an “honor system with teeth.” 90 minutes of travel on the Muni system (Metro, F-line streetcar, buses) costs $2.25 ($0.75 for youth 5-17, disabled, and seniors 65+) including transfers and return trips if they fall within the 90 minute limit. If you’re using a Clipper Card, be sure you “touch on” at any of the readers located near the streetcar or bus door to pay your fare and start the 90 minute clock (you can board at any door as they all have readers). If you aren’t using a Clipper Card, don’t have a Muni passport, and pay cash, you must board at the front door and obtain a transfer ticket from the driver. The MUNI Saturation Team (fare inspectors) and sometimes the SFPD randomly and frequently patrol streetcars, subway stations and buses with handheld Clipper Card readers checking for proper fare – residents who ride MUNI regularly report being checked once or twice a week. The fine for being caught without proof of payment is $250, although tourists are sometimes issued a warning if it’s their first offense.
Cable Cars are not included in these transfers and cost $7 per ride (one way, no transfers), or $20 per day. Before 7am and after 9pm, seniors and disabled pay $3 for cable car rides. Muni Passports and FastPasses greatly reduce this cost, including cable cars in the regular daily, weekly or monthly fares.
A portable wallet-sized map of San Francisco and all its public transit (MUNI, BART, Caltrain) is also available at stores around the city or through their website online Many of the city’s bus stops also have posted copies of this map with the location of the stop marked, a godsend for lost pedestrians.
You can plan your Muni travel online. Muni arrival times are also available online for many lines at NextMuni.
Muni consists of:
- Muni Metro (Lines J, K, L, M, N, S and T) is a modern light rail and subway system. It connects many southern and western neighborhoods to downtown, where you can transfer to one of BART’s four downtown stations and the Caltrain terminal at 4th and King. Outside of the Market Street and Twin Peaks subways, Muni Metro operates as a surface light rail system, running in the center of the street with stops every couple of blocks (note that some of these stops are not wheelchair accessible – check the map to see which ones are). Tickets can be purchased from ticket vending machines before boarding; if the stop does not have such a machine and you do not have a ticket, you must board through the front door and buy one from the driver or risk being fined by a fare inspector. MUNI Metro operates seven days a week from 4:30am to 1:30am. Between 1:30am and 5am, OWL Buses substitute for Metro service. The Metro system (trains and buses) has a reputation for being extremely crowded. Buses are often slow due to frequent stops and heavy boarding especially during rush hour. However, it is by far superior to most other parts of the Bay Area.
The Historic Streetcar E and F Lines use historic streetcars, in original colors from several cities in the US, Milan, Italy, and Zurich, Switzerland. The F line runs from Fisherman’s Wharf south along the waterfront Embarcadero to the ferry building at the foot of Market Street, then up Market Street on the surface to the Castro district, terminating near the Castro Theater. The E line runs from the Caltrain station, along Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. Board through the front door and buy tickets from the operator if you do not already have a transfer or pass.
- The world-famous Cable Cars run on three lines in the steep streets between Market Street and Fisherman’s Wharf: the north-south Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde lines and the east-west California Street line. These cars are a fun ride, especially if you get to stand on the running board, if a bit impractical for everyday use (though residents of Nob and Russian Hills do, in fact, use them on a daily basis). The cable car is such an attraction that, especially on weekends, it takes longer to wait in line to ride up Powell Street than it does to walk the short but sloping distance. If you want to save yourself time standing in line at the turnaround, just walk up a couple of blocks to the next stop — the conductors save a few spaces for people boarding along the way; you won’t get first choice of seats, but you’ll save yourself a long time standing in line. Board through any door or just grab a pole on the running boards; tickets are checked and sold by a uniformed conductor. Do not buy tickets from anyone off the car except for clearly marked ticket booths — scam artists are common.
- Both diesel and electric trolley buses serve the rest of city. Board through the front door and buy tickets from or show your pass or transfer to the driver. You may board the back with a Clipper card, however their cost makes them only recommended for visitors staying for at least a month. Service ranges from a consistent two minutes on many lines leaving Market, to a more sporadic 20 minutes for buses to Treasure Island and between outlying neighborhoods. Bus delays, leading to waits of 20 to 30 minutes, are not uncommon and are a source of much grousing among locals. MUNI operates 24 hours a day / seven days a week in San Francisco although late night owl service is limited in both lines and stops.
Other public transportation options include:
- BART, the regional metro, has eight stations in San Francisco, making it a nice way to get between well-trafficked parts of the city, especially downtown and the Mission. BART gets you across the Bay to Berkeley and Oakland and to the airports of San Francisco and Oakland. BART Trains run over 107 miles (172km) of track, serving 46 stations. BART trains operate on third rail power and accelerate to speeds approaching 80mph (130km/h). BART operates seven days a week from 4am to 12:30am. On weekdays BART trains depart downtown San Francisco stations at two to three minute intervals. Outer stations in far outlying suburbs have a maximum wait of fifteen to twenty minutes between trains. After 12:30am, AC Transit and other east bay transit providers provide late-night bus service, serving principal BART stations until about 6am. BART routes are named for the two terminus stations, not by line color as denoted on the system map. For more information on BART, see the ‘Get in’ section above.
- Caltrain has three stops within San Francisco. Other than the 4th and King terminal in SoMa, these are the 22nd St. Station and the Bayshore Station (off Tunnel Ave), neither of which are particularly attractive for visitors. Of interest to visitors who wish to travel outside of the city is the Palo Alto Station (at University Avenue), across the street from the campus of Stanford University, and San Jose Diridon Station. Burlingame, San Mateo, Redwood City and Mountain View also have attractive downtown areas that are easily accessible from the stations and have attractive retail and restaurant areas. Caltrain operates fast frequent commuter rail service, seven days a week. Service generally runs from 5am to midnight. For more information on Caltrain, see the ‘Get in’ section above. If you are using Caltrain to see the peninsula and South Bay make sure you buy a “day pass” from the ticket machine. It is the same price as two one way tickets but gives you unlimited on-off privileges for any station within the zones purchased so can be a great way to see several of the peninsula cities.
If you have strong legs and a bit of urban cycling experience, bicycles are an excellent option for transportation within San Francisco. The city is fairly small in land area– just about 7 miles from north to south and 7 miles from east to west– so it’s fairly quick to get from one end to the other, and in recent years, the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency has installed many miles of new bike lanes and paths. Cycling is a common transportation choice for San Francisco residents, moreso than in most other American cities, as it is often the quickest way across town. This means that motorists will generally be aware of the presence of cyclists on the roadway. However, it is extremely important to ride with caution, as gridlock and congestion can lead motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists alike to act unpredictably and in an unsafe manner, at times. Theft of bicycle parts and entire bicycles is unfortunately very common in San Francisco, so it is recommended to avoid leaving a bicycle unattended in public for extended periods of time, and if it is necessary to do so, to lock the bicycle as securely as possible, with a strong lock.
If you plan on cycling in San Francisco, consider that much of the terrain is extremely hilly, making for some tough climbs. In addition, coming downhill means, if you’re not careful, you may find yourself barreling out of control into cross traffic at the bottom of the hill. However, there is almost always a bicycle route to get you from one place to another while avoiding major climbs within the city. If you’re unsure of how to get around the hills, ask a local cyclist for advice.
Do not be misled by maps depicting the city’s street grid and assume that these streets are always flat. Even the straightest of San Francisco’s streets might include steep hills or even staircases instead of a roadway. And remember, children may tire even sooner than adults will. A recommended easy ride for children and cyclists with little experience is from the tip of Golden Gate Park’s panhandle in the Haight, along paths and JFK Drive through the park to Ocean Beach. JFK Drive is lightly trafficked, and its eastern portion (between Kezar and Transverse Drives) is closed to cars on Sundays.
SoMa, the Mission, the Sunset, and Richmond districts are relatively flat. There are a number of bike paths and bike routes on city streets; the San Francisco Bike Coalition keeps a lot of information about them. There are a number of bike rental companies in town, including Dylan’s Bike Rental ,Bay City Bike , Bike and Roll and Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals with locations in Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Bike Hut and Pacific Bicycle in SoMa.
A very popular ride for visitors to San Francisco is the ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, a small town in the relatively undeveloped Marin Headlands. The Golden Gate Bridge has sectioned off pathways on each side for pedestrians and bicyclists. When open, the Western side of the bridge is for cyclists only. When the Western side is closed for construction, the Eastern side is intended for shared use by pedestrians and cyclists. When sharing the Western side with pedestrians, ride courteously. Avoid riding side-by-side, and do your best to make way for groups of pedestrians, as well as commuting cyclists, who ride at higher speeds, and generally have less patience for obstructions. When the bridge is closed to pedestrians during nighttime, you may continue to bicycle across by stopping to press the buzzer at the automatically closed gates to be buzzed in and out.
Taxis in San Francisco are, for a large city, surprisingly inefficient and expensive, starting at $3.50 just for getting in the cab and $0.55 per fifth of a mile and per minute of waiting. You can get an idea of how much particular taxi trips cost in San Francisco using the San Francisco Taxicab Commission’s webpage.
San Francisco is home to several startups which are trying to provide a better ride-for-hire service, including Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, which are generally cheaper and more reliable than a taxi. Download the free app for any company to view cars in your area, and request a ride.
Except for taxi stations at or near downtown business hotels, or cruising just a few major arteries, taxis can be hard to find and hail — and calling for a cab can mean a 30-45 minute wait, if the cab shows up at all. Now, if you’re anywhere near Union Square and are holding shopping bags, just by standing on the curb and hailing passing cabs will usually get you one quite quickly. It is significantly easier to catch a taxi on weekdays, not including Friday night.
If you are heading to the airport, your best bet is to call ahead with a specific pickup time to one of the many taxi companies. You will also want to schedule your cab ahead of time because if you are going beyond 15 miles, you will end up paying 50% extra.
Perpetually-clogged traffic, steep hills, a confusing system of one-way streets downtown, expensive parking, and a fleet of parking control officers who enforce parking laws with zeal can make driving in central San Francisco extremely frustrating; visitors to the city should seriously consider alternatives to automobiles when possible. Car rental is expensive, registration fees are the highest of any US state, and because collisions are common, rates for liability insurance (legally required) are high as well. In addition, traffic from the Golden Gate Bridge uses surface streets either along CA-1, 19th Avenue or US-101 on Lombard and Van Ness. A car is really only useful for visiting destinations outside of the city (excluding Oakland and Berkeley, which is served by BART) or parts of the city less frequently served by MUNI. The greatest hazard of driving is on Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth, where a stretch known as “The Crookedest Street in the World” runs one-way down a steep hill making eight hairpin turns. Oversized vehicles such as pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, and recreational vehicles should NOT attempt to pass through the winding stretch of Lombard Street. Driving and parking tend to be easier in the Western portion of the city, especially in the more suburban Sunset District and surrounding areas.
The most difficult problem with your car in San Francisco will be parking. Parking throughout the city is extremely scarce. Garages, where they are available, are quite expensive ($20-30/day downtown), and downtown street parking is often metered. San Francisco has some of the strictest parking laws and enforcement in the country. For more information, see SFMTA’s parking information page. For day trips into the city, consider a park-and-ride at a Peninsula Caltrain station, at a Peninsula BART station, or at an East Bay BART station.
When parking on a hill (and there are many of them in San Francisco), remember to always apply that parking brake and turn your wheels so that the tires are against the curb (Facing uphill, the front wheels should be turned out until the tires are resting against the curb. Facing downhill, the front wheels should be turned in so that they are set against the curb). Failure to park properly doesn’t just run the risk of having your car roll downhill, but it is also against the law and you may be ticketed.
Motorcycles and Scooters are a common sight on San Francisco streets; in fact, San Francisco is known as one of the most motorcycle-friendly places in the US. Street parking for motorcycles is plentiful and relatively inexpensive ($0.40 to $0.70 an hour), but note that parking on sidewalks is usually illegal. There are several motorcycle rental shops like Dubbelju Motorcycle Rentals, along with many dealers, service shops, and motorcyclist hangouts. As elsewhere in California, motorcyclists must wear helmets. Motorcycle theft is a problem; always use a disk lock or secure your bike to a stationary object using a cable or chain.
Segways, though more novel, are fairly common in San Francisco. So far there is only one authorized Segway dealer that rents out Segways, though various tour operators (many of whom operate from Fisherman’s Wharf) offer guided trips throughout the city.
Ride Share Programs
Ride Sharing is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to taxi cab services in San Francisco, offering an arguably friendlier and more reliable service at a cheaper price. Programs including Lyft, Sidecar, Uber and Carmainvolve downloading their mobile application to request a ride. Programs such as Sidecar, Lyft, and Uber’s “UberX” utilize local drivers, and Uber also offers a more up-scale service, providing town cars and luxury SUVs at a premium price. The local drivers whom drive for Sidecar, Lyft, etc. usually do not have a taxi license. They are residents who own cars and are looking for an extra income on the side. But be assured, each driver in the ride share programs go through background checks and are tracked via GPS during your ride. Driver photos and their cars are displayed to the rider before pick up to ensure rider safety.
To request ride, the ride share programs usually requires the rider to download their mobile application and create an account and store credit card information. When requesting a ride, the rider enters their pick-up location, and drop-off location. When a driver confirms your ride request, a GPS map will track the driver’s location, ETA, as well as show a picture of the driver and their car.
All forms of payment are done through the mobile application, so there is no need to carry cash. Carma has a fixed $0.20 per mile but drivers can choose to give free rides. Lyft is a fixed $2.50 pickup fee, $1.00 trust and safety fee, $1.90 per mile and $0.40 per minute of waiting in traffic. UberX has a $3.00 base fare, $1.40 per mile and $0.30 per minute waiting in traffic.
San Francisco has much to see — these are just the most significant sights. For more detail see the individual district sections, often linked from this entry.
Two passes are available which offer discounts to many interesting attractions:
- San Francisco CityPASS . A relatively cheap and easy way to cover many attractions of the city is the CityPASS. For a fare of $89 for adults and $66 for children 5-12, you get admission to the California Academy of Sciences, a Blue and Gold Fleet bay cruise, the Aquarium of the Bay, and the Exploratorium or the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum (both must be visited on the same day). A CityPASS works for 9 consecutive days starting with the use of your first ticket (each ticket only accounts for one visit to each attraction). The pass also includes three consecutive days of Cable Car and MUNI fares.
- Go San Francisco Card – An all-inclusive pass that lets you visit multiple San Francisco attractions for one price, starting at $65. You can save up to 55% on top museums, tours, and activities vs. paying at the gate. The pass is available in 1, 2, 3, or 5 day increments, and includes admission to dozens of top San Francisco attractions including a Hop-On/Hop-Off Trolley Tour, the California Academy of Sciences, a Golden Gate Bay Cruise, and many more.
- Aerial tour if you are adventurous, you can see San Francisco from the air. There is a new modern power gilder at Palo Alto airport about 25minute south of San Francisco. You can see Stanford, get an idea of how long SLAC is, and be exposed to some of the most beautiful natural vistas. Check out power glider tours at palo alto airport http://www.powerglidertours.com
The city is strongly associated with the Beat Generation literary movement, notable for authors like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. City Lights Bookstore and the Beat Museum make for excellent places to learn about the Beats, but there are many other bars, cafes, and apartments where Beat history was made.
There are many highlight walks you can take to really capture the feel of the city and see a whole lot of attractions at the same time. Some of the best ones are:
- Chinatown. Grant from Bush to Broadway takes you through the heart of the famous district. Returning by the parallel Stockton or Powell will give you a better feeling of the day to day life of the residents, and are both good for those looking for imported commodities such as tea or herbs.
- Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach is entirely open to pedestrians in both the Richmond and Sunset districts from the Cliff House restaurant and Sutro Baths in the north to the zoo in the south. For a shorter walk, the windmills near Lincoln at the end of Golden Gate Park offer a good base for a stroll north.
- Telegraph Hill. Greenwich and Filbert Steps on the east side of Telegraph Hill, both strenuous and unforgettably beautiful, offer cottages and a flock of wild parrots to enjoy on the way up to the Coit Tower.
- North Beach. Columbus runs from North Point in Fisherman’s Wharf, through the grand church and famous cafés at the heart of North Beach to the landmark Transamerica pyramid, accessible to transit on nearby Market.
- Haight Ashbury. Haight from Divisadero to Stanyan covers the shopping district famous for hippie culture; at Stanyan the street becomes a path through Golden Gate Park to a popular site (then and now) for relaxing and concerts.
Cow Hollow. Union Street between Gough and Fillmore is one of the finest shopping streets outside of the city center.
- Mission. Mission between 15th and Cesar Chavez streets provides a look at a neighborhood famous for its murals, Latino food and culture, as well as occasional gang activity east of Mission Street. Parallel to Mission, Valencia Street is the artery of the many higher end boutiques and offbeat cafés starting to characterize the neighborhood, and has little of the grit of Mission St. 16th Street between Mission and Guerrero Streets offers a diversity of cuisine and several hip bars.
- Pacific Heights. Fillmore between Pine and Broadway is lined with a good mix of shopping, views, steep slopes, and some of the city’s largest and most expensive homes.
- Fillmore. Post from Laguna (near 38 bus stop) to Fillmore takes you through upscale shopping and restaurants in Japantown, and turning left onto Fillmore across Geary and on to Turk takes you past the internationally known jazz venues and a mix of Black and Korean owned shops.
- Castro and Noe Valley. Market from Church to Castro St. and a left down Castro St to 19th takes you through the center of the city’s famous gay mecca. Continuing up Castro St over the hill from there takes you to 24th St, the main drag of bohemian Noe Valley.
Perhaps the most recognizable landmark in San Francisco and one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge, spanning the Golden Gate, has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and is the first thing you see of San Francisco if driving in from the north, as it is one of the major road routes into and out of the city. Overlooking the Golden Gate is the Presidio, a former military post with beautiful architecture and a very scenic park setting. Within the Presidio is the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts, built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and reminiscent of Roman and Greek architecture.
Within the center of the city, the famous cable cars run up and down the hills of San Francisco between Market Street and Fisherman’s Wharf and offer quite a ride (see above under Get around for more info). Atop one of those hills, Telegraph Hill in North Beach, is Coit Tower, a gleaming white tower dedicated to the San Francisco firefighters. At 275′ high, the hill is a healthy hike from the nearby neighborhoods just below. Another prominent tower nearby is the Transamerica Pyramid, the tallest and most recognizable building in the San Francisco skyline, located among the skyscrapers and highrises of the Financial District. Perhaps the most famous view of that skyline is from Alamo Square Park in the Western Addition district, home to the famous Painted Ladies row of Victorian houses, with many other pretty Victorians encircling the lovely park.
Over on Russian Hill is the famous stretch of Lombard Street between Hyde & Leavenworth, the (nearly) crookedest street in America. The city also has a twistier but less scenic stretch of street, Vermont Street on Potrero Hill. Other street oddities in San Francisco include 22nd Street between Vicksburg and Church in Noe Valley and Filbert Street between Leavenworth and Hyde on Russian Hill — At a 31.5% grade, these streets share the honor of the steepest streets in San Francisco.
San Francisco is also well-known for its collection of unique and intriguing neighborhoods. Most tourists start with Fisherman’s Wharf; although many of the locals consider it a tourist trap, it is a great place to see amazing street entertainers, watch sea lions, visit museums, or take a cruise to the infamous Alcatraz Prison or the pleasant Angel Island. Working fishing boats still come into the small harbor here, and the district is home to several excellent seafood restaurants. The fresh breeze from the bay can provide a bracing setting.
The Downtown area around Union Square-Financial District | Union Square, is the heart of the city’s main shopping and hotel district. Many other interesting areas are in walking distance or a short Muni ride from there.
Chinatown, just north-west of Downtown, centered around Grant Street from Bush to Columbus, is part tourist trap, part an exhibit of local life. Good eating places abound, and the side streets especially have stores one wouldn’t find in a mall. Stockton Street is where most locals do their shopping for groceries; be sure to sample some of the dim sum and other specialties offered in the many bustling shops. However, many local Chinese prefer to eat and shop in the new Chinatowns located in other neighborhoods such as on Clement Street between 2nd and 12th Avenues in the Inner Richmond neighborhood. The Muni #1 (California) and #2 (Clement, does not run at night) buses get people from one Chinatown to the other.
South of Downtown is the Civic Center, with its impressive Beaux Arts buildings including City Hall and the War Memorial Veterans Building, the celebrated Asian Art Museum, music and theater venues (including large concert halls and a renowned Symphony and Opera), and the main public library.
The SoMa, across Market and Mission streets from Downtown to the south-east is rapidly gentrifying. Ii is the loaction of the city’s main convention center and several new museums.
Further south is the Mission District, home to the Mission Dolores Church, one of the oldest structures in the city, and a fantastic collection of murals of all sorts on the walls of many nearby buildings, especially on alleys between Market and Valencia. BART and the Mission street #14 bus go there.
At the southern end of Market Street is the Castro, the center of San Francisco’s Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Transgender (LGBT) community, with numerous theaters, small shops and restaurants. The Muni historic F-line is the best way to go there, although most underground Muni-trains stop there as well.
Further west is Haight Ashbury, famous for being a center of the Hippie movement in the 60s and 70s. While tourism has softened the image of the neighborhood somewhat, the area still retains its distinct feel with small organic coffee shops and store after store selling marijuana-themed goods, tie dye tee shirts and hand bands. The Muni Judah N-line and the Parnassus #6 bus from market street go there.
Treasure Island, an artificial island half-way between San Francisco and Oakland connected to the Bay Bridge, has excellent views of the San Francisco and Oakland skylines and quirky structures from the international fairground-turned-navy base-turned-neighborhood. Accessible by Muni bus #108 from the Transbay Terminal in SoMa.
When the morning is foggy, you may want to spend a few hours in one of the city’s many world-class museums. Golden Gate Park is home to the copper-clad M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary and indigenous art. The de Young Museum’s former Asian collection is now permanently housed in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, located in the Civic Center. Across from the de Young Museum stands the California Academy of Sciences, which holds a huge array of science exhibits, including an aquarium and a natural history museum.
The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is in Lincoln Park in the northwest corner of the Richmond district. In Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum offers exhibits on the famous moving landmarks of San Francisco. Near the Castro is the Randall Museum, a lovely little children’s museum. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Moscone Center, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Zeum, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art are all located in SoMa, south of Union Square. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, which was designed by Daniel Libeskind and opened in June 2008, is the latest major addition to San Francisco’s museum scene.
At the Hyde Street Pier in Fisherman’s Wharf you can go on board several historical ships, including the 1886 Balclutha clipper ship, a walking-beam ferry, a steam tug, and a coastal schooner. At Pier 45 just to the east, the World War II submarine USS Pampanito and the World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien can be visited. Nearby is the Aquarium of the Bay on Pier 39 and the newly opened Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. The Musee Mecanique on pier 45 contains hundreds of coin operated amusement machines, many from the 19th century. Most can be used for just a quarter.
The newly relocated and bigger and better than ever Exploratorium on Pier 15 is walking distance from Embarcadero and will keep you busy for an entire day with their science and perception exhibits. In the Marina district is Fort Mason, home to a few cultural museums.
Many museums offer free admission on certain days during the first week of every month.
Parks and Outdoors
San Francisco has numerous parks, ranging from the tiny to the huge. The most famous of them is Golden Gate Park in The Avenues district, a massive (roughly 1/2 mile-by-four mile) urban oasis with windmills, bison, museums, a carousel and much more hidden among its charms. The park contains the antique palatial greenhouse of the Conservatory of Flowers, the modern and ethnic art focused de Young Museum, the large Japanese Tea Garden, the new California Academy of Sciences building designed by Renzo Piano and the Strybing Arboretum, a collection of plants from across the temperate world. Defining the extreme Northwestern corner of the city is Lincoln Park in Richmond, which provides majestic views of the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge from the ocean side, and the Pacific Ocean itself. At the extreme western end the well known Cliff House provides both semi-casual and a more formal eating and drinking place. The Legion of Honor museum at the center of the park houses many incredible artworks.
Near the physical center of the city is the Twin Peaks, one of San Francisco’s highest points (875′ above sea level); providing spectacular views in all directions. Tour buses can get backed up here during the day, but it’s a great place to really appreciate the city from above, especially at and after sunset. Temperatures up there can be quite a bit lower than in the rest of the city, so bring a jacket. Nearby in the Lake Merced area is the San Francisco Zoo, a large and well maintained zoo which is a great place to go if you are traveling with children or have a fondness for penguins, primates, lions or llamas.
While not particularly well known for its beaches, San Francisco has a couple of good ones along the Pacific Ocean — but the water is brisk, the winds can be rough, and due to strong rip currents swimming at any of them is not recommended. Ocean Beach along the Sunset district is the largest and most famous beach, with plenty of sand and people enjoying themselves. China Beach in Richmond and Baker Beach in Golden Gate are smaller, rather secluded beaches with lovely views.
On sunny days hipsters flock to Mission Dolores Park, so named due to its location across the street from the Mission Dolores Basilica. The park often comes to resemble a large party, with music, coolers of beer and, er, uh…medical marijuana treatment. Mission Dolores Park is situated on a slight slope in the Noe Valley neighborhood, just a few blocks from the many restaurants and bars in the Mission. The east side of the park is bounded by Dolores Street, a hilly and scenic drive lined with palm trees and Victorians. During the fire of 1906 that destroyed much of the city, one of the few working fire hydrants was located near the Southwest corner of the park. This fire hydrant provided water that helped stop the fire. The fire hydrant is still functioning and is repainted gold once a year on the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake.
In the southern half of the city is the often overlooked but wonderful Bernal Heights Park, a small park on top of a hill overlooking the entire eastern half of the city, with excellent views of the skyscrapers in the Financial District, the Mission District, and the hills in the southeastern corner of the city. A wide trail runs around the base of the park below the peak which can be walked in ten to fifteen minutes. Bernal Heights Park is dog friendly, so much so that a coyote is often observed there.
One of the best ways to see San Francisco is from the waters of San Francisco Bay. There are many companies offering harbor tours of varying durations and prices but they all provide marvelous views of the bay, the bridges, the island of Alcatraz, Angel Island and the city.
Only specific island tours are allowed to land at Alcatraz, but the typical harbor tour will circle the island at a slow crawl, giving you plenty of opportunity to photograph the now-inactive prison from the water.
Also consider taking a ferry from San Francisco across the bay to Tiburon, Sausalito, or Alameda. Same views for a fraction of the price.
Most tours leave from docks at Fisherman’s Wharf near Pier 39 (Pier 33 for Alcatraz). Tickets can be purchased at kiosks along the waterfront walk. Buy tickets a day or two in advance during the summer high season. For Alcatraz island tour, you may need to book weeks in advance (but you can also buy waitlist tickets – if there’s spaces left you get on, if not you get a full refund). It’s well worth it though – you get an extensive audio tour of the prison, with stories of various escape attempts.
Boats usually leave roughly hourly starting around 10am and ending around 5pm. Multi-lingual guides are available on some tours. Prices range from $20-$40, more for sunset, dinner, or whale watching tours.
- Even on a sunny day the bay can be chilly, so be sure to bring a sweater as well as sun screen.
- Some boats have snack bars on board, but bring your own water and treats to avoid paying high costs or going without. There are now limited refreshments and a souvenirs shop on Alcatraz.
The diversity of options to enjoy music and theater is huge. An excellent source for finding current offerings is the edited San Francisco Classical Voice, in addition to specific venues listed here. Concerts by small groups, classical to modern, and often free are listed at the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music page. The SF Classical Music Examiner provides insightful reviews and previews.
- San Francisco has a Half-Price Ticket Booth located right in the middle of Union Square, where tickets for most San Francisco theatre performances can be purchased the day of the performance for half-price. Run by Theatre Bay Area, the income from all service fees collected from the sale of tickets by TIX Bay Area goes right back into the theatre community.Go to a concert. There are performances most days to choose from by the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony, in the Old First Church. Last minute tickets are often available at the door. Symphony tickets have a wide price range, Terrace seats are often less than $20. There are recitals most days, as well as occasional major performances, at the San Francisco Conservatory nearby . All these venues are located in or near the Civic Center. The museum of the Legion of Honor, located in Lincoln Park overlooking the Golden Gate (north end of 34th Ave), has organ concerts which can be heard in many of its galleries, Saturdays and Sundays at 4pm, as well as music performances in its Florence Gould Theater by the San Francisco Lyric Opera. Around the holidays many churches will have performances and sing-alongs of seasonal music. The classical Herbst Theater (where the UN charter was signed) is temporarily closed for earthquake and major interior updates.
- Musicals from Broadway and Los Angeles are shown at the traditional Golden Gate and Orpheum theaters on Market, near the Civic Center. For outrageous fun, princes and paupers go to Beach Blanket Babylon in North Beach. Teenagers are welcome at the Sunday matinees. It considers itself the longest running musical revue in theater history
- For jazz, rock, or folk music the choices are diverse. A new, attractive venue with a wide variety of offerings is SFJAZZ , a few blocks from the Civic Center. There are performances most days, popular artists often sell out early. San Francisco also has many jazz clubs, best found by browsing the web (an excellent site is SFStation.com ). Contemporary bands are featured at The Fillmore Auditorium and less frequently at the large Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in the Civic Center. There is an annual blues festival in late September, at various locations , and at least two great bluegrass music festivals each year — during February around the area and late September or October in Golden Gate Park. Many, but certainly not all, events are listed by the City Box Office
- Ballet of the world class variety is performed in the Spring by the San Francisco Ballet at the War Memorial Opera House in Civic Center. Standing room tickets, with excellent views from the back of the orchestra section, are available for only $10 during the afternoon of each performance as well as two hours before showtime. In winter, the popular The Nutcracker is performed; those tickets often sell out early.
- Plays are performed at the Geary (by the American Conservatory Theater), Curran, Marines Memorial theatre and San Francisco Playhouse near Union Square, and at the small New Conservatory Theatre Center near the Civic Center.
- Silent, rare, and classical movies are frequently shown, accompanied by a live organist, and sometimes a band, in the classical 1930’s Castro Theater just off Market street in the Castro district. Tickets are available on-line or on the day of the performance. Popular features may sell out early. The Castro theater is also a venue for various film festivals. The Opera Plaza Cinema often shows rare classical and foreign movies in its cozy theaters. Opera Plaza is located just a few blocks up van Ness Avenue from the Opera and Symphony. The San Francisco Symphony shows movies in its large auditorium, accompanied by its orchestra, several times a year. Both silent movies and movies with intense musical contents, as Walt Disney’s Fantasia, are presented. They are a great way to introduce kids to classical music.
There is an incredible array of events going on in San Francisco — virtually every day there will be something of interest to anyone going on, and San Francisco’s mild climate ensures that practically every weekend will bring another major festival or some sort of large event. Listed here are just some of the really big events going on:
- Cherry Blossom Festival, Western Addition, April. In Japantown, this kid-friendly event includes a parade, a street fair, and music.
- Fringe Festival, taking place at various theaters in the Civic Center-Tenderloin area, Just after Labor Day. A 10 day festival about theatrical experimentation and having fun, even if you don’t know what you’re doing exactly.
- Haight Ashbury Street Fair, Haight, On the second Sunday of June, people pack the Upper Haight for this event featuring local bands, food stalls and plenty of shopping.
- San Francisco International Film Festival, based at the Presidio in Golden Gate, but smaller events take place throughout the city, Two weeks in Apr/May. Organized by the San Francisco Film Society who are based in the Presidio, but the arthouse movies, documentaries, and short films are shown throughout the city.
- Tet Festival, Civic Center-Tenderloin area, Mid-January to mid-February. Celebrate New Year’s Vietnamese style at this festival. It’s a great opportunity to sample some of the delicious Vietnamese dishes that they have in the area.
- Union Street Art Festival, Golden Gate, First weekend in June. This festival attracts many local artists who line the streets displaying their arts and crafts, along with live jazz and classical music performances and an organic farmer’s market.
- Chinese New Year Festivities, Chinatown, January or February. The San Francisco version of the Chinese New Year dates way back, with a colorful, vibrant parade with decorative costumes, lions, deafening firecrackers, “lucky-money” envelopes, colorful banners, ornately themed floats, martial arts groups, stilt walkers, acrobats, and, of course, a 200 foot Golden Dragon.
- Columbus Day Parade, North Beach, This hugely popular parade celebrates Christopher Columbus and Italian heritage. Handmade floats run all the way from
- Fisherman’s Wharf up Columbus Avenue through North Beach.
Easter Parade and Spring Celebration, Union Street in Golden Gate. The kid-friendly but diverse festivities include a petting zoo, pony rides, live music, train rides, alfresco dining, and a parade.
- Fourth of July. San Francisco’s main Independence Day celebrations take place on Fisherman’s Wharf. There is lots of free entertainment during the day, culminating with an impressive fireworks display from the foot of Municipal Pier, and at the other end of the Wharf from barges moored off the north of PIER 39.
- Tree Lighting Ceremony at Ghirardelli Square, Ghirardelli Square, Fishermans’ Wharf. End of November. Ring in the holiday season by attending the festivities at Ghirardelli Square. There’s theater, live music, and then at the end they decorate a 45 foot Christmas tree with ornaments, lights, and chocolate bars.
LGBT Community Events
San Francisco is famous for its exuberant and visible lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, who always put together some very festive events:
- Halloween in the Castro. Halloween, the holiday when everyone puts on a mask, has long been a special time for gay, lesbian and bisexual people to take off the “straight-looking mask” they sometimes wore all year, and be themselves. What remains today is a huge, sometimes poorly controlled, street party in the Castro on the evening of October 31st each year. In recent years, the police have cracked down, and it has been much diminished.
- Pink Saturday is a street party in the Castro on the Saturday night before the Pride Parade and Celebration.
- Folsom Street Fair is a street fair, generally the last Sunday in September. One of the largest leather / kink events in the world, attracting a wide range of straight, gay, and queer attendees.
- The San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration is one of the largest gay pride parades and festivals in North America, centered in the Civic Center area. It’s a huge, happy, chaotic celebration of diversity, politics, sexuality, and San Francisco wackiness, on the last weekend in June. About a dozen stages and spaces offer everything from square dancing to hip-hop, from a family garden to Leather Alley. It’s a movement, it’s a market, it’s a party. Both parade and celebration are for everyone — straight as well as gay are welcome.
Outdoor and Recreational Events
- Bay to Breakers, Third Sunday in May. An annual footrace that is one of the largest in the country. The route runs from Downtown to Ocean Beach. Many runners do the whole thing in costume, wearing anything from elaborate costumes to wearing almost nothing at all, lending a party atmosphere to the event.
- Critical Mass. On the last Friday of each month, bicyclists in San Francisco (and about 200 like-minded cities world-wide) gather at the north end of Market Street on the Embarcadero and ride en masse to some destination, militantly demonstrating their right to occupy the roads. If you are driving in SF on a Critical Mass day, you will want to listen for radio traffic reports, but if you are stopped by the mass the best thing to do is maintain a good sense of humor and remember that it will all pass in about 5 minutes. Although, tempers can and do flare, and there have been cases where run ins with drivers and bicyclists have gotten violent. If your car is surrounded by bikes, definitely do not move until they have passed or they might feel threatened.
- Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, Second Sunday in June. Participants (which often include world champions and Olympic medalists) swim 1.5 miles through chilly waters, bike 18 miles, and then run an extra 8 miles. The course winds its way throughout the city, but the transition and finish line is at Marina Green in the Golden Gate area.
- Fleet Week, Fisherman’s Wharf, Usually held in the first week of October, it’s a tribute to the men and women in the armed forces. A flotilla of Navy ships dock on the Wharf in parade fashion, and there are many free Deck tours available from crew members. There are also several air displays by the Navy flyers.
- Sunday Streets, Sundays in the Summer, various locations. See the website for where and when Sunday Streets is happening and head out for some good times with other walkers, bicyclists, skateboarders, roller skaters, etc. The cars are kicked off of the streets for some hours allowing the neighborhoods to come alive. There are food vendors, bike workshops, music performances, and all kinds of other great events. Sunday Streets is modeled after Bogotá’s Ciclovia.
San Francisco has several professional sports teams, although the spread-out nature of the Bay Area means there are also teams nearby in San Jose and Oakland.
The San Francisco Giants are the city’s Major League Baseball team, playing their home games at the lovely AT&T Park in SoMa. The other major league team in San Francisco is the San Francisco 49ers, the city’s National Football League team, who used to play their games at Candlestick Park on Candlestick Point in Southeast San Francisco. The 49ers have now relocated to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Both teams command huge fan bases.
As far as college sports go in San Francisco, there are the University of San Francisco Dons, who play various college sports including baseball, basketball, soccer and volleyball at their campus in Western Addition. The San Francisco State University Gators play various college sports including baseball, basketball and soccer at their campus near Lake Merced.
San Francisco is a hotbed for underground music; a highly diverse array of musical styles is represented (e.g., rock, pop, experimental, weird folk, and avant-jazz). Shows occur every night, with as many as fifteen small shows occurring each Thursday through Saturday night. Much of this activity is not always well covered in the mainstream media; useful community-driven resources for finding about local shows include Dar Dar Dar and the Transbay Calendar. For major and regular events, see the section on Performing Arts above.
Meet and Greet Locals
For those who want to meet actual San Franciscans in addition to exploring major landmarks, in 2010 a group of locals started a new service, “See San Francisco with a local”. You join 90-minute walks, The local guides show you city landmarks (and the stories and anecdotes that go with them), but they also engage their visitors on life in SF. You chat with a local, you “decode” the city, and you learn from an insider about local events and festivals, about where to shop, good places to eat or drink, secret places locals keep to themselves etc.
- Discover Walks, 2454 Chestnut St ☎ +1 415 494 9255, . Several tours to choose from everyday. Free service – guests choose their tip/donation.
- KitTea Cat Cafe, 96 Gough Street, San Francisco, CA 94102, ☎ 4156587888, KitTea Cat Cafe is San Francisco’s first and only cat cafe located in Hayes Valley. This cafe offers a unique experience to travelers, especially to animal lovers who are missing their own pets while visiting San Francisco. This cafe works as a foster space for cats, so visiting the cat lounge is an adorable and cuddly way for visitors to the city to help support adoptable cats in the community. edit
Free Walking Tours of San Francisco
City Guides are local volunteers who love the City, its history, lore and legends…and they’re ready to share it all with you. The regularly scheduled tours are free and open to the public, except for groups of 8 or more. No need to make a reservation, just show up at the time and place indicated on their schedule; groups of 8 or more are asked to schedule a special tour several weeks in advance. The tours are fun and informative, with a combination of tried-and-true San Francisco landmarks and off-the-beaten path sites. Donations are welcome!
- San Francisco City Guides, c/o SF Public Library, 100 Larkin St ☎ +1 415 557 4266. The list of tours, schedule, and FAQs can be found at their website.
- Free Tours by Foot, ☎ +1 415 295 2207. The list of tours, schedule, and FAQs can be found at their website.
Beers and Bike in San Francisco
Visit San Francisco by bike with Gears and Grapes while stopping in three of the finest beer drinking establishments of the city. Enjoy beers while learning about the cultural history of San Francisco from a local tour guide who will take you away from the tourist crowds to discover places cherished by locals. Tours operate from Monday to Friday and start at 2pm, departure from the office in Chinatown.
- Gears and Grapes, 714 Commercial St ☎ +1 (415) 484-1238.
While San Franciso’s economy is linked to it being a world-class tourist attraction, its economy is diversified. The largest employment sectors are professional services, government, finance, trade, and tourism. Its frequent portrayal in music, films, literature and popular culture has helped make the city and its landmarks known throughout the world. San Francisco has developed a large tourist infrastructure with numerous hotels, restaurants, and top-notch convention facilities.
While it’s been a long time since people considered Montgomery Street in the Financial District to be the “Wall Street of the West”, San Francisco remains one of the principal banking and finance centers of the west coast of the United States. Many major financial institutions and banks are based in the city or have set up regional headquarters here.
San Francisco’s proximity to Silicon Valley has made the city increasingly attractive for high-tech companies. In recent years, San Francisco has also been making itself a center of biotechnology.
Individual listings can be found in San Francisco’s district articles
If you want it, chances are likely you can get it in San Francisco. There are a wide range of small and locally owned businesses throughout the city’s neighborhoods; in fact, San Francisco has for the most part repelled the development of large chain retailers and big box stores that are common across America.
If it’s tourist trinkets you’re looking for, Fisherman’s Wharf has the typical souvenir, T-shirt, and camera shops, along with plenty of specialty stores. However, San Francisco’s most popular shopping area is Union Square, which has all the big national department stores (Macy’s, Saks, Nordstrom, etc.) and plenty of fancy boutique stores, as well as a few shopping centers thrown in.
For small, upscale boutiques, Union Street, Hayes Street around Octavia, Fillmore Street around California street, and Chestnut Street in the Golden Gate area are lined with unique and trendy places, and all these streets are among the best spots in the city to window shop and nash. Nob Hill is also full of specialty places.
But if you don’t have a luxury dollar to spend and still want to walk away with something unique, there are plenty of shops in Chinatown for you, selling Oriental handicrafts of all descriptions, and no chain stores in sight. Japantown also offers plenty of great shops selling authentic souvenirs, including the excellent Kinokuniya Stationery/Bookstore. The Haight is full of excellent independent record and book stores, with Amoeba Music dominating the scene.
For basic supplies, try the ubiquitous 7-Eleven convenience stores and Walgreens pharmacies. If you need groceries, Safeway is the dominant supermarket chain in the city. There are Safeway stores in SoMa, near Fisherman’s Wharf, and near the Financial District, but not near Union Square. The closest supermarket to Union Square is the upscale Bristol Farms supermarket at Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre.
San Francisco is a sensual, epicurean city with a vast array of restaurants. In fact, San Francisco has more restaurants per capita than any major city in North America, with 1 restaurant for every 250 residents (in comparison, New York City has 1 restaurant for every 940 residents). The price range is huge, and you can spend anywhere from a small fortune to a couple bucks for every type of cuisine. Vegetarians and vegans will find SF a paradise, however contrary to popular belief the city has one of the lowest rates of vegetarian consumers in the nation. Sushi is a local obsession, and though you can find a sushi bar on almost every street corner, the Richmond district has more than its fair share of excellent sushi chefs.
San Francisco is also one of the best places in the nation for Asian cuisine: Korean, Thai, Indian, Burmese, Japanese and, of course, Chinese. With the largest Chinatown in North America as well as one of the largest Chinese communities in the West, there are many exceptional restaurants serving dim sum and other Chinese delicacies found throughout the city. This localized Chinese cuisine has its feet in Hong Kong and America, and is different from what many visitors are accustomed to — it is common to hear complaints from Chinese visitors that Chinese food here is not like the food back home. There are several main types of Chinese restaurants in San Francisco: those primarily serving immigrants from Hong Kong (“Hong Kong style”) which commonly have signs on the wall in Chinese characters, live fish and shellfish tanks and some exotic main ingredients, such as pig’s blood or sea cucumber; those primarily serving San Franciscans who are not Asian immigrants (“California Chinese”) which commonly have Westernized table service, low fat content and more emphasis on fresh vegetables; those primarily serving tourists or other people accustomed to Chinese food as it is commonly served in the United States (“Americanized Chinese”); and those primarily serving immigrants from other areas or a particular dietary need or interest (regional cuisines, vegetarian, Muslim). There may be some mixing between these various classifications and each category may influence the others, for instance, the Americanized dish known as Chop Suey is often not served even at Americanized Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, while Chinese vegetables such as bok choy and pea sprouts may turn up on your plate at California Cuisine style restaurants.
Fisherman’s Wharf serves fresh seafood, especially clam chowder and crabs cooked to order. North Beach is the place to go for Italian food, and the Mission (birth place of the mission style burrito) for Mexican and Latin American cuisine of all sorts. San Francisco restaurants are also very corkage friendly. Average corkage fee appears to be in the $15 range, with some of the more pricey places charging $25-35.
The best way to find a good bar or club is to ask the advice of a local; but barring that a copy of The SF Bay Guardian or the SF Weekly will help you find something suited to your personal taste.
San Francisco is very much of a “scene” town, with a varying range of categorical experiences. If you want door-to-door bar hopping at friendly bars that serve PBR tall boys, definitely go to “Polk Gulch” in the Tenderloin and work your way up through bars such as Mayes, The Playground, and Hemlock.
Head to the Marina for mid-20s to mid-30s professionals (and those visiting from Los Angeles) as well as a college atmosphere clubbing scene around super packed club/bars such as Circa and Matrix 24/7. If you want to commit to a single venue for the night and club the night away, pay the necessary cover at high end clubs in South of Market (SoMa) such as The Grand, Manor West, and 330 Ritch, where you can find left-over dot-commers and hipsters hanging out on the street. If you’re in the mood for world class clubbing, Ruby Skye is a must visit place; the SF equivalent of a Vegas club, but be prepared to buy tickets ahead of time and wait in line.
If you are specifically searching for underground Techno, House, or other electronic music club culture your best bet is to peruse the local papers; however be mindful that the most likely venues to host such types of underground music are usually Beatbox, 222 Hyde, Public Works (Function One Sound), The End Up (a San Francisco institution since the Disco days), The Mezzanine, and Monarch (custom installed Void Sound). San Francisco has some of the most high end soundsystems in it’s clubs than almost anywhere in the Country, be sure to experience one of the systems at the aforementioned locations.
Haight-Ashbury, famous for the “Summer of Love” and hippies, is still a place for alternative lifestyle and now has many neo-punks and hipsters in the mix. The Castro primarily serves San Francisco’s gay men, with The Lexingtonhttp://lexingtonclub.com/ and Wild Side Westhttp://www.wildsidewest.com/ in the Mission District serving a lesbian scene. Other spots in the Mission also offers a more down to earth vibe that still lets you get your dance on in spots like Brunos and Medjools; a bonus with this is that you can end the night with a great burrito from one of the local Mission taquerias.
With a large Irish population, San Francisco has a number of very good Irish pubs extending out into the Sunset neighborhood. North Beach is home to several dance clubs and strip clubs.
If you like soccer (football) and all things English, you should stop into the Kezar Pub, at the edge of the Haight-Ashbury District, or Lower Haight’s Mad Dog In the Fog. The pub quiz and bar food are good. Swill some pints and stay in the dark. Good for an entire day’s worth of drinking.
San Francisco, despite being much smaller than New York City, sports more microbreweries. Anchor Brewing Company (makers of Anchor Steam, found throughout the US) is brewed on Potrero Hill, though it is generally not open to the public (tours are available Friday afternoons by reservation). Similarly, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers opens its doors on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, though its location in Hunter’s Point makes it a long Muni ride if you’re traveling without a car. The other microbreweries are housed in brewpubs:
- Beach Chalet & Park Chalet are at the Pacific end of Golden Gate Park, where you can enjoy a view of the ocean or sit in the lawn area.
- Pizza Orgasmica in the Richmond District specializes in California-style pizza.
Magnolia Brewing Company is in the heart of the Haight, and operates a second restaurant down the street, The Alembic.
- Thirsty Bear in SoMa caters mostly to the happy hour crowd.
- 21st Amendment, also in SoMa, is three blocks away from the Giants’ home at AT&T Park.
- Social Kitchen & Brewery is the newest brewpub, in the Sunset District, a block from Golden Gate Park.
- Comstock Saloon, opened since 1907 in North Beach’s old Barbary Coast at the SW corner of Columbus and Pacific, is San Francisco’s second oldest bar; formerly the oldest microbrewery in San Francisco, it was known as The San Francisco Brewing Company
- The Saloon, opened in 1861 at the corner of Fresno and Grant in North Beach, is San Francisco’s oldest bar and the only bar to survive the 1906 Earthquake and fire
Other destinations for beer drinkers include the Gordon Biersch alehouse on the Embarcadero in SoMa, the City Beer Store and Tasting Bar on Folsom St in SoMa (your best bet for beer to go), the Mission’s Monk’s Kettle, and the famous Toronado Pub on lower Haight Street, which specializes in Belgian ales.
The surrounding Alameda, San Mateo, and Marin Counties also host many microbreweries worth trying. Many of these are accessible by BART. There are North Bay beer options as well that should not be ignored. Lagunitas Brewing Company, one of the country’s fastest growing craft breweries, is 35 minutes north of the city. Also, although Santa Rosa is 45 minutes north of San Francisco, no beer lovers should skip the renowned Russian River Brewing Company in downtown Santa Rosa.
San Francisco offers a wide range of accommodations, from a healthy supply of hostels and budget hotels to the lavish, luxurious hotels in the city center, as well as just about everything in-between. The majority of accommodations are in the northeastern portion of the city, in and around the popular areas of Downtown, Chinatown, and Fisherman’s Wharf. As one moves into the mostly residential neighborhoods to the west, the sleeping options filter down to small inns and bed and breakfasts.
Decide if you want to be in walking distance of your destinations, or are up to driving and parking (which can be quite an undertaking in some of the busier areas of San Francisco) or taking public transit. If you have a specific destination in mind, look also in the Districts sections.
If you’d rather stay closer to the San Francisco International Airport, there are plenty of standard airport accommodations in the cities surrounding the airport — Brisbane, Burlingame, Millbrae, San Bruno and South San Francisco. From there, you can drive or take BART or Caltrain into San Francisco.
The area codes for San Francisco are 415 and 628. You must dial 1, then the 3 digit area code and the 7 digit subscriber number.
For calls within the US or Canada, dial 1, then the 3 digit area code and subscriber number.
For international calls, just replace the “+” International dialling prefix symbol of the phone number shown in international format (that’s the format we use here on Wikitravel) with the international access code of 011.
Pay phones are getting less and less commonplace as nearly everyone in San Francisco has a mobile phone. When you do find one, keep in mind that they only take coins and phone cards with a dial-to-use number. Local calls start at $0.50.
To get online, internet cafés are available at a sprinkling of city center locations. Many coffee houses and cafés also offer wireless connection for free or a small fee. Free access is available in Union Square. For a more scenic place to check your email try the Apple Store on Stockton at Ellis near Market in Union Square or any of the many public libraries, especially the main branch on Market near Civic Center station.
Additionally, those travelling with laptop computers will often find an open free signal across the city which is being deployed by a company called Meraki. The “Free the Net” signal is unlocked and free to use.
Blue mailboxes for mail such as letters and postcards are on many street corners. USPS post offices sell stamps and ship packages, and several private companies provide additional services.
As with many other major cities in the world, San Francisco has its share of problems. A search for “People Behaving Badly” on YouTube will reveal local KRON 4 reporter Stanley Roberts’ varied and sometimes comical segments on aggressive panhandling, distracted drivers, fare evasion, and most famously “Elmo Shirt Guy” who became an internet-meme in his own right and was featured on Jimmy Kimmel. The good news is that as a visitor to San Francisco, though you may occasionally encounter people behaving badly, with a dash of common sense its unlikely you’ll be the target of any crime or violence.
The areas that one should be most cautious are in the neighborhoods of Bayview-Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, Sunnydale, Ingleside, and Potrero Hill in Southeast San Francisco, as well as the Tenderloin, parts of Western Addition (including the Fillmore District), and parts of the Mission. San Francisco is still susceptible to violent crime, and most of these murders occur in the southeast, less economically fortunate, neighborhoods of the city. Gang violence touches even busy and thriving areas such as the Mission Street retail corridor, although most instances of violent crime are directed to specific targets and are not random acts. The SoMa district used to be somewhat dangerous; however, recent gentrification (something that has become fairly common and a social issue in SF) has transformed it into a rather hip and much safer neighborhood with plenty of art galleries and clubs. However, it is best to be careful even now.
San Francisco also has the largest homeless population per capita in the United States due to it’s temperate weather (they do not freeze to death as often as in Chicago or New York) and its relatively less vicious gangs (SoCal gangs are notorious for using homeless persons for target practice or gang initiations). If someone begs from you, you may either politely say you do not have any change or just keep walking, and he or she will generally leave you alone. A very small but visible percentage of the homeless may appear to be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs. This may be disturbing to some, but they will generally leave you alone if you do not interact with them. The main homeless area is around 6th and Market, heading towards the Civic Center, and in the Tenderloin. Haight Ashbury also has lots of panhandlers, and the area near Golden Gate Park at the end of Haight Street near McDonalds is notorious for junkies and should be avoided at night.
Pickpocketing, purse snatching, and other forms of petty crime are common as with any other large city. Be especially cautious on crowded Muni trains and buses, in heavily touristed areas such as Fisherman’s Wharf, and during the busy holiday shopping season.
Do not leave valuables in your vehicle, especially when parking on public streets. Car break-ins are very common in San Francisco, and any valuables in plain sight are in danger of being stolen. During your visit, you will probably see small piles of broken glass on sidewalks throughout the city, which are the result of such crimes. If you cannot carry all valuables with you, try to keep them in the trunk and park your vehicle in secure parking garages, which are slightly safer than street parking but are not completely free from crime either.
As with the rest of California, earthquakes are an omnipresent threat, and despite near constant media speculation of the elusive “big one” (the last major quake to hit the city was in 1989); the risk of a major incident remains relatively small. Minor tremors do occur in and around the city on a regular basis however, but apart from the odd broken window they are accepted as routine.
Be careful to check for ticks after hiking in fields in the Bay Area. There is a high rate of lyme disease transmission in the Bay Area. If a bulls’ eye rash develops at the tick bite site, immediately seek medical help and treatment with antibiotics.
San Francisco prides itself on its openness to diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation and personal style. This trait is widely considered to be one of the defining features of the city, and it draws both visitors and transplants alike.
Smokers beware: as in the rest of California, smoking is illegal in bars, restaurants, and other public places. Bay Area people can be particularly vocal about your personal habits. Be aware of nonsmoking areas, and try to be courteous about smoking in other places. They will probably not bother you about standing and smoking outside a restaurant or bar.
On the other hand, smoking marijuana is remarkably well-tolerated. If you are visiting from elsewhere in the U.S., you may be very surprised to find that marijuana is not considered to be a problem by San Franciscans, and even by the city’s police. While still illegal under federal law, a law was passed in 2006 officially making marijuana the lowest priority for the SFPD. This does not mean that you should smoke marijuana just anywhere — as with cigarettes, it is considered improper etiquette to smoke marijuana in crowded areas.
It’s worth mentioning that natives tend to dislike many of the nicknames given to their city. Instead of saying “San Fran” or “Frisco,” most refer to San Francisco by its full name, “SF”, or “The City.”
As is the case anywhere, when using escalators you are expected to stand on the right and use the left side for walking up or down the stairs. Standing still on the left side might annoy people.
- San Francisco Chronicle . The main newspaper in San Francisco, with circulation daily. $0.75 daily, $2.00 Sunday.
- San Francisco Examiner . Another daily newspaper, but this time free.
- San Francisco Daily . Another free daily paper.
- SF Weekly . A popular free-weekly distributed across the city.
- San Francisco Bay Guardian . Another popular free-weekly.
- San Francisco Bay View . Politics, economics, and news from a progressive African American perspective.
- AsianWeek . A weekly paper, one of the largest English language publications for Asian-Americans.
- Bay Area Reporter . Free-weekly serving the LGBT community.
- San Francisco Bay Times . Another free-weekly LGBT newspaper.
- San Francisco Magazine . A monthly magazine devoted to Bay Area culture.
- MetroWize . A weekly publication dedicated to insider city and event info for San Francisco.
Bikes can be rented from around the northern waterfront (Pier 41/Fisherman’s Wharf/Aquatic Park area) or near Golden Gate Park for trips to Marin County via the Golden Gate Bridge. Stanyan near Haight at the end of the park has several good shops. Golden Gate Transit also sporadically serves the North Bay from San Francisco, and has bike racks on most buses.
Nearby destinations suitable for day trips include:
- Oakland — A diverse and vibrant city, Oakland was once considered San Francisco’s “sister city,” and has been regaining that title in recent years due to a general renaissance of the city. Although not a major tourist destination, it’s worth a visit for its many distinct and charming neighborhoods.
- Berkeley — Home to the University of California, Berkeley and one of the nation’s most progressive communities. Also a hub of liberal political activism for the past several decades. It is also home to quite a few superb restaurants.
- Sausalito — Enjoy a ferry ride across the bay to beautiful Sausalito where you can walk along the water and admire the San Francisco skyline. Stroll to the waterfront restaurants, shops, and galleries.
- Healdsburg — A charming Wine Country town located among some of California’s greatest wine appellations: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley and Chalk Hill. Relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere, with excellent restaurants, shopping and wine tasting. About 70 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Napa Valley — The main wine growing region in the United States, a trip to the many wineries makes for a fun day, while those wanting a longer adventure can relax in any one of the many spas, bed and breakfasts, or other lodging options.
- Muir Woods — A 560 acre forest of old-growth redwood trees located in Mill Valley just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods is a pleasant respite from the city, and accessible by Golden Gate Transit on summer weekends.
- Point Reyes National Seashore — Located just north of San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway (State Highway 1), Point Reyes is a beautiful seashore that is particularly nice to visit when gray whales are migrating along the coast, usually best in mid-January and then from March through May.
- Peninsula Just south of San Francisco, the peninsula has excellent nature preserves.
- Palo Alto — On the Peninsula south of the city, Palo Alto has some of the richest neighborhoods in all of California and makes for a beautiful drive with views of the coastline and magnificent mansions. Palo Alto is also home to Stanford University, a highly ranked university that also has one of the most beautiful campuses in the world.
- Burlingame — Another well off neighborhood on the Peninsula, Burlingame has a lovely downtown area with plenty of shops, dining and streets lined with cypress trees.
- Monterey — An otherwise quiet beach town home to one of the country’s best aquariums.
- Santa Cruz — Located on the coast north of Monterey Bay, this funky town is home to surfers, the beautiful and tech-savvy University of California, Santa Cruz, and a popular boardwalk. The Santa Cruz Mountains north of town are a great place for outdoor recreation such as hiking, and home to misty forests of famous, enormous redwood trees.
- Vallejo — Home to a wildlife theme park, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
- Yosemite National Park — Tours from San Francisco make for a wonderful day trip, although you will spend around 10 hours travelling for less than 4 in the park.
- Make sure to visit the amazing Giant Sequoias.
- Lake Tahoe — Buses and one Amtrak train per day link the Bay Area to nearby Truckee, and as with Yosemite, travel even by car to and from would consume much of the day. However, the spectacular alpine setting and winter ski and snowboard options surrounding the Lake make Tahoe an unforgettable destination.
- Livermore — A suburban city in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Livermore Valley is “wine country”, and produces some of California’s best wines.