San Francisco is a full of colorful neighborhoods and beautiful views, and draws the free-spirited types. The city boasts jaw-dropping sights, world-class cuisine, cozy cafes and plenty of nightlife venues. There’s no shortage of ways to stay busy here. Spend an hour or two sunning yourself alongside sea lions on the bay, admiring the views of the city, or strolling along the Marina. And for the quintessential San Franciscan experience, enjoy a ride on a cable car.
They say “only in San Francisco” for a reason. Known for culture, music, diversity, and picturesque views throughout the city, San Francisco is an eclectic city to visit. This city is “out there.” There are a lot of alternative lifestyles here, lots of hippies, and tons of college students. Throw in a very liberal bend, and you are going to get one of the funkiest and coolest cities in America. Let our San Francisco Travel Guide help you get your vacation to San Francisco planned. For a list of all the great beaches in the area, click here.
Weather – When to Visit San Francisco
September is on average the hottest month, with an average high of 70°F. January is the coldest month, with an average high of 57°F. Visit San Francisco in September or October for the most reliably pleasant weather and fewer crowds. Come in July and August for your pick of outdoor festivals and events. Spring is also a great time to visit, but expect the fog to roll in with a cool ocean breeze in the afternoons. During the annual Bay to Breakers footrace, held every May, some 75,000 runners and walkers, many in costume (and a few in their birthday suits), tackle this 7.46-mile course. The event also happens to be the city’s biggest (moving) party.
What Should You Pack?
When figuring out what to pack for the beach, there are two tips to keep in mind. First, forgetting an item isn’t the end of the world. Unless you’re heading for a remote, deserted island, chances are you can find a store where you can pick up the extras. Second, don’t stress out over making a packing list when there’s a stress-free beach travel essentials list for you below:
- Sunglasses and hats offer much-needed sunscreen and flip flops are perfect for navigating hot, sandy beaches. Go pack them now so you’re not kicking yourself later.
- What about those little items that make beach visits so much more enjoyable? For a little extra comfort on your trip, make sure you pack: Lip balm, sunscreen, bug spray.
- Beach toys and goggles are a must for kids. Building sandcastles and viewing the underwater wonders are perennial favorites.
- Take a first-aid kit with you. Hopefully you’ll only have to worry about a few minor scrapes from seashells, but having your own kit handy is a good precaution.
- Beach Bag – Your beach bag will likely contain a few of the items mentioned above. For a well-rounded bag, consider tossing in sunscreen, lip balm, bug spray, first-aid kit and water-proof baggies.
- Beach Gear – No matter who’s supplying the gear, look to have the following items on hand: beach bag, beach chairs, beach towels, beach umbrella or tent, beach cart and a cooler.
- Remember: Don’t wait until you’re parched to drink. When you’re out in the heat and sun, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking regularly. So take along a water bottle as well.
San Francisco Attractions
Golden Gate Park
When San Franciscans refer to ‘the park,’ there’s only one that gets the definite article: Golden Gate Park. Everything San Franciscans hold dear is here: free spirits, free music, redwoods, Frisbee, protests, fine art, bonsai and buffalo. The park is filled with flora from around the world and extraordinary sights, including the de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco Botanical Garden, Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers and Stow Lake.
Located near the Golden Gate Bridge (and with awesome views of it to boot), Baker Beach is one of the many popular spots in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Baker Beach isn’t safe for swimming, but you’ll have the Battery Chamberlin, a large historic military gun installation from 1904, to entertain you.
China Beach is visually stunning, facing north toward the Marin Headlands with a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The rock walls on both sides create a small protected area that was once a camp for Chinese fishermen, which is how it got its name. The area just south of the cove is called Lands End and has some excellent hiking trails and a hidden surprise.
Dolores Park is a great place to soak up authentic San Franciscan vibes. It’s a good spot for people watching, too. In a totally carefree way, locals do literally whatever they feel like doing here: sunbathing, cosplaying, baton twirling, hula hooping, playing music, drinking, blowing bubbles, playing volleyball and more… You don’t want to miss it!
This vast swath of sand borders the Great Highway on the western stretch of San Francisco. Watch local surfers catch gnarly (and freezing) waves, stroll the succulent-strewn bluffs, or just kick back for a picnic. Haul some firewood to the beach around sunset for a (legal) bonfire while watching the sun sink into the Pacific.
Things to do in San Francisco
Adventure Cat Sailing Charters
Veer from the crowded city sidewalks and take a carefree charter on a boat for a different perspective of San Francisco. A fleet of first-rate catamarans slice across the San Francisco bay at day and around sunset, for Instagram-worthy views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. The catamarans are also available for private charters. Telephone: 415-777-1630 Web: Adventure Cat Sailing Charters
Explore the San Francisco Bay with one of our knowledgeable Captains, as they show you the glorious views and legendary landmarks of historical San Francisco! Coming from a family with over 300 years of maritime experience, expect to hear amazing stories of the history of this beautiful California destination. Telephone: 510-542-4200 Web: Bay Voyager
The America’s Cup Sailing Experience on San Francisco Bay. Sail with them on both USA 76 & TOMCAT. USA 76 is a unique opportunity for individuals and groups up to 20 to participate in the sailing of an International America’s Cup Class yacht. Join them for a thrilling 2.5 hour adventure on San Francisco Bay. Telephone: 415-990-9992 Web: ACsailing SF
Dandyhorse SF Bike Tours
Their essential bike tours give you a fascinating first-hand look at SF’s coolest local neighborhoods, its incredible lost history, legendary social movements, world-class mural art, grandest Victorian architecture, and dreamy gourmet food culture through captivating stories and a one-of-a-kind collection of maps & cool historical photos. Telephone: 415-890-2453 Web: Dandyhourse SF Bike Tours
San Francisco Bay Boat Cruises
Includes: a bay cruise, a flight (5 tastes) of wine and light snacks. San Francisco Bay’s only floating wine tasting room. We offer an intimate voyage on the bay while our wine steward offers CA wines. A full bar is available for your non-wine drinking friends. Light snacks provided. Telephone: 415-859-7052 Web: San Francisco Bay Boat Cruise
Best Waterside San Francisco Restaurants
$-Inexpensive $$-Moderate $$$-Pricey $$$$-Ultra High End
$$$$ Sutro’s At The Cliff House
Sutro’s is a stylish yet casual restaurant with two-story windows and stunning panoramic ocean views. Dine on delightful cuisine with a menu that changes seasonally. Sutro’s menu focuses on the finest produce, top fresh seafood, and local ingredients when available. Choose from the award-winning wine list and finish your meal with a delectable seasonal dessert. Telephone: 415-386-3330 Web: Sutro’s At The Cliff House
Scoma’s is a classic San Francisco seafood restaurant. They serve Pacific seafood, caught on small boats, and brought to the pier by local fishermen. They also offer a full bar program with premium crafted cocktails and an extensive award-winning wine list to complement your meal. If you plan on driving, there is free valet service at their door. Telephone: 415-771-4383 Web: Scoma’s
$$$$ Waterfront Restaurant
An unbeatable view and delicious food have made Waterfront Restaurant a hit. The open-air patio is especially popular during warmer months, but whether seated inside or out, you’ll enjoy a breathtaking Bayscape complete with a stunning view of the Bay Bridge. Delectable dishes like Dungeness crab cakes, wood oven roasted petrale sole and lobster risotto are on the menu, and for desert have classic creme brulee or sticky toffee pudding. Telephone: 415-391-2696 Web: Waterfront Restaurant
$$ – $$$ Slanted Door
Spectacular Bay views establish a unique atmosphere at this waterfront venue. Find authentic country Vietnamese dishes, with a California kick from local ingredients. Taste the results in the catfish clay pot, crispy peppercorn duck, shaking beef, spicy squid and mesquite-grilled pork chops. Spring rolls also come highly recommended, and great cocktails and scrumptious desserts are worth indulging in. Telephone: 415-861-8032 Web: Slanted Door
$$ – $$$ Green’s Restaurant
Greens, one of the city’s finest vegetarian establishments which uses organic produce. Inside you’ll find spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. On the menu is Asian-inspired curries, fresh pizzas and luscious pastas. Soups, sandwiches and salads also delight taste buds, as does a tempting wine list. The view is a calm and tranquil shot of the bay, at least on days when the fog hasn’t rolled in. Telephone: 415-771-6222 Web: Green’s Restaurant
Best Waterfront Bars in San Francisco
Mission Rock Resort
You can sit on the over-water patio (which accommodates a Giants game day-friendly ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY DRINKERS), or pull up a stool at the bar, which’s made with recycled wood pulled from the 1923 bleachers (complete with seat numbers!) from Cal’s Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. Either way, the views are everywhere. Telephone: 415-701-7625 Web: Mission Rock Resort
Fancy a Bay view with your seafood? Snag a seat on Waterbar’s patio, a perfect spot to dig into an enviable oyster list ($3.55 to $4.30) and raw bar selection whilst taking in waterfront and Bay Bridge views. Try the classic Dungeness crab cocktail ($20), or splurge on their grand iced shellfish platter ($110) with crab, lobster, ceviche, prawns and three types of oysters. Telephone: 415-284-9607 Web: Waterbar
Rum & Sugar
This vintage-style joint in the Tenderloin pours cocktails (with a focus on rum blends), beer and wine in chill quarters with a combo of sparkly chandeliers, highbrow decor and a laid-back neighborhood vibe. Telephone: 415-913-7949 Website: Rum & Sugar
If you want drinks and a bite on the Embarcadero, Hard Water is a good option. The pork belly cracklings here are delicious or you could get some oysters, but the real reason to come to Hard Water is for whiskey. They have a massive selection on a wall stacked high and wide enough that it almost looks like a Harry Potter potion shop, and since it’s booze, you can have as much fun as if it actually were. Telephone: 415-392-3021 Web: Hard Water
Find a seat on the pier at rickety umbrella tables for Bloody Marys and people-watching. The menu’s basic – sandwiches, salads, barbecue – but the untouristy, laid-back waterfront provides plenty of local flavor. If you recognize the scenery, you must be a film buff: Woody Allen shot scenes for his SF set piece Blue Jasmine here. Bands play 5:30pm to 8pm most weekends. Telephone: 415-621-2378 Web: The Ramp
Best San Francisco Hotels
Epic waterfront views. Easy access to San Francisco’s top activities and attractions. And bold, boutique style throughout, the Argonaut hotel surrounds you with relaxed luxury in an historic setting. They’re happy to extend a warm San Francisco welcome – and special offers and vacation packages no less – to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible for you to experience this fabulous city and the spirit of Noble House Hotels. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Argonaut Hotel.
The Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square
Built high atop Ghirardelli Square with San Francisco Bay views, this urban San Francisco resort features luxurious apartments with free WiFi and fully equipped gourmet kitchens. Sweeping terraces with fire pits are featured on-site. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square.
Harbor Court Hotel
Nestled along the edge of the San Francisco Bay, between the Financial District and Oracle Park, Harbor Court Hotel is a completely non-smoking, boutique hotel. It is eco-friendly and provides access to a 24-hour business center. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Harbor Court Hotel.
Indulge in an appealing, historic San Francisco boutique hotel (originally built in 1901) inspired by European flair and enjoy exceptional amenities that include well-appointed guestrooms and luxury suites, onsite dining at Perry’s on the Embarcadero – a San Francisco institution serving classic American food – and a distinguished meeting space for business while you travel. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Hotel Griffon.
A distinctive destination among San Francisco boutique hotels, the Hotel Drisco offers a welcoming atmosphere with well-connected hosts who are attentive to your needs. Located atop San Francisco’s iconic Pacific Heights neighborhood, unwind in our elegant 1903 Edwardian San Francisco hotel and be pampered by all-inclusive luxury and complimentary extras from a gourmet continental breakfast, evening wine reception and bikes to borrow. Discover the City by the Bay from a boutique hideaway in the hilltops, where our hosts treat you like family and thrive on curating quintessential San Francisco experiences. For more information, pricing, or to reserve your room visit the Hotel Drisco.