San Francisco Travel Guide

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 balmsunscreenbug 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 sunscreenlip balmbug sprayfirst-aid kit and water-proof baggies.
  • Beach Gear – No matter who’s supplying the gear, look to have the following items on hand: beach bagbeach chairsbeach towelsbeach umbrella or tentbeach 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

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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.

Baker Beach

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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.

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China Beach

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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.

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Dolores Park

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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!

Ocean Beach

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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.

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San Francisco Tours, Tickets & Activities

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

Bay Voyager

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

ACsailing SF

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

San Francisco Tours, Tickets & Activities

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

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

Top San Francisco Food, Wine & Nightlife Packages

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

Waterbar

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

Hard Water

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

The Ramp

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

Top San Francisco Food, Wine & Nightlife Packages

Best San Francisco Hotels

Argonaut Hotel

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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

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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.

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Harbor Court Hotel

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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.

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Hotel Griffon

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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.

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Hotel Drisco

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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.

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30 Comments

  1. smshakil

    Hi Leahrae,

    I have read your whole article with all necessary information and guideline about San Francisco Travel Guide.This is an awesome article.This will be very much helpful for the people who want to go to San Francisco.Because you have given all the needed information and guideline.I also want to go to for a vacation in San Francisco.It is an awesome place for a tour.I will follow the tips and guideline you provided, and I think this will help me a lot.I am going to share it with my friends and relatives so that they can take the benefits from this.Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are so welcome!  I am glad you enjoyed reading my San Francisco Travel Guide and found it helpful to you.  Thank you for visiting beach travel destinations!

      Reply
  2. Adamu2

    San Francisco looks like a great vacation spot for me!  You have shown me the features and exiting things to enjoy  on visiting, especially to the beach. I will be planning my vacation to San Francisco soon. This article is full of great information that I was looking for.  I didn’t know there was so much to do and see.  I am excited now!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Great!  It is a wonderful beach destination.  Most don’t think beautiful beaches, when they think of San  Francisco. It really does have it all.  Have a great vacation to San Francisco!

      Reply
  3. Sammynathaniels

    Wow. I have never imagined  San Fransisco to be this interesting with beautiful beaches and stunning features. This is a great eye opener. 

    Probably, I’ll get to visit there someday and experience all this. But I’d also love to know how much can be budgeted for a weekend tour in San Fransisco.

    Great article.

    Cheers.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You can do San Francisco in a weekend on a budget.  If you look at my San Francisco Travel Guide (bottom of post), it shows an interactive map of all the hotels.  The cheapest I found was for $57 a night.  If you don’t eat at posh restaurants and stay at a budget hotel, you can easily stay well under $250 for hotel and food.  This leaves you with whatever you would like to do while visiting.  I have been to San Francisco for a weekend getaway, and it was still a lot of fun. Ride the cable cars, they are $29 for a 3-day pass.  Kind of a sight seeing trip all in their own.  

      Reply
  4. johnny

    Hi Leahrae, 

    I love how you started out about the weather and choosing the right time to visit San Francisco. This is a good first step in planning a visit to the Bay area. “Check the Weather”. 

    The sections of “things to do”, the “best restaurants”, the “best bars”, and the “best hotels” are priceless. These tools are so useful for planning a trip to San Francisco. This is a one-stop go to vacation post.  

    Will you provide posts that deal with the hidden gems of the city of San Francisco? Where do the locals go to spend time? Are there places off the beaten path of the tourist crowds? These hole-in-the-walls destinations can make the difference between a good vacation and a great vacation.  

    Which do you like better, the beach or the mountains when vacationing? And why do you choose what you choose? 

    I enjoyed your website. Good job. Thanks, Leahrae. 

    johnny, the Grey Wolf. 

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thanks so much Johnny!  If I included the hidden gems etc, my post would be soooo long LOL.  I definitely prefer the beach over the mountains. Glad you enjoyed!

      Reply
  5. Adisa1

    Beautiful article for a beautiful place.Oh, how I would like to spend a vacation there.The article is complete with self explanatory pictures… inviting you to discover the beauty and the personality of this beautiful place . With these article I have known some specific places in San Francisco be it the hotels and resort centers so when actually coming for a visit I won’t be a total stranger to it . Thanks for the article .

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thank you for stopping by and reading my San Francisco Travel Guide!

      Reply
  6. Craig

    I’m planning another visit to San Francisco this summer (we went for my parent’s anniversary as a gift 5 years ago) and this time it is just my wife and I!  I’ve heard wonderful things about Golden Gate Park and like you’ve mentioned I just can’t wait to take it in.

    I know it isn’t in San Francisco specifically, but my wife and I are planning to hit the Muir Woods north of the Golden Gate bridge and then stop in Sausalito on the way back. Are you familiar with any good beaches in that area that might be worth taking in?

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Hi Craig,  definitely stop at Rodeo Beach and Kirby beach.  Both are great and in the Sausilito area.  You will enjoy for sure!  Sounds like you guys are going to have a great time!

      Reply
  7. Kaju

    Hi,

    Very beautiful clean site, everything appears to work well and quite fast! This is useful information for vacation goers and beach lovers. You are in a very competitive niche, but you are off to a great start!  I enjoyed viewing and reviewing your site!

    The photos are gorgeous, and the reviews are very concise. That’s important on your Home Page blog roll. 

    Wishing you the best with this business:)

    Kaju

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Thanks so much and glad you enjoyed my San Francisco Travel Guide.  Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  8. Mike L

    My girlfriends father has always talked about how great San Francisco is. So some day I would like to take her there. She is handicapped and will be using a scooter to get around. Do you have recommendations on Hotels, Restaurants and other places that are ” handicapped ” accessible.

    We aren’t much for being at a beach or on a boat and biking is out of the question, so a lot of the recommendations you have listed will not be much fun for us. We do love pizza and unfortunately her father is no longer with us to tell us places we should check out.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Hi there, here is the wheel chair accessible guide for San Francisco. All the hotels I listed are also handicapped accessible. I hope this helps, and let me know if you need any additional information.

      Reply
  9. Brian

    I have always wanted to go to San Francisco, you shared all the information about there, this is very useful. I wish I can be there for a vacation next year, so I will save this article until I need that information. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are most welcome Brian, and thank you for visiting! Let me know if you need any additional information.

      Reply
  10. Michael

    What a place, and what a great and informative article.

    San Francisco is on my list for when I eventually fulfill my dream and move from the UK to the Pacific North West of the US; Washington State probably. Then SF is just a bus ride away.

    It amazes me how different San Franciso looks depending on where you are. A metropolitan and cosmopolitan city with different types of beaches. It’s amazing.

    Thanks for the read,
    Michael.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome Michael. And you are right, it is very diverse for sure. Most people think of San Francisco as just a big city. It really is much more!

      Reply
  11. Jen

    Thank you for sharing. This is exactly what I need for a vacation. I have always wanted to visit California but don’t know where to start with the planning or where to go exactly. Your site is very useful so I have bookmarked it. I’ll be back for more of your insight.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Glad you enjoyed beach travel destinations Jen! Please come back when you are ready to plan, and if you need any assistance just shoot me a message 🙂

      Reply
  12. Thabo Khoza

    Wow I already love San Francisco and I will be bookmarking this as this place is now on my bucket-list.

    I will want to come when there are festivals because I love crowds and it makes it memorable.

    I also want to visit the attraction called Golden Gate Park as it seems vibey ha ha..Thank you for this information.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are so welcome Thabo! I am glad you enjoyed reading and learning about San Francisco. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave me comments.

      Reply
  13. Olga

    Beautiful article for a beautiful place.
    Oh, how I would like to spend a vacation there.
    The article is complete with self explanatory pictures… inviting you to discover the beauty and the personality of the place.
    … and the map is an awesome tool. Thanks for all the info.

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      Glad you like Olga! Thanks for stopping by my San Francisco Travel Guide!

      Reply
  14. Daniella

    Hi Lea,

    Wow, beautiful place, I already love it even though I’ve never been there:)
    We are planning a trip to San Fransisco next year, and we didn’t have any idea of where to go and what to do. You have given all the information I need to plan my trip effectively. Thanks!
    Do you know what the best way to get there from Europe is? Will be visiting our mother first in Paris and then will fly to San Fransisco:)

    Thank you for this great guide!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome. Ok Daniella, I am not sure where in Europe you will be flying from, so hard for me to give you the best route. I know that you will fly directly into San Francisco. My guess is that you will fly Paris to Frankfurt and then to San Francisco. I know that the flights are surprisingly reasonable (down right cheap) flying into San Francisco. I have family in Europe and the prices have come down about 75%! Now I am thinking I need to visit my family!

      Reply
  15. Effie

    Another great article Laehrae! And even greater is the idea of adding the map at the bottom of it. it gave me information regarding the exact location of each hotel, facilities around or close to it, distance from the sea etc. I have the impression of actually being in San Francisco! Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Leahrae (Post author)

      You are very welcome Effie! I am glad you enjoyed and also that the map is useful 🙂 Wasn’t sure if it would be too much information LOL

      Reply

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