3 Days in San Francisco: a Perfect Weekend in San Francisco

Despite being only 49 square miles, there’s so much to see and do in San Francisco. From vibrant and unique neighborhoods, to spectacular scenery, natural attractions, and outdoor activities, a lively cultural and music scene, and more great restaurants and bars than you can possibly fit into a lifetime, you can do it all here. You’ll just wish you had more time than 3 days in San Francisco. 

I’ve been a regular visitor to San Francisco for the past 20 years, and have spent enough time here to be considered an honorary resident. I love the city and would probably live here if I didn’t live in beautiful Lake Tahoe instead.

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel and vacation rental links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would absolutely never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.

Tips for Visiting San Francisco 

Before we jump into the San Francisco itinerary, here are a few things to know before your trip.

  • Don’t refer to San Francisco as San Fran or Frisco. You’ll be instantly identified as a tourist and possibly offend some locals (though probably not). The proper, and only acceptable, nicknames are either SF (“ess-eff”) or “the City”. Trust us on this one.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Much of this itinerary involves walking, which frankly is one of the best ways to enjoy the city. 
  • Bring layers. The weather can change quite a bit from hour to hour, and neighborhood to neighborhood. Plus Karl the fog always seems to be lurking around. Never, ever leave home without at least a light jacket. There’s a reason you’ll see a ton of tourists wearing “I LOVE SF” sweatshirts. That reason is that they came to SF expecting L.A. weather and were sorely disappointed.
  • Yes, San Francisco has a lot of hills. And some of them are ridiculously steep. Most are manageable though. Another handy tip is to walk a block or two over if you can. Oftentimes that daunting hill becomes more manageable when you do so.

Where to Stay for 3 Days in San Francisco 

Matt and Alysha, the founders of West Coast Wayfarers here!

We love letting your local guides speak for themselves, but as San Francisco locals (we met in San Francisco and explored the city together for 7+ years), we feel like this is the right time to jump in and talk about something we’re passionate about: avoiding vacation rentals in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle, where there’s a full-fledged housing crisis.

Don’t get us wrong – we love a good vacation rental. However, in cities like San Francisco where the housing supply is constrained (mostly by insane housing policies over the past several decades) and rent prices are out of control (we paid more than $2,500 for a small one bedroom apartment), we can’t recommend vacation rentals like Airbnb. 

They’re not the main driver of rising housing costs and the associated displacement of local residents, but they’re a contributing factor in popular neighborhoods where they take units off the long-term rental market to make more money on short term rentals. 

By all means, stay in vacation rentals in other places (we certainly do), but in San Francisco, we think you should stick to hotels, which there are plenty of. 

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming and four great neighborhoods in San Francisco for you to stay in for your trip.

PS: We have an entire detailed guide to where to stay in San Francisco to help you make this decision, complete with pros/cons for 7 different areas, neighborhoods highlights, and cool places to stay.

Nob Hill 

The view from Nob Hill

Centrally located and with plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops along Polk Street and Hyde Street, Nob Hill is a great place to base yourself for your stay. Located at the top of a hill, you can easily walk to North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and Embarcadero. 

The downside is it’s at the top of a hill. 

Note from Matt and Alysha: We lived together here for more than three years (Alysha lived here for eight), and we love Nob Hill and think it would be a great home base for your time in SF.

If that doesn’t deter you, consider staying at either the French-inspired Petite Auberge or the English-inspired White Swan Inn. Although pricey, these incredibly cute sister bed & breakfasts are beautifully furnished, and come with free breakfast plus wine in the afternoon.

Union Square 

Union Square has little in the way of charm or character, but it is very centrally located, with access to all sorts of transportation. There’s also a lot of shopping here, though more of the big name, chain-store variety. The main reason to stay here is that there are a lot of hotels to choose from. 

Conveniently located, FOUND Hotel is both stylish and a great value, and offers a wide range of room options, from shared, dorm-style rooms to quad rooms great for groups, and private rooms perfect for couples. 

For a more creative vibe, check out Hotel Emblem, with its literary-themes, original art, and live music, plus luxury amenities. 

The Mission and the Castro 

The Mission and Castro are two of the most vibrant and interesting neighborhoods in the city. The Mission is full of street art, great boutiques, and some of the best food and drink in the city, while the Castro is the epicenter of LGBTQ+ culture and home to some of the city’s best nightlife. 

Both areas are also blessed with generally sunny and warm weather. The downside is that there aren’t a lot of hotels. 

The bright and beautiful Parker Guest House is a good option, with an excellent location and a cute garden and sun terrace. 

Conveniently located right on Market Street, Beck’s Motor Lodge is an updated motel that combines retro aesthetics with modern amenities. It also offers a rarity in the city—free parking. 

Offering affordable lodgings right by the 16 St BART and bustling Valencia Street, Nineteen 06 Mission is an eco-friendly bed & breakfast, with modern light-filled rooms, and shared bathrooms.

A Long Weekend in San Francisco: A Complete 3 Day San Francisco Itinerary 

So you’ve got a weekend in San Francisco. While that’s really not that much time to see a city as dense in history, culture, and of course, food and drinks as San Francisco, we put together this 3 day San Francisco itinerary to help you make the most of your time.

In it, you’ll find very specific recommendations on what to do in San Francisco, where to eat and drink in San Francisco, and more.

Is this a complete list of every last thing you could do and see in the city? No. Think of it as a blueprint for the best possible weekend trip to San Francisco, according to local Californians (and Matt and Alysha, who lived here for 7+ years together!).

Friday Night: Arriving & Dinner and Drinks  

After making your way to your hotel from the airport, drop off your bags, freshen up, and head out for some dinner and drinks to cap off your first night.

Dinner and Drinks in Hayes Valley 

For a casual meal of delicious Greek, head over to Souvla. There might be a line but it’s worth the wait. Get the Greek fries and frozen Greek yogurt. 

For a fancier option, Monsieur Benjamin offers excellent and upscale French food, plus has a great raw bar.

After dinner, grab some tasty cocktails or share a big punch bowl at Anina and sit at their outdoor patio if it’s nice out. They also offer a good beer selection. Brass Tacks next door is another great option for cocktails (it’s owned by the same people). 

For a tropical, tiki, and nautical vibe, check out Smuggler’s Cove, and their seriously massive collection of rum. 

If wine is more your thing, head over to Fig & Thistle

Saturday: The Embarcadero, Chinatown & North Beach, and Alcatraz

You’ll spend your day exploring the northeastern corner of the city, covering highlights like the Ferry Building, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and North Beach, before ending with a tour of Alcatraz. 

The best way to experience this day is on foot – there are all sorts of incredible views of the city, the San Francisco Bay, and more as you meander up the Embarcadero and onto San Francisco’s famous hills. We highly, highly recommend walking. 

Morning: The Ferry Building, the Embarcadero, and Fisherman’s Wharf

Exploring the Ferry Building

Start your day at the Ferry Building. Built in 1898, this Beaux Arts landmark with its iconic 245-foot clock tower was once the city’s transportation hub. Today, you can still catch ferries to Sausalito, Tiburon, and the East Bay here, but the Ferry Building is probably better known as being a hub of the city’s thriving culinary scene, with stalls of artisan food, drinks, and goods. Highlights include Slanted Door, Hog Island Oyster, Dandelion Chocolate, and Heath Ceramics.

The Ferry Building Farmers Market

On Saturday (and Tuesday and Thursday) mornings, there’s also a phenomenal Farmers Market. You can find stalls from more than 100 farmers, prepared food vendors, and artisans. In addition to outside the Ferry Building, the market wraps sound the side and the back plaza as well. Check out the options, but be warned that it may be tough choosing!

To fuel you up for the day ahead, grab some coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee inside the Ferry Building, or at Paramo Coffee across the street.

Walk up the Embarcadero to the North 

After you’ve finished stuffing yourself, walk it off along the Embarcadero (the waterfront promenade between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf).

It’s worth stopping at Pier 7 for a quick photo, with Coit Tower in the background. If you have the time, I recommend a stop at the Exploratorium, on Pier 15. It’s full of interactive and experiential science exhibits that will bring out your inner child. 

Fisherman’s Wharf 

Although Fisherman’s Wharf is primarily an over-crowded tourist spot, it’s worth a quick stop, especially if this is your first time in San Francisco. Head to Pier 39 and watch the resident colony of sea lions sleeping on the docks, frolicking in the water, playfully fighting, or hunting for food. 

Feeling hungry yourself? Grab chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at Boudin, or a burger at everyone’s favorite California burger chain, In-N-Out

There are a lot of tourist traps at Fisherman’s Wharf where you shouldn’t bother wasting your time. The Musée Mécanique is an exception. It’s free to enter, though there is a small charge to play the more than 200 old school arcade games, and hand-cranked and mechanical displays.

Afternoon: Ghirardelli Square, Lombard St, and Chinatown

Lombard Street at night – one of Matt’s favorite photos he’s ever taken
Ghirardelli Square 

Before leaving the area, make a quick stop at Ghirardelli Square, especially if you are a chocolate lover. Although the original factory is no longer here, you can still grab their massive ice cream sundaes, and plenty of chocolate treats (including some exclusive to Ghirardelli Square), at four different shops. 

For caffeine with a side of history (and Irish Whiskey), grab an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista Café, which introduced the iconic drink to America in the 1950s. 

Lombard Street

Located in nearby Russian Hill, the one block stretch of Lombard Street between Leavenworth and Hyde is known as the “crookedest street in the world,“ even though it’s not even the crookedest street in San Francisco (that title belongs to the less interesting Vermont Street in Potrero Hill). 

Technicalities notwithstanding, the street is incredibly photogenic with eight sharp, hairpin turns, stately mansions and perfectly manicured flower beds. You can take the Powell/Hyde cable car from Fisherman’s Wharf to the top of the street (with great views of the bay) and walk down. 

At the bottom, don’t forget to turn around and capture that iconic shot of Lombard Street in all its twisty glory.


San Francisco is home to the oldest and second largest Chinatown in the country. Head to the intersection of Grant and Bush street to walk through the Dragon’s Gate entrance. 

Everyone walks down Grant Avenue with its many souvenir shops, but I recommend ducking down some side alleys to get a more authentic feel for the area. You have so many great options for food. 

Try Great Eastern for dim sum, R&G Lounge for seafood, and Golden Gate Bakery for their egg custard. Afterwards, stop by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Ross Alley to see fortune cookies still being folded by hand. There’s a small charge to take photos. You’ll probably get some free samples, though you can also pick up a package of fortune cookies for cheap.

Evening: North Beach & Alcatraz 

Wrap up your first full day with a tour of Alcatraz and some time in North Beach.

North Beach
Image Credit: Ronnie Chua / Shutterstock.com

North Beach is home to San Francisco’s Little Italy. This is also where the Beat Generation hung out. If you’re a book lover, a stop at City Lights Books, publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and a great indie bookstore, is a must. 

Image credit: Steve Wood / Shutterstock.com

Duck down Kerouac Alley and grab a drink at Vesuvio like Keruoac himself used to do, or learn more at the Beat Museum. Then do some good, old fashioned people watching at Washington Square, the big green space in the middle of North Beach.

If you have the energy, you can also walk up to Coit Tower for incredible views. Take the Filbert Street Stairs on the eastern slope of Telegraph Hill, which will pass by several pretty gardens. Keep your eyes open for the wild parrots. Located on top of Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower was built in 1933 and features fresco murals by 26 different artists and an observation deck offering 360-degree views of the city. 

You’ll have worked up an appetite by now. Luckily there are some great food options in North Beach, including the city’s best pizza at Tony’s Pizza. For pasta, try The Italian Homemade Company, and for seafood try Sotto Mare. Don’t forget to grab some cannoli or gelato for dessert. 

For coffee, visit Reveille Coffee or neighborhood fixture, Caffe Trieste, which usually has live music on Saturdays. 

For something stronger, head to Tosca Café for their boozy cappuccinos (which don’t actually have any coffee) or 15 Romolo for their excellent cocktails. 


Originally a fort during the Civil War, Alcatraz is most famously known as a prison, and operated as one until 1963. It was home to such infamous prisoners as Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. 

Catch the ferry from Pier 33. Once there, you can explore on a self-guided audio tour or join a ranger-led tour. I highly recommend the Alcatraz night tour (available Thursdays through Mondays with two sailings daily in the summer, and one sailing Tuesdays through Saturdays during the winter). 

Not only will you enjoy a more intimate and spookier experience, and access to areas not available during day tours, but the views of the San Francisco skyline and bay at night will take your breath away.

The San Francisco skyline at night

Tickets are limited and this is a really popular tour, so you need to book well in advance—ideally as soon as they become available, 90 days in advance.

Not able to get a ticket and still want to visit Alcatraz? Your next best bet is a guided tour. Check out this one, which includes a walking tour of Chinatown, or this one, which includes a bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Sunday: NoPa and the Mission District

Spend your Sunday hanging out and exploring some of the most interesting neighborhoods in San Francisco, including the Haight, NOPA (North of the Panhandle), and (my personal favorite) the Mission.

Morning: The Haight & NOPA

Brunch at Zazie in Cole Valley or Brenda’s Meat & Three on Divisadero 

There’s no better way to start off your Sunday than with brunch at Zazie in Cole Valley. It’s popular and they don’t take reservations, so get there early or build in some waiting time. Grab a table in their delightful back patio garden and get an extra order of the buttermilk pancakes. They have a great selection of mimosas. Just remember you’ve got a full day planned, so maybe limit yourself to just one.

Another great option is Brenda’s Meat & Three on Divisadero for awesome southern comfort food. You can order both breakfast (those biscuits!) and lunch items (get the bologna sandwich) during the morning. The beignets are always appropriate.

Walk Down Haight Street 

Home of the hippie movement in the 1960s and the Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury is still quirky and bohemian today. A stroll down Haight Street will take you past plenty of record stores (Amoeba is amazing), thrift stores, head shops, and funky boutiques. If you’re thirsty, grab a quick drink at Magnolia Brewing

The Painted Ladies

Make a quick stop at Alamo Square for that quintessential postcard shot of the Painted Ladies with the San Francisco skyline in the background. The term painted ladies technically refer to any Victorian or Edwardian house painted in three or more colors, but most people are talking about the ones featured in the TV show “Full House.”

Further down on Steiner, you can also find the house that was on “Mrs. Doubtfire.” People live in all of these houses, so please be respectful when admiring or taking photos.

For a caffeine boost, grab a coffee from the vintage Lady Falcon coffee truck at the top of the hill at Alamo Square. 

If you’re interested in walking from here to the Mission, head up Divisadero Street and up to Buena Vista park, which is one of the best views of the San Francisco skyline you’ll find anywhere in the city. Continue down the other side and into the Castro and the Mission District, which is your next stop. 

Afternoon: The Mission 

Valencia Street 

Valencia street is great for shopping, even if it’s just of the window variety. Walk down Valencia Street and browse the many cool shops and boutiques. Favorites include Betabrand, Therapy, Everlane, and Reformation. For something a bit different and quirky, stop in at the Pirate Supply Store. 

Definitely stop for a chocolate sample and afternoon pick-me-up at Dandelion Chocolate

Clarion Alley

Make sure you visit Clarion Alley, located just south of 17th Street between Valencia and Mission. Pretty much all the walls are covered by colorful and constantly changing murals, which are often related to current societal issues. 

Balmy Alley between Treat and Harrison and 24th and 25th streets is also worth checking out. You’ll also see plenty of graffiti and other artworks all throughout the neighborhood as you walk around.

Tartine Bakery

I didn’t even like bread until I tried Tartine’s. They’re seriously life changing. They also offer excellent pastries (the morning bun and frangipane croissant are amazing). There’s usually a line outside their (unmarked) original bakery on the corner of 18th and Guerrero but it’s worth it. 

They also opened a larger Manufactory a few blocks away, where you stand a better chance of snagging some of their freshly baked loaves.

Dolores Park 

Pick up some picnic provisions at Bi-Rite Market (and some ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery across the street), and head over to Dolores Park. Grab a spot on the grass and then just chill and enjoy the sunshine, views of the downtown skyline, and fantastic people watching. 

The Mission tends to be one of the warmest and sunniest spots in San Francisco. And Dolores Park is one of the best spots to take advantage of the warmth. If you’re into history, check out nearby Mission Dolores—established in 1776, it’s the oldest building in the city.

Evening: Dinner and Drinks in the Mission District

Spend the rest of your night eating and drinking your way through the Mission. With so many great food options, you’re going to have to make some tough choices.

You can’t visit the Mission and not stop at a taqueria. And while the “best” taqueria in the Mission is a point of heated debate, top contenders include Taqueria Cancun, La Taqueria, and Taqueria El Farolito. Get a Mission burrito. It’s massive so you may want to share with someone, but it’s oh so tasty.

Other great food options in the Mission include Burma Love (their tea leaf salad is a must) and Little Star Pizza.

The Mission is also full of great options for a drink or three. Grab a beer or bloody mary at divey beer garden Zeitgeist. Or enjoy rooftop margaritas at El Techo

ABV is a solid choice for excellent cocktails (seconded by Matt and Alysha – this was our go-to spot in the city for cocktails), while Monk’s Kettle right across the street has a great beer selection.

Monday: Golden Gate Park and the Lands End Trail

Spend the rest of your time in San Francisco exploring some of the highlights of the Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach area, ending with a fantastic hike at Lands End to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Morning: Golden Gate Park & the Lands End Trail 

Arsicault Bakery  

Head to Arsicault Bakery on Arguello and Clement in the Inner Richmond for a croissant and kouign amann. But get there early (ideally before 8:30 am). Ever since they were crowned best new bakery by Bon Appetit, the lines have expanded and they usually sell out before mid-morning.

Golden Gate Park 

Get in touch with nature, and so much more, at Golden Gate Park. Spanning more than 1,000 acres, you could easily spend all day here, but we will focus on a few highlights, including the Japanese Tea Garden, California Academy of Sciences, and the Botanical Garden before checking out the resident bison (yes, really).

Japanese Tea Garden – Start at the Japanese Tea Garden, which offers free entrance on Mondays (Wednesdays and Fridays) before 10 am. Explore the beautiful zen garden, along with koi ponds, pagodas, and bridges. Visit in March and April to see the cherry blossoms trees in bloom. In the fall, the maple trees are a dazzling sea of red. There’s also a lovely teahouse.

California Academy of Sciences – Next door, the Academy of Sciences offers a natural history museum, aquarium, giant rainforest, and a planetarium. Say hi to Claude the albino alligator, watch the penguins at their morning feeding, then check out a dive at the aquarium. If you have more time in San Francisco, come back on Thursday nights for Nightlife, when you can play like a kid, while having adult beverages. 

Unfortunately the de Young Museum is not open on Mondays, but art lovers should return at another time to explore this great museum.

San Francisco Botanical Garden – Spanning 55 acres, the Botanical Gardens features more than 50,000 flowers and plants from around the world. What’s in bloom will depend on the time of year you are visiting, but highlights include the Ancient Planet Garden with plants that date back to the dinosaurs, the redwood grove, and the magnolias. If you can’t get enough flowers, you may also want to check out the Conservatory of Flowers.

Bison – Believe it or not, bison have called Golden Gate Park home since the 1890s. Head to the Bison Paddock at the northwestern part of the park to see these giants. There’s even a handy webcam.

Ocean Beach 

Ocean Beach stretches for more than three miles and is quite wide, so you’ll be able to find a patch of sand to yourself. You’ll definitely want some extra layers here as it’s often foggy, blustery, and cold. 

If you plan to surf, make sure you have a thick wetsuit. Most people don’t swim here as it’s too cold and the riptides can be really dangerous. 

Sutro Baths 

Just north of Ocean Beach, Sutro Baths are the ruins of a former public bathhouse that housed a massive indoor swimming pool complex, constructed by former mayor Adolph Sutro in 1896. You can still walk around the ruins, which include a not-so-hidden tunnel that leads to a small beach.

If you have some time, walk around Sutro Heights Park. You can enjoy nice views of Ocean Beach from several overlooks. See if you can find the hidden staircase, which cuts down into the hillside and was formerly used by workers when they sprayed the area with concrete.

For lunch, try the Beach Chalet or Park Chalet, largely for the views, especially from the second-story Beach Chalet. Sadly the Cliff House and Louis’ Restaurant both closed in 2020. 

Afternoon: Lands End Hike to the Golden Gate Bridge

Spend your final afternoon completing the quintessential San Francisco hike, the Coastal Trail at Lands End

It’s not that difficult as the terrain is largely flat, with some stairs. You’ll walk along the cliffs that wind past the northwestern edge of San Francisco, past cypress trees, wildflowers in season, small coves and beaches, and incredible views of the coastline, bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge, looming ever larger as you get closer. Keep your eyes open for whales in the distance. Just don’t get too close to the cliff’s edge. 

Stop at Lands End Point for a picnic and great views of the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s also a cool rock labyrinth here. You can also head further down to the water’s edge at Mile Rock Beach. From the start at the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center, it’s 1.5 miles to the end of the trail Eagle Point Overlook, next to the Sea Cliff neighborhood. You can exit here or loop back to where you started.

Baker Beach

If you have some extra time, it’s worth continuing on to Baker Beach and eventually the Golden Gate Bridge.

Once you exit into Sea Cliff, stay left on the sidewalks and you will soon reach Baker Beach. Just be aware that the northern end is a nude beach. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge here are iconic, especially at sunset, and it’s a great spot to capture photos of the bridge reflected in the waves as the water recedes. 

You can also continue all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. If you’re already at the northern end of Baker Beach, climb the Sand Ladder back up to the trail. Along the way, you’ll pass by several batteries, Marshall Beach, several great vista points, and the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, where you can learn more about the bridge. 

What to Add with More Time? 

Have more time in San Francisco? Lucky you. You can either spend some more time exploring the city, or get out of the city to do a day trip in the Bay Area. There’s no shortage of other interesting things to do. Here are a few ideas of what you can do with more time.

Walk the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito 

With more time, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito should be on the top of your list. The bridge stretches for 1.7 miles, so it’s a manageable walk. Alternatively, rent a bike to cross the bridge. Once across, spend some time in the cute bayside town of Sausalito. If you don’t want to walk back, you can take the ferry instead.

Hike in the Marin Headlands 

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and spend some time exploring the many great trails and beaches of the Marin Headlands. Highlights include Tennessee Valley Trail, Kirby Cove, Point Bonita Lighthouse, and the Coastal Trail / Miwok Trail Loop from Rodeo Beach.

Get Cultured in the City’s Many Museums

There are so many great museums in San Francisco and you can’t possibly seem them all in one trip. 

  • The Exploratorium and Academy of Sciences (and in particular, the adults-only Nightlife on Thursday nights with adult beverages) both deserve multiple visits and are great for all ages. 
  • Art fans will want to explore the de Young Museum, SFMOMA, and the Asian Art Museum
  • History and transportation buffs can explore the Cable Car Museum and the San Francisco Railway Museum
  • For something quirkier, try the Ice Cream Museum or Musée Mécanique.

Visit the East Bay

Spend the day in Berkeley, Oakland, or both. You can take BART over to both areas for easy exploration. 

In Berkeley, explore the university campus, go shopping along Telegraph Avenue, enjoy the outdoors at Tilden Park, or taste the flavors at Gourmet Ghetto. 

For Oakland, highlights include Lake Merritt, Jack London Square, the art galleries of Uptown Oakland, Victorian Row in Old Oakland, and the Temescal Alley shops. 

Explore the Redwoods at Muir Woods

Just north of the city, you can gaze up in wonder at towering, thousand year old redwood trees. Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Center, Muir Woods contains more than 500 acres of redwoods. You’ll have to reserve tickets ahead of time, but it’s worth it.

Where to Eat & Drink in San Francisco 

San Francisco is an amazing food and drink city, especially at a mid-range price point. However, it is worth noting that “mid-range” price point in San Francisco is likely more expensive than where you’re coming from, unless it’s L.A. or NYC. So be prepared for higher-than-average prices that come with the high cost of living in San Francisco. 

Eating in San Francisco  

It was really tough narrowing this list down to just a few choices—there are seriously so many great places to eat! But here are our top picks.

Tartine – Tartine actually has four locations throughout the city: the original bakery at 18th and Guerreo, the Manufactory on Alabama and at SFO, and one in the Inner Sunset. You can’t go wrong with any of them. Besides the phenomenal pastries (the morning bun and frangipane croissant are amazing) and the best breads, they also serve sandwiches, pizzas, and other savory items at the Manufactory.

Zazie – Their brunches are legendary and well worth the sometimes hour (or two) wait. Sit in their heated garden patio in the back if you can. Their pancakes (go for the classic buttermilk or the gingerbread) and French toasts are excellent. There’s also a wide assortment of scrambled eggs and eggs benedict (get the La Mer with Dungeness crab), and plenty of tasty mimosa flavors.

Mission Taquerias – There are a lot of taquerias and everyone has their pick of the “best” one. Several even claim to have invented the Mission burrito. My recommendation? Try them all and decide for yourself. Top options include Taqueria Cancun, La Taqueria, and Taqueria El Farolito.

Liholiho Yacht Club – For inspired Hawaiian and Californian cuisine with various Asian influences as well thrown in for good measure, head to the sleek Liholiho Yacht Club. You can’t go wrong with their poke bowls or steamed buns, but the house-made spam is excellent too. Order a whole bunch of small plates to share, then wash everything down with some tasty tiki drinks.

Swan Oyster Depot – This classic lunch-only gem on Polk Street has been serving up some of the best seafood in San Francisco for more than 100 years. It’s a tiny place and there’s always a line, but it’s worth it. Pro tip: order a beer or a bottle of wine to share while you wait. Then dig into platters of fresh oysters, scallop sashimi, and crab, or items off their secret menu like the crabsanthemum or dozen eggs crudo plate. Cash only.

Tony’s Pizza – With 13 World Pizza Championships under his belt, Tony Gemignani knows his pizza, and imports all his ingredients from Napoli. Cooked in one of seven different pizza ovens, you also have a choice of pizza styles, from classic Italian and Sicilian to New York, Detroit, and St. Louis. They also offer an excellent gluten-free option. 

Hong Kong Lounge – For an authentic dim sum experience, it’s hard to beat Hong Lounge in the Richmond neighborhood. It’s best to go with a big group so you can order more plates to share, but I won’t judge you if you order ten plates just for yourself, as that’s what I would do.

Drinking in San Francisco 

Coffee in San Francisco

San Francisco is home to several excellent specialty, third wave coffee shops, serving small-batch, single-origin, high-quality coffee. Here are some of the top options.

Ritual Coffee Roasters – Founded in 2005, Ritual is said to have started the third wave coffee movement in the city. Best for those who enjoy a really light roast, they also offer brewing demos and cupping classes. They have locations in Hayes Valley, Mission, and Haight.

Andytown Coffee Roasters – Offering three locations in the Outer Sunset, Andytown roasts all their beans and bakes all their pastries in-house. Their breakfast sandwiches are very popular. Don’t miss the Snowy Plover, a sweet concoction made with espresso, sparkling water, and ice, and topped with homemade whipped cream.

Mazarine Coffee – Located in the Financial District, and inspired by a French Public Library, Mazarine offers a wide selection of roasts and brews, including espressos, pour-overs, and nitro cold brew, and teas. There’s also a good assortment of light snacks, including both savory and sweet fancy toasts.

Bars in San Francisco

There are so many great bars in San Francisco that it’s impossible to narrow them down to a reasonable list. Instead, we’ve selected standouts in different categories.

Zeitgeist – If you like dive bars, beer gardens, and beer, then this institution in the Mission is perfect for you. There’s a good selection of beers and their bloody marys are excellent too. Grab a seat at the outdoor tables in the back patio when the weather is nice. Don’t mind the surly bartenders or the griminess, it’s all part of the appeal. Cash only.

Bourbon and Branch – Probably the city’s most famous speakeasy, there are actually multiple bars within. The Main Bar is the easiest to enter, and offers a wide selection of complex handcrafted cocktails. Access the Library through a revolving bookcase (password “books”). Other bars include Ipswitch and Wilson and Wilson and are tougher to get in. No cell phones or photos allowed. Reservations recommended (and sometimes required).

El Techo – Who doesn’t love a good rooftop bar? El Techo in the Mission is one of the best. Get here before 5 pm to avoid the long lines. There’s actually a decent chance of sunshine here. There are also glass walls, umbrellas, and heat lamps for all weather situations. So linger over tasty cocktails, Latin American street food, a great atmosphere, and sweeping city views.

Fig & Thistle – Tucked down an alley in Hayes Valley, Fig & Thistle is a not-so-hidden gem. There’s a nice selection of natural wines from California by the glass, which pair nicely with their cheese plates. Beers are also available. The space is small but perfect for a casual outing. The bunk bed seats add to the laid-back yet chic interior. 

That’s all we’ve got for you! We love San Francisco, and think you will too.

The Best Time to Visit San Francisco 

The best time to visit San Francisco is not when you think. It’s not the summer, everyone’s favorite time to travel. Instead, for the best weather, time your visit for September and October.

Summer is the most popular time to visit, and the crowds will be at their largest, and hotel prices at their highest. But it’s not actually the best time, unless you like fog (which, by the way, locals have named Karl). A lot of it. Temperatures average around the 60s, but with the fog, it may feel much colder. Bring layers (which is something you should do for San Francisco regardless). 

The fall, and September and October in particular, is the best time to visit. It’s shoulder season so you shouldn’t have a lot of crowds, plus hotels will be reasonably priced. You can also expect the warmest weather all year, but with better chances of sunny skies. Plus there are a lot of great festivals around this time. You’ll still want to bring those layers though.

Winter can be chilly and damp, though it rarely gets to freezing. It can rain a fair bit though. If you don’t mind the colder weather, and pack appropriately for it, this is a great time to visit. Other than right over the year end holidays, this is the least crowded time and hotels will be at their cheapest.

Spring is a nice time to visit. It can still be a bit wet, but temperatures are mild and ideal for exploring around the city and bay area. Other than spring break, it’s also less crowded. Spring is also a great time to catch the wildflowers, particularly in some spectacular hikes just outside of the city.

Getting to San Francisco 

Your two main airport options are SFO (San Francisco International) and OAK (Oakland International). SFO is the closest airport and will have more flight options. Located in the East Bay, OAK is a bit further, but it also experiences less weather-related delays.

SJC (San Jose International) is another option. But it’s quite a lot further and really not recommended unless you’re going to Silicon Valley or get a ridiculous flight deal.

Getting from the Airport to Your Hotel

You can take BART (more below) from both SFO and OAK into downtown, and it will only cost a little over $10. But it will take at least a half hour just to get to downtown, plus you still have to get to where you are staying. 

If you then take a rideshare, such as Lyft or Uber, it’ll probably cost another $10, which will bring your costs for two people to about the same as if you just took a rideshare from the airport. 

Rideshares are a better deal when you factor in time and convenience. If you share a ride, you can get a ride to your accommodation from the airport for around $20-30.

Getting Around San Francisco 

Don’t bother renting a car in San Francisco. Not only is it expensive, but parking can be a huge hassle. There’s a good network of public transit you can take instead. 

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is a train system that connects the eastern part of the city with the east bay (including Oakland and Berkeley) as well as the south bay (including SFO). The downside is BART has a very limited reach in the city itself. Fares are based on the distance you are traveling. Buy a Clipper card to ride. You can order a card online, or purchase one in person from self-serve machines, staffed locations, and certain retailers such as Walgreens. Once you have a card, it can be transferred to your phone.

For more extensive coverage, there is Muni, which operates buses, streetcars, cable cars, and trains (Muni Metro). It can sometimes make a lot of stops, and the schedule is not that reliable, so it’s not a good option if you’re in a rush. You can pay cash to the drivers (exact change required for above ground options), get a single ride ticket from a ticket machine, or use an app, day pass, or the Clipper card, which also offer discounted fares. 

For tourists, a 1-, 2-, or 7-day visitor passport is available and will include unlimited rides on all Muni transport options, including the cable car (which is $8 a ride on its own, ouch!).

Rideshares such as Ubers and Lyfts are also super easy and plentiful. They both also have more affordable pooled options where you can share a ride with other people going in the same direction.

Plan an Unforgettable California Adventure

Heading to California? We’ve got all sorts of super detailed, in-depth California travel guides written by locals to help you plan an amazing trip.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.