San Francisco Guide

San Francisco in 60 Seconds

  • Cable cars were the way to commute through this hilly city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when San Francisco blossomed following the California Gold Rush. The vintage streetcars are still in operation today, passing major attractions such as Fisherman’s Wharf (a gateway to the Alcatraz prison complex) and the Golden Gate Ferry.
  • Hippie history and LGBT activism: Beatnik poets and long-haired bohemians were on the forefront of San Francisco’s cultural revolution in the 1950s and ‘60s. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, San Francisco won a permanent place in the heart of the LGBT community for its progressive politics; the famous Castro District became one of the first predominantly gay neighborhoods in the country.
  • Tech boom: A slew of major tech startups were born in San Francisco starting in the late 1990s. Many went bust when the bubble burst, but there’s been a renaissance of Silicon Valley success in recent years. Twitter, Craigslist, Pinterest, and Yelp all have headquarters here.

Go Outside

Because of its compact layout and mild year-round temperatures, San Francisco is a city best enjoyed outdoors.

  • Don’t miss Golden Gate Park, one of the largest man-made green spaces in the world. You’ll find botanical gardens, a science museum, and even a herd of buffalo.
  • Kayak into the Bay: While you’re on the water, you might even catch a homerun ball that’s been belted out of AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
  • Best views in town: the top of Coit Tower or the cliffside trails at Lands End park

Engage Your Brain

  • The Asian Art Museum in Civic Center houses more than 15,000 artifacts, including Buddha statues, ceremonial knives, and sacred texts from the Ming Dynasty.
  • The Exploratorium was dubbed "the best science museum in the world” by Scientific American; it has hundreds of exhibits designed to let visitors tinker and investigate.
  • Legion of Honor: This first-rate art museum has works by El Greco, Rembrandt, and Picasso. Thanks to its seaside location, the Romanesque building offers gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Food Primer

In 2011, Travel + Leisure named San Francisco the second best city in the country for foodies, citing its sustainable, organic-minded eateries and its multitude of food trucks.

  • International flavors: You may have to stand in line, but Golden Gate Bakery in Chinatown serves deliciously unique confections such as the popular sweet lotus seed–paste moon cakes. The newly renovated Tosca Cafe—a Little Italy staple—serves adventurous fare like oxtail terrine and pressed pig’s ear.
  • Signature seafood dish: the famous Dungeness crab and clam chowder at Swan Oyster Depot in Nob Hill
  • Fisherman’s Wharf: Skip the chain restaurants and try the sourdough bread at Boudin Bakery, which gets its distinctive taste from a special yeast.
  • Brunch: Ella’s in Presidio Heights serves delectable strawberry-ricotta pancakes, killer omelets, and freshly squeezed blood orange juice. Worth the wait.

Where to Stay

  • To experience hippie history: The popular Metro Hotel is located near the New Age boutiques and painted-lady townhouses of Haight and Ashbury, the epicenter of ‘60s counterculture.
  • To get presidential treatment: The lavish Palace Hotel has played host to five US presidents.
  • To be near the best restaurants: Union Square has some of the finest upscale dining in the city; one of the best eateries, Scala’s Bistro, is located at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel.
  • To get a dazzling view: Splurge for a Bay Bridge room at the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
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