San Francisco — the easiest city to love and the hardest to leave. Its vintage charm is enough to capture the hearts of travelers from all over the world, but this “City by the Bay” has so much more to offer than just cool weather and the Golden Gate! After just one visit, foodies, fashionistas, and culture enthusiasts alike will realize why San Francisco is arguably one of the greatest cities in the U.S.
UBER EVERYWHERE. Just kidding, that gets expensive.
SF is infamous for its cable cars so definitely ride one if you get the chance! Fare is $7 for a single ride, and stops at popular areas like Fisherman’s Wharf, Market Street, Union Square, Ghiradelli Square, and the Financial District. There are 3 cable cars that each take different routes through the city so make sure you’re getting on the right one – they’re color coded (see the routes and color codes here).
Although traffic can be frustrating, driving may be more practical and convenient so be smart about it. Search online to find a parking garage near your destination ahead of time, or download the app VoicePark to find street or garage parking anywhere in the city; most street parking is limited to 2 hours so this app will allow you to choose a longer time allowance and will find a parking spot accordingly.
Thankfully, parking garage rates are much cheaper on the weekends in comparison to weekday rates so you’re in luck! BART is also popular, and on Saturdays and Sundays you can park your car at the S. San Francisco station for free.
WHERE TO EAT
SF is a melting pot of good food, so here’s the best of a little bit of everything:
Ike’s Place: The most incredible vegan/vegetarian sandwich you’ll ever eat, not to mention the meat sandwiches are loaded with more toppings than you could imagine. Best $10 I’ve ever spent.
Pica Pica: Venezuelan cuisine, featured on Food Network!
Boudin: The classic SF sourdough bakery – opt for the clam chowder or tomato soup bread bowls.
Eats: A cute and cozy breakfast/lunch spot that’s easy on your wallet.
Brenda’s Meat and Three: A true San Francisco spin on homestyle southern food – their fried veggie po’ boy sandwich is to DIE for.
The Grove: Fresh and locally produced seasonal veggies for awesome soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Elite Audio Coffee Bar: Two words: Latte. Art. Go in between 12-4pm on Saturdays and get amazing latte art by the locally-famous Melanie Aquino!
Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market: On Saturday’s from 8am-2pm you can stroll the Farmer’s Market off Embarcadero and stop in one of the many cafés and eateries. Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick is on the top of my list because they load everything with cheese.
WHERE TO STAY
Hostels are always a go-to for young travelers trying to cut back on trip expenditures, but now that Airbnb is becoming more popular (you can even rent out one of the Painted Ladies!) there are plenty of budget-friendly options.
If you want some classic San Francisco charm on a budget, try the San Remo Hotel; it has authentic Victorian décor, a gorgeous view of Coit Tower, and is within walking distance of the Wharf – all for a cool $100.
Coming with friends? The funky Phoenix Hotel is worth a bit of splurge, and has the trendy rock-n-roll themed restaurant with poolside seating. This place has some killer potential for Instagram-worthy shots!
BARS AND CLUBS
Alcohol is top priority, and San Francisco’s got plenty of it. Whether you like low-key lounges or upbeat dance clubs, you’ll have a variety of places to choose from.
Upcider: Get a flight of ciders and try out different variations! Great place to get food as well. Polk St. is known for its bar hopping scene, so make this one of your stops earlier on in the night. Stop by the dive bar Vertigo next door for music and a good selection of beer.
The Alchemist: Lively lounge in SoMa – skip your “usual” drink and order one of their specialty drinks!
Monarch: Bar and lounge upstairs, live music or DJ downstairs.
Temple Nightclub: Sign up for the guest list online for free admission! Ruby Skye is another nightclub with a similar vibe.
Doc’s Lab: Intimate live music venue. Because it’s small, the place fills up quick! Come (1+ hour) early, get a drink upstairs, and then get in line to enter about 10 minutes before the show starts.
Infusion Lounge: Fun place to dance, moderately priced drinks. Sign up for their guest list online and get $10 off your cover charge!
Slate: Cool bar to meet people, grab a drink, and play a game of pool.
WHERE TO SHOP
Union Square is a shopaholic’s paradise, with a 7-story mall and every designer and department store you could think of. For me, though, nothing beats the Haight-Ashbury; the funky boutiques are surprisingly well-priced, and the numerous consignment stores offer up trendy clothes at a fraction of the cost. For those with mixed taste, hit up Polk St. – Nob Hill’s vintage, modern, and pre-owned high end buys are hard to beat, especially for those who are suckers for designer labels!
Although there are literally hundreds of awesome attractions scattered around the city, I’ve narrowed the list down to my personal favorites:
Golden Gate Bridge: Ahh, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. For you photography buffs, I’ve found the best views are from Presidio Park, Fort Point, and Battery Spencer. Both ends of the bridge have great hiking spots!
Fisherman’s Wharf: A bit touristy, but a necessity nonetheless.
Ghiradelli Square: The Square itself is beautiful and has great views of the port, but the chocolate and ice cream treats at Ghiradelli are what you really should be paying attention to. Walk down to the park afterwards and enjoy the artists and street vendors!
Ocean Beach: Dog-friendly beach popular with the young crowd, with stunning sunset views. Picnic dinners with a bonfire are a MUST!
Alcatraz: Yes, it’s as creepy and fascinating as it sounds.
Muir Woods: The ‘wildly’ famous redwood park on the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Admission is $10 and parking is EXTREMELY hard to come by, so get there right at 8am when it opens!
SFMOMA: The newly reopened Museum of Modern Art, with gorgeous architecture and the Living Wall – an outdoor exhibit made of nearly 20,000 plants.
Japantown: You’ve seen the Chinatowns of every major city out there, but have you ever come across a Japantown? Check out the indoor shopping malls, Japanese treats, and the Kinokuniya Bookstore for a taste of real Japanese culture.
Golden Gate Park: Larger than NYC’s Central Park, the Golden Gate Park is home to the de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, and – my personal favorite – the Japanese Tea Garden.
Twin Peaks: Drive to the top of Twin Peaks above the Castro District to get my favorite view of all of San Francisco! Go at sunset for the best clarity and photos, or at night to get an awesome shot of the city lights. Although people come and go, Twin Peaks is a quiet place to relax for a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Don’t forget, there are festivals and events around the city EVERY single weekend so scan Facebook to see what’s going on! Whether it’s the infamous Pride Parade, the crazy Bay to Breakers 12K, or a spontaneous food truck mac n’ cheese competition, you can bet that there’s never a dull moment in SF.
PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR SAN FRANCISCO
Layers: One thing is for certain, San Francisco weather is unpredictable. Always bring layers and a warm, windproof outer layer, even in the summer. This packable jacket is perfect.
Hat: A trucker hat works great for those windy days — especially at the top of Twin Peaks — and a beanie is a must in the colder months.
Comfortable Shoes: You’ll be doing a ton of walking. I usually bring a pair of Chucks or cute ballet flats with plenty of cushion.
Sunnies: Just in case the sun decides to come out! Plus, you’ll fit right in with a pair of aviators.
Daypack: You’ll need something to carry all those layers, souveniers, and camera gear. Ladies, if you don’t want to carry around a small backpack, this oversized purse is comfortable and it fits everything I need for a day out in the city.