A jumbled collage of colorful neighborhoods and picturesque views, hill-sloped and breezy San Francisco draws those free-spirited types who have an eye for edgy art, a taste for imaginative cuisine, and a zeal for adventure. Often described as Los Angeles' more refined northern cousin, cool and compact San Francisco combines the big-city buzz exuded by its southern counterpart and melds it with a sense of small-town charm. Here, you'll discover a mish-mash of culture ... continue»
- #1 The St. Regis San Francisco
- #2 The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
- #3 Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco
See the Best Hotels in San Francisco»
The best time visit San Francisco is from September to November. This season offers warm temperatures and fewer crowds. Spring is another good time, but you can expect the breezes to have a little more bite. The Golden Gate City witnesses a surge in tourism during the summer as people head west in search of sun, sand and surf. However, the fluctuating climate can quickly trounce a day at the beach. Those looking for the perfect seaside getaway should consider a trip to Los Angeles where the sunshine lasts year-round. Winter is another a great time to visit San Francisco thanks to lower hotel rates and less people. If you decide to travel in the wintertime, arm yourself from the chilly temperatures with plenty of layers.Best Times to Visit San Francisco»
San Francisco Neighborhoods
San Francisco rests on the tip of a peninsula flanked by the San Francisco Bay to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The city is actually much smaller than its reputation, but its hilly terrain allows for more distinct separations between neighborhoods.
San Francisco is made up of numerous ethnically distinct and historically vibrant districts. It's also perhaps the most gay-friendly city in the world, and many of the city's neighborhoods -- especially Castro -- are excellent for exploring and understanding the city's rich LGBT history.
Downtown & the Financial District
Occupying the northeast section of the city, Downtown remains San Francisco's economic epicenter. Most activity takes place around Union Square, where shopaholics head to browse such stores as Neiman Marcus and Macy's. For something a little less mainstream, head to either Sutter or Geary Street, where numerous art galleries vie for your attention. Or take a load off at one of Maiden Lane's sidewalk cafés.
If you haven't quite fulfilled your need for something new, head a few blocks northwest to the Financial District, known fondly as the "Wall Street of the West." Here, you'll find plenty more shopping and dining options. For great views of the bay, take a stroll along the Embarcadero, which traces the waterfront and passes the breathtaking Ferry Building Marketplace.
North of Downtown is the ever-popular Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood, which beckons to tourists with its abundance of souvenir shops and seafood restaurants. For a great view of the bay (and possibly a performance by a lovable group of sea lions), take a stroll along Pier 39. Nearby, you can stroll along the sand at Aquatic Park, put all hands on deck at Hyde Street Pier's Maritime Museum or satisfy your sweet tooth at Ghirardelli Square. Fisherman's Wharf is also the ferry launch to Alcatraz Island, where the infamous former federal penitentiary still stands.
Nob Hill and Russian Hill
Nob Hill and Russian Hill are sandwiched together between Downtown and Fisherman's Wharf. Nob Hill shelters central San Fran's top-notch hotels, including the Mark Hopkins and the Huntington. If you're in this area, make sure to stop by the impressive Grace Cathedral, a 3/4 replica of Paris' Notre-Dame Cathedral. Just southwest of the Wharf, Russian Hill is home to the renowned Lombard Street, "The Crookedest Street in the World."
Despite its proximity to ritzy Nob Hill and kitschy Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach is an entity all unto its own. This neighborhood earned a name for itself during the 1950s as the heart of the Beat Movement, welcoming such participants as author Jack Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg. You can find their work for sale at City Lights; once the original publisher of Ginsberg's most famous work, Howl, City Lights is now one of the best bookstores in the city.
Today, the North Beach area is a favorite among both visitors and San Franciscans. Here, you'll find a wide variety of restaurants, independently owned boutiques and some of the most animated nightlife spots.
San Francisco's large Chinatown district, a 24-block neighborhood of restaurants and shops nestled between North Beach and the Financial District, is a must-visit for any historically inclined tourist. The California Gold Rush -- which attracted huge amounts of immigrants of Chinese ethnicity, among other backgrounds -- picked up steam in San Francisco in 1849. Today, San Francisco's Chinatown exists as the largest Chinese community in North America. To get a good look at the famous Dragon Gate, head to the intersection of Grant Avenue and Bush Street.
Tenderloin, SoMa & South Beach
A few blocks south of Downtown is the Tenderloin district. This area became known as a hub for drug dealers and transients, but while guidebooks continue to bash it, the Tenderloin has seen improvement over the past few years. Here, you'll find a mix of independently owned shops, dive bars and up-and-coming restaurants. However, you should still avoid the Tenderloin once the sun goes down.
Head south of the Tenderloin and you'll find yourself in SoMa (short for "South of Market Street"). Once an abandoned sweep of warehouses, this neighborhood has emerged as the heart of contemporary San Francisco. Here, you'll find plenty of art and entertainment venues such as Brain Wash, a café / performance space / laundromat. If you're looking to mix and mingle with San Franciscans, SoMa is the place.
Head east to South Beach -- an up-and-coming residential neighborhood -- to catch a game at AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants' waterfront baseball stadium.
The Mission District
South of SoMa is the famous Mission District. Having derived its name from the nearby Mission Dolores -- founded back in 1776 -- this neighborhood is the heart of San Francisco's Hispanic population and a favorite spot for migrating bohemians. The Mission District boasts an overwhelming number of authentic Hispanic restaurants, shops and bars.
If you head east from Mission -- past art venues like the brightly colored CELLspace -- you'll end up in Potrero. While it is technically a part of the Mission District, Potrero is described by experts as "more modern," with several upscale shopping and dining options. Head south of the Mission to Bernal Heights, a residential area that maintains a similar bohemian feel.
To experience San Francisco's gay culture, head to the Castro. This vibrant neighborhood west of the Mission District is a landmark location for the LGBT community, thanks to the activist movement of the 1960s and 70s that was partially led by the city's legendary and openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk. Today, this neighborhood continues to buzz with activity at all hours of the day, with lively restaurants and shops lining Market and Castro Streets. However, San Franciscans agree that the best time to visit this neighborhood is at night, when music begins to pour from the Castro's many bars and clubs.
If you have the time, head south along Liberty Street to explore the quaint neighborhood of Noe Valley, home to a variety of eateries and gourmet food shops.
Commonly known as "The Haight," experts say that a visit to this neighborhood -- located northwest of the Castro -- evokes memories of the city's 1960s hippie culture. In this district, you'll find small remnants of a past era: incense, tie-dye and flower-power trinkets are sold at vintage clothing shops, which are now squished between trendier restaurants and boutiques. Tourists and residents alike flock here for a new piercing or to take advantage of the numerous nightclubs that continue to emerge.
Golden Gate Park
One of the most recognizable areas in San Francisco is "Golden Gate," in the city's northern end. This massive park -- stretching west from the Haight -- offers excellent views of both the Pacific and the nearby Golden Gate Bridge. Out-measuring New York City's Central Park, Golden Gate consists of 1000 acres of gardens, lakes, gold clubs and museums. Get your daily dose of culture at the de Yong Museum at the northeast end or enjoy a peaceful stroll through the Japanese Tea Garden just south of the museum. If you're a die-hard surfer, head to Ocean Beach at the park's western edge for some killer (yet icy and unpredictable) waves.
The Marina & The Presido
You'll also get great views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marina District, located north of Golden Gate Park and west of Fisherman's Wharf. While you're here, take some time to explore the famous Palace of Fine Arts. This Greco-Roman inspired palace was constructed in 1915 for the Pan-Pacific International Exhibition and remains one of the city's most famous constructions. If you've got kids in tow, check out the Exploratorium, a fun hands-on science museum.
Just west of the Marina is the Presido, a 14,000-acre park flanking the southern foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. (You might recognize this massive green space as the site of Kim Novak's suicide in Alfred Hitchcock's film, Vertigo.) The Presido's military past beckons to history buffs; Fort Point features authentic military memorabilia dating back to 1776. If you're just looking to spend some time outside, the Presido (part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area) offers a great backdrop for surfers and sailors.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
If you're looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city, San Francisco's expansive Golden Gate National Recreation Area offers plenty of opportunities to hike, swim and enjoy the outdoors. The Muir Woods National Monument, just north of the city, is a favorite spot among nature lovers, featuring a spectacular array of the giant Redwood trees, which can be enjoyed from Muir Wood's six miles of hiking trails. If you're looking to cool down after a hike, don your swimsuit and enjoy the Pacific from one of the many beaches like Muir Beach, Stinson Beach or Pirates Cove.
Like any major city, San Francisco has its share of rough spots. The city's progressive reputation and lax drug laws have attracted a large homeless population, who panhandle throughout the main tourist areas and in San Francisco's downtown area. Violent crime against tourists remains rare, but out-of-towners can be the victims of theft, especially those unaware of their surroundings. When riding on public transportation, always keep hold of your belongings. Don't walk alone at night, and don't carry large sums of cash while you're in the city. Avoid the SoMa and Tenderloin areas at night; both are known for high incidence of crime.
The best ways to get around San Francisco are on foot or by public transportation. Most of the popular attractions are within walking distance of the city center, and the large municipal transportation system (called the Muni) operates bus and streetcar lines, leaving little need for your own set of wheels. You can also travel by cable car (also operated by Muni), which is a more entertaining, albeit slower, way to see the city. To get into the city from the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), you can use the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) commuter rail or you can take a taxi for around $40 one way.Getting Around San Francisco»