A jumbled collage of colorful neighborhoods and beautiful views, San Francisco draws those free-spirited types who have an eye for edgy art, a taste for imaginative cuisine and a zeal for adventure. It's really not surprising that songwriter Tony Bennett left his heart here: The city boasts jaw-dropping sights, world-class cuisine, cozy cafes and plenty of booming 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 from Twin Peaks, or strolling along the Marina. And for the quintessential San Franciscan experience, enjoy a ride on a cable car.
Often described as Los Angeles' more refined northern cousin, cool and compact San Francisco takes the big-city buzz exuded by its southern counterpart and melds it with a sense of small-town charm. Here, you'll discover a patchwork of culture flourishing throughout San Francisco's many vibrant quarters. Follow the crowds to the touristy Fisherman's Wharf area (which offers spectacular views of Alcatraz) before heading along the bay to the Presidio for a glimpse of the famous Golden Gate Bridge. But don't forget to save time for the Mission District, the Haight and the Castro for exposure to all of the different varieties of the San Francisco lifestyle.
The U.S. News & World Report travel rankings are based on analysis of expert and user opinions. Read more about how we rank vacation destinations.
The best time to visit San Francisco is from September to November. Believe it or not, fall offers some of the city's warmest temperatures year-round, not to mention fewer crowds than summer. Spring is another good time to visit thanks to its mild temperatures and lack of rain (compared to other parts of California). 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. Meanwhile, winter in San Francisco draws bargain-hunters with the promise of lower hotel rates and fewer people. If you decide to travel in the wintertime, protect yourself from the chilly temperatures with plenty of layers.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
San Francisco is one of the most progressive cities in the United States, with historical ties to the hippie and gay rights movements. The city is also among the most diverse in the United States, with distinct Hispanic, Chinese and European traditions represented in a host of arts and music festivals, as well as an oftentimes grandiose display of architecture.
To match its love for progressiveness and diversity, San Francisco also prides itself on its environmental sustainability efforts. Composting is mandatory for all city residents, and the Bay Area remains host to an abundant amount of nonprofit environmental organizations.
San Franciscans also love the outdoors, and the city's lush parks (including Golden Gate Park) and proximity to excellent natural wonders (including Yosemite National Park) make it one of the most enviable cities for adventure travelers.
San Francisco's dining scene is diverse in its culinary offerings, featuring both casual and upscale establishments as well as cuisine from around the world, helping it earn the distinction of one of the best foodie cities in the USA. Here you can find a bevy of Michelin-star establishments (it is one of only four cities in the U.S. to have a Michelin guide), coffee shops, as well as neighborhoods made famous for their international offerings, including North Beach (Italian), The Mission (Mexican) and Chinatown (Chinese), among others. But what makes San Francisco particularly stand out is commitment to utilizing what's available, instead of what they can get. Here the option to source ingredients locally is not so much a question but rather an expectation among the culinary community.
San Franciscans are crazy about their local bounty and you should be too. In fact, stopping at a farmers market is a cultural experience here. There are more than 50 available in the Bay Area alone. The farmers market at the Ferry Building Marketplace acts as a microcosm of the city's culinary identity. The market works to showcase only small, regional producers and is frequented by more than 200 of the city's chefs, including Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement.
You could spend days trying to navigate San Francisco's vast dining scene, but it moves pretty fast. The next big place to eat may not be the same a couple weeks later (in 2014, there was a new restaurant opening every week). That said, there are some establishments that have stood the test of time. You may want to opt for a classic bread bowl with clam chowder at Boudin's (the original creator of SF's famous sourdough), or visit the heavily lauded Tartine Bakery for this Bay Area classic. Speaking of sweet treats, Bi-Rite Creamery's ice cream and Golden Gate Bakery's egg tarts are said to be some of the city's best desserts.
For coffee, Peets Coffee & Tea started in the Bay Area, though Philz Coffee gets much more love from locals. If you're more into beer, a visit to the Anchor Brewing Company is a must. There's Chinatown, but there's also Japantown in the Western Addition (one of three remaining in the continental United States). The Richmond is also said to be a top spot for Asian cuisine while the Mission is renowned for its Mexican food, specifically its burritos. Depending on who you ask, La Taqueria is said to have San Francisco's best burrito, though if you're cruising 24th street, you're likely to run into numerous neighborhood gems.
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 and by using 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. The city's famous cable cars (also operated by Muni) are a more entertaining, albeit slower, way to see the city. To get into town from the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), you can use the Bay Area Rapid Transit (known among locals as the BART) commuter rail, or you can take a taxi for around $46 to $66, depending on your final destination and the state of traffic at the time.See details for Getting Around
Search for the best flight deals across Orbitz, Expedia, Kayak and more.
Dec 13, 2018
These tips can help you see the world at prices you can afford.
Dec 11, 2018
Create priceless honeymoon memories without breaking the bank.
Dec 04, 2018
You don't have to travel to a big city to experience nonstop Christmas fun.
Nov 26, 2018
These family-friendly mountain resorts offer exceptional snow sports and activities for all ages.
Nov 19, 2018
Get away to enjoy the views and activities at these properties around the world.
Nov 13, 2018
Find out which lines will help you save big on your next cruise vacation.
Nov 13, 2018
See how cruise lines are raising the bar with tech-savvy touches and improved luxury experiences.
Nov 13, 2018
Find out how taking a cruise can support your health, fitness and nutrition goals.
Nov 08, 2018
These tips can help you snap stunning and creative images without a fancy camera – or any experience.
Oct 22, 2018
Learn more about these accommodations and why they are so popular.