The ‘City by the Bay’ has something for everyone. Whether you’re here on a work trip or taking time out with family and friends, or whether you’re an adventurous soul or someone who prefers indulging in the finer things in life, here’s why San Francisco is a great choice for every traveller, along with our handy tips on where to visit, whatever your style.
San Francisco has a lot more to offer than a famous bridge (although a jaunt across the Golden Gate Bridge is a must). If you’re travelling to the USA, make sure San Francisco is on your itinerary. Here’s why.
The Great Outdoors is on your doorstep
Just because you’re in the city doesn’t mean nature and outdoors adventure is out of reach. Walking around SF’s famous steep streets alone will give you a workout, but if you’re looking for something more active, look no further.
Many visitors to SF explore the Bay aboard a cruise, but if you’re in need of a bit more adventure (not to mention great exercise), kayaking is the way to go. You’re not limited to just the Bay, either. Rent a kayak and explore Angel Island, cross the Golden Gate Strait to the town of Sausalito or paddle around any number of waters surrounding San Francisco. If you’re not confident taking to the water on your own, you can join one of the many available kayak tours instead. It’s a great family day out, or for anyone who wants to gain a whole new vantage point of the city.
The only thing better than walking across San Francisco’s incredible 2.7 kilometre Golden Gate Bridge is to hire a bike and cycle across it to the pretty village of Sausalito, or if your legs are up to it, Tiburon, a lovely nearby sailing village. Make your way to Fisherman’s Wharf where you’ll find a number of places that offer bike hire. Start your journey here and you’ll avoid most of SF’s busy main roads, plus your route to the bridge will be less strenuous and more picturesque (your legs will thank you). For your return trip, you can either cycle back to Fisherman’s Wharf, or if your legs need a rest, you can catch a ferry back and use the opportunity to snap a photo of the bridge from the deck of the boat.
Across the GG bridge in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area lies the impressive Muir Woods. You may have seen photos of the famous towering redwood forests, but no picture compares to being in the presence of these ancient giants, some of which are over 1,000 years old. There are a number of hiking trails you can embark on that range from easy to very difficult, so grab a backpack, some trail mix and weave through lush, fern-lined forests and canyons while marvelling at these gigantic trees.
Visit Alcatraz, the notorious former prison that once housed Al ‘Scarface’ Capone and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly
It’s a culture vulture’s paradise
Want culture? You got it. San Francisco relishes in eccentricity and its diverse art scene, museums, music and architecture will leave any culture vulture satisfied.
Parts of San Francisco might seem familiar even if you’ve never been – that’s because hundreds of movies have been filmed in this photogenic city. From Mrs Doubtfire (1993) to The Maltese Falcon (1941), Moneyball (2011) to Escape from Alcatraz (1979), the city has been featured in so many favourite films that SF’s Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and pretty Victorian-style houses are Hollywood stars in their own right. You can wander the city finding famous film locations, or even better, book a movie location bus tour.
Escape to Alcatraz
Alcatraz is synonymous with San Francisco, so no trip to SF would be complete without a visit to this notorious former prison. Although a National Historic Landmark nowadays, ‘The Rock’ was once the maximum-security prison where high-profile criminals such as Al ‘Scarface’ Capone and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly were held. Accessible by ferry, visitors can enjoy exploring the main cellhouse, library and lighthouse while learning about this infamous island prison that officials claim no inmate was ever able to successfully escape from.
SF’s Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and pretty Victorian-style houses are Hollywood stars in their own right
De Young Museum
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to museums in San Francisco, but if you only make it to one, make sure it’s De Young Museum. Their website invites ‘doers, creators, thinkers, and citizens of the world’ through their doors, and once there, you’ll find any number of exhibitions and collections from America and beyond. De Young Museum is an integral part of the cultural fabric of San Francisco and combines art, architecture and natural landscape.
There’s plenty of fun for families
San Francisco is a fantastic destination for the family. With plenty of parks, cool museums, and an aquarium, one thing’s for sure, you’ll never hear the words ‘I’m bored’.
Yes, it’s a popular and crowded spot, but for good reason. Kids will be fascinated by the resident colony of sea lions, while parents can enjoy the famous clam chowder and postcard views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Pose with your favourite (wax) celebrities at Madame Tussaud’s, watch sharks being fed or say hello to the 30,000 animals at the Aquarium At The Bay. The kids will love it, and so will you.
Want to win major brownie points with your kids? Bring them to Exploratorium. Described not as a museum, but as ‘an on-going exploration of science, art and human perception’, Exploratorium is filled with hands-on exhibitions that will keep young ones entertained for hours. Think making fireworks in a jar, mummifying fish and making batteries out of pennies. Let them feed their curiosity while you relax in the café and restaurant, although we suspect adults will find joy in the many activities on offer, too.
Golden Gate Park
With a convenient, central location, Golden Gate Park is a fantastic family destination. Throughout the 1,000-acre park you’ll find gardens, playgrounds, picnic spots, lakes, walking trails, interesting monuments, not to mention the Koret Children’s Quarter Playground, where kids can choose from 62 figures on an animal carousel, built in 1914.
Welcome to foodie heaven
As one of America’s great food cities, whatever your appetite, you won’t go hungry in SF.
Would you believe, San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia? It’s also the largest Chinatown in North America, and is well worth a visit for any foodie. Ever wondered how they get those tiny paper fortunes into fortune cookies? Wonder no more with a visit to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. From dim-sum to custard tarts and everything in between, you’ll find Chinese cuisine to sate your appetite in SF Chinatown.
From the vine
SF is within easy reach of the famed Wine Country of Northern California, home to more than 400 wineries producing world-renowned tipples. Two of the most well-known areas are Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, both of which are an easy drive from San Francisco and have a plethora of wine tasting, cellar doors and dining options. If you want to sample more than drive, there are plenty of wine tours leaving from SF.
Believe it or not, but San Francisco has a bit of a reputation when it comes to ice-cream. Try creamy salted caramel at Bi-Rite, pumpkin spice or vegan chocolate ice-cream at Mitchell’s or a ‘Super Sundae’ from Swenson’s. There will be something to satisfy every sweet tooth.
Fits the business traveller’s itinerary
In San Francisco on a business trip? Take time out between meetings to indulge a little.
Ferry Building Marketplace
Oysters, artisan breads, fresh farm produce, locally made chocolates and cheesecakes, organic juices… do yourself a favour and head to the foodie paradise that is the Ferry Building Marketplace. Breathe in the aroma of fresh coffee beans, pay a visit to the Fort Point Brewing Company and wander through the organic offerings at the farmers’ market.
It’s worth exploring this signature SF neighbourhood. The millionaires and railway barons of the gold-rush era flocked to Nob Hill to build their mansions after the installment of the cable car lines made the hilltop accessible. Renowned for its historic landmarks and impressive hotels, Nob Hill is enveloped in old-warm charm, and a sense of wealth and privilege still permeates through the neighbourhood.
The after-dinner entertainment in this city is staggering. From ballet to Broadway shows, theatre to comedy clubs, not to mention world-class bars where you can sip on artisan cocktails or wines from Napa Valley, you’re spoilt for choice in this city. San Francisco is rich with jazz clubs, wine bars, karaoke and anything else that might take your fancy. Check out The Marina District for trendy bars and restaurants teeming with urban professionals.
Heading to San Francisco? Take the stress out of getting to and from SFO and book your airport transfer with Jayride.com. For more tips on travelling to the USA, check out our article on 8 Things You Should Know Before Travelling To The USA.