San Francisco Travel Guide [y]

[y] San Francisco Visitors Guide

San Francisco is the fourth largest city in California and is known for its cool weather, scenic geography, and history. It is also California’s most densely populated city with all 805,000 residents living inside 47 square miles — 17,000 people per square mile. Only New York City has a greater population density.

San Francisco Fun Guide

The Bay Area city was founded on June 29, 1776, by Spanish colonists who set up a fort and mission, naming it after Saint Francis of Assisi (“San Francisco”). The city entered into Mexican hands in 1821 and then into American hands 27 years later.

San Francisco has been on the cutting edge of economic change in the United States, starting with the California gold rush of 1849. Fortune seekers came from across the country to San Francisco, making it the largest city on the West Coast. Thousands of immigrants also came, many from East Asia, leading the city to serve as the Pacific Coast’s “Ellis Island.”

The city is also on the cutting edge of geology since it sits on the massive San Andreas fault. San Francisco has been devastated by earthquakes repeatedly during its history. None was more devastating than the 1906 quake that destroyed most of the city, forcing residents to rebuild with stronger structures. Another major quake hit in 1989.

San Francisco played a big role in America’s 20th Century social revolution and has come to be known as a center for liberal thought. In the 1960s, the neighborhood surrounding Haight and Ashbury streets was a pilgrimage spot for hippies. The city became a center for gay rights in the 1970s.

San Francisco can feel like an island due to its geography. It is surrounded by water on three sides: the Pacific Ocean to the west and San Francisco Bay to the north and east. To the south are mountains and the city of San Jose, which is even bigger than its northern neighbor.

Once known for its fishing and financial industries, San Francisco’s economy is now largely supported by its tourism industry. More than 16 million people visit San Francisco each year, and Pier 39 is the third-most-visited attraction in the nation. The city is also known for its cable cars, painted hillside houses, iconic Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz island, the infamous former federal prison that lies off its northeastern shore.

San Francisco has a popular public transportation system, with one-third of its residents using the system each day. It is also a bicycle-friendly city, with an estimated 75,000 people choosing to bike to work. The city is served by San Francisco International Airport.

San Francisco Downtown Hotels

Downtown San Francisco is the historic heart of The City by the Bay. Home to a wide variety of great attractions as well as world-class shops, restaurants, galleries and nightlife spots, the district always offers something fun to see or do. Visitors should make a point to sample Downtown San Francisco’s top visitor attractions and other iconic destinations. The Downtown San Francisco Area is located along the coast of the city along the majestic San Francisco Bay.

The historic center of the city, it is easy to reach by car or public transportation. Downtown San Francisco offers many landmarks, shops and restaurants to discover. The district boasts many of the city’s top attractions and things to do. Union Square offers world-renowned shopping and dining options while distinguished museums and cultural attractions such as the Pacific Heritage Museum and the San Francisco Railway Museum. Other landmarks in the Downtown San Francisco area include the Transamerica Pyramid, the Ferry Building, Embarcadero Center, Chinatown, and the wide array of museums, historic shops, restaurants and stores of the celebrated Fisherman’s Wharf area.

With so much to see and do, a visit to Downtown San Francisco is an absolute must. Its collection of shops, restaurants, and attractions is among the finest in California.

About Downtown San Francisco

Downtown San Francisco forms the historic and colorful heart of the city and the bustling San Francisco Bay Area. Home to iconic skyscrapers as well as endless opportunities for shopping, nightlife and dining, this densely-packed district is truly the epicenter of the city. Visitors from near and far will find plenty of great attractions and things to do in this vibrant district.

The district is located along the San Francisco Bay and forms the historic, governmental and commercial core of the city. Known for its hillside scenery and stunning waterfront views, its walkable streets offer plenty to explore, including shops, restaurants and acclaimed art galleries. It can be reached via car, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, train, boat, bus and the city’s famed cable cars. Navigating Downtown San Francisco is easy thanks to the area’s street grid and high density.

Downtown San Francisco plays host to many of the city’s top attractions and most celebrated visitor destinations. The Financial District forms the heart of Downtown San Francisco and holds a bevy of attractions such as Embarcadero Center, the historic Ferry Building, the San Francisco Railway Museum, the iconic Transamerica Pyramid and the Wells Fargo History Museum. Union Square is another top destination nearby, hosting a wide array of upscale shops, restaurants and nightlife spots.

The district is also home to a number of other great attractions and interesting neighborhoods to visit. Fisherman’s Wharf is home to renowned seafood restaurants and attractions like Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum and the expansive San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Chinatown is packed with great Chinese restaurants and exotic markets and shops while the Civic Center plays host to acclaimed museums like the Asian Art Museum, the Art Institute of California – San Francisco and iconic architectural landmarks like the San Francisco City Hall. Throughout Downtown San Francisco, visitors will also find a plethora of galleries, diverse eateries and quaint shops to explore.

Easy to get to but hard to leave, Downtown San Francisco is always a fun place to visit. No trip to the city is complete without exploring its wealth of attractions and iconic landmarks.

San Francisco Weather

The Golden Gate City is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and prospective visitors to San Fransisco are frequently curious whether the weather in that city is really as cold as it’s rumored to be. While not unpleasantly uncomfortable and rarely freezing, San Fransisco doesn’t enjoy the warmer temperatures of parts of the state that are further inland and farther south. Surrounded by water on three sides, the climate of the city of San Fransisco is highly influenced by the Pacific Ocean. The area experiences very little variation in temperature and a mild year-round climate. Of major U.S. cities, San Fransisco has the coldest average summer temperature. Fog and cool winds prevail during the months of June, July and August in San Fransisco largely due to the low-pressure area created by rising hot air present in the state’s interior valleys.

Because the city of San Fransisco contains a remarkable number of regional microclimates, guests and residents typically dress in layers if they are going to be spending much of the day outdoors. The Sunset District is especially prone to dense fog and windy conditions, while those living in or visiting on the east side of the city are likely to see more sunny days. This particular area receives an average of 260 sunny days per year.

San Fransisco experiences a dry period between the months of May and October. Although nighttime temperatures can sometimes be chilly during these months, the days and evenings are usually pleasantly warm. The average high during this period of time is 71 degrees Fahrenheit with lows in the mid-50s. The highest recorded temperature in San Fransisco was 103 degrees Fahrenheit in July of 1998, while the lowest recorded temperature was 27 degrees Fahrenheit in December of 1932.

San Fransisco averages 73 rainy days per year, with annual rainfall being slightly over 26 inches per year. Snow, however, is extremely rare in San Fransisco, with only 10 recorded occurrences.

Visitors to San Fransisco are advised to keep the weather in mind no matter what time of year. Extreme cold-weather gear isn’t necessary for those traveling to or living in the city, but light rain jackets and warm hats can come in handy. Most residents of San Fransisco decline to include umbrellas among their rain gear because the winds make this item impractical. Because the fog can wreak havoc on carefully styled hair, casual coifs are recommended.

San Francisco Transportation

Car

Getting a rental car in San Francisco is not a very good idea. For one thing, the parking in the town is nearly non-existent. Where visitors are fortunate enough to find parking, they will have to pay a lot for it. If drivers are lucky enough to find a metered spot, they will have to feed it religiously. The parking enforcement officers in town are like sharks. Driving in the city is a nightmare. The roads downtown are mostly one-way and difficult to navigate. Traffic is horrible in the city, even by California’s notoriously bad standards. Then there is the fact that the city’s roads are almost all windy and hilly, which makes this a city with one of the highest accident rates in the world. Travelers who can avoid renting a car should do so.

Cable Cars

Although driving in the city is not pleasant, luckily San Francisco has one of the best public transit systems in the country. The cable cars are the most famous example. They run in the tourist areas, and they are a lot of fun to ride. However, they can get very busy, especially on weekends.

Muni Metro

The San Francisco Muni Metro is a combination of light rail and subway lines that will get passengers around most of San Francisco. The system covers all of downtown as well as most of the southern and western neighborhoods of the city. Passengers on the Muni Metro trains should try to buy a ticket from a vending machine at the station before boarding. Alternatively, they can purchase a ticket from the driver when they board.

Buses

Muni also runs a bus system that covers the areas of the city that the Metro train lines do not reach. These are the least efficient method of public transportation in the city due to the notoriously slow driving conditions in the city. Expect buses to be running about 30 minutes late on a good day.

Walking

San Francisco is very hilly, so walkers are in for quite a workout. It is really only practical to walk for travelers who will be staying in one neighborhood for the day. Walking far distances in the city will wear out even the fittest people.

Bicycling

Biking is very popular in San Francisco. There are many bike rental shops found all over the city. The biking is not easy due to the hills, but the city itself is pretty small geographically. Most of the city is contained within a square with seven-mile sides, so fit bike riders can make the trip across town fairly quickly.

San Francisco Attractions

Known for its spectacular natural scenery and its wealth of historical and cultural landmarks, San Francisco is one of the most unique and exciting cities in the United States. The City by the Bay is home to exceptional dining, shopping and entertainment opportunities at every turn as well as rich history and culture to explore. With its distinct location and splendorous architecture, this Northern California city offers a wide array of attractions and sites of interest to discover.

>> Visit our Top San Francisco Attractions Guide

The city also offers an extensive collection of museums, cultural institutions, and renowned parks for visitors to explore. San Francisco is home to celebrated museums such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the acclaimed M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, and many others worth visiting. The city is also rich with beautiful parks and public spaces to enjoy. Golden Gate Park serves as the city’s crown jewel and offers stunning waterfront views and a wealth of cultural, recreational, and leisure options. The city also boasts must-see parks and sites of interest like the San Francisco Zoo, Ocean Beach, and Bernal Heights Park.

San Francisco Dining

San Francisco is a city popular with the food-minded. Given the large price range for food in the city, it is easy to spend anywhere from a couple of dollars to a fortune on delicious food. Visitors will find everything from California-style cuisine to ethnic fusion.

San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown in North America, making Asian cuisine a top choice. Visitors should learn to distinguish the difference between Hong Kong style Chinese food, which serves traditional dishes and may use more exotic ingredients than their counterparts, and the westernized California Chinese style. California style is more popular among visitors, as it fuses traditional with American food. In addition to Chinese food, it is also easy to find Korean, Thai, Japanese and Indian food.

In addition to Asian food, other types of ethnic cuisine are popular among both locals and tourists. The Inner Mission area is home to a variety of Mexican and Italian food. This is also the home of the mission-style burrito, popular throughout California. North Beach is designated as the best source of Italian food, however. In addition, sushi lovers will find that there are designated bars geared toward Japanese cuisine all over town, but the best ones are located in the Richmond District.

One of the most popular locations for tourists to grab a bite to eat is Fisherman’s Wharf. Travelers can find fresh seafood to prepare at home, or crabs and chowder ready to eat. In fact, no trip to San Francisco is complete without a cup of clam chowder served in a bread bowl. Other popular dishes at the Wharf include Dungeness crab in pasta. Pier 39 is another popular tourist spot, especially for Bubba Gump Shrimp and the Crab House.

Those looking for something elegant and classy will find no shortage of local eateries. One of the most well-known is Baker & Banker, which serves up trout and foie gras in addition to pastries and high-end doughnuts. Some of these restaurants have seasonal menus that change every few months to accommodate local agriculture, while others have unique menus frequently.

Some local treats will be found at the local grocery store. Local goat cheese is a popular treat, but San Francisco is also known for its variety of chocolates and coffees. Being in close proximity to the Napa Valley, fine wines are widely available. With such a wide variety of foods and fine dining establishments, it would be impossible not to find the perfect dinner.

San Francisco Events

For approximately two weeks every January, the city hosts the “Dine About Town” event. Around 100 different restaurants participate in the annual food festival that provides the opportunity to dine on lunches or dinners at discounts of up to 25 percent. The varieties of venues welcoming guests serve a wide selection of cuisines that span from American to Vietnamese. Ensuring a table at a particular restaurant of choice requires making reservations.

Chinese New Year Parade

The Chinese population of San Francisco ushers in the New Year with two weeks of festivities that begin with the Chinese New Year Parade in February. The celebrations began in the 1860s, during the days of the Gold Rush era and evolved into the largest Asian event in North America. Elaborately decorated floats, costumes and characters accompany marching bands, martial arts groups and Chinese acrobats. The highlight of the parade remains the Golden Dragon, which makes an appearance at the end of the procession. Bamboo and rattan comprise the dragon’s skeleton and numerous materials create the gorgeous character that spans over 200 feet in length and requires 100 male and female puppeteers.

San Francisco International Film Festival

Established in 1957, the San Francisco International Film Festival remains the oldest film festival in North or South America. Every spring, for two weeks, tens of thousands arrive in hopes of viewing hundreds of films created by filmmakers representing dozens of world countries. The festivities also entail a number of award ceremonies that include the Golden Gate Awards. Evolving around locally produced projects, films included in this award category including best documentary feature, best Bay Area documentary, film shorts and youth-produced projects.

4th of July

The city offers various activities on the 4th of July that includes parades and evening fireworks displays. The north, south and east bay areas along with the main peninsula each feature their own celebratory events. Visitors attend parades, hear live music, and enjoy family orientated activities. In the evening, fireworks propel into the sky from the Municipal Pier and barge located at Pier 39. Watch the displays from any waterfront destination. Boats also take passengers on the water for an interesting perspective of the fun. Ferries additionally offer transportation to Angel Island for fireworks viewing.

Great Dickens Christmas Fair

From the first weekend after Thanksgiving, for four consecutive weekends, San Francisco presents the Great Dickens Christmas Fair at the Cow Palace Exhibition Halls. During this time of year, 120,000 square feet of space transforms into the streets of Victorian London. Enjoy freshly baked goods, purchase gifts and view live entertainment presentations all provided by individuals in authentic period costume.

Family Fun near Downtown San Francisco

The San Francisco area has plenty of family fun activities to keep the entire group happy. Make your vacation complete with a stop at a few of these wonderful kid-friendly attractions.

Angel Island State Park

Young and old alike will love spending time exploring Angel Island State Park. This amazing spot is located on San Francisco Bay’s largest island. It can be reached by either private boat or commercial ferries. Once on the island, families can enjoy hiking, fishing, biking, bird watching, or play baseball where the Fort McDowell soldiers did during World War ll. There are plenty of historical points of interest scattered throughout the park. A Segway or electric scooter tours is a great way to see everything. Camping is permitted at any one of the eleven sites available, complete with tables, food lockers, running water, barbeques, and pit-toilets.

Aquarium of the Bay

At Aquarium of the Bay the entire family can stroll through over 300 feet of underwater clear tunnels. As you look around you will discover sharks, eels, and thousands of other marine species interacting with one another. Staff naturalists and guides are available to answer questions and help you explore this amazing aquarium.

Zeum

Zeum is one of those unique places where you can let the kids’ creativity run wild. This unique museum encourages children to create art with multimedia and digital tools. The animation workshops, movie studios, and imagination lab are just a few of the areas supervised by a skilled artist and knowledgeable guides who will help your little ones create a wonderful project. Zeum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park has something to keep family members of all ages intrigued. The museum will appeal to the adults with its nautical artifacts, ship models, and maritime bookstore. Then at the Hyde Street Pier, the children can participate in the free activities called Young Salts. Kids will enjoy learning sea chanteys, hearing stories, and trying their hand at knot tying.

San Francisco Zoo

A family cannot visit the San Francisco area without a stop at this amazing zoo. The San Francisco Zoo is open every day of the year from 10 am to 4 pm. Enjoy strolling through the wonderful exhibits such as the Australian Walkabout or the South American Tropical Forest. View amphibians, birds, invertebrates, mammals, and reptiles. All of the animals are intermixed with a collection of beautiful gardens to delight visitors of all ages.

Shopping near Downtown San Francisco

San Francisco can offer so many great activities and shopping is one of them. If you love shopping then you’ll love taking advantage of all of the great shopping that San Francisco has to offer. You’ll be able to find just what you are looking for to make San Francisco exciting.

Crocker Galleria offers a large variety of awesome places to shop. You can choose from great merchants such as Aricie Lingerie where you’ll find great lingerie and sleepwear by well-known designers. You can also visit Ralph Lauren to purchase the latest in fashion as well as home decor. Should you need a new watch, check out Ravits where you’ll find excellent choices in watches and jewelry.

Gump’s will also provide you with a memorable shopping event. You’ll find everything that you need for your home as well as to express your smart sense of fashion. Gump’s also has a nice selection of jewelry and items that will help you with your entertaining.

Westfield San Francisco Centre is another great place that provides a great shopping experience. You can choose from top stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Aeropostale, Shoe Wiz, Shoe Palace, Tiffany and Co. and so much more. This is a huge place with a large variety of stores for both adults and children that will allow you to shop for fashion, jewelry, cell phones and so much more. You’ll also find many great places that will provide a great meal during your shopping extravaganza.

The Ferry Building Market Place is the best place to find the best flea market items. You’ll find that it is filled with vendors offering specialty items. You can purchase farm-fresh produce as well as a beautiful keepsake to take home. If you’re looking for a new book to read, you’ll have no trouble finding it here. There are also great places to eat as well and the view of the bay is gorgeous.

For your upscale shopping adventure visit Sak’s Fifth Avenue where you’ll find all of your high-end fashions and fashion accessories. Whether you’re looking for your favorite seasonable wear or that perfect pair of shoes Sak’s may have just what you need.

To get your favorite bottle of wine you can visit the Napa Valley Wine Exchange or the California Wine Merchant. You can choose from your favorite red or white wine that has been made right here in California.

Map of Hotels in San Francisco

  1. San Francisco Int Airport – Find hotels near San Bruno & South San Francisco
  2. San Francisco Downtown – Find hotels near Union Square & Alamo Square
  3. University of San Francisco  – Find hotels near Alamo Square & Inner Richmond
  4. China Beach  – Find hotels near Lincoln Park Lobos & Sea Cliff
  5. Golden Gate Bridge  – Find hotels near Presidio & Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  6. Golden Gate Park   – Find hotels near Haight-Ashbury & Inner Richmond
  7. Alcatraz Island  – Find hotels near Treasure Island & Angel Island State Park
  8. Exploratorium – Find hotels near Presidio Of San Francisco & Fort Mason
  9. San Francisco Zoo – Find hotels near Stones town & St. Francis Wood
  10. Lombard Street  – Find hotels near Russian Hill & Marina District