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San Francisco, California

Local Details

Learn more about San Francisco, California using the City Guide below. Plan a trip, find local shopping centers, or just discover what makes San Francisco, California so great!

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  • 3:51 AM PST Dec. 15

City Guide

San Francisco is a bustling, cosmopolitan city in California, the centerpiece of the Bay Area, well-known for its diverse ethnic and political communities, hilly terrain, world-class restaurants, and scenic beauty.

San Francisco is located on seven-by-seven mile (11x11km) square of land at the tip of a peninsula between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast. It has a population of almost 800,000, but is the center of a metropolitan area of millions. San Francisco is blessed with a mild climate. In most months, you can expect the temperature be in the 60s or 70s. Be prepared for cool weather, even in the summer. The hackneyed quote -- often mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain -- ("The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.") is a bit exaggerated, but it's true that the hottest selling items in San Francisco's tourist shops are always sweaters. Don't be afraid of a cool Pacific air or fog, though. Everybody's Favorite City's refreshing air and radiant skies are reason enough to visit.

Districts

  • Bayview-Hunters Point
  • Bernal Heights
  • Castro Street (The Castro)
  • Chinatown
  • Civic Center
  • Cow Hollow
  • Excelsior
  • Financial District
  • Fisherman's Wharf
  • Haight-Ashbury (the Haight)
  • Haight-Fillmore (Lower Haight)
  • Hayes Valley
  • Ingleside
  • Japantown (Nihonmachi)
  • Marina
  • Miraloma Park
  • Mission
  • Nob Hill
  • Noe Valley
  • North Beach
  • Pacific Heights
  • Portolá
  • Potrero Hill
  • Richmond
  • Russian Hill
  • SoMa (South of Market)
  • Sunset
  • Tenderloin
  • Twin Peaks
  • Union Square
  • Visitacion Valley
  • West Portal
  • Western Addition

Understand

San Francisco is just one of the cities which makes-up the entire San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco's neighbors, cities and towns to the east of the Bay Bridge, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and south of it are all in separate counties, each with their own city government and local public transportation systems.

San Francisco was founded in 1776 by the Spanish and has been a vibrant city ever since. Known today for its mixing of cultures, its liberal outlook, and its beautiful sights, it remains one of America's top tourist destinations. A good book on the tumultuous early history of San Francisco is Herbert Asbury's ("Gangs of New York") "Barbary Coast", which details the years from the gold rush in 1849 to the earthquake in 1906.

Get in

By plane

There are three airports in the San Francisco Bay Area:

  • San Francisco International (IATA: SFO) located about 10 mi (16 km) south of the city),
  • Oakland International (IATA: OAK) in the East Bay), and
  • San Jose International (IATA: SJC) in Silicon Valley, about 1 hour south of San Francisco).

Oakland and San Jose tend to offer more discount airline flights, while San Francisco Airport attracts more international flights and can be more convenient for those staying in the city.

San Francisco and Oakland Airports are connected to downtown SF by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, which costs about $5. Taxis are considerably more expensive: a taxi from SFO to the city can easily cost upwards of $40, and over $60 from OAK. Shared vans will cost around $14. If you plan to drive from a car rental area near the SFO airport to downtown San Francisco, you can take the 101 freeway.

Note that taxi and van prices from San Jose to San Francisco are significantly higher.

Passengers arriving in SFO can walk (5 minutes from United's terminal) or take a free airport shuttle (AirTrain) to the BART station. From Oakland Airport, BART operates a regular shuttle to the nearest station. The cost of this bus is $3, and it takes 10-15 minutes. Trains from there run directly to San Francisco, with a 5-20 minute frequency and cost about $3.00-$4.00.

BART trains head directly to downtown San Francisco and the Mission District, from where taxis and the MUNI can take travelers anywhere in the city.

The San Jose airport is served by a free shuttle to both VTA Light Rail and Caltrain. Passengers arriving in San Jose can use Caltrain to reach San Francisco directly. Caltrain also links with the BART system at the Millbrae intermodal station. Be aware that public transportation within the South bay is not as developed as around San Francisco.

Private pilots should consider Oakland (ICAO: KOAK) rather than SFO, as the separate general aviation field there is more accommodating to light aircraft.

By train

Amtrak serves the Bay Area with long-distance and intercity trains, San Francisco’s long distance station is across the bay, outside city limits. Passengers arrive in Emeryville in the East Bay and may take an Amtrak California Thruway bus over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco's Amtrak stop at 101 The Embarcadero (near the Ferry Building) and several downtown destinations. Travelers on some shorter distance Amtrak routes can also transfer to BART trains at the Richmond or Oakland Coliseum stations (see below). Alternatively, riders approaching the Bay Area from the south may transfer to Caltrain at San Jose's Diridon Station for a direct ride to Fourth and King Streets in San Francisco. Amtrak can be contacted at +1 800 872-7245.

Amtrak routes serving the Bay Area are:

  • The California Zephyr runs daily between Chicago and Emeryville with connections to/from the east coast.
  • The Coast Starlight runs daily between Seattle, Portland, Emeryville, and Los Angeles. Travelers from San Diego should take the Pacific Surfliner to Los Angeles and connect with the Coast Starlight. To reach San Francisco, either transfer to Caltrain in San Jose or to the Amtrak bus in Emeryville.
  • The Capitol Corridor runs 16 times daily (11 on weekends and holidays) between Sacramento and Emeryville. Some trains also serve San Jose but Caltrain (see below) is a better bet between San Jose and San Francisco. The most convenient transfer to San Francisco is actually to BART at Richmond's station, north of Emeryville, while the Oakland Coliseum station is another option on trains continuing south of Emeryville. Discount BART tickets can be purchased in the cafe car.
  • The San Joaquins runs 4 times daily between Bakersfield, Stockton and Emeryville. Travelers on the San Joaquins can continue on to San Francisco via the Amtrak bus at Emeryville or by transferring to the BART at the Richmond station.

Caltrain operates a regional rail service from San Jose to its San Francisco terminal at Fourth and King. The service also runs between San Jose and Gilroy during rush hour. Caltrain is very useful for travel between San Francisco and cities of the Peninsula, Silicon Valley or South Bay. On weekdays Caltrain provides two trains per hour for most of the day but run more during commute hours, including "Baby Bullet" limited services that cruise between San Francisco and San Jose in 57 minutes; on weekends and public holidays trains run hourly, except that after 10PM only one train runs, leaving at midnight. The 4th & King terminal is served by Muni Metro (see 'Get around' below) giving connections to the rest of the city. Fares vary depending on how far you go. Tickets must be purchased before boarding the train from ticket vending machines at all stations or from ticket clerks at staffed stations. Tickets are checked on the trains and anyone found without a ticket is liable to a substantial fine. Bicyclists should use the designated car at the northern end of the train, and be aware that bike space is often limited during commute hours. Caltrain can be contacted at +1 510 817-1717.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) provides a regional frequent rail service connecting much of the East Bay and Contra Costa County with San Francisco and the San Francisco Airport through the Transbay Tube. BART operates five routes, of which four reach San Francisco; there are three or four trains per hour on each route. In the East Bay and outer parts of San Francisco BART runs mostly on elevated track; in downtown San Francisco it runs in a subway under Market Street, and several underground stations provide easy access to downtown areas and simple transfers to the Muni Metro subway. BART also meets Caltrain at Millbrae. Bicycles are allowed on BART except between stations designated in the schedule brochure during commute hours. Fares vary depending with distance traveled, and start at $1.40 for trips within the city. You will need to insert your ticket into barriers when entering and exiting the system. Tickets hold a balance, deducting the appropriate price for each trip, so someone who plans to use the system several times can buy a $10 or $20 ticket and not worry about fares until the card is used up. BART can be contacted at +1 415 989-2278.

By bus

  • Greyhound, has frequent intercity service from San Francisco’s beautiful but decaying Transbay Terminal at First and Mission streets.
  • Megabus, travels to and from Los Angeles, with three trips in each direction. Buses stop at the bus shelter in front of the Caltrain station at Fourth St and King St. Fares start at just $1 when ordered well in advance.

Several regional bus systems serve San Francisco from the immediate suburbs:

  • AC Transit, from Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, and other East Bay cities
  • samTrans, from San Mateo County
  • Golden Gate Transit, from Sonoma and Marin counties
  • Vallejo Transit, from Vallejo

By boat

In many ways a boat is the ideal way to approach San Francisco. The city's spectacular skyline is best appreciated from the water, and from the deck of a boat the bay and its bridges and islands can be viewed as a whole. Cruise ships and private yachts are regular visitors to San Francisco, and passenger ferries regularly link other Bay Area cities to San Francisco.

Ferries run to San Francisco from Larkspur, Sausalito and Tiburon in Marin County, from Vallejo in Solano County and from Alameda and Oakland in the East Bay. In San Francisco the ferries dock at one or both of the city’s two piers at Fisherman's Wharf and the Ferry Building. For more information:

  • Golden Gate Ferries, serving Larkspur and Sausalito, can be contacted on +1 415 923-2000.
  • Blue and Gold Fleet, serving Sausalito and Tiburon, can be contacted on +1 415 705-5555.
  • BayLink Ferry, serving Vallejo, can be contacted on +1 707 648-4349.
  • Alameda Oakland Ferry, serving Alameda and Oakland, can be contacted on +1 415 705-5555.
  • Harbor Bay Ferry, serving (a different location in) Alameda, can be contacted on +1 510 769-5500.

By car

There are four major highway approaches to San Francisco. US 101 comes up the eastern side of the SF peninsula and is the most direct route from the south, although it often backs up with traffic. Interstate 280 is a more scenic route into the city from the same direction, but with poorer connections than 101. Interstate 80 approaches the city from the east over the San Francisco Bay Bridge. From the north, US 101 takes you over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Get around

On foot

Walking can be an enticing option to get from one neighborhood to another, so long as you are aware of where you are and keep your street smarts-- San Francisco is a city of friendly neighborhoods, but it is also "big city" --be aware of your surroundings and keep in mind the dangers that commonly accompany a city of San Francisco's size. Streets which often go straight up and down hills may make driving difficult, but make for breathtaking views (as well as good exercise) for the pedestrian. There are many stairway walks scattered throughout the city when the streets are too steep. You can find maps that include hiking trails, bikeways, and the grade pitch of all streets marked in varying colors by how steep each segment is, that can help you orient to city walks suitable to your ability and temperament, such as the downloadable map issued by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Note that locals rarely use the designations "street" or "avenue," even when differentiating the numbered streets and avenues. Numbered roads designated "Street" are located south of Market in Downtown, Castro, Noe Valley, and Mission. Roads designated "Avenue" put you in the Richmond and Sunset districts.

Highlight walks include:

  • Chinatown: Grant from Bush to Broadway takes you through the heart of the famous district. Returning by the parallel Stockton or Powell will give you a better feeling of the day to day life of the residents, and are both good for those looking for imported commodities such as tea or herbs.
  • Beach: Ocean Beach is entirely open to pedestrians in both the Richmond and Sunset districts from the Cliff House restaurant and Sutro Baths in the north to the Zoo in the south. For a shorter walk, the windmills near Lincoln at the end of Golden Gate park offers a good base for a stroll north.
  • Telegraph Hill: Greenwich and Filbert steps on the east side of Telegraph Hill, both strenuous and unforgettably beautiful, offer cottages and a flock of wild parrots to enjoy on the way up to the Coit Tower.
  • North Beach: Columbus runs from North Point in Fisherman's Wharf, through the grand church and famous cafés at the heart North Beach to the landmark TransAmerica pyramid, accessible to transit on nearby Market.
  • Haight Ashbury: Haight from Divisadero to Stanyan covers the shopping district famous for hippie culture, at Stanyan the street becomes a path through Golden Gate Park to a popular site (then and now) for relaxing and concerts.
  • Cow Hollow: Union Street between Bush and Fillmore is one of the finest shopping streets outside of the city center.
  • Mission: Mission between 15th and Cesar Chavez streets provides a look at a neighborhood famous for its Latino food and culture, as well as occasional gang activity; women alone should be careful here at night. Parallel to Mission, Valencia Street is the artery of the many higher end boutiques and offbeat cafés starting to characterize the neighborhood, and has little of the grit of Mission St.
  • Pacific Heights: Fillmore between Pine and Broadway is lined with a good mix of shopping, views, steep slopes, and some of the city’s largest and most expensive homes.
  • The Fillmore: Post from Laguna (near 38 bus stop) to Fillmore takes you through upscale shopping and restaurants in Japantown, and turning left onto Fillmore across Geary and on to Turk takes you past the internationally known Jazz venue and a mix of Black and Korean owned shops.
  • The Castro and Noe Valley: Market from Church to Castro St. and a left down Castr St. to 19th takes you through the center of the city’s famous gay mecca. Continuing up Castro St. over the hill from there takes you to 24th St., the main drag of bohemian Noe Valley.

By public transit

San Francisco's Municipal Railway or Muni runs a network of local transport that covers most areas of touristic interest well. An all day Muni Passport good on all Muni vehicles, including Cable Cars costs $11. Other passports and passes are available for longer periods: a 3-day pass costs $18, while a 7 day pass costs $24. The passports come in the form of scratch cards; be sure to scratch off the appropriate dates before using. Passports, as well as maps of the public transport system, can be purchased from the information booths at San Francisco airport, the Cable Car ticket booth at Market and Powell, and many other locations. Monthly “FastPasses” can be a good investment, especially for those under 18. They are $10 for youth and $45 for adults and offer unlimited rides on the entire system. Muni can be contacted by calling +1 415 673-6864. A portable wallet-sized map of San Francisco, called PocketBay, and all its public transit (MUNI, BART, Caltrain) is also available at stores around the city or through their website. Nearly all of the city’s bus stops also have posted copies of this map with the location of the stop marked, a godsend for lost pedestrians.

90 minutes of travel on the Muni system (Metro, F-line, Buses) costs $1.50; be sure to get and keep a transfer ticket when you pay for your first ride; Muni inspectors may demand it at any time as proof of payment. Cable Cars are not included in these transfers and cost $5 per ride (one way, no transfers), or $11 per day. Before 7AM and after 5PM, Seniors pay $1. Muni Passports and FastPasses greatly reduce this cost, including cable cars in the regular daily, weekly or monthly fares.

Muni arrival times are available online for many lines at NextMuni. An unofficial site, however, often has information on routes that are not listed officially.

Muni consists of:

  • Muni Metro (Lines J,K,L,M,N,S and T) is a modern light rail and subway system. It connects to BART’s four downtown stations and the CalTrain terminus at 4th and King and serves much of the city. The new T-Line began revenue service on April 7, 2007. Tickets can be purchased from ticket vending machines before boarding; if the stop does not have such a machine and you do not have a ticket, you must board through the front door and buy one from the driver or risk being fined by a fare inspector.

MUNI Metro operates seven days a week from 4:30AM to 1:30AM. Between 1:30AM and 5:00AM, OWL Bus Lines service the entire Metro System.

  • Historic Streetcar Line F uses historic streetcars, in original colors from several cities in the US and Milan, Italy. The line runs from Fisherman's Wharf south along the waterfront Embarcadero to the ferry building at the foot of Market Street, then up Market Street on the surface to the Castro district. Board through the front door and buy tickets from the driver if you do not already have a transfer or pass.
  • The world-famous Cable Cars run on three lines in the steep streets between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf. These cars are a fun ride, especially if you get to stand on the running board, if a bit impractical for everyday use (though residents of Nob and Russian Hills do, in fact, use them on a daily basis). The cable car is such an attraction that, especially on weekends, it takes longer to wait in line to ride up Powell St than it does to walk the short but sloping distance. Board through any door or just grab a pole on the running boards; tickets are checked and sold by a uniformed conductor. Do not buy tickets from anyone off the car except for clearly marked ticket booths - scam artists are common.

Other public transportation options include:

  • Buses--both diesel and electric--serve the rest of city. Board through the front door and buy tickets from or show your pass or transfer to the driver. Service ranges from a consistent two minutes on many lines leaving Market, to a more sporadic 12 minutes for busses to Treasure Island and between outlying neighborhoods. Bus delays, leading to waits of 20 to 30 minutes, are not uncommon and are a source of much grousing among locals. MUNI Operates Bus Service 24 hrs. day / seven days a week in San Francisco although late night Owl service is limited in both lines and stops.
  • BART, the regional metro, has eight stations in San Francisco, making it a nice way to get between well-trafficked parts of the city, especially downtown and the Mission. BART gets you also across the Bay to Berkeley and Oakland and to the airport of San Francisco and Oakland. BART Trains run on 107 miles of track, servicing 46 Metro Style Sations. BART Trains operate on third rail power and accelarate to speeds approaching 70 MPH. BART Operates seven days a week from 4AM to 12:30AM. On Weekdays BART Trains depart Central San Francisco Stations at two to three minute intervals. Outer Stations in Far Outlying Suburbs have a maximum wait of fifteen to twenty minutes between BART Trains. After 12:30AM, AC Transit and other east bay transit providers, provide overnight bus service, serving principal BART Sations until about 6:00AM.

For more information on BART, see the 'Get in' section above.

  • CalTrain has four stops within San Francisco. Other than the 4th and Kings terminal, these are at 22nd St., Paul Ave., and Tunnel Ave, none of which are particularly attractive for visitors. Of interest to visitors who wish to travel outside of city is the University Avenue station in Palo Alto, across the street from the campus of Stanford University, and San Jose’s Diridon. CalTrain operates fast frequent commuter rail service, seven days a week. Service generally runs from 5AM to Midnight. For more information on CalTrain, see the 'Get in' section above.

By bike

If you have strong legs and can tolerate traffic with intermittent bike lanes, bicycles can be a convenient form of transportation in San Francisco. The City is fairly small -- about 7 miles on each side (11 km) -- and it's fairly quick to get from one end to the other. But much of the terrain is hilly and hard to pedal up. Do not be misled by maps depicting the city's strict, regular street grid, as even the straightest of San Francisco's streets might include steep hills or even staircases instead of a roadway. A classic and relatively easy ride is from the tip of Golden Gate Park’s narrow Panhandle in the Haight, along paths and JFK drive through the park to Ocean Beach. JFK drive is lightly trafficced, and closed to cars on sundays.

Downtown, SoMa, and the Sunset and Richmond districts are relatively flat. There are a number of bike paths and bike routes on city streets; the San Francisco Bike Coalition keeps a lot of information about them.

By taxi

Taxis in San Francisco are, for a large city, surprisingly inefficient and expensive, starting at $3.10 just for getting in the door. Except for taxi stations at or near downtown business hotels, or cruising just a few major arteries, taxis can be hard to find and hail -- and calling for a cab can mean a 30-45 minute wait, if the cab shows up at all. Now, if you're anywhere near Union Square and are holding shopping bags, just by standing on the curb and hailing passing cabs will usually get you one quite quickly. It is significantly easier to catch a taxi on weekdays, not including Friday night. If you are heading to the airport, your best bet is to call ahead with a specific pickup time to one of the many taxi companies (Yellow by far has the most cabs and they all accept credit card).

By car

Perpetually-clogged traffic, steep hills, a confusing system of one-way streets downtown, expensive parking, and a fleet of meter-maids who enforce parking laws with zeal can make driving in downtown extremely frustrating; visitors to the city should seriously consider alternatives to automobiles when possible. In addition, traffic from the Golden Gate Bridge uses surface streets either along CA-1, 19th Avenue or US-101 on Lombard and Van Ness. The greatest hazard of driving is on Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth, where a stretch known as "The Crookedest Street in the World" runs one-way down a steep hill making eight hairpin turns. Oversized vehicles such as pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, and recreational vehicles should NOT attempt to pass through the winding stretch of Lombard Street.

The most difficult problem with your car in San Francisco will be parking. Parking throughout the city is scarce. Garages, where they are available, are quite expensive ($20-30/day downtown). San Francisco has some of the strictest parking laws and enforcement in the country. For day trips into the city, consider a park-and-ride at a Peninsula Caltrain station or at an East Bay BART station.

Finding your way around

Cross streets: As San Francisco streets are numbered (100 per block) from the beginning of the street, and even and odd numbers are always on opposite sides. It is best when asking directions to ask for a cross street or neighborhood name. For instance, if you are at the intersection of Haight Street and Clayton Street, and you ask the driver of the 33 Stanyan bus "Does this bus go to Market Street?" it will get you a yes, but the bus won't get you downtown, it will get you south from that intersection to Market and 18th in the Castro district.

Numbered streets and avenues: San Francisco has both numbered streets, in the Mission, the Castro, Noe Valley, and SoMa, and numbered avenues in the largely residential Sunset and Richmond districts. Mixing numbered streets and avenues when asking directions may leave you miles from your destination. This can be confusing, as San Franciscans will not say "Street" or "Avenue" unless it is required to avoid ambiguity. Thus, "I live on Fifth Avenue" but "I live near Fifth and Geary." Street signs generally don't have "Street" or "Avenue" either; they just say "GEARY" or "MASONIC".

See

Take note

The National Park Service has an arrangement where a single company is granted an exclusive franchise to travel to Alcatraz. If you want to go to Alcatraz, there is only one company you can travel with, and private boats are forbidden. Recently the franchise was won by the non-union Hornblower Cruises company. The previous company, Blue and Gold Fleet, was a union shop. The union is currently picketing the Alcatraz Cruise to protest the loss of their jobs — only a small number of employees were hired by Hornblower. The union also incorrectly claims the new cruise is unsafe (the NPS and Coast Guard inspects for safety) and that the crews are inexperienced (Hornblower has been a cruise company for over twenty-five years). For the foreseeable future, you can only visit Alcatraz if you are willing to cross this picket line.

San Francisco has much to see. For more detail see the district sections, often linked from this entry.

  • Palace of Fine Arts. Located in the Marina District the Palace of Fine Arts is a Beautiful building. It was designed by Bernard Maybeck and was completed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. The architecture is that of Roman and Greek. Beautiful woman sculptured into the building dramatically holding up the pillars. Although the Palace of Fine Arts has fallen slightly ill to lack of repair it is still a major site to behold.
  • Lombard Street. The (nearly) twistiest street in America, between Hyde & Leavenworth. The city has a twistier but less scenic hill-climb along Vermont Street, south of McKinley Square on Potrero Hill. You can get a view of Lombard from the Powell & Hyde cable car line.
  • 22nd Street. Between Vicksburg and Church and Filbert Street. between Leavenworth and Hyde - At a 31.5% grade, these streets share the honor of steepest streets in San Francisco.
  • Alcatraz Island. Decommissioned island prison in the bay. Take a tour and listen to an audio tape in English, Japanese, Chinese or other languages. The most interesting aspect of the tour is that you can go into the prison and see what it is like to be imprisoned. It might be more interesting if you've watched the movie "Escape from Alcatraz" and seen what happened in Alcatraz when it was operating as a prison. Tickets for the Ferry to Alcatraz are available at the Alcatraz Cruises website, but they sell out fast so buy in advance.
  • Angel Island. Island in the bay that housed Asian immigration (exclusion) camp, becoming the "Ellis Island of the West". Ferry over and rent a bicycle or walk around this beautiful island that is now a large and wide open park.
  • Coit Tower. Built in 1933 on top of Telegraph Hill, a former signaling point for sailing ships, It is dedicated to the San Francisco firefighters (who fought a massive blaze in 1906 after the earthquake that destroyed much of the city center), and it was designed to resemble the nozzle of a fire hose. At 250' high, it is a healthy hike from the Embarcadero (steps at Greenwich and Montgomery) or from North Beach. Muni bus #39 goes from Washington Square in North Beach up the hill to the base of the tower.
  • Twin Peaks, accessible by car or on foot via Twin Peaks Boulevard (north of Portola Drive, just east of Laguna Honda). The small parking area at the northern tip of Twin Peaks Boulevard (875' above sea level) is near the physical center of the city, and one of its highest points, providing spectacular views in all directions. Tour buses can get backed up here during the day, but it's a great place to really appreciate the City from above, especially at and after sunset. Temperatures up there can be quite a bit lower than in the rest of the city, so bring a jacket. Muni bus #37, a scenic ride from the Haight-Ashbury or Castro and Market streets, gets you close, so you only have to climb the last 120' up.
  • Treasure Island. An artificial island half-way between San Francisco and Oakland connected to Yerba Buena Island which the Bay Bridge passes through. The Island has excellent views of San Francisco & Oakland skylines and quirky structures from the international fairground-turned-navy base-turned neighborhood. Accessible by Muni bus line 108 from the Transbay Terminal downtown.
  • Mission District. Containing one of the oldest structures in the City - the Mission Dolores Church - as well as superb City views from Dolores Park, the Mission is an offbeat tourist destination where Hispanic families mingle with Hipster night-owls, artists, lesbians, and just about every one else in this eclectic neighborhood. The walls of many buildings, especially on alleys between Market and Valencia are painted with a fantastic collection of murals of all sorts.
  • Presidio of San Francisco. The Presidio was founded in 1776 and was the longest-running military post in the U.S. before closing as a base in 1994. It is now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Within the Presidio of San Francisco is the Fort Point National Historic Site. From its vantage point overlooking the spectacular Golden Gate, Fort Point protected San Francisco harbor from Confederate & foreign attack during & after the U.S. Civil War. Its beautifully arched casemates display the art of the master brick mason from the Civil War period. At the end of 2005, about 2,500 people lived in the Presidio and it is home to the headquarters of Lucasfilm, a unique situation for a national park. Part of their drinking water comes from Lobos Creek (Rio de los Lobos), the last free-flowing creek in San Francisco. It is best approached from the Marina District along the water through the kites and bay-views of the connected Chrissy Fields Park.
  • San Francisco Zoo. If you are traveling with children or have a fondness for penguins, primates, lions or llamas, the large and well maintained Zoo is located at the end of the L streetcar line near Ocean Beach.

Golden Gate Park

Once an area of sand dunes, Golden Gate Park is a roughly 1/2 mile-by-four mile urban oasis, with windmills, bison, museums, and a carousel hidden among its charms. At 1,017 Acres, it is 174 acres larger than New York's Central Park, so unless you rent a bike, you'll want to plan which area you want to visit, especially along the East (Stanyan street) to West (the Ocean) axis. During the summer to October a free shuttle bus circulates. On Sundays and holidays, JFK Drive between Transverse and Kezar is closed to vehicular traffic; this car-free zone is popular with walkers, cyclists, and runners. The number 5 trolleybus runs along its North boundary, and offers the most frequent service across the park and to downtown. The N streetcar two blocks south of its South boundary with similar service. The antique palatial greenhouse of the Conservatory of Flowers is near 2nd Avenue (4 small blocks West of Stanyan). To the South are tennis Courts, a classic Carousel, and playing fields for Frisbee. At 8th Avenue is the Shakespeare Garden with roses and other flowers mentioned in his plays. The modern and ethnic art focused de Young Museum has recently reopened (see "Hide in a Museum"), although its neighboring museums are still under construction. West of the de Young it is the large Japanese Tea Garden at 12th Avenue, and South of that is the Strybing Arboretum, a collection of plants from across the temperate world. Boating (several types for rent) on Stow Lake is available at 18th Avenue. The Marx and Speedway meadows for picnicking and music festivals are near 30th. Ave. Model boating is at 35th Ave., fly-casting at 36th Avenue, and a Petanque (lawn bowling) field is at 38th Ave, just north of the Bison Meadow, where buffaloes roam. Golf and Archery are available at at 47th Avenue. Finally, beyond 48th Avenue are the Dutch windmills that were used for Park irrigation in the past and the beautiful 1930’s Beach Chalet for lunch, drinks, or dinner overlooking Ocean Beach and its brave surfers.

Golden Gate Bridge

Highway 101 N (from Park-Presidio or Lombard Street entrance), +1 415 921-5858 (Email: bridgecomments@goldengate.org). Open 24 hours, occasionally closed Sunday morning for events. $5 (toll driving south into San Francisco; free on foot or bike)

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the United States, and has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The bridge spans the Golden Gate, a strait between San Francisco and Marin County to the north, and is one of the major road routes into and out of the city.

Vehicular traffic in both directions share a single deck; yellow pylons are used to allot lanes to one direction or the other depending on traffic conditions. Observation areas and parking lots are provided on both the north and south sides of the bridge; the best way to enjoy the bridge is to park and walk across, not least because you don't have to pay a toll. Note that winds are high and it can be cold and foggy; dress appropriately. Bikes can also be difficult to navigate in the high winds and narrow pathway.

The masterwork of architect Joseph B. Strauss, whose statue graces the southern observation deck, the bridge took seven years to build, and was completed on May 27, 1937. Not actually golden in color -- a common misconception -- the bridge is painted a deep red-orange. Erroneous legend has it that the bridge is continuously painted, with crews starting at one end and, on getting to the other end, turning around and starting over again. In fact, the bridge is only painted once every few years, with some touchup done continuously.

The San Francisco end of the bridge is accessible by the Muni 28 bus line from Fort Mason in the Marina District near Fisherman’s wharf. The fastest way to reach it from downtown is to take the the 38 or 38L up Geary to “Park Presidio” (after 12th ave) and transfer to a Fort Mason bound 28. Golden Gate Transit busses serve the bridge on request, but busses are very infrequent and unpredictable except at afternoon commute times, when they are crowded.

Also, it should be noted that you may be stopped by police if you attempt to photograph this structure. You may also be considered a terrorist and taken "downtown" for questioning if you resist or otherwise question the officer when confronted. We live in an age of extreme paranoia.

Alamo Square

At Steiner and Hayes, it has the famous Painted Ladies row of Victorian houses on its east side, but many other pretty Victorians throughout its surroundings. The Hayes street Muni bus #21 goes along its south side, for the postcard view. If you enjoy walking and don't mind modest grades you can get there by walking west from Hayes Valley or north from the Lower Haight.

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf is both a "tourist trap" and a place to see amazing street entertainers, eat excellent seafood, watch sea lions, and go to the Aquarium Marine Museums and exhibits. Working fishing boats still come into the small harbor at Jones and Jefferson, the endpoint of the Muni Historic F-streetcar. There are also small day and party boats available. The fresh breeze from the bay can provide a bracing setting. Since it is frequented almost exclusively by tourists, it is the place to be most attentive for thieves or scam artists.

Stand on the stern of Balclutha, face west to feel the fresh wind blowing in from the Pacific Ocean. Located in the Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park offers the sights, sounds, smells and stories of the Pacific Coast maritime history.

Civic Center

The Civic Center has impressive Beaux Arts buildings and the celebrated Asian Art Museum, but the main reason for going there are its music and theater venues, including large concert halls and a renowned Symphony and Opera. On an historic note, the Charter for the United Nations was signed in the War Memorial Veteran's Building at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. Nearby Hayes Valley along Hayes Street (West, past Van Ness Avenue) is a neighborhood known for its sophisticated yet funky shops, bars and restaurants. The large, modern public library bordering Market is great for browsing, free internet connections (card not required) and occasional events in its theater.

Moscone Center

The Yerba Buena Gardens, above the Moscone Center, at Mission and Third streets provide a nice urban oasis. There is a carousel, a museum, and play places for kids, movie houses, various exhibit spaces, and the Museum of Modern Art across the street. A big garage at Mission between Fifth and Fourth streets makes it quite accessible for drivers. The Moscone Center itself houses major exhibits and conventions. Half of all Muni lines come within a few blocks of the area. The conference center itself is home to a number of major (especially IDG) expos that occur each year, including Apple Computer-related expos such as Macworld and Apple's WWDC, and LinuxWorld.

Chinatown

The original Chinatown, centered around Grant Street from Bush to Columbus is part tourist trap, part an exhibit of local life. Good eating places remain, and the side streets especially have stores one wouldn't find in a mall. Stockton Street, the street paralleling Grant to to west is the main street where most locals do their shopping for groceries. Be sure to sample some of the Dim Sum and other specialties offered in the many bustling shops. However, many local Chinese prefer to eat and shop in the new Chinatowns located in other neighborhoods such as the Inner Richmond neighborhood or on Clement Street between 2nd and 12th Avenues. The Muni #1 (California) and #2 (Clement, does not run at night) buses get people from one Chinatown to the other.

Chinatown is easily accessible from the downtown area via the 30 Stockton or 45 Union-Stockton Muni bus routes. Expect frequent crowding during peak hours. The Cable Cars also run fairly close to Chinatown as well.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park defines the extreme Northwestern corner of San Francisco. It provides majestic views of the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge from the Ocean side, and the Pacific Ocean itself. At the extreme western end the well known Cliff House provides both semi-casual and a more formal eating and drinking place. The #18 Muni bus goes from the center of the park via the Cliff House to Golden Gate Park, while the very frequent #38 Geary buses terminate in between. Drivers will want to take the El Camino del Mar Drive through the small Seacliff area on the northwest side to view some fancy mansions between Lincoln Park and the Presidio.

Do

City Pass

A relatively cheap and easy way to cover many attractions of the city is a so-called "city pass". This is a passport to the most exciting tourist spots of the town and allows you to explore them by yourself whenever you like. For a fare of $54 (adults) and $39 (children 17 and under) you get the chance to visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Exploratorium, The Legion of Honor, the California Academy of Science (OR if you wish the Asian Art Museum instead) on 9 consecutive days starting with the use of your first ticket. The pass also includes a Bay Cruise and seven days of Cable Car and MUNI fares. Official CityPass SF website

Go San Francisco Card

Another easy way to cover many attractions and tours is the Go San Francisco Card. This card allows you to take some tours for free (Wine Country tour, City Tour), Bay Cruises, museums, aquariums, The Conservatory of Flowers, and many other activities. Other tours and activities are also discounted from $5.00 to 40%. The cost of the card is $45 for 1 day, $65 for 2 days, $89 for 3 days. $119 for 5 days, and $139 for 7 days. For more information go to Go San Francisco Card website.

Harbor tours

One of the best ways to see San Francisco is from the waters of San Francisco Bay. There are many companies offering San Francisco harbor tours of varying durations and prices but they all provide marvelous views of the bay, the bridges, the island of Alcatraz and the city.

Only specific island tours are allowed to land at Alcatraz, but the typical harbor tour will circle the island at a slow crawl, giving you plenty of opportunity to photograph the now-inactive prison from the water.

Also consider taking a ferry from San Francisco across the bay to Tiburon, Sausalito, or Alameda. Same views for a fraction of the price.

Most tours leave from docks between San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf and adjacent Pier 39. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks along the waterfront walk. Buy tickets a day or two in advance during the summer high season.

Boats leave hourly starting around 10am and ending around 5pm. Multi-lingual guides are available on some tours. Prices range from $20-$40, more for sunset, dinner, or whale watching tours.

  • Even on a sunny day the bay can be chilly, so be sure to bring a sweater as well as sun screen.
  • Some boats have snack bars on board, but bring your own water and treats to avoid paying high costs or going without. There are now limited refreshments and a souvenirs shop on Alcatraz.

Companies offering tours include:

  • Red & White Fleet.
  • Blue & Gold Fleet.
  • Adventure Cat Pier 39.
  • Ferry Building Line.

Performing Arts

  • San Francisco has a Half-Price Ticket Booth located right in the middle of Union Square, where tickets for most San Francisco theater performances can be purchased the day of the performance for half-price. Run by Theatre Bay Area, all service fees collected from the sale of tickets by TIX Bay Area goes right back into the theater community.
  • Go to a concert, a play, a Jazz or a folk-song performance. There are performances most days to choose from, as by the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony, in Herbst Theater (where the U.N. charter was signed), in the Old First Church, and for musicals in the Orpheum or the Golden Gate Theaters, all located in or near the Civic Center. The museum of the Legion of Honor, located in Lincoln Park overlooking the the Golden Gate (North end of 34th Ave.), has organ concerts which can be heard in many of its galleries, Saturdays and Sundays at 4:00 pm, as well as music performances in its Florence Gould Theater, as by the the San Francisco Lyric Opera. For the fall and spring Jazz festivals look into the SFJAZZ calendar. San Francisco also has many Jazz Clubs, best found by browsing the web, as Contemporary bands are featured at The Fillmore auditorium and less frequently at the large Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in the Civic Center. There is an annual blues festival in late September, at various locations. Many, but certainly not all, and no free events are listed by the City Box Office. There are at least two great free bluegrass music festivals each year - during February on the Marina and late September or October in Golden Gate Park.
  • Ballet of the world class variety can be seen for only $10. San Francisco Ballet sells standing room tickets (with excellent views from the back of the orchestra) during the afternoon of each performance as well as two hours before showtime.
  • Plays are performed at the Geary (by the American Conservatory Theater), Curran, and the Marines Memorial theatres ; those are near Union Square, and at the three small New Conservatory theaters in the Civic Center [www.nctcsf.org].
  • Musicals from Broadway and Los Angeles are shown at the traditional Golden Gate and Orpheum theaters on Market, near the Civic Center. For outrageous fun princes and paupers go to Beach Blanket Babylon in North Beach. Teenagers are welcome at the Sunday Matinees. It considers itself the longest running musical reveue in theater history.

See the Unauthorized Rolling Stones, a San Francisco Institution play, or local musical genius Rudy Colombini play in one of the local clubs.

  • Consider Rudy Colombini's Center for the Musical Arts, 1353 Bush St, +1 415 240-5554. Music museum, cafe, nightclub, and performing arts space and his San Francisco Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, 1335 Bush St, Exhibits focused on musicians from San Francisco and who changed the San Francisco music scene.

Museums

When the morning is foggy, you may want to visit a museum. Golden Gate Park has the most famous museum, the M.H. de Young Museum, rebuilt and reopened in 2005. It is on the #5 and #44 bus lines, its garage entrance is at the north edge of the Park, at 10th Avenue and Fulton Street. Its former Asian collection is now permanently housed in the Asian Art Museum, located in the Civic Center. The Legion of Honor Museum is in Lincoln Park, at the western end of El Camino del Mar Avenue, in the northwwest corner of the Outer Richmond district. The #18 bus route, always near the Pacific Coast, ends there as well. These museums are open Tuesdays through Sundays, and are open late on Thursdays, but it is best to check. The new Museum of Modern Art is located downtown near the Moscone Center, across Market St from Union Square at Mission and Third Streets, on the Muni #30 bus and many other routes.

Walking to the end of the Municipal Pier gets you close to Alcatraz, and you can see both the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. At the Hyde Street Pier you can go on board several historical ships, including the 1886 Balclutha clipper ship, a walking-beam ferry, a steam tug, and a coastal schooner. At Pier 45, to the east of Fishermen's Wharf, the World War II submarine USS Pampanito can be visited.

The Exploratorium will keep you busy for an entire day with their Science and Perception exhibits. The Exploratorium is located in what was the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition at Lyon and Bay streets, near the terminus of the frequent #30 Muni bus from Fisherman's Wharf (Columbus and Northpoint), downtown, and the CalTrain station. In the Presidio, a few blocks the north and west, you can visit the gardens of the new Lucasfilm studios.

GLBT community events

San Francisco is famous for its exuberant and visible gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community.

  • The San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration is one of the largest gay pride parades and festivals in North America. It's a huge, happy, chaotic celebration of diversity, politics, sexuality, and San Francisco wackiness, on the last weekend in June. It fills Market Street and some seven city blocks from there to City Hall. About a dozen stages and spaces offer everything from square dancing to hip-hop, from a family garden to Leather Alley. Hundreds of businesses, community groups, non-profits, and political groups attempt to connect with hundreds of thousands of celebrants. It's a movement, it's a market, it's a party. Both parade and celebration are for everyone — straight as well as gay are welcome.
  • Pink Saturday is a street party in the Castro on the Saturday night before the Pride Parade and Celebration.
  • Halloween in the Castro. Halloween, the holiday when everyone puts on a mask, has long been a special time for gay, lesbian and bisexual people to take off the "straight-looking mask" they sometimes wore all year, and be themselves. What remains today is a huge, sometimes poorly controlled, street party in the Castro on the evening of October 31st each year.

Other options

  • A Friend in Town, Offers personalized sightseeing tours conducted by a trained historian. Solo travelers or groups up to 30 are picked up and dropped off at their home, hotel, or anywhere within 100 miles of downtown San Francisco.
  • American Running Guides, Offers guided running tours for active travelers wanting to maintain a workout routine without being relegated to the hotel treadmill. Experienced runners take clients on classic routes throughout the city and on the Marin trails, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a great way to see the city and get a workout before breakfast. Reservations required.
  • Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel., Private, custom tours for groups of six or fewer persons in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit boutique wineries in Napa and Sonoma, San Francisco's vibrant neighborhoods, the giant redwoods of Muir Woods, the hillside village of Sausalito, the magnificent California coast, and the beautiful Monterey Peninsula. Go Where You Want to Go!
  • Ride a San Francisco Cable Car, or take the F-train, an electric street car running from Fishermen's Wharf along the Embarcadero, down Market street, up to The Castro.
  • Critical Mass. On the last Friday of each month, bicyclists (in San Francisco, and about 200 like-minded cities world-wide) gather at the north end of Market Street on the Embarcadero and ride en masse to some destination, militantly demonstrating their right to occupy the roads. If you are driving in SF on a Critical Mass day, you will want to listen for radio traffic reports, but if you are stopped by the mass the best thing to do is maintain a good sense of humor and remember that it will all pass in about 5 minutes. Tempers can and do flare...
  • Guided Segway Tours, New three hour guided tours on a Segway. Departures daily. See the San Francisco Waterfront, Marina Green, Fort Mason and more. Includes 35-45 minutes of training and 2 - 2 1/2 hours of sightseeing. Small group make this ideal for individuals and families. Reservations required. Tours are now also offered in Sausalito.
  • Geogad Mobile Tours, Geogad has free MP3 walking tours for Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf that can be downloaded directly from the Geogad website. These tours can be uploaded to any MP3 device and work best on MP3 players that can display the tour photos and maps. These tours are a great introductions to San Francisco as they explore the most popular destinations for travelers to San Francisco in a fun, relaxed way. You can also rent an MP3 player with all of the Geogad Mobile Tours of San Francisco from the California Welcome Center at Fisherman's Wharf for a small fee. These tours include Fisherman's Wharf, the Ferry Building, Market Street, and Union Square. These tours are designed to make your sightseeing easy by linking some of San Francisco's best sightseeing together. For example, the Ferry Building tour ends where the Market Street tour begins. Likewise, the Market Street tour ends where the Union Square tour begins. Best yet, the staff of the California Welcome Center can answer all of your sightseeing questions to make your trip to San Francisco really memorable.
  • San Francisco City Guides, [77]. Founded in 1978, City Guides is a non-profit organization with more than 200 trained volunteers who lead FREE history and architectural walking tours in San Francisco. They are sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library.

Eat

San Francisco is a sensual, epicurean city with a vast array of restaurants. The price range is huge, and you can spend anywhere from a small fortune to a couple bucks for every type of cuisine. Vegetarians and vegans will find SF a paradise. Sushi is a local obsession, and though you can find a sushi bar on almost every street corner, the Richmond district has more than its fair share of excellent sushi chefs. San Francisco also has the largest Chinatown in North America, as well as one of the largest Chinese communities in the West, and many exceptional restaurants serving dim sum and other Chinese delicacies are found throughout The City. This localized Chinese cuisine has its feet in Hong Kong and America, and is different from what many visitors are accustomed to. Fisherman's Wharf serves fresh seafood, especially clam chowder and crabs cooked to order. North Beach is the place to go for Italian food, and the Mission for Mexican restaurants (and Latin American cuisine of all sorts). San Francisco restaurants are also very corkage friendly. Average corkage fee appears to be in the $15 range, with some of the more pricey places charging $25-35.

Drink

The best way to find a good bar or club is to ask the advice of a local; but barring that a copy of The SF Bay Guardian or the SF Weekly will help you find something suited to your personal taste.

San Francisco is very much of a "scene" town. Head to the Marina for mid-20s to mid-30s professionals (and those visiting from Los Angeles). Haight-Ashbury, famous for the “Summer of Love” and hippies, is still a place for alternative lifestyle, now has many neo-punks and hipsters in the mix. South of Market (SoMa) and the Mission District have left-over dot-commers and hipsters hanging out on every corner. The Castro primarily serves San Francisco's gays. With a large Irish population, San Francisco has a number of very good Irish pubs extending out into the Sunset neighborhood. North Beach is home to several dance clubs and strip clubs.

If you are into local microbrewed beer, San Francisco has several breweries. The San Francisco Brewing Co. in North Beach, Anchor Brewing Co. in Potrero Hill, ThirstyBear Brewing Co. and Gordon Biersch Brewing Co. in SoMa, Magnolia in the Haight, Eldos in the Inner Sunset, and Beach Chalet Brewery by the Pacific Ocean are all great spots to sit down and taste unique brews.

For travelers who like the grit of the city, go to local favorite, Zeitgeist in the Mission. It is a charming little dive with plenty of shaded outdoor seating. The tattooed bartenders are friendly enough, and will have information about staying in one of the rooms above the bar if you hit the sauce too much, or if you believe in love at first sight. They have a nice selection of beer on tap. After the in-house food stops being served, you may see local celebrity, the Tamale Lady. Feeling buzzed and looking for late night grub? Get a tamale.

If you like soccer (football) and all things English, you should stop into the Lower Haight's Mad Dog In the Fog. The pub quiz and bar food are good. Swill some pints and stay in the dark. Good for an entire day's worth of drinking. It is also central to other "dive" bars on Haight.

Sleep

Budget

  • Villa Soma, Offers fully furnished rooms at a daily or weekly basis. located in the South of Market district of San Francisco. Free local calls, internet. In Room Color Satellite TV with VCR! $20 per day.
  • Central YMCA, located in Civic Center. Rooms from $44, Dorm $26 (groups of four or more during June - Sept). Rates inlusive of tax.
  • Taylor Hotel San Francisco, Budget hotel accommodation at cheap rates for hostel travelers near Union Square. Private Rooms from $36.99.
  • Hostelling International, (3 locations) 2 Downtown, 1 in Fisherman's Wharf (Fort Mason Park). Clean, cheap ($23 dorms), safe, fun.
  • The Green Tortoise Hostel, 494 Broadway (at Columbus), 415-834-1000 or 800-867-8647. Dorms from $23, private rooms from $56. Free breakfast, free internet, free dinner 3 nights a week, free sauna. Hostel activities include live music, parties and pub crawls. Great location in North Beach.
  • Elements Hostel, Awesome new hostel in the artsy Mission District. See the real San Francisco from $25 (dorms) or $29pp (twin-share)
  • USA Hostels San Francisco, Great hostel operating in two buildings just off Union Square. All rooms have their own bathrooms. Dorms beds start around $22/night. Private rooms start around $60/night.
  • Pacific Tradewinds Backpackers, The highest rated and smallest hostel in San Francisco. Rated #3 Independent Hostel in N. America by HostelWorld in 2005. On the edge of Chinatown and Financial District. Friendly, clean, modern and safe. Free internet. $22-24/night.
  • Civic Center Hotel, 415-861-2373 .The hotel is located at 20-12th Street on the corner of Market Street just one block west of the Van Ness MUNI station. Only metered street parking is available at the hotel. Furnished rooms with a sink in each room (no televisions). Single occupancy with a shared bath: $150/week. Add 14% tax for the first 4 weeks and a one time $15 key deposit.

Mid-range

Decide if you want to be in walking distance of your destinations, or are up to driving and parking. If you have a specific destination in mind, look also in the Districts sections.

  • Nob Hill Hotel, 835 Hyde St, +1 415 662-4455, The Historic Nob Hill Hotel is located in Nob Hill close to the Financial District and Union Square. It features restored marble floors, alabaster chandeliers, stained glass panels, grand statuary and an extensive collection of period paintings and antiques.
  • Fitzgerald Hotel in Union Square, 620 Post St, +1 800 334-6835, Located in Union Square close to Russian Hills, Nob Hill and the Financial District. Established in 1910 and completely restored, it has hosted many colorful and famous visitors including musicians, actors and writers.
  • Chancellor Hotel on Union Square, 433 Powell St, (Union Square), +1 800 428-4748, The classic hotel overlooks Powell Street, home to one of the famous cable car lines. It is a short walk from union square and is surrounded by many shopping centers.
  • The Donatello, 501 Post St, +1 415 441-7100, 94 deluxe rooms, the most spacious accommodations in San Francisco. Elegantly decorated with original Italian art, Travertine marble, Venetian glass and European antiques
  • Embassy Suites - Airport, 150 Anza Blvd, +1 650 342-4600, On San Francisco Bay and two miles from San Francisco Airport. Close to great shopping and dining, and just 16 miles from downtown San Francisco.
  • Embassy Suites - Airport South, 250 Gateway Blvd, +1 650 589-3400, Just 1.5 miles from San Francisco Airport and just nine miles from downtown, directly along Highways 101 and 280.
  • Holiday Inn - Fisherman's Wharf, 1300 Columbus Ave., +1 415 771-9000, Among the bars, cafes, and the vast number of specialty shops in Fisherman's Wharf.
  • Inn At The Opera, 333 Fulton St, +1 415 863-8400, 47 elegantly appointed guestrooms, including 18 suites individually decorated with antique-style furnishings. Prime location just steps away from the finest cultural activities in San Francisco, including the Civic Center, the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House and Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall.

  • The Mosser Hotel, single room from $69 pp/pn.
  • The Pickwick Hotel, 85 Fifth Street, +1 415 421-7500, 189 elegantly appointed guestrooms and suites and 3,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, located just a block from Moscone Convention Center.
  • Queen Anne Hotel, 1590 Sutter St, +1 415 441-2828, The Queen Anne provides a real San Francisco experience, being an 1890 Vistorian Hotel between Pacific Heights and the Civic Center, and near Japan Town. Some rooms have fireplaces, and afternoon tea is served daily.
  • Suites at Fisherman's Wharf, 2655 Hyde St, +1 415 771-0200, Limited to 24 luxury suites in San Francisco, The Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf offers comfortable one or two-bedroom floor plans, each finely appointed with the lavish furnishings you’d expect from a sophisticated San Francisco hotel.

  • Washington Square Inn, 1660 Stockton St, +1 800 388-0220, Idealy situated in the heart of San Francisco it is close to Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, Coit Tower, China Town, Union Square, and North Beach. Indulge yourself in the great views and beautiful accommodations.
  • Grosvenor Suites, 899 Pine Street San Francisco, California 94108, Located in downtown San, Francisco close to Chinatown and Union Square where you will find world class shopping and outstanding restaurants.
  • Holiday Inn Golden Gateway Hotel, 1500 Van Ness Avenue ,+1 415 441-4000, Located in the heart of San Francisco near the Cable Car Turnaround, Fisherman's Wharf, Union Square, and Pier 39.

Splurge

  • The Four Seasons Hotel, 757 Market Street, Consistently rated #1 Hotel in San Francisco by a variety of sources and among the Top 100 Hotels in the World by 2007 Conde Nast Traveler. It features a museum quality art collection and guests enjoy free access to the amazing The Sports Club/LA, which offer 127,000 of fitness facilities and Splash Spa.
  • The Clift Hotel, 495 Geary St, Hotel features Jeffrey Chodorow's Asia de Cuba restaurant, the Redwood Room, the Living Room, private apartments, penthouse suites and meeting facilities.
  • Omni San Francisco Hotel, 500 California St at Montgomery, +1 888 444-6664, The Omni San Francisco Hotel provides luxury accommodations in the heart of downtown San Francisco. Located on the cable car line at the base of Nob Hill, the hotel is only a short walk to Union Square, the San Francisco neighborhood that has become a mecca for high end shopping and art galleries.
  • Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St (Union Square), +1 415 394-1111, Located close to Union Square. It features Japanese style rooms and amenities. Hotel dining includes restaurant ANZU. ANZU serves fresh sushi and excellent steak. Also located inside the hotel is the Baxter Chang Patri Fine Art Gallery.
  • JW Marriott (former Pan Pacific), 500 Post St (Union Square), +1 415 771-8600, Located in upscale Union Square within walking distance to most of San Francisco’s famous destinations. This AAA four diamond hotel has 338 rooms.
  • The Palace Hotel, 2 New Montgomery St, +1 415 512-1111, Located in the Financial District, one block from Market Street. Established in 1875, The Palace has 552 guest rooms. In 1945, the official banquet honoring the opening session of the United Nations was held in The Garden Court at The Palace.
  • Mandarin Oriental, A 150 room hotel located on top eleven floors of the third tallest building in the city of San Francisco. Located in the Financial District only two blocks from Market Street. The view from the rooms are exceptional.
  • The Inn San Francisco, A charming, San Francisco boutique bed and breakfast captures the romantic spirit of the Victorian era and welcomes you with hospitality and warmth that is distinctly San Franciscan.
  • The Hotel Monaco, Fun, funky, hip & sexxy boutique hotel. This is part of Kimpton Hotels, a San Francisco based hotel and restaurant company.
  • The St. Regis Hotel, The St. Regis is a new luxury hotel in the South of Market Area. It is on par with the Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and the Le Meridian (formerly the Park Hyatt at Embarcadero Center). It is near San Francisco MOMA, Yerba Buena Gardens and the Sony Metreon, as well as Union Square and the recently expanded Westfield San Francisco Shopping Center.
  • Le Meridian Hotel, The Le Meridian at Embarcadero Center (formerly the Park Hyatt) is a luxury hotel that mostly caters to business travelers. It is part of Embarcadero Center, which includes retail shops and restauraunts on the street and lobby levels, 4 office towers, and a second hotel, the Hyatt Regency, which borders Justin Herman Plaza. The Le Meridian has large rooms and very nice furnishings and art work. If you stay at this hotel, make a point not to eat breakfast here, as it is expensive and there are other good options nearby.

Contact

The area code for San Francisco is 415. You need to only dial the seven digit phone number for calls within the city. For calls within the US or Canada, dial 1+area code+number, and for international calls, use the prefix 00. Pay phones are relatively common, but only take coins and phone cards with a dial-to-use number. Local calls start at $.50.

To get online, internet cafes are available at a sprinkling of city center locations. Many coffee houses and cafes also offer wireless connection for free or a small fee. Free access is available in Union Square. For a more scenic email check try the Apple Store on Stockton at Ellis near Market in Union Square or any of the many public libraries, especially the main branch on Market near Civic Center station.

Blue mailboxes for mail such as letters and postcards are on many street corners. USPS post offices sell stamps and ship packages, and several private companies provide additional services.

Stay safe

As with many other major cities in the world, San Francisco has its share of problems. The areas that one should be most cautious are in the neighborhoods of Bayview-Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, Sunnydale, Western Addition, Ingleside, Tenderloin, the area around 6th and Market, and parts of the Mission and Potrero Hill. San Francisco is on the peak of a 3-year surge in violent crime, and most of these murders occur in the southeast of the City. Two hispanic gangs have been known to shoot or stab people for wearing the wrong color, so it is recommended to keep red or blue articles of clothing to a minimum while walking through the Mission District, especially around 16th and Mission and 24th and Mission. The South of Market (SoMa) district used to be somewhat dangerous; however, recent gentrification (something that has become fairly common and a social issue in SF) has transformed it into a rather hip and much safer neighborhood with plenty of art galleries and clubs.

San Francisco attracts a large homeless population, the largest per capita in America. If someone begs from you, you may either politely say that you do not have any change or just keep walking, and he or she will generally leave you alone. The main homeless area is around 6th and Market, heading towards City Hall, and in the Tenderloin. Haight Ashbury also has lots of panhandlers, and the area near Golden Gate Park at the end of Haight Street near McDonald's is notorious for junkies and should be avoided at night. You should probably stay out Golden Gate Park altogether at night.

Pickpocketing can be expected, as with any other large city. Be especially cautious on crowded MUNI buses and during the busy holiday shopping season.

One scam in San Francisco is for a poor person to ride the cable car with you and they get off at your stop. They then follow you, claiming that they paid for your ride on the cable car, and demanding money. This only happens to tourists, usually families and usually only at night. Paying them a small amount of money, just dropping the money behind you usually gets rid off them. It can be quite scary and unnerving for young children, although these people are unlikely to become aggressive.

Be wary when parking in Bay Area parking lots of anyone strange demanding payment for the space. Scam artists often will patrol lots where there is no attendant and tell motorists to pay them directly in cash, making sure they dont notice the payment machine. This can result in your car being towed.

Another scam in San Francisco involves a man, posing as a tourist, approaching you and saying he was pickpocketed, robbed or ambushed by homeless people or a group of hoodlums and had his wallet stolen. Furthermore, he will say that he's staying outside the city and needs money for a ride home. Variations on this story have him originating from Australia or the UK and staying in areas of Marin, or being an active duty soldier who missed a train back to his base and needs money for a taxi. They usually target locals, but can branch out into the tourists. They are usually not aggressive and will move on after being denied money.

Cope

Religious services

Catholic churches:

  • St. Patrick, 756 Mission St (between 3rd & 4th Streets, across from Yerba Buena gardens, near to Moscone Convention Center), Su: 7:30AM, 9:00AM, 10:30AM; 12:15PM, 5:15PM; M-Sa: 7:00AM, 8:00AM, 12:10PM (except W: 12:00PM), 5:15PM
  • St. Boniface, 133 Golden Gate Ave, Sa: 5:15PM; Su: 7:30AM, 9:00AM, 10:30AM (Spanish), 12:15PM, 3:30PM (Vietnamese); M-Sa: 7:30AM, 12:15PM
  • Mission Dolores Basilica, 3321 16th St (at Dolores St), Masses are in the newer basilica or in the old Spanish colonial Franciscan adobe mission church (1776) next door.
  • Notre Dame des Victoires, 566 Bush St, Sa: 7:00AM, 5:15PM; Su: 7:30AM, 9:00AM, 10:30AM (French), 12:15PM, 5:30PM; M-F: 7:00AM, 12:10PM, 5:15PM
  • Old St. Mary's Cathedral, 660 California St (at Grant Ave), Sa: 12:05PM, 5:00PM; Su: 8:30AM, 11:00AM; M-F: 7:30AM, 12:05PM

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:

  • Golden Gate Ward, 1900 Pacific Ave (at Gough St), Su: 9:00AM, 10:20AM

Buddhism:

  • Saraha Buddhist Center, 3324 17th St. Su: 10AM-5:30PM and M-Sa: 10:30AM-5:30PM. +1 415 503-1187.
  • Sokoji-Soto Zen Buddhist Temple, 1691 Laguna St, +1 415 346-7540
  • Chinese Buddhist Monastery, 1230 32nd Ave, +1 415 664-9456
  • Gold Mountain Monastery, 800 Sacramento St, +1 415 421-6117.
  • Vietnamese Buddhist Association of San Francisco, 243 Duboce Ave, +1 415 431-1322
  • San Francisco Buddhist Center, 37 Bartlett St, +1 415 282-2018.
  • Nichiren Hokke Buddhist Temple, 2016 Pine St, +1 415 567-3020.

Respect

It is important to remember that San Francisco is one of the most open-minded and progressive big cities in the country. With this open-mindedness comes a variety of languages, skin tones, sexual orientations, and hair colors; it is all a part of the joy of San Francisco, and as a visitor it is something that you have to learn to accept and welcome.

Smokers beware: as in the rest of California, smoking is illegal in bars, restaurants, and other public places. Bay Area people can be particularly vocal about your personal habits. Be aware of nonsmoking areas, and try to be courteous about smoking in other places. They will probably not bother you about standing and smoking outside a restaurant or bar.

On the other hand, smoking marijuana is remarkably well-tolerated by American standards. If you are visiting from elsewhere in the U.S., you may be very surprised to find that marijuana is not considered to be a problem by San Franciscans, and even by The City's police. While still illegal in theory, a law was passed in 2006 officially making marijuana the lowest priority for the SFPD. This does not mean that you should smoke marijuana just anywhere -- as with cigarettes, it is considered improper etiquette to smoke marijuana in crowded areas. However, while attending concerts, be prepared to see marijuana being passed around the crowd.

Get out

For laid-back, involved-with-your-fellow-travelers kind of travel (cooking is shared, the sleeper busload camps ensemble), check out the Green Tortoise. GT runs buses up to Seattle and down to Baja California; to Black Rock City, Yosemite National Park, a National Parks loop including the Tetons, Yellowstone and more, and to New York.

Bikes can be rented from around the northern waterfront (Pier 41/Fisherman's Wharf/Aquarium Park area) or near Golden Gate Park for trips to Marin County via the Golden Gate Bridge. Stanyan near Haight at the end of the park has several good shops. Golden Gate Transit also sporadically serves the North Bay from San Francisco, and has bike racks on most buses.

Nearby destinations suitable for day trips include:

  • Berkeley. Home to the University of California, Berkeley and one of the nation's most progressive communities. Also a hub of liberal political activism for the past several decades. It is also home to quite a few superb restaurants. Alice Waters’ French-inspired Chez Panisse in the north of the city, and is often listed as one of the best restaurants in the world, offering regional and seasonal organic food prepared simply but skillfully. Prices vary, and the restaurant has more and less formal dining areas, but dinner and wine for under $100 is easily possible.
  • Healdsburg. Charming Wine Country town located among some of California's greatest wine appellations: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley and Chalk Hill. Relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere, Healdsburg offers excellent restaurants, shopping and wine tasting. About 70 miles North of the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Napa Valley. The main wine growing region in the United States, a trip to the many wineries makes for a fun day, while those wanting a longer adventure can relax in any one of the many spas, bed and breakfasts, or other lodging options.
  • Muir Woods. A 560 acre forest of old-growth redwood trees located in Mill Valley just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods is a pleasant respite from the city, and accessible by Golden Gate Transit.
  • Point Reyes National Seashore. Located just north of San Francisco along highway one (the pacific coast road), Point Reyes is a beautiful seashore that is particularly nice to visit when gray whales are migrating along the coast, usually best in mid-January and then from March through May. Point Reyes Station is the main town at the base of the massive peninsula and has plenty of restaurants and places to stay.
  • Monterey is an otherwise quiet beach town home to one of the country’s best aquariums.
  • Santa Cruz. Located on the coast north of Monterey, this funky town is home to surfers, the beautiful and tech-savvy University of California, Santa Cruz, and a popular boardwalk. The Santa Cruz Mountains north of town are a great place for outdoor recreation such as hiking, and home to misty forests of famous, enormous redwood trees. The city is accessible by Amtrak-run shuttle bus (about 50 minutes) from San Jose Diridon station.
  • Vallejo is home to a wildlife discovery theme park, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
  • Yosemite National Park. Tours from San Francisco make for a wonderful day trip. Make sure to visit the amazing Giant Sequoias.

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