The Ultimate Guide On Exploring The Best Of San Francisco

From where to eat and drink to where to stay and play, this city guide has everything you need to plan the best trip to San Francisco.

When it comes to iconic cities, San Francisco doesn’t disappoint. SF is among the most exciting destinations in the U.S. and you quickly find out why when you get to exploring (with the help of this guide!). As someone who’s born and raised in SF, you may think I’m biased here. That said, I’ve traveled the world (thanks to my job as a travel journalist!) and lived in New York City for ten years. So, I can safely say there’s no other place I’d rather call home.

Cable car.

The City By The Bay has it all, a big draw is its year-round temperate weather. From epic sightseeing that includes the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz to winning sports teams (go Warriors & 49ers!) to the home of hippy culture and the setting for countless blockbuster movies, it’s a walkable city that’s as unique as the people from here. Plus it’s home to the one and only hyphy movement. If you know, you know. Yadidamean?

We offer a myriad of cultures, unbeatable sights, endless activities, and top-tier restaurants that span a countless number of cuisines. SF is a forward-thinking, tech-driven locality that prides itself on diversity and inclusion. And its proximity to the Sierra Nevada, wine country, stunning coastlines, and magical redwood forests further make it an ideal city to sojourn in or set down roots.

Umbrella Alley

Read on for your up-to-date guide on what’s good in San Francisco now.

Your Guide On Traveling To and Within San Francisco

Navigating San Francisco is relatively easy to do given the fact that it’s just roughly seven by seven miles big. From the classic cable cars to the generally clean and efficient public transportation to ride share apps, getting around is straightforward. Moreover, the city is very walkable, minus the occasional enormous hill depending where you are. 

Flying

San Francisco International Airport: As the Bay Area’s largest airport, it connects non-stop with 86 cities in the U.S. on 12 domestic airlines. Once you land, you can take a cab, rental car, or app-based ride service to your destination. 

You can also take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) directly from SFO into the city. The SFO BART Station is located on the departures level of the international terminal. You’ll need to purchase a Clipper Card at the SFO BART Station upon arrival. BART is the easiest way to get around and it’s relatively clean.

Once you’re in the city and ready to explore, here are you options:

BART: This is the most popular way to get around the city, though depending on where you’re going you may also need to take a bus. Unlike NYC’s subway, won’t take you exactly where you need to go all the time. Check the BART and Municipal Railway (Muni) public transit schedules to plan your trip. Or you can download the app, NextBus to see when your bus or streetcar is on its way.

App-based car services: It’s super easy to find an Uber or Lyft ride in SF. Just download the apps.

From where to eat and drink to where to stay and play, this city guide has everything you need to plan the best trip to San Francisco.

Cable Cars: A quintessential city experience is riding the iconic cable cars. There are only three lines, but each one offers a special ride through the most scenic parts of SF. Good to know? They don’t stop at every stop unless asked, so stay alert. For more information, click here.

Electric Bikes/ Scooters: If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also jump on an electric bike or scooter. Just be sure to stay off the sidewalks to avoid severely pissing off pedestrians. Lime, Scoot, and Spin are a few brands you’ll see zooming around the city. Cheap, efficient and fun.

For my complete guide to San Francisco head to INSIDER.

Your Guide On Where To Stay In San Francisco

San Francisco offers a range of accommodations, from five star hotels to the more affordable AirBnbs. One of the most important things to consider is what area you want to stay in. Keep in mind, nice hotels in the downtown entertainment district can be just a few blocks from the sketchy areas.

Read on to find out which accommodation is right for you.

Hotel Drisco

This charming hotel is located in the iconic Pacific Heights neighborhood within a historic 1903 Edwardian building. Amenities include bikes to borrow, chauffeur service within SF, wine reception and Bvlgari bath products and more. This locally owned hotel is ideal for a supremely personalized stay.

Phoenix Hotel

For visitors who want a taste of grungy, hip SF, check in to this Instagrammable hotel located in the Tenderloin/ Civic Center district. Though not in the most pristine area of the city, it offers a rock n’ roll meets 1950’s vibe. Also, it’s a popular spot for musicians and the artsy crowd. Nearby are live music venues, including the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

San Francisco Proper Hotel

This trendy, modern hotel features exceptionally well designed rooms with elevated amenities including Italian bed linens. Setting this hotel apart from most is it’s culinary and bar program. From the sprawling city views at the rooftop bar, Charmaine’s, to tapas and aperitif cocktails at La Bande, to an inspired seasonal menu at Villion, you can enjoy some of the city’s best bite and beverages without leaving your hotel.

San Francisco offers a range of accommodations, from five star hotels to the more affordable AirBnbs.
Charmaine’s Rooftop

Ritz Carlton San Francisco

The luxurious Ritz Carlton San Francisco hit its 30 year milestone this year. Nestled in the city’s ritzy neighborhood of Nobb Hill, the hotel overlooks the bay and downtown skyline and is in close proximity to the city’s top tourist attractions. With amenities that include weekend caviar and wine tastings, it’s ideal for first timers in the city looking for a luxurious experience. 

Hotel Kabuki

This boutique hotel is located in Japantown, one of only three Japantowns in the country left. Within walking distance to some of the city’s best Japanese food and specialty shops, it’s a one-of-a-kind hotel for those who appreciate Japanese culture and serene accommodations. It’s also home to Nari, an elevated Thai restaurant by renowned Michelin Starred Chef, Pim Techamuanvivit.

Other hotels to consider: Hotel Zelos, Hotel Zeppelin, Taj Campton Place, Fairmont San Francisco, The Clift Royal Sonesta and Argonaut Hotel.

For my complete guide to San Francisco head to INSIDER.

Your Guide to the best restaurants and must-try dining experiences in San Francisco

Fact: this city has more non-chain restaurants per capita than any other major city in the country. The food scene is incredibly diverse and ever-changing, offering diners inimitable culinary experiences. Whether you’re craving a fancy multi-course tasting menus, the best burrito ever, or authentic soup dumplings, the city has it hot and ready for you.

Click here to see my up-to-date lists on where I’m eating now.

The best way to explore SF is to eat your way through it, so here’s a list to get you started.

Cotogna – This cozy restaurant is known for it’s seasonally-changing menu featuring spit-roasted and grilled meats, wood-oven pizzas, incredible house-made pastas, local seafood, salumi and cheeses.

Mandalay Restaurant – This welcoming establishment is the first Burmese restaurant in the city. From the traditional tea leaf and rainbow salads to noodle dishes and curries, each dish is packed with authentic burmese flavors.

California Fish Market – For fresh seafood and authentic Italian cuisine, head to this lively North Beach restaurant in the heart of Little Italy. Pastas, crudo, freshly caught fish and more await diners.

Also nearby are Italian spots Il Casaro Pizzeria and Mozzarella Bar and Barbara Pinseria, which specializes in Roman pizza.

Rich Table – This laid-back neighborhood restaurant oozes charm and sophistication, serving up innovative, seasonal California cuisine in an unpretentious setting.

Empress By Boon – Combining traditional cooking methods with local ingredients and authentic Cantonese flavors, this upscale restaurant offers a dining experience unlike any other. It’s housed in the former location of Chinatown’s celebrated Empress of China offering stunning city views. 

For my full review, click here.

Empress by Boon.
Empress by Boon

Roxie’s – This no frills deli is known for its hot pastrami sandwich on a fresh dutch crunch roll.

Kokkari Estiatorio – This rustic Greek taverna offers diners a chic, warm Mediterranean dining experience complete with a fireplace, woodwork, hand-made pottery and more. You can’t go wrong with the whole grilled fish or the grilled lamb chops.

Curio SF – This hot spot offers nightly live music, spacious outdoor seating and some of the best ribs in the Bay Area. Inspired cocktails and lively vibes making it a great place to start your night out.

For my full review, click here.

Curio Bar and Restaurant.
Curio

Liholiho Yacht Club – Fun vibes and flavors inspired from Hawaii and California make this eatery a great place to indulge on shareable plates and strong libations.

Happy Donuts – The place to go for hot, fresh classic donuts. Any time of the day.

Farmhouse Thai – For inspired Thai food that blends the traditional with the modern, take a seat at this bright establishment that offers family-style dishes. Flavor, presentation and flair set Farmhouse apart from other Thai spots.

Farmhouse Thai.
Farmhouse Thai

House of Prime Rib – This establishment serves prime rib, carved table side. It’s an old-school prime rib place that’s made its name for carving thick slices of beef for over 70 years.

Panchitas Pupuseria – This hole in the wall has the best pupusas around. Cheap, delicious and open late.

Panchitas Pupusaria.
Panchitas

La Taqueria – This famous taqueria in the Mission District has the best Mission-Style burritos (no rice). Whatever burrito or taco you order, be sure to make it an El Dorado. It’s placed on a hot, oiled griddle and fried until crispy and golden on the outsides.

Mitchell’s Ice Cream – This family-owned ice cream shop has been around since 1953. They offer over 40 flavors daily, each made with the best local ingredients and love. It’s worth the wait in line.

Mitchell's Ice Cream
Mitchell’s

United Dumplings – This woman-owned, California-inspired Asian dumpling spot offers a variety of dumplings, from the traditional xiao long bao to the cheesy, Mission style potstickers. 

Check out the below video for my dining experience at United Dumplings.

MAU – Standing for ​​Modern Asian Urban, this affordable, casual Vietnamese restaurant offers a variety of authentic noodle, claypot and rice dishes. Get the Bo Kho with egg noodles.

Hawker Fare – This fun, vibrant Issan Thai restaurant offers family style dishes packed with the flavors of Southeast Asian. Fish sauce, chili, curry, spice and innovation make these shareable plates pop. Enjoy strong tiki-drinks downstairs or head upstairs to Holy Mountain for local and craft spirits-driven libations.

Tartine Bakery – This award winning bakery is known for some of the best pastries, sweets and breads in the country.

Tartine Bakery

Um.ma –  This hip spot in the Inner Sunset offers modern Korean food in a sleek setting.

Tacos El Patron – They have the best quesabirria (Tijuana-style beef birria tacos) served with a side of consomé for dipping or sipping.

Foreign Cinema – This specious restaurant offers inspired Californian-Mediterranean fare and a killer brunch menu, along with nightly projected films in a buzzy setting.

For my full review, click here.

Foreign Cinema

Rooh – For epic, upscale Indian cuisine that will have you questioning if you ever had Indian food before, take a seat at Rooh. This is modern gastronomy at its finest.

For my full review, click here.

PPQ Dungeness Island – This Richmond District institution is where you go for Vietnamese-style roast crab, soaked in butter and garlic. Don’t forget a plate of garlic noodles.

ittoryu GOZU – If you like wagyu, dining at Chef and Owner Marc Zimmerman’s ittoryu GOZU is a must. It explores the versatility of the wagyu breed through the craft of robatayaki, a Japanese style of open-fire cooking through a multi-course kappo-style tasting menu.

For my full review, click here.

Check out the below video for my dining experience at GOZU.

Spruce – Head to Spruce for seasonal California fare at its finest. Nearly all of the restaurant’s produce comes from a nearby private five-acre organic farm, so you know what you’re eating is as fresh as can be. They also offer an insanely extensive wine list featuring over 3,500 selections.

The Morris – The Morris is a charming bistro known for its fine dining, without snobbery. Get the smoked duck.

Sorrel – Michelin-starred Sorrel offers diners elegantly presented seasonal Californian cuisine influenced by Italian fare including handmade pasta, organic and natural wines, and low-ABV cocktails, in a chic atmosphere.

For my full review, click here.

Sorrel

Balboa Cafe – Balboa Cafe was established in 1913 making it one of the oldest restaurants in the city. It’s a piece of SF history serving elevated American classics like the Balboa Burger and NY cut steak.

For my full review, click here.

Mister Jiu’s – For upscale, contemporary Chinese cuisine, take a seat at Mister Jui’s, which combines traditional Chinese dishes with a California twist via local and sustainable produce.

Lolinda – For an upscale and lively dining experience, book a table at Lolinda, an Argentinean steakhouse that serves ceviches, empanadas and more, in addition to carnivorous specialties from the wood-fire grill.

Capo’s by Tony Gemignani – For classic Detroit and Chicago pizza head to North Beach’s Capo’s by Tony Gemignani, a World Pizza Champion whose passion for making the perfect pie is unparalleled.

For my full review, click here.

Capo's Pizza

Hog Island Oyster Co. – Enjoy the freshest oysters and seafood alongside stunning views of the San Francisco Bar at Hog Island Oyster Co. in the Ferry Building.

Barrio – If you find yourself in the iconic Ghirardelli Square, enjoy pretty views of Aquatic Park while you indulge in Latin cuisine at Barrio SF. Definitely order the Beef Birria quekas and Fried Halibut tacos.

For my full review, click here.

Gibson – Located in the Hotel Bijou, Gibson offers diners a beautiful art deco setting in which to enjoy contemporary American cuisine and unique cocktails that incorporate unlikely ingredients like togarashi and black garlic shoyu.  

Boulevard – This quintessential SF restaurant is situated in the historic Audiffred building, offering diners a stunning view of the twinkling Bay Bridge alongside incredible American cuisine.

For my full review, click here.

For my complete guide to San Francisco head to INSIDER.

Your Guide To The Best Bars In San Francisco

Where to drink: El Techo, Smuggler’s Cove, ABV, Pacific Cocktail Haven, Dirty Habit, Cold Drinks Bar, Last Rites, Beehive, Charmaine’s, True Laurel, Horsefeather, Folley’s Dueling Piano Bar, Original Joe’s, Pagan Idol, Key Klub, Bar Iris and many more.

Key Klub
Key Klub

Your Guide On What To Do And See While On Vacation in San Francisco

San Francisco is home to a little bit of everything. From museums and vistas to hikes and tourist attractions worth seeing, here’s a little list to keep you busy while in town.

Views and Vistas

For the best views of the city check out Twin Peaks, Bernal Heights Park, Mount Davidson, Corona Heights Park, and Billy Goat Hill. For Golden Gate Bridge views in particular, be sure to check out Golden Gate Overlook, Fort Point, Crissy Fields and if you have time, cross the bridge itself to view the city from the Marin Headlands.

Golden Gate Bridge

Touristy, but necessary

Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf and Aquatic Park are three very touristy areas of the city along the bay. They offer attractions that include 3D rides, the San Francisco Bay Aquarium, carnival rides, souvenirs, bungee trampolines, arcade gaming and more. Don’t miss out on the very cute, though stinky, sea lions on the k-dock.

Umbrella Alley

For Instagramable murals and photo opportunities, check out Umbrella Alley on Beach Street. You can also take a variety of Jeep tours that take you throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond with San Francisco Jeep Tours. Nearby is the iconic Buena Vista Cafe for Irish Coffees.

The sea lions at Pier 39.

This is an area where you can board charter boats and take rides to Alcatraz and throughout the bay. Other popular activities include whale watching, segway and bike tours. 

Ghirardelli Square features some great restaurants, as well as the famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Stop by for an indulgent ice cream sundae and a look at how they make their chocolate.

Nature

San Francisco is a special city in that within its very urban limits, is a lot of spectacular nature. Ocean Beach offers a dramatic 3.5-mile stretch of beach, craggy cliffs, and hikable coastal trails, particularly in Lands End. This is also where you can explore the ruins of Sutro Baths. Baker Beach is another location for panoramic views of Golden Gate Bridge.

Glen Park Canyon
Glen Park Canyon

A lesser known gem that is truly the definition of an urban oasis is Glen Park Canyon in Diamond Heights which offers hiking trails, wildlife spotting and wildflowers in the back of a Safeway parking lot. If you know, you know.

Golden Gate Park

This public park offers many points of interest including the botanical garden, Japanese Tea Garden, Music Concourse, Stowe Lake, Conservatory of Flowers, and the Bison paddock. It’s also home to several museums including the De Young and California Academy of Sciences. Most recently a giant ferris wheel was installed in commemoration of the park turning 100 years old.

Golden Gate Park

Food Favorites

For a combination of top-notch cuisine, boutique shopping and specialty goods, there are several places you can’t miss out on.

  • The Ferry Building – on the Embarcadero is a food artisan marketplace offering a combination of crafts, culinary delights and frequent farmer’s markets.
  • One65 – a multiple concept French emporium headed by Michelin-Starred and James Beard Award Winning Chef Claude Le Tohic.
  • China Live – a modern marketplace and culinary destination offering multi-course Chinese fare, snacks and artisan teas.
Ferry Building

Neighborhoods

San Francisco is home to a multitude of distinct neighborhoods, each one offering its own vibe and draw. 

One of my favorite Victorian homes.
One of my favorite Victorian homes.
  • Mission District is a colorful neighborhood filled with murals; nightlife; boutique shopping; great restaurants and bars, but specifically Mexican food; and Dolores Park, a favorite, outdoor local hangout. I’m here the most often!
  • Haight Street is the birthplace of the counterculture movement. Think all things psychedelic, hippy and cannabis.
  • Union Square is one of the biggest, most all encompassing shopping areas in the country. Department stores, fancy boutiques, gift shops, art galleries, designer stores, brand names and more all can be found here.
Dolores Park
  • San Francisco Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in the U.S. Come for dim sum, authentic Chinese restaurants and bakeries, cultural landmarks, tea shops, herbal shops and more.
  • North Beach has countless Italian eateries, gelatorias, bars and cafes and a lively, party atmosphere. 
  • The Marina District is a scenic area great for nightlife, bar hopping, fine dining, shopping and being bougie. It’s also home to Crissy Fields and the Palace of Fine Arts.
  • The Castro District is widely known as a neighborhood that celebrates the LGBTQ community. This progressive was home to  Harvey Milk, one of most proliffic gay rights activists of the 1970s. 
Coit Tower

Other points of interest: Coit Tower, Painted Ladies, Museum of Modern Art, Alcatraz, Japantown, Exploratorium, Lombard Street, Legion of Honor, Asian Art Museum, Sunset District, Hayes Valley, Presidio and more.

If you have time and snag tickets in advance, catch a Warriors game at Chase Center in Thrive City! Thrive City is home to not only the Warrior’s Stadium, but also shopping and worthwhile restaurants including Chef Tyler Florence’s upscale steakhouse, Miller and Lux; Dumpling Time where you can get feast on all the handmade dumplings you can eat; and Gott’s Roadhouse for some killer burgers.

Check out my Forbes piece on Chase Center’s new fine dining offerings.

Things to keep in mind while traveling in and around San Francisco.

Currently, people must wear masks indoors in some public spaces, even if you are fully vaccinated. You also need to be able to show proof of vaccination to go into bars, restaurants, clubs, and gyms.

For my complete guide to San Francisco head to INSIDER.

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Chelsea is a bicoastal freelance journalist whose passion revolves around exploring the world, immersing herself in foreign cultures, and of course, eating and drinking everything delicious.

Her work can be found in TravelPulse, Forbes, This Is Insider, Fox Lifestyle and more. She covers all things food, drink and travel and is always up for an adventure, whether that means an adrenaline-pumping excursion or trying a new cuisine.

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