Tips for San Francisco, California

Looking for some insider San Francisco travel tips?

We always like to ask our community for tips, so we put the question to our Facebook community who were willing to oblige.

The questions were based on the best things to do in San Francisco, where to stay in San Francisco ,and where to eat and drink. Their answers are down below, but firstly let us share our own tips.

San Francisco Travel Tips - Bay Bridge
Bay Bridge, San Francisco

San Francisco Travel Tips

We spent one week in San Francisco back in 2006, we had a great time exploring the city, and it reminded us a lot of our hometown Sydney.

It has a famous bridge, a harbor (the bay), it’s hilly, it has pockets of different cultures, great eating options, they love sports, and it has a big gay community – much like Sydney.

Walk, Walk, Walk

Whilst San Francisco is quite hilly, we found it a great city to explore by foot. It’s quite a compact place with lot’s of things to discover on every corner, and it’s a good way to get your exercise for the day.

Just be sure to take appropriate clothing as the weather can change pretty quickly.

Go Biking in San Francisco

One of our favorite things to do was bike the Golden Gate Bridge, continue through Sausalito and finish at the charming seaside town of Tiburon. Here you can dine in one of the fine restaurants with spectacular views, or get take out fish and chips and sit in the park.

When you’re ready to call it a day, return on the Tiburon ferry and as you’re cruising back, scan the horizon to reflect on the incredible journey you have just experienced.

Check out Blazing Saddles for your biking needs.

Ride a Cable Car in San Francisco

cable car San Francisco thing to do

A fun and historic way to get around San Francisco is by cable car. There are three cable car routes in operation and they cover the most important landmarks and destinations.

There is nothing like riding a cable car down one of the steep hills with awesome views over to Alcatraz.

Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco seals

Yes, it’s touristy, but places are popular for a reason.

It’s here where you can take the ferry to visit Alcatraz (be sure to do the tour with headsets), chow down on some clam chowder whilst over looking the Golden Gate, see the famed sea lions, and just people watch.

Go to Boudin Bakery & Cafe for the best clam chowder and sourdough bread!

For seafood, eat at Scoma’s Restaurant.

Chinatown, San Francisco

Chinatown San Francisco walking tour

Probably the best Chinatown and the largest Chinese community outside of China.

Lot’s of great eating options, activities going on, and tea tasting experiences. Whether you visit in the morning or evening, Chinatown comes alive.

Eat at Sam Wo, City View or the Great Eastern.

North Beach

North Beach is a well known for its eclectic cafe culture, Beat Generation history, great Italian restaurants, book stores, colorful characters, and that friendly, laid-back attitude that makes San Francisco a great place to be.

Eat at Calzone’s or Mama’s and grab a coffee from Cafe Trieste.

Want to dance? Some of the best clubs in San Francisco: Fuse – DragonBar – 443 – Bamboo Hut – Impala – Beat Lounge – Apartment 24 are here.

Train it to Berkeley

We love visiting college towns on our travels, and the University of California at Berkeley is an easy train ride from the city.

You can wonder around the beautiful campus, and Telegraph road is full of cafes, bars, shops, and characters.

We recommend a meal at Smart Alec’s for great healthy food at great prices. The salads are to die for, and almost all items are made on location including gourmet burger sauces.

Explore the Presidio

The Presidio San Francisco

There are some fantastic places to explore at the Presidio Park, a former military post, and a national historic landmark.

The Presidio San Francisco is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is a major outdoor recreation hub. It’s one of our favorite places to visit in San Francisco.

Read More: 14 things to do in the Presidio San Francisco

Tours, Sightseeing & Passes

Viator is the industry leader when it comes to tours, activities, tickets and passes with a list of hand-picked tours and things to do in San Francisco  from local insiders.

Check out the San Francisco City Pass which includes tickets to attractions, discounts and unlimited use of San Francisco’s cable cars and Muni public transport over three consecutive days.

San Francisco travel tips

Tips from our Facebook Fans

Here are the travel tips from members of our community:

Bubba GotPassport says:

Pier 39 for sea lion watching… Oh, they had a live webcam there, so you could call family and wave to them (with slight delay).

Rusty Harris-Bishop says:

We take everyone who visits on a whirlwind “Wanker Tour” to get all the tourist stuff out of the way. e.g. Pier 39, GG Bridge, The Windmills, GG Park, Sutro Tower view, the Castro, AT&T Ball Park, the Ferry Building.

THEN we go have drinks on the roof-top bar of Medjoul if it’s nice out, or some other bar. You have to drink in SF, and be prepared for a strong drink. It’s the only place I’ve ever taken a drink back and asked for some more mixer!

Free days at the DeYoung are great, one Friday per month the CA Academy of Natural Sciences has great parties with food, music, and a lively crowd. The SF MOMA has some great shows, too, but whatever is happening in Golden Gate Park is usually worth it.

Opera in the Park is the Sunday after opening night at the opera, and has all the stars performing and everyone drinking and having picnic lunch; and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is an amazing three-day concert for free the first weekend in October.

Then for the truly decadent there are the street fairs: Folsom Street Fair and Dore Alley, for the leather and S&M community. Fun for the whole family.

Erin says:

Have to try Irish Coffee at Buena Vista (birthplace of Irish coffee in America). If you go when it’s cold out, two of those and you’ll be nice and *toasty*.

Also, I really love the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park.

Kristin Kent says:

Best photo opp is in the Marin Headlands, right across the bay on the Golden Gate AND you get THE view of the bridge from high up.

Laura Dee says:

Visit Clarion Alley to see some amazing street art. The alley stinks of piss but the artwork is worth it.

Mick Sharpe says:

Grab a bottle of red wine and some al fresco pizza in north beach and just people watch and let the world drift by.

Sarah Edens says:

Go over to the Air Force Marina (you don’t have to have a military ID to get there) on the Marin Country side and get AWESOME pictures with the bridge in the background.

Laurence N says:

Go to the bar at the top of the massive bank building and admire the beautiful views over some seriously strong cocktails.

Debbie Beardsley says:

Riding GG Bridge is a must! WALK and WALK and WALK. There a great free walking tours offered. Google it, you won’t be disappointed.

ConnVoyage:

One of my favorite restaurants in SF is Cha Cha Cha for Cuban/South American. Go to the original on the corner of Haight and Shrader and don’t forget to order the pitcher of sangria! Great for groups! And YES, the wait is worth it!

For something a bit more fancy and special occasion, try Scala’s Bistro in the Sir Francis Drake hotel in Union Square. The food is always delicious and service impeccable!

Lorna MacMillan says:

have a cannoli (or anything!) at stella pastry in north beach! a mom & pop shop.

Two 4 Travel says:

Muir Woods is only an hour away…we loved it!

Ana Travels says:

Sourdough bread is delicious! Boudin is very touristy but their bread is out of this world.

Catherine Sweeney:

Hang out at Golden Gate Park and visit the de Young Museum

Traveling to San Francisco with kids?

Places to Visit near San Francisco

Looking to explore other places in California near the Bay Area? Start with these posts?

Plan Your Trip to San Francisco

Accommodation

  • Booking.com has over 550 properties in San Francisco including hotels, apartments and hostels worldwide. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.

Flights

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Car Rental

  • RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.

Tours & Sightseeing

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Do you have any San Fransisco travel tips? Share in the comments.

48 thoughts on “Tips for San Francisco, California”

  1. Christy @ Technosyncratic

    Great suggestions here! Every time we visit SF (at least once a year) we ALWAYS eat breakfast at Dottie’s True Blue Cafe in the Tenderloin district. The wait can be long, but that’s because it’s so worth it. The food is fresh and creative and affordable and ridiculously delicious! My mouth is watering just thinking about Dottie’s. 🙂

  2. Jeremy Branham

    How did I miss this topic for suggestions? Have to agree with a few others – Golden Gate Park is a must!! Japanese Tea Garden, de Young, and the various little parks within the park are my favorite places in San Francisco!

  3. Roy | cruisesurfingz

    My best tip is to meet the SF CouchSurfers. They are awesome!! San Francisco is kind of the birthplace of CouchSurfing.

  4. Liked your post. We are planning a trip to Nevada and we keep toying with the possibility of heading on to San Francisco. I believe it will be a great oppertunity.

    1. Just got to the beautiful city of SF and got tipped off to use airportpickup.me where I found a very friendly San Franciscan to take from SFO to the city…Gerat airport shuttle service for those solo travelers to SF!

  5. How funny that you compare SF to Sydney! I always compare Sydney to LA and Melbourne to SF–but I can see the similarities! Love SF, glad you had a good experience–and I LOVE the tofu salad at Smart Alec’s! I always stop there for lunch when I’m in Berkeley 🙂

    1. Hey Christine, the comparison to Sydney really hit us when we rode over the Golden Gate bridge to those other suburbs and had fish and chips. The hilliness and the different bays reminded us of parts of North Sydney and middle harbour areas.

      But for sure see the resemblance to Melbourne too, I guess it’s the European feel to both cities. Anyways, we LOVE SF. And as you know, I’m a BIG 49ers fan 🙂

    2. Oh yeah, Melbourne is completely flat. Sydney and Brisbane are both hilly with fabulous bridges.
      When you live in a flat place for a while, hills are SO exciting!

      1. Yes hills make it more exciting, and interesting, and better for walking off all the great food 🙂 Plus, they offer awesome views as well.

  6. great tips! thanks so much for including mine- this local won’t steer you wrong, i promise!…and i may have to go get one of those cannolis right now 😉 you and other folks have hit on many of my faves here for sure and also given me a few new things to try in my own backyard- love that! 😀

  7. We LOVE San Francisco! It is the best city in the world for vegetarians and we had one of the best meals of our life at Greens restaurant.

  8. Great list of tips, Craig! Whenever I go to SF to visit friends they never want to do any of these “touristy” things, so I end up doing them on my own. They’re what make the city so unique and special 🙂

  9. Great tips! I have been to SF twice but both time with friends that grew up out side the city. I loved visiting Berkley because it reminded me so much of my Uni in Seattle. I can’t wait to go back this summer and see all these great things!

  10. Most awesome place to visit on the West Coast of the USA. I remember my last trip there was back in 1999. Drove up from LA to Frisco. Incredible journey and this was in the film camera days… geeze..

  11. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities. I was only there for a long weekend, but I loved biking the Golden Gate Bridge and walking up and down the hilly streets. You can definitely work off all the great food!

    Next time I go back, I’ll have to check out your other recommendations. Thanks!

  12. Hi Caz, glad you tweeted this again, missed the Tuesday session on SF.

    I’ve added a few of the suggestions to our to do-list for our visit in June.

    Great knowing the couchsurfing crowd is great as we were thinking of looking for a couch to surf!

    1. Hi Nadia,

      Awesome you will visit in June. And sounds great about the couchsurfing crowd, you should definitely hook up. And you should also connect with CruisSurfing who seems to be the king of couchsurfing.

  13. Have Lorna (The Roamantics) show you around the Mission (if she is still in town, that is)! We had a wonderful time eating burritos and some of the best ice cream ever.

  14. Awesome tips! I’ve been to SF once, and it is one of the nicest North American cities I have visited so far. I have to agree with Erin, the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park is well worth the 5 bucks entry – it’s beautiful and serene. I also liked Filmore Street in Pacific Heights – lovely neighbourhood up on the hill, views of the GGB, nice little shops and eateries!

  15. I’m off to SF in August for 10 days and these tips have been great! Love to do the bike across GG Bridge, where did you hire the bikes?

  16. How timely, I’m in SF visiting now!! Only a couple days left but feel like I’ve covered most everything mentioned and plan to hit most of the rest in the time I have left. There is so much to do in this city, love it! 511.org has been a great help for figuring out public transportation to get from point to point and yelp.com for finding restaurants.

    1. Hey Cat,

      Hope you had a great time. Thanks for mentioning yelp.com and 511.org for public transportation, two website we are actually unfamiliar with, being Aussies and all 🙂

  17. Just so you know, I’ve bookmarked your page for my US trip planning (which keeps getting postponed), and San Francisco is on the list!:)
    I’ve had lots of advices and tips from friends who had been there previously and even lately, but I still like yours a lot, and anyway, one can never go wrong with more tips, right?;)
    Ohhh, those cable cars look like what we refer to as electric trams in Asia…as our cable cars are usually hung/glides through the tight cables in the air (mechanically of course) and are usually found in touristy places and theme parks:D

  18. I have personally never been to San Francisco how ever I’ve heard nothing but great things about it and I’d love to visit there some day. The pictures you posted are beautiful. I would definitely love biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Looks like so much fun. You can follow me on twitter @samoir216

  19. Great article. I love the way you present and share your travel experiences. On a visit last Summer I enjoyed one of the best Clam Chowder (Sourdough bread bowl was a sweet touch) at the Wharf as you stated above. Following this filling lunch a friend of mine and I hiked off a few calories by walking up Lombard Street (about a half hour) and enjoying the one of a kind architecture and enthralling view of Russian Hill the Bay and a few of the Bridges. The trolley ride was completely unique and a must for every visitor. Safe travels in the future.

    1. Thanks Kevin! San Fran has so many great experiences to enjoy. We loved burning off a few calories on Lombard St. Could do with that now

  20. I really enjoyed riding that cable car at night.
    It must be seen how they turn it around at the end of the line, literally, by pushing it and turning it around – have a view:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvtBZ2Jxmn4

    Also, just walking San Francisco streets at night, provides this opportunity of surprise around a corner, like these two guys playing and making people to stop and listen:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mvb9ZHsW2Q

    Yes, visiting San Francisco is one of those things, I wish, all people could experience once in their life time.

    Paul

  21. If you are visiting from outside CA, and love great Pinot Noir, try August West or Sandler wines. The winery is actually in SF and is available only in a few states and countries. Their other reds are awesome as is their chards. New release will be Sandler Karamy, a yummy white blend.

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