I get hit up all the time for SF* recommendations and things to do while visiting San Francisco and I LOVE sharing them because this city is the absolute best to explore.
*I learned quickly that people refer to San Francisco as “SF” or “the city” and NEVER “San Fran” or “Frisco”. It’s funny how most locals cringe at those two names. So, if you want to blend in and not stand out as an obvious tourist, jump on board.
I’ve kept an ongoing list of classic staples and local secrets since I moved here and let me tell you, the honeymoon phase is not over. I learn something new about this city all the time and love hearing other people’s favorites, so please share if you see something missing.
I did my best to organize them into a few helpful categories and tried keeping it to my favorites as to not overwhelm because the possibilities really are endless in this 7×7 radius. That’s right, San Francisco is 7 miles x 7 miles in total. We pack a big punch in a small space. Enjoy!
And I’d be remiss not to mention that while you’re here we should do a photo shoot together. Happy to join you on any of the above activities to catch you in action ;) Contact me to schedule it today!
- Bike, walk or run the Golden Gate Bridge
- Be warned it’s super windy and not always visible. The bridge is only 1.7 miles long and takes you over to Marin/Sausalito
- Best way to come back is by ferry if you don’t want to retrace your steps
- Great hikes on the other side!
- Have a picnic in Dolores Park (for a view of the city skyline) or Alamo Square Park (for a view of The Painted Ladies)
- Pssssttt… The Painted Ladies are not the Full House house. Many people make this mistake.
- Dine and walk around the Ferry Building
- Ferry over to Sausalito
- Pro tip: from the ferry, walk to Bar Bocce, order some wine and pizza (to go) and picnic on their beach with a view of the marina
- Grab an Irish coffee at Buena Vista, known to be the spot where Irish coffees were “invented” in the States and then…
- Ride the trolley
- Explore Sutro Baths and Lands End
- There’s a labyrinth and great views of Golden Gate Bridge if you hike towards Mile Rock Beach
- Listen to the natural wave organ
- Enjoy the trees of the Presidio and walk Lover’s Lane
- Explore all the gems of Golden Gate Park including the
- Wander around Palace of Fine Arts
- Check out the Lyon Street Steps (for the view and the glute work out)
- Enjoy the Twin Peaks views (always best with wine and a picnic, watch out for crazy winds)
- Walk or hike around Muir Woods
- Check out one of the swings in the city. Sometimes they’re taken down thanks to the parks services and silly liability laws but if they’re not, they’re very fun and there are several locations to spot them.
- Head over to Westin St. Francis and sneak onto their glass elevator
- Make sure it’s the right one because they have multiple elevator banks
- Ride up to floor 32 for epic views of the city
- Kayak in the bay
- Hike Mount Tam or even drive up and picnic on the mountainside
- Find sunshine on a cloudy day at Stinson Beach. If you do, make sure to grab the best tacos at the lifeguard tower The Siren Canteen
- Slide down the Seward Street Slides
- Hit up all the GG Park museums including the DeYoung Museum and Legion of Honor Museum
- Cal Academy of Sciences or the Exploratorium
- On Thursday nights they’re both open late and serve alcohol
- SF MOMA
- So many incredible exhibits
- Fun fact: if you head up to the top floor and out to patio deck, you can spot Waldo graffitied onto one of the buildings. Where is Waldo? Go try to find him and report back.
- Club Deluxe or Black Cat for live jazz music
- One is a dive. One is fancy. Both in different neighborhoods. Pick your flavor.
- Take an art class at Fort Mason. They have several Saturday workshops depending on when you’re visiting
- Wander into artist studios in the Dogpatch neighborhood at Minnesota Street Project
- Get your insta photo at Museum of Ice Cream or whatever pop up museum is hip when you’re reading this
- Wander graffiti alley in The Mission
- Book a reservation to soak at the Japanese pools of Onsen
- Book a reservation at Nob Hill Spa
- Check out the views and grab a cocktail at The View
Depends on your timing:
- Go to Off The Grid (Fridays at Fort Mason, Sundays in the Presidio)
- Catch a Giants game at AT&T park
- Treasure Island Flea Market
- Movies in the park
- Ice Skating at the ferry building
- Festivals (Day Only)
- Bay to Breakers
- Check out Chinese New Year in China Town
- Outside Lands
- Hardly Strictly
Only here for the food?
I have a wildly expansive, always evolving spreadsheet where you can sort by neighborhood, dining occasion, cuisine, etc. Get ready to be overwhelmed here.
Or get the easy staples, light reading below:
- Zazie. Known for their pancakes. Packed on the weekends.
- Brenda’s Soul Food.
- Elite Cafe.
- Cafe Reveille.
- Mr. Holmes Bakery.
- Tartine Manufactory.
- Palm House.
- Le Marais.
- Blue Barn. Very “Marina” of you.
- Naked Lunch. Great fried chicken sandwich.
- Foreign Cinema.
- Flour + Water.
- China Live.
- Cliffhouse. On the outskirts of the city but the views are beautiful and it’s historic
- Black Cat. Great cocktails, better jazz.
- Club Deluxe.
- Southern Pacific Brewery.
- The Riddler.
- Leo’s Oyster Bar.
- Loew’s Regency.
Working coffee shops:
- Interval Long Now.
- Saint Frank.
- Le Marais.
Only here for the shopping?
- Westfield mall and Union Square are your one stop shop locations
- Ambience is my favorite SF local boutique with lots of brands
- Walk down Valencia in the Mission for fun sights, cool shops and EVERLANE
- Walk down Chesnut or Union in the Marina for fun boutiques and lots of shopping opps along with bars to keep you hydrated along the way
On my personal evolving bucket list:
- Sea plane over the golden gate bridge
- Oyster shucking in Point Reyes
- Cooking class at 18 Reasons
- So many more and always changing because I’m checking them off…
Where to stay?
Unfortunately lots of the hotels are located in Union Square where you’ll find mainly other tourists and no local flavor, but there are a few hidden gems if you’re looking for something more unique including:
- Hotel Phoenix
- The Proper Hotel
- The Scarlet Huntington
- Hotel Kabuki – their spa is great too!
- Inn at the Presidio – pricier but unique experience
- Hotel Drisco – pricier but great location
Want to get out of town while you’re visiting?
Guides coming out for these cities soon but hit me up privately if you can’t wait.
- Big Sur
- Point Reyes
- Santa Cruz
Happy to join you on any of the above activities to catch you in action ;) Contact me to schedule it today!