Nestled along the rolling hills of the Bay Area, San Francisco is the largest city in Northern California famous for its bright cable cars, summer fog and iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge
But San Francisco is so much more than just a stereotypical image!
It is home to historic buildings, cool neighborhoods and wonderful outdoor opportunities that can be explored year-around. It’s also a foodie capital with all sorts of restaurants for any taste and price point.
San Francisco rose to power during the California Gold Rush and has transformed into one of the most popular destinations in the United States with a mix of culture, technology and entertainment. It’s a city that you have to visit at least once to see what makes it so great 😊
In my blog, I’m going to cover top places to visit in San Francisco to help you plan your itinerary.
Visiting for the first time? Take this guided tour of San Francisco to learn the city!
How to get around San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the United States, with good public transportation which means you can visit some of the best places in San Francisco on foot, or by taking Uber. Another option is to jump on one of those famous San Francisco cable cars or rent a bike.
Renting a car in San Francisco can be expensive, and it’s not necessary, if you are going to spend your time in the city. I suggest renting a car in San Francisco only if you plan to take day trips and explore places like Sonoma County, Lake Tahoe or Yosemite National Park.
GOOD TO KNOW: Since many travelers visit San Francisco as part of their West Coast road trip, you will probably end up renting a car at some point during your trip. Discover Cars is one of the best car rental companies that I often use my travels.
Hop On Hop Off Bus
If you don’t want to miss out on some of the best things to do in San Francisco, get tickets for the Hop On Hop Off Bus that will take you around the city. What’s cool about this bus is that you can get on and get off at any major point of San Francisco.
Best hotels in San Francisco
Luxury: Four Seasons San Francisco at Embarcadero – one of the best hotels in San Francisco, Four Seasons offers some of the most spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay.
Mid-budget: Axiom Hotel – this hotel offers proximity to some of the best things to do in San Francisco. Axiom has parking, fitness center and is also pet friendly, so you can bring your furry friends on a trip.
Budget: Hotel Del Sol – this colorful boutique hotel is a hidden gem in the expensive Marina District. Hotel Del Sol is within walking distance to Union Street and Chestnut Street and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Best places to visit in San Francisco
1. Mission District
The Mission District is a colorful neighborhood in San Francisco where you can find some of the best bars and places to eat in San Francisco from high-end restaurants to unpretentious hole-in-the-wall eateries.
This area is perfect for visiting if you want to get away from the tourist crowd and enjoy more local flair. In the heart of the district, you will find the Mission San Francisco de Asis, – the oldest building in San Francisco which was built by the Spanish colonists in 1791 when California still belonged to Mexico.
The Mission District is great for taking guided walking tours thanks to its vibrant art street and unique architecture with many stores and art galleries.
Want to feel the hippy vibes? Book a 1970s-era Volkswagen bus for your private party and explore the city’s top attractions with a personalized guide on a 4-hour tour.
2. Golden Gate Bridge
One of the most iconic landmarks in San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge that links Presidio with the Bay Area’s northern counties. Opened in 1937, Golden Gate Bridge sees millions of visitors, with the heaviest visitation in summer.
If you are visiting San Francisco for the first time, start at the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza at the southeast end of the bridge and make your way north. The plaza has a welcome center, the Bridge Cafe and the historic Round House Cafe.
If you are looking to take a shot against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, there are a few vantage points that provide the best angles of this iconic structure.
The best Golden Gate overlooks
– Baker Beach provides a great overlook of the Golden Gate Bridge, the surrounding Marin Headlands and Golden Gate Strait from the distance. Unfortunately, the beach is not suitable for swimming due to the dangerous rip current and the frigid water.
– Fort Point National Historic Site is a sprawling area located underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The former Civil Era fortress is located just a short walk from the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.
– Golden Gate Overlook is a designated spot on a map that represents a concrete plaza in the middle of the coastal bluff. Located off Lincoln Boulevard, it provides access to California Coastal Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail and is popular with hikers who come here to explore the coastal trails.
How to get to the Golden Gate: Take Golden Gate Transit from San Francisco. Lines 80, 70 and 10 will take you to the bridge. Another option is to catch the free PresidiGo Shuttle that will take you to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center.
Golden Gate bicycle tours
The best way to explore the area around the Golden Gate is by bicycle! Book your bike tour ahead of time to enjoy one of the most scenic spots in San Francisco!
3. Lands End
Lands End is a park located within the Golden Gate National Recreational Area with miles of hiking trails that offer superb views of the Golden Gate Bridge from different angles. While the Bay Area has many beautiful hikes, none of them offer the views of the 4-mile Lands End trail.
The trail is accessible from the parking lot at the end of Geary Avenue.
The parking lot by the memorial provides quick access to the trail with spectacular views of the Golden Bridge, especially if you are looking for a quick photo op. The parking lot by Sutro Baths is better if you plan on doing a full hike.
Address: 680 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
Presidio is a former military base that has been converted into an urban park on the northern end of the San Francisco Peninsula.
Presidio is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is perfect for enjoying the outdoors thanks to the many rolling hills, wooded areas with eucalyptus trees, and the spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can hike or bike around Presidio and take the PresidiGo Shuttle to get around.
Presidio Visitor Center is a great stop where you can find several exhibits showcasing the history of the area. Here, you can also visit the old fort and some buildings that remain from the old time.
Address: 1750 Lincoln. Blvd. San Francisco, CA 94129
Susaulito is a small city in the Bay Area that makes a perfect stop on your San Francisco itinerary. Sausalito is one of the best places in visit in San Francisco that can be accessed by a quick ferry ride. This small seaside community makes for a perfect afternoon getaway with many restaurants, boutique stores, and gorgeous views of the bay.
Whether you want to walk along the Sausalito Boardwalk lined with flowers, check out the Marine Mammal Center – a home for wounded and orphaned marine animals, or check out the many floating homes in the area. The best way to explore the area is by bike and you can rent one to get from Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.
6. San Angel State Park
The largest island in the Bay Area, San Angel State Park is one of the best places to visit in San Francisco, if you want to escape the crowds. To get to San Angel State Park from San Francisco, you need to take a 25-minute ferry ride from Pier 41 to Angel Island State Park.
The island offers well-maintained trails, where you can hike and mountain bike while enjoying the scenery. You can also make your way up to Mount Caroline Livermore, the highest point of the island at 788 feet. San Angel also has campsites, picnic areas, and serval beaches. The 6-mile perimeter trail around the island is relatively easy and provides panoramic views of the bay.
To get a feel for the island, you can take one of the tram tours. Tickets can be purchased on the Angel Island Company’s website.
7. Golden Gate Park
Home to more than 1,000 acres of rolling hills, gardens, and groves, Golden Gate Park is an outdoorsman’s paradise. It also houses the Conservatory of Flowers, the Academy of Sciences, and de Young Fine Arts Museum, among other attractions. This is a perfect place to spend an afternoon weekend, especially on Sundays when the main drive is closed to traffic and open only to pedestrians and bicyclists.
Need a photographer to follow you along your San Francisco itinerary? This popular tour offers a personal photographer who will help you take ‘gram-worthy photos of the famous San Francisco landmarks!
Address: 501 Stanyan St, San Francisco, CA 94117
8. Japanese Tea Garden
Did you know that San Francisco is home to the first Japanese garden in the United States?
Located within Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden has neat landscapes, several ponds, a pagoda, and of course, a tea house. This is one of the best places to visit in San Francisco to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere while walking the trails lined with adorable lanterns and sculptures.
Want to have fun while exploring the Golden Gate Park? Book a Segway tour that will allow you to cruise the area and explore its top highlights in just a few hours!
9. Botanical Garden
Located along with the Japanese Garden and de Young Museum, San Francisco’s Botanical Garden is home to a unique collection of flowers, trees, and plants all of which hail from different ecosystems. If you have limited time, this stop is a must on your San Francisco itinerary.
Best tours of the Golden Gate Park
Here you can find 9,000 plants that are native to habitats like savanna, desert, and tropical rainforest – and they all coexist and thrive thanks to the special environment that exists in this place.
10. Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach is one of the best places to visit in San Francisco if you want nothing more but a relaxed day and some fresh air. Located in the northwestern part of San Francisco, Ocean Beach is a beloved spot among visitors and locals.
Like many beaches in the Bay Area, Ocean Beach is not recommended for swimming due to dangerous currents, but you can come here for a picnic or make a bonfire in one of the fire pits. Since temperatures stay around low the 50s, bring some layers to stay warm.
Parking at Ocean Beach is free, but it can fill up very quickly, especially on warm sunny days when a lot of people come here. Come early if you want to grab a spot.
11. Napa Valley
Napa Valley is a classic day trip from San Francisco, and I would be lying to you if I didn’t say that this is one of the most touristy destinations in Northern California.
The famous wine-producing region is just 60 miles north of San Francisco, and you can visit it by car, public transportation, or guided tour. Keep in mind that while public transportation is the cheapest way to get to Napa, it’s also the slowest way, and it can be a bit convoluted.
Check my complete guide to the best day trips from San Francisco!
I recommend taking a guided tour of Napa Valley from San Francisco that will allow you to explore the famous vineyards, and provide some history of the area. Some tours can have up to 30 people, that’s why I suggest a small group tour of Napa Valley which will give you more freedom.
If you have a rental car, book a stay in Napa Valley to enjoy the region. There are many gorgeous hotels in Napa Valley where you can spend the night and enjoy some of the best things that Napa Valley has to offer like restaurants, spas, and other cool things.
Best hotels in Napa Valley
Napa has many hotels for all tastes and budgets. Here are a few suggestions:
Luxury: Solage, Auberge Resort – located half a mile from Calistoga, this luxury resort boasts a wellness spa center, a restaurant and an outdoor pool, hot tub and sauna. Bicycles can be rented on property. Sterling Vineyards and Chateau Montelena Winery are less than 3 miles away.
Mid-budget: Carneros Resort and Spa – Stay in one of rustic cottages with beautiful interior designs and superb amenities including a spa, outdoor pools and two restaurants with an outdoor dining area. Breakfast and lunch are served daily.
Budget: Up Valley Inn and Hot Springs – this hotel provides access to the area’s hot springs, but for less money than other places in the area. Free parking, an airport shuttle and access to the free Calistoga bus which can take you downtown.
12. Alcatraz Island
Home to the infamous prison that used to house dangerous criminals from all over the country, Alcatraz Island, also called The Rock, is one of the most popular places to visit in San Francisco.
Tickets to Alcatraz sell out extremely fast, especially during summer and fall, so if you plan on visiting this popular landmark during your trip to San Francisco, make sure to purchase your tickets early.
A regular day tour includes a round trip to the island and the audio tour. As part of the tour you will have to walk from place to place to follow the narrative of your guided tour that describes different areas of the prison.
Best tours of Alcatraz from San Francisco
Ferries to Alcatraz Island depart from Pier 33 that’s also known as Alcatraz Landing. Arrive about 20-30 minutes prior to departure if you still need to pick up your tickets.
One of the most interesting features of the former prison is the gift shop that often invites former inmates to sign books, photos an other souvenirs for visitors. It takes at least half a day to visit Alcatraz and return back to San Francisco, so plan accordingly.
13. Fisherman’s Wharf
Located on the city’s northern waterfront, Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the top places to visit in San Francisco. The signature dish of the city, the clam chowder soup served in bread bowls is sold in many restaurants and seafood stalls all over the area.
The famous Pier 39 surrounded by the majestic views of the bay is one of the most popular places to visit in San Francisco. Here you will find restaurants, stores and entertainment. It’s also a great spot to enjoy views of the San Francisco skyline, the historic Alcatraz Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you only have a few days in San Francisco, but want to see its top highlights, consider taking a small group half-day city tour – a perfect way to learn San Francisco in a short time!
Another major attraction of Fisherman’s Wharf is a colony of California sea lions basking in the rays of sun.
These lovely creatures have settled on the docks of Pier 39 in the late 80’s and have called this place home ever since. Overlooking the sea lion’s hangout is the Sea Lion Center place where you can learn everything about these marine mammals.
How to get to Fisherman’s Wharf: Thanks to its location along the waterfront, Pier 39 can be accessed via San Francisco Muni F-Line street car. Several bus lines including 8X, 8BX 39 and 47 also serve the area.
14. Ghirardeli Square
If you are a chocolate lover, your trip to San Francisco is not complete without a stop at Ghirardelli’s Square – home to Ghirardelli’s red-brick chocolate factory.
But it’s not just yummy chocolate desserts and ice creams that make it one of the best places to visit in San Francisco – Ghirardelli’s Square is home to a big shopping area with stores, restaurants, and art galleries.
15. Painted Ladies
One of the top places to visit in San Francisco is Painted Ladies, a group of pastel colored Victorian houses that can often be found on flyers and brochures advertising the city. One of the best spots for taking photos in San Francisco, Painted Ladies are located in Alamo Square.
If you want to take a photo, the best time is in the afternoon.
The green lawn in front of Painted Ladies gets crowded as locals and tourists flock here for picnics and hangouts. Some of the best locations for taking photos are along Hayes Street. And since the Painted Ladies face west, the sun lights them up only in the afternoon – something to keep in mind if you want to take photos.
How to get to Painted Ladies: Painted Ladies are included in many of San Francisco’s guided tours. For example, if you take the Hop-On-Hop-Off-Bus in San Francisco, you can get off just a few blocks away from this popular spot.
Alamo Square is located just 2.5 miles from downtown San Francisco. It might take you a little bit of time to get to Alamo Square by foot, however, an Uber should get you there in 10-15 minutes.
16. Lombard Street
One of the highlights of San Francisco, Lombardo Street has become one of the most touristy places to visit in San Francisco.
This zig-zag street lined with Victorian mansions has eight switchbacks and draws many tourists, but I recommend making your way up to escape the traffic and enjoy the gorgeous views of the area.
Many travelers also suggest taking a cable car to the top of the hill located at the intersection of Lombard and Hyde Streets. From there, you can get a good view of the famous thoroughfare and avoid all the traffic.
Visiting Lombard Street is one of the best free things to do in San Francisco, so if you are excited about seeing “the most crooked street in the world,” give it a go. Lombard Street is located just south of Fisherman’s Wharf.
17. Twin Peaks
For those who are looking for a 360-degree view of the city and the surrounding Bay Area, there’s no better option than the top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco. From here you can see most San Francisco’s landmarks including the entire downtown skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Alcatraz.
GOOD TO KNOW: For the best experience, visit Twin Peaks on a clear day. If it’s foggy, you probably won’t see much as dense fog tends covers these hills. And don’t forget to put on some warm clothes because it can be chilly on top.
If you are up for a physical challenge, hike a trail to one of the peaks. The sprawling view of the entire Bay Area is worth the climb!
How to get to Twin Peaks
Getting to the top of twin peaks requires driving up the steep hill.
Drive along Market Street toward the top of the hill ( It will become Portola Drive) and turn right on Twin Peaks Boulevard. Drive along the boulevard all the way to the summit.
However, if you don’t have a car you can take bus 37 or 33. While neither of them will get you to the top of the peaks, it’s the closest you will get to this place by public transportation. After disembarking, you will have to walk about 20 minutes up the hill.
18. China Town San Francisco
Not only San Francisco’s China Town is one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco, it is also the oldest China Town in North America.
The green Dragon Gate marks the official entrance into Chinatown. After taking photos of the gate, head down on Bush Street into the center of Chinatown via Grant Avenue.
Grant Avenue, the most often visited street of San Francisco’s Chinatown is where you can find countless shops and eateries popular among tourists. And if you are looking for some authentic Chinese Produce, visit Stockton Street.
Best tours of China Town
GOOD TO KNOW: China Town is a great place for taking guided tours! Few example, this foodie tour of China Town is super popular!
When you walk along grant Avenue, don’t miss the colorful Sing Chong building. Along with Sing Fat building, It was one of the first buildings that were build in Chinatown following the 1906 earthquake.
Another highlight of San Francisco’s Chinatown is The Tin How Temple, the oldest Chinese temple in the United States that was built in 1852. The temple is a bit hard to find as it is located on the third floor of a relatively nondescript building at 125 Waverly Place.
19. The Ferry Building Marketplace
One of the most underrated places to visit in San Francisco, the Ferry Building is easily recognizable because of its distinct clock tower. The building is a historic landmark that originally served as the city’s transportation hub and became obsolete when the Golden Gate Bridge became constructed in the 1930’s and people stopped commuting by ferries.
The building later served as an office space and was converted into a marketplace in 2003.
Shop at Ferry Building Marketplace
Inside the building you will find a marketplace that has a mix of food vendors selling artisan goods and various restaurants. And the nearby farmer’s market serves as a great addition to the building’s food scene. It’s a great place to buy local food produce like bread, cheese and sweets.
How to get to the Ferry Building Marketplace: The building is easily accessible via BART, ferry and the F-line historic streetcar. If you need to park your car, head over to Pier 3 that is located alongside northbound Embarcadero. Valet Parking is also available at the Ferry Building from Monday through Friday.
One of the most beautiful buildings along the Embarcadero, Exploratorium is hard to miss.
This museum is one of the best places to visit in San Francisco for the curious traveler, as it explains how the world works through a variety of interactive exhibits. Here you can learn about everything from physics to engineering, psychology, and many other disciplines.
This one-of-a-kind museum boasts over 600 art installations that will keep you busy for hours. The Exploratorium also hosts frequent workshops and events on topics like technology, science, and mathematics that allow participants to engage in various educational activities.
Address: Pier 15, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111
21. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The best place to see Modern Art in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (or SFMOMA) boasts 45,000-feet of permanent as well as rotating exhibits. If you are an art lover, this museum is one of the best places to visit in San Francisco.
Address: 151 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94103
22. Union Square
The heart of San Francisco, Union Square is a No. 1 place for shopping, dining and people watching. But besides being a popular tourist stop, it’s also home to a number of historic landmarks, fancy hotels, and some of the city’s oldest buildings.
Here you can check out the Cable Car Turnaround between the district and Fisherman’s Wharf, attend several galleries, and check out multiple sculptures populating the square. And if you want to learn more about Union Square’s history, take one of the walking tours of the area.
How to get to the Union Square: The are his serviced by Powell Street BART subway stop, the Powell/Market Street Cable Car and several buses.
23. Transamerica Pyramid
One of the most prominent features of San Francisco’s skyline, Transamerica’s Pyramid marks the entrance to San Francisco’s downtown.
While it might not be on your list of top places to visit in San Francisco, it definitely deserves some attention as the most prominent feature of the San Francisco’s skyline. Although it’s not open to the public, you can take a walk around it before continuing toward downtown San Francisco.
25. Muir Woods National Monument
After touring the city, take some time to relax and head over to John Muir Woods located about 30 minutes north of downtown San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The area is home to coastal redwoods some fo which are more than 1,000 years old. Hiking trails at the monument vary by their difficulty and distance. Some of the most popular trails include the 2-mile Main Trail, and the 5.2-mile Ben Johnson Trail among others.
Muir Woods National Monument is one of the best places to visit in San Francisco, if you have a car rental, but you can also take a guided tour of Muir Woods from San Francisco.
Best tours of Muir Woods from San Francisco
To visit Muir Woods, you have to make a reservation online. Reservations are mandatory for all vehicles and group tours. It costs about 8 USD and guarantees your spot at one of the area’s parking lots.
If you don’t want to pay to reserve your parking spot, the Go Muir Woods shuttle is your best option. Since the monument is managed by the National Park System, you also have to pay for the entrance to the park.
Best day trips from San Francisco
Your visit to Yosemite is not complete without taking a few day trips. San Francisco boasts a strategic location near many recreational areas, national parks, and some of the best wine regions in California. To make things easier for you, I put together a list of some of the best day trips from San Francisco.
26. Yosemite National Park
Where to stay: Yosemite View
Distance: 170 miles
One of the most popular national parks in the United States, and a crown jewel of Northern California, Yosemite National Park is one of those places you have to visit at least once in your lifetime.
Most travelers include it on their California itinerary, but even if you don’t have a car rental, you can visit Yosemite with a guided tour from San Francisco. Tours depart daily and include stops at all major points of Yosemite including Yosemite Valley, home to one the tallest waterfalls in North America, and some of the most beautiful hiking trails.
This small group tour of Yosemite from San Francisco is very popular with travelers!
Best tours of Yosemite from San Francisco
If you want to spend more time in Yosemite, rent a car or camper van. You need about 3-5 days for this national park if you are an avid hiker and want to explore everything that this place has to offer.
PRO TIP: The neighboring Kings Canyon is one of the least visited national parks in California and is a perfect addition to your California road trip if you have time. While the landscapes in Kings Canyon are somewhat similar to those in Yosemite, the crowds are nowhere near as bad.
27. Sonoma County
Where to stay: Flamingo Resort
Distance: 55 miles
Sonoma County is one of the best road trips from San Francisco located about one hour north of the Bay Area. Sonoma County is home to gorgeous rolling vineyards, charming small towns, cool hiking trails, and a gorgeous unspoiled coastline. It is a perfect alternative to the touristy Napa Valley, which sees thousands of tourists every day.
Guided tours of Sonoma county are one of the most popular day trips from San Francisco!
Best tours of Sonoma County
Petaluma, the gateway to Sonoma County boasts delicious farm-to-fork food at local restaurants, sample craft beer, and of course, wine. After Petaluma, head to the Sonoma Valley, and take a drive on one of the scenic back roads that take you along the coast, and don’t forget to make a stop in beautiful Santa Rosa.
28. Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is a perfect place to visit if you like surfing. This is a popular surfing or just a cool place if you like watching massive waves. Half Moon Bay is home to some of the biggest waves in California, and many experienced surfers come here. It’s also a place for the annual Mavericks Big Wave Contest that draws a big crowd.
29. Fallaron Islands
Located 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco, Fallaron Islands are a true hidden gem. These islands are a perfect spot for wildlife watching thanks to the ton of marine life such as sea lions, dolphins, birds, and whales. The beaches around Fallaron Islands are popular with sea lions who like to hang out here. The best thing to do in Fallaron Islands is taking a wildlife-watching boat trip with professional naturalists.
30. Point Reyes National Seashore
Where to stay: Highland House Inverness
Distance: 60 miles
A perfect place to enjoy the craggy California coast, Point Reyes National Seashore is a 71,000-acre reserve nestled along the Point Reyes Peninsula about 1 hour north of San Francisco. Point Reyes is home to thousands of species who find shelter on its beaches, as well as lagoons and ponds surrounded by the woods.
The main visitor center of Point Reyes is in Bear Valley and is a good starting point if you are visiting for the first time. I recommend stopping here, as the area offers tons of opportunities for hiking, camping, and some water adventures.
Among the highlights of the area are Alamere Falls, Point Reyes Lighthouse, Cypress Tree Tunnel, Tomales Bay which is famous for its bioluminescence, and Point Reyes Station, the largest commercial district in the area where you can taste local food and enjoy a small-town feel.
The reserve also offers ranger-guided programs that are offered each weekend on Saturday and Sunday and are a perfect way to learn more about this area. You can find out more about the park here.
Where to stay: Hotel Carmel
Distance: 119 miles
The road trip from San Francisco to Carmel-by-the-Sea is a perfect multi-day road trip, that offers many cool stops along the way and is perfect if you plan to head south toward the Big Sur.
Part of the Monterey Bay region, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a charming coastal town where the pace of life is slow and stunning views abound. It’s a perfect stop on your California itinerary thanks to its top-notch local cuisine, small boutique stores, and locally owned hotels. If you love adventures, you will enjoy the many hiking trails in places like Carmel Valley or Jacks Peak Country Park.
Best tours of Carmel from San Francisco
This popular tour includes stops in Carmel, Monterey and Pebble Beach, a perfect getaway from San Francisco, if you want to explore the gorgeous NorCal coastline with its charming coastal towns!
Some of the popular stops along the road between San Francisco and Carmel-by-the-Sea include Half Moon Bay, San Jose, Gilroy, and Monterey.
31. South Lake Tahoe
Where to stay: Basecamp South Tahoe
Distance: 190 miles
Lake Tahoe is one of my favorite places in Northern California, and although it is a bit further from San Francisco than other road trips on this list, it’s well worth the effort, if you have some extra time.
Summer is the busiest time in Lake Tahoe when many visitors come to the area to enjoy water activities like kayaking, paddle boarding, jet skiing, and dipping in the cobalt blue water of this stunning lake. In winter, Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular skiing destinations in Northern California.
South Lake Tahoe is the most popular place to stay in the area with many hotels, stores, and restaurants. Make sure to take a drive around the lake to explore areas like Emerald Bay State Park, and hike Eagle Falls Trail and Cave Rock State Park.
To learn about some of the best hikes in South Lake Tahoe, check this article.
Is San Francisco safe to visit?
San Francisco is perfectly safe to visit, but some parts of the city have become less safe for walking, especially at night. Unfortunately, the city has experienced a sharp increase in homelessness in the last decade, which affected many parts of San Francisco coupled with rapidly growing gentrification.
Petty theft like bag snatching and pickpocketing are not uncommon and car break-ins have become particularly common in recent years. For example areas like the Mission, Tenderloin, and Hunters Point have seen an increase in crime and it’s better to avoid these areas at night. Take an Uber to get to your hotel safely if you happen to be there after dark.
Where to stay in San Francisco?
Among some of the safest areas in San Francisco is Nob Hill a high-end area with plenty of hotels, Union Square, Richmond District, and Marina Hill along with Fisherman’s Wharf – some of the most popular areas with tourists that are perfectly safe for your stay.
Public transportation in San Francisco
Although bicycle is the most popular mode of transportation in San Francisco, you can also use BART (Bay Area Rapid Transportation) that connects all major parts of the Bay Area. It works similar to a subway system and allows you to visit some of the best places in San Francisco and also explore the surrounding areas like Berkley and Oakland.
While riding BART is convenient, you should also be careful, especially during the rush hour when you can be targeted by pickpockets.
You can also use Muni, a short name for Municipal Railway that includes cable cars, trolleybuses, and regular buses. The famous cablecars that you can spot around San Francisco are also part of the Muni network. If you plan to use Muni for a week or longer, get the Muni passport for about $35 to save money.
Another popular way of getting around the San Francisco area is a ferry. While some ferry lines take you to popular tourist sites like Alcatraz, others are used for commuting between different parts of the Bay Area.
What’s the weather like in San Francisco?
When most visitors think about California, they picture wide sandy beaches with a lot of sun. While there’s truth to that, this is a classic image of Southern California, which is not to be confused with Northern California.
The weather in San Francisco can be chilly even during summer. Thanks to the constant breeze and fog rolling in, it’s never hot here.
The warmest month in San Francisco is September when temperatures reach 71 degrees Fahrenheit, and the coldest months are December and January, with an average temperature of 58 degrees. Spring months see low 60s, and summers are typically described as … foggy!
When you plan your trip to San Francisco, make sure to pack some layers like a jacket, long-sleeve shirts, some T-shirts for mid-day, and a few hoodies.
How many days do I need in San Francisco?
I recommend between 3-5 days in San Francisco if you are flying to the city and heading back by plane, and between 5-7 days if you want to take at least one of the day trips from the Bay Area to explore vineyards and enjoy the Northern California landscapes in places like Sonoma County or Point Reyes.
One thing to remember about San Francisco is that most travelers visit as part of a bigger West Coast road trip that is typically combined with other cities and national parks. If you are one of those travelers and your time is limited, spare at least 3 days for your stop in San Francisco, so you could explore some of the best places to visit in San Francisco.
Tips for visiting San Francisco
- Budget your trip – Since San Francisco is expensive, you can spend quite a bit of money in the city, even if you are not splurging. Make sure to book your accommodations ahead of time on platforms like Agoda.com or Hotels.com Another great place to find a budget stay is Hostels.com
- Always wear layers – San Francisco’s temperatures hover around the low to mid-60s most of the year, but it can get chilly at night even during summer. The fog and constant breeze from the bay can lower the temperatures, so don’t make the classic tourist mistake of bringing nothing but shorts and t-shirts on your San Francisco trip.
- Explore the city beyond the tourist traps – Places like Pier 39, Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island are some of the most touristy places in San Francisco and prices here reflect that. There are plenty of other cool places to visit in San Francisco like San Angel State Park, Sausalito that see less tourist traffic.
- Wear good shoes – San Francisco is a pedestrian-friendly city and you will end up walking or hiking during your trip. It also gets sunny during the day, so make sure to some a pair of shades in your bag.
- Skip the car – Since you can walk to many tourist sights in San Francisco, you do not need a car. Parking around the city is also notoriously difficult, so if you are visiting San Francisco as part of your West Coast road trip, find a hotel that offers a parking area, where you can leave your car while exploring the city.
- Do not leave valuables in your car – If you end up driving around San Francisco, do not leave your valuables in plain sight when parking it. Car break-ins are common in San Francisco, and thieves can easily identify rental cars.
- Book a tour of Alcatraz island ahead of time – Visiting Alcatraz island requires a reservation. Spots fill up very quickly, especially during the high season, and your best bet is to book your Alcatraz tour ahead of time.
- Try different food – San Francisco is a foodie capital. You can find tons of great restaurants in Mission District and China Town, so don’t think that all the great food comes from Pier 39. You do NOT have to spend tons of money to eat great food in San Francisco, and that’s what so many travelers love about it.
Final word on visiting best places in San Francisco
San Francisco is a true gem of Northern California and an unmissable stop on your West Coast itinerary. From the awesome foodie scene, to cool architecture and outdoor opportunities, San Francisco offers a plethora of activities that will keep you busy throughout your stay. Make sure to spend at least a few days in San Francisco before continuing your trip to other parts of California.
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