San Francisco is a diverse city that often finds itself on the edge of social and technological change. The small city has long been a haven for marginalized groups, but it is also a place that is grappling with its identity in the throes of a tech boom. To really know San Francisco, you must explore its neighborhoods. Look for taquerias and techies in the Mission, rainbow flags flying above the Castro, earnest hippie vibes in the Haight, and beachy quietude in the Sunset. Visitors will find the city welcoming and full of activities for nature lovers, bookworms, shoppers, foodies, cultural mavens, and more.
When’s the best time to go to San Francisco?
San Francisco is renowned for its cold, foggy summers. However, when September and October come around, the character lovingly known as Karl the Fog recedes, and temperatures can climb into the low 80s on the hottest days. Late winter can see some rain, but rarely much. Overall, the unique geography of this peninsula, bound as it is by the Bay and the Pacific, creates pockets of both warm and cool weather all year long. Dress in layers, and be prepared to encounter a range of temperatures as you make your way around the city.
How to get around San Francisco
San Francisco Airport is about 25 minutes from downtown by taxi, which will cost you about $45. The quickest option is to catch an Uber or Lyft. The major public transportation system, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), goes directly from the airport to downtown and across the bridge to the East Bay.
To get around, BART, Muni trains, buses, cable cars, and trams traverse the city. Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are readily available. It’s also fairly easy to rent bicycles through Lyft.
Can’t miss things to do in San Francisco
The far northwestern corner of the city, called Land’s End, is where the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean meet. The view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands is spectacular here, and active visitors will find it an ideal spot for hiking and trail biking. When you’re done taking in the panoramic vista, take in some timeless works of art at the nearby Legion of Honor.
Food and drink to try in San Francisco
San Francisco is a hotbed for the locavore movement, and destinations like the San Francisco Ferry Building—with farmers’ markets on Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays—offer a glimpse at the culinary bounty that grows in the nearby Central Valley of California. Look for fresh, ingredient-driven cuisine at innovative new restaurants (splurge at Saison), iconic standbys (splurge a little less at Zuni), and a vast array of affordable ethnic restaurants. Take your pick from Mexican, Shanghai, Uighur, Hunan, Salvadoran, Ethiopian, Korean, and many more.
Culture in San Francisco
San Francisco is a great museum city, anchored by three landmark buildings. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), de Young Museum, and The Legion of Honor, part of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Travelers will also find a burgeoning gallery scene and street art scene throughout the city. The Bay Area’s legacy as the home of Beat poets, funk artists, and jazz innovators lends additional cultural variety to the mix.
Summer music festivals like Outsidelands and Stern Grove’s weekly concerts provide plenty of entertainment, and June’s Pride Festival is a month-long celebration of equality. On the first Sunday of each month, flea market aficionados should look for the Alameda Point Antiques Faire, a huge market on an old navy base in the nearby East Bay.
Local travel tips for San Francisco
Always pack a jacket. This may be California, but don’t expect to be wearing your flip flops. Summer is all about the fog, although the sun does break through—especially in neighborhoods on the eastern side of the city, such as Noe Valley and the Mission.
Depending on where you’re staying, a car probably won’t be necessary, as public transportation, cabs, and various rideshares will be at your service. However, car rentals are plentiful if you do want to get out of town—traditional rental companies as well as peer-to-peer car sharing services like Getaround, Zipcar, and City CarShare.
If you have time, it’s absolutely worth your while to make a day-trip from the city to see the gorgeous coast and wine country north of the Golden Gate Bridge.