San Francisco is an ever-changing metropolis that draws visitors in for its vast array of delights ranging from animal encounters and casual food truck fare to multi-course Michelin-starred dining and over-the-top nightlife experiences. There's so much to experience here, the most difficult part of planning your trip to San Francisco is simply deciding where to start. Whether you're looking for a family-friendly getaway, spring break escape or romantic retreat, the City by the Bay is primed to please.
San Francisco’s weather
San Francisco enjoys relatively warm temperatures year-round. Averages range from a low of 46 and high of 57 in January to a low of 55 and high of 70 in September. Rainfall fluctuates throughout the year, with the wettest months falling over the winter. From December through February, the city sees over 4 inches of monthly rainfall on average. November and March have over 3 inches.
Layers are essential when you're packing for a San Francisco trip. A light rain jacket and an optional layer for added warmth will help you stay comfortable no matter what the weather throws at you. In this climate, you could experience chilly lows dipping into the 40s and the occasional highs spiking towards the 80s and above. The city even saw an all-time record high of 106 in 2017.
If you have the option to shed some extra bulk in a hot spell or layer up for the foggy cold, you'll be equipped to take on the city regardless of the forecast. Be sure to add comfortable shoes, as well. There's so much to enjoy in this city that you're sure to spend long days on your feet.
Getting around San Francisco
Public transportation is widely available in San Francisco. The Muni system provides service throughout the city via buses, streetcars, cable cars and trolleys. You can use the SFMTA trip planner or MuniMobile map to efficiently plan your route. You can use Muni to get to any part of San Francisco. Cash, Clipper cards and MuniMobile payments are all acceptable for paying your fare. BART offers train service in San Francisco. If you're traveling beyond the city, you can take a ferry, rent a car, or use Caltrain to access points beyond. Uber, headquartered right here, also provides fast and convenient travel in the city and throughout the Bay.
Though you'll want to opt for the most efficient route for most of your destinations, don't miss a ride on the historic cable cars. These are the only cable cars of their kind still in operation. The Powell-Mason, Powell-Hyde and California lines all feature this iconic form of transportation. The best way to get a spot on these cable cars is to hop on en route, as the terminals typically have long lines. Morning and late evening hours are less busy, as well.
The Golden Gate Bridge
One of the seven wonders of the modern world, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic sights in San Francisco. Travelers make roughly 41 million trips across the bridge each year. If you want to enjoy a more leisurely view of the bridge than you might get in a car, you can park at either the north or south vista point and enjoy the bridge on foot or by bike. Roller skates, roller blades and skateboards are prohibited.
There are many scenic points where you can enjoy views of the bridge. Try Fort Point to see the construction from beneath. Head to Baker Beach or Mile Rock Beach for additional vantage points. If you'd like to learn more about the construction and history of the bridge, stop at the Bridge Pavilion during your visit. You'll find detailed information on the bridge's history as well as an outstanding selection of themed merchandise.
Sea Lions at Fisherman's Wharf
The Historic Fisherman's Wharf District offers an engaging blend of dining, shopping and attractions. You can pose with wax figures at Madame Tussauds, gaze beneath the sea at the Aquarium of the Bay or enjoy a sweet taste of chocolate at Ghirardelli Square. No matter what's on your agenda here, you're sure to notice a certain collection of native creatures lingering in the background throughout your explorations. The sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf camp out none-too-quietly at Pier 39.
After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, these barking pinnipeds began arriving at K-Dock. What began as a small population of around 50 has swelled to hundreds. In November 2009, the population hit an all-time high of 1,701. These intelligent "Sea Lebrities" weigh around 700 pounds, making them impossible to miss.
In June and July, a large part of the sea lion population heads south to their Channel Islands breeding ground. However, it's not uncommon for several to stay. During the winter, the sea lions return in droves, and you can see as many as 900 at the pier. These endearing creatures have their own webcam, so you can take a peek at the current population before visiting and see how many are in residence at a given time. Stop in at the Sea Lion Center while you're at the pier to learn more about the sea lions through videos, displays and presentations.
San Francisco's tech industry
Silicon Valley, in the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area, has long been known as the hub of tech activity in the United States. The area is home to Apple, Hewlett Packard, eBay, Cisco and other industry giants. Though the heart of Silicon Valley isn't located in San Francisco itself, the city is taking an ever-expanding role in the area's thriving technology industry.
Younger hires who are entering the field of technology have shown a desire to live closer to the metropolitan highlights available in a city like San Francisco. Cisco, Yahoo, Google and Twitter have all set up offices here, putting the City by the Bay on the map as a major destination for tech companies.
Shopping in San Francisco
If you're interested in filling your shopping bags, San Francisco is a great place to be. The city offers a vast selection of independent one-of-a-kind stores where you can browse unusual delights to your heart's content. Consider adding some of these to your agenda for distinctive finds:
- Reliquary – Antique jewelry and vintage clothing
- no. – Vintage and records
- Stranded – Records
- No. 3 – Fine jewelry
- Painted Bird – Boutique offering buy-sell-trade items
- Held Over – Vintage and thrift clothing
- Wallflower – Vintage clothing and retro home goods
If you're looking for something more conventional, the Union Square shopping district offers all your favorites including Levi's, Macy's, Coach, Cartier, Prada, Gucci, Betsy Johnson and more. You'll find plenty of designer picks to browse. Other popular spots for brand name retailers include the Westfield San Francisco Centre and Chestnut Street.
The San Francisco food scene
Dining in San Francisco, you can find nearly any experience you're interested in. Whether you want your food quick and casual or elegant and elaborate, there's something here to suit your tastes. Consider these options the next time you're in the city:
- Kaya – Modern Jamaican cuisine
- Madcap – Bay Area produce served with Japanese flair
- dosa By DOSA – Quick-service South Indian fare
- Ippudo – Ramen noodle chain
- Mersea – Comfort food served from a building made of recycled shipping containers
- Acquerello – Italian favorites, established in the city for over 25 years
- Quince– Michelin starred dining featuring seasonal heirloom produce
- Eight Tables by George Chen – Luxurious Chinese cuisine served from multi-course menus
- International Smoke – Gourmet barbeque
If you don't have time to sit down to one of the outstanding table service restaurants in San Francisco, have no fear. The city also offers up a selection of food trucks that will satisfy your cravings on-the-go. This is an ideal pick when you're busy rushing from one highlight to the next.
Hit the Lobsta Truck for fresh lobster rolls, crab rolls, clam chowder and lobster bisque. Me So Hungry SF serves sandwiches with curious twists, such as the spicy PBJ slider where peanut butter and jelly are accompanied by sharp cheddar, bacon and sriracha. Curry Up Now brings Indian street food to San Francisco, while the Little Green Cyclo offers Vietnamese dishes. You'll find this city is well-prepared to indulge any craving.
San Francisco nightlife
San Francisco's nightlife is as diverse as the rest of the city. If you're looking for dance floors and DJs, you'll certainly find them in locations like The Grand, Monarch and Audio Discotech. But you don't have to belly up for drinks or sway your hips to the beat to enjoy your night in this city. This destination serves a selection of more unique options that you might want to consider, as well.
Check out the weird and wild performance showcase that is the Fight Club of Underground Art. Settle in for some racy storytelling adventures at the aptly named Bawdy Storytelling or simply settle into a late-night movie at The Clay Theatre. Every Thursday, adults can enjoy a fascinating evening of science and discovery at The Exploratorium After Dark. Here, music and drinks blend with intriguing guest speakers and fascinating programming for an unforgettable experience.
Flying Into San Francisco International Airport
The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) serves dozens of airlines including:
In addition to its extensive transportation options, the airport also offers a wealth of conveniences and amenities to make travel as enjoyable as it is functional.
SFO set up the first ever yoga room in an airport so you can find your zen while waiting for a flight. Spas offer additional pampering, while the on-site medical clinic can serve other wellness needs. Terminals 2 and 3 have Kids' Spot play areas for families traveling with children. SFO Museum exhibits and the Aviation Museum & Library offer plenty of interesting highlights to fill your time as you wait for departure. Dining and shopping are readily available throughout the airport, as well.
From the San Francisco International Airport, it's easy to reach your final destination. The BART Rapid Rail service provides transportation to the East Bay, San Francisco and San Mateo County. Caltrain Commuter Rail offers hourly rail service between San Francisco and San Jose. You can reach points throughout San Mateo County on the SamTrans public bus.
The history of San Francisco
San Francisco's history is deeply intertwined with the American gold rush. Gold was discovered here in 1848, and the gold rush overtook the city the next year, in 1849. This historic date gave the San Francisco 49ers their name. In the course of a single year, the city's population ballooned from 400 to 25,000 residents.
At the time, San Francisco's population contained roughly 70 men for every one woman. Gambling and debauchery reigned, and the area became known as the wickedest town in the USA. There were six major fires in San Francisco between 1849 and 1851. The 1906 earthquake destroyed 25,000 buildings. Despite these setbacks, the city continued to grow.
The Golden Gate Bridge was constructed in 1937. At 4,200 feet, its main span was the longest suspension bridge in the world for over 25 years; its total length is 8,981 feet (1.7 miles). A hotbed of counterculture activity, San Francisco was a favorite destination of 1950s beatniks and 1960s hippies. Today, visitors will find a diverse culture rich in highlights from its storied past.
You can visit the Spanish Mission Dolores to view the city's oldest surviving structure dating back to 1776. Old Saint Mary's Cathedral dates back to 1853. The San Francisco Port of Embarkation, Alcatraz Island, Fort Point National Historic Site and Presidio of San Francisco are among the city's National Historic Landmarks, giving history buffs enough highlights to keep them enthralled for days.
If you're after a city of eclectic delights, San Francisco has everything you could need. You'll find enough highlights to fill any stay and a welcoming and diverse atmosphere that easily caters to visitors of all stripes. Start planning your visit now.
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