San Francisco wins the hearts of travelers for many reasons. Hills rise and drop everywhere you look. Huge parks share space with skyscrapers and incredibly ornate, bay-windowed Victorian homes. Cable cars rattle over the streets. The Golden Gate Bridge appears around practically every corner — as does the ocean, surrounding the city on three sides. San Fran is urban without being overwhelming, combining big-time sophistication with the laid-back, dressed-down attitude of the rest of the West Coast.
Before You Go: Need-to-know info
Flight time: 6 hours from NYC, 2 hours from LA
Getting around: Cable car, taxi, bus, car
When To Go: San Francisco at its best
Best weather: San Francisco is about 70 degrees year-round, meaning anytime is the right time. Whenever you go, make sure to dress in layers — when the sun sets, you’ll need that sweater tied around your shoulders.
Best prices: This city is just as, if not more so, expensive than New York in terms of living, shopping, and dining, so be sure to bring your wallet.
What To Do
Revel in urban romance: The best way to experience this romantic city is on foot. Starting at Union Square (shopping central), head south of Market Street to see the Contemporary Arts Museum and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Or go north toward Chinatown, North Beach, and the city’s most elegant neighborhoods — Nob Hill, Pacific Heights, and Russian Hill. At night, stroll Chestnut Street in the Marina or Union Street in Pacific Heights to take in the restaurants, cafés, and stores. Or take the MUNI streetcar to Noe Valley’s 24th Street, a hip area full of coffee shops, boutiques, and cafes. If you’d rather run, head to Golden Gate Park, 1,000 acres with an arboretum, botanical garden, and Japanese Tea Garden. Or check out the marina area, one of the city’s few flat expanses.
Visit Chinatown: All along Grant Street, the main thoroughfare of hilly Chinatown, you’ll see pagoda-topped lampposts and buildings, signs in Chinese, and shops selling sandalwood soap, handmade cotton sheets, jewelry, luggage, and ridiculous souvenirs you’ll feel absolutely compelled to buy. Head off the main road onto one of the tiny side streets for lunch at a small restaurant with a ’50s-style sign out front.
Hit North Beach: Continue on to San Fran’s version of Little Italy, North Beach. Here you’ll find City Lights bookstore, of Beat Poet fame, and vintage clothing and furniture stores. Make sure to stop for coffee at Steps of Rome, North Beach’s best cafe. With its sliding glass doors open to the street, the sun falling across your heavy wooden table, and the waiters behind the counter shouting to each other in Italian, you feel like you’re summering in Italy.
Tour the Embarcadero: Hop on a vintage trolley car and discover the Embarcadero. This city stretch is a mix of upcoming hotels, condos, and waterfront restaurants that ends at the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf. Make sure you stop in the Ferry Building. Here you can do a little shopping, but mostly eating is one the agenda. Sample the local oysters and brews at Hog Island Oyster Co., savor a cheese plate and some red wine and the Wine Merchant (don’t forget to pick up a bottle or two as well), then pop by Recchiuti Confections to end the night, or day, on a chocolate high.
See the sights: Some of San Fran’s traditional tourist attractions are too good to miss. Things you must do include: Going down the most crooked street in the world, a.k.a. Lombard Street; riding a cable car; visiting Alcatraz; eating seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf (make sure to head off the beaten path to Pier 39 to see the sea lions sunning on the dock); watching the sun set from Coit Tower; and, checking out the towering redwood trees at Muir Woods.