San Francisco City Guide
My San Francisco City Guide is a list of all my favorite places to see, sit, read, watch, walk, eat, drink and be merry. I know that I am barely scraping the surface of this amazing town, but hopefully I will show you at least one or two places you didn’t already know about. If you are headed to town, please let me know!!
*November 2012 Updates
$ – Entrance Fee
1. The Golden Gate Bridge (Presidio/Marin Headlands) $
Walk, bike or drive across it, because you’ll be sad if you don’t. Toll for inbound cars only
2. The Bay Bridge (Financial District/Oakland) $ toll for inbound cars only
See it from the Ferry Building, and drive across it if you’re headed to the East Bay. (no bikes or pedestrians)
4. The Sutro Baths (Outer Richmond)
Ruins of the once grand baths on the Pacific Ocean. Bring a sweater…it’s cold out there.
5. Lombard Street (Russian Hill)
Drive down the crooked street, or take the cable car to the top and walk down.
6. Coit Tower (North Beach) $
The best 360˚ view (through plexiglass) of the city, and go on a clear day if you can find one.
7. Fort Point (Presidio/Crissy Field)
A large brick military building underneath the Golden Gate Bridge with a huge courtyard in the middle and a rooftop with a view. From May 25 – October 28, 2012, an amazing exhibit celebrating the bridge’s 75th anniversary, International Orange, will be on display!
The Best Views of the City
1. Coit Tower (North Beach) $
As mentioned above, it’s the best 360˚ view of the city and Bay.
2. Twin Peaks (Twin Peaks)
No, the show was not set here. The lookout is the best spot to see the city at night.
3. Bernal Heights Park (Bernal Heights)
A local park with narrow dirt paths and lots of dog walkers.
4. Alamo Square (Hayes Valley/NoPa)
Home to the Painted Ladies and a few hipsters on picnic blankets.
5. Delores Park (Mission/Castro)
Nice view of the city and the best hipster watching place in town. Also surrounded by some of the city’s best restaurants, bakeries, ice cream shops and cafes.
6. Crissy Field (Presidio)
Perfect for a large group picnic where you want to run around or fly a kite.
7. Inspiration Point (Presidio)
A small perch on the northern edge of the park with lots of hiking trails.
8. Baker Beach (Presidio)
With a view of the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marin Headlands you will feel completely removed from the city.
9. Treasure Island (Treasure Island)
The mostly abandoned island in the middle of the Bay has the best view of the waterfront.
10. Alcatraz (Alcatraz) $
See what the prisoners saw every day and it might make you wish you had been incarcerated in the 1940s.
11. Fort Baker (Marin)
Bike or walk along the waterfront at the northern base of the Golden Gate Bridge and wander through the newly renovated Cavallo Point Lodge.
1. Alameda Pointe Antiques Faire aka “Alameda Flea Market” (Alameda) $
The best flea market I’ve found that happens the first Sunday of every month.
2. Off The Grid (Ft. Mason, Lower Haight, SoMa, Civic Center, 5th & Minna, Larkspur)
A collection of 5-20 food trucks that park together all over the city. Check the website for locations.
3. Outside Lands (Golden Gate Park) $
A 3-day late summer music event that draws a pretty great line-up.
4. Film Night in the Park (Delores Park, Washington Park, Union Square)
Summer evenings throughout the Bay…I wish there were more events in San Francisco!
5. City Guides Walking Tours (Locations Vary)
Daily walking tours led by passionate volunteers that range from the historic Fairmont Hotel to the steps of Telegraph Hill.
6. Architecture in the City (city wide) $/Free
Every September, the San Francisco chapter of the AIA hosts an architecture event throughout the city.
7. Friends of the SF Public Library Book Sale (Ft Mason)
The annual 6-day book sale happens every September.
8. Fleet Week (Aquatic Park)
The annual air and boat show takes over the city for a weekend every October.
9. The Stern Grove Festival (Stern Grove) Free
Every Sunday during the summer the outdoor amphitheater is packed with people enjoying a picnic and music. Get there early for good seats.
San Francisco is dotted with green space, and we spend time in at least one of these parks every week. There are certainly more, but these are my favorites.
1. The Presidio*
It could be a city on its own, and basically was when it was a military base. Amazing hiking trails, and be sure to check out both Andrew Goldsworthy sculptures: The Spire near Inspiration Point & a spine of eucalyptus trunks next to Lover’s Lane.
2. Golden Gate Park
The Frederick Law Olmstead designed park for San Francisco stretching over 40 city blocks to Ocean Beach and it has everything you would dream a park would have.
3. Alamo Square (Hayes Valley)
On top of a hill in the middle of one of the coolest neighborhoods in the city. The area is great for seeing the classic San Francisco Victorians.
4. Washington Square (North Beach)
After eating pizza, grab a scoop of ice cream and people watch here. It’s fun!
5. Union Square (Financial District)
The bustling core of the shopping district.
6. Sutro Heights Park (Outer Richmond)
This is where we were married…so it’s kinda special.
7. Fort Mason (Marina)
There are always events here, but the open park space is also pretty nice. On sunny days, it will be filled with the Marina kids drinking beer and throwing footballs. Kinda feels like college…in good and bad ways.
9. Panhandle Park (NoPa/Upper Haight)
Best bike path ever.
10. Fort Funston (Lake Merced)
A park of sand dunes and dogs on the ocean with hang gliding on perfect weather days.
1. Ferry Building (Financial District)*
Built in 1903, before the 1906 earthquake, the Ferry Building building was originally a bustling ferry depot, then was basically abandoned in the 1980’s and 90’s, but has since been restored and given new life as a modern market. The architecture is beautiful, the location is perfect, people watching is fun, and the food is some of the city’s best.
2. San Francisco City Hall (Civic Center)*
Opened in 1915, the neo-classical building features a granite exterior, gilded dome accents, and a stunning public lobby clad with marble and sandstone. (don’t mind the sketchy characters lingering around outside)
3. De Young Museum & Academy of Arts and Sciences (Golden Gate Park) $ *
The two modern architectural wonders of our city that also happen to be great museums too. The observation tower in the De Young Museum is apparently free.
4. Painted Ladies (Hayes Valley/Alamo Square)*
The famous block of boldly painted Victorian homes on the east side of Alamo Square Park.
5. Page Street (Lower Haight)*
A street lined with 1910 era Victorian homes.
6. The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption (Lower Pacific Heights)*
One of my three favorite buildings of all time. (the other two are the Seagram Building in New York and a crematorium in Sweden)
7. The Palace Hotel (SoMa)*
An historic landmark with the most amazing interior atrium. It is open to the public to wander through, and you are more than welcome to dine in the Garden Court.
8. The Conservatory of Flowers (Golden Gate Park) $ *
9. Palace of Fine Arts (Presidio/Cow Hollow) *
The last remaining structures of the San Francisco World Exposition.
For a complete list and map of the San Francisco City Landmarks, go to the Planning Department website.
Weird & Quirky Places*
1. The Cable Car Barn and Power House & Museum (1100-1138 Washington Street)*
This free museum tells the history of the San Francisco Cable Cars, and shows you how they work. While in the museum you have a full view of the actual pulleys!!!
2. Museum Mechanique (Fisherman’s Wharf)*
A collection of old and functioning arcade games. The only reason to go to Fisherman’s Wharf.
3. The Castro Theater (Castro)*
The original organ is played before movies begin, the ceiling is gilded, and they often play movies the audience gets to sing along with. There is no better way to spend an evening.
Casual (aka Cheap) Dining
1. Golden Boy Pizza (North Beach) – Comfort Food
Deep dish greasy pizza by the square.
2. Gordo Taqueria (Richmond) – Mexican
Burrito comfort food.
3. Sai’s Vietnamese (Financial District) – Vietnamese
A work-lunch crowd staple that is quite tasty and simple.
4. Arizmendi Bakery (Inner Sunset) – Bakery
Whenever we are in the Sunset near lunch time, we stop here for a slice of fresh vegetarian pizza.
5. Acme Bread Co. (Ferry Building) – Bakery
The cinnamon-currant loaf is to die for, but their $5 sandwiches are great too.
6. Yamo (Mission) – Chinese?
Fantastic hole-in-the-wall noodle shop with seating for eight.
7. Louis’ (Outer Richmond/Sea Cliff) – Comfort Food *
Of all three ocean-side restaurants in San Francisco, this little dive diner is my favorite. They have decent food and the best atmosphere. The booth seats are worth the extra wait.
Moderate (not cheap, but not fancy either) Dining
1. Pizzetta 211 (Richmond) – Pizza
The little neighborhood spot only has seating for 12, but it is my all time favorite restaurant here.
2. Wexler’s (Financial District) – Californian
Order the Scotch Eggs.
3. Burma Superstar & B-Star Bar (Inner Richmond) – Burmese
Even though Burma Superstar is the more popular older brother, I like B-Star best. Especially on a nice night when we get to sit in the back patio. The tea-leaf salad is served at both, and I highly recommend it.
4. Gott’s Roadside (Ferry Building) – Comfort Food
Great burgers and sweet potato fries.
5. Ploy II Thai Cafe (Haight Ashbury) – Thai
Fairly authentic Thai food on the second story of an old Victorian.
6. Foreign Cinema (Mission) – Californian
California food with the perfect atmosphere and outdoor patio.
7. Outerlands (Sunset) – Californian
Very California. Locally sourced ingredients and home made bread (the owner is friends with the baker at Tartine). Most like it best for brunch, but expect a wait. I like it for all meals.
8. Eats (Inner Richmond) – Comfort Food
Nice comfort food breakfast and lunch spot in our neighborhood. Hearty portions, and great French Toast.
9. Namu Gaji (Mission/Delores) – Korean
A tasty little Korean restaurant that used to be in our ‘hood, but moved.
10. Frances (Castro) – Italian w/ California Influence *
We went on a double date, and ordered nearly everything on the menu. Absolutely fantastic!!!
11. Zazie (Cole Valley) – French Bistro *
I literally found this place by searching for “cole valley neighborhood restaurant”. It is exactly that with amazing French bistro food and the perfect casual atmosphere.
Places I want to try, but haven’t yet
1. Flour & Water (Mission) – Italian
2. Frances (Castro) – Italian See above!!! *
3. Slanted Door (Ferry Building) – Modern Vietnamese
4. Aziza (Outer Richmond) – Moroccan
5. Parbacco (Financial District) – Italian
6. Central Kitchen (Mission) – Californian
7. Monk’s Kettle (Mission) – Gastropub
8. NoJo (Divisadero/NoPa) – Japanese Street Food
9. Abbot’s Cellar (Mission) – Californian
Food Carts (locations vary daily)
1. The Chairman – Baked or steamed Chinese dumplings…you can’t go wrong.
2. Kung Fu Tacos – Fresh Chinese tacos
3. Curry Up Now – The original Indian burrito truck
4. KASA Indian – The newer and somewhat fresher Indian burrito truck
5. 3-Sum Eats – Pure comfort food…cornflake crusted fried chicken sandwich. Yum.
1. The Warming Hut (Presidio/Crissy Field)
Perfect for lounging on the Pier before you head up the hill to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.
2. Blue Bottle Coffee (Ferry Building, SoMa, Hayes Valley)
The fancy coffee of SF that is earthy, good and expensive.
3. Coffee Bar (Mission)
My favorite place to work outside of the apartment, and they have pretty good lunch food.
4. Angelina’s (Outer Richmond)
Our go-to neighborhood cafe with great pastries and good coffee.
5. Trouble Coffee (Outer Sunset)
My favorite coffee in town!!! Stop here after you put your name on the list for brunch at Outerlands.
Sweets & Bakeries
1. Acme Bread Co. (Ferry Building) – Cinnamon Currant Loaf. Eat it.
2. Bi-Rite Creamery (Mission) – Salted Caramel + Any Other Flavor = Happiness
3. Humphrey Slocombe (Mission) – Cornflakes + Bourbon + Ice Cream = Secret Breakfast
4. Tartine Bakery (Mission) – I like their breads best!!! Hot out of the oven at 5pm daily.
5. Joe’s Ice Cream (Richmond) – It’s a little family run place a few blocks from our apartment.
6. Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous (Dog Patch) – A sweet spot in a developing neighborhood.
7. John Campbell’s (Richmond)* – A local Irish bakery with the best scones ever.
2. Pescadero-Point Montara-Half Moon Bay
The drive along the coast is gorgeous, and stop at Norm’s Market in Pescadero for fresh artichoke bread.
Have breakfast at the Fremont Diner before browsing through vineyards.
You can make it there and back in a day for a hike, but you’ll be exhausted.
Camping Near By
These are the campgrounds I have actually been to, and would recommend. I know there are more.
1. Rob Hill Campground (Presidio)
Group camping within the city limits!!!
2. Kirby Cove Campground (Marin Headlands)
Camping with a view of the city! Make reservations early, because they sell out.
3. Coast Camp (Point Reyes National Seashore)
Backpack in to camp about 100 feet away from the ocean.
4. Treebones Resort (Big Sur)
A posh campground with a high end restaurant, complimentary breakfast, spa-like restrooms, heated pool, and ocean views from your tent.
5. Henry Cowell Redwoods (Santa Cruz)
A state park with the nicest rangers around. I only stayed one night and didn’t get to explore as much as I’d like to, so I will be going back soon.