Trip Index (what we have published so far):
San Francisco is the city I spend most of my time in.
Table of Contents
Things to do in San Francisco – Understand
San Francisco is a place like no other. The city seems to go through boom and bust cycles constantly. Most of the city looks like a big outdoor museum from the 19th century – yet it’s home to some of the most high-techy companies.
The city scores high with it’s diverse food, incredible views and moderate weather (ok you can say cold but at least it’s never very cold). However big parts of the city look like a major refugee camp with homeless people taking over whole neighborhoods and the tenderloin remains a no-go zone for tourists and locals alike.
Most SF residents have developed a hate/love relationship with the city. The public transport is creaking, parking is impossible and parking enforcement seemingly ready 24/7 to tow you car for a $500 fine. On the other hand the city’s many entrepreneurs keep innovating at food, coffee and drinks at a speed that makes it hard to catch up even when you live in the city full time.
Things to do in San Francisco – Sights
Whatever happens – please DO NOT go to Fishermans Wharf while in SF. Don’t even have your hotel there. Trust me on this – treat it like dangerous neighborhood (which it isn’t). Move on fellow traveler – nothing to see there.
The Golden Gate bridge can’t be missed and even when you see it the 1,000th times – on a clear day the images of the illuminated fog wading through the orange bridge is just magical.
Some of the best views can be had from the Battery Golden Gate Lookout – it also tends to be less crowded than the Vista Point near 101.
If you have a car I suggest to continue to Point Bonita Lighthouse.
The view changes a bit and the lighthouse area opens up your view towards the Pacific ocean.
Lot’s of people have taken up the idea to cycle over the bridge and return by ferry from Sausalito.
Sausalito is a cute little affair (at least it must have been 30 years ago). There is a small marina and a lot of shops and restaurants. Most are not worth their time – instead head straight for Sushi Ran.
Another alternative to explore the Golden Gate views is to walk along Fort Mason and Crissy Field towards the bridge. This is recommended on foggy days since this side of the bridge gets a bit less fog.
If you have a car continue to Baker Beach which provides another angle at the Golden Gate bridge. On those few hot days in the city the beach will get crowded.
The Lands End trail loops around the North Western edge of the San Francisco Bay. It takes about 2-3 hours to complete and offers equally stunning views over the SF Bay.
Close to the trail head of Lands End are the Sutro Bath ruins where the public bath ruins simmer in the waves – very photogenic!
South of the Sutro Bath ruins runs Ocean Beach which is a very wide beach that sadly is almost always freezing cold (not just the water – the air along the beech is freezing too)
If you are hungry stop by Java Beach coffee – great ‘surfer’ atmosphere and sandwiches here.
The Golden Gate Park stretches all the way from Ocean Beach to Height Ashbury. It’s a green oasis of the city and NEVER really crowded.
San Francisco Downtown
SF Downtown features an surprising amount of high-rises (right on top of an active tectonic fault zone).
The SF Ferry building is a great place to start a day – it features the SF Farmers Market on Saturday that comes with a huge variety of food and coffee vendors – you will have a hard time deciding.
Things to do in San Francisco – Food and Drink
This small city has more than 5,000 restaurants that appear on TripAdvisor. That is one for 100 residents! Clearly the locals like to eat out. Here are my favorites…
I recently reviewed some of my perennial favorites in teh SF mission area. Four Barrel has the best coffee – the company also owns The Mill which combines the same coffee with deliciously prepared toasts.
Boogaloos is a quirky Mexican style breakfast spot right next to Ritual another lovely coffee roaster.
Tartine Bakery is a ‘Must Do’ for most visitors and given the delicious (though expensive) desserts it is worth the long wait.
Papalote is my favorite Mexican grill in town. It’s small and simple and the food traditional but the quality and taste very difficult to beat.
Monk’s Kettle is a bar with a wide selection of craft beers and some Tapas style delicious food.
Outside the Mission
Jane a is a great coffee shop with surprisingly friendly staff. It has free, fast WiFi but the crowds can be rough in the afternoon.
This Greek restaurant has been rated San Francisco best for years. The service is impeccable and the souvlaki will make you wish you can move in next door. It’s not cheap but totally worth it.
I’m not a fan of German cuisine usually but this place rocks! The food is delicious and fresh.
The company also operates a beer garden just two blocks away which comes with heaters and blankets to keep you warm.
Another great place to try a few beers. It’s both a store and bar with very moderate prices.
This is my favorite lunch place hands down (if you follow my Instagram that comes as no news to you). The various noodle bowls are the best in their Fillmore St and downtown location. It’s cheap too.
The B patisserie provides real competition to Tartine bakery. B patisserie has equally delicious pastries and long lines.
Things to do in San Francisco – Daytrips
If you aren’t tired by all the options SF offers and still have energy you can drive to a number of awesome locations around the city.
Mount Tamalpais (just Mt. Tam to the locals) is about one hour north of the city. The views from up top are marvelous and it provides a fresh, green alternative to the city life.
Napa & Sonoma Valley
Napa Valley needs no introduction – it is just 90 minutes outside SF downtown there are hundreds of wineries in a scenic valley. Keep in mind that Napa has gotten really expensive (think $20 per person per tasting). Try Sonoma instead which is still less discovered and more friendly and cheaper.
Palo Alto (and the neighboring Menlo Park) is one home to many Internet giants as Google, Facebook and Stanford University. It’s pretty and pretty rich down there. The cities lunch spots and coffee shops teem with billionaires and wanna be billionaires. Just pleas never talk about money here!
Oakland / Berkeley
Oakland is a scary town – however it has an awesome food scene, great nightlife and is the birthplace of Blue bottle coffee among many others. Both cities have lots to see on their own.
Carmel is easily one of California’s prettiest coastal towns. Nature and good city planning have created a place unlike any other.
Things to do in San Francisco – Where to stay
San Francisco has been called a perfect investment for hoteliers recently. The room rates are high during the week from business travelers and during the weekend from leisure travelers. It’s unlikely that a lot of supply will be added to the existing room supply anytime soon.
Of course this makes our life much harder. The Hyatt Regency and the Grand Hyatt are both good options to burn Hyatt points. If you gave free nights from IHG the (new) Intercontinental at Howard St is a great hotel by any means with a good location (President Obama stays there when in town).
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About the author: Torsten is a serial entrepreneur who started almost a dozen ventures on four continents. Torsten's love for travel has brought him to 130+ countries and travel with most of the world's airlines. You can reach Torsten at [email protected]
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