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San Francisco City Guide

Make the most of your visit with a stay at the colourful Phoenix Hotel, Michelin-starred dumplings at Mister Jiu's and a day trip to Oakland.

Where to Stay  /  Where to Eat and Drink  /  What to Do  /  How to Get Around

Where to Stay

Hotel Kabuki

Hotel Kabuki

For a budget-friendly stay

A $30-million facelift gave this affordable Japantown boutique hotel new life. Post-reno, its spacious 225 rooms feature playful nods to the Asian country, like wallpaper with caricatures of famous sumo wrestlers in the guestroom closets. Ask for a south-facing room and watch the fog billow in from the ocean over Golden Gate Park.

1625 Post St., San Francisco, 415-922-3200, jdvhotels.com/hotels/california/san-francisco-hotels/hotel-kabuki

The Palace Hotel

Photo: Jason Dewey Photography

The Palace Hotel

For the history

Built in 1875, the first Palace Hotel was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake; its successor, completed in 1909, remains one of the city’s grandest hotels. An extensive reno in 2015 has refreshed the rooms, fitness centre and glass-covered pool. Occupying most of a block in downtown San Francisco, the hotel’s vast Garden Court restaurant serves up light classic fare.

2 New Montgomery St., San Francisco, 415-512-1111, sfpalace.com

Phoenix Hotel

Phoenix Hotel

For the cool factor

Parked in the Tenderloin, this mid-century motor inn has grit and style to spare, drawing rock ’n’ rollers like The Killers and, back in the day, David Bowie. Dig into a post-party-night brunch at Chambers eat + drink, the hotel’s funky restaurant lounge that features a library stocked with records and overlooks the kidney-shaped pool.

601 Eddy St., 415-776-1380, phoenixsf.com

Cavallo Point Lodge

Photo: Kodiak Greenwood

Cavallo Point Lodge

For the peaceful setting

Set amid fragrant Eucalyptus trees, this former military base turned luxury hotel houses a mix of brand new buildings and renovated originals, most of which come with views of the bay and San Francisco’s skyline. Murray Circle offers all-day dining options, from a smoked salmon omelette for breakfast to pork tenderloin served with bacon, labneh and carrot jus for dinner. For a nightcap, head to the Farley, the hotel bar whose namesake is an old comic strip character drawn by local Phil Frank.

601 Murray Cir., Sausalito, 415-339-4700, cavallopoint.com

Fairmont San Francisco

Photo: Fairmont Hotels

Fairmont San Francisco

For a luxurious stay

After a $21-million reno in 2014, this Nob Hill hotel’s well-appointed rooms feature flat-screen TVs, pillow-top mattresses and Le Labo toiletries. Don’t leave without a visit to Tonga Room, a tiki bar built around the hotel’s former pool, complete with grass huts, potent tropical cocktails and a “lagoon” where the Island Groove Band serenades guests from a thatch-roofed barge.

950 Mason St., 866-540-4491, fairmont.com/sanfrancisco

Kimpton Sir Francis Drake

Photo: David Phelps

Kimpton Sir Francis Drake

For the proximity to shopping

Since 1928, the Sir Francis Drake has occupied one side of Union Square, known today as the centre of the city’s main upscale shopping district. The updated guestrooms are outfitted with plush furnishings, and doormen in Beefeater uniforms welcome guests into the ornate lobby. Order a negroni or pisco sour at Bar Drake, the busy ground-floor watering hole, and don’t miss the Sunday brunch drag show in Starlight Lounge on the 21st floor.

450 Powell St., 415-392-7755, sirfrancisdrake.com

Inn at the Presidio

Inn at the Presidio

For a family-friendly getaway

The inn’s main building is an old military officers’ quarters that underwent an expensive conversion in 2012, transforming the 1903 Georgian Revival building into a luxury lodge with 22 spacious guestrooms. The property is well-suited for a family vacation – explore the beaches and forest of the surrounding Presidio, a vast national park and former army post, or head to the nearby Walt Disney Family Museum. The inn’s four-bedroom Victorian cottage, the Funston House, can accommodate large groups or families.

42 Moraga Ave., San Francisco, 415-800-7356, innatthepresidio.com

Where to Eat and Drink

Tartine Manufactory

Photo: Elisabetta Redaelli

Tartine Manufactory

For the brunch

The owners of local favourite Tartine Bakery recently opened this all-day dining hub that features a café, bakery, coffee kiosk and wine bar. The brunch features new twists on classics, like coddled eggs with dashes of trout roe and horseradish, porridge topped with ricotta and apple butter, and a yogurt bowl with a hit of bee pollen. Don’t leave without a loaf of housemade bread, available after 10:30 a.m. until it’s sold out.

595 Alabama St., San Francisco, tartinemanufactory.com

Swan Oyster Depot

Photo: Heidi De Vries Creative Commons

Swan Oyster Depot

For the fresh seafood

The wait times for a seat at the bar of this 100-year-old seafood institution can be long (especially at lunchtime), but fresh Tomales Bay oysters and Dungeness crabs are more than worth it. Kitschy decor lines the walls of the low-key restaurant, from tributes to bygone sporting legends to hand-painted menus.

1517 Polk St., San Francisco, 415-673-1101

AL’s Place

Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux

AL’s Place

For the creative use of vegetables

AL’s Place is the brainchild of chef Aaron London, formerly of Napa Valley’s well-regarded (now closed) Ubuntu. Located at the southern end of the Mission, the restaurant offers mostly vegetable-and-seafood cuisine that is so inventive even diehard meat lovers leave satisfied. The menu is seasonal, but the brine-pickled French fries with smoked apple sauce are a mainstay, thank goodness.

1499 Valencia St., San Francisco, 415-416-6136, alsplacesf.com

Zuni Café

For the culinary clout

Located in a flatiron-shaped building and featuring exposed brick throughout its multistorey space, Zuni is a Bay Area landmark. (Chef Judy Rodgers was one of the founders of the fresh-and-simple California cuisine movement.) The roasted chicken for two is one of the city’s must-have dishes.

1658 Market St., San Francisco, 415-552-2522, zunicafe.com

Mister Jiu’s

Photo: Pete Lee

Mister Jiu’s

For the Michelin-starred dumplings

In the heart of old Chinatown, chef Brandon Jew serves up reinvented Chinese classics that have earned him a Michelin star. The dining room looks like the set of a film noir, complete with views of the city. Start with a choose-your-own-fortune cocktail (Happiness, Tranquillity, Wealth and Luck are all on offer), and be sure to try the dumplings with squid-ink-infused wrappers and pork stuffing.

28 Waverly Place, San Francisco, 415-857-9688, misterjius.com

La Taqueria

Photo: @ashley.m.clayton

La Taqueria

For Mexican staples on the go

Named one of America’s Classics by the James Beard Foundation in 2017, this casual Mission restaurant serves traditional Mexican fare in the heart of the city’s Latino enclave. The place draws lines for its soft-shelled tacos and burritos stuffed with chorizo, beef, chicken or pork – upgrade to a “super” for cheese, sour cream and avocado.

2889 Mission St., San Francisco, 415-285-7117, facebook.com/LaTaqSF

 

Provender Coffee & Food

For a java jolt

A required stop on Potrero Hill’s food-obsessed 18th street, this 300-square-foot café offers espresso drinks, pastries and simple dishes like the Prosciutto and Cheese Toast. The signature Maplewood drink – a blend of cold brew, milk, maple syrup and smoky maple extract – is a must-try and a concentrate is also available to go in 64-ounce growlers.

1415 18th St., San Francisco, 415-685-1722, provendercoffee.com

What to Do

Drive Up Twin Peaks

Photo: Nicolas Raymond Creative Commons

Drive Up Twin Peaks

For the views

The drive up the steep switchback road to this hilltop park is an experience in its own right. On fog-free days, San Francisco’s main landmarks are visible from the top: the Golden Gate Bridge; domed City Hall; the city’s former tallest building, the Transamerica Pyramid Center; and its current one, the new Salesforce Tower.

501 Twin Peaks Blvd., San Francisco

SFMOMA

Photo: Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

SFMOMA

For the contemporary art

After a three-year renovation, the gallery reopened in 2016 with almost three times more space to showcase contemporary art. Check out portraits by Henri Matisse and Frida Kahlo, Alexander Calder’s mobiles and local hero Richard Diebenkorn’s streetscapes. Recharge with lunch or a cup of coffee at Cafe 5.

151 Third St., San Francisco, 415-357-4000, sfmoma.org

Oakland

Photo: Karen Bearson

Oakland

For a day trip

Visit the Temescal Alleys – former horse stables converted into small, funky stores – and shop locally made clothing, jewellery and leather goods. For a post-shopping snack, dig into chilaquiles and other Oaxacan fare on the patio at Doña Tomás.

Temescal Alleys, 486 49th St., Oakland, temescalalleys.com
Doña Tomás, 5004 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-450-0522, donatomas.com

Exploratorium

Photo: Amy Snyder © Exploratorium

Exploratorium

For all-ages fun

Founded in 1969 by physicist Frank Oppenheimer, this “learning laboratory” features hundreds of interactive exhibits and activities that inspire visitors to explore art, science and human perception. Visit the Tinkering Studio – an on-site research and development lab – to see the latest projects and ideas from the museum’s collaborators, including artists, designers, engineers and scientists.

Pier 15, San Francisco, 415-528-4444, exploratorium.edu

Ferry Building

Photo: Nat and Cody Gantz 2016

Ferry Building

For the gourmet offerings

This old beaux arts ferry terminal houses local makers of cheese, bread and chocolate, and a farmers’ market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Grab a latte from Blue Bottle Coffee or ice cream from Humphry Slocombe as you browse. Sit-down dining options range from Mijita, Traci Des Jardins’ cheap-and-cheerful Mexican eatery, to the Slanted Door, Charles Phan’s justly celebrated high-end Asian-fusion restaurant.

1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, 415-983-8030, ferrybuildingmarketplace.com

GLBT Historical Society

Photo: Gerard Koskovich

GLBT Historical Society

For the history

Browse the GLBT Historical Society’s exhibits or attend a talk to learn more about the storied past of San Francisco’s queer community. The Main Gallery features long-term exhibits about the assassination of Harvey Milk and the Bay Area GLBTQQ youth activists from the 1970s to the present, while the Front and Community galleries house temporary exhibits.

4127 18th St., San Francisco, 415-621-1107, glbthistory.org

Heath Ceramics

Heath Ceramics

For the tableware

Founded in 1948 by Edith and Brian Heath in nearby Sausalito, this local brand is known for simple, modernist pieces that never go out of style (chances are fairly good that when you’re dining at a San Francisco restaurant, you’re eating off Heath plates and bowls). The showroom in the Mission features a comprehensive selection of kitchenware and ceramic tiles, with windows onto the factory where they’re made.

2900 18th St., San Francisco, 415-361-5552 x13, heathceramics.com

Azalea

Azalea

For the fashionable finds

Azalea retails men’s and women’s clothing, shoes and accessories, much of which is made in California. Shop for a trendy souvenir from brands like Welcome Stranger, Stance socks and the store’s eponymous line of women’s basics. Make the shop one of the stops on a leisurely walk from City Hall up hilly Hayes Street to Alamo Square, the park lined by the much-photographed collection of Victorian homes known as Postcard Row.

411 Hayes St., San Francisco, 415-861-9888, azaleasf.com

How to Get Around

Getting from the Airport

The Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) links travellers from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to downtown San Francisco. (Rates vary depending on the length of the ride.) A taxi will get you downtown for around $45 to $60, and takes about 30 minutes depending on traffic.


Public Transportation

The one-way fare on the city’s buses and streetcars is $2.75, and a single ride on its iconic cable cars costs $7.00. Visitors planning to circulate around the city on any of these can buy a pass for one day ($21), three days ($32) or seven days ($42). Tickets to the BART can be purchased in the stations, and rates depend on how far you’re going.


Taxis

Taxis are easy enough to hail on some major arteries – Market Street and Van Ness Avenue– and in the financial district. But elsewhere, it’s best to call in advance or to use the Flywheel app, which sends ride requests to several major cab companies. Lyft and Uber are also available.

Yellow Cab: 415-333-3333
SF Green Cab: 415-626-4733

Bikes

Cycle San Francisco’s hilly terrain on a Ford GoBike from one of the 540 automated stations around the Bay Area. Fares cost $3 for a single trip, or $9.95 for the day.

Tags

ADVENTURE TRAVEL     CALIFORNIA     CITY GUIDE     HOTELS     SAN FRANCISCO