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San Francisco Travel Guide

The San Francisco Travel Guide by Planes and Plans covers everything you need to know for a visit to San Francisco. Discover things to do, places to eat, and places to stay. Also included are day trips from the city, how to get around, and some important safety tips. 

San Francisco is a diverse and vibrant city, with so much to see and do. Made famous by the Golden Gate Bridge, there is so much more waiting to be discovered. In fact, I even think that it makes one of the best city breaks in the USA for families. Due to its location, the city also acts as a gateway to Northern California. Places like Napa Valley and Yosemite National Park are all easily accessible from the city. 

San Francisco is also home to a major airport, so you might choose to spend a few days here simply as a layover destination. Otherwise, it is a great base to explore Northern California and the California Coast. Depending on the time available, you could definitely spend up to two weeks based in the city without ever getting bored. 

San Francisco Travel Guide Contents

Table of Contents

Things to Do in San Francisco

Despite San Francisco being such a geographically small city, there are thousands of fun activities waiting to be discovered. The San Francisco Travel Guide will focus on some of my personal favourite highlights in order to outline the diversity of activities here. 

Wondering how to spend a few days in San Francisco?

Cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is certainly San Francisco’s most famous sight. However, it is well worth the hype as it is a spectacular sight. Cycling across the bridge is a great way to take in the bay view and allows for easier exploring at either end. If you get the chance, visit the bridge at sunrise to watch the fog rolling out of the bay as the bridge reveals itself. 

Take a tour of Alcatraz Island

Perhaps San Francisco’s second most famous sight. However, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed visiting Alcatraz Island. The gloominess of the day certainly added to the haunting mood on the island. It is such an interesting way learn about the history of the city, and the ferry ride also offers great views of the skyline. 

Hike up Lombard Street

Although with the amount of hills in San Francisco, I should really write hike to Lombard Street. Despite only stretching one city block, Lombard Street is a hidden oasis. Known as the world’s most crooked street, the brick snake is lined with beautiful greenery and colourful houses. From the top of the hill, you can even see all the way over to Coit Tower. 

Vintage shopping in Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury was home to the Summer of Love movement during the 1960s. The neighbourhood is still filled with hidden hippie treasures, particularly along Haight Street as it leads up to Golden Gate Park. If you love street art and vintage shopping, then you are guaranteed to find some treasures here. 

Picnic at the Painted Ladies

The Painted Ladies is a row of five classically colourful Victorian homes. Although San Francisco is particularly well-known for this style of architecture, the Painted Ladies are particularly beautiful. Pack a picnic lunch and settle in at Alamo Square Park to watch the ladies and her passers-by. 

Explore Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is in fact bigger than Central Park, so there is no way to explore the whole area. However, there are many attractions hidden inside that are worth visiting. My favourites are the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden, and San Francisco Botanical Garden. Otherwise the California Academy of Sciences is great for families, as well as de Young Museum for art lovers. 

Watch sea lions at Pier 39

Despite being over the age of 12, I still absolutely loved visiting the sea lion colony at Pier 39. You cannot help but laugh as they bark at each other and roll around in the sun. Pier 39 is also home to lots of gift shops and themed restaurants. As a non-American, it truly felt like a scene straight out of a teen summer movie. 

Catch a baseball game at Oracle Park

Watching a sports game is a bucket-list experience for any trip to the USA. Oracle Park is home to the San Francisco Giants, the city’s baseball team. The atmosphere is thrilling and a great way to bond with some locals over a home-team win. 

Ride a cable car

Since the 1800s, cable cars have been a major form of transport for San Francisco. In fact, cable cars are actually listed as a National Historic Landmark due to their importance in the country’s history. Despite this, today they remain more of a tourist attraction than a convenient means of transport. So, jump onboard, hold on tight and watch the city fly by!

Day Trips from San Francisco

San Francisco is a great base to explore Northern California. Day trips are a great way to see some of the surrounding nature and even some amazing national parks. 

Joining a day tour is the most convenient option, especially if you are not used to driving on the right side of the road like me. Otherwise hiring a car is more flexible and allows you to get off the beaten path. 

The San Francisco Travel Guide highlights some of my favourite and bucket-list day trips here.

Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley

Napa Valley is the most well-known wine region in the United States. Due to the diversity of the climate and soil here, there are many varieties of grapes and wines that can be produced. So, stop off at a few wineries along the way for some tastings. Booking a group tour is the best way to visit Napa Valley and neighbouring Sonoma Valley to avoid drinking and driving.

Muir Woods National Monument

Although there are certainly other national parks with the coast redwoods, Muir Woods is definitely the closest to San Francisco. Coast redwoods, or giant sequoias, are actually the tallest tree in the world. Muir Woods is shaded by these giants along Redwood Creek. The area is so beautiful that it is even a popular wedding destination!

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, although about three hours from San Francisco, is well worth the drive. In fact, it is definitely my favourite national park in California. You could certainly spend a few days here exploring the park’s trails, however Bridalveil Fall Trail or Lower Yosemite Fall Trail are both easy options for one day. It is also worth making the drive to Tunnel View for the best view over Yosemite Valley, including of El Capitan and Half Dome. Giant sequoias can also be seen here in Mariposa Grove. 

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is a popular year-round destination. However, I recommend visiting in the warmer months to take advantage of the area’s hiking trails. Vikingsholm Trail in Emerald Bay State Park boasts a panoramic view of the dazzling blue waters. The Heavenly Mountain Gondola is another fun option for incredible views without the hiking.

California Coast

A great option if you want to hire a car. The California Coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles is dotted with quaint surf towns. Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea are popular options, with lots of cute cafes for lunch. Continue down Pacific Coast Highway until Big Sur for one of the most beautiful sunset spots in the state. McWay Falls at Big Sur is also worth the stop on a sunny day.

Silicon Valley

The best option for tech nerds. Whilst you often cannot enter the HQ’s, you are able to visit the gift shops, cafes, and grounds of many facilities. Google and Apple both have Visitor Centres, as well as NASA and other large tech companies. To learn about the history of the industry, the Computer History Museum is very insightful. Also nearby is the Stanford University campus, which offers walking tours. 

Thinking of visiting San Francisco on a group tour?

Where to Eat in San Francisco

San Francisco has some of the most delicious food in the whole country. Due to being such a diverse city, you can certainly find all your favourite cuisines here. The San Francisco Travel Guide will highlight some of my favourite hidden gems around the city. 

Boudin Bakery, San Francisco, USA
Boudin Bakery

For heart-warming clam chowder served in freshly baked sourdough bowls. Admittedly, I don’t eat seafood, but I would highly recommend their rustic tomato soup as an alternative. Locations in both Fisherman’s Wharf and also Pier 39. 

El Toro Taqueria

For original mission-style burritos, a rite-of-passage for any visitor to San Francisco. Influenced by the large Mexican population in California, the mission-style burrito was born in San Francisco’s Mission District. El Toro Taqueria serves up these enormous treats with all your favourite fillings, as well as some more innovative flavours. The meal is definitely best enjoyed down the road in Mission Dolores Park. 

El Porteno Empanadas, San Francisco, USA
Ferry Building

For a variety of delicious foods from around the world. My favourite treat here is definitely the empanadas from El Porteño Empanadas. Trust me, they are certainly worth the line. There are also delicious pastries, crepes, coffees, and so much more in the Ferry Building. 

Hong Kong Clay Pot Restaurant

For delicious Cantonese-style dishes and community-style seating. Nestled in the heart of the oldest Chinatown in North America, you can’t go wrong with any of the family-run restaurants in the neighbourhood. I especially love Hong Kong Clay Pot for the wide range of menu options that caters for adventurous and fussy eaters alike. It’s truly the perfect spot for a large group meal!

Miss Mymy, San Francisco, USA
Mymy Coffee Shop

For a Melbourne brunch in San Francisco. Being from Melbourne where there is a strong brunch culture, I was excited to stumble upon this cute corner cafe nestled in Nob Hill. The ‘Miss Mymy’ is the perfect chance to try a classic American breakfast with a side of friendly hospitality. Trust me, it did not disappoint.

Where to Stay in San Francisco

Being such a diverse city, there are many different pockets of San Francisco to explore. Despite this, the city itself only covers a small land area. This means that most central locations are accessible via walking or public transport. 

In saying that, there tends to be two main hubs for accommodation. Union Square is downtown, with easy access to BART, cable cars and high-end shopping. Otherwise Fisherman’s Wharf is a family-friendly area, with easy access to attractions including Lombard Street, Alcatraz Island and Pier 39. 

The San Francisco Travel Guide will cover some of my favourite accommodation options across the city. 

Palihotel San Francisco

During my previous stay at Palihotel Westwood Village, I fell in love with the property. The service was incredibly welcoming, and the hotel was beautifully intimate. The rooms were both cozy and elegant. So much so that it truly felt like a home away from home, except with fresh pastries for breakfast. Their location in Union Square is yet another timelessly designed property in San Francisco. 

Visit the Palihotel San Francisco website here

CitizenM San Francisco Union Square Hotel

Although I haven’t yet stayed at the CitizenM in San Francisco, I have previously stayed at both their New York Bowery and Copenhagen Radhuspladsen properties. The chain manages both funkiness and functionality in their small rooms. Besides the warm hospitality, the huge square beds are a certainly a highlight of any stay. Not to mention the iPad that can even change the colour of the lights in the shower!

Visit the CitizenM San Francisco Union Square Hotel website here

Hotel Zephyr

I had the pleasure of staying here during my LA to the Bay with Contiki trip, and I was surprised by the high standard of accommodation despite being in such an expensive city. Its location across the road from Pier 39 in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighbourhood was incredibly convenient to walk to some of San Francisco’s most famous attractions. It was also a great location for cycling along the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge. The large outdoor courtyard and table tennis table were also highlights of this property. 

Visit the Hotel Zephyr website here

HI San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf

A small Hostelling International property in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighbourhood. I actually only stayed here for one night, but wish I had been able to stay more. The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, as were all the guests I met during my stay. The property was clean and in a great location. If you are travelling to San Francisco on a budget, this accommodation is an awesome option! There is also another HI hostel in Union Square. 

Visit the HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf website here

Comfort Inn & Suites San Francisco Airport North

A basic hotel located near San Francisco International Airport. The airport is quite a while from downtown, so if you have an early morning flight this hotel was great for one night. There was free breakfast, a free hotel shuttle (tip expected), and even a pool! I was also surprised to find the service to be super friendly when I stayed here. 

Visit the Comfort Inn & Suites San Francisco Airport North website here

Getting Around San Francisco

San Francisco is quite an easy city to navigate, having been laid out in a grid formation for the most part. There are a few public transport options, although the city is also easily walkable if you don’t mind the hills. The San Francisco Travel Guide will cover some of the best options for getting around the city.


So many people are surprised to learn that San Francisco is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. The cheapest and easiest way to rent a bike (including e-bikes) is through Bay Wheels, operated by Lyft. Using the Lyft app, you can find all available bikes near you. This is such a fun way to explore the city, especially Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park. 

Otherwise if you want to rent a bike for the whole day, there are many bike rental shops in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. This area tends to attract more tourists, so you will have not trouble finding bike rental here for around USD$35* per day. 

Tour Bus

If you only have a few days to spend in San Francisco, then Big Bus San Francisco is the easiest way to get around. 

Although being much more expensive than public transport, it offers the convenience of being catered to tourists. It will take you right past all the best tourist attractions in the city, leaving you with the choice which stops you want to explore further. A two-day ticket will allow you the most flexibility to explore at your leisure during your short visit to San Francisco. 

Tickets can be booked on the Big Bus website here

Public Transit

Cable Car, San Francisco, USA
Cable Car

Today, cable cars are more of a tourist attraction than an efficient means of public transport. However, they can still be convenient for getting you up some of the city’s steepest hills. Cable cars run between downtown and the Fisherman’s Wharf area. 

Tickets can be purchased on the MuniMobile app.

Historic Street Car

Similar to a cable car, except the walls are enclosed. Another fun way to see the city, especially if travelling through Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf. Street cars are incredibly retro and offer an interesting insight to the city’s history.

Tickets can be purchased on the MuniMobile app. 

Historic Street Car, San Francisco, USA

San Francisco also has an extensive public transit network of light-rail metro and bus lines. This is the easiest way to explore neighbourhoods West of downtown, including Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. 

Tickets can also be purchased on the MuniMobile app. 

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)

The BART metro network connects San Francisco to the rest of the Bay Area, including Berkeley and Oakland. It also connects to San Francisco International Airport, and is the fastest option for getting into the city via public transit. 

Tickets can be purchased with a physical Clipper Card, otherwise an electronic Clipper Card can be saved to Apple Wallet and Google Wallet. 

Ferry Building, San Francisco, USA
San Francisco Bay Ferry

To explore the Bay Area on the water, the San Francisco Bay Ferry is a really convenient option. Departing from the ferry building, access Oracle Park, Pier 49, as well as the East Bay Area. 

Tickets can be purchased with a physical Clipper Card, otherwise an electronic Clipper Card can be saved to Apple Wallet and Google Wallet. 


The main airport servicing San Francisco is San Francisco International Airport (SFO), a United Airlines hub. SFO is easily accessible from San Francisco and the East Bay area via BART. Oakland International Airport (OAK) is also connected to the BART network. 

Safety in San Francisco

Fortunately San Francisco is generally a safe city to visit, including for families. Safety should definitely not be a factor that turns tourists away from visiting. 

However, as with any large city there can be instances of petty theft. So, always stay aware of your surroundings, as well as keeping your valuables locked in a safe place. I would also recommend using a ride-share app rather than hiring a car to get around the city itself. Car theft is common and not worth the risk just for a few days. 

Do not walk alone or in small groups at night. Parks are particularly more dangerous after dark, as well as public transport. San Francisco unfortunately has an extremely high homeless population, and many people camp in parks overnight. I found this side of San Francisco to be quite confronting, especially coming from Australia. This is definitely something important to be aware of. 

Many of the city’s neighbourhoods are beautiful to explore. However, there are also some neighbourhoods to avoid. In particular, the Tenderloin neighbourhood borders Union Square and Market Street. Unfortunately, this area has the highest crime rate in the city, and is also San Francisco’s poorest. This area is very dangerous, day and night, and I was thankful that locals told me to avoid this area altogether. The Mission District is another popular area that, although worth visiting, can be unsafe at night. 

*Please note that all prices are current as of the publication date of this post.

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