Being the financial, commercial and cultural center of Northern California, San Francisco is one of the top destinations if you decide to pay a visit to the West Coast. From its almost square shape, to its hills facing a peaceful bay, the first thing people notice when visiting San Francisco is that the city may not be as big as you think (stretching over only 7 miles), but that doesn’t make it less beautiful than you’ve seen in movies and picture-perfect post cards.
The city offers a variety of things to do, even if you plan a romantic trip, a family vacation or just an escape for yourself to relax and enjoy time alone. Tourist attractions, hitchhiking, Chinatown, San Francisco has it all, but with it being runner up for the most densely-populated city in the USA, it is best to plan you trip ahead. This way, you’ll avoid getting lost in the crowded areas or feeling let down by the sunny California image you may be expecting, as the city is well-known for its fog, which is heavier in June and July.
Decide on the Length of the Trip
Weekend getaway: Try not to focus too much on the tourist attraction, as you may miss the beauty of the more unknown parts of the city. It you feel you need to check some of the more popular areas, pay a visit to the Golden Gate Park, where you can gaze at the famous Golden Gate Bridge, the historic and daunting Alcatraz Prison and end with the Fishermen’s Wharf, a good place for street performers, souvenir shops and, of course, fishermen at work. Don’t forget to take a ride on the Cable Cars, the last Cable Car system in the United States, thus receiving its National Historic Landmark in 1964. Explore the hidden gems of San Francisco, like the Presidio Pond in the Presidio National Park, The Wave Organ, where the waves become musicians and the Tilted Secret Staircase, which leads to mesmerizing views of San Francisco.
4 days trip: If your trip is longer, add a few more tourist destinations, like the colorful protest arts spread all across The Mission district by the Latino immigrants that moved there and take a chance to actually walk or bike the Golden Gate Bridge. Both are open 24 hours a day and free to visit. If you feel the need to sprinkle a few lesser-known places of the city and feel more artsy, add a trip to Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze or the Audium-Theatre of Sound-Sculptured Space.
One week: If the weather allows, take a day off of visiting to relax on the beach and also enjoy the nightlife of San Francisco. There are a lot of places to dance your feet off in the SoMa or Mission area, which are filled with night bars and clubs to cover all tastes. Also, take some time to make you inner-child happy and visit the Walt Disney Family Museum, located in San Francisco’s Presidio.
One month: If your trip is longer, be it for business or simply because you want to enjoy the city like a local and you decided to rent a car or if you decided to take a road trip to San Francisco, it’s good to know that parking spots may be hard to find, given the density of the population. Consider looking for affordable monthly parking in San Francisco to save yourself some time and avoid other issues. Fill your time with museums art-related places, like the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Institute of Illegal Images, Beat Museum or The Palace of Fine Arts.
Best Season to Visit
To make the most out of your trip, best time to visit San Francisco is in the fall (particularly September and October), as this is the warmest season. But if you already planned your trip, here’s what to expect from the city year-round:
Spring: This is also a good time to visit San Francisco, as the hotel prices are still low and the tourist rate is yet to increase. Unfortunately, the weather may be a bit tricky, if you want to enjoy the beach, as the high temperatures are usually between 60 and 65°F.
Summer: The peak of the tourist season in San Francisco, drawn by the numerous events and fairs the city has to offer, but although it’s Summer, you may not get the beachy weather you expect, as temperature rarely goes above 38 °F.
Fall: This marks the warmest season of the city, with temperatures in the low 70s letting you enjoy the Pacific’s blue waves. But don’t forget to also pack a few warm layers, for chilly night and light breezes.
Winter: If you are not a sand-and-waves person, you may enjoy the winter season in San Francisco, as the hotel prices get lower and tourists don’t venture the streets that much. Temperature rages from mid to high 50s, but take into consideration the city’s famous fog that can make it seem colder. You should be good with packing some warmer clothes and an umbrella.
Now that you have your itinerary and weather covered, you have time to focus on the small details that can make or break your trip:
Accommodation: Try to avoid touristy places, because although they are closer to the attractions, they can be more expensive, crowded and noisy. Look for hotels in areas like Nob Hill, Russian Hull or Sausalito. If you want to live the full experience, rent a room or a house form the locals.
Save time: make reservation for Alcatraz Island and other tourist attraction at least 1 week in advance, to avoid long lines
Local cuisine: Instead of going to the more touristy and well-known restaurants in Fishermen’s Warf, research online to find lesser-know places or ask for recommendations from the locals.
Avoid the Cable Car waiting lines: If you want to avoid standing in line forever, don’t wait for the Cable Car at the stop in Hyde, below Ghirardelli Square. Chose a different route, like the California line, at the intersection of Market and California Street and enjoy the hill ride to Chinatown.