San Francisco is one of the most diverse and unique cities I’ve ever visited. Each trip to the bay area is always different.
If you’re planning a weekend in San Francisco, we’ve got you covered on where to go, what to see, where to stay and one of our favourite cafés in California.
Where to stay
Our Airbnb hosts Adrian, Kevin and Petit Mac – a gorgeous King Charles Cavalier – made our first trip to San Francisco memorable. The only downside is they’ve now set our Airbnb standards high! Their classic San Franciscan home is nestled in The Castro where bars, café’s and trendy restaurants line the streets.
Parking is a huge issue in San Fran and we were lucky enough to park our car in our hosts garage. We were also welcomed to tasty Ghirardelli chocolates and a welcome note on our pillow – talk about a welcoming!
Not all Airbnb’s have been this great so make sure you do your research. Look at what area in San Fran you’d like to explore or if it’s close to public transport. You don’t want to be walking down the wrong street at night. That said, an Uber ride is never too far.
Palace Hotel is the only hotel I’ve stayed at in San Fran – I know, spoilt! They’ve recently undergone a lavish renovation and it definitely shows.
You can enjoy high tea, wine hours with live musicians and enjoy the convenience of a concierge.
We spent a few nights in the lobby drinking wine and champagne listening to the pianist and marveling at the grand surroundings.
I wouldn’t recommend eating breakfast here as 1. it’s expensive and 2. you have a great alternative down the street.
Where to eat
Best. Coffee. Ever. I had struggled to find good coffee in California for about six months (I’ve now found a few gems but that’s another story). Mazarine Coffee was a gift from the coffee gods after only finding bitter burnt coffee for half a year. Their breakfasts are also bloody delicious. I went every morning on our last trip to try the smoked salmon toast and avocado toast (twice). Well worth a trip if you’re an Aussie in need of some fresh food and ‘normal’ coffee.
Looking for a traditional American diner? Visit It’s Tops for malted milkshakes, fried chicken and waffles and buttermilk pancakes.
The menu is a great price and the staff are genuine. They’re also open from 8am-3pm and 8pm-3am!
If you get peckish around Fisherman’s Wharf this pizza will do the trick. I love wood fired pizza with quality toppings and Carmel Pizza Company deliver! I don’t recommend eating at a chain in fisherman’s wharf – you’ll eat mediocre food at a high price with a big tip expected.
If you want quality New Orleans style soul food, Brenda’s is the place. I’m yet to get to New Orleans but I’d imagine Brenda’s food is pretty close to the mark. We enjoyed blood orange mimosas (a note to Aussies, mimosas at breakfast isn’t frowned upon, drink up), spicy shrimp rolls and fried chicken and biscuits.
If you like jazz and crafted cocktails you’ll love Mr Tipple’s. Listen to some live music and snack on their array of nibbles – our favourite is the patty melt – while sipping on one of their signature cocktails.
If you’re really stuck on what to eat Yelp will be your biggest friend. Make sure to check reviews before you make your decision however as Americans put an emphasis on service – I on the other hand care more about the food than service standards.
San Fran has an amazing variety of foods and funky restaurants so you really can’t go wrong. Skip the diner chain Denny’s for a local café and you’ll find some gems.
What to do
Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge has been a bucket-list item for me for years and it doesn’t disappoint.
If you don’t have a car you can take a tour bus that will drop you off at Vista Point, this is a good photo-op area, but if you want a postcard shot, grab an Uber and turn left on highway 101 instead of right and drive to the Golden Gate View Point.
A harbour cruise past Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge, you can’t beat it. We sailed with Adventure Cat Sailing Charters which is perfect for small and big groups. I will stress, wear layers! I wore two long sleeve tops a puffer jacket, gloves, thermals and jeans and I still froze!
Two words – mind blowing! This is the first immersive play I’ve attended and man did it exceed any expectations I had. I’m being completely honest in saying I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a show or night out as much as Speakeasy SF. I’m dying to go back to experience it all over again.
The play follows a story line during the prohibition era and is divided into sections including a bar, casino and cabaret with numerous roving actors. You don’t get given the location until the day before, and when the day comes, you’ll be sent a text with instructions on where to meet a person in a yellow jacket, and that’s just the start of the fun. I don’t want to ruin it so here are some tips to enhance your experience:
- Book the cabaret as your first stop.
- Don’t book a table for the whole night, just do it for the first scene. You can always go back and sit at a non-reserved table.
- Buy casino chips. The casino was a lot of fun!
- Dress in period clothing – Everyone goes all out so it’s hard to tell who’s an actor and who’s a spectator.
- Eat a late lunch or early dinner before the show.
- Book, book, book! You won’t regret it.
You won’t come across a better baseball stadium in California. If in season, I highly recommend grabbing a San Francisco Giants cap and head to the stadium to watch a game. Immerse yourself and ask locals what the heck is going on in the game, get a beer, hot dog and pretzel and enjoy the baseball atmosphere.
Love chocolate? You have to try the famous Ghirardelli chocolate at Ghirardelli Square. You can shop (and taste) any chocolate your heart desires followed by an ice cream sundae in their café. I recommend starting your day here followed by pier 39, fisherman’s wharf and end at the Ferry Wharf Building before retreating to a bar for dinner and vino.
Marine mammals are my life in California so I may be biased, but the sea lions at Pier 39 are hilarious. Definitely worth a pit stop to check them out if you’re near fisherman’s wharf. Also grab yourself a little souvenir from the area. I personally collect fridge magnets but they have Christmas baubles, paintings, prints, keychains, wallets and bags.
This building is not only iconic but also stunning! We walked from pier 39 (wear comfy shoes!) and were welcomed with a variety of foods and wine bars to try. I highly recommended going on a Sunday between 2-4pm to try Cowgirl Creamery’s famous raclette. They can change their serving times so check their Instagram before heading in.
After some greenery while visiting the city? Muir Woods is a redwoods forest about 20 minutes out from the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a great way to stretch your legs and take in the magnificent Californian redwoods.
Catching a cable car is a must when visiting SF. Starting at $7.00 one way – the cable cars are always crowded but it’s worth catching one from Powell-Mason (near fisherman’s wharf-union square). Start lining up early as I’ve seen lines backed up for hours trying to get a seat on the famous cars.
You must check out the California Academy of Sciences indoor rainforest. It’s filled with tropical birds, butterflies, reptiles and plants. We’ve been twice already and each time I was in awe of the exhibit.
They also have a living roof, aquarium, planetarium and showcase natural history.
It’s across the road from the de Young Museum and located in Golden Gate Park.
To get the best photos of the city landscape, head to Twin Peaks before sunset. Drive in an hour before sunset to walk around the area and take in the views. If you’re lucky, you can catch a stunning sunset and watch the city turn from day to sparkling city lights.
There are still places I’m yet to visit that you need to check out:
- Haight and Ashbury,
- the Painted Ladies,
- drive down Lombard Street,
- visit The Marine Mammal Center,
- have lunch in Sausalito (just over the Golden Gate Bridge),
- visit the largest Chinese community outside of China – China town,
- Nob Hill.
No matter what you do in San Francisco, you’re guaranteed to have a unique and fun experience. My main advice would be to research where you want to go and what you want to see. If you’re really stuck on what to see and do in San Francisco, take a Big Bus tour to get a quick look at everything and mark down some places you’d like to revisit. They also have headphones so you can listen to some history of the areas as you’re driving through.
My last piece of advice would be layers, layers, layers! SF can get cold, windy and foggy. I’ve been ‘that tourist’ that had to run into a store and buy a jumper/sweater because I was under-prepared.
Whether you’re a tourist or a local, a visit to San Francisco is a must.
Want to get in touch? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org