San Francisco is world famous for its Victorian-style architecture, spilling over the hillsides like icing dripping off a birthday cake and for its scenic waterfront. It's an easy-to-walk city of modest size despite its oversized reputation.
This first-timer's guide includes a mix of popular tourist attractions, and a taste of the real city behind the tourist facade will have you talking about a return trip before you even start back home.
Why You Should Go
- Get a Preview: Take a look at Pictures of San Francisco's Iconic Sights
- San Francisco is popular with almost everyone, but it especially appeals to lovers who enjoy its romantic atmosphere, to families who like its small size and variety of activities and to folks who enjoy fine dining. You'll find more reasons to go in Part 1 of the San Francisco Vacation Planner.
- We polled more than 200 of our readers to find out how they rate San Francisco as a vacation destination. 74% of them rate it "good" or "awesome" and only 20% say: "Yuck." That makes it one of the highest-rated California getaway destinations.
Best Time to Go to San Francisco
San Francisco weather is best in spring and fall. The most popular time is summer, but many first-timers don't realize that San Francisco's legendary fog is also a summer visitor, keeping skies overcast and nights cold. Winter is clearer, except when it rains.
If you've only got a day in San Francisco, use the great ideas in the guide to one day in San Francisco.
5 More Great Things to Do for First-Time Visitors to Do in San Francisco
Bay Cruise: The "standard" bay cruise goes around Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge. It's fun, but we've got the inside scoop on the best bay cruise in town in the San Francisco Bay Cruise guide.
Crissy Field Walk: As far as I'm concerned, this is the best urban walk in the world. Use the walking guide to find out why.
Ferry Building Marketplace: It's a great place to graze on local artisan foods, pick up a meal or a great cup of coffee. See the details in the Ferry Building guide.
Golden Gate Park: One of the great urban parks, with museums, walking trails and lots more and it's all in the Golden Gate Park guide.
Waterfront Stroll: Since the Bay Lights went on in 2013, there's nothing nicer to do in San Francisco on a pretty evening than take a stroll along the waterfront at dusk, from the Ferry Building down to the Cupid's Spa
Annual Events You Should Know About
The biggest events listed below draw crowds and hotels often get filled up. Besides that, big conventions can suck up all the available hotel rooms and drive prices sky high. If you want to avoid them, you can check the Moscone Center event calendar, looking for conventions that are using more than one of the center's venues.
- February: Chinese New Year
- May: Bay to Breakers race
- July: Fireworks celebrations
- July: San Francisco Marathon
- October: Fleet Week
You'll find more fun annual events in the San Francisco Events Guide.
Tips for Visiting San Francisco
- San Francisco is compact, despite its big reputation and you don't need a car to get around.
- We know it's popular and that you may not take this advice, but we don't recommend spending too much time at Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. They're crowded, tarted up for tourists and are nothing like the rest of this fascinating city.
Isn't It Romantic?
If your intentions are amorous, we've got the spots for a romantic stroll - and some ideas for where to ask the big question - in the romantic San Francisco getaway guide.
It's your first time in San Francisco, and you may be tempted to head for the places you've heard about or try one of the restaurants at Fisherman's Wharf. For a more fun experience, better food and a taste of local life, try the French toast at Mama's at the corner of Stockton and Filbert for breakfast. The Gospel Sunday Brunch at 1300 Fillmore features great jazz and gospel music - and even finer cuisine, a Jamaican-influenced take on an old-fashioned Sunday dinner.
Favorite neighborhood dinner spots include Pacific Cafe at 7000 Geary and Nob Hill Cafe at 1152 Taylor (between Sacramento and Clay and just off California). If you want to watch the Bay Lights come on while you eat dinner, try MarketBar at the Ferry Building.
Where to Stay
Use our step by step guide to San Francisco hotels.
For help getting the best possible deal, read about how to find a good place to stay, cheap.
Where Is San Francisco?
Most people know the answer to this question, more or less. San Francisco is located on the California coast, a little more than halfway between California's northern and southern borders. It's 87 miles from Sacramento, 218 miles from Reno, NV and 381 miles from Los Angeles