San Francisco is such a fun city! Between the gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge, the crazy steep streets, and the colourful character homes, it’s something else! I’ve been lucky enough to visit San Francisco twice in the last year – once last April, and then just the other week. I love the city and I always have such a great time. There’s never a shortage of new things to do, a new neighbourhood to explore, or a new restaurant to try!
So after both of my visits, I want to share my favourite things to do and places to eat in San Francisco, along with a few travel tips. Hope this helps you planning your next trip!
Things to do:
- Ride a cable car – A must do, and one of the main things people associate with San Francisco! Get in line at the beginning of the cable car route at Powell and Market St. Then you can ride it all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. If you can, try to sit on the benches at the front! You also have to buy your tickets at the little ticket stand, and they’re $7 each way. We took the cable car one way though and then paid for an Uber back to our car.
- Check out Half Moon Bay – This is about an hour’s drive south of San Francisco, but it’s an amazing beach and cute little seaside town! We also stopped at Mavericks to see these huge waves and watch the sunset!
- Drink wine in Napa Valley & Sonoma – We spent a day visiting wineries in the region, and the wines didn’t disappoint! 😉 Our first stop was Buena Vista, the oldest winery in the region. We then headed to Sebastiani, where we ended up joining their wine club. Afterwards, we went to Artesa, which has the most breathtaking view of the region! Our final stop of the day was a winery tour and tasting at Robert Mondavi, and we had a lovely time! Although we didn’t make it up to Il Castello (we ran out of time), I’ve heard great things about this winery, so if you can, check it out!
- See the Golden Gate Bridge – If you’re heading north, you can pull over to the right and they have the classic Golden Gate viewpoint, with an area highlighting the bridge’s history, as well as a mini model of the bridge’s engineering. If you’re heading south into San Fransico, you pull off onto the last exit before the bridge, and head up to another viewpoint. It’s about a 750 metre walk to the real viewpoint. Although this one has the the city in the background and it’s stunning!
- Walk through the neighbourhoods: Pacific Heights & Marina District – These neighbourhoods are both just lovely. You can easily get lost wandering though the streets and admiring the houses. We also headed up to Alta Plaza Park which has an amazing view of the city. Lastly, make sure to plan a visit to The Bud Stop which has these beautiful flowers lining their sidewalk storefront – it’s the perfect Instagram photo-op!
- Walk through the Golden Gate Park – In warmer weather, the park is filled with people having picnics, biking, playing outdoors. Wander through the lovely park and head up the tower in the De Young Museum (it’s free!) for a gorgeous view!
- Drive down Lombard St – Another San Francisco classic, and the steepest street! It’s so steep that the street zigzags! We drove down Lombard, parked nearby, and then walked up the stairs along the street. In the spring and summer, the flowerbeds are full of beautiful blue and purple hydrangeas!
- Visit Pier 39 & Fisherman’s Wharf – Right along the water (and with no shortage of tourists), are these two fun sights. They are full of little shops, places to eat, and views of the bay. At Pier 39, there are also sea lions that hang out near the end, so be sure to go and pay them a visit! They’re adorable!
- Drive to Big Sur – This is a bit far from San Francisco, about a three-hour drive to the start (Monterray) and then another hour to drive down to Big Sur. But if you have the time, I would say it’s worth it! The cliffs, bright blue ocean, and bridges along the coast are stunning! At the end there is this great restaurant, Nepenthe, where you can sit on what feels like the edge of a cliff looking out into the Pacific Ocean!
Places to eat:
- Cotogna – This Italian restaurant was where we celebrated our anniversary, and I would highly recommend it to everyone! It is on the pricier side, and do make a reservation, but food is absolutely amazing! Since we were celebrating our anniversary, they brought us two glasses of prosecco to start. Then for dessert, our placemats said “Happy Anniversay Danielle & Guido” on them! I love those special little touches that really make all the difference.
- Rose’s Café – A delicious brunch spot full of character! We sat outside, admiring the lovely neighbourhood!
- Zuni Café – The atmosphere was very neat – they have a copper bar, exposed brick and huge windows. The dishes are all made with local, seasonal ingredients and are full of flavour!
- La Mar – Although we didn’t make it here on this trip, I’ve been to the one in Lima and it’s ah-ma-zing! One of – if not the – best Peruvian food restaurants out there!
- Le Marais Bakery – A little café in Ghirardelli square that makes for the perfect afternoon coffee and snack stop!
- Basque Café (Sonoma) – We had lunch here in between wineries, and they had delicious sandwiches and baked goods. It’s right on the town plaza. I highly recommend the veggie panini!
- Pier Market (On Pier 39) – Most of the restaurants here are quite similar in style, so we popped into this seafood place and sat by the window with a view of the water! The clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl and crab cakes were delicious!
- Alioto’s – Walking back from Fisherman’s wharf, you’ll see this restaurant as it’s on the third floor (although they have a café on the sidewalk). The view was gorgeous! You could see the Golden Gate Bridge and all the ships in the marina. They had some very reasonably priced lunch specials and the food was good!
- Sparrow Bar & Kitchen – This is a great lunch spot along Haight Street, as you make your way to the Golden Gate Park. They have a lovely patio behind the restaurant, and the brown rice and veggie bowl was super yummy!
- January isn’t the most ideal time to visit San Francisco (it’s cold, sometimes rainy, and nothing is in bloom – flowers, trees, winery vines)… Last year I went in April and it was much better – closer to summer, but before the crazy summer crowds arrive! I would say anytime between April to September is a great time to plan your trip!
- This time around, we stayed south of Sausalito, so it was about a 20 to 30 minute drive into town. We rented a car which made a lot of sense for us. Thankfully we didn’t have too much trouble finding parking when we were in the city. We also used the car to head down to Half Moon Bay one evening, and then for day-trip to Napa and Sonoma. Last year, I stayed right in the city, and there was no need for a car. I just took Uber, public transit, or walked everywhere! So depending on where you stay and what your plans are, you may or may not need to rent a car.
I hope that gives you a good start to planning your next vacation to this amazing city! I’m definitely looking forward to our next trip to San Francisco! I’d also love to spend more time in Napa Valley and Sonoma because that was gorgeous! And accompanied by oh-so-delicious wines 😉 When I make it back to that winery region, I’ll be sure to share another travel guide for the all of you wine lovers like myself!
Have you ever been to San Francisco? What was your favourite sight or activity? 🙂