San Francisco is the second-largest city in California, and is also one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the United States. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, when you visit San Francisco you'll experience a liberal community that offers coastal views, temperate weather, and hilly terrain for outdoor enthusiasts, and a level of technological adoption that is second to none. As part of the greater San Francisco Bay Area, the city itself sits on a seven-by-seven mile peninsula with 812,000 residents. The Bar Area on the other hand, including Oakland, Berkeley, and Marin County, is home to a population of 7.1 million.
When to visit
With its impressive cultural diversity, there are many events going on in San Francisco throughout the year that make it perfect to visit at any time. The Cherry Blossom Festival, held annually in April, is celebrated in Japantown with a kid-friendly parade, street fairs, and live music. Fringe Festival occurs annually after Labor Day (September) and is a 10-day festival of theatrical experimentation.
San Francisco is also home to some of the United States' best holiday celebrations, including Chinese New Year festivities in Chinatown, an Easter Parade on Union Street, and Fourth of July celebrations in the Fisherman's Wharf district.
Determining the right time of year to visit San Francisco depends upon the individual. If you live in a cold-weather climate, there might not be a bad time to visit the city. The area experiences cool, wet winters and dry, warm summers. If you want to dodge peak tourist season, a visit between December and February brings cooler temperatures average 57.1 F (13.9 C), but higher rainfall averages of around 4.5 inches (114.3 mm) monthly.
Between June and September, temperatures hover in the upper 60s F (20s C), and rainfall is less than one inch on a monthly basis. However, the warm temperatures draw more tourists, so you can expect to see plenty of other people out and about. September and October are considered the sweet spot in San Francisco, with warm, dry weather, and crisp autumn mornings.
If you're going to visit a coastal city such as San Francisco, it would be a shame to see it only from the confines of shore. There are many harbor tours available that give you stunning views of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz island. These tours vary in cost and duration, but generally provide a slow crawl and plenty of photo ops.
For fans of the performing arts, San Francisco is home to its own opera and symphony, as well as countless other musicals and concerts. The best way to learn about all of them and purchase tickets is to visit the Half-Price Ticket Booth in Union Square. Operated by the Theatre Bay Area group, your ticket purchase get you in for half price while supporting the theater community in the city.
One trip to San Francisco might not be enough time to see everything. Must-see attractions include the Golden Gate Bridge, spanning San Francisco Bay, and the famous cable cars in the city's center that run up and down between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf. Speaking of Fisherman's Wharf, it's a popular destination for visitors and provides a variety of street entertainers, museums, and great cuisine.
The city's Chinatown neighborhood is just one of the many culturally diverse districts within the city. Located northwest of downtown San Francisco, it contains some of the best Asian cuisine in the city, along with endless shops bustling with people on a daily basis. Golden Gate Park in the Avenues district is the city's most popular outdoor park, and is a must-see during your trip.
Tips & Recommendations
• San Francisco CityPASS is a cheap and easy way to see many of the city's best attractions. Valid for 9 days, it covers five major attractions and includes seven days of fares on cable cars or MUNI public transportation.
• The city is home to a diverse array of musical genres, many of which can be enjoyed for free in local restaurants, bars, and clubs.
• Free walking tours exist if you want to enjoy the city on your own.
• Discover Walks offer a chance to "see San Francisco with a local." These 90-minute guided tours offer greater insight into the city and its landmarks.
• San Francisco prides itself on equality, whether its gender, race, or sexual orientation.
Looking for something that's a cut above? You'll find it at 3-star Hotel Boheme. With fewer than 20 rooms, the property promises a high standard of service. Recommended attractions: Aquarium of the Bay, Pier 39 and Maritime National Historical Park. The famous landmark TransAmerica Pyramid is conveniently close, as are Lombard Street and Transbay Train Terminal. This is a good location from which to visit Coit Tower, just 0.4 km (0.3 miles) away. Moscone Center is easily accessible.
The 2-star Marina Inn is a smart choice for the budget traveler. In the surrounding area, Maritime National Historical Park, Palace of Fine Arts and Pier 39 are among the attractions you can enjoy. Lombard Street is one of many landmarks in the area. You'll be close to Maritime Museum and Cable Car Museum, where you can spend hours admiring the collections. Accessing Fort Mason Center is easy from here.
W San Francisco Hotel has 4 stars. The sheer number of rooms here guarantees a great choice. From here, you'll be conveniently close to Caltrain King Street Terminus. Transbay Train Terminal, TransAmerica Pyramid and City Hall are within a short walk from here. This lodging is a good choice for visiting Coit Tower, which can be reached on foot from here. For business travelers, this location provides close proximity to Moscone Center.
Economize by staying at the 2-star The Herbert Hotel. A nearby station is Caltrain King Street Terminus. From this area you can easily visit TransAmerica Pyramid, City Hall and even Transbay Train Terminal. War Memorial Opera House and AT&T Park can be reached on foot from here. This is a good location from which to visit Coit Tower, just 1.8 km (1.1 miles) away.
The 1-star Youth Hostel Central & Hotel is a smart choice for the budget traveler. With fewer than 20 rooms here, you'll avoid big hotel crowds. The convenient transit hub Caltrain King Street Terminus is not far. City Hall, TransAmerica Pyramid and Transbay Train Terminal are within a short walk from here. From this property you'll be close to Museum of Modern Art and Cable Car Museum. Conference attendees at Moscone Center appreciate it's proximity to here.
Save money by staying in this 1-star European Hostel. By public transit, your best choice is Caltrain King Street Terminus. War Memorial Opera House is an interesting attraction just a stroll from here. The well-known landmarks, City Hall and Alamo Square are walking distance from here. This property is an excellent choice for visitors to Cathedral Event Center.
In contrast with impersonal corporate hotels, Encore Express offers a more intimate atmosphere. 1-star rooms are a good value here. Nearby War Memorial Opera House might be the high point of your vacation. Landmarks near this property are City Hall, Lombard Street and TransAmerica Pyramid. St. Mary's Cathedral is within easy reach from here. The nearby Cathedral Event Center is a popular venue.
Economize by staying at the 1-star Taylor Hotel San Francisco. Given the proximity of Caltrain King Street Terminus, it's easy to arrive here by public transit. While staying in San Francisco, you might enjoy visiting War Memorial Opera House. Coit Tower is no more than 2km (1.25mi) from here. If you're in town for a conference, Moscone Center is an easy stroll from here.
With fewer than 20 rooms, Washington Suites offers the intimacy of a small accommodation. A good option for those who seek a greater degree of comfort in San Francisco. Close to Cable Car Museum, this location also allows easy access to Lombard Street. From here, you'll be in the vicinity of Aquarium of the Bay, Maritime National Historical Park and Pier 39. In the accommodation's vicinity, you'll find Coit Tower. Several events and conferences take place year-round in the nearby Cathedral Event Center.
Minna Express boasts a rating of 3 stars. The accommodation is near Caltrain King Street Terminus for easy accessibility. Make memories at War Memorial Opera House and AT&T Park, which are close to here. Nearby are numerous museums, including the fine Museum of Modern Art and Cable Car Museum collections. Here for business? The Moscone Center is nearby.
The 3-star The Suites at Fishermans Wharf offers a delightful balance of value and service. Maritime National Historical Park and Lombard Street are accessible by foot from this accommodation. Recommended: A visit to San Francisco's famous nearby monument Coit Tower. Museums in the neighborhood include Maritime Museum and Cable Car Museum. This location offers easy access to Fort Mason Center, a popular conference and events arena.
Monte Cristo Inn is one of the smaller San Francisco holiday accommodations. The 3-star rating ensures a memorable stay here. Among the popular sights within walking distance from here are Exploratorium and Alamo Square. Palace of Fine Arts is one of many fascinating attractions found within the accommodation's vicinity. Here for business? The Cathedral Event Center is nearby.
With no more than 20 rooms, The Washington Square Inn is a small boutique establishment. The 3-star rating ensures a memorable stay here. Nearby, you'll find Lombard Street and Coit Tower. In the surrounding area, Aquarium of the Bay, Pier 39 and Maritime National Historical Park are among the attractions you can enjoy. In the immediate vicinity of this accommodation, you'll find the outstanding Cable Car Museum and Maritime Museum.