PeaceJoyAustin

Cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to do in beautiful places

San Francisco

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  • Hilly city on the tip of a peninsula with a plethora of landmarks & unique character
  • Renowned for its progressive politics and LGBT inclusivity
  • Most expensive real estate and cost of living in the country

Metro population: 4.7 million (#11 in the U.S.)

When To Visit: Year-round

Climate: Cloudy and foggy with warm temperatures much of the year. Some rain in the winter.

San Francisco is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and unique cities in the country, and it has no shortage of cool neighborhoods, fun attractions, and quirky spots to explore. It is very walkable and there are plenty of efficient public transportation options.

Photo: San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge from Embarcadero

Where To Go in San Francisco

Golden Gate & Surroundings

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge is SF’s most popular tourist attraction and for good reason – a walk across the bridge provides epic views of the city and the bay. Don’t miss these other spots in the area.

  • Fort Point: This Civil War-era fort on the south terminus provides some of the best views of the bridge. Free.
  • Point Bonita Lighthouse: Just a beautiful drive of a few miles from the north end of the bridge, this stunning lighthouse has great views of the bridge and ocean cliffs. Free.
  • Lands End: The best hike within city limits, this trail takes you along epic coastal views, below beautiful forest canopy, and offers several great viewpoints of the Golden Gate. Free.

Inner & Outer Sunset

A popular hangout area for locals, Inner Sunset has some of the best food in town. Outer Sunset is a very unique and quiet section of the city with near-constant fog and gloom due its location on the Pacific, but it offers plenty of opportunities for walks on the beach.

  • Golden Gate Park: The largest park in the city, it contains an AIDS memorial, a paddleboat-friendly lake, and even a field of buffalo. Free.
  • Moraga Street Tiled Steps: This beautifully mosaiced 16th Street tiled stairway is an artistic wonder with great views of the surrounding neighborhoods. Free.

North Beach & Russian Hill

This especially hilly corner of town hosts several tourist haunts and secret spots to explore.

  • Lombard Street: You must ride or walk down this famous dramatically curvy and steep street (between Hyde & Leavenworth). Free.
  • Ghirardelli Square & Fishermans Wharf: The city’s most famous shopping area with some of its best seafood and the original Ghiraradelli store. Free.
  • Coit Tower: A 210-foot tower in the Telegraph Hill area with great views of the city. For a dramatic entrance, take the “secret” Greenwich Stairs up from Sansome Street. $8 admission for non-residents.
  • Little Italy: Unsurprisingly some of the best Italian food and desserts in SF. Free.
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Sunset hitting the Golden Gate viewed from Fisherman’s Wharf

Financial District & South of Market (SoMa)

The “Downtown” of the city, these areas host the majority of the city’s skyscrapers and its iconic cable cars.

  • Embarcadero: Enjoy a bayside walk on this long strip which used to be an ugly freeway. Stop in the Ferry Building Marketplace for a plethora of food and dessert. Free.
  • Chinatown: Without a doubt the best Chinatown in the U.S. Enjoy a $3 tea tasting at many shops, stop at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory for samples and interesting twists on the iconic cookie which was invented in SF, wait in line for a mouth-watering dan tat (custard tart) at Golden Gate Bakery, and step inside the small yet exquisite Tin How Temple, the oldest Taoist temple in the city. Free.
  • Union Square: Home to a famous heart sculpture, this tourist-heavy square is neatly situated between countless skyscrapers and shopping opportunities. Free.
  • Cable Cars: Catch a fun ride on a historic cable car at the corner of Powell & Market Streets. $7 one-way ticket

Haight-Ashbury

Famous for its history as the epicenter of the hippie movement, this character-filled neighborhood has plenty of quirky shops and eats.

  • Corona Heights Park: Take a short, steep walk to the top of this hill for a close-up view of the downtown skyline. Free.
  • Painted Ladies: This row of colorful homes in the traditional architectural style of the city was made famous in Full House. You’ll even get a nice panoramic view of the city in the background. Free.
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The Painted Ladies

The Castro

The gay center of a very gay city, The Castro is full of fun and wildness and overflowing with dessert.

  • Dolores Park: This large, hilly park is a wildly popular hangout spot for locals and offers prime people watching and views of the city. Free.
  • Twin Peaks: The most famous spot to get a photo of the city’s skyline, you can either hike or drive to the main viewpoint. Once there, you can take a windy and windy (both iterations of the word ;)) walk to the top of the second peak. Free.
  • Seward Street Slides: Bring a kid to or discover your inner child at this whimsical pair of metal slides. There’s usually cardboard lying around that you can use for a more thrilling ride. Free.

The Mission & Potrero Hill

The Mission is a gentrifying (or gentrified) neighborhood that is one of the culinary and artistic centers of the city. Potrero Hill is perhaps the hilliest neighborhood in the city and offers some of the best skyline views.

  • Vermont Street: The section of Vermont Street near McKinley Square is the true steepest street in the city and is virtually undiscovered by tourists. Free.
  • Clarion Alley: This long block is lined with huge murals that depict life in the city and a variety of creative expressions. Free. Mission Street & 17th Street.
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Clarion Alley

Bernal Heights

This area on the south end of the city has a more low-key vibe and great opportunities to enjoy nature.

  • Bernal Heights Park: Yet another hilltop park, this one even has a swing. This park’s larger size offers more hiking opportunities than most of the city’s parks. Free.

Click here to read an awesome blog on must have experiences in San Francisco!

Click here for a great overview of how to spend a weekend in SF.

San Francisco Cheap Eats

San Francisco restaurants and fast casual eateries popular with locals where you can get a full meal for under $15. I always highlight some vegan or vegetarian options – cutting down on the amount of meat you eat is by far the #1 way you can reduce your environmental impact and contribute less to animal cruelty.

Pica Pica: This Venezuelan cafe specializes in arepas (delicious stuffed corn pockets) and has some larger plate options. 401 Valencia Street, The Mission. (415) 400-5453

Enjoy Vegetarian: You’ll more than enjoy this low-key Chinese place’s meat-free takes on traditional and Americanized Chinese dishes. It’s even been named one of the 50 Best Chinese Restaurants in the country. 839 Kearny Street, Chinatown. (415) 956-7868

Perilla: A Vietnamese eatery that is known for its garlic noodles, served solo or with vegetables or meat. 501 Mission  Street, SoMa. (415) 777-1893

Ike’s: Probably SF’s most famous sandwich shop, this vegetarian and vegan-friendly spot has a huge menu with a variety of fun options. Opt for their dutch crunch bread and dirty sauce and enjoy your free Caramel Apple Pop 🙂  66 Powell Street, Tenderloin.

San Tung: Casual and authentic Chinese food, much of which is under $10. They’re famous for their dry fried chicken wings and variety of vegetarian options. 1031 Irving Street, Inner Sunset. (415) 242-0828

San Francisco Nightlife

San Francisco bars, lounges, and clubs that are popular with locals and meet one or more of these criteria: A) Unique, unlike anyplace you’ll find in another city  B) Fun and lively, sure to be a good time  C) Beautiful decor or view

Raven Bar: This 2-story bar with multiple dancefloors plays only the best 90s-00s hip hop on Friday & Saturday nights ($10 cover after 10pm). 1151 Folsom Street, SoMa. (415) 431-1151

Butter: A colorful trailer park-themed bar that specializes in sweet, unhealthy food and drinks. 354 11th Street, SoMa. (415) 863-5964

Badlands: One of the Castro’s most popular gay danceclubs complete with a beautiful dancefloor and surprisingly good drink deals. 4121 18th St, The Castro. (415) 626-9320

The View: The best rooftop bar in the city, this swanky lounge on the top of the Marriot has incredible skyline views. 780 Mission Street, SoMa. (415) 442-6003

Wilson & Wilson: A password-protected detective agency-themed speakeasy with old-school decor and creative drinks. Advance reservations required. 505 Jones Street, Tenderloin.

Kozy Kar: You’ll find car seats, waterbeds, and an empty jacuzzi at this 1970s hippie-themed bar that even has a dancefloor. 1548 Polk St, Nob Hill. (415) 346-5699

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Top Of The Mark

 

Nearby Side Trips from San Francisco

Muir Woods National Monument: This Marin County park 40 minutes to the north preserves some of the last remaining old growth redwood trees in the Bay Area. Read more.

Pinnacles National Park: America’s newest national park (2 hours south of San Francisco), this landscape is littered with dramatic rock formations and other remnants of its volcanic past. Read more.

Sacramento: Just 1.5 hours east, California’s capital city is not known for being much more than that, but it deserves a second glance. Wander through its impressive Old Town or sample some of its diverse culinary offerings.  Read more.

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