San Francisco is one of the top tourism destinations in the world for many reasons. A few hours away from other notable destinations, such as Los Angeles, Oakland, and the famous Napa Valley, San Francisco has plenty to do and is a convenient hub to access other great cities. AXS explored the city for 72 hours to bring you a detailed guide on the best offerings from the city by the bay.
San Francisco is known for the famous cable cars and has many convenient methods of transportation, but, is a walkable and bike-friendly city. A common misconception one assumes is that a destination is farther from where it’s located. Half of the time, the destination is closer than one would expect.
If you're driving to San Francisco and wish to take in the best of the city; we recommend the infamous 49-mile scenic drive.
Where To Go?
The city of San Francisco has plenty to offer with over twenty neighborhoods, each offering a different aesthetic and experience. When in San Francisco there are must-see historic landmarks and tourist destinations:
- Coit Tower. Coit Tower, also known as, Lillian Coit Memorial Tower, is a 210-foot tower in the Telegraph Hill.
- The Alcatraz. Offshore a few miles from San Francisco is this small island that was home to America's most dangerous felons during 1934 to 1963.
- The Golden Gate Bridge. Heralded as one of the top ten construction achievements of the 20th Century and must-see in San Francisco.
- Lombard Street. Walk this way, but be careful - on San Francisco's infamous crooked, curvy Lombard Street.
- Golden Gate Park. San Francisco's greatest treasures with over 1,017 acres of land with museums, trails, playgrounds, gardens and more.
- The Mission District. A gentrified Latin district comprising of unique shops, restaurants and street art.
- Union Square. The center of it all is Union Square, a busy hub great for shopping, dining, entertainment and more.
- Fisherman's Wharf/Pier 39. To find some of the unique souvenirs in San Francisco, see the most captivating views, and with more than 100 stores, live entertainment, to even art galleries visit Pier 39.
City Pass is a great way to sight see and save money in San Francisco. The City Pass includes a 7-day pass for unlimited cable cars and SF muni rides, 1-hour bay cruise, access to many tourist destinations and more! The value of the pass is estimated in over $70 in savings.
Shop Until You Drop
If you love shopping, then you'll love shopping in San Francisco. The city has over fifteen distinctive shopping areas offering a variety of shopping experiences for every budget! Shop vintage, thrift and fabrics on Mission Street. Snag fifth avenue favorites on Fillmore Street or shop like a local from the farmers market at the Ferry Building.
Union Square is your best bet for shopping in San Francisco. You’ll find everything you need via a variety of shops from high-end, independent and local retailers, and many other gems.
Westfield Centre Mall, in Union Square, holds over 200 stores, many independent eating options, a co-working space and movie cinema. If you’re traveling to San Francisco for the first time, the mall offers tourism perks, such as the Passport To Savings booklet. This booklet provides visitors with hundreds of savings and perks from San Francisco's best shops and restaurants.
Dining At The Westfield Centre. The best thing about Westfield Centre, many of the restaurants are independent - which means you find them anywhere else, except SF. When at the Westfield Centre Mall, if you go to the last level of the mall, known as, “the dome”, dine at a collection of distinctive restaurants; all suitable for casual dining.
TAP 415. Located inside the Westfield Centre Mall, this dining experiences offers American cuisine with a twist. After (or during) shopping at Westfield, grab a delicious tap burger or a glass wine or beer. Tap 415 is perfect for groups and suitable for large groups and family friendly. A local favorite: the Tap Burger and pretzel nuggets.
Other Dining Experiences In San Francisco
If you’re seeking a casual dining experience with a notch of upscale, we have three different options for you. There are endless possibilities while dining on the various piers of San Francisco. ($=$30 - $60 ; $$ = $80 - $150 ; $$$ = $150+).
Bluestem Brasserie. Located in a busy urban cross section of San Fran, just minutes away from the financial district. Bluestem Brasserie offers a seasonal brasserie menu with grass-fed beef & hyper-season dishes created by Chef Francis Hogan. The restaurant is ideal for brunch, lunch or dinner with an upscale atmosphere, yet comfortable with multiple dining areas, and, a patio. A local favorite from the menu: duck confit salad or brasserie burger. The "American Road Trip" cocktail, is recommended, Bluestem's signature cocktail inspired by a different geographic location every month. ($$ ; bluestembrasserie.com)
Johns Grill. Dine at the historic landmark and one of the oldest restaurants in San Francisco. John’s Grill on 63 Ellis Street, close by Union Square, theater's and much more. Johns Grill offers a comfortable atmosphere, with a classic menu offering a great choice of grilled seafood dishes, steaks, and overall reasonable priced selections. Visit John's Grill for the locals favorite: oysters wellington or for the live jazz upstairs every night. ($ ; johnsgrill.com)
Hornblower Cruises. If you have limited time in the city, yet want a memorable dining experience, get on board a Hornblower dinner (or brunch) cruise! Experience a 3-hour, four-course dinner while enjoying live entertainment, dancing, and one of the best views by boat of San Francisco. The cruise sights include the Golden Gate Bridge, Ghirardelli Square and more. Hornblower cruises offer cruises for special events and occasions. ($$ ; www.hornblower.com/home/sf)
La Mar Cebicheria Peruana. Enjoy a culture infused meal from Peru and a magnificent view of the Bay Area or Golden Gate Bridge while you dine at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana. Lar Mar is on Pier 1 ½, offering indoor and patio seating with ocean themes inspired aesthetics. Lar Mar's menu consists of delicious, fresh seafood, cultural favorites, and classic dishes with a Peruvian twist. Try three different delicious homemade style empanadas or the ceibiches, the national dish of Peru. ($$ ; lamarsf.com)
Fog Harbor Fish House. Fog Harbor Fish House is a family friendly restaurant on Pier 39 (Fisherman's Wharf) overlooking the bay and views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Voted for the best margarita in San Francisco, offering a diverse menu of excellent seafood dishes, great appetizers and plenty of delicious dessert options. ($ ; fogharbor.com)
C.R.E.A.M A perfect place if you have a sweet tooth and love ice cream, Cookies Rule Everything Around Me, is perfection. Even more perfect is the wide variety of ice cream, cookies and the menu combinations offered. Try a cookie ice cream sandwich, a generous scoop of delicious ice cream between two warm cookies. ($ ; creamnation.com)
Urban Tavern (via Hilton Hotel Union Square). A great gem in Union Square is Urban Tavern located and connected at the Hilton SF Union Square. Cuisines are crafted by Chef Thomas Vertl, this gastropub restaurant offers specialty dishes with cultural influences. The Urban Tavern is a great restaurant for meetings, groups and if you’re seeking a laid back environment to dine in San Francisco. ($ ; urbantavernsf.com)
Where To Stay San Francisco
Hotel Diva. Hotel Diva is a boutique hotel offering a comfortable stay with style. This boutique hotel is stylish, pet-friendly, personable, and minutes away from Union Square’s greatest shops, attractions, and public transportation.
Hilton Hotels. If you prefer a trusted hotel chain, look no further than the Hilton SF Union Square near Chinatown, Nob Hill, and transportation. The hotel offers convenience with many activities, amenities and experiences on the site, including Urban Tavern, a stylish lounge, coffee shop, fitness center, an outdoor pool and hot tub. There are also many other Hilton owned hotel properties located around San Francisco.
Experiences In San Francisco
Visiting San Francisco for the first time? A guided tour is highly recommended; San Francisco has many tours depending on your tastes from guided Segway, historic, and even food tours.
If you explore the city solo, experience over 20 neighborhoods, each having their own unique aesthetic. In addition, enjoy various dive bars, the indie music scene, various events, and the eclectic nightlife if clubbing is your thing.
The Real SF Tour. The experience of eleven of the city’s coolest neighborhoods. A perfect tour if you want to know the in-depth history of the San Francisco. (therealsftour.com)
Local Taste Of The City Tours. Experience the best cuisines of San Francisco with Local Taste Of City Tours. Choose between a walking or bus tour around San Francisco’s best areas for foodie's, including Chinatown and North Beach/Little Italy. The tours are guided by a trusted San Francisco local, comprising of various stories and sampling of organic popcorn, one of the best pizza restaurants in SF and more. (sffoodtour.com)
Electric Tour Company. For a group, self-guided tour on wheels look no further than the electric tour company offering guided tours of Golden Gate Park and the Wharf & Waterfront. A Segway tour is a seamless and fun way to sightsee the hidden gems of San Francisco. The Golden Gate Park tour is highly recommended. The tours route include The San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers (free entry every first Tuesday) and close by the San Francisco Botanical Museum. (book various tours via electrictourcompany.com)
Beach Blanket Babylon. If you’re a pop culture or broadway junkie, the longest musical revue in American history, Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon is a must-see! From the music, hilarious cast and outrageous, yet stunning costumes. When visiting San Francisco, do not leave until you’ve seen this show.
The Art Scene In San Francisco
San Francisco is no doubt an artistic city. You don’t have to search too hard to find art, from the architecture of the monasteries to street murals and museums. Down below are the notable art museums of SF:
Asian Art Museum
California Historical Society
Cartoon Art Museum
Contemporary Jewish Museum
de Young Museum
The Legion of Honor
Museum of African Diaspora
Museum of Craft and Folk Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco has a multidisciplinary cultural center, SOMArts, welcoming visitors and uplifts diverse artists and art practices. The center aids artists, and, helps the local community through classes/workshops and working with various non-profit organizations around the city. For more information visit somarts.org
If you fancy witty murals, paintings and picturesque street art, Clarion Alley (in the Mission District), is a must.
The Best Views of San Francisco
San Francisco is known for the best views of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay, and SF overall. To get the ultimate best views, we recommend the various (and steep) hills of SF. There're 43 hills, the most popular include Twin Peaks, Nob, Russian, and Telegraph.
San Francisco is home to one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States, Castro. Castro is a vibrant community with rainbow-hued streets, many great bars, cafes, and wild nightlife.
In A Nutshell?
San Francisco is an eclectic city, offering a memorable experience for all. San Francisco will host the 2016 Super Bowl, is home to one of the best airports in the United States and has a booming startup scene.
Start your planning your San Francisco itinerary, right here! Are you spending 72 Hours somewhere? Share your own travel highlights via social media using hashtag #72HoursIn.
About AXS '72 Hours In': a travel series aimed to inspire you to travel more. This year is a big year in travel and you don't need a more than a week, a month or even have to leave your country. By spending just three days in a destination, which can be located three hours to three thousand miles away, you're sure to discover something new.