The city by the bay is one of the top travel destinations in the USA. With it’s magnificent setting on the water, quirky neighborhoods, charming street cars, and steep streets, a trip to San Francisco is definitely a memorable one. In fact, I some of my favorite memories traveling as a child with my family was in San Francisco — especially during the 4th of July when we watched the fireworks over the bay from the top of a parking garage near Fisherman’s Warf. But planning a trip to San Francisco can be overwhelming, after all it is a big city and there are so many things to do in San Francisco! So check out our Travel Basics for San Francisco to help you with your trip planning.
Get In/Get Out
The city of San Francisco is a sight and experience to behold! San Francisco is one of California’s major cities and it has a lot to offer all types of travelers. You can get into the city through any of its three main airports, or even by train, bus, boat or you may drive your way there.
San Francisco International: The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is renowned to be one of the world’s largest and is a hub for air transport in California. It is also the hub for airlines such as Virgin and United Airlines. Even with the traffic, this airport is considered to be quite efficient and equipped with the necessary amenities you could imagine, and offers international connections to Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Oakland International: Located on the east side of the Bay of California, Oakland International Airport (OAK) functions to offer reliable service to travelers all round. It is the hub for Southwest Airlines and is also known to be the favorite for locals due to their discount offerings, compared with SFO.
If you prefer to drive, then you shouldn’t have troubles getting to San Francisco. There are four main highways that lead you right to the heart of the city. There’s the US-101 from the north and south of the area. If you wish to have a more tranquil yet picturesque drive, then you may drive the Interstate 280. Interstate 80 is the only other driving route available which extends from the eastern end, over the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
There is rail transportation services provided by the Amtrak company into the San Francisco Bay Area. These trains take passengers to Emeryville or Jack London Square Station n Oakland, where they may opt to transfer onto the Amtrak Thruway bus, which continues the journey over the Bay Bridge and finally docking at the Temporary Transbay Terminal or alternate destinations downtown.
There are four Amtrak routes which serve the city.
- The California Zephyr
- The Coast Starlight
- The Capital Corridor
- The San Joaquins
There are two regional rail systems serving San Francisco city. These are popular ways to get around the city for both locals and visitors.
When you can’t take car or train, there’s always the good ol’ bus ride! Getting into San Francisco by bus is no problem at all. Though there is no principal bus terminal, there are numerous stops or docking points for the many lines of buses that run throughout San Francisco. The five major lines of buses that deliver services to the public listed below.
Click on the links for more information on prices and schedules.
- California Shuttle Bus: 333 O’Farrell Street, +1 408 294-1798
- Bolt Bus: Greyhound Terminal, 200 Folsom St
- Greyhound: 200 Folsom Street
- Hoang Express: 600 Van Ness
- Megabus: Townsend St (between 4th and 5th)
If you’re a fan of boat rides, then you might enjoy crossing over into the city via the ferry, which link other Bay Area cities to San Francisco. The ferry ride gives you a spectacular view of San Francisco’s skyline and the city in its entirety.
Ferries deliver service to passengers from the Marin County, Solano County and Alameda and Oakland in the East Bay, to San Francisco city, where they dock at the Fisherman’s Wharf. For more information, check out the ferry services below and click on the links for more information about prices and schedules.
- BayLink Ferry: http://www.vallejobayferry.com/
- Golden Gate Ferries: http://goldengateferry.org/schedules/
- Alameda Oakland Ferry: http://sanfranciscobayferry.com/route/alameda/sffb
- Blue and Gold Fleet: http://www.blueandgoldfleet.com/
- Harbor Bay Ferry: http://www.alamedaharborbayferry.com/
Get Around Town
Since San Francisco is so compact, it isn’t much of a hassle getting around town. For most visitors, the historic streetcars or cablecars are the most favorable means of getting to and from wherever, as they offer very comfortable, scenic and smooth rides. You’ll have numerous means of transportation at your disposal so feel free to pick and choose how you wish to move around the ‘little big city.’
It’s best to buy a Muni Passport for public transportation. It includes fares on any route and lasts for up to 7 days!
Keep in mind that driving in the actual city of San Francisco can be a little stressful. It is a big, crowded city with traffic, and a confusing network of one-way streets! And as with any big city, parking is very expensive and difficult to find. But it is entirely possible to drive in the city. Also, the city has many very steep hills! Not for those with a manual transmission, especially if you are not an expert with it!!!
The Muni Bus System is the premier transportation service in San Francisco. They offer services to practically everywhere in the city at an affordable rate, with the options of buses, trains, cablecars and the historic F-Line trolleys. Albeit, it may be hectic during rush hour or at times when school gets out, as people and kids flock to catch the first ride available.
Cable Cars and Trolleys
The most popular way of going around town is by far the infamous cable cars and F-Line trolleys of San Francisco. With trips to Chinatown, Nob Hill, Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman’s Wharf and more, you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride…while you may have quite a wait to get on, it’s still worth it! Visit the following link for more information on the Muni System & cable car transportation: https://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/transit
Taxis are always the next best choice on any traveling list, especially if you are visiting in a group. There may be some drawbacks though as San Francisco’s taxis are known to be inefficient, expensive and are troublesome to get during peak hours.
Safety for Tourists
Being in a densely populated and complicated city may bring about pure chaos, so as always, you should be cautious. When visiting San Francisco, try to remember that it has a one way street system, to avoid any trouble while driving. Keep your money and personal items close if you should use public transit, as it is often crowded and hectic when boarding the rides. It’s also advised that vicinities such as Tenderlein can be a little sketchy. So you may prefer to avoid these areas, especially at night. If you park your car to do some walking around town, store valuables safely or take with you to avoid any loss. Apart from this, just remember to be wise, keep safe and have fun!
Climate in San Francisco
San Francisco experiences mostly a mild climate, and is quite unlike many other states of the US because it’s weather is influenced by the surrounding waters of the Pacific. The best of all seasons for visiting is the fall, because there is not much of the rain or summer fog to experience. Winters in San Fran are rather wet and rainy with very cool temperatures, but sunny days are as hot as the summer. Spring is not much of the usual spring season we’re accustomed to, as it often brings transitional days resembling both summer and winter. Summer on the other hand is often very sunny and usually consists of days which start out foggy. All in all, San Francisco rarely gets colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit nor warmer than 73 degrees.
Popular Things to Do & Top Attractions in San Francisco
- Visit Alcatraz – one of the most notorious places in America’s history!
- Get a different perspective of San Francisco with a Golden Gate Bay Cruise
- Check out all the sights of San Francisco while making efficient use of your time with the hop on hop off Bus Tour of San Francisco
- Explore the urban streets of the city with a bike tour of San Francisco
- Get away from the city and enjoy world class wine & vineyards with a day tour from San Fran to the famous Napa Valley!
- Gain access to many popular attractions (including bay cruises) with the Go San Francisco pass
There is a miraculous array of major events and cultural festivals which take place in San Francisco. Some of these are even renowned across the globe. No matter what, every day, weekend or month brings a different festival to your enjoyment in all of its diverse communities. You may enjoy any of the following events that may be occurring right as we speak:
Bay to Breakers
The Bay to Breakers is an infamous charity fundraising 12k race event. It is often swarmed with people from all walks of life. Bay to Breakers is held in May of each year and is very much the place to be if you want to cheer on your favorite participant while you sip on a fancy concoction. For further information on Bay to Breakers, visit http://zapposbaytobreakers.com/
San Francisco Blues Festival
Held in late September at Golden Gate, the San Francisco blues Festival is the longest running blues festival in the world. It’s the ideal event for a weekend of outdoor performances. Here you are entertained by the soothing blues from legends and your palates teased by the sumptuous New Orleans barbeques available on site. If you wish to obtain further details, you may visit http://www.sfblues.com/
San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Parade
This is the world’s largest pride event ever known and hosted. It is an annual parade held in June for two days, featuring a huge, happy and enthusiastic crowd dancing and prancing to the live entertainment. It’s much of a live party for everyone! You may visit http://www.sfpride.org/
San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
Starting in August through to September you’re in for a treat of fine literary arts from the legendary Shakespeare. At 1:30pm on Saturdays and Sundays people flock the park to set their minds at ease from all the ‘in-the-week’ hubbub. Admission is free, so no worries! http://www.sfshakes.org/
Sunday Streets….the open street festival in San Francisco to bike, walk, run, skateboard, dance, just do whatever you want having fun! It’s held every Sunday in the summer at a different location, and there is no traffic to worry about as cars are banned from the street to allow the festival to happen. You may visit the following link for further information http://www.sundaystreetssf.com/ Browse and book your sightseeing tickets for San Francisco here!
Major Tourist Neighborhoods/ Tourist Districts
There are a huge number of major neighborhoods and districts which are attractions for visitors to San Francisco. Some of which you may have even seen before in popular TV shows and movies. Here are just a few of them that you may be interested in visiting:
Golden Gate is quite a popular district in San Francisco, and home of the great Golden Gate Bridge. Movies such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes have been filmed here. It’s also lined with very high end neighborhoods such as Pacific Heights, and offers quite a spectacular view.
Chinatown is probably Golden Gate’s biggest rival as tourist neighborhood. Chinatown is basically the biggest replica of China outside of Asia. It’s pretty much of a tourist trap, but it is a must see if you are visiting. And it is a premier spot to stop and have some authentic tasting dim sum.
Fisherman’s Wharf is quite an experience in itself. Lined with some of San Francisco’s best museums, ferries to take you on a harbor cruise to Alcatraz Island and home of the Pier 39 Sea Lions aquarium, where visitors are often entertained by the water creatures’ cute acts. It’s also the optimum spot for a late afternoon walk in the bay breeze, just to relax a little.
Located on the southern of Market Street, the Castro district is San Fran’s LGBT community. It’s a vibrant neighborhood saturated with exquisite theaters, pubs, restaurants and the Randall Museum. Just hop on to the F-Line trolley and go see all of this lively community.
The Mission district is quite an extensive area where 16th & Valencia Streets, 24th Street, Dolores and Valencia Corridor are the main highlights for tourists. The Mission Dolores Church is situated right here and is a historic landmark for the vicinity and hosts a collection of awe-inspiring murals created by legendary and aspiring artists from all over.
The Twin Peaks is nestled in the southwestern end of San Francisco and is also another spot for scenic clips of famous movies. The San Francisco Zoo also lies within this district which attracts both locals and visitors to check out the animals.