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Things to Do in San Francisco

Overview: With trademark hills and the Pacific Ocean a frequent backdrop across its seven square miles, San Francisco serves as a cultural melting pot where hippies and tech workers mingle over tacos, artisanal cocktails, and cold-brew coffee. With weather patterns as diverse as its neighborhoods, the City by the Bay offers international flavor: dim sum in Chinatown, cannoli in North Beach, izakaya bites in Japantown, and a bustling food hall scene in the Ferry Building, to name a few. History and culture thrive in the Castro and Mission District; Union Square—San Francisco’s premier shopping destination—showcases both world-renowned boutiques and indie designers; and open-air adventure is never hard to find in Golden Gate Park or along the fog-laced stretches of Ocean Beach. Visitors come for iconic experiences such as cable-car rides, photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, and tours of Alcatraz Island—and stick around for wine tasting trips to Napa and Sonoma wine country, visits to the giant redwoods in Muir Woods, and adventures in Berkeley, Oakland, Sebastopol, and the greater Bay Area. Keep in mind that the weather can be more temperamental than other California cities like Los Angeles, so pack a jacket for when the fog rolls in off the hills, or plan a trip to coincide with San Francisco’s Indian Summer, starting in early fall.

  • Language: English
  • Currency: $
  • Time Zone: UTC (-08:00)
  • Country Code: +1
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer, Fall

When to Visit: Summer usually includes the biggest concentration of festivals, including Pride and the Outside Lands music festival, but typically cooler temperatures, whereas fall offers warmer sunny weather. Whenever you choose to visit, come prepared with layers, as the fog usually burns off by mid-morning and returns in the early evening, bringing with it up to 20-degree swings in temperature.

Getting Around: Although it’s a fairly walkable city, San Francisco is also easily traversed by MUNI’s system of buses and light-rail trains, including the iconic cable cars. BART rapid rail connects the city with the greater Bay Area to the east, and CalTrain’s commuter rail service runs along the San Francisco Peninsula. Uber and Lyft ride-sharing apps are also popular.

Tipping: For most service-industry businesses (restaurants, bars, cabs), tips are expected, and 10-20% is standard, with 15% generally sufficient. A good rule of thumb is to multiply the sales tax by two, which equals around a 17% tip.

You Might Not know…: Most of the BART light-rail trains connecting San Francisco to the surrounding Bay Area stop running shortly after midnight. If you miss the train, you can opt for Uber or Lyft to get home. If you cross a bridge, expect an additional charge for the toll.

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Golden Gate National Recreation Area
5 Tours and Activities

Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) is the largest urban park in the world, covering three counties along nearly 30 mi (48 km) of pristine shorelines. The area wraps around the northern and western edges of the city, encompassing a variety of attractions. Here are some of the highlights:

Aquatic Park, adjacent to the Hyde Street Pier, has a nice swimming beach, while Fort Mason Center holds a variety of museums, theaters, and shops, often with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Marina Green is a favorite local spot for kite-flying, jogging, and walking along the Promenade. The Golden Gate Promenade is San Francisco’s most scenic biking, jogging, and walking path. The Promenade travels along the shore past Crissy Field and ends under the Golden Gate Bridge, at Fort Point.

On the western edge of the bay, Baker Beach draws sunbathers, anglers, and hikers.

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4 Tours and Activities

Named for the small leopard sharks that swim along its shoreline, Tiburon sits scenically in Marin County across the bay from San Francisco. It is a small, charming town known for its affluent residents and relaxed attitude. The quaint architecture and style are reminiscent of a New England seaport village. The town developed as a terminal connecting the railways of San Rafael to San Francisco.

Of course being directly across from the city, much of Tiburon’s waterfront has an excellent view of the San Francisco skyline. Boutique shops, art galleries, cafes, and restaurants with said views can be found on the town’s Main Street and Ark Row. Many outdoor activities including hiking, biking, and boating are popular here, especially on sunny days.

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Marine Mammal Center

Just across the bay from San Francisco in Sausalito, the Marine Mammal Center has been rescuing local sea life for decades. Visitors have the chance to interact with local marine mammals including harbor seals, sea lions, elephant seals, and fur seals. The center rehabilitates and protects sick and injured seals and sea lions, many of which were stranded and would die without direct help. It was the first hospital built exclusively for marine mammals in the United States, treating animals from along 600 miles of the California coast.

The center focuses on conversation and education, allowing for the public to tour their research and rehabilitation facilities. Since its opening over 40 years ago, it has rescued and treated more than 20,000 marine mammals. Animals are rehabilitated with the goal of re-releasing them back into the wild. Most of the year, it is possible to see the animals that are being housed at the center through a visit.

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