San Francisco Tourism Guide

San Francisco consistently ranks high as a tourist destination for a very simple reason.  It’s one exciting city!

First of all, there’s the climate.  Invigorating to say the least.  When the rest of the nation is melting, San Francisco is cool and breezy.  When the rest of the nation is freezing, San Francisco is merely brisk.  The variations in the weather only make life more exciting.  You can turn a corner and find yourself moving from sunlight to fog.  In the evenings, watch the fog roll in, creeping up the hills and valleys, slowing enveloping the Golden Gate Bridge.  The effect is beautiful and mysterious.

What a view!  Coming into San Francisco on the Oakland Bay Bridge.  Photo by Phil Coblentz | San Francisco Travel Association.

Then there’s the terrain.  San Francisco is a city of hills -- over 70 of them if you count the nameless ones.  You’re never far from a  spectacular view, and the hills make for some thrilling cable car rides.  They add a lot to the charm and excitement of the city.  Just remember to bring comfortable shoes.

And finally, there’s the culture.  The city is beautiful, sophisticated and unique, with so many marvelous things to see and do you’ll never get bored.  There are fascinating neighborhoods to visit, beautiful architecture to admire, museums to explore, and wonderful food to eat.  What’s not to love?

Attractions and Things to Do

San Francisco tourist attractions  are so many and varied it's hard to know where to start.  If you're a first time visitor, you'll probably want to hit some of those world famous tourist sites, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz Prison and Golden Gate Park.  But once you've done that, there's still plenty more to do.

Tourists board a trolley at Fisherman's Wharf.  Photo by Jerry Lee Hayes | San Francisco Travel Association.

If you’d rather have someone show you around, San Francisco’s tourism industry boasts quite a variety of tour options.  There are bus and shuttle tours around the city, walking tours, bicycle tours, food tours, Segway tours, and excursions to various attractions in the Bay Area.  Guided tours are a great way to learn about the city without the hassle of driving.  Your main problem will be choosing from all the possibilities.

The city is a great vacation spot for families with kids.  Check out kid-friendly museums such as the Exploratorium or the California Academy of Sciences.  You’ll be amazed (and perhaps  a bit appalled) at the massive numbers of sea lions at Pier 39, where they cluster together like a tapestry of seals. 

Sea lions congregate at Pier 39, San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf .  Photo courtesy of Pier 39

While you’re there, enjoy a variety of family attractions, including the Aquarium of the Bay.  Visit the San Francisco Zoo, stroll around Fisherman’s Wharf, or just go sightseeing.

San Francisco has an abundance of cultural attractions:  museums of every variety, a vibrant nightlife, beautiful architecture, historical sites, and fascinating neighborhoods.  You can have a great time shopping, eating and sightseeing your way around the city.

Beaches and Parks

Photo © Christophe Testi |

San Francisco’s beaches and parks offer a welcome respite from the bustling city.  Several San Francisco beaches offer great views of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Try Crissy Field, Baker Beach, or China Beach, and bring your camera.  Enjoy fishing and tour some historic ships at Aquatic Park.  Or just take a walk along the Coastal Trail and enjoy the view.

Golden Gate Park is the City’s most famous park, a large expanse of greenery, ending at  blustery Ocean Beach.  It’s actually larger than New York’s Central Park, and features lovely gardens, playing fields, a bison paddock, and two of the best museums in San Francisco:  the De Young Museum, and the Academy of Sciences.

San Francisco Weather

The Golden Gate Bridge enveloped in fog.  Photo by Carl Wilmington | San Francisco Travel Association

San Francisco is noted for its mild, albeit foggy, weather.  While temperatures in the city are usually moderate, there are seasonal variations.  The warmest (and driest) season is actually in the Fall, while the fog tends to be densest in the summer months.  The best time of year to enjoy San Francisco weather?  Spring or Fall both have less fog, warmer weather, and very little rain.  Plus, there will be fewer tourists competing for space with you.  

But no matter what time of year you visit, be sure to wear your clothing in layers.  In San Francisco you never can tell when the weather's going to turn.

Getting Around in the City and the Bay Area

San Francisco's many hills offer some wonderful views and add a lot to the city's charm, but they also make driving a daunting prospect.  Fortunately, the city is fairly compact, with a transportation system that makes getting around pretty easy.  So forget those parking woes and traffic headaches,  ditch the car and just enjoy yourself.

You can get to most of the popular tourist sites on public transportation.  San Francisco has an extensive public transportation system that includes BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), buses, cable cars and streetcars.

Vintage trolley cars are collected from around the country to serve San Francisco's tourism industry. 

Photo by Tim Bross | San Francisco Travel Association.

San Francisco is served by 2 major airports:  San Francisco International Airport  (SFO) and Oakland International Airport  (OAK).  

San Francisco International is located about 13 miles south of the downtown area, less than half an hour's drive (except during rush hour).  You can also take BART into the city, also a 30 minute ride.  Shuttle services are also available.

Oakland International is located across the bay south of Oakland, about 24 miles from San Francisco.  It's a popular alternative to SFO.   It's convenient, less crowded, and features low cost airlines.  You can take a shuttle from the airport to the BART station and arrive in downtown San Francisco in about 30 minutes.  Drive time to the city is about the same.

San Francisco Accommodations

San Francisco is a tourism hot spot, so you'll find that accommodations are varied and plentiful.  There are world-class luxury hotels, charming bed and breakfast inns, budget hotels and motels, super cheap hostels and various kinds of vacation rentals.  The one thing you won't find are beach hotels.  But you won't even notice, with all the other great features available (fantastic views, perfect location, etc.).

Looking for a great place to stay? Check out these traveler reviews of San Francisco hotels.