Perfect San Francisco Itinerary — Bonus! Lists to Create Your Own Itinerary

San Francisco is a beautiful and fun city with a great many things to do and see. If you’ve never visited before and you only have one day, deciding what to see can be as simple as taking in the top three sights: ride a cable car, tour Alcatraz, and visit the Golden Gate Bridge. If you have more days, there are many more possibilities, and your San Francisco Itinerary should consider the weather, your budget, your interests and the interests of those with you. Children, for example, might tire of museums or performing arts, but they love Alcatraz, the Exploratorium, the California Academy of Sciences, and Pier 39.

Alcatraz Island, in San Francisco Bay, is home to a former notorious federal prison and is a must-see sight on San Francisco Itineraries
Alcatraz Island, in San Francisco Bay, is home to a former notorious federal prison that is now one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist destinations

Use the One, Two, or Three Day Itineraries or Create Your Own

In this post, I’m providing sample itineraries for one, two, and three-day visits, but, because one size definitely does not fit all, I’m also providing lists of popular attractions to help you build an itinerary specific to your interests. The Create Your Own Itinerary section has lists for major sights, parks and gardens, museums, performing arts, interesting neighborhoods, and major parades and events. Pick from the lists and create your own custom tour. Almost every item listed includes a link to the sight’s website where you can get more detailed information like operating hours and ticket prices, and, if required, purchase tickets. If I included all of that information here, this would be a book — an immediately out-of-date book.

Sample Itineraries for One, Two, and Three-Day Visits

These are suggested itineraries. Please customize them to suit your interests, time, and budget. There are more details about these sights and many more in the Build Your Own Itinerary section below.

1 Day in San Francisco

On the first day:

  • Ride a Cable Car — Cute and quirky, there’s nothing like San Francisco’s cable cars anywhere else in the world. They are unique, exciting, and just a bit scary as the swoop down hills and roll through busy intersections. Of the three cable car lines, the Powell-Hyde Line is the most interesting because it travels a bit higher up Nob and Russian Hills. Ride early in the morning to avoid long lines and crowded cars. The cable car fare is $7 for everyone, and there are no transfer or hop-on-hop-off privileges, unless you have a (Muni) Visitor Passport or a CityPass.
  • Take the Alcatraz Tour — The infamous former federal penitentiary sits on a small island in San Francisco Bay. It’s one of the top attractions in San Francisco. Alcatraz tickets include the Cellhouse Audio Tour and the ferry ride between Pier 33 and Alcatraz Island. The audio tour includes stories told by former guards and inmates, and is excellent.

Power Tip: Alcatraz tickets sellout weeks/months in advance, so buy your tickets early, AND only buy them from Alcatraz Cruises. It’s the only vendor authorized by the National Park Service

  • Visit the Golden Gate Bridge — Considered one of the seven modern wonders of the world, the bridge is San Francisco’s most recognizable attraction. You can walk, run, or bike on and across the bridge, and, except for parking, it’s free.
  • If you have more time, consider taking one of the Hop on Hop off bus tours and/or wander through Chinatown and North Beach (see the Interesting Neighborhoods section below for details).

 

Golden Gate Bridge with the surf and fog rolling in is a must-see sight on any San Francisco Itinerary
San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge with the surf and fog rolling in
2 Days in San Francisco

On the second day:

  • Go to Golden Gate Park and visit at least 2 of these 4 places: California Academy of Sciences (CADS), de Young Museum, Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers. In addition to those four places, there are many more things to do and see in Golden Gate Park. It’s a 1,017-acre urban oasis packed with gardens, lakes, trails, an excellent children’s playground, and much more. It’s also the site for a variety of free concerts and festivals.
  • California Academy of Sciences (CADS) — CADS is an up-close, hands-on, science and natural history museum with an impressive aquarium, living rainforest, planetarium, dinosaur skeletons, live penguins, a white alligator, and more. Everything, from the aquarium at the bottom to the living roof at the top, is first class. It’s a great place for everyone and is really popular with kids.
  • de Young Museum — The de Young is housed in a beautiful building with a perforated copper skin that will change color as it ages. The museum’s permanent collection includes thousands of American paintings, sculptures, textiles, and more from the 17th to 21st centuries and collections from Africa and the Pacific.  It also always has multiple special exhibits from around the world.
  • Japanese Tea Garden — It has 5-acres of paths wandering around Koi ponds, a pagoda and Torii (gate), Zen garden, moon bridge, sculptures, and a Tea House serving tea and refreshments.
  • Conservatory of Flowers — This glass and wooden greenhouse is modeled after Kew Gardens in London. It houses rare plants from three tropical regions, including bromeliads, carnivorous plants, and giant Amazon lily pads.
  • Visit Union Square or the Wharf and Pier 39 — All three are great places to eat, shop, and people watch.
  • Coit Tower — This tall, graceful tower atop Telegraph Hill is a monument honoring the city’s firefighters. The interior walls of the tower’s rotunda are covered with depression era murals funded by the Public Works of Art Project. The top of the tower has great 360° views of the city and bay. Purchase tickets in the gift shop to ride the small elevator to the top.

 

Add Giant Lily Pads at the Conservatory of Flowers to your itinerary when spending 2 days in San Francisco
Giant Lily Pads at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
3 Days in San Francisco

On the third day:

  • Exploratorium — If you’re visiting with children, spend a few hours at the Exploratorium. According to my grandchildren, this is the #1 place to go in San Francisco. With over 650 hands-on exhibits, it’s a gold mine for inquisitive minds where visitors explore “the world through science, art, and human perception.”
  • Golden Gate Promenade — If you’re up for fresh air, exercise, beautiful views, and something inexpensive, consider walking the Golden Gate Promenade. The Promenade is a wide, flat 2-mile (3.2 km) trail that runs along the Crissy Field waterfront.
  • Yerba Buena Gardens — Covering most of 2-square blocks, the entire complex includes the Esplanade, an ice skating rink, a children’s playground, a beautifully restored 1906 carousel, and a lot more. The 5-acre Esplanade is a park with a large lawn area, a stage, gardens, great public artworks, and an incredible memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King behind a huge waterfall.

Google Map with Pins for 1, 2, and 3 Day Itineraries

The sights suggested in the 1, 2, and 3 Day Itineraries are pinned on this Google Map: purple for Day 1, orange for Day 2, and green for Day 3. Zoom in for more map details and click on the pins for additional information.

Create Your Own San Francisco Itinerary

I’ve included 48 San Francisco sights in this section, and because there are so many, I’ve organized them by subject into seven lists. Check the lists for subjects that interest you and ignore the rest. Each of the 48 items includes a brief description, the location, and in almost all cases, a link to the sight’s official website where you can get specific details about days and hours of operation, directions, ticket prices, and information about special exhibits or events, and more. Here are the list subjects:

  • Popular Attractions
  • Parks, Gardens, Walks, and Hikes
  • Major Museums
  • Free Museums
  • Performing Arts
  • Interesting Neighborhoods
  • Major Annual Parades and Events
Ballet dancers performing at a Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, one of many free things in San Francisco
Ballet dancers performing at a Yerba Buena Gardens Festival

Organizing Sightseeing by Location

San Francisco is very compact and most of the sights are near or between Civic Center and Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s an easy 1.6 mile (2.6 km) walk from Union Square to the Wharf and along the way, you pass through the Financial District, Chinatown, and North Beach (Little Italy). There are two exceptions where it’s useful to combine multiple sights into one trip:

  • Golden Gate Park — Combine everything you wish to see in the park into one visit because it can take about 45-minutes to get from downtown to the park on public transit. You could easily spend a whole day in the park.
  • Golden Gate Bridge and Presidio National Park — If you plan to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum or other sights in the Presidio, then combine it with the Golden Gate Bridge.
Blue Angels fly by Coit Tower during a San Francisco Fleet Week Air Show, one of the free things in San Francisco
Blue Angels fly by Coit Tower during a San Francisco Fleet Week Air Show
Popular Attractions
Popular Attractions
Sight (and Links)DescriptionLocation
Alcatraz

National Park Service Alcatraz

Alcatraz Cruises
The infamous former federal penitentiary sits on a small island in San Francisco Bay. It’s operated by the National Park Service and is one of the top attractions in San Francisco.

Buy your tickets early; they often sell out weeks in advance. The ticket includes the Cellhouse Audio Tour and the ferry ride from Pier 33. The audio tour includes stories told by former guards and inmates, and is excellent.

Allow about 3 hours for the ferry ride and tour.

Alcatraz tickets sellout weeks/months in advance, so buy your tickets early, AND only buy them from Alcatraz Cruises. It’s the only vendor authorized by the National Park Service
Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay

Take the ferry, which is included in the price of the ticket, from Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33 on the Embarcadero
Riding Cable Cars

Cable Car History

Cable Car Tickets

Visitor Passport

CitiPass
There’s nothing like San Francisco’s cable cars anywhere else in the world. They are unique, quirky, exciting, and just a bit scary as the swoop down hills and roll through busy intersections. They are unlike any other transit system; they run on rails like a train or streetcar, but they have no engine. Instead, the Gripman operates a large grip lever, which grabs and holds onto an underground cable. Large engines and winding wheels, in the Cable Car Powerhouse, pull the cable in a giant loop beneath the streets. The cable pulls the little cars along at 9.5 mph (15.3 km/h).

Of the three cable car lines — Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason, and California Street — the Powell-Hyde Line is the most interesting because it travels a bit higher up Nob and Russian Hills and goes a bit further. Ride early in the morning to avoid long lines and crowded cars.

The cable car fare is $7 for everyone, and there are no transfer or hop-on-hop-off privileges, unless you have a (Muni) Visitor Passport or a CityPass.
There are 3 cable car lines:
Powell-Hyde Line: runs between Powell Street at Market and Hyde Street at Aquatic Park

Powell-Mason Line: runs between Powell Street at Market and Taylor Street at Mason in Fisherman’s Wharf

California Line: runs on California Street between Market and Van Ness
California Academy of Science (CADS)CADS is a very up-close, hands-on, science and natural history museum. It has an impressive aquarium, living rainforest, planetarium, dinosaur skeletons, live penguins, a white alligator, and more. It’s mission is “to explore, explain, and sustain life.” Everything, from the aquarium at the bottom to the living roof at the top, is first class. It’s a great place for everyone and is really popular with kids.

Allow at least 2-3 hours.

See Parks, Gardens, Walks, and Hikes section for more attractions in Golden Gate Park and a link to the park map

55 Music Concourse Drive in Golden Gate Park
Coit TowerThis tall, graceful tower atop Telegraph Hill is a monument honoring the city’s firefighters. The interior walls of the tower’s rotunda are covered with depression era murals funded by the Public Works of Art Project. The top of the tower has great 360° views of the city and bay. Purchase tickets in the gift shop to ride the small elevator to the top.

Allow at an hour at the tower.
In Pioneer Park at the top of Telegraph Hill

The #39 Muni bus runs back and forth between the small Coit Tower parking lot and North Point and Stockton Streets near Pier 39.

You can also walk up the Filbert Street steps.
ExploratoriumAccording to my grandchildren, this is the #1 place to go in San Francisco. With over 650 hands-on exhibits, it’s a gold mine for inquisitive minds where visitors explore “the world through science, art, and human perception.”

Allow at least 3 hours.
Pier 15 on the Embarcadero at Green Street.

Both the E and F Line historic streetcars stop right in front.
Fisherman’s Wharf

Ripley’s Believe it or Not

Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
Lots of restaurants, shops, bike rentals, and a variety of tour operators. The Wharf is also home to these sights, which are popular with kids:
• Musée Mécanique (see details in Free Museums section below)
• Ripley’s Believe it or Not
• Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
The city waterfront between Pier 39 and Aquatic Park
Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center
Considered one of the seven modern wonders of the world, the bridge is San Francisco’s most recognizable attraction. You can walk, run, or bike on and across the bridge, and, except for parking, it’s free.

Stop in the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center and pick up a free Presidio map, which includes points of interest and trails. If you’re up for a hike, there’s a .5-mile (.8 km) trail down to Fort Point and/or Crissy Field near the Welcome Center.

Allow at least, a couple of hours to visit the bridge (including transit time), and, of course take lots of photos.
The bridge connects San Francisco to Marin County. The road on the bridge is Highway 101.

Parking at the bridge is metered and limited, but it’s easy to get to the bridge on public transit (see the Getting Around… section below).
Pier 39

Aquarium of the Bay
Food, crowds, souvenirs, a carousel, more food, entertainment, sea lions, Aquarium of the Bay, decent public restrooms, and more food.
The entrance is on the Embarcadero at the foot of Powell Street
San Francisco Zoo & GardensOpen every day, this large, well maintained zoo has more than 2000 creatures including many exotic and endangered animals. There is also a beautifully restored 1921 carousel, a train ride, and a petting zoo.

Allow at least half a day.
Sloat Blvd & Great Highway on the Pacific Coast
Take the L-Taraval Line (Muni Metro light rail) to the end of the line and walk about 2-blocks to the Zoo entrance
Overlooking Pier 39 on San Francisco’s waterfront, which has restaurants, shops, a carousel, entertainment, sea lions, and the Aquarium of the Bay
On San Francisco’s waterfront, Pier 39 has restaurants, souvenirs, a carousel, entertainment, sea lions, and the Aquarium of the Bay
Parks, Gardens, Walks, and Hikes
Parks, Gardens, Walks, and Hikes
Sight (and Links)DescriptionLocation
Golden Gate Park Guide

Golden Gate Park Map
(Downloadable & printable)

Free park shuttle
(Weekends and major holidays only)

Golden Gate Park Road Closures
The big 4 (CADS, de Young, Japanese Tea Garden, and Conservatory of Flowers) are all great places to visit in Golden Gate Park, but there are many more things to do and see. It’s a 1,017-acre urban oasis packed with gardens, lakes, trails, a great children’s playground, and much more. It’s also the site for a variety of free concerts and festivals.

It’s easy to get to and from the park on public transit, but getting around the park takes some planning — or a lot of walking. The park is 3-miles (5 km) long and .5-miles (.8 km) wide.

Click the Golden Gate Park Map link in the left column for a copy of the San Francisco Parks map of the park

On weekends and legal holidays, a free shuttle runs back and forth along John F. Kennedy Drive and makes frequent stops. You can also rent a bike or a surrey to travel around the park. There is a parking garage under the Music Concourse and parking on the streets, but John F Kennedy Drive is closed to vehicle traffic on many weekends and holidays and during special events.
The park is bordered by Fulton, Lincoln, and Stanyun Streets and the Great Highway.

It’s easy to get to and from the park on public transit (see the Getting Around… section below)
Conservatory of FlowersOpened in 1879, the Conservatory of Flowers is a glass and wooden greenhouse modeled after Kew Gardens in London. It houses rare plants from three tropical regions, including bromeliads, carnivorous plants, and giant Amazon lily pads.100 John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park
Japanese Tea Garden

More about the Tea Garden
The 5-acre garden is complete with Koi ponds, a pagoda and Torii (gate), a Zen garden, a moon bridge, a bronze Buddha, a 9000-pound Peace Lantern, and a Tea House serving tea and refreshments.

We can thank Makoto Hagiwara for the beautiful garden. He built and maintained it between 1894 and 1925.
75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park (next to the de Young Museum)
Yerba Buena GardensCovering most of 2-square blocks, the entire complex includes the Esplanade, an Ice Skating rink, a children’s playground, a beautifully restored 1906 Carousel, and a lot more.

The 5-acre Esplanade is a park with a large lawn area, stage, gardens, great public artworks, and an incredible memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King behind a huge waterfall. The Esplanade hosts a variety of free public concerts, performances, and festivals.
The most direct entrance into the Esplanade is on Mission Street between 3rd and 4th Streets.
Presidio National Park

Presidio Visitor Center

Downloadable (PDF) Presidio Map
This 1500-acre park really is part of the National Park System, but because it is self-supporting, there are no entry gates or fees. It was a military installation (Spanish, then Mexico, then the U.S. Army) for 218 years. When the Army closed its base in 1994, it became a national park. There’s a lot to see and do in the Presidio. It’s home to the Walt Disney Family Museum, LucasFilm’s Letterman Digital Arts Center, San Francisco National Cemetery, Fort Point, Crissy Field, several trails, beautiful views, and much more.In the northwest corner of San Francisco at the southern foot of the Golden Gate Bridge
Palace of Fine ArtsThe Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition — A World’s Fair, which celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and symbolized San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake. The faux Roman ruin is a very popular photo op, especially for wedding photos.3601 Lyon St & Marina Blvd.
Crissy Field

Presidio Trails Map including Crissy Field
(Downloadable & printable)
Crissy Field is a 100-acre waterfront park with beaches, a tidal lagoon, acres of grass, picnic areas, and gorgeous views of the bay, the bridge, and the city skyline. The Golden Gate Promenade runs through Crissy Field.

Crissy Field served for decades as the Presidio Army Base’s airfield and was left a dilapidated mess when the army left in 1994. It took two decades, thousands of volunteers, and about $35 million to create the beautiful and popular park it is now.

Click the Presidio Trails Map link in the left column for a copy of the official Presidio Trails map
Waterfront park between the Marina District and the Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate PromenadeThe Promenade is a wide, flat 2-mile trail that runs along the Crissy Field waterfront. It’s a very popular walk (or run) because in addition to fresh air and exercise, you get beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay, and the city skyline.Along the Crissy Field waterfront between historic Fort Point and the Marina District.
Lincoln ParkThe Legion of Honor Art Museum, the Lands End Trail, and a public golf course are all located in Lincoln Park. This 100-acre park on the Pacific Ocean has beautiful views of the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Marin Headlands.Located in San Francisco’s northwest corner with about 2-miles (3.2 km) of rugged Pacific Ocean shoreline.

Getting there: The Muni #18 bus (which you can board at Geary Blvd. and 33rd Ave.) stops in Lincoln Park next to the Legion of Honor.

Lands End Trail

Coming soon — a RovingVails.com post about the Lands End Trail
This 1.7 mile trail skirts around the perimeter of Lincoln Park. It’s a very popular, trial and has great view of the ocean cliffs, and Golden Gate Bridge.

A branch off the main trail leads to Mile Rock Beach and a branch off the Mile Rock Beach trail leads to the hidden Lands End Labyrinth.
In Lincoln Park
The trail is between El Camino Del Mar at 33rd Avenue and the parking lot by the Sutro Bath ruins.
People walking along the Golden Gate Promenade, one of the best free things to do in San Francisco
People walking along the Golden Gate Promenade through Crissy Field, in Presidio National Park, San Francisco
Major Museums
Major Museums
Sight (and Links)DescriptionLocation
De Young MuseumThe de Young is housed in a beautiful building with a perforated copper skin that will change color as it ages. The museum’s permanent collection includes thousands of American paintings, sculptures, textiles, and more from the 17th to 21st centuries and collections from Africa and the Pacific. It also hosts several special exhibitions each year, so check the museum’s website to see what’s scheduled.

While there, take the elevator to the top of the 144 foot (44 m) tower for an expansive view of the city.

See Parks, Gardens, Walks, and Hikes section for more attractions in Golden Gate Park and a link to the park map
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park
Legion of Honor MuseumThis stunning French neoclassical building, on a hill above the Golden Gate, has a remarkable collection of European paintings, and ancient art. The entry courtyard is home to one of the full-sized replicas of Auguste Rodin’s famous 1880 sculpture, The Thinker.

The Legion was built to honor the troops who served in WWI. When it opened in 1920, it was dedicated to “our brave boys who gave their lives to their country in the Great War.”
100 34th Avenue in Lincoln Park
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Free to See at SFMOMA
The postmodern building is striking inside and out and would be worth seeing even if it were empty. But it’s not empty; it houses one of the largest collections of modern art in the U.S., including works by familiar artists like Frida Kahlo, Richard Serra, and Andy Warhol.

Remarkably, parts of the museum are free. There are “45,000 square feet of art-filled public spaces” where no ticket is required.
3rd Street (between Mission and Howard)
Walt Disney Family Museum

Visit to the Disney Family Museum
This museum tells the life story of Walt Disney and the evolution of animation at Disney Studios. The story is told in chronological order using photos, videos, and state-of-the-art interactive exhibits. The last exhibit in the museum is a fun model of Disneyland.On the Main Post in Presidio National Park
Asian Art MuseumIn addition to special exhibits, the permanent galleries contain “more than 2,000 artworks from all the major cultures of Asia.” Some items are thousands of years old.200 Larkin Street in Civic Center
Museum of the African DiasporaThrough exhibits and programs, MOAD, documents, connects, and celebrates the cultural heritage of the people of Africa.685 Mission Street (at Third)
Contemporary Jewish MuseumThe museum’s purpose is to “make the diversity of the Jewish experience relevant for a twenty-first century audience.” It has no permanent collection; instead, it hosts exhibits from other institutions.
736 Mission Street (between 3rd Street and Yerba Buena Lane)
Hyde Street Pier (Historic Vessels) and Maritime MuseumThe Pier and Museum are both part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The Pier has 8 historic vessels on display — all from the late 1800s or early 1900s.

The Maritime Museum is in the historic Art Deco Aquatic Park Bathhouse. It has thousands of items on display dedicated to local maritime history and culture.

Hilaire Hiler painted the whimsical lobby mural in the 1930s as part of the WPA Federal Arts Project.
The Hype Street Pier, as you might guess, is at the foot of Hyde Street

The Maritime Museum is at 900 Beach Street (at Polk)
Ceramic horse from the Tang Dynasty at the Asian Art Museum, a popular San Francisco Itinerary sight
A ceramic horse from the Tang Dynasty in San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum
Free Museums
Free Museums
Sight (and Links)DescriptionLocation
Cable Car MuseumThis is more than a museum; it’s the real cable car barn and powerhouse. From the upper level, watch the huge engines turn the winding wheels that pull the cables running under the streets. The cable car Gripman operates a grip lever, which grabs the underground cable. The cable pulls the car along the street at 9.5 mph (15.3 km/h). There’s another viewing area downstairs where you can see the large sheaves that guide the under-street cables.
1201 Mason Street (at Washington Street)
Fire Department MuseumHoused in a cavernous room at Firehouse Station 10, the museum includes antique fire trucks and fire wagons. The collection includes Broderick Engine No. 1, which was built in 1855 and was the first fire wagon built in California. Display cases line the walls and are filled with Firehouse equipment and Firemen’s personal effects like uniforms and helmets.
655 Presidio Avenue (near Pine Street)
Musée MécaniqueThis museum has the world’s largest collection of penny arcade games, and mechanical instruments. Many of these mechanical wonders are over 100-years-old and most are still in working order. The museum is free, but operating the machines requires quarters, and, of course, there are change machines.

Edward Galland Zelinsky created this museum; his son operates it now.
Pier 45 at the foot of Taylor Street in Fisherman’s Wharf
Wells Fargo History MuseumThis small museum is well worth visiting. It has several exhibits from the California Gold Rush including a Wells Fargo Overland Coach used in the 1860s, gold dust and ore, photos, paintings, and interactive exhibits.
420 Montgomery Street (inside Wells Fargo Headquarters)
Overland Stagecoach on display at Wells Fargo’s History Museum, one of the free things to do in San Francisco
Overland Stagecoach at the Wells Fargo History Museum, one of the free museums in San Francisco
Performing Arts and Entertainment
Performing Arts and Entertainment
Sight (and Links)DescriptionLocation
San Francisco BalletThe San Francisco Ballet is the oldest professional ballet company in America and is among the best dance companies in the world. Each year, their program includes traditional ballets like the Nutcracker and contemporary arrangements like The Little Mermaid.

They perform at the War Memorial Opera House from December through May.
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue (across the street from San Francisco City Hall in Civic Center)

San Francisco OperaStarted in 1923, the San Francisco Opera is considered one of the world’s leading opera companies. Their season typically includes traditional operas like the Marriage of Figaro, and contemporary performances like The (R)Evolution of Steve Jobs

They perform at the War Memorial Opera House in June and July and September to early December.
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue (across the street from San Francisco City Hall in Civic Center)
San Francisco SymphonyThis Grammy and Emmy award-winning symphony is one of the best in the world. In addition to traditional classical concerts like Beethoven and Mozart, they also have a few pops concerts each year featuring lighter classics and special arrangements with popular tunes.

Their movie nights are especially popular where a film, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, plays on the screen while the orchestra plays the score. I attended a movie concert where director Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams explained and demonstrated how important music is to the emotions we feel when watching a movie. It was amazing.

The symphony performs in Davies Symphony Hall from September through January.
Davies Symphony Hall
201 Van Ness Ave
(at Grove Street and near Civic Center)
Broadway shows playing San FranciscoEach year, 10 or so Broadway shows rotate through San Francisco for a few months each. Among the bigger shows coming in 2019 are Anastasia, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Hamilton.SHN Orpheum Theater
1192 Market Street

SHN Golden Gate Theater
1 Taylor Street
Beach Blanket BabylonBeach Blanket Babylon has been playing in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood since 1974, and it claims to be the world’s longest running musical revue. The show lampoons everyone; it’s a lively, funny spoof on political and pop culture. Elaborate costumes with big outrageous hats are staple props.

The show runs year around Wednesday through Sunday. Minors are not allowed at evening performances due to liquor license restrictions.
Club Fugazi
678 Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard (formerly Green Street)
Interesting Neighborhoods
Interesting Neighborhoods
Sight (and Links)DescriptionLocation
ChinatownSan Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the biggest and oldest in the country. It’s teeming with people, interesting architecture, restaurants, and shops. There are herb shops, teashops, gift shops, art and jewelry shops, and lots of shops selling inexpensive souvenirs.

Grant Avenue, festooned with red lanterns, is the main street for visitors, but venture into the alleys too. Ross Alley is home to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where you see cookies being made by hand and can buy them freshly made. Waverly Place is a two-block alley whose buildings have colorfully painted balconies and an equally colorful past.

Stockton Street, which is parallel to and one block west of Grant Avenue, is the main shopping street for locals. This is where you’ll find roast ducks and other items hanging in shop windows.
Chinatown is a 24-square block area bordered by Bush, Kearny, and Powell Streets and Broadway. Grant Avenue is the main Street in Chinatown and the Dragon Gate (main entrance) is on Grant at Bush Street.

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is at 56 Ross Alley, just off Jackson Street.
Haight AshburyIt was ground zero for the Summer of Love back in 1967. It’s much calmer now, but there are still vintage shops, bong shops, record and bookstores, and interesting cafes.Neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets
Japantown

Japantown History Walk
Japantown is a nine-block area anchored by the Japan Center mall. The 3-block long mall has several restaurants, and shops and stores including a Kinokuniya Bookstore, Daiso Japan, the Kabuki Hotel, and AMC Kabuki theater.

The Peace Plaza in Japan Center has a 100-foot tall Peace Pagoda surrounded by cherry trees, and a 9-foot tall bronze sculpture with three panels depicting the Japanese experience in San Francisco: the Issei pioneers, WWII Internment, and present day life.
Begins in the northeast corner where Fillmore Street and Geary Blvd intersect.
Mission District

Precita Eyes Muralists

Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores Park
Besides Mexican food, the main visitor attractions in the Mission are the Mission Murals, Mission Dolores, and Mission Dolores Park:

Murals in the Mission are everywhere; they are colorful, and they are art with a message. Some depict legends and history, some fight for equality and justice, some rage against war or cry for peace, and some are simply comical or whimsical. Precita Eyes Muralists offers mural tours, and they also sell Mural Maps.

Mission Dolores (Mission San Francisco de Asís) is the oldest surviving building in San Francisco. Built in 1776, it is part of the chain of missions built under the direction of Father Junipero Serra. The Mission's cemetery is interesting with lots of headstones dating back to the 1800s.

Mission Dolores Park is a large, popular neighborhood park with an awesome children’s playground and a gorgeous view of the city skyline.
The Mission District is bordered (roughly) by 14th Street, Potrero Avenue, Ceasar Chavez, and Dolores Street.

Both the 16th Street and 24th Street BART Stations are in the Mission District and the # 14 Mission Bus departs from Steuart and Mission Streets (a block from the Ferry Building) and travels through the Mission District on Mission Street.

Precita Eyes Muralists is at 2981 24th Street

Mission Dolores is at
320 Dolores Street

Mission Dolores Park is on Dolores Street between 18th and 20th Streets
North BeachNorth Beach is my favorite San Francisco neighborhood. It’s Little Italy with lots of Italian restaurants and coffee shops, and red, green, and white flags and décor everywhere.

There’s a lot of history here too. City Lights Bookstore, Vesuvio Café, and Jack Kerouac Alley are reminders that this was home to the Beat Generation, and the Old Ship Saloon and Comstock Saloon are reminders that this area was once the infamous Barbary Coast.
North Beach is the neighborhood from Broadway north to Fisherman’s Wharf and from Columbus Avenue to the waterfront.
Union SquareUnion Square is a beautifully landscaped public plaza, which covers an entire city block. It’s in the heart of the shopping district and is surrounded by upscale shopping, restaurants, and hotels.Downtown: bordered by Stockton, Powell, and Post Streets and Geary Blvd.

Both the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason cable car lines stop at Union Square
Mission District murals, like this street scene in Balmy Alley, are a popular choice for a DIY San Francisco Itinerary
A mural, painted on a garage door along Balmy Alley, depicts life on the street in San Francisco’s Mission District
Major Parades and Events
Major Parades and Events
Sight (and Links)DescriptionLocation
February:
Chinese New Year Parade
This is one of the top 10 parades in the world and is packed with lion dancers, dance troops, floats, and lots of firecrackers. At least a dozen dragons, in all sizes and colors, weave through the parade route — each chasing its own flaming pearl of wisdom. The parade's grand finale is a 288-foot Golden Dragon (Gum Lung) who enters the parade route with a hail of firecrackers. It’s incredible.

The next parade is February 23, 2019 at 5p and celebrates the Year of the Pig.
The parade begins at 5pm at 2nd Street and Market. It loops around Union Square and then travels up Kearny to Columbus. It typically ends around 8:30p.
March:
St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Lots of bands, floats, Irish wolfhounds, Irish step dance groups, kilts, and bagpipes. It’s typically held the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day.

The next parade is March 16, 2019, beginning at 11:30a; it usually takes about 2-hours.
The parade marches up Market Street from 2nd Street to Civic Center Plaza (near 9th Street).
May:
Bay to Breakers
Iconic (zany) 12K race from the bay to Ocean Beach. This is a really big deal in San Francisco. The race has been held every year since 1912 and around 75,000 people run (or walk) each year. Best of all, many of them wear costumes, and they can be quite creative.

The next race is on May 19, 2019
Begins at Howard and Main Streets, up Howard to 9th Street, right on 9th and across Market, up the Hayes Street Hill, jog left to Fell, and then through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach.
May:
Carnival San Francisco

Downloadable Carnival Parade route map
Carnival is a huge parade with lots of music and costumed dance troops. It’s always on Sunday morning during Memorial Day Weekend.

The next parade is May 26, 2019.
In the Mission District (see parade route map)


October:
Fleet Week
Fleet Week celebrates San Francisco's navel tradition and honors the men and women serving in the U.S. Navy. The week's highlights include the Air Show, the Parade of Ships, and ship tours. The Air Show, featuring the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels, takes place Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

Fleet week is October 8 – 14, 2019
The best places to view the Air Show are along the waterfront: the Wharf area and Crissy Field
October:
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Huge free concert in Golden Gate Park. The festival is free and non-commercial because it was founded and funded by the late F. Warren Hellman. It’s a huge production with top names and six stages arranged along Hellman Hollow.

Held annually on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during the first week of October
Held in Hellman Hollow (Speedway Meadow on maps) in Golden Gate Park.

Walk or take public transit.
Runners in caveman costumes in San Francisco’s zany Bay to Breakers race
Sea lions sleeping on the docks at Pier 39 are a popular sight listed on San Francisco Itineraries
One of the favorite things to do in San Francisco with kids is to visit Pier 39 and watch the Sea Lions on the docks

Good things to Know When Visiting San Francisco

When is the Best time to Visit San Francisco

Weather-wise, September and October are the best. The summer fog (nature’s air conditioner) has stopped rolling in and the winter rains haven’t yet started. The rest of the year, the weather is mixed: some days are sunny and gorgeous, some rainy, and some foggy. The big weather surprise for many visitors is that when the inland areas of California heat up in summer, it draws the marine layer (fog) in from the Pacific Ocean; the temperature can quickly drop 20-30°. Visitors often wear shorts, T-shirts, and flip-flops because it’s 75° and sunny. Then, suddenly it’s overcast, 50°, and windy. This explains why the souvenir shops around the city sell so many sweatshirts.

The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.

Quote attributed (without confirmation) to Mark Twain

San Francisco is surrounded on three sides by the ocean and the bay, and they moderate the temperature. It never gets freezing cold or super hot. Regardless of the time of year, the highs seldom get above 80° or below 45°. Even in winter, there are always some nice sunny days. Just bring layers of clothes and when you pack your day bag, include a sweatshirt or nice warm jacket.

Walking the Lands End Labyrinth with the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge in the background is among the free things to do in San Francisco
Even on this late December day, a sweatshirt is warm enough to walk the Lands End Trail and, along the way, visit the Labyrinth overlooking the Pacific Ocean
Getting Around San Francisco

San Francisco is a very compact and densely populated city, so it’s both walkable and well saturated with public transit. I have a car and I drive, but I rarely drive in San Francisco. The streets are congested and parking is scarce. I have a Clipper Card to pay my transit fares and transit apps on my smartphone to plan my route. By combining walking with pubic transit, I move around the city with ease.

For detailed instructions for using public transit, see Reflections Enroute post San Francisco Excursions Using Public Transit. The post provides information about:

  • Public transit options in San Francisco
  • Fares and ways to pay
  • Apps and maps
  • Routes and instructions for getting to Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Palace of Fine Arts.
Riding a historic streetcar along the Embarcadero to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf is a must on any San Francisco Itinerary
Ride San Francisco’s beautifully restored historic streetcars along Market Street and to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Whar
Where to Eat and Drink in San Francisco

These are a few of my favorite places in San Francisco, but please understand that I’m no connoisseur of fine dining. I love eating out with family and friends, but for me it’s less about food and more about the camaraderie and ambience. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Franciscan Crab Restaurant at the Wharf. It’s a favorite for family get-togethers and we typically share a Sizzling Iron Skillet of roasted crab.
  • Bistro Boudin at the wharf. Upstairs above the busy and world famous Boudin sourdough bread bakery, Bistro Boudin is a spacious, very nice restaurant with Anchor Steam on tap and crab & corn chowder served in a bread bowl.
  • Comstock Saloon on the corner of Columbus and Pacific. This is a genuine remnant of San Francisco’s wild Barbary Coast. It wasn’t always called the Comstock, but it’s been a Saloon since 1907 and the mahogany bar with its beveled fanned mirrors, the tiled trough along the base of the bar (don’t ask), and, of course, the pukka walla fans are all original. The food choices are a bit unique, but the Cherry Bounce cocktail is awesome.
  • Johnny Foley’s Irish House on O’Farrell between Powell and Mason. Foley’s is a very popular Irish Pub with good food and a beautiful bar.
Johnny Foley’s Irish House is a popular place to take a break from San Francisco sightseeing
Johnny Foley’s Irish House, with good Irish fare and a beautiful mahogany bar, is popular with Union Square shoppers, locals, and tourists
Loaves of sourdough bread in whimsical shapes at Boudin’s Bakery in Fisherman’s Wharf
Whimsical loaves of sourdough bread at Boudin’s Bakery, Fisherman’s Wharf

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