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The centerpiece of the Bay Area, San Francisco is one of the most visited cities in the world, and with good reason. The cultural center of northern California, San Francisco is renowned for its mixture of scenic beauty and unique culture that makes it one of the most vibrant and desirable cities in the nation, if not the world. Sandwiched into a small seven-by-seven mile (11x11km) square of land between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco offers a wealth of treasures for the visitor, from the windswept and often foggy bay to the steep hills lined with Victorian homes that overlook the spectacular scenery of the city. Great ethnic and cultural diversity shows itself in the city's varied neighborhoods, from the crowded and exciting streets of Chinatown to the eclectic attitudes of the Castro and the gleaming condominium towers built on the city's more recently gained tech-savvy reputation. And yet San Francisco is just one of the cities which makes up the entire San Francisco Bay Area. At the center of a metropolitan area of 7.6 million people, the city is a fantastic base to explore the treasures of San Francisco's neighbors to the east across the Bay Bridge, to the north past the Golden Gate Bridge, and to the south down the peninsula. There's enough to see that one could devote a lifetime to exploring the region, and it'll become clear why people continue to make their way to this special place. (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in San Francisco
San Francisco has much to see — these are just the most significant sights. For more detail see the individual district sections, often linked from this entry.
Three passes are available which offer discounts to many interesting attractions:
- San Francisco CityPASS. A relatively cheap and easy way to cover many attractions of the city is the CityPASS. For a fare of $64 for adults and $39 for children 5-12, you get admission to the California Academy of Sciences, a Blue and Gold Fleet bay cruise, the Aquarium of the Bay, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and the Exploratorium or the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum (both must be visited on the same day). A CityPASS works for 9 consecutive days starting with the use of your first ticket (each ticket only accounts for one visit to each attraction). The pass also includes seven consecutive days of Cable Car and MUNI fares.
- Go San Francisco Card. Another easy way to cover many attractions and tours is the Go San Francisco Card. This card allows you to take some tours for free, such as the Wine Country tour, San Francisco Sightseeing, City Tour, Bay Cruises, museums, aquariums, The Conservatory of Flowers, and many other activities. Other tours and activities are also discounted from $5 to 40%. The cost of the card is $50 for 1 day, $80 for 2 days, $85 for 3 days. $115 for 5 days, and $136 for 7 days.
- Wharf Pass. If you are visiting Fisherman's Wharf this pass includes 10 attractions, bay cruises and sightseeing tours. With the pass you have 2 days to enjoy a Hop On Hop Off Tour of San Francisco, Bay Cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge and choice of 3 of 6 attractions. The 2 day pass includes additional discounts at 45 Wharf area shopping, dining, activity and tour companies. The cost for the Wharf Pass is $58 for adults and $38 for children 5-11. The Wharf Pass can be combined with an Alcatraz ferry and audio tour by contacting Alcatraz Cruises reservation department at +1 415 981-7625 or online.
There are many highlight walks you can take to really capture the feel of the city and see a whole lot of attractions at the same time. Some of the best ones are:
- Chinatown. Grant from Bush to Broadway takes you through the heart of the famous district. Returning by the parallel Stockton or Powell will give you a better feeling of the day to day life of the residents, and are both good for those looking for imported commodities such as tea or herbs.
- Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach is entirely open to pedestrians in both the Richmond and Sunset districts from the Cliff House restaurant and Sutro Baths in the north to the zoo in the south. For a shorter walk, the windmills near Lincoln at the end of Golden Gate Park offer a good base for a stroll north.
- Telegraph Hill. Greenwich and Filbert Steps on the east side of Telegraph Hill, both strenuous and unforgettably beautiful, offer cottages and a flock of wild parrots to enjoy on the way up to the Coit Tower.
- North Beach. Columbus runs from North Point in Fisherman's Wharf, through the grand church and famous cafés at the heart of North Beach to the landmark Transamerica pyramid, accessible to transit on nearby Market.
- Haight Ashbury. Haight from Divisadero to Stanyan covers the shopping district famous for hippie culture; at Stanyan the street becomes a path through Golden Gate Park to a popular site (then and now) for relaxing and concerts.
- Cow Hollow. Union Street between Gough and Fillmore is one of the finest shopping streets outside of the city center.
- Mission. Mission between 15th and Cesar Chavez streets provides a look at a neighborhood famous for its Latino food and culture, as well as occasional gang activity east of Mission Street. Parallel to Mission, Valencia Street is the artery of the many higher end boutiques and offbeat cafés starting to characterize the neighborhood, and has little of the grit of Mission St. 16th Street between Mission and Guerrero Streets offers a diversity of cuisine and several hip bars.
- Pacific Heights. Fillmore between Pine and Broadway is lined with a good mix of shopping, views, steep slopes, and some of the city's largest and most expensive homes.
- Fillmore. Post from Laguna (near 38 bus stop) to Fillmore takes you through upscale shopping and restaurants in Japantown, and turning left onto Fillmore across Geary and on to Turk takes you past the internationally known jazz venues and a mix of Black and Korean owned shops.
- Castro and Noe Valley. Market from Church to Castro St. and a left down Castro St to 19th takes you through the center of the city's famous gay mecca. Continuing up Castro St over the hill from there takes you to 24th St, the main drag of bohemian Noe Valley.
Perhaps the most recognizable landmark in San Francisco and one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge, spanning the Golden Gate, has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and is the first thing you see of San Francisco if driving in from the north, as it is one of the major road routes into and out of the city. Overlooking the Golden Gate is the Presidio, a former military post with beautiful architecture and a very scenic park setting. Within the Presidio is the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts, built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and reminiscent of Roman and Greek architecture.
Within the center of the city, the famous cable cars run up and down the hills of San Francisco between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf and offer quite a ride (see above under Get around for more info). Atop one of those hills, Telegraph Hill in North Beach, is Coit Tower, a gleaming white tower dedicated to the San Francisco firefighters. At 275' high, the hill is a healthy hike from the nearby neighborhoods just below. Another prominent tower nearby is the Transamerica Pyramid, the tallest and most recognizable building in the San Francisco skyline, located among the skyscrapers and highrises of the Financial District. Perhaps the most famous view of that skyline is from Alamo Square Park in the Western Addition district, home to the famous Painted Ladies row of Victorian houses, with many other pretty Victorians encircling the lovely park.
Over on Russian Hill is the famous stretch of Lombard Street between Hyde & Leavenworth, the (nearly) crookedest street in America. The city also has a twistier but less scenic stretch of street, Vermont Street on Potrero Hill. Other street oddities in San Francisco include 22nd Street between Vicksburg and Church in Noe Valley and Filbert Street between Leavenworth and Hyde on Russian Hill — At a 31.5% grade, these streets share the honor of the steepest streets in San Francisco.
San Francisco is also well known for its collection of unique and intriguing neighborhoods. Most tourists start with Fisherman's Wharf; although many of the locals consider it a tourist trap, it is a great place to see amazing street entertainers, watch sea lions, visit museums, or take a cruise to the infamous Alcatraz Prison or the pleasant Angel Island. Working fishing boats still come into the small harbor here, and the district is home to several excellent seafood restaurants. The fresh breeze from the bay can provide a bracing setting.
Chinatown, centered around Grant Street from Bush to Columbus, is part tourist trap, part an exhibit of local life. Good eating places abound, and the side streets especially have stores one wouldn't find in a mall. Stockton Street is where most locals do their shopping for groceries; be sure to sample some of the dim sum and other specialties offered in the many bustling shops. However, many local Chinese prefer to eat and shop in the new Chinatowns located in other neighborhoods such as on Clement Street between 2nd and 12th Avenues in the Inner Richmond neighborhood. The Muni #1 (California) and #2 (Clement, does not run at night) buses get people from one Chinatown to the other.
Closer to Downtown is the Civic Center, with its impressive Beaux Arts buildings including City Hall and the War Memorial Veterans Building, the celebrated Asian Art Museum, music and theater venues (including large concert halls and a renowned Symphony and Opera), and the main public library. Nearby, within the highrises of Downtown, Union Square is the heart of the city's main shopping and hotel district, while SoMa to the south is rapidly gentrifying, home to the city's main convention center and several new museums.
To the west of Downtown is Haight Ashbury, famous for being a center of the Hippie movement in the 60s and 70s. While tourism has softened the image of the neighborhood somewhat, the area still retains its distinct feel with small organic coffee shops and store after store selling marijuana-themed goods, tie dye tee shirts and hand bands. Nearby at the top of Market Street is the Castro, the center of San Francisco's Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Transgender (LGBT) community, with numerous theaters and small shops and restaurants. Next door is the Mission District, home to the Mission Dolores Church, one of the oldest structures in the city, and a fantastic collection of murals of all sorts on the walls of many nearby buildings, especially on alleys between Market and Valencia.
Treasure Island, an artificial island half-way between San Francisco and Oakland connected to the Bay Bridge, has excellent views of the San Francisco and Oakland skylines and quirky structures from the international fairground-turned-navy base-turned-neighborhood. Accessible by Muni bus #108 from the Transbay Terminal in SoMa.
When the morning is foggy, you may want to spend a few hours in one of the city's many world-class museums. Many museums offer free admission on certain days during the first week of every month. Golden Gate Park is home to the copper-clad M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary and indigenous art. The de Young Museum's former Asian collection is now permanently housed in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, located in the Civic Center. Across from the de Young Museum stands the California Academy of Sciences, which holds a huge array of science exhibits, including an aquarium and a natural history museum.
The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is in Lincoln Park in the northwest corner of the Richmond district. In Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum offers exhibits on the famous moving landmarks of San Francisco. Near the Castro is the Randall Museum, a lovely little children's museum. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Moscone Center, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Zeum, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art are all located in SoMa, south of Union Square. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, which was designed by Daniel Libeskind and opened in June 2008, is the latest major addition to San Francisco's museum scene.
At the Hyde Street Pier in Fisherman's Wharf you can go on board several historical ships, including the 1886 Balclutha clipper ship, a walking-beam ferry, a steam tug, and a coastal schooner. At Pier 45 just to the east, the World War II submarine USS Pampanito and the World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien can be visited. Nearby is the Aquarium of the Bay on Pier 39 and the Wax Museum.
The Exploratorium at Pier 15 near North Beach will keep you busy for an entire day with their science and perception exhibits. In the Marina district is Fort Mason, home to a few cultural museums.
Parks and outdoors
San Francisco has numerous parks, ranging from the tiny to the huge. The most famous of them is Golden Gate Park in The Avenues, a massive (roughly 1/2 mile-by-four mile) urban oasis with windmills, bison, museums, a carousel and much more hidden among its charms. The park contains the antique palatial greenhouse of the Conservatory of Flowers, the modern and ethnic art focused de Young Museum, the large Japanese Tea Garden, the new California Academy of Sciences building designed by Renzo Piano and the Strybing Arboretum, a collection of plants from across the temperate world. Defining the extreme Northwestern corner of the city is Lincoln Park in Richmond, which provides majestic views of the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge from the ocean side, and the Pacific Ocean itself. At the extreme western end the well known Cliff House provides both semi-casual and a more formal eating and drinking place. The Legion of Honor museum at the center of the park houses many incredible artworks.
Near the physical center of the city is the Twin Peaks, one of San Francisco's highest points (875' above sea level); providing spectacular views in all directions. Tour buses can get backed up here during the day, but it's a great place to really appreciate the city from above, especially at and after sunset. Temperatures up there can be quite a bit lower than in the rest of the city, so bring a jacket. Nearby in the Lake Merced area is the San Francisco Zoo, a large and well maintained zoo which is a great place to go if you are traveling with children or have a fondness for penguins, primates, lions or llamas.
While not particularly well known for its beaches, San Francisco has a couple of good ones along the Pacific Ocean — but the water is brisk, the winds can be rough, and due to strong rip currents swimming at any of them is not recommended. Ocean Beach along the Sunset district is the largest and most famous beach, with plenty of sand and people enjoying themselves. China Beach in Richmond and Baker Beach in Golden Gate are smaller, rather secluded beaches with lovely views.
Off the coast of San Francisco is one of the most productive marine environments on Earth, which attracts abundant marine life including blue whales, gray whales, humpback whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, leatherback sea turtles, and many species of seabirds. The rocky Farallon Islands, located roughly 30 miles offshore from San Francisco, are part of a National Marine Sanctuary and provide nesting habitat for tens of thousands of seabirds. The islands are also known for attracting large numbers of great white sharks from September through November. It is possible to take boat tours to the Farallon Islands throughout most of the year and go whale watching, departing from Fisherman's Wharf or the Marina in San Francisco.
On sunny days hipsters flock to Mission Dolores Park, so named due to its location across the street from the Mission Dolores Basilica. The park often comes to resemble a large party, with music, coolers of beer and, er, uh...medical marijuana treatment. Mission Dolores Park is situated on a slight slope in the Noe Valley neighborhood, just a few blocks from the many restaurants and bars in the Mission. The east side of the park is bounded by Dolores Street, a hilly and scenic drive lined with palm trees and Victorians.
In the southern half of the city is the often overlooked but wonderful Bernal Heights Park, a small park on top of a hill overlooking the entire eastern half of the city, with excellent views of the skyscrapers in the Financial District, the Mission District, and the hills in the southeastern corner of the city. A wide trail runs around the base of the park below the peak which can be walked in ten to fifteen minutes. Bernal Heights Park is dog friendly, so much so that a coyote is often observed there.
About San Francisco
Prior to European settlement in the area, the peninsula that now contains San Francisco was home to the Yelamu tribe, who were part of the larger Ohlone language group which stretched south from the Bay Area to the Big Sur of California. Due to San Francisco's characteristic foggy weather, the earliest European explorers completely bypassed the Golden Gate and the San Francisco Bay.
The first European settlement in the area was founded by the Spanish in 1776 as a mission community surrounding the Mission San Francisco de Asís, in what is today called the Mission Dolores in the Mission District. In addition to the mission, a military fort was built near the Golden Gate: El Presidio.
Upon gaining independence from Spain in 1821, the area became part of Mexico. Under Mexican rule, the mission system gradually came to an end and private ownership of land became a possibility. In 1835, an Englishman named William Richardson founded the town of Yerba Buena, the first significant settlement on the peninsula outside of the Mission Dolores area. As the new settlement gradually grew, Yerba Buena developed a street plan and became attractive to settlers.
In 1846, the United States claimed California, and in July of that year, the U.S. Navy arrived to raise the American flag above Yerba Buena. Over the next couple of years, California officially became part of the United States following the Mexican-American War, and the name of the town was changed from Yerba Buena to San Francisco.
In 1848 the California Gold Rush started in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Waves of fortune-seeking immigrants arrived by boat in San Francisco, increasing the City's population from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands. People who made their fortunes then settled in San Francisco, which at the time was the largest, most exciting city in northern California. Like other large cities, eventually San Francisco developed into districts by nationality or social status: the Italians in North Beach, the Chinese in Chinatown, and the wealthy mining, railroad titans on Nob Hill. During the gold rush years many major businesses were created and flourished in San Francisco (Wells Fargo Bank, Levis, Bank of America), and famous (and infamous) personalities settled in the city. Of course, with all this success came problems: the rapid growth of the city outstripped any efforts at city planning, meaning proper sanitation and infrastructure were largely undeveloped, which led to a cholera outbreak in 1855. Violence and corruption were evident, and anti-immigrant violence resulted in many race riots.
In the 1890s, there was a large campaign to modernize and beautify the city, the success of which led some officials to proudly call San Francisco the "Paris of the West." But in 1906, a devastating earthquake shook the city and a resulting fire leveled much of the city (in fact, almost 90% of the total damage was from the fire, and not the quake itself). Nevertheless, officials at the time immediately set out on a plan to rebuild the city, with new parks, boulevards, the current civic center complex, and landmarks such as the Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill. In 1915, San Francisco hosted the Panama-Pacific Exposition (where the Palace of Fine Arts complex is currently located) to showcase the completely rebuilt city.
In the wake of the Great Depression of the 1930s, San Francisco remained largely unscathed. In fact, it was during this time that the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge were conceived and built. It was also during this time that the federal government established a prison on Alcatraz Island, which would hold some of the most notorious criminals of the era.
After World War II, San Francisco continued to grow in population. Aggressive urban planning projects led to a changing skyline, with the city adding more highrises to its financial district. In the 1950s, new freeways rimmed the city's waterfront, but they were deemed ugly and an eyesore to an otherwise beautiful waterfront; after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake the Embarcadero Freeway was torn down and not replaced.
Besides being a beautiful city to visit, from the 1950s forward San Francisco became known as the city of the cool, quirky, unusual, and counterculture. There were the Beatniks of the fifties and sixties, and the hippies in the sixties and seventies. "Only in San Francisco" became part of the lexicon to describe San Francisco's counterculture and rebel population, a reputation that still exists today. The film industry also made San Francisco world-famous and instantly recognizable; the city provides a superb backdrop for a movie, regardless of genre or topic.
Since 2000, San Francisco has experienced a development boom. Even with the burst of the dot-com bubble, the economy has remained robust and the city government pushed for redevelopment of its blighted industrial section known as "South of Market". Today, the SoMa area is crowded with new condominium and office buildings, new tourist attractions, and dot-com industries. The city's efforts have shielded it somewhat from the recent recession and subsequent real estate crash, and today the financial sector is second only to tourism as San Francisco's largest industry, with the city consistently remaining at the top five of the world's most popular tourist destinations.
San Francisco has a mild climate, with cool, wet winters and dry summers. In most months, you can expect the high temperature to be in the upper 50s, 60s or low 70s degrees Fahrenheit (between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius). However, these mild temperature readings belie a unique climate not shared by other major cities in the state or country.
Summer days usually start out under fog, slowly burning off towards the ocean into a sunny albeit windy afternoon. Measureable precipitation during the summer months is rare, although light drizzle is possible. Humidity is very constant, but rarely uncomfortable. At late afternoon, when the fog and wind returns people generally find themselves needing a jacket (and this is summer!). There are some days when the fog lingers all day.
In the winter, the rainy season is in full swing. That being said, the chances for a calm, windless, sunny day are actually higher in the winter than in the summer! However, the overall temperatures are going to be lower in the winter.
Spring and fall are not so much seasons in themselves in San Francisco, but rather they are quick transitional periods with some days resembling summer and others the winter. Fall in particular is a good time to visit because the summer wind & fog has mostly gone, but the rainy season has not yet started. The late summer month of September, as summer transitions into fall, is the warmest and driest month of the entire year for San Francisco. Heat waves can occasionally occur around this time of year.
Within these general rules, San Francisco also has a series of microclimates created by the city's topography and maritime setting. Large hills in the city's center block much of the fog, wind, and precipitation that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean. Because of this, there can be significant weather differences in different parts of the city and the surrounding Bay Area at the same time. Generally, the more windward areas along the coast (e.g., the Outer Sunset) are cooler and foggier, while the more leeward areas in the east are warmer and drier (e.g., the Mission). Temperature differences of 10-15 degrees or so are common on days where the fog persists on the western side of the city. These differences continue as you move east, out of the city, into the East bay, and into the outer East Bay (on the other side of the hills from Berkeley and Oakland), where it can be much hotter and drier. Local meteorologists routinely have three forecasts: one for the coast, one for the bay, and one for the inland areas. In short, if you don't like the weather, perhaps travel a few miles east or west to your desired climate.
One of the best ways to see San Francisco is from the waters of San Francisco Bay. There are many companies offering harbor tours of varying durations and prices but they all provide marvelous views of the bay, the bridges, the island of Alcatraz and the city.
Only specific island tours are allowed to land at Alcatraz, but the typical harbor tour will circle the island at a slow crawl, giving you plenty of opportunity to photograph the now-inactive prison from the water.
Also consider taking a ferry from San Francisco across the bay to Tiburon, Sausalito, or Alameda. Same views for a fraction of the price.
Most tours leave from docks at Fisherman's Wharf near Pier 39. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks along the waterfront walk. Buy tickets a day or two in advance during the summer high season.
Boats usually leave roughly hourly starting around 10AM and ending around 5PM. Multi-lingual guides are available on some tours. Prices range from $20–$40, more for sunset, dinner, or whale watching tours.
- Even on a sunny day the bay can be chilly, so be sure to bring a sweater as well as sun screen.
- Some boats have snack bars on board, but bring your own water and treats to avoid paying high costs or going without. There are now limited refreshments and a souvenirs shop on Alcatraz.
- San Francisco has a Half-Price Ticket Booth located right in the middle of Union Square, where tickets for most San Francisco theater performances can be purchased the day of the performance for half-price. Run by Theatre Bay Area, all service fees collected from the sale of tickets by TIX Bay Area goes right back into the theater community.
- Go to a concert, a play, a jazz or a folk-song performance. There are performances most days to choose from by the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony, in Herbst Theater (where the U.N. charter was signed), in the Old First Church, and for musicals in the Orpheum or the Golden Gate Theaters, all located in or near the Civic Center. The museum of the Legion of Honor, located in Lincoln Park overlooking the Golden Gate (north end of 34th Ave), has organ concerts which can be heard in many of its galleries, Saturdays and Sundays at 4PM, as well as music performances in its Florence Gould Theater by the San Francisco Lyric Opera. For the fall and spring jazz festivals look into the SFJAZZ calendar. San Francisco also has many jazz clubs, best found by browsing the web (an excellent site is SFStation.com). Contemporary bands are featured at The Fillmore Auditorium and less frequently at the large Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in the Civic Center. There is an annual blues festival in late September, at various locations, and at least two great bluegrass music festivals each year — during February around the area and late September or October in Golden Gate Park. Many, but certainly not all, events are listed by the City Box Office.
- Ballet of the world class variety can be seen for only $10. San Francisco Ballet sells standing room tickets (with excellent views from the back of the orchestra) for their shows at the War Memorial Opera House in Civic Center during the afternoon of each performance as well as two hours before showtime.
- Plays are performed at the Geary (by the American Conservatory Theater), Curran, and the Marines Memorial theatres near Union Square, and at the small New Conservatory Theater near the Civic Center.
- Musicals from Broadway and Los Angeles are shown at the traditional Golden Gate and Orpheum theaters on Market, near the Civic Center. For outrageous fun, princes and paupers go to Beach Blanket Babylon in North Beach. Teenagers are welcome at the Sunday matinees. It considers itself the longest running musical revue in theater history.
There is an incredible array of events going on in San Francisco — virtually every day there will be something of interest to anyone going on, and San Francisco's mild climate ensures that practically every weekend will bring another major festival or some sort of large event. Listed here are just some of the really big events going on:
- Tet Festival. Civic Center-Tenderloin area. Mid-January to mid-February. Celebrate New Year's Vietnamese style at this festival. It's a great opportunity to sample some of the delicious Vietnamese dishes that they have in the area.
- Cherry Blossom Festival. Western Addition. April. In Japantown, this kid-friendly event includes a parade, a street fair, and music.
- San Francisco International Film Festival. Based at the Presidio in Golden Gate, but smaller events take place throughout the city. Two weeks in Apr/May. Organized by the San Francisco Film Society who are based in the Presidio, but the arthouse movies, documentaries, and short films are shown throughout the city.
- Union Street Art Festival. Golden Gate. First weekend in June. This festival attracts many local artists who line the streets displaying their arts and crafts, along with live jazz and classical music performances and an organic farmer's market.
- Haight Ashbury Street Fair. Haight. On the second Sunday of June, people pack the Upper Haight for this event featuring local bands, food stalls and plenty of shopping.
- Fringe Festival. Taking place at various theaters in the Civic Center-Tenderloin area. Just after Labor Day. A 10 day festival about theatrical experimentation and having fun, even if you don't know what you're doing exactly.
- San Francisco Blues Festival. Fort Mason in Golden Gate. Last weekend in September. The oldest continually running blues fest in the world, attracting some great Blues performers every year. For the famished, they also have some flavorful New Orleans style barbeques to compliment the music.
- Folsom Street Fair. Unsurprisingly, on Folsom in SoMa, last Sunday in September. Advertised as the world's largest leather/fetish event. Not really one for the kids.
- LovEvolution (formerly Love Parade and Love Fest). A yearly annual event held on a Saturday in late September or early October. It has become the largest public electronic music festival in the nation. The revelers and floats gather at 2nd and Howard in SoMa with the floats going down Market and ending at Civic Center Plaza. It attracts well known electronic DJ's and thousands of partiers, with some dressing up in wacky costumes to join in the parade.
- Chinese New Year Festivities. Chinatown. January or February. The San Francisco version of the Chinese New Year dates way back, with a colorful, vibrant parade with decorative costumes, lions, deafening firecrackers, "lucky-money" envelopes, colorful banners, ornately themed floats, martial arts groups, stilt walkers, acrobats, and, of course, a 200 foot Golden Dragon.
- Easter Parade and Spring Celebration, Union Street in Golden Gate. The kid-friendly but diverse festivities include a petting zoo, pony rides, live music, train rides, alfresco dining, and a parade.
- Fourth of July. San Francisco's main Independence Day celebrations take place on Fisherman's Wharf. There is lots of free entertainment during the day, culminating with an impressive fireworks display from the foot of Municipal Pier, and at the other end of the Wharf from barges moored off the north of PIER 39.
- Columbus Day Parade. North Beach. This hugely popular parade celebrates Christopher Columbus and Italian heritage. Handmade floats run all the way from Fisherman's Wharf up Columbus Avenue through North Beach.
- Tree Lighting Ceremony at Ghirardelli Square, Ghirardelli Square, Fishermans' Wharf. End of November. Ring in the holiday season by attending the festivities at Ghirardelli Square. There's theater, live music, and then at the end they decorate a 45 foot Christmas tree with ornaments, lights, and chocolate bars.
LGBT community events
San Francisco is famous for its exuberant and visible lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, who always put together some very festive events:
- Pink Saturday is a street party in the Castro on the Saturday night before the Pride Parade and Celebration.
- The San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration is one of the largest gay pride parades and festivals in North America, centered in the Civic Center area. It's a huge, happy, chaotic celebration of diversity, politics, sexuality, and San Francisco wackiness, on the last weekend in June. About a dozen stages and spaces offer everything from square dancing to hip-hop, from a family garden to Leather Alley. It's a movement, it's a market, it's a party. Both parade and celebration are for everyone—straight as well as gay are welcome.
- Halloween in the Castro. Halloween, the holiday when everyone puts on a mask, has long been a special time for gay, lesbian and bisexual people to take off the "straight-looking mask" they sometimes wore all year, and be themselves. What remains today is a huge, sometimes poorly controlled, street party in the Castro on the evening of October 31 each year. In recent years, the police have cracked down, and it has been much diminished.
Outdoor and recreational events
- Critical Mass. On the last Friday of each month, bicyclists in San Francisco (and about 200 like-minded cities world-wide) gather at the north end of Market Street on the Embarcadero and ride en masse to some destination, militantly demonstrating their right to occupy the roads. If you are driving in SF on a Critical Mass day, you will want to listen for radio traffic reports, but if you are stopped by the mass the best thing to do is maintain a good sense of humor and remember that it will all pass in about 5 minutes. Although, tempers can and do flare, and there have been cases where run ins with drivers and bicyclists have gotten violent. If your car is surrounded by bikes, definitely do not move until they have passed or they might feel threatened.
- Bay to Breakers. Third Sunday in May. An annual footrace that is one of the largest in the country. The route runs from Downtown to Ocean Beach. Many runners do the whole thing in costume, wearing anything from elaborate costumes to wearing almost nothing at all, lending a party atmosphere to the event.
- Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. Second Sunday in June. Participants (which often include world champions and Olympic medalists) swim 1.5 miles through chilly waters, bike 18 miles, and then run an extra 8 miles. The course winds its way throughout the city, but the transition and finish line is at Marina Green in the Golden Gate area.
- Fleet Week. Fisherman's Wharf. Usually held in the first week of October, it's a tribute to the men and women in the armed forces. A flotilla of Navy ships dock on the Wharf in parade fashion, and there are many free Deck tours available from crew members. There are also several air displays by the Navy flyers.
- Sunday Streets. Is an approximately monthly event rotating through various neighborhoods where the local main street is closed to car traffic for a pedestrian street fair.
San Francisco has several professional sports teams, although the spread-out nature of the Bay Area means there are also teams nearby in San Jose and Oakland.
The San Francisco Giants are the city's Major League Baseball team, playing their home games at the lovely AT&T Park in SoMa. The other major league team in San Francisco is the San Francisco 49ers, the city's National Football League team, who play their games at Candlestick Park on Candlestick Point in Southeast San Francisco. Both teams command huge fan bases.
As far as college sports go in San Francisco, there are the University of San Francisco Dons, who play various college sports including baseball, basketball, soccer and volleyball at their campus in Western Addition. The San Francisco State University Gators play various college sports including baseball, basketball and soccer at their campus near Lake Merced.
San Francisco is a hotbed for underground music; a highly diverse array of musical styles is represented (e.g., rock, pop, experimental, weird folk, and avant-jazz). Shows occur every night, with as many as fifteen small shows occurring each Thursday through Saturday night. Much of this activity is not always well covered in the mainstream media; useful community-driven resources for finding about local shows include Dar Dar Dar  and the Transbay Calendar .
San Francisco is a "foodie" city with a vast array of restaurants. In fact, San Francisco has more restaurants per capita than any major city in North America, with 1 restaurant for every 250 residents (in comparison, New York City has 1 restaurant for every 940 residents). The price range is huge, of course, and you can spend anywhere from a small fortune to a couple bucks for every type of cuisine. In addition to the range of ethnic restaurants you'd expect to find, bay area food culture focuses on "artisinal" food (see the Ferry Building) and fresh fruits and vegetables (see Alice Waters), drawing from the nearby farms in California.
In San Francisco, you would be well-served by using an online restaurant rating website to find the best restaurants. Yelp.com, for example, is actively maintained by San Franciscans. All the best restaurants (and bars) are mobbed on the weekends, so you'll do well to check out the availability on opentable.com or similar websites.
Ethnic food and neighborhoods:
- You can still find some ethnic food districts in San Francisco. Some of these, like North Beach, have become museums for tourists, while others, such as the (Inner) Mission and Chinatown, are still strongly ethnic neighborhoods which maintain their native food culture. In truth, the food culture in the city is oriented less around ethnic districts than restaurant areas. In the Mission, for example, you will find not just Mexican food but rather excellent options of many kinds (e.g., Sushi, Indian, Italian, Thai, etc.).
- With the largest Chinatown in North America as well as one of the largest Chinese communities in the West, there are many exceptional restaurants serving dim sum and other Chinese delicacies found throughout the city. This localized Chinese cuisine has its feet in Hong Kong and America, and is different from what many visitors are accustomed to — it is common to hear complaints from Chinese visitors that Chinese food here is not like the food back home. There are several main types of Chinese restaurants in San Francisco: those primarily serving immigrants from Hong Kong ("Hong Kong style") which commonly have signs on the wall in Chinese characters, live fish and shellfish tanks and some exotic main ingredients, such as pig's blood or sea cucumber; those primarily serving San Franciscans who are not Asian immigrants ("California Chinese") which commonly have Westernized table service, low fat content and more emphasis on fresh vegetables; those primarily serving tourists or other people accustomed to Chinese food as it is commonly served in the United States ("Americanized Chinese"); and those primarily serving immigrants from other areas or a particular dietary need or interest (regional cuisines, vegetarian, Muslim). There may be some mixing between these various classifications and each category may influence the others, for instance, the Americanized dish known as Chop Suey is often not served even at Americanized Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, while Chinese vegetables such as bok choy and pea sprouts may turn up on your plate at California Cuisine style restaurants.
- San Francisco is also one of the best places in the nation for other Asian cuisine: Korean, Thai, Indian, and Japanese. Sushi is a local obsession. Japantown and the Richmond district have more than their fair share of excellent sushi chefs.
- Inexplicably to many locals, Fisherman's Wharf remains a popular place for tourists to find fresh but overpriced seafood, especially clam chowder and crabs cooked to order.
- For tourists, North Beach is the place to go for Italian food. Beware that the restaurants along Colombus, which are oriented toward tourists, will be overpriced. You can, of course, find great Italian and pizza all over the city.
- The Mission (birthplace of the mission style burrito) is great for Mexican and Latin American cuisine of all sorts.
San Francisco restaurants are also very corkage friendly. Average corkage fee appears to be in the $15 range, with some of the more pricey places charging $25–35.
Vegetarians and vegans will find SF a paradise, however contrary to popular belief the city has one of the lowest rates of vegetarian consumers in the nation.
Bars and clubs
The best way to find a good bar or club is to ask the advice of a local; but barring that a copy of The SF Bay Guardian or the SF Weekly or a quick search on yelp/google will help you find something suited to your personal taste.
The great diversity of nightlife in San Francisco, sometimes within one neighborhood, reflects the diversity of cultures there. Here's a sampling:
- If you want door-to-door bar hopping at friendly bars that serve PBR tall boys, definitely go to "Polk Gulch" in the Tenderloin and work your way north through bars such as Mayes, The Playground, and Hemlock.
- Head to the Marina for mid-20s to mid-30s professionals (and those visiting from Los Angeles) as well as a college atmosphere clubbing scene around super packed club/bars such as Circa and Matrix 24/7.
- Are you into clubs? If you want to commit to a single venue for the night and club the night away, pay the necessary cover at high end clubs in South of Market (SoMa) such as The Grand, Manor West, and 330 Ritch, where you can find left-over dot-commers and hipsters hanging out on the street. If you're in the mood for world class clubbing, Ruby Skye near Union Square is a must visit place; the SF equivalent of a Vegas club, but be prepared to buy tickets ahead of time and wait in line.
- The Castro primarily serves San Francisco's gay men.
- The Lexington in the Mission and Wild Side West and Stray Bar in Bernal are lesbian bars.
- Other spots in the Mission also offers a more down to earth vibe that still lets you get your dance on in spots like Brunos; a bonus with this is that you can end the night with a great burrito from one of the local Mission taquerias.
- With a large Irish population, San Francisco has a number of very good Irish pubs extending out into the Sunset neighborhood (e.g., Danny Coyle's, Four Deuces, and many others). North Beach is home to several dance clubs and strip clubs.
- If you like soccer (football) and all things English, you should stop into the Kezar Pub, at the edge of the Haight-Ashbury District, or Lower Haight's Mad Dog In the Fog. The pub quiz and bar food are good. Swill some pints and stay in the dark. Good for an entire day's worth of drinking.
San Francisco, despite being much smaller than New York City, sports more microbreweries. Anchor Brewing Company (makers of Anchor Steam, found throughout the US) is brewed on Potrero Hill, though it is generally not open to the public (tours are available Friday afternoons by reservation). Similarly, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers opens its doors on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, though its location in Hunter's Point makes it a long Muni ride if you're traveling without a car. The other microbreweries are housed in brewpubs:
- Beach Chalet & Park Chalet are at the Pacific end of Golden Gate Park, where you can enjoy a view of the ocean or sit in the lawn area.
- Pizza Orgasmica in the Richmond District specializes in California-style pizza.
- Magnolia Brewing Company is in the heart of the Haight, and operates a second restaurant down the street, The Alembic.
- Thirsty Bear in SoMa caters mostly to the happy hour crowd.
- 21st Amendment, also in SoMa, is three blocks away from the Giants' home at AT&T Park.
- Social Kitchen & Brewery is in the Sunset District, a block from Golden Gate Park.
- Southern Pacific Brewing Company is a large bar in the Mission District.
Other destinations for beer drinkers include the Gordon Biersch alehouse on the Embarcadero in SoMa, the City Beer Store and Tasting Bar on Folsom St in SoMa (your best bet for beer to go), the Mission's Monk's Kettle, and the famous Toronado Pub on lower Haight Street, which specializes in Belgian ales.
The surrounding Alameda, San Mateo, and Marin Counties also host many microbreweries worth trying. Many of these are accessible by BART. And although Santa Rosa is 45 minutes north of San Francisco, no beer lovers should skip the renowned Russian River Brewing Company in downtown Santa Rosa.
If you want it, chances are likely you can get it in San Francisco. There are a wide range of small and locally owned businesses throughout the city's neighborhoods; in fact, San Francisco has for the most part repelled the development of large chain retailers and big box stores that are common across America.
If it's tourist trinkets you're looking for, Fisherman's Wharf has the typical souvenir, T-shirt, and camera shops, along with plenty of specialty stores. However, San Francisco's most popular shopping area is Union Square, which has all the big national department stores (Macy's, Saks, Nordstrom, etc.) and plenty of fancy boutique stores, as well as a few shopping centers thrown in.
For small, upscale boutiques, Union Street, Fillmore Street, and Chestnut Street in the Golden Gate area are lined with unique and trendy places, and all three streets are among the best spots in the city to window shop. Nob Hill is also full of specialty places.
But if you don't have a luxury dollar to spend and still want to walk away with something unique, there are plenty of shops in Chinatown for you, selling Oriental handicrafts of all descriptions, and no chain stores in sight. Japantown also offers plenty of great shops selling authentic souvenirs, including the excellent Kinokuniya Stationery/Bookstore. The Haight is full of excellent independent record and book stores, with Amoeba Music dominating the scene.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article San Francisco on Wikivoyage.