A guide to San Francisco : my favorite places

Hello everyone, I’ve been working hard on this post for you guys to share some of my favorite places in San Francisco to eat, drink, play, rest, sights see, learn, grow, and shop! I absolutely LOVE that there are so many things to do in this compact city. There are adventures waiting for you every single day, all you have to do is walk out the door. San Francisco has this amazing ambiance of mixing nature with a city (if you don’t mind walking over dog doo-doo once in a while), that you can easily forget what a large city it is.

I’ve rounded up 48 different places for you to explore – I could have easily added a few more, but I wanted to strictly only use photos I have taken. And just as a reminder, I also have two other posts that will be relevant if you’re looking for places to shop in San Francisco – Vintage/Thrift shopping in Haight-AshburyClothing shops map  in San Francisco

Food
San Francisco has tons of food options for every type of diet, appetite, restriction, country, price point, and time of day. It can sometimes be difficult to even settle on once choice, and other times hard to make yourself a meal at home because there are so many places to eat out (plus, new places are popping up all the time). Here are just a few of my favorites.

Bar Crudo – You can get clam chowder anywhere, but Bar Crudo has the most scrumptious sea food chowder that has never disappointed. We bring all of our out of town guests here, and they always request to go back upon return. They have a killer happy hour menu. A must for seafood lovers.
Bar Crudo

Bi Rite – Officially a market, I don’t shop here for groceries because they’re a little out of my budget. I come here strictly for the ice cream. Oh the ice cream! There are two locations, both of which frequently have lines out the door to get a scoop of their special flavors. My personal favorite is their salted caramel flavor, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Bi Rite Divisadero

Bun mee – It’s hard for me to write about this place, because I’m not eating bread at the moment and can’t enjoy their sandwiches. But I’ll rave about them anyway. Lovely Vietnamese sandwich spot. Yes, there are cheaper sandwiches somewhere else, but some days I don’t feel like eating in a hole in the wall. Everything on the menu is delicious. The sweet potato fries and the Vietnamese coffee are worth the visit alone.
Fillmore

Craftsman and Wolves – What can I say about this place other than it is a culmination of food with detail. Everything has been created to be unique and delicious. I have found that they have the best hot chocolate I have tasted since I visited Madrid in 2009, I have to get it every time I’m in the neighborhood.
Hot Chocolate at Craftsman and Wolves

Gotts Roadside – I know some people say In N Out is pretty tough to beat for a burger, but Gott’s is neck to neck if you ask me. There are a few Bay Area locations for you to try. And I think they do what In N Out fails in – having a larger menu (that includes alcoholic beverages) without compromising what they’re known for, yummy burgers and shakes. The SF location is in the Ferry Building, so you’ll have a great time just wandering around in that place.
Gott's Roadside

Hog Island Oyster – Another Ferry Building staple, the Hog Island Oyster Company is a must for oysters. I still want to visit their main location in Tomales Bay where you can get your own oysters.
Hog Island Oyster

-Mission Beach Cafe – I’m kind of bummed this is the only picture I’ve taken of this place. I love eating here. The one thing I don’t love is that it consistently has the longest waiting time to eat breakfast every single day. You wanna try the best pancakes ever? Come here.
Mission Beach Cafe

Outerlands – For a bite by the beach, come to Outerlands. Food and service is always fantastic.
Outerlands

Drinks/Nightlife
Chambers/Phoenix hotel – this bar/restaurant/hotel combination is pretty spectacular. The neighborhood is sketchy, but there is always some fun event going on. It almost reminds me of places I’ve been to in LA (Roosevelt hotel comes in mind) and when I lived in Vegas (our spots in Downtown where the locals go).
Chambers

Phoenix Hotel

Clift – I consider The Clift that classy hotel bar. If you’re in the area, it’s a nice place to visit.
Clift hotel

The Independent – one of my favorite music venues. Always a good show happening, great place to discover new music. The venue isn’t overwhelmingly huge, so you’ll get a great view no matter where you are.
Os Mutantes at The Independent

Magnolia Brewery – They make their own beer, enough said.
Magnolia Brewery

Smugglers Cove – Don’t let the nondescript facade fool you, behind the tinted windows is this amazing three floor tiki bar. Each drink is hand crafted, you quickly forget you’re in San Francisco.
Smugglers Cove

Sight-see : go outside
San Francisco has the pleasure of having SO many things to do outdoors. On days that the weather is cooperating and with the right transportation, you can catch tons of things in just one weekend.

-Bay cruise – walk over to the wharf and buy yourself a ticket to get on a boat tour, especially if it is your first time in San Francisco. There are many options, if you want to go to Alcatraz, you most likely have to buy those tickets in advance. But honestly, any of the tours are nice (I don’t recommend taking one on a foggy day for obvious reasons). You can also take a ferry to across the bay, and catch it back later to return.
Alcatraz from boat view

Buena Vista Park – my underrated little park, which should actually just be called a forest. If you’re up for the hike, walk through it to get to the summit and see a beautiful view of the city.
Buena Vista park

-Corona Heights/Randall Museum – Just a short hike away from Buena Vista Park, you’ll easily get to Corona Heights and the Randall Museum. Where you’ll get another beautiful view of the city. Plus, the Randall Museum has lots of things for kids to see and do – on Saturday’s they have a petting zoo and open their model train city.
View from Corona Heights

-Ocean Beach – Just get to the beach already. It’s beautiful. Unless you surf, you probably wont get in the water. But beautiful nonetheless.
Ocean Beach

-Sutro Baths/Lands End – Land’s end is a nice lookout/hiking spot right by the ocean. Sutro Bath’s are the foundation remains of old bath houses that used to exist in San Francisco. One of the few places that looks beautiful in both the sun and gloom!
Land's End

Sutro Baths

Golden Gate Park
So I had to give Golden Gate Park its own little section. It is my hands down FAVORITE place in San Francisco and possibly ever. I’ve been all over and through it and still discover new things about it all the time. You could easily spend the whole day there and not be disappointed. Almost all of these are short distances from each other and easily walkable. Lots of people enjoy riding bikes through here, on some weekends they close down JFK drive to cars.

Botanical Gardens – the botanical gardens is our arboretum that has lots of plants from all over the world and also a small cluster of giant redwood trees! They also have a small library on site (how I’d LOVE to work there!)
Botanical Gardens

Buffalo Paddock – Not many people know that there is a patch of land for Buffalo in the park. You don’t get to touch them or anything like that. But it’s pretty majestic to see them there.
Buffalo in Golden Gate Park

Conservatory of Flowers – Sitting in the field by the Conservatory of Flowers is my happy place, I come by at least once a week with a book, just sit and people watch. Great place for a picnic too. The Conservatory itself is a beautiful greenhouse for exotic flowers and plants.
Conservatory of Flowers

-Dahlia/Rose gardens – Just a block from each other, you can head over to the Dahlia and Rose Gardens. I declare that the Rose Garden is the most glorious smelling place in all of San Francisco. When the gardens are in bloom, you really feel like you’re in heaven.
Golden Gate Park Rose Garden

Dahlia Garden Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden – A small but beautiful garden dedicated to the Japanese aesthetic. If you get there early enough, some of the days are free entrance. This place is zen in the park.
Japanese Tea Garden

-Museums – You can hit up two museums back to back if you like. The De Young fine art museum and the Academy of Sciences are right next to each other and are both wonderful.
De Young Museum

Stow Lake – This lake is a nice pit stop, I love going by here for my evening walks. You can walk over to its little island. If you’re up for it, you can rent a canoe or paddle boat to go around the lake.
Stow Lake

Windmills – There are two windmills in Golden Gate Park right by the beach. They used to actually function and pump water. The north windmill has a pretty tulip garden next to it.
Windmill at Golden Gate Park

Sight-see : the city
-Alamo Square – Does this even need explanation? Alamo Square has a vista of the famous painted ladies on one side. It really should only be a quick stop while doing other things, cause there isn’t much to do here. Go to Bi-Rite (see above) get a scoop of ice cream and enjoy it here on a nice day 🙂
Alamo Square

Defenestration – I had heard that they were going to remove this installation. I remember the first time I saw it and freaking out. It really looks like furniture is falling out of the window. They successfully made it look in motion as well! Also known as the furniture falling out of the building place.
Defenestration San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge – There are no words for the bridge either. You have to see it when you go to the city. Even living here and seeing it each time, evokes something wonderful. You can walk and bike over it if you want to. Cross over going north and check out the vista point. You will not be disappointed (see photo below).
Gold Gate Bridge

Japantown – coming here is a nice little break from all things stereotypical San Francisco. It’s just a tiny neighborhood, and really not that much to see compared to other neighborhoods. But it’s so nice here. Fantastic stores and food. They also have great festivals! Come during the Cherry Blossom season. You can also catch some people in their Cosplay best some weekends.
Japantown

Palace of Fine Arts – while this picture below makes it look like a regular sized building, check out the tiny people at the bottom for scale. This massive building was erected for the worlds fair many decades ago and is still around. It is absolutely breathtaking and beautiful.
Palace of Fine Arts

Street fairs – Several times a year, main streets are shut down for street festival gatherings for specific seasons. Haight street, Fillmore street (from picture below), Folsom street, just to name a few.
Fillmore Jazz Fest

Main library on Market street – How could I not include a library in this roundup. The main library is an absolute must. They have events almost every day- I was able to catch Lois Lowry (photo below), one of my favorite authors giving a talk for free! Events are for all types of tastes and ages. There are five floors of materials to check out, and a sixth floor dedicated to San Francisco history which everyone should see!
Lois Lowry at San Francisco Public Library main

MOMA – The SF Museum of Modern Art is a beautiful home to amazing art, and is constantly rotating amazing exhibits. As I write this, it is currently closed for renovations and expansion. Scheduled to reopen in 2016 – BUT they continue to host events around the city instead.
SF MOMA

Shop
Aldea Home – I’m sad this is the only picture of mine I could find of this place. Aldea home is a wonderfully curated home goods store. They have an amazing collection of scents to buy (obviously Tokyomilk is my favorite!) If you need to buy someone a gift, this is the place to check out.
Scents at Aldea Home

Amoeba – Ever since I got my record player to work again, I can’t stop visiting Amoeba. I don’t necessarily buy anything, if you’ve ever gone record digging, you know the hunt itself is the feeling you crave. Plus, they have free music events all the time. I just caught Deltron 3030 and Dan the Automator the other day!
Deltron 3030 and Dan the Automator at Amoeba SF

Booksmith – My other go-to gift store. The Booksmith always has great books to buy and give. They have the most adorable children’s section where I sometimes get things for my nieces and nephews. Besides books they have lots of stationary, calendars, tshirts and totes, magazines, zines, and other knick-knacks!
Books at Booksmith

Britex Fabrics – I can’t remember if they don’t let you take pictures in Britex or not, as to why this is the only picture I have of this place. Several floors of the most beautiful and exquisite fabrics! One floor dedicated to little odds and ends that you may need when sewing. If you’re into sewing or crafting, you definitely need to come here.
Britex Fabrics bag

Jeremy’s – So this fitting room picture doesn’t do the place any justice. I often cite that I many of my clothes here. This “department store” is a designer discount store. The range of designers are wide but you can often find the big, big names here too (think  Chanel, Valentino, etc) at a fraction of the original price (still expensive, but discounted). They have a separate floor for contemporary designers. Every weekend they have a deal going on. A handful of times during the year they have special sales, my personal favorite is the 80% additional off sales sale. Where I’ve been able to buy things for less than ten dollars after the sale. The prices are better than an outlet.
Shopping at Jeremy's

Marc by Marc Jacobs – The MJ store is constantly rotation their selection of things. The highlights definitely are the accessories!

Marc Jacobs store in Pac Heights

Nest – a cute and lovely curated home store. It has lots of sweet toys for kids and kids at heart.
Fillmore

-The Other Shop – All things vintage and antique. I love browsing here every so often to look for my dream coffee table. But they always have killer Mid-Century Modern things. ***UPDATE, as of late 2013, the Other Shop is closed, it caught fire and the store was destroyed 🙁 hoping they can get back on their feet soon!
The Other Shop Divisadero

Union Square – You want to go shopping and don’t have too much time as a tourist? Just come to Union Square, (almost) everything could possibly want that your little city back home doesn’t have.
Union Square San Francisco

Wasteland – One of my favorite shopping spots. It’s a resale store, but I find the quality to be much higher than some other places. The best vintage tshirt collection for sale. The prices are higher than most places, but I think the selection is pretty impeccable.
Wasteland on Haight

Still reading?! Glad you made it all the way through. It will be very hard to move away one day.

  • sartorialsidelines

    Wow, what an awesome post! I spent a weekend in San Francisco a few years back when I went to a conference there and I had the most amazing time. I’ve been thinking for years that I’d love to go back and I’m going to archive this post somewhere for when I do!

    Courtney ~ Sartorial Sidelines

  • Brandi

    Great guide Eli! Turns out we have similar taste in food 🙂

  • Kenya

    Great post, Great List for our beautiful city!

  • Crystal Lee

    Dang, I was just in SF for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Fest. Wish I would have seen this post before now. Well, I’ll save it for next time. Looks like some really amazing hot spots! Thanks for compiling this list. xo

  • Great post! It was nice to discover some places I haven’t been to yet! Thank you for sharing all these amazing spots.

    xoxo
    Victoria