San Francisco Travel Guide

Discover what the songwriter meant about leaving your heart in San Francisco when you plan a trip to the Bay Area. If you're looking for charm, romance, and adventure on your next vacation, San Francisco is the city for you. Hop on a cable car and you're off to explore this city that's known for its beautiful bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. When you arrive, it's best if you already have a plan so you don't waste time figuring out what to do. San Francisco is alive with culture, artists, top-rated restaurants, great shopping, and natural beauty. You can enjoy it all when you book a stay in San Francisco vacation rentals. We hope that this guide is a good starting point as you begin to plan your getaway. We've tried to pull together helpful information, but if we've left something out, please let us know.

What to Do in San Francisco

San Francisco Sightseeing

Ahoy, Mateys! Explore Fisherman's Wharf

Almost anywhere you go on Fisherman's Wharf, you'll have gorgeous views of the city and the bay. It's a wonderful place to go for a relaxing stroll. This popular destination combines entertainment, dining, shopping, history, and fun attractions. The possibility of seeing sea lions lounging on the docks makes this an extra special place to visit. It's a real treat to see these large creatures with their dark, shiny skin piled together on the wooden docks! You shouldn't have much trouble getting to the wharf since two of the city's cable car lines stop here.

You don't have to get in the water to find out what's under the water. Twenty thousand creatures found in and near the San Francisco Bay are on display at Aquarium of the Bay. This family-friendly attraction is located at Pier 39 of Fisherman's Wharf. Sharks, jellyfish, and octopi are just a few of the creatures you can see up close during a visit to the aquarium. Stick around to watch the shark feedings. There are daily opportunities to touch and interact with underwater creatures. Behind-the-scenes tours are available, giving visitors the chance to cross the catwalks that span the gigantic tanks. Space is very limited, so plan ahead if you want to do this tour.

Check out the shops and restaurants of Anchorage Square. There are very few chain stores here, but there are shops like Stoie’s Stogies, Inc.; Russian Treasure; and Crazy Shirts where you can find some unusual items. Anchorage Square is a starting place for several city tours, including one company that offers bike tours to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Get Your Chocolate Fix at Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square is one of the most popular places at Fisherman's Wharf. Named for the chocolate company that began here in 1852, this venue will give you plenty of ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. Start at the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop where you can sample the luscious chocolate and learn about the company's history. You can see original equipment used to make the chocolate. When you've had your fill of chocolate, head over to Kara's Cupcakes. The treats from this shop are as delicious as they are lovely. The square offers plenty of places where you can drink and eat while taking in sweeping views of the bay, Alcatraz, and Angel Island. Be sure to squeeze in some shopping while you're here. Eclectic and upscale shops like C&C Fancy Goods and Lola of North Beach beckon to discriminating shoppers.

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What to See in San Francisco

There's so much to take in during your trip to San Francisco. Plan to visit state parks, beaches, and famous landmarks like Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge Will Astound You

Whether you drive, bike, or walk across it, you'll be inspired by, and in awe of, this man-made wonder. This bridge, which first opened in 1937, features a 4,200-foot suspension span. There is a toll to drive across the bridge, so be prepared. The east sidewalk is open every day of the year to foot traffic. It opens in the morning and closes every evening, so be sure to check on specific times if you're going later in the day. Roller blades and skateboards are not permitted on the walkway.

Visiting Angel Island State Park

You can take a ferry to this gorgeous island in the San Francisco Bay and discover some interesting local history. You'll want to visit the Immigration Station, which opened in 1910 and welcomed immigrants for 30 years. Explore the natural beauty of Angel Island by riding its bike trails. You can rent bikes on the island or bring them over from the city. There are also tram tours available.

Alcatraz: Locked Up in History

The island's infamous history draws many tourists to these shores each year. Home to a federal penitentiary for nearly 30 years, Alcatraz held some well-known criminals behind its bars, including Al Capone and the Birdman. While there are ample opportunities to learn about this part of the island's past, you will also find yourself pleasantly surprised by the natural beauty of this place.

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Where to Shop and Eat in San Francisco

Eat Your Heart Out!

This city is a culinary delight with more than 3,500 restaurants serving up dishes from all over the world. Even the most picky eaters are bound to find something they find delicious. Because eating out is a city-wide pastime, you'll want to book a table weeks in advance at the most popular restaurants, even if you're planning to eat a midday meal during the week. Also, remember that all restaurants in the city are smoke-free.

If you're looking for a romantic meal, take your beloved to Fleur de Lys. This renowned restaurant is known both for its atmosphere and delicious classic French dishes. Romance is also on the menu at Acquerello, a fine Italian restaurant that takes care in pairing superb wine with spectacular cuisine. An altogether different experience awaits you at Kiss Seafood, a top-rated sushi place that seats fewer than 15 people at a time. This Japantown eatery is only open for dinner. It's a great dining experience if you can get a seat.

There are a number of restaurants on Fisherman's Wharf, with many offering amazing views of the bay. Top choices on the wharf include Restaurant Gary Danko (French), Ana Mandara (French/Vietnamese), McCormick and Kuleto’s Seafood Restaurant, and Lou's Pier 47 (Seafood/Blues Club).

Finally, don't be afraid to try a restaurant that offers dishes and cuisine that you find intriguing. You're likely to find some great places near your San Francisco vacation rental.

San francisco shopping

Exquisite Shopping

The city's most-popular shopping destination is Union Square and the surrounding area. You'll find a selection of well-known department stores, including Barneys New York, Saks, Nieman Marcus, and Bloomingdales. It's not just the name brand stores that draw crowds of shoppers. One-of-a-kind shops, specialty stores, and more than 30 art galleries and dealers put this shopping experience in a league of its own.

If you're looking for some deals, head over to Chinatown. There are plenty of storefronts selling cheap goods in this part of the city. Don't overlook some of the best stores that are off the main streets. You can find some nice jewelry, art, and other treasures if you're willing to go off the beaten path.

For a truly different shopping experience, browse the boutiques of Haight, Union, and Fillmore Streets. From clothing to antiques to furniture, it's hard to guess what kind of souvenir you might bring home from one of the stores in these areas.

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When to Visit San Francisco

Trips in September will give you the warmest weather and the best chance of having sunny days for your vacation. The summer is the most popular time for tourists. High temperatures in June, July, and August generally stay in the upper 60's. It's not unusual for fog and a cool dampness to settle into the bay, even in the summer. That doesn't mean you can't have a wonderful time exploring the many indoor attractions the city has to offer. After all, cool temperatures and cloudy skies can be the perfect excuse to indulge in a glass of wine and a delicious meal at one of the city's fine restaurants.

San Francisco can be cold in late fall, winter, and early spring, but the city compensates for the weather by offering some excellent indoor events. There are cultural and arts activities like performances by the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Ballet. Live theater is also in full swing during the winter. If you visit when it's cold, find out if any well-known comedians or musicians are giving performances. December brings an extra dose of fun with a tree lighting ceremony at Ghirardelli Square and other holiday activities throughout the city. Attractions like Fisherman's Wharf offer seasonal events. So, even if it's cold and dreary outside, you're sure to find fun things to do.

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What to Bring to San Francisco

Definitely plan to bring sweaters and a jacket if you're coming in the spring or fall. Falling temperatures and wind can make the evenings and nights quite cold. With temperatures dipping into the 40's and occasionally into the 30's, a trip here during the winter months will require a warm coat.

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Local Services in San Francisco

San Francisco trips are extra comfortable when you consider you're close to virtually any service you might need during your vacation. You'll have your choice of first-rate hospitals, clinics, hair salons, day spas, and pet service providers.

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What to Know About San Francisco

There are three cable car routes that take you through the city. When you board a cable car, make sure you either have cash or a pre-paid pass. There's no charge for children age four and under. If you're taking an extended vacation to San Francisco, you might consider buying a FastPass, which gives you unlimited rides for a month on cable cars, buses, and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).

Street names can be very confusing. There are number-named streets and avenues. For example, there's Fifth Street and Fifth Avenue, which are in totally different parts of the city. It's important to clarify exactly where you're going before leaving your San Francisco vacation rental for a day or night on the town.

If you choose to visit during the colder months, chances are good that you'll find some real deals at area attractions, stores, and even some restaurants. Escape the summer crowds and enjoy the quieter atmosphere by booking your trip in late fall, winter, or early spring.

Parking in certain parts of the city can be a real hassle. While you might enjoy the freedom of having a rental car, it's worth taking a taxi to some of the more popular areas like downtown and Fisherman's Wharf. Trying to find a parking space will eat up time that you'd rather use shopping, eating, or seeing the sights.

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Getting to San Francisco

You have two primary airport choices if you're flying here. There's San Francisco International and Oakland International. Both offer quick access to the Bay Area. Even though it's a little further away, you might check prices and schedules for flights into San Jose International Airport. There are convenient ways to get from any of these three airports to your vacation rental, including taxis, rental cars, shuttles, and public transportation.

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Why San Francisco Vacation Rentals?

For your next vacation, San Francisco gives you many choices when it comes to accommodations. You'll quickly find that vacation rentals give you more room than hotels, making them perfect for families and large groups. Whether you want multiple bedrooms, a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, or private parking, you're sure to find an affordable vacation rental with VacationRentals.com that meets all your needs. Tastefully decorated and well-maintained, vacation rentals are a step above cookie-cutter hotel rooms that offer little personality. Discriminating travelers know that vacation rentals let them unpack, unwind, and live like a local.

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