From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Built into a series of rolling hills by one of the most scenic baysides in America, San Francisco is a place like no other: a towering city of industry with a longstanding history of innovation, change, and revolution in its back pocket.
And although these days, the main draw to town might be the seemingly endless tech boom and proliferation of startups, there’s enough to see, do, and explore in San Francisco to keep anyone busy for a lifetime — no matter when they arrived.
Read on to learn about some of our very favorite options for those looking to get more familiar with the west coast’s City of Brotherly Love.
Although you might sooner think of skyscrapers than endless blue skies when you think of San Francisco, the fact remains that there are some incredible preserved wildernesses in the midst of this urban sprawl. Here are some state and national parks and preserves to add to your to-do list while you’re in San Francisco, CA.
Historically, this unique island has served as cattle farming land, a military base, a Bubonic plague quarantine station and more — and today, it’s a one-of-a-kind wilderness getaway that lets visitors relax in the great outdoors while still maintaining a stunning view of the San Francisco skyline. The only way to get there is by boat, so plan on riding one of the multiple ferries that services the area!
If you live in the heart of urban San Francisco, it can be hard to get out to the state parks and other wildernesses surrounding it. Fortunately, Candlestick Point State Recreation Area offers a protected wilderness within easy distance of the city limits, tucked just south of Hunters Point and offering fishing, swimming, hiking trails and more.
Protecting more than 82,000 acres of stunning California countryside, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a proper wilderness — and with more than 15 million visitors each year, it’s the most-visited NPS-managed location in the entire country. Although this sprawling space offers a multitude of nooks and crannies to explore, San Franciscans can find themselves in its southern reaches in as little as half an hour.
Also known as Montara State Beach, McNee Ranch is a 690-acre stretch of seaside that reaches up to 1,898 feet above sea level at its highest point. It’s rare, but snow has been known to dust the summit of Pedro Mountain, and the soils along its lower slopes host wide biodiversity including a few endangered species.
Rising from the heart of Marin County, Mount Tamalpais and its surrounding state park offer visitors breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, including the Farallon Islands 25 which lie miles out to sea. Even if you’re not up to climb to the top, there’s plenty of other hiking, picnicking, wildlife watching and camping to be done.
Directly adjacent to the southern boundary of San Francisco and within easy reach of many Bay Area communities, San Bruno Mountain State & County Park is an open-space island standing in the midst of the immense surrounding urbanization, and serves as a habitat for local wild- and plant life as well as a retreat for city dwellers.
(Psst: looking for even more incredible California state parks to dive into? Check out our guide to some of the most popular parks across the state here.)
We’ve covered some of the best nature preserves and wilderness areas… but what specific trails should you look out for?
Here are some of the best hiking trails in the San Francisco area.
Stretching just under 3.5 miles all told and offering stunning views of the Pacific, Lands End Trail is one of the most popular destinations in the southern portion of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and one that’s moderate enough to be accessible to a wide range of visitors. The trek sees a little more than 500 feet of elevation gain throughout, so it’s not completely flat — but it’s definitely not a mountain climb, either!
Looking for a trail that combines astonishing views with accessible hiking? Seal Rocks Beach offers partially-paved trails, making it a great option for those on bicycles, and its sweeping seaside vistas punctuated by the namesake boulders will stick in your head forever. This trail measures a little more than 2 miles all told and sees about 400 feet in elevation change.
The Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve serves as an urban oasis, and the Mount Sutro Loop is an incredible way to get familiar with this unique landscape on foot. A moderate adventure of about two miles and 500 feet of elevation change, this hike will give you a workout without making you wonder why on earth you went out there in the first place.
A waterside trek nestled into the Presidio, Batteries to Bluffs Trail runs about 2.2 miles altogether and sees about 450 feet of elevation change, making it a relatively doable (easy-moderate) hike that’s perfect for many fitness levels.
The highest natural point in San Francisco, Mount Davidson is an attraction to all hikers who like to get some elevation between themselves and sea level. Fortunately, however, highest in San Francisco isn’t that much of a superlative; this trail sees less than 300 feet of elevation gain over its single mile loop, making this an achievable summit for many!
Trying to list the best restaurants in San Francisco is like trying to nail jello to the wall: there are so many, and so much turnover, that it’s nearly impossible to make a definitive list of San Francisco restaurants at all, let alone the standouts.
That said, there’s no shortage of amazing food to be had in town. Here are some can’t-miss options.
From hole-in-the-wall strip mall joints to all-out palaces, it can be difficult to pick the best of the Indian restaurants in San Francisco when there are so darn many great options. That said, Besharam gets a place on our list for its fun and hospitable environment and soulful, sumptuous dishes, such as drunken pani puri, crispy semolina puffs with curried peas; dahi vada; urad dal dumplings; saag paneer with spinach.
Want to do date night right? You might need to make a reservation to get into Che Fico, but it’ll be worth it: we’re talking about one of the very best Italian restaurants in all of San Francisco. While they offer plenty of traditional fare, there are also rustic favorites zazzed up with California influence, such as “San Francisco style” pizza topped with pineapple, red onion and fermented chili.
Is there any ailment a good plate of tacos won’t fix? We’re not sure — but we are sure we’re doing you a solid when we recommend you visit Nick’s Crispy Tacos, which has been a beloved San Francisco institution for close to 20 years. Dishing up Mexican favorites with unique and clever spins, you could eat here every day for a week and never taste the same thing twice.
Whether you searched for “best vegetarian/vegan food in San Francisco” or “best sushi,” you might still arrive at the same place: Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar offers up inventive and delectable dishes that are as sumptuous as they are conscientious. The sheer versatility of these chefs when it comes to creating meals with plant-based ingredients will astonish you.
In a city renowned for its breadth of Asian cuisine, dumplings aren’t hard to find — but good ones can be. Dumpling Specialist serves up crowd-pleasers like sheng jian bao, but the real star of the show are the hard-to-find northern Chinese breakfast specialties, like fan tuan (sticky rice rolls) and xian dou jiang (salty soy milk — trust us, it tastes better than it sounds!).
Dropping by Teeth is like going to a friend's house with a killer backyard. The outdoor patio is equipped with picnic tables and cornhole, making it a perfect outdoor drinking spot. Even better, four simple words always keep me going back: sweet potato tater tots.
It’s not often that you find a rooftop deck in this town, perhaps due to the cost of real estate. But El Techo de Lolinda (also referred to simply as “El Techo”, or “the roof”) has pulled it off, with a great view atop the delicious Lolinda restaurant. Come here for margaritas and enjoy the view of the city.
We have lots of good places for seafood in the Bay, but Woodhouse’s seafood is great. Their menu is simple, as is their decor, but everything is fresh and delicious. It’s a perfect place for some oysters and a drink on a Saturday afternoon, or to grab $1 oysters on Tuesdays.
Eating and exploring the landscape are just the beginning of the many amazing things to do in San Francisco. Here are some of our top options for this weekend — or whenever the desire strikes.
San Francisco is a great city for families! Here are some options the kids will be happy to experience.
Heading toward the Municipal Pier is an absolute must-do, and along the way, you’d be remiss not to explore the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Along with the museum itself, you and the kids can also check out the fleets of historic ships that are still docked here and get more information at the Visitor Center.
Known for the Federal Penitentiary it hosted for decades, and which was “home” to the likes of Al Capone and Sam Shockley, Alcatraz is more than just the fortification on its shores… though that’s certainly one of the biggest draws for tourists. Older kids might be fascinated by the prison, but family members of all ages will enjoy behind-the-scenes information and cruises around the island.
While there’s no shortage of bars and nightclubs for those who are so inclined, we wanted to offer another nighttime option.
A town with a past as storied as San Francisco’s is certain to have at least a few hauntings. If you believe — and are brave enough to take to the streets yourself to find them — head out with the San Francisco Ghost Hunt, a walking tour that’s sure to give you some thrills. (This is definitely one of our top contenders for things for couples to do in San Francisco!)
San Francisco is certainly not known for its affordability — but there are, indeed, affordable things to do here!
Built in 1933, Coit Tower has long been an iconic symbol of this city, and it’s open to visitors today. You can explore much of the grounds free of charge, but if you’d like to take the elevator to the top, the cost is $9 for non-resident adults (or $7 for residents).
San Francisco’s Botanical Garden is tucked into Golden Gate Park, which is already a great place to head if you’re looking for affordable entertainment in town. Adult entrance costs $12 on weekends but only $9 during weekdays, with discounts available for youths, seniors and families.
Yes, it’s true: there are a few activity options in San Francisco that cost a grand total of nothing at all.
The Golden Gate Bridge is a world-renowned symbol of San Francisco, and it’s a great opportunity to get some fresh air and a change of scenery — all for absolutely free. The walk across the Bridge and back totals a little less than four miles and sees about 200 feet in elevation change, which is to say, it’s not exactly a leisurely stroll, but it’s also doable for many fitness levels. Some folks even run across!
Riding a cable car is about as quintessential a San Francisco activity as there is, and if you want even more insider information on these unique vehicles, you’ll want to head to the Cable Car Museum. Along with offering an in-depth look at this fascinating and iconic San Francisco phenomenon, it’s also completely free to enter — though you may find yourself coveting something to take home from the gift shop.
For discounts and deals in San Francisco, check out CityPass!
Everyone needs to treat themselves from time to time — and it can be helpful to have a professional involved, too. Whether you need a massage, facial, or new haircut, here are some of the best spas and salons in San Francisco.
If you’re serious about relaxation, this Korean-style oasis can help you get there. Pearl Spa and Sauna gives you the time and heat necessary to relax and release your muscles and unlock a new kind of calm, all in a beautiful and inviting atmosphere.
Hair, skin, special occasions — CODE Salon does it all, taking the time and energy necessary to ensure your treatment is built precisely to your specifications. Stylists are talented, professional, and committed to helping you make your inner beauty outwardly apparent.
If you’ve yet to experience the healing magic of lymphatic massage, you’re in for a treat — and EOS Massage is the best place in San Francisco to experience it.
Staying in shape will help you look great, yes — but also help keep you strong, smiling, grounded, and ready to take on whatever life might throw at you. Here are the best places to get a sweat going in San Francisco.
A ubiquitous San Francisco institution with several well-regarded locations, Fitness SF is simple, but effective: it offers its members access to a wide range of equipment and plenty of professional guidance to help them achieve their goals.
How does your garden grow? At Yoga Garden SF, the answer is strong, centered, and serene — and there are a wide range of classes available to help you make those ambitions a reality.
While you could easily entertain yourself in San Francisco proper for a lifetime, there are also so many other amazing places to see in the direct vicinity of this city. Here are some great San Francisco day trips and weekend getaways to consider.
To get a true taste of northern California, it’s pretty much essential that you visit wine country — and with its rolling, terraced hills, Napa Valley is a feast for the eyes as much as the palate. Along with its famous cabernets and chardonnays, the region is also renowned for its olive oil and fresh produce, so remember to have some food along with your wine. (It’ll also help keep your headache at bay!)
Coastal California has been the subject of countless art and writing projects, and when you visit for yourself, it’ll be easy to see why. The sky-high cliffs and towering redwoods of Big Sur make for a striking juxtaposition — and a one-of-a-kind adventure whether you’re camping, glamping, or just driving through.
California is so lucky to be home to a plethora of amazing national parks, many of which are within just a few hours’ drive of San Francisco! Check out our insider guides to some of the most popular and accessible national parks in this part of the world: