Cheat Sheet: San Francisco


Affordable Find

Just off Market Street near Union Square, The Mosser has a cool interior design, great location, and even an in-house recording studio if you’d like to cut some tracks.

54 4th Street

From $149 per night


(Photo: Melanie Levi/Flickr)

Across the Bridge

Cavallo Point is a former army base transformed into luxury lodging in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge on the north side of the bay. Peaceful grounds, great views, interesting history.

601 Murray Circle, Fort Baker, Sausalito

From about $320 per night


(Photo: Brad Coy/Flickr)

Classic and Kitsch

The Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill, with its awe-inspiring views and epic lobby, combines Old World elegance with the curious kitsch of its South Pacific-themed Tonga Room.

950 Mason Street

From about $380 per night

Literary Touch

The boutique Hotel Rex near Union Square draws its spirit from San Francisco’s art and literary salons of the 1920s, and still hosts some contemporary readings adjacent to its Library Bar, with live jazz on Fridays.

562 Sutter St.

From $259 per night



(Photo: Tony’s Pizza Napoletana/Facebook)

North Beach Italian

The North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco is well known for its many authentic Italian restaurants and bistros. For pizza that’s even better than what you’d get in Napoli, try Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Their “California-style” pizzas are baked for 90 seconds in a 900-degree pizza oven, creating a unique charred and chewy dish.

1570 Stockton St.

Mission District Character

In San Francisco’s quirky Mission District, Foreign Cinema shows artsy movies on the side of a building in its covered courtyard seating area. The lively dining experience is supported by a quality menu of locally sourced California cuisine and seafood.

2534 Mission St.

(Photo: Bill Fink)

Intimate Gourmet

Sons & Daughters is a Michelin-starred 11-table restaurant near Union Square, with seasonal tasting menus that boast the just-picked freshness of herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers, regional meats and fish, all served with an artistic presentation.

708 Bush St.

Pacific Rim

The loud, crowded, and always tasty Slanted Door at the scenic Ferry Building has a wide assortment of creative Vietnamese-influenced dishes, great for sharing (as well as a fine cocktail list). Gets a Michelin “Bib Gourmand” rating for fine food at a reasonable price.

1 Ferry Building #3


(Photo: Bill Fink)

Go-to Guide

San Francisco resident “Emperor Norton,” who declared himself ruler of the U.S. and Mexico in 1859, was a self-absorbed, delusional transplant with visions of grandeur (some might say he’s the model of many current San Franciscans). To get in the spirit of both the history of the city and some of its bombastic present, be sure to hop aboard Emperor Norton’s Fantastic Time Machine Tour. The guide — in character as the Emperor, complete with 19th century costume — takes you on a nearly three-hour walking tour around downtown SF, regaling you with stories of San Francisco’s seedy past in the (pre-Internet) Gold Rush days. You’ll also hear tales of the red light district of the Barbary Coast as well as some insider tips for finding hidden golden nuggets of interest in town.


(Photo: Todd Lappin/Flickr)

The Icon

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of those few iconic tourist attractions that are actually more impressive when seen up close. Be sure to take the time for a walk or bike ride across the bridge. It’s free and it’s spectacular. Look down on huge container ships and wetsuit-clad surfers tackling a tricky shore break, gaze back at the San Francisco skyline and Alcatraz Island, or stare straight up at the massive supports. Just remember to dress warmly and check the weather to make sure you won’t be fogged in. And stop at the visitor center for an interesting history on the construction of the bridge.

Jazz Center

The SF Jazz Center is a 35,000-square-foot, $64 million music venue that opened in 2012 to rave reviews, and it continues to host performances by big-name musicians as well as up-and-comers. It even features an annual improv session that combines skateboarding and a jazz combo.

Top Museum

San Francisco’s location as the gateway to the Asia-Pacific region makes it the perfect spot for the top-notch Asian Art Museum, a must-see when in town. Opened in its Civic Center location in 2003, the museum has two floors of well laid-out galleries showing a rotating collection of over 2,000 works sorted by era and region, along with another floor dedicated to special exhibitions.


(Photo: Karen Brockney/Flickr)

Ferry Building

The refurbished Ferry Building not only provides actual ferry service across the bay, but also houses an array of shops, many of them artisanal food vendors. The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays is a great place to provision your hotel room or just pick up some fresh snacks. If you have some extra time, hop aboard the commuter ferry to Sausalito to enjoy views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, and grab a bayside drink when you get there.

5 Things to Know

1. Don’t even think about renting a car to explore San Francisco. Parking is a hassle, one-way streets and tight traffic make navigating difficult, and overnight hotel parking rates can top $70. Do as the locals do and take public transit or just walk, take cabs, or check out the new bikeshare program. BART trains run from the airport to downtown for $8.25.

2. Mark Twain may or may not have said, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” but the weather advice remains valid. San Francisco’s position along the edge of the bay creates a vortex of chilly air, fog, and wind that results in average summer temperatures in the low 50s, and it often feels a lot colder than that. Bring some warm clothes, or else you’ll be one of those tourists on the cable car shivering in shorts and a brand-new overpriced San Francisco fleece jacket.

3. San Francisco is a casual town, so don’t worry about packing formal wear for your nights out. The Silicon Valley vibe permeates even some of the nicest restaurants and clubs, where a hoodie and flip-flops may mark you not as a slob, but as an eccentric billionaire.


(Photo: Images by John ‘K’/Flickr)

4. San Francisco’s Chinatown is no museum piece, but rather a living, breathing community that’s been part of the city’s character since the days of the Gold Rush. Be sure to at least stroll through the neighborhood on a visit to check out the fascinating shops and markets, drop by on a Sunday for a dim sum brunch, and peek at Portsmouth Square, an open-air community center where an older crowd enjoys traditional music and some serious card and chess games.

5. Golden Gate Park retains some of the spirit of the Summer of Love, with impromptu drum circles and “medicinal” herb smoke filling the air. But it also has extensive open space that truly has something for everyone, including a herd of buffalo, a fly-fishing practice pool, family-friendly playgrounds, America’s oldest public Japanese tea garden, and some world-class museums.