It might only cover 49 square miles, but San Francisco is one of the most visited cities in the United States. Iconic landmarks like the vivid Golden Gate Bridge, crooked Lombard Street and photogenic Telegraph Hill captivate visitors from all over the world. The city is one of the nation’s most densely populated urban centers (with an estimated population of around 865,000) yet still feels close to nature. It’s located on the tip of a peninsula that’s bordered by a sparkling bay to the east and the vast Pacific ocean to the west, with majestic California landscapes to the north and south—wild headlands, rugged coastline, virgin redwood groves and the towering peak of Mount Tamalpais. The city’s population started exploding in 1848, when it became the epicenter of the California Gold Rush. After a massive fire and earthquake nearly leveled the city in 1906, it quickly rebuilt itself from the ashes. San Francisco weather is mild year round. The summers are unusually foggy and cool, with daytime highs usually peaking in the '60s. September and October are the warmest and sunniest months, and winter is typically the wettest season.
The City’s Culture
San Francisco has long been considered a bastion of progressive culture in the United States, leading the nation in a number of progressive social movements throughout the second half of the 20th century. Today visitors will see hundreds of cyclists commuting on Market Street, dedicated compost bins in food establishments, LEED certified architecture and neighborhood farmers’ markets throughout the week. The city has had subsidized healthcare for nearly a decade and provides the country’s highest minimum wage and fiercest tenants rights. In the 1950s, the city saw the birth of Beat culture, which rebelled against mainstream values. The next decade brought the Summer of Love to the Haight-Asbury District and Golden Gate Park. The city’s LGBT activist legacy took off in the 1960s, and the local gay community went on to survive the brutal AIDS crisis during the 1980s-90s. Today the city is home to one of the world’s biggest and most prominent LGBT communities. Nearly 36 percent of San Francisco’s ethnically diverse population is of Asian descent, and the city has the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. In recent years, the city has experienced a boom in development and an influx of young people moving in for jobs in the tech sector.
A trip to the city isn’t complete without seeing (and perhaps walking or biking across) the Golden Gate Bridge. Almost anyone would enjoy the trip to Alcatraz Island (the views of the city are worth the trip alone). Chugging up one of the city’s famous hills on a cable car is a quintessential San Francisco experience, as is walking up or down lushly landscaped Lombard, “the crookedest street in the world.” Visit the epicenter of the hippie movement in the Haight-Ashbury District and look up at towering redwood trees in Muir Woods across the Golden Gate Bridge. Climbing up Telegraph Hill via the Filbert Steps to reach Coit Tower is a feast for the senses, with the squawks of parrots, the scent of blooming gardens and the views soaring across the bay. Golden Gate Park is packed with photogenic attractions like the Japanese Tea Garden and a world-class science and art museum. An entire day could be spent at the newly renovated SFMOMA, the largest modern art museum in the nation. Any itinerary should include a few special meals since San Francisco might be the most food-obsessed city in the country. Locals expect restaurants to use fresh, local ingredients. The city has the highest number of restaurants per capita of any American city, and many of these restaurants have earned national accolades. It’s worth the effort to venture to multiple neighborhoods to sample the diversity of the epicurean scene. For those limited on time, the Ferry Building Marketplace offers an impressive sampling.
Where to Explore
San Francisco is a patchwork of eclectic neighborhoods offering entirely different experiences. Venture beyond the commercial zone of Union Square to explore Nob Hill’s bygone grandeur, Russian Hill’s residential European vibe, North Beach’s bohemian legacy, the Mission’s eclectic scene, Chinatown’s frenetic buzz, Pacific Heights’ stately mansions, Hayes Valley’s hip vibe, the Castro’s rainbow fanfare and Alamo Square’s ornate Victorians. Travel beyond the Golden Gate Bridge to take in dazzling city views from the pristine Marin Headlands, enjoy a seaside lunch in the village of Sausalito and walk through redwood trees that are up to 1,200 years old and 258 feet high in Muir Woods