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San Francisco is a major city in California, the centerpiece of the Bay Area, well-known for its liberal community, hilly terrain, Victorian architecture, scenic beauty, summer fog, and great ethnic and cultural diversity. These are only a few of the aspects of the city that make San Francisco one of the most visited cities in the world.
Each district of San Francisco carries its own unique and distinct culture. This map is predominantly based on the 11 official governmental districts of San Francisco, but it has been adapted to suit the purposes of this travel guide. Some districts of particular interest to travellers have been broken up into popular neighborhood groupings, while others, mainly residential districts, have been merged together.
Fashionable and upscale neighborhoods, e.g., the Marina District, Cow Hollow, and Pacific Heights, with extensive views and historical landmarks — Fort Mason, The Presidio, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
A touristy waterfront neighborhood which encompasses Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39, and the ferry launch to Alcatraz Island, as well as a plethora of seafood restaurants and souvenir stores.
Nob Hill-Russian Hill
Two ritzy neighborhoods with upscale hotels, cable cars, panoramic views and steep inclines.
Two vibrant immigrant communities; the crowded and largest Chinatown outside of Asia next to the stylish laid back 'Little Italy', as well as Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower.
unnion Square-Financial District
unnion Square is the center of shopping, theater and art in the city, next to the many skyscrapers of downtown and Market Street.
The neoclassical Civic Center next to the grit of the Tenderloin. The San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony and SFjazz are located there. While the 'Loin' is grittier compared to its ritzier neighbors downtown, there's plenty of interesting architecture and attractions to see here.
SoMa (South of Market)
A rapidly changing neighborhood of downtown that is the center of a lot of new construction, including new skyscrapers, some of the city's newest museums, and AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
A historic neighborhood with many Victorian homes that was once a hotbed of African-American culture. Within the area is also Japantown, once the center of San Francisco's Japanese population, still populated with many Japanese stores and restaurants, and hotels that cater to Japanese travelers.
Famous for being the home of the Hippie movement, this once bohemian area is still an eclectic treasure.
Includes the foggy Richmond. Sunset and Parkside Districts, separated by scenic Golden Gate Park, bounded on the west by Ocean Beach and on the south by Sloat Blvd. The Richmond District is north of Golden Gate Park and the Sunset is south of the park. Additionally you will often hear locals referring to the inner and outer Richmond and inner and outer Sunset. The demarcation in the Richmond is Park Presidio and in the Sunset 19th Avenue.
Twin Peaks-Lake Merced
Covering most of southwestern San Francisco, this area is home to many of the taller hills of San Francisco and the large Lake Merced park, which contains the San Francisco Zoo.
Colorful and cohesive, the Castro (Eureka Valley) is historically known for being the cultural center of the city's LGBTQ community. Nearby Noe Valley offers excellent restaurants and shops along pleasantly walkable streets.
This colorful area is home to a large Hispanic community as well as new urban artisans, and is a center of San Francisco night life. For visitors wishing to get off the beaten tourist paths and catch some local flavor, this is the place to go.
Southeast San Francisco
A mostly lower income residential area, this district contains several bay-side neighborhoods, and many nice parks.
San Francisco has been the backdrop for many films, due in part to the Bay Area's vibrant film-making community and the city's proximity to Hollywood. The production companies of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, along with the animation company Pixar are just a few of the big players who call the San Francisco area home. Among the better films set in San Francisco:
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941). Humphrey Bogart stars as a San Francisco private detective dealing with three unscrupulous adventurers who compete to obtain a fabulous jewel-encrusted statuette of a falcon.
Dark Passage (Delmer Daves, 1947). An offbeat film noir featuring two icons of the genre, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. The city's dark alleyways and side streets are on prominent display throughout the eccentric story of a man wrongly accused of murder and an enigmatic woman who lives in a lavish art deco apartment on top of the Filbert Steps.
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958). While it's not the only Hitchcock film set in San Francisco (portions of The Birds are set here), Vertigo really packs in a lot the city, following a private investigator who suffers from acrophobia as he uncovers the mystery of one woman's peculiar behavior and travels from one San Francisco landmark to the next.
Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968). A very popular and highly influential crime thriller starring Steve McQueen (who also starred in the locally-set The Towering Inferno) and featuring one of the best car chase scenes in the history of cinema.
Psych-Out (Richard Rush, 1968). An incredibly trippy film with psychedelic music (including an appearance from Strawberry Alarm Clock), recreational drugs, and Haight-Ashbury — Hippies aplenty in this one.
Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971). Another cop film set in San Francisco (in addition, all but one of the sequels were also set here), starring Clint Eastwood chasing down sadistic killers and asking people if they feel lucky. Well do they, punk?
San Francisco Bay Area Airports
San Francisco International, (SFO) located about 10 mi (16km) south of the city is a major international airport, one of the largest in the world and has numerous passenger amenities including a wide range of food and drink establishments, shopping, baggage storage. This airport is the major hub for Virgin America and United as well as a major international airport with direct flights to Asia, Latin America and Europe.
Oakland International, (OAK) in the East Bay provides service to numerous destinations in the United States as well as Mexico and Scandinavia. It is a major hub for Southwest airlines.
Public Airport Transportation
San Francisco and Oakland Airports are connected to downtown SF by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system.
SFO is also connected to San Francisco by SamTrans routes 292, 397, and KX. Routes 292 and 397 are $2 to San Francisco, while KX is $5. Large luggage is generally not permitted on the KX bus.
From Oakland Airport, passengers take a shuttle train to the Colliseum BART station; the cost is $6 in addition to the regular fare. BART trains from there run directly to San Francisco and cost about $4.00.
Walking can be an enticing option to get from one neighborhood to another, so long as you are aware of where you are and keep your street smarts. San Francisco is a city of friendly neighborhoods, but it is also a big city so be aware of your surroundings and keep in mind the dangers that commonly accompany a city of San Francisco's size.
By public transit
San Francisco has one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the United States, arguably the most comprehensive system west of Chicago. Transport services within San Francisco are provided by several bodies; they are separate organizations and although they have many interchange stations, tickets are not normally transferable across the systems (except for monthly or longer period passes). The major transit systems are:
Muni — Metro subway, streetcars, buses, trolley buses and cable cars within San Francisco proper.
BART — regional subway services in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Caltrain — commuter rail services to San José.
Taxis in San Francisco are, for a large city, surprisingly inefficient and expensive, starting at $3.50 just for getting in the cab and $0.55 per fifth of a mile and per minute of waiting. You can get an idea of how much particular taxi trips cost in San Francisco using the San Francisco Taxicab Commission's webpage.
San Francisco is home to several startups which are trying to provide a better ride-for-hire service, including UberCab, Lyft, and Sidecar, which are generally cheaper and more reliable than a taxi. Download the free app for any company to view cars in your area, and request a ride.
San Francisco has much to see — these are just the most significant sights. For more detail see the individual district sections, often linked from this entry.
Two passes are available which offer discounts to many interesting attractions:
San Francisco CityPASS. A relatively cheap and easy way to cover many attractions of the city is the CityPASS.
Go San Francisco Card - An all-inclusive pass that lets you visit multiple San Francisco attractions for one price, starting at $65.
Aerial tour if you are adventurous, you can see San Francisco from the air. There is a new modern power gilder at Palo Alto airport about 25minute south of San Francisco. You can see Stanford, get an idea of how long SLAC is, and be exposed to some of the most beautiful natural vistas.
Perhaps the most recognizable landmark in San Francisco and one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge, spanning the Golden Gate, has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and is the first thing you see of San Francisco if driving in from the north, as it is one of the major road routes into and out of the city.
Within the center of the city, the famous cable cars run up and down the hills of San Francisco between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf and offer quite a ride.
Atop one of those hills, Telegraph Hill in North Beach, is Coit Tower, a gleaming white tower dedicated to the San Francisco firefighters. At 275' high, the hill is a healthy hike from the nearby neighborhoods just below.
Over on Russian Hill is the famous stretch of Lombard Street between Hyde & Leavenworth, the (nearly) crookedest street in America. The city also has a twistier but less scenic stretch of street, Vermont Street on Potrero Hill.
When the morning is foggy, you may want to spend a few hours in one of the city's many world-class museums. Golden Gate Park is home to the copper-clad M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary and indigenous art.
The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is in Lincoln Park in the northwest corner of the Richmond district. In Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum offers exhibits on the famous moving landmarks of San Francisco.
The newly relocated and bigger and better than ever Exploratorium on Pier 15 is walking distance from Embarcadero and will keep you busy for an entire day with their science and perception exhibits. In the Marina district is Fort Mason, home to a few cultural museums.
Many museums offer free admission on certain days during the first week of every month.
What to do
One of the best ways to see San Francisco is from the waters of San Francisco Bay. There are many companies offering harbor tours of varying durations and prices but they all provide marvelous views of the bay, the bridges, the island of Alcatraz, Angel Island and the city.
Only specific island tours are allowed to land at Alcatraz, but the typical harbor tour will circle the island at a slow crawl, giving you plenty of opportunity to photograph the now-inactive prison from the water.
Also consider taking a ferry from San Francisco across the bay to Tiburon, Sausalito, or Alameda. Same views for a fraction of the price.
Most tours leave from docks at Fisherman's Wharf near Pier 39. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks along the waterfront walk. Buy tickets a day or two in advance during the summer high season.
Boats usually leave roughly hourly starting around 10am and ending around 5pm. Multi-lingual guides are available on some tours. Prices range from $20-$40, more for sunset, dinner, or whale watching tours.
Even on a sunny day the bay can be chilly, so be sure to bring a sweater as well as sun screen.
Some boats have snack bars on board, but bring your own water and treats to avoid paying high costs or going without. There are now limited refreshments and a souvenirs shop on Alcatraz.