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A Traveler’s Guide to San Francisco

Famous for its vivacious spirit, sourdough bread, iconic sights, and moody blanket of fog, San Francisco attracts lovers of life, innovation, architecture, and food from around the world. This is the city of freedom and acceptance, charm and innovation, progress and whimsy. Despite the ever-emerging cultural landscape of this forward-focused city, some activities belong as a staple on any San Francisco itinerary, touristy as they may be. Read on for Skyscanner’s ultimate guide to San Francisco--the things you simply must do, must see, and must eat on a trip to the City by the Bay.

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Take it from locals and first-time visitors alike–these are the San Francisco attractions that have earned a spot in the ultimate guide to San Francisco:

-Ride a cable car -Indulge your chocolate obsession in Ghirardelli Square -Drive down Lombard Street -Take a tour of Alcatraz Island -Sail the bay under the Golden Gate Bridge -Warm up on a chilly evening with an Irish coffee and sourdough bread -Picnic with a view of the Painted Ladies -Take the ferry over to Oakland

Ride a cable car

Touristy and crowded as they may be, cable cars are an icon of San Francisco. Leaving San Francisco without experiencing the thrill of hanging on for dear life as you soar through the hills just a few inches above the ground borders on sacrilege–you won’t feel like you’ve truly visited the city until you take this charming trip! Three different cable car routes glide through some of the most picturesque of San Francisco’s notoriously beautiful streets and offer a breathtaking and bumpy adventure up and down a maze of Victorian homes and windy vistas.

##**Indulge your chocolate obsession in Ghirardelli Square** [Ghirardelli Square](http://www.ghirardellisq.com/) has long stood as a beacon of warm welcome for visitors to San Francisco. Originally established in 1893 as the headquarters of Domenico Ghirardelli’s chocolate company, Ghirardelli Square is now adored for its multiple chocolate retail locations, all still under the same familiar name. Whether you opt for a sundae loaded with Ghirardelli fudge or warm up with a hot drinking chocolate, prepare for sugar overload on your visit to Ghirardelli Square.
Search for cheap flights to San Francisco ##**Drive down Lombard Street** Don’t miss a chance to drive (or walk!) down “the crookedest street in the world”! The famous portion of Lombard Street is a small section of super-curvy, super-steep cobblestone street stretching east-west with a top speed of 5mph. The view from the top of the hill offers a sweeping panorama of San Francisco, Coit Tower, and the wide bay beyond. Visitors can de-board the Powell-Hyde cable car line at the tip-top of Lombard Street–two stops in one on the ultimate guide to San Francisco.
##**Take a tour of Alcatraz Island** For those interested in spooky history, [Alcatraz Island](https://www.skyscanner.com/transport/flights/us/sfo/cheapest-flights-from-united-states-to-san-francisco-international.html?adults=1&children=0&adultsv2=1&childrenv2=&infants=0&cabinclass=economy&rtn=1&preferdirects=false&outboundaltsenabled=false&inboundaltsenabled=false&ref=home) is home to an abandoned maximum-security prison which once housed America’s most notorious criminals. The barred and unforgiving walls once saw the likes of Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly–the worst of the worst. The island’s isolated spot in the icy-cold San Francisco Bay was meant to discourage any escape attempts, though as you’ll hear on your tour, desperate inmates will go to desperate measures! Tours to Alcatraz island fill up months in advance, so book early if you want the chance to peek in stark prison cells and roam the hair-raising prison halls.
##**Sail the bay under the Golden Gate Bridge** For an enchantingly romantic take on San Francisco, a sunset sail along the water’s edge is a can’t-miss. As golden hour mellows into pink and blue cotton-candy skies, you’ll be cruising the San Francisco Bay with a stunning perspective on well known scenes like the San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz Island, and even the Golden Gate Bridge. [Adventure Cat Sailing](http://www.adventurecat.com/) offers multiple daily trips from Pier 39 (look for the docks with a bunch of lazily lounging seals!) and sails directly under the Golden Gate Bridge, offering one of the more unique ways to explore that gloriously red and fog-shrouded symbol of San Francisco.
##**Warm up on a chilly evening with a Buena Vista Irish coffee and sourdough bread** Summer or winter, San Francisco’s bound to be cold at some point when you visit–locals claim that the city has tons of micro-climates within its tiny 7-mile-by-7-mile borders! The best way to fight the chill is a piping hot Irish coffee from [Buena Vista Cafe](http://www.thebuenavista.com/home/home.html). The best place to sit to observe the lightning-fast pouring of this soul-warming libation is at the old wooden bar. The Buena Vista Cafe has a history dating back to 1916, though the Irish coffee wasn’t introduced until 1952 (you’ll have to ask a bartender for the story). The Buena Vista is also famous for its sourdough toast, another traditional San Francisco treat. When the bread was first created in the 1800s, local bakers claimed that San Francisco was the only place sourdough bread could be baked due to the unusual foggy climate’s peculiar effect on the yeast. Since then, sourdough bread has been synonymous with its San Francisco roots.
##**Picnic with a view of the Painted Ladies** Another icon of San Francisco, the Painted Ladies are a Victorian style of narrow, stacked home with brightly painted exteriors and decorative embellishments. The most famous of these Painted Ladies sit across from Alamo Square, a hilltop park with charming views of the city. Grab some local goods and set up a picnic for the perfect afternoon enjoying some of San Francisco’s most recognizable sights.
##**Take the ferry across and stay a night in Oakland ** When the streets get too windy or the fog lays heavy over San Francisco, take a short ferry road over to neighboring Oakland. Oakland is known for its diversity and more underground vibe, a true change of pace from busy San Francisco. Plus, it’s the birthplace of the word “hella,” so you know it’s hella cool! If fully unwinding for a night is on the agenda, try a waterfront room at the [Waterfront Hotel](https://www.skyscanner.com/hotels/q/?q=Waterfront+Hotel+A+Joie+De+Vivre+Hotel%2C+Oakland%2C+California%2C+United+States&sd=2017-12-16&ed=2017-12-23&na=1&nr=1&bpt_eid=o_46943566&fhids=46943566), a yacht-inspired space with an interior as cozy as it is nautical.
##**Wondering how to fit it all in? Take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour** Limited time to see it all? Try taking a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. Companies like [CitySightseeing](https://www.city-sightseeing.us/) and [Big Bus](https://www.bigbustours.com/en/san-francisco/san-francisco-bus-tours/) have well planned routes hitting many of the highlights of San Francisco with buses traveling at regular intervals throughout the day. Touristy as these bus tours may be, they’re a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time, and they allow you to disembark at points of interest you’d like to spend more time visiting. Due to the customizable nature of the tour, exploring San Francisco by hop-on, hop-off bus can be done in a matter of hours–or you can make a day of it. Coupling this with a [CityPass](http://www.citypass.com/san-francisco) is a great way to pay one low price for both transportation and entrance to several of San Francisco’s top attractions.
##**Where to stay in San Francisco:** Though there are countless places to stay in San Francisco, boutique hotels like the [Laurel Inn](https://www.skyscanner.com/hotels/q/?q=Laurel+Inn%2C+A+Joie+De+Vivre+Hotel%2C+San+Francisco%2C+California%2C+United+States&sd=2017-08-09&ed=2017-08-10&na=1&nr=1&bpt_eid=o_46949875&fhids=46949875) offer a homey atmosphere and a more immersive experience in local culture. Finding a hotel in San Francisco is a careful balance of price, location, and amenities, and the Laurel Inn excels in all three categories (plus they serve fresh-baked cookies and lemonade every afternoon).
[![Hotels in San Francisco](http://content.skyscnr.com/a732ffcaab5d23aa75c65a8e77284f52/content-banner-hotels-checkin-en.png “Find cheap hotel deals with Skyscanner”)](http://www.skyscanner.com/hotels) There you have it–the ultimate guide to San Francisco! If you’ve visited this charming bayside city (and surely fallen under its spell), what would you add to the list?                      
 

About the Author

 

Skye Sherman// Skye Sherman

Skye is a private pilot, scuba diver, and travel writer who is passionate about exploring the globe. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @skyesherman  

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