A Travel Guide to San Francisco

San Francisco is many things at once: a tech haven, a refuge for an ongoing counterculture, eclectic Mexican food hub, and host to the oldest Chinatown in America. It's also a scenic, bay-set metropolis that encourages interaction with nature. Here’s how to get the best out of your stay in the idiosyncratic Californian city.

Published on 04 February 2020

With a cooler climate and about a quarter of the population of Los Angeles, San Francisco lives up to its reputation as a low-key version of California. Eminently walkable – unless you prefer the rattle of the cable cars – it’s a melting pot of distinctive neighbourhoods brimming with multicultural flair: from the Mexican-infused Mission District to the very first Chinatown in America. Historically, the city has also been the nucleus of cultural movements, including the Beat Generation of poets and writers in the 1950s, the freewheeling counterculture of Haight-Ashbury in the ’60s, and the glamour of early industrial-era Nob Hill.

There’s a thriving food scene that folds farm-fresh ingredients and knowing modern twists into rousing Mexican and Asian traditions and belly-warming comfort food. Just be sure to reach for seafood whenever you can, as it’s one of the city’s strongest suits. As for drinks, the coffee is as good as the wine these days, and both are continually trending toward sustainability. Local nightlife, long defined by a flourishing network of craft breweries, has made room for fun-filled bespoke cocktails.

While San Francisco may be famous for its proximity to the booming tech industry, the city’s overall vibe is much less urgent than an East Coast city like New York. Its famously hilly streets invite visitors to explore at their own pace, soaking up an urban history shaped just as much by the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s as the devastating earthquake of 1906. Today, the diverse architecture is stunning to behold, with vastly different styles preserved side by side – not to mention the postcard-perfect majesty of the Golden Gate Bridge (which you can walk the length of for free) and glistening bay. The city’s robust cultural offerings cover theatre, music, dance, art and much more.

As you prepare to dive into the sometimes fog-shrouded peninsula – connected to Oakland, another worthwhile destination via the Bay Bridge – pack a range of clothing for the fickle weather (no matter the season). But most of all, bring an open mind and a willingness to accept that where you end up might not be where you planned. That’s part of the appeal.

Bountiful local produce, Chinese and Mexican flavours, farm-driven fine dining and no-frills comfort food: the Bay Area has it all. Read more.

Where delicious regional wines, elaborate speakeasies, Aussie-level coffee and sports-friendly dives all thrive. Read more.

Bed down in a historic building, immerse yourself in the literary influences of the beat generation, experience Japantown or live like a tech titan – there's a hotel in the Bay Area for you. Read more.

Beyond the iconic bridge and bay, the storied Californian city offers an attractive balance of outdoor adventures and cultural enrichment – often at the same time. Read more.