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San Francisco

San Francisco always tops the checklist of any Bay Area visit. And rightly so. Situated at the tip of the Bay Area peninsula and connected to the regional metropolitan area by two iconic bridges, the city is surprisingly small given its stature, spanning 7 miles wide and 7 miles long with a population just above 800,000. Nonetheless, the city is rich in history and undergoing dramatic development in recent years driven largely by the tech boom.

Skip out on the crowds at the Golden Gate Bridge viewpoint and Fisherman's Wharf. Find out what locals like to do and get your fingers on the pulse of the city.

Taqueria Cancun

There's no better introduction to SF than the taquerias. Mexico City has fantastic tacos but San Francisco is the king of the burrito. FiveThirtyEight conducted a thorough search for America's Best Burrito. Spoiler: the winner was SF's La Taqueria.

The queues at La Taq are often excessive due to its newly crowned status. Just 3 blocks up the street is another local favorite: Taqueria Cancun. There are three Cancun locations in SF but the best one is in the Mission.

You can't go wrong with your meat selection at Cancun though we recommend the al pastor or carne asada. Super burritos offer the best value in terms of calories per dollar but the tacos at Cancun are exceptional, topped with generous dollops of fresh avocado.

Travel like a pro: Taqueria Cancun has the best green salsa of any Taqueria, bar none. When placing your order, ask for extra green salsa to both dip chips and drizzle over your tacos.

Dolores Park

The epicenter of San Francisco hipsterdom is Dolores Park and its patron-designated Hipster Hill in the southwest corner. Come here on a warm weekend day for some of the best people watching available in the city.

Bring a beach towel and some PBR tallboys from the nearby corner stores, take your shirt off and settle into the scenery. Expect to be approached by entrepreneurs peddling baked goods containing unknown hallucinogenics and, if you're lucky, you might catch a silent disco.

Travel like a pro: Avoid the ridiculous lines for ice cream at the northeast corner of the park. Instead, walk half a block down 18th street to the Bi-Rite grocery store and buy a pint of your favorite flavor. It's the same, delicious ice cream but a bigger serving and no waiting.

California Street

Streets that run up steep hills reaching into blue horizons are a distinctly San Francisco feature that sets it apart visually from other major metropolitan areas. California Street, with its cable car line, straight traverse through downtown and steep ascent from the base of the Embarcadero through the peak of Russian Hill, is one of the iconic streets to walk up and photograph.

Photo like a pro: Bring a camera with a long focal length (over 100 mm) to the middle of the road at the intersection of Sansome St in order to flatten perspectives and capture the distinctive geometry of roads and cable car lines climbing towards the sky.

Hawk Hill

If you've never been to SF, you're going to have to see the Golden Gate. Everybody ticks off this box. There are many ways to see this iconic bridge. Avoid the crowds of the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center located at the southern edge. Instead, head across the bridge, turn left and head up the winding road to Hawk Hill.

San Francisco is frequently shrouded by low, dense fog that obscures views of the bridge from ground level. Hawk Hill usually provides enough elevation to offer unobstructed views above the fog line. The peaks of the bridge suspension jut out and frames a view of the downtown cityscape in the distant background.

Travel like a pro: Avoid traffic by renting a bike and head to Hawk Hill early in the day. The 1.5 mile climb provides a great morning workout and the best views are had while the sun is still low on the horizon. Alternatively, drive up towards evening to take photos of the bridge illuminated by the setting sun.

Papa November Coffee Stand

San Francisco has no shortage of coffee and it seems like every person has a strong opinion on which joint reigns supreme. The popular shops are distinguished by long queues and packed seats with Macbooks out in full display.

If you happen to be in the Potrero Hill neighborhood, stroll over to the low-key Papa November. They make a wonderfully smooth and milky cappuccino with a similar consistency as local-favorite Blue Bottle, except Papa November uses roasted beans from Portland-based Stumptown Coffee.

Open M-F from 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. Cash only.

AT&T Park

AT&T Park is the home of the SF Giants. It's also the nicest ballpark in the country, a great place to catch a Major League Baseball game on a sunny afternoon.

The stadium is designed to block out strong winds blowing from the Pacific and the close distance provides an intimate feel for the action on the field. There really is no bad seat.

If you don't have 3 hours to sink into a game, you can also sign up for a ballpark tour. Tours last an hour and a half and provide a first hand view of the stadium interior sans the bustling crowds of game day. Walk on the warning track, sit in the dugout and check out the visitors' clubhouse. During the tour, you can also take the opportunity to snap some aerial photos of the embarcadero just beyond the stadium walls.

Turtle Tower Pho

Turtle Tower is a casual, cheap Vietnamese noodle shop with three locations spread out across SF. The best broth is found at the flagship location in the Tenderloins, where you'll often be greeted at the door by the chef and owner, Steven Nghia Pham.

What makes Turtle Tower distinctive is its fresh, homemade recipes that follow the styling and flavor profile of Northern Vietnamese pho. There are no extraneous garnishes, like bean sprouts, which dominant the Southern-style and Americanized pho commonly found in the US. All emphasis is placed on the complex broth and freshly cooked noodles.

Travel like a pro: The beef options are all great but go for a large #9 (chicken noodle soup) and drizzle generously with homemade siracha sauce. It holds its own against any of the popular pho joints in Hanoi.'

De Young Museum

The de Young is situated at the center of Golden Gate Park, the rectangular swath of green that spans from the middle of SF west to the edge of the Pacific. The park is bigger than New York's Central Park and the main thoroughfare, JFK Drive, is closed to car traffic on Sundays.

The museum itself is nice enough for a visit, featuring a robust permanent collection and a healthy rotation of contemporary art exhibits. General admission is reasonably priced at $10 for adults and discounted for kids, students and seniors. The first Tuesday of each month is free.

Travel like a pro: The dominant architectural element of the museum is the observatory that juts 6 floors up into the air. If you're short on time or not interested in browsing the galleries, you can head up to the observatory, free admission, to enjoy 360 degree views of SF from behind floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

Academy of Sciences

Just across from de Young is the California Academy of Sciences, making it easy to hit up both spots in a single afternoon. This museum was completely rebuilt in 2008 and ranks among the largest museums of natural history in the world, housing over 26 million specimens. The museum features Claude, the albino alligator, the world's largest digital planetarium and a "living roof" full of native California plants.

Admission tickets are pricey, $35 bucks for adults, but the museum does offer one Sunday of free admission per quarter.

Travel like a pro: If it fits your schedule, come to the Academy on a Thursday night for "Nightlife". Enjoy live music, cocktails and special exhibits. Most of the daytime exhibits are also open. Admission is a much more palatable $15.

Burrito at El Castillito

Cancun is sublime but any respectable trip to SF should involve multiple excursions to a variety of taquerias. El Castillito fits the perfectly. There are a couple of locations but we recommend the one located conveniently next to the MUNI light rail station and the popular Lower Haight neighborhood.

The tacos aren't quite up to par with Cancun but the burritos at Castillito are massive, smoky and balanced in flavors. Cheese is melted onto the tortilla while still hot on the griddle and the al pastor is the best in the city. Patrons have the option of asking of avocado instead of guacamole as a filling.

Travel like a pro: Ask for the diablo sauce as a special request. It's their homemade chipotle sauce stored in a large ketchup bottle underneath the counter. The sauce is not super spicy but adds a great flavor kick to your burrito.

Iza Ramen

The Bay Area ramen scene has trailed New York for years but San Francisco is making up for lost ground with the latest entrant, Iza Ramen, which opened in 2015 at the former Squat and Gobble location in the Lower Haight.

This ramen joint is only open evenings starting at 5 p.m. It seats 35 and wait times are short, even during busy periods.

Expect to pay $13 for a bowl of the spicy Tonkotsu. It features a surprisingly spicy broth that mixes pork with chicken and tuna for a creamy, slightly fishy flavor profile. The centerpiece of each bowl is the slice of BBQ pork belly, tender and smoky with a hint of sweetness. The soft boiled egg is served cold, providing a nice contrast with the hot broth and noodles.

Iza Ramen loses some points for the smaller portion size but is otherwise a great addition to the neighborhood worthy of a trek.


A great follow up to ramen is Toronado, an institution in the Lower Haight that has long been regarded as the best beer bar in SF. It's dark, dingy with a no-nonsense staff and an impressive board of beers on tap that changes on a weekly basis. Expect to find a robust collection of IPAs and at least a couple of sours on the menu at any time.

Travel like a pro: As you might imagine, Toronado can get crowded. If you want to sip your beverage in peace and not have to jostle for a table in the backroom, come in the afternoons or Monday thru Wednesday weeknights.

Also, if you're hungry for a snack to pair with your beverage, go to the adjacent Rosamunde and order a sausage "for next door". The sausage will be served in a plastic basket that you can take with you back into Toronado.

Thanh Long Dungeness Crab

San Francisco is only 7 miles across but Thanh Long, located in the western edge of the Outer Sunset neighborhood, is considered far out in the boonies by most tourists' standards. If you don't have a car, you can take a taxi or the N Judah MUNI line to get there.

What makes the trek worthwhile is the fact that this place has been a local institution for decades and it draws large crowds on a nightly basis, despite its location. This is the best spot for getting your hands dirty and gorging on perfectly seasoned Dungeness crab and garlic noodles.

Trouble Coffee

The Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club is credited as the birthplace of the "four dollar toast" trend in SF. Despite the infamy, Trouble is a great place to get a brew before you head out to Ocean Beach. The coffee shop has a fascinating backstory that was picked up by This American Life.

House of Prime Rib

The House of Prime Rib is an SF institution. Book your reservation at least a month in advance and arrive hungry because the portions are huge. The meat is cut and served from comically large steel capsules rolled to your table-side for your viewing pleasure.

Pick between four different cuts of prime rib of varying thickness (we recommend the King Henry for best value) along with a hearty ensemble of sides: bread and butter, mashed or fully loaded baked potato, creamed spinach and salad. The full package comes out to about $45 per person.

There is always a fish option available for pescatarians but honestly, if you don't eat red meat, this place is not for you.

Travel like a pro: After finishing your main cut, ask the server for "a little more" to receive an extra, thin cut. It's basically free dessert meat.

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