Best ways to experience San Francisco

Best ways to experience San Francisco, looking at the Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco is perhaps the most famous city in the world. There’s so much to see and do in the so-called City by the Bay that you might have no idea how to go about it. There are so many ways to experience San Francisco, after all, more than one can count.

And that kind of paralysis by analysis can – and will – ruin your time in this wonderful place. You’ll be stressed out without doing anything fun, and you’ll be going back home with sour memories. If you worry about this happening to you, fear not! This handy guide will show you all the best ways to experience San Francisco.

That said, you might not be a tourist sticking around for a short while. Maybe you’re moving to San Francisco from another city, and you’ll have all the time in the world to soak in the sights. If so, you’ll still want to read on. This city has so much going on that, eventually, it doesn’t become a matter of what you see, but how you see it.

So let’s get started.

Create a streamlined itinerary for sight-seeing in a hurry

Every trip has its complications, and these problems usually cost you time otherwise spent taking in your location. Whether it’s lost items or broken bags, it all eats up the hours. This is pretty much a constant truth, so you ought to prepare for it whenever you travel.

You can fix most of these problems – keep track of your things, have a quality traveling bag, and so on. However, you can’t take back lost time. In case you’re pressed for time, it’s a great idea to have a quick-and-dirty itinerary on hand for emergencies. The best way to make one is to write down everything you would love to see.

Poke around on the Internet to approximate how much time it would roughly take to visit each of those places. Put the ones that require a lot of time in a to-dump list. For extra effectiveness, see which sights are near one another and cluster them in a single day’s worth of sightseeing. Try separating some time for things like buying special gifts and souvenirs for your close ones, if possible.

Woman writing on notebook
Write down your top destinations that you have time for

This means you’ll, sadly, have to miss out on some experiences. For instance, visiting Alcatraz is basically a day-long process, from the ferry rides to the tour itself. And that’s if you call ahead to book a spot on this tour – doing it impromptu is even more complicated.  If you’re dead set on seeing Alcatraz, maybe consider taking an evening tour instead. You’ll still experience San Francisco, but you may need to make a few sacrifices.

Ride/rent out bikes to experience San Francisco healthily

There’s nothing quite like riding a bike in San Fran on a sunny spring day. Not only is it a healthy alternative to driving or taking the bus/trolly, but it also saves you loads of time otherwise spent walking. You have the speed of a vehicle tour combined with the autonomy to go and stop wherever you like. As long as you’ve brought your essentials for traveling, you’ll be enjoying the best of both worlds.

If you don’t have your own bike to ride, don’t worry. Being such a large city and tourist attraction, San Francisco has its fair share of bike rental agencies. They’re very professional for the most part: they provide well-functioning bikes, helmets, and escorts that know the city well. San Francisco sights are a delight to marvel at this way, believe me.

San Francsico cable car
Cable care are neat, but bikes are healthier

Categorize types of activities

It’s an understatement to say that this city is packed with things to do. You definitely won’t get too far trying to pack everything into your schedule. To properly experience San Francisco, you need to organize your sight-seeing by categories.

What does that mean? Well, if you’re a bit of a gourmand, you can research great places to eat in San Francisco. Or, if you’re more of a nightlife kind of person, look up the best clubs. You can classify these into neat categories that let you quickly organize your day to your liking.

Not sure what this is all about? Don’t worry, you’ll see below.

Awesome bars and restaurants in San Francisco

Here’s an example of a list of what to see in San Francisco. It’s about great places for eating and drinking (with an emphasis on cheesy goodies).

–           Hog Island Oyster Company: great oysters, grilled cheese;

–           Daily Driver: organic bagels, cream cheese;

–           Cowgirl Creamery: European-style cheese;

–           Gott’s Roadside: burgers and milkshake;

–           Vive La Tarte: “tacros” (taco-croissants);

–           Slanted Door: whiskey cocktails, Vietnamese fare;

–           Humphry Slocombe: fun, strange ice cream flavors

–           Fort Point Beer Company: local beer

Experience San Francisco at night
The nightlife in San Francisco is indescribable

This kind of organization is especially useful for tourists that visit San Francisco. It allows them to see the best of San Francisco by preparing ahead of time. See the best sights, get some quality wine and dine in there, and include other activities you wouldn’t normally have time for.

Meet the locals

Wherever you’re staying, one fact rings true: the locals know the place best. This applies whether you’re a tourist or you’ve recently moved to SF. People that have been living there their whole lives tend to know exactly where to go to get the authentic experience. That’s why you should try to make a few “native“ friends while there that can show you cool things to do in San Francisco.

Not only that, but the locals can teach you how to save money while in the city (though not every local is that way). San Francisco isn’t exactly the cheapest of cities, and your cash can quickly fizzle out if you aren’t careful.

Since SF is such a tourist hotspot, the locals there are quite used to new people from other places. That makes them very friendly in general, so don’t worry about annoying them with your attempts to make a connection. And even if they do get peeved, there are tons of people in SF, so you’ll find someone else to show you the best ways to see San Francisco.


San Francisco is a big slice of wonder – much more than anyone can handle at once. Luckily, this guide will let you take out one strategic bite at a time. And that’s one of the best ways to experience San Francisco. Savor it like the splendid treat that it is.

35 thoughts on “Best ways to experience San Francisco

  1. Lisa's Notebook March 31, 2020 / 8:49 am

    I’ve always wanted to visit San Francisco, and these are some great tips, although I’d prefer not to be cycling up all those hills, haha!

  2. Unwanted Life April 1, 2020 / 8:31 am

    My partner’s been to San Francisco a few times, for science conversations related to their work. One thing they always noticed was the amount of human waste matter and drug paraphernalia would be covering the sidewalks, have they done more to tackle that problem recently to make it more attractive to visit?

    • dansontheroad April 3, 2020 / 3:45 am

      Great tips which I actually did back when I backpacking the US. We only had 3 days plus there and only prioritized the attractions and nieghborhoods we wanted to visit.

  3. Holly April 3, 2020 / 2:16 pm

    I’ve always wanted to visit San Francisco as part of a US road trip, it sounds and looks like a whole load of fun. There are so many places I want to go in America, and I fully intend on doing it when the coronavirus situation is in the past!


    • markstraveljournal April 3, 2020 / 2:20 pm

      San Francisco is a great town and of course in the great state of California. Lots to see and do. Thanks for the comments Holly. And here’s to life after Coronavirus!

  4. nortoncharity April 9, 2020 / 10:37 am

    Wow San Francisco looks so beautiful! I would love to go there sometime. I can’t wait for everything to get back to normal so we can get back to our travels!

  5. aspoonfulpofvanilla April 10, 2020 / 3:55 pm

    I would love to visit San Francisco one day! I love to cycle or walk around a city and get lost, you find so many hidden gems that maybe aren’t in the busy touristy areas! This post has lots of great tips thank you so much for sharing!

    • markstraveljournal April 11, 2020 / 8:13 am

      I hope you get to San Francisco in the future, thanks for the comments

  6. Jupiter Hadley April 11, 2020 / 9:27 am

    We were meant to go to San Francisco last month! These are some great tips, I’ve never heard of tacros but I need to try them!

  7. Gabby Abigail April 11, 2020 / 10:06 am

    San Francisco is definitely on my Travel list! I have always wanted to go to California (LA and San Francisco) This makes me want to go even more! Ah, I can’t wait for all of this to be over. Thank you for continuing to share. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to blog atm as a travel blogger.

    GABBY |

    • markstraveljournal April 11, 2020 / 10:11 am

      Thanks for the comments. And yes, it’s not easy talking travel at the moment. I can’t wait for life after Covid too.

  8. Vanesh Mali April 11, 2020 / 11:33 am

    Wow! You have shared some great tips here. I would love to visit San Francisco in future. I hope this Covid-19 goes away soon and people start traveling around the world!

    • markstraveljournal April 11, 2020 / 11:36 am

      I can’t wait for travel to start again, thanks for the comments

  9. Kev S April 11, 2020 / 11:57 am

    I will use many of these tips on my first trip to San Francisco. Thanks

  10. Castlesandturrets April 11, 2020 / 2:12 pm

    I think I’ve been to San Fransisco when I was a kid with my parents. I don’t remember much about it though, so it looks like I’ll just have to go back when everything is all safe! When I do manage to plan a trip, I’ll make sure to use these tips here. Great post – thanks for sharing!

  11. aysia b. April 11, 2020 / 3:27 pm

    I can’t wait till this virus is taken care of so I can travel again! San Francisco is at the top of my list (being that I’m from California) so I can’t wait to get there! Definitely will have to check out the city on a bike! Thank you for this list

  12. Jaya Avendel April 11, 2020 / 4:30 pm

    I love how you describe San Fransisco as a ‘big slice of wonder’. I have been to Los Angeles and wandered the city a couple years ago; it is beautiful how it goes from mountains to sea side.

  13. bournemouthgirl April 12, 2020 / 11:05 am

    I would like to go to Sam Francisco! Hopefully we can all travel more after this lockdown is over

  14. John Confidus April 15, 2020 / 10:54 am

    I, like everyone else, expect that when quarantine ends, I can carry out previously planned trips! I hope to get to San Francisco! Health to all!

  15. Jen Lai-Lyn April 16, 2020 / 8:36 am

    Amazing, can’t wait to visit San Francisco!

  16. Jen Lai-Lyn April 16, 2020 / 8:36 am

    Amazing, can’t wait to visit San Francisco soon!

  17. itsjustjessie12 April 24, 2020 / 9:14 am

    San Fransisco is Definitely on my travel itinerary, along with an entire US Tour! I love the bar recommendations and I usually head to Pinterest to help me lost all the attractions I want to see so creating that quick list and hiring bikes too, is all the more exciting!

  18. Georgianne May 3, 2020 / 11:47 am

    Saving this one for when I cross over to the States 🙂 I love the recommendations, especially the cheesy goodies ones

  19. Hillary May 3, 2020 / 2:04 pm

    Great post! I live in the Bay Area but don’t get to spend much time in the city. But now I have some places to check out once the lockdown is lifted.

  20. Renata Leo May 8, 2020 / 8:16 am

    Could have definitely used this last year when my friend and I took a surprise vacation and they sent us to San Fran! To be honest, it wasn’t my favorite place, but so glad that I got to experience it!

  21. femaleoriginal May 31, 2020 / 6:17 am

    I’d love to visit San Francisco so I’ll definitely be making note of your restaurant suggestions for when I do go. Riding a bike around the city sounds like the perfect way to get around! x

  22. Charity June 6, 2020 / 3:09 pm

    I’ve never been to San Francisco before. I would love to visit there sometime though. It sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing

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