Grab your coat and a handful of glitter, and enter the land of fog and fabulousness. So long, inhibitions; hello, San Francisco.
Consider permission permanently granted to be outlandish: other towns may surprise you, but in San Francisco you will surprise yourself. Good times and social revolutions tend to start here, from manic gold rushes to blissful hippie be-ins. If there’s a skateboard move yet to be busted, a technology still unimagined, a poem left unspoken or a green scheme untested, chances are it’s about to happen here. Yes, right now. This town has lost almost everything in earthquakes and dot-com gambles, but never its nerve.
Food & Drink
Every available Bay Area–invented technology is needed to make dinner decisions in this city, with the most restaurants and farmers markets per capita in North America, supplied by pioneering local organic farms. San Francisco set the gold standard for Wild West saloons, but drinking was driven underground in the 1920s with Prohibition. Today, San Francisco celebrates its speakeasies and vintage saloons – and with Wine Country and local distillers providing a steady supply of America’s finest hooch, the West remains wild.
California is one grand, sweeping gesture – a long arm hugging the Pacific – and the 7-by-7-mile peninsula of San Francisco is a thumb pointed optimistically upwards. Take this as a hint to look up: you’ll notice San Francisco’s crooked Victorian rooflines, wind-sculpted treetops and fog tumbling over the Golden Gate Bridge.Heads are perpetually in the clouds atop San Francisco’s 43 hills. Cable cars provide easy access to Russian and Nob Hills, and splendid panoramas reward the slog up to Coit Tower – but the most exhilarating highs are earned on Telegraph Hill’s garden-lined stairway walks and windswept hikes around Land’s End.
Microclimates add magic realism to San Francisco days: when it’s drizzling in the outer reaches of Golden Gate Park, it might be sunny in the Mission. A few degrees’ difference between neighborhoods grants permission for salted-caramel ice cream in Dolores Park, or a hasty retreat to tropical heat inside the California Academy of Sciences’ rainforest dome. This town will give you goose bumps one minute, and warm you to the core the next.
San Francisco is known for…
SFMOMA Expand horizons with cutting-edge contemporary collections in SF’s super-sized art museum.
Exploratorium Totally trippy hands-on exhibits test scientific theories and blow minds at Pier 15.
de Young Museum Global art and craft masterworks showcase provocative ideas and enviable hand–eye coordination.
Asian Art Museum Sightsee halfway across the globe in an hour, from romantic Persian miniatures to daring Chinese installation art.
Legion of Honor Iconic impressionist paintings, 90,000 graphic artworks, and weekend organ recitals amid Rodin sculptures.
Stern Grove Festival Free concerts at Golden Gate Park’s natural amphitheater, from Afrobeat jazz to SF Opera.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Headliners like Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch and banjo legend Béla Fleck plus 100 other acts in Golden Gate Park.
Cable Car Museum Observe the inner workings of San Francisco’s transport icon, which remains largely unchanged since its 1873 invention.
Amoeba Music concerts Rockers, DJs and hip-hop heroes give free shows in-store.
Giants baseball Catch a glimpse of the action and join the party at the Embarcadero waterfront promenade behind left field.
Golden Gate Bridge Yeah, you’ve probably heard of this. Walk across, hop a bus or rent a bike.
Balmy Alley Mural-covered garage doors make colorful political statements along this Mission backstreet.
City Lights Books A landmark to free speech and free spirits.
Musée Mécanique A wonderland of vintage arcade games, including 100-year-old saloon brawls and coin-operated guillotines.
Coit Tower Up Greenwich St stairs, atop Telegraph Hill, inside the 1930s tower, upon the viewing platform: 360-degree panoramas.
Land’s End Shipwrecks, Golden Gate views and Monterey pines line the hike from Sutro Baths to the Legion of Honor.
George Sterling Park Poetic views of the Golden Gate Bridge from atop Russian Hill.
Corona Heights Park Rocky outcropping with views over the Haight, Castro and Mission to the silvery bay beyond.
Dolores Park On the southwestern corner, overlook sunbathers, picnickers and kids swarming the Aztec play pyramid all the way to the bay.
Alamo Square Park Peek over the shoulders of ‘Painted Lady’ Victorian mansions to glimpse City Hall and the Transamerica Pyramid.
Dolores Park Athletes, radical politicos, performance artists and toddlers: on sunny days, they all converge on this grassy hillside.
Japantown The unofficial living room of film-festival freaks, Lolita Goths, anime aficionados and grandmas who fought for civil rights.
Adobe Books & Backroom Gallery Meet backroom artists-in-residence and talk books with strangers in this community-supported bookshop.
Coffee to the People The quadruple-shot Freak Out with hemp milk could wake the Grateful Dead at this radical Haight coffeehouse.
Washington Square Mellow out with poets and tai-chi masters while wild parrots eye your foccacia from the trees.
Cafe Flore Glassed-in Castro corner venue serving coffee with a side of local eye candy since the ’70s.
Nob Hill Steve McQueen’s muscle car goes flying over the summit in Bullitt and somehow lands in SoMa.
Ocean Beach The windswept beach sets the scene for turbulent romance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.
Sutro Baths San Francisco’s splendid ruin sets the scene for a May–December romance in Harold and Maude.
Human Rights Campaign Action Center & Store Harvey Milk’s camera shop in Milk was this real-life Castro location, now home to the LGBT civil-rights organization.
Bay Bridge Oops: when Dustin Hoffman sets out for Berkeley in The Graduate, he’s heading the wrong way across the bridge.
Transamerica Pyramid Godzilla stomps through the Golden Gate Bridge in the 2014 sci-fi remake but mysteriously spares downtown’s signature landmark.
Alcatraz Even America’s highest-security prison can’t contain Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz.
Fort Point Hitchcock was right: swirling noir-movie fog and giddy Golden Gate views make for a thrilling case of Vertigo.
California Academy of Sciences Renzo Piano’s LEED-certified green landmark is capped with a ‘living roof’ of California wildflowers.
de Young Museum Herzog & de Meuron clad the museum in copper, which is oxidizing green to match park scenery.
Contemporary Jewish Museum Daniel Libeskind’s striking repurposed power station has a blue-steel addition that forms the Hebrew word for life.
I Magnin Building Timothy Pflueger’s 1948 minimalist white-marble plinth stands stark naked amid Union Sq clothing stores.
SFMOMA Snøhetta’s shipshape Streamline Moderne–inspired extension flanks Mario Botta’s black-and-white-striped periscope atrium.
Transamerica Pyramid William Pereira’s sci-fi concrete rocket is so iconic, Godzilla politely sidestepped it in the 2014 remake.