10 Reasons Why You Should Visit San Francisco

Don’t let frightening headlines keep you from the City by the Bay and all it has to offer.

An aerial photo of San Francisco with the Transamerica tower in the foreground and mountains in the background.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Headlines about San Francisco report it’s at an all-time low, full of empty storefronts, rampant crime and scary streets. But the City by the Bay still boasts breathtaking views, charming neighborhoods of pastel-painted houses, countless hills, secret staircases and two very iconic bridges.

Politicians, activists and visionaries have opened nighttime markets, illuminated landmarks, created car-free streets and innovative parks, even figured out how to use old buildings in new ways (pickleball in the Palace of Fine Arts!). So if you're figuring out a last-minute trip for the summer or planning for a fall getaway, keep SF in mind.

Here are 10 reasons why visiting San Francisco, California, remains richly rewarding.

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1. Oracle Park

Nothing beats watching the San Francisco Giants vie for another National League championship. Oracle ballpark is on the walkable Embarcadero, on a China Basin inlet known as McCovey Cove. 

Named for Hall of Famer Willie McCovey and beyond right field, the cove is where kayakers wait to retrieve home run balls. Inside, rabid fans feast on Gilroy garlic fries, crab sandwiches on grilled sourdough, caramel corn and Ghirardelli chocolate sundaes.

2. The Ferry Building

The Embarcadero’s most impressive architecture is celebrating its 125th birthday this summer. Besides an imposing clock tower and dramatic sandstone arches, the Ferry Building is a farmers market mecca. 

Saturday mornings is prime time for grazing on gently priced plates from food and restaurant vendors in the back plaza. It’s also where you hop on ferries to Tiburon, Larkspur, Sausalito or Angel Island. The perennial complaint from commuters and tourists is that their trips are too short.

3.  The Golden Gate Bridge 

A surfer rides a wave beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.

A surfer rides a wave beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Walking across the orange, 4,200-foot, historic span is noisy, exciting and highly recommended. As cars stream past for almost two miles, the steel suspension bridge clatters constantly. 

On the other side, the Marin Headlands; below, brave wind-surfers, sailboats and cargo ships. If you hear the bridge hum, you’re not alone.

4. The Mission

It’s not unusual for travelers to go directly from San Francisco International Airport to a Mission District taqueria or taco truck. Mission-style burritos are excellent and enormous — packed with beans, cheese, salsa, sour cream and meat ranging from carnitas to carne asada, chorizo and chicken mole. A favorite is La Corneta’s super prawn burrito with guacamole, or Filipino-fusion concoctions from Señor Sisig. Plus, check out Balmy Alley’s vibrant murals.

Other interesting neighborhoods include Noe Valley, Nob Hill, Hayes Valley, the Castro, the Marina, Dogpatch and Potrero Hill.

5.  Mosaic-tiled staircases  

The Hidden Garden Steps at 16th Avenue and Kirkham and nearby Moraga Steps are worth seeking out and reflect a strong community of volunteers. Decorated with brightly painted ceramic tiles, these two Inner Sunset staircases are surrounded by gorgeous, exotic succulents and colorful flowering plants. 

Mosaic-decorated steps in San Francisco.

Mosaic-decorated steps in San Francisco. 

(Image credit: Getty Images)

6.  Beaches, parks and cable cars 

Golden Gate Park and the Presidio are crown jewels of the city and national parks. Crissy Field, once an Army airfield, stretches from Marina Green to Fort Point, with beaches, bike paths, overlooks and a sweet lunch spot called the Warming Hut. Golden Gate Park’s JFK Drive is car-free, as is the Great Highway parallel to Ocean Beach (weekends only).

Russian Hill’s intricately landscaped Francisco Park was built on the site of a decommissioned reservoir and is the largest public park to open in the city in 40 years. 

Not new, but significant: Alamo Square’s sloping lawn’s skyline views and restored Victorians including the Painted Ladies, famous for “Full House”  cameo, are worth seeing. Aquatic beach park, near Fisherman’s Wharf, is best reached via the Powell/Hyde cable car, the most quintessentially San Franciscan mode of transport.

7. North Beach

Once frequented by veritable Beats, North Beach remains an artistic enclave and hub for cafe culture. Hang out at Caffe Trieste then wander down Grant Street to Columbus Avenue’s City Lights Booksellers. Co-founded by poet-publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, this carefully curated bookstore is across (Jack) Kerouac Alley from Vesuvio’s, one of the neighborhood’s many welcoming watering holes. 

A cross-street in San Francisco with a blue, Victoria-style building.

A cross-street in San Francisco with a blue, Victoria-style building.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Walk up the avenue to Molinari’s, where you can admire shelves of Italian imports and a seductive selection of cheeses, salumi and antipasti. Enjoy your custom-made sandwich at a sidewalk table or picnic in nearby Washington Square Park. 

Contrary to urban legend, Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio at San Francisco City Hall, not Saints Peter and Paul Church. DiMaggio did, however, wed first wife Dorothy Arnold at the ornate Roman Catholic church facing the park, and the Yankee Clipper’s funeral was held there. An adjacent playground where Joe D. first played baseball bears his name.

8. Lombard Street

Since my parents lived nearby, I’ve spent hours watching gleeful visitors take selfies and marvel at this internationally renowned, uniquely crooked street. Drive down or walk in either direction — but do not miss the Russian Hill block of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth streets.

Another painterly panorama and steep climb is Coit Tower on opposing Telegraph Hill. And Macondray Lane is an enchanting, pedestrian-only alleyway recognizable from Armistead Maupin’s SFChronicle.com columns, books and screen adaptation of “Tales of the City.”  

9. Seafood and waterside restaurants

Anthony Bourdain was right to rave about Swans Oyster Depot on Polk Street. Line up for one of 20 stools at the marble counter for the freshest shellfish, combination louis and clam chowder, paired with crusty bread and draft beer. 

At Scoma’s, dive into San Francisco’s signature stew: cioppino loaded with shrimp, mussels, scallops, halibut, clams and crabmeat. On the other hand, though, SFGate.com decreed Sotto Mare’s cioppino the best. Well, there’s room for both. Upscale Scoma’s is on an atmospheric pier, while North Beach’s Sotto Mare is more congenial, the counter conducive for solo diners. 

10. The weather

A view of the San Francisco Ferry Building looking out onto the water.

A view of the San Francisco Ferry Building looking out onto the water.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In San Francisco, weather is a plus and a minus. While inland areas bake, San Franciscans relish their comparative cool. The city is an amalgam of microclimates with foggier weather in the Outer Sunset and Richmond. 

You have to love a locale where ubiquitous fog tweets as @KarlTheFog and @fog_karla and months are called June Gloom and Fogust. Summers can be overcast, while fall is often most summery. Amid extreme weather occurring all over the map, one never knows. 

Layer up and see what this city has to offer. 

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