25 Frequently Asked Questions For First Time Visitors To San Francisco

View of Golden Gate Bridge From Fort Point

Are you planning your first ever vacation to the City by the Bay, San Francisco? If so, then you probably have several questions about where to stay and what to see. To simplify your search on lodging, dining and more, here are answers to some of your most pressing and most frequently asked questions (FAQs). Whether you’re traveling soon or at a later date, you’ll find this information quite practical and easy to understand.

Congratulations! You are your way to one of the world’s most exciting and diverse cities – San Francisco!

 

Front Entrance to the international terminal at San Francisco International
San Francisco International Airport (credit: Randy Yagi)

San Francisco Transportation

 

How Do I Get To San Francisco From San Francisco International Airport?

SFO offers several transportation options, including rental cars, ride shares and public transportation. If you don’t need a rental car, take a BART train into San Francisco. A BART ride will take approximately 30 minutes to arrive in the heart of the City. However, due to COVID-19, BART closes daily at 9 p.m. You can also make arrangements for a shuttle or limousine service.

Should I Get A Rental Car?

That depends on your budget and transportation needs. If you want the freedom to explore the City, then a rental car can be practical. It’s also the safest way to get around due to current conditions. However, city traffic can be very challenging, especially during peak hours. Furthermore, in an effort to improve pedestrian safety, there are new driving restrictions in downtown San Francisco. Something else to consider is how much your hotel charges for parking.

How Easy Is It To Get Around The City With Public Transit?

If you’re knowledgeable in reading timetables and understanding system maps, it can be very easy. On the other hand, if you’re not public transportation savvy, riding Muni may be difficult and time consuming. Either way, public transportation is the most affordable way to get around town. Unfortunately, at this time the famed cable cars are not running due to COVID-19.

Can I Rent A Bike In San Francisco?

Yes you can! The most popular options are located along the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. Top recommendations include San Francisco Bike Rentals, Blazing Saddles and Parkwide Bike Rentals. One other top option worth mentioning is the Sports Basement. The Sports Basement has two locations in San Francisco, including the flagship store along Crissy Field.

What About Rideshare Companies Like Uber & Lyft?

Both Uber and Lyft are headquartered here so it shouldn’t be surprising that ridesharing drivers are everywhere. Prices may be slightly higher than in other major cities. But the service is very convenient and reliable. Due to its wide popularity, visitors who select an affordable option can expect to ride with others. Uber Eats is also available, as are other food delivery services like DoorDash and GrubHub.

 

View of Fisherman's Wharf at Dusk
View of Fisherman’s Wharf at Dusk (credit: Randy Yagi)

 

Attractions

 

What Are The Must-See Attractions?

The leading attractions are the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and Fisherman’s Wharf. Additional must-see attractions are Golden Gate Park, Union Square, Chinatown and North Beach. With time permitting, visitors should also consider the Presidio, Ferry Building, Japantown, Mission District and Haight-Ashbury. The vibrant Castro District is also a great option to spend the day. Alamo Square and the crooked Lombard Street are world famous for  photo opportunities. But first time visitors should be particularly mindful of the residents who live there.

Is Alcatraz Open?

Yes, public access to Alcatraz Island is now available. However, it is strongly advised to book reservations in advance. Reservations can be booked online up to 90 days in advance. While tickets may be available at vendors near Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, some tours may sell out.

What Museums Should I Visit?

It depends upon your personal preference and transportation. The top choices in downtown San Francisco are SFMOMA and Asian Art Museum near City Hall. Also not far from City Hall is the temporary exhibition, Immersive Van Gogh San Francisco. Two other world class museums are the de Young in Golden Gate Park and Legion of Honor. However, these museums are several miles away from the heart of downtown. Additional choices may include the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Walt Disney Family Museum.

 

The Skystar Observation Wheel in Golden Gate Park
Skystar Observation Wheel in Golden Gate Park (credit: Randy Yagi(

 

What Are The Best Family Friendly Attractions?

Many family friendly attractions are at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. At the Wharf, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not are among the most talked about. But due to COVID-19, you should check times and days these attractions are open. Pier 39 has additional attractions like Aquarium of the Bay, Magowan’s Mirror Maze and San Francisco Carousel. Not far from the Wharf is Ghirardelli Square, featuring its popular Ghirardelli chocolate store. Don’t forget to see the entertaining seal lions at Fisherman’s Wharf for photo ops!

Family Friend Attractions In Golden Gate Park

In Golden Gate Park the leading family-friendly choice is the California Academy of Sciences. Due to its popularity, advance tickets purchases are strongly advised, particularly on weekends. Afterwards, take a ride on the SkyStar observation wheel, just footsteps away. Also in Golden Gate Park is the Japanese Tea Garden, oldest in the U.S. One last notable attraction is the Exploratorium, along the Embarcadero. Although temporarily closed, the Exploratorium also features outdoor exhibits and artwork.

Is There A Fee To Walk Across The Golden Gate Bridge?

No, there is no charge for pedestrians and cyclists to cross one of the world’s most photographed bridges. However, it can be extremely windy so you should dress appropriately. Even if you don’t walk across the bridge, you should plan on bringing a jacket or two. Limited parking is available at Golden Gate Bridge visitor areas. On weekends, you should strongly consider taking public transportation or ride share. Motorists who wish to cross the bridge in the northbound direction do not have to pay a fee. However motorists in the southbound direction pay a fee of $8.70.

Other Places To See The Golden Gate Bridge

Other excellent views of the Golden Gate Bridge are at Crissy Field, Fort Point, Baker Beach and Land’s End. There are also sweeping views of the bridge onboard a ferry boat to Angel Island or Alcatraz. Across the Golden Gate Bridge are more breathtaking views, from the Marin Highlands and Fort Baker.

 

Salmon Dish at the upscale French restaurant ONE65
Delectable Salmon Dish at ONE65 (credit: Randy Yagi)

 

San Francisco Restaurants

 

What Are The Best Seafood Restaurants?

Since San Francisco is one of world’s premier destinations for seafood, there is an abundance of outstanding restaurants. Among the top rated are Waterbar, Fog Island Restaurant, Sotto Mare and Scoma’s. In addition to Waterbar, the City offers outstanding oyster houses like Hog Island, Anchor Oyster and Swan Oyster Depot. Of course, the most celebrated restaurants are renowned for its seafood dishes. Standouts include Angler SF, Atelier Crenn, Benu and Saison. The extraordinary French restaurant ONE65 is also a phenomenal choice for fabulous seafood dishes.

 

Related: ONE65: The Hottest New Restaurant In San Francisco

 

Where Can I Find The Best Italian Restaurants?

Many Italian restaurants are located in the North Beach area, also known as Little Italy. Suggestions include Original Joe’s, Il Casaro, Trattoria Contadina and Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. For a Michelin star experience, there are Acquerello, SPQR and Sorrel. Other exceptional Italian restaurants are A16, Cotogna, Delfina an flour+water. For pizza, try Capo’s, Pizzeria Delfina, Little Star and Tony’s Pizza Napoletana.

The Best Japanese Restaurants?

San Francisco offers a diverse selection of superb Japanese restaurants from affordable noodle houses to expensive sushi bars. On the high end, there are Omakase, Hashiri, jū-ni, Keiko a Nob Hill and Wako. There are also favorites like Akiko’s, Okane, Saru and Sasaki. Many moderately priced restaurants are also in Japantown. Both locals and visitors favor places like Akira, Hinodeya, Marufuku and Kushi Tsuru.

The Best Vegan-Vegetarian Restaurants?

In health conscious San Francisco, there are several vegan or vegetarian restaurants. For a classic experience, try the landmark Greens Restaurant at Fort Mason Center. Additionally, there are highly rated spots like Golden Era, Wildseed, Vegan Picnic and Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar. In the Mission District, known for its outstanding Mexican cuisine, vegetarians will enjoy Gracias Madre.

Best Restaurants On A Budget?

With one of nation’s largest collection of restaurants per capita, there are obviously several affordable options in San Franciisco. Chinatown is a great place to start, with popular spots like China Live, Sam Wo and Z&Y. Over in the Mission are several more affordable options, including Bi-Rite Creamery, La Taqueria, El Farolito and Taqueria Vallarta. Even more low fare options are Dinosaurs, Irving Subs, House of Bagels and Wise Sons Deli.

Food Trucks

For on-the-go options, try one of the many food trucks operating in the City. Choices are plentiful but Senor Sisig, Roli Roti, The Chairman and Curry Up Now rank among the best. There are also food truck parks like SoMa StrEat Food Park and Off The Grid at Fort Mason.

 

Related: Best San Francisco Restaurants For Fresh Seafood

 

San Francisco Marriott
San Francisco Marriott Marquis (credit: Randy Yagi)

 

San Francisco Hotels 

 

What Are The Best Hotels In San Francisco?

As with any world class city, there are multiple luxury hotels to consider. There are leading brands like the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, St. Regis and Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square. Of course, there are additional landmark hotels like the Fairmont and InterContinental Mark Hopkins, Palace Hotel, the Marriott and InterContinental San Francisco. All in all, the choice should really depend on location.

Best Hotels Near Oracle Park?

Hotel VIA and Hyatt Place are practically across the street from the Giant’s ballpark. Along the Embarcadero exceptional hotels like Hotel Griffon, Harbor Court and Hyatt Regency. Slightly farther in SoMa are the Intercontinental San Francisco, San Francisco Marriott Marquis and the W San Francisco.

 

Related: The San Francisco Marriott Marquis Is Better Than Ever

 

Best Hotels Near Fisherman’s Wharf?

Several moderately priced hotels can be found near the lively Fisherman’s Wharf area. Favorites include the Argonaut, Hotel Zephyr, Hotel Zoe and Hotel Riu Plaza. Other fine neighborhoods hotels are Hyatt Centric, Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf and Courtyard by Marriott.

Best Hotels In Union Square?

Several notable hotels are in Union Square, including Grand Hyatt, Taj Campton Place, Hotel Nikko, Parc 55 and Westin St. Francis. For travelers on a smaller budget, there are still several great hotels to choose from. The Marker, Hotel Zeppelin, Marines’ Memorial Club and Kensington Park Hotel.

Best Affordable Hotels?

Travelers on a small budget are fortunate to have many lodging options in the City. More than 10 hostels are available, with top rated spots like Orange Village, HI Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf and Green Tortoise. Most of the budget motels/hotels can be found along Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Street. Visitors can choose among Nob Hill Motor Inn, Lombard Plaza and Cow Hollow, among others.

 

Related:  Pet Friendly Hotels To Stay In San Francisco

 

 

 

About The Author:

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS Local from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including CBS New York, CBS Los Angeles and CBS Chicago 

During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a digital audience reach of 489 million and more than 5.5 million monthly visitors. His other stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS Radio, Engadget and Radio.com. He is a Media Fellow of Stanford University and lifelong resident of Santa Cruz County, California.

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Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering national/international travel for CBS Local and all things San Francisco for CBS San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. He is also a member of the Freelance Council of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).