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What To Do in San Francisco: A Short Guide for Your First Visit

Who doesn’t dream of going to San Francisco to stroll the California coast with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge? This colourful, warm and exciting city is waiting for you, and there’s no shortage of things to do!

I had been to San Francisco in the past, but this was my first time travelling there during the pandemic. The city has adapted well to the changes, so travellers can leave with peace of mind. I guarantee you will fall in love with this city. Here’s a little guide for your next visit to San Francisco!

How do you get to San Francisco?

© Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

There are direct flights from Montreal and Toronto to San Francisco. The flight takes approximately 5 hours 30 minutes, and the cost of plane tickets varies between $500 and $600 (round trip).

What to pack for San Francisco?

The temperature in San Francisco varies: hot during the day and rather cool at night. It is also often very windy!

Don’t forget to pack: a windbreaker, warm pants and jackets as well as camisoles and shorts (basically, almost your entire wardrobe)! Forget your mini skirts and dresses as you will spend your time holding them back because of the wind. Of course, good walking shoes are essential because the streets are constantly up and down. It’s a sport to walk in San Fransisco!

Where to stay in San Francisco?

The Clancy, Autograph Collection © Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

Stay in the vibrant SoMa (South of Market) district. You can sleep at The Clancy, Autograph Collection hotel, in the heart of SoMa and very close to Union Square. Designed to appeal to Millennials and designers of all kinds, this hotel will fill your Instagram feed and make all your friends jealous of your trip! This is one of the new hotels in San Francisco with the mantra of making you satisfy your curiosity. From there, you can walk to 1001 things to do in the city. 

The Clancy, Autograph Collection © Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

With bathrobes and plush beds, it’s easy to unwind in your room at The Clancy, Autograph Collection after exploring San Francisco from top to bottom. In addition to its relaxing side, it is the perfect place to feel like a VIP! The rooms project an Austin Powers feel with their sumptuous red sofa and modern and eclectic decor. The hotel features a gym for workouts, common areas for strolling, an interior courtyard for a cocktail or a glass of vino, a famous restaurant for fancy dinners and a nice café for breakfast. 

Nomadic Tip: For a truly glamorous experience in San Francisco (and barely a few dollars more), book the Suite with a private king-size bedroom and a huge living room. Compare the room types here.

Where to eat in San Francisco?

Seven Square Taproom © Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

San Francisco will satisfy the foodie in you! If you want to experience a dinner that combines international flavours and local produce, head to Seven Square Taproom located in SoMa at The Clancy Hotel. Whether you dine inside or in the open-air courtyard with luminous skyscrapers as your backdrop, you’ll love how this restaurant perfectly embodies the San Francisco vibe. You must try their fried macaroni balls! You can also taste local wines or incredible urban cocktails, including their signature drink: the Smokey Maple Old Fashioned.

Meal ideas that will make you salivate:

  • Dim sum in Chinatown in San Francisco
  • Clam chowder and a crab on top of crab at Pier 39
  • Seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Amazing wines from the region

Musts to do for the first time in San Francisco

1. Golden Gate Bridge

© Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

Whether by car, on foot or by bike, you must cross the Golden Gate Bridge, the emblem of San Francisco. If you decide to walk on the bridge, make sure to strap on your hat because it’s super windy and noisy up there. Passing under the impressive red metal pillars is quite a special feeling. If you have a car and plan to visit Muir Woods, you’ll pass the Golden Gate on your way there!

Nomadic Tip: Input “Golden Gate View Point” on Google Maps to access the path to get to the best viewpoints on the bridge.

2. Alcatraz

© Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

Reserve your tickets in advance as the famous Alcatraz prison is a very popular tourist spot. Your access includes the return ferry ride, as well as an audio guide. Do not underestimate the guide because the explanations are super relevant for your visit. The prison, with a view of the city, conceals a lot of stories!

3. Lombard Street

© Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

The small Lombard Street can be crossed by car or on foot. Go up or down this colourful street with its famous zigzags. The street is not very long, but it is steep like many streets in this district. The elevation lets you admire the houses below.

4. Chinatown

© Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

This neighbourhood is the oldest Chinatown neighbourhood in North America and has the largest Chinese community outside China. It’s worth a look, whether for a nice walk or to eat some specialties (say yes to a good dim sum meal). You’ll love the atmosphere!

Nomadic Tip: Visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookies Factory in Chinatown! Random fact: Chinese cookies were invented in San Francisco. The first Chinese immigrants from the United States arrived in San Francisco in 1848. Ironically, a Japanese family invented the “Chinese” fortune cookies at the Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. In this handmade mini-factory, you can buy giant cookies, have them personalized, and witness the manufacturing process!

5. Fisherman’s Wharf

© Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

Pier 39 is a must-see in San Francisco. You can see several attractions there, observe sea lions basking in the sun and eat delicious clam chowder. If you like to eat fish, you will also appreciate the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, which is a little less crowded than Pier 39.

6. Cable car

© Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

You can’t forget the famous Cable Cars of San Francisco! You can take a tram ride to get around the city, but mostly for fun! Hang on and enjoy the ride!

6. Painted Ladies

© Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

When we think of the city of San Francisco, the image of the Painted Ladies quickly comes to mind. They are classic! You can admire the row of colourful little houses on a sloping street from a small park on the other side. Do not forget to take a walk in the neighbouring streets, since all the houses are charming!

7. Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley

© Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

Rent a car and explore the wine region! You can easily visit Sonoma and Napa Valley in a day! Sonoma has a higher quantity of smaller, family-owned wineries than Napa Valley, one of the world’s great wine regions. You can stop at the many wineries and sample California wines that get better with each sip. This “gourmet” region is the perfect spot to get away from the city. With the pandemic, you have to book your tastings in advance online.

The Clancy, Autograph Collection © Emilie Robichaud / Nomad Junkies

Now that you know more about what to do on your first getaway to San Francisco, you can pack your bags. Don’t forget your windbreaker and walking shoes! The Californian city can be explored perfectly in four days, and there is something for everyone. 

What are you waiting for to fall in love with San Francisco?

Emilie Robichaud
Je suis accro au mode de vie nomade! Depuis plus de 5 ans, j’ai quitté ma zone de confort pour voyager à temps plein. Mon tour du monde sans fin compte plus de 65 pays et ça continue! Le voyage, c'est un style de vie et un état d'esprit!
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