Welcome to Samarth’s guide on what to do, places to see, and good restaurants to eat while in or near San Francisco!
San Francisco is one of my all-time favorite cities. When I first moved to the area, I saw it as a decent place to spend a weekend, but it wasn’t until I ventured beyond downtown and started exploring the west side of the city that I truly fell in love with it. In my opinion, San Francisco excels in two areas: food and nature. If you’re a fan of these two things like I am, then you’re sure to fall in love with this city too.
One of the things I love most about San Francisco is the variety of memorable places to visit. Whether you’re a newcomer to the area or a seasoned veteran, there’s always something new and exciting to discover. Below are a few of my top recommendations for anyone looking to explore the city.
If you have any ideas of suggestions on places to add, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Places to Visit
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Pier 39
- Ghirardheli Square
- SF Chinatown
- Ferry Building
- Palace of Fine Arts
- Yerba Buena Gardens
- Sandbox VR
- Salesforce Park
- Coit Tower
- Union Square
- Golden Gate Park
- Strawberry Hill
- Dutch Windmills
- California Academy of Sciences
- Conservatory of Flowers
Some of My Favorite Spots
Located in the southern part of San Francisco, Stonestown Galleria is a large mall with a strong Asian influence. Here you can also find a variety of tasty Asian cuisine, with a great food court. I recommend getting a matcha parfait from Matcha Cafe Maiko when you visit!
Golden Gate Park
De Young Museum
Japanese Tea Garden
Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden is one of those attractions you’d never expect to see where it is, yet once you visit, it’s clear how perfectly the garden fit’s into the park’s aesthetic. “Garden” is somewhat of a misnomer here, with the interior more reminiscent of a quick stroll through traditional Japanese architecture and aesthetics. There’s also a restaurant within the garden, so make sure to stop by and grab a quick treat :) The garden, however, has an admission fee that varies from free for residents of San Francisco to $13 for non-resident adults.
Musee Mecanique Arcade
Built for both foodies and anyone looking to have a fun time getting lunch, Spark SF provides a diverse plethora of food truck options, ranging from Mexican to Filipino to robot-operated. Take a seat at the bar or play some mini golf while waiting for your ramen - the two blocks taken up by The Spark provide not only delectable food but also fun activities, making this the perfect place for a date or a group outing. After visiting, see if you can check out 826 Valencia, which I describe in more detail below.
826 Valencia, Woodland Creature Outfitters
Lands End Lookout
A nature lover’s paradise, Lands End and the Lands End hiking trail have given me my favorite views of all time. Looking out at the ocean feels like I’m experiencing a scene you would only see in the movies, where the main character gazes out at the world to experience its beauty - except this time, the main character is you. One great thing about the area is that you don’t have to walk far to see breathtaking views. Walking just 5-10 minutes past Sutro Baths is enough to get the spectacular feeling of being immersed in nature that I relish. Hiking the whole trail can be physically intensive, so I appreciate Lands End being fairly inclusive in its beauty.
- Dolores Park
- Marin Headlands
The Marin Headlands, located in Marin Country right after the Golden Gate Bridge, has some of the best views of the bay. Drive up the mountains right after the bridge to viewpoints like Hawk Hill and the Top of Four Vista Points (my personal favorite) to take in San Francisco from a new angle. While you’re there, check out the nearby town of Sausalito, Rodeo Beach, or take the 3-mile drive at Hawk Hill along the one-way bunker road.
Places to Eat
If you’re looking for a taste of authenticity in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Capital Restaurant is a great choice. While the chicken wings may not be the best in the world as they claim, they are still enjoyable. Overall, this is a solid option for a meal in Chinatown.
If you’re in the mood for brunch, Lokma in San Francisco is a reliable choice. The potatoes here are particularly noteworthy and definitely worth a try. This restaurant has yet to disappoint me.
For a casual korean restaurant in the heart of the Richmond District, JiJime exceeds every expectation you would have of it. The restaurant has a diverse and exciting menu with both traditional dishes like Bulgogi and unique twists to korean food like Soy Garlic Chicken Jjim with Parmesan. Great for a date night, you’re sure to leave JiJime with a happy stomach and a smile on your face.
Located in the Japantown mall, Izumi Kaiten Sushi offers a unique rotating sushi bar experience. While some reviews have been mixed, I personally enjoyed my visit. If you’re in the area, it’s worth checking out for yourself.
Surisan is one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco and my go-to spot for both brunch and dinner. They consistently serve delicious Korean food with a modern twist. If you’re a fan of Korean cuisine or even just brunch, this is a must-try restaurant. If you come for brunch, make sure to get the Ube Latte, which was definitively the best ube drink I’ve ever had. The Korean Fried Chicken, available for dinner, is also a favorite of mine.
If you’re a lover of lamb and looking for a unique hotpot experience, look no further than Happy Lamb Hot Pot. With a focus on lamb, this restaurant offers a vast selection of succulent cuts that are hard to come by at other hotpot joints. As someone who doesn’t eat pork or beef, I found it a great challenge to find a restaurant that caters to my dietary restrictions, but Happy Lamb Hot Pot exceeded my expectations. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to try something new or for those who just crave a good hotpot.
An amazing restaurant serving up modern Vietnamese cuisine. While Bodega may be a bit on the pricey side, it’s definitely worth the experience. As someone who has never tried upscale Vietnamese cuisine before, I was blown away by the flavors and creativity of the dishes. The Whole Fish Cha Ca and the Herb Crusted Lamb Chops were particularly amazing and truly stood out. Bodega should definitely be on your list of must-try restaurants. Bodega should definitely be on your list of must-try restaurants.
Experience the charm of a traditional French bistro at L’Ardoise, tucked away in a picturesque residential neighborhood just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the Castro district. The impeccable service and mouth-watering menu will transport you to the bustling yet intimate streets of Paris. Indulge in the heavenly Bijou Goat Cheese and Salmon, expertly prepared by the chefs, and soak in the cozy atmosphere that makes it the perfect spot for a romantic dinner on a chilly San Francisco evening. L’Ardoise is a true gem that I highly recommend for anyone looking for a special dining experience.
While the food was pretty good, the presentation is what makes Empress by Boon so memorable. The restaurant is located on the 8th floor of a chinatown building, and the aesthetic is that of an upscale chinese penthouse. The plating is incredible, with lots of fun surprises throughout the 8-course menu.
One of the best meals I’ve ever had. From the starters to the desserts to the service, everything in Acquerello felt like I was being shown the pathway to an eden of fine dining. While the amount of food they serve is lower on the quantity side, each bite of each dish was immeasurably dense. If you come, make sure to savor each bite - you’ll be longing for more at the end of the meal. Strong traditional fine dining vibe - there is a dress code.
The best Omakase I’ve had to date. Not too pricy for Omakase at around $100 for their highest-course option. Plating was amazing, and while the presentation and dishes did not ascribe to a “traditional” omakase experience, the food was better than any traditional Omakase restaurant I’ve been to. I’m confident that this distinction is what made the experience and the food the best I’ve had in its category thus far.
- Legion of Honor Museum
- China Beach
- Baker Beach
- Black Sands Beach
- Muir Woods National Monument
- The Wave Organ
- Glen Canyon Park
- War Memorial Opera House
- Palace Hotel
- SF Zoo
- SF Exploratorium
While I haven’t been to these restaurants personally (hence their membership on my hitlist), I’ve made sure to research these restaurants before adding them here to ensure either consistently high expected quality through online reviews or anecdotes from those whose palates I trust. I hope this list inspires your next meal in case my earlier suggestions didn’t do the trick!
- [Chinatown] Sam Wo
- [Pacific Heights] B Patisserie
- [Mission] Dandelion Chocolate
- [SoMa] Deli Board
- [Japantown] Jina Bakes
- [Bernal Heights] El Buen Comer
- [Filmore District] BanSang
- [Marina District] Ilcha
- [Mission] Rintaro
- [Mission] Freekeh
- [Mission] Ernest
- [Richmond District] K-Elements KBBQ
- [Richmond District] Mandalay
- [Richmond District] Breadbelly
- [Fisherman’s Wharf] Abaca
- [Fisherman’s Wharf] The Buena Vista
- [Japantown] Nari
- [Japantown] Izakaya Mayumi
- [Japantown] Waraku
- [Design District] Rosemary and Pine
- [Design District] Dumpling Time
- [Dolores Heights] Itria
- [Dolores Heights] Four Chairs
- [Pacific Heights] Sushi Hakko
- [Russian Hill] Union Larder
- [Civic Center] Zuni Cafe
- [Civic Center] Dumpling Home
- [Panhandle] Nopa
- [Fillmore District] State Bird Provisions
- [Tenderloin] Son and Gardens
- [Chinatown] Mister Jius
- [Chinatown] China Live
- [Chinatown] Cotagna
- [Marina District] Norcina
- [North Beach] Hilda and Jesse
- [FiDi] Akiko
- [FiDi] Harborview Restaurant & Bar
- [FiDi] Tonga Room
- [Potrero Hill] Plow
- [Civic Center] Robin
- [Hayes Valley] Rich Table
- [Fisherman’s Wharf] Gary Danko
- [Presidio Heights] Spruce
- [Theater District] Birdsong
- [Marina District] Atelier Crenn
- [FiDi] Benu
I get a lot of inspiration from Eater, my go-to reference for where to eat no matter which major city I’m in. In particular, the maps found on Eater are extremely useful for finding restaurants that would work as part of larger itineraries. I also use The Infatuation as a secondary source, but to nowhere near the same extent as Eater.