10 San Francisco Secrets Travelers Should Know

We've narrowed down a few unique experiences that every tourist should be aware of when visiting San Francisco. Plan for an unforgettable trip with these 10 local tips, which include fun things to do and best ways to experience the Golden Gate City.

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Cliff House

Cliff House

Take a short road trip to see the Cliff House, located at San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area -- the largest urban park west of the Mississippi River. Learn about the house’s rich history, dating back to 1863. Looking for a bite to eat? The Sutro Wing houses a 2-story dining room with a view overlooking the Pacific Ocean. 960 1280

Roberto Soncin Gerometta / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images  

San Fran Cable Cars

San Fran Cable Cars

Hop on an iconic San Francisco cable car. British promoter Andrew Hallidie and engineer William Eppelsheimer designed and started the city’s cable car system in 1873. Of the 23 lines established between 1873 and 1890, only 3 routes remain, 2 of which stretch from downtown near Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, and a third that runs along California Street. 960 1280

Tzuyaya / iStock / Thinkstock  

Russian Hill

Russian Hill

One of the 44 hills in San Francisco, the Russian Hill neighborhood is most famous for being home to what's been called "the crookedest street in the world," Lombard Street. This picturesque street was designed with a series of switchbacks to help vehicles make it down the extremely steep hill. We definitely recommend taking a drive down the perfectly manicured street, but look out for the hordes of tourists snapping photos at the bottom. 960 1280

Getty Images News  

Alamo Square Park

Alamo Square Park

Perhaps best known for being the setting of the Full House opening sequence, Alamo Square Park offers spectacular views of the city, perfect for a picnic of your own. But the best view is along the east side of the park, where the famous Painted Ladies sit along Steiner Street. Sometimes called “Postcard Row” for obvious reasons, the houses were built between 1892 and 1896 by developer Matthew Kavanaugh, who lived next door to the row houses, in the mansion at 722 Steiner Street. 960 1280

San Francisco Travel Association  

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf

The Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood is home to Pier 39, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the Cannery Shopping Center and Ghirardelli Square, as well as several museums and famous restaurants. 960 1280

Mitchell Funk / Getty Images  

Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley Wine Train

Get out of the city and head north to take a 3-hour ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train through stunning vineyards, while indulging in elegant food and, of course, tasting local wines. The vintage train has been running since 1989 on a rail line first established in 1864 by San Francisco’s first millionaire. A ride on this train is the epitome of luxury. 960 1280

Universal Images Group / Getty Images  

Pier 39

Pier 39

Stop by Pier 39 for a ride on the carousel, as well as for a visit to the Aquarium of the Bay, a meal at the floating Forbes Island restaurant and a glimpse of the sea lions that hang out on the docks. 960 1280

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Aquarium of the Bay

Aquarium of the Bay

At the Aquarium of the Bay, stroll through 300 feet of tunnels to see over 20,000 marine animals from San Francisco Bay and its surrounding waters. The aquarium also has fun activities for kids, touch pools with sharks and an interactive Bay Lab station. 960 1280

Jeff Greenberg / Photolibrary / Getty Images  

Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury

Once a collection of isolated farms and acres of sand dunes in the 1800s, the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco maintains its bohemian vibe, which started when the neighborhood was the epicenter of the hippie movement in the 1960s. 960 1280

Gavin Hellier / AWL Images / Getty Images  

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Locals and tourists alike enjoy a 1.7-mile stroll or bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge for breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay. The city celebrated the famous bridge’s 75th anniversary in 2012. 960 1280

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Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square

Originally the site of a chocolate factory, Ghirardelli Square is now a large retail and restaurant complex. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is considered the first adaptive reuse project in the country. We recommend tourists stop here for a tasty ice cream sundae or to sample some delicious Ghirardelli chocolate. Simply follow the intoxicating smell of chocolate wafting through the air. 960 1280

Barry Winiker / Photolibrary / Getty Images  

Precita Eyes Muralists

Precita Eyes Muralists

Add a little culture to your San Fran trip. Stop by the Precita Eyes Muralists Association, one of only 3 community mural centers in the US. Established in 1977 in San Francisco’s Mission District,  the multipurpose community-based organization sponsors and organizes ongoing mural projects throughout the Bay Area and internationally. Weekly art classes are also offered for children, ranging in age from 18 months to 19 years old. 960 1280

San Francisco Travel Association/Scott Chernis  

The Dragon Gateway

The Dragon Gateway

Explore Chinatown and enter the gateway, located on Grant Avenue at Bush Street. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. Seen here, the Dragon Gateway -- installed in 1969 -- is a gift from the Republic of China. 960 1280

Joe Potato Photo / iStock / Thinkstock   

Nob Hill

Nob Hill

Nob Hill is one of San Francisco’s signature neighborhoods, renowned for its swanky character, city landmarks and famous hotels that border Huntington Park. Some popular places to visit when you’re in the hood include Flood Mansion, the Cable Car Museum, Lumiere Theatre, Bigfoot Lodge, You Say Tomato and the Big 4 Restaurant. 960 1280

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Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Take the steep walk or drive up to the 210-foot-high Coit Tower for the best views of San Francisco. Located in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood, the Art Deco tower was designed to resemble a fire hose nozzle in tribute to local volunteer firefighter Lillian Coit’s affinity for the San Francisco firefighters of her youth. Architects Arthur Brown Jr. and Henry Howard designed the tower, while 27 on-site artists and numerous assistants created the beautiful murals. 960 1280

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Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island was once home to some of America's most notorious criminals. Al "Scarface" Capone, the "Birdman" Robert Stroud and James "Whitey" Bulger all served time at Alcatraz during the 29 years that the federal prison was in operation. 960 1280

Jewhyte / iStock / Thinkstock   

Palace of Fine Art

Palace of Fine Art

The San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts was constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, but rebuilt in 1965 along with the renovation of the lagoon and walkways. It remains a popular attraction for tourists and locals, as well as a popular location for weddings. It has become such an iconic structure that a miniature replica was built in Disney’s California Adventure Park in Anaheim, CA. 960 1280

Michelle Gibson / iStock / Getty Images  

Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden

Located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden was developed for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition. Unwind and experience the garden’s natural beauty and tranquil atmosphere. This popular San Francisco attraction features classic elements such as pagodas, stone lanterns, stepping-stone paths, native Japanese plants, koi ponds, a Zen garden and the Temple Gate (pictured).  960 1280

Celso Diniz / iStock / Thinkstock   

Grab a Burrito Nightcap

Grab a Burrito Nightcap

El Farolito is the unofficial post-bar nightcap in the Mission District. This burrito joint is popular local hangout on Saturday through Wednesday until 2:30 a.m., and on Thursdays and Fridays until 3:30 a.m. 960 1280
Go Bowling

Go Bowling

Knock down some early-morning pins at Presidio Bowling Center, which is open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, or try Lucky Strike, which closes at 1 a.m. on Thursdays and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Both bowling alleys serve alcohol, but Presidio Bowling Center serves beer and wine; whereas Lucky Strike is the place to go for an after midnight cocktail. 960 1280
Witness the City’s Midnight Glow

Witness the City’s Midnight Glow

Drive up to the top of Twin Peaks and park to see San Francisco’s bold skyline light up the sky, including, including the Bay Lights art installation on the Bay Bridge. 960 1280
Play Miniture Golf

Play Miniture Golf

Mini golf offers a different kind of late-night clubbing. Open on Fridays and Saturdays until 1 a.m., Urban Putt combines beer, wine and gourmet bar bites with a high-tech, 14-hole course for the ultimate mini-golf experiencing. 960 1280

Kristen Loken  

Keep the Party Going

Keep the Party Going

Head to Mighty or Public Works to dance until 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. (respectively) on Fridays and Saturdays. In San Francisco, these are 2 of the most popular spots to hear the best live acts and DJs, spinning hip-hop and electronic music.   960 1280
Eat Tasty Korean Food

Eat Tasty Korean Food

Korean “grill-it-yourself” havens are open longer than most restaurants in town. Every day, patrons at Korean Village Wooden Charcoal Barbecue House can get a meaty protein fix until 3 a.m. Cocobang is another option that serves hungry night owls on Sundays through Wednesday until 2 a.m. and on Thursdays and Fridays until 4 a.m. 960 1280

Missy Buchanan  

Catch a Midnight Flick

Catch a Midnight Flick

Consult the Clay Theatre’s calendar to find out what the movie theme is for Midnight Madness on Saturdays. The theme changes each week. 960 1280
Order Pizza at the Window

Order Pizza at the Window

After the bars close on Friday and Saturday in North Beach, the action migrates to the Golden Boy Pizza window, which serves up enticingly thick square slices until 2:30 a.m. For some, it’s the perfect place to stop after a long night of drinking beer, wine or cocktails.   960 1280
Devour Fresh Donuts

Devour Fresh Donuts

Prepare for the lines at the 24-hour Bob’s Donuts after midnight on weekends. It’s well worth the wait to sample these tasty fried treats, including the raised sugar donut, French cruller, cinnamon roll and apple pandowdy. 960 1280
Laugh Until You Cry

Laugh Until You Cry

Tickle your funny bone! Stay up and laugh into the wee hours of the morning at PianoFight, where locals and out-of-towners can enjoy Night Moves, San Francisco’s only weekly midnight comedy show. The laughs begin on Saturday at 1:30 a.m. 960 1280

Pianofight  

Unwrap a Burrito

Unwrap a Burrito

Locals are addicted to bulging burritos stuffed with endless ingredients. Splurge on Papalote’s massive Triple Threat burrito, which packs in nearly two pounds of shrimp, chicken and steak  — a perfect share for a pair of ambitious eaters. Smaller appetites can check out the one exceptional exception to the rice inside the burrito standard at La Taqueria 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Graze at a Farmers Market

Graze at a Farmers Market

San Francisco is full of farmers markets big and small where locals go to sample and score a wide variety of produce  -- for the kitchen or even a quick bite. The most bountiful of the year-round weekly affairs takes place at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays, but don’t overlook the smaller neighborhood farmer’s markets like the Castro Farmers’ Market 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Patronize Old-School Taco Trucks

Patronize Old-School Taco Trucks

Stalwart Mexican taco trucks like El Gallo Giro and Tacos San Buena pre-dated the current proliferation of trucks that serve every type of food imaginable. At $2 or less apiece, they also offer one of the last remaining bastions of extreme food value in the area. 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Try New School Food Trucks

Try New School Food Trucks

If you can dream up a meal, it’s probably available on wheels. Off The Grid offers a vast number of weekly truck gatherings with an ever-growing array of international vendors, while converted parking lots like SoMa StrEat Food Park and G Food Truck Lounge provide permanent places for trucks to rotate through. 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Seek Ice Cream in All Weather Conditions

Seek Ice Cream in All Weather Conditions

San Franciscans are not fair-weather friends to ice cream; we devour both classic and experimental flavors with passion no matter the temperature. A tin roof sundae at Humphry Slocombe or an avocado milkshake at Mitchell’s Ice Cream warms our hearts all year long.  960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday

Let’s face it: San Francisco is a food town and Sunday brunch is not a spectator sport. Expect crowds and long lines. We’ve found that Bluestem Brasserie and Foreign Cinema are solid go-tos. They accept reservations and are generally accommodating to larger groups.  960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Top Ramen

Top Ramen

San Francisco’s obscure Japanese noodle soup shops were once the speakeasies of the food world, but now one can’t sling a lucky cat without hitting one. Try homeland exports like Men Oh Tokushima Ramen and Yamadaya (which has locations all over California) for a true taste of different styles. 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Two for Me

Two for Me

Afternoon tea isn’t just for old ladies anymore. Fancy it up on a Saturday at the Fairmont or take the guys along on a Sunday picnic on the patio for a hearty tea at Charles Chocolates. 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Be Animal Free

Be Animal Free

Vegan restaurants remind us that food can be made without cruelty and still satisfy. Most popular are Asian spots like Golden Era and Cha-Ya, which have achieved cult-like status without using animal products. 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Go Off Menu

Go Off Menu

If you grill it, they will come. Secret items are a fun way to keep locals feeling connected to a restaurant. Some, like the off-menu burger served on Tuesdays at Rosamunde Sausage Grill’s Haight Street location, keep insiders wanting more.  960 1280
Dip in a Hot Pot

Dip in a Hot Pot

The best all-you-can-eat action around can be found at the rapidly rising number of hot pot purveyors. Japanese places like Nabe and Shabuway present polite sets of vegetables and thinly sliced raw meat to swish-cook in hot broth, while Chinese spots like i-Pot and Dragon Beaux add dumplings into the mix. 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Get Toasted

Get Toasted

The once humble slice of toast has been elevated to a meal requiring a knife and fork at joints like The Mill and Outerlands, where breads are baked on site and then covered in decadent smears or served as the base for open faced sandwiches. 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Try a Pop-Up Meal

Try a Pop-Up Meal

A pop-up meal in a temporary location is a wonderful way for a chef to experiment with new ideas. Visit the Michael Mina Test Kitchen for the latest beta project from the popular restaurateur or consult the Feastly calendar and sample meals made by master chefs or tender novices.  960 1280

Kevin McCullough  

Room Service

Room Service

Gone are the days of waiting forever for lousy pizza. Services like Caviar, Seamless and Postmates deliver serious gourmet meals from anywhere in San Francisco to your mouth, typically within the hour.  960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Egg Topper

Egg Topper

Whether it’s a burger or a bowl of ramen, just about everything is better with an egg. Deviled eggs, a star on bar menus across town, might be at their most heavenly when topped with bacon and fried oysters at Hog & Rocks. 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Dim Sum on the Fly

Dim Sum on the Fly

Locals love to nibble on the various bite-sized Chinese dumplings, noodle rolls and buns that make up the dim sum category. Delight in the delicious danger of impulse ordering off a roaming cart at City View or from a checklist at Dim Sum Club 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Experience an Exotic Plate

Experience an Exotic Plate

A local in San Francisco has a palate for global cuisine. Travel to exotic destinations without leaving the city limits. Try Laotian and Thai food at Champa Garden; sample Iranian delights at Anar; or sail away to Sri Lanka via 1601 Bar & Kitchen. 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

Worth the Wait

Worth the Wait

Waiting in line is a necessary evil at Tartine Bakery, where the queue starts forming daily around 4:30 p.m. to catch a baguette or specialty loaf hot and fresh out of the oven.  960 1280
Roll Play With Sushi

Roll Play With Sushi

Just about everyone in San Francisco eats sushi and its prices vary just as the clientele. Visit Ichi Sushi for a high-end experience at still-affordable prices or break the bank at Kusakabe, where a blowtorch provides endless visual entertainment to accompany the fresh fish. 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

I Scream

I Scream

Sunny skies and happy lives breed a love for sweet treats in San Francisco. The granddaddy of all desserts here is the It’s-It, a chocolate covered ice cream sandwich that has been made since 1928. 960 1280

Tamara Palmer  

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