The Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco to Spend a Weekend
Whether you’re a tourist or a local, here are the best neighborhoods for a weekend away or staycation in SF, from the Marina to the Mission to Golden Gate Park and beyond.
Just seven by seven miles across, San Francisco may technically be a small city, but it still manages to be home to upwards of 43 neighborhoods—with at least 10 that are important to know if you’re a tourist who wants to have a legit SF experience.
This abundance of worthwhile neighborhoods in a relatively small city can make figuring out where to stay complicated and confusing. Most of the internet and tourism bureaus would have you think that the spot to be is Fisherman’s Wharf—and even though we love it for bowls of clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls, visiting the sea lions, Irish coffees at Buena Vista Cafe, and local seafood, it’s also jam-packed with souvenir shops and tourists.
Luckily, we’re not “most of the internet,” which means we’re going to give you the real low-down on the best places to stay, fun things to do, and most importantly, where to eat and drink in SF. After all, you may not be from San Francisco, but as long as you’ve got a local friend in tow (that’s us), you’ll hella seem like you are. Especially if you remember to pack that jacket and never ever ever call it “San Fran.”
People tend to conflate Cow Hollow and the Marina, which are actually divided by the major thoroughfare of Lombard Street (Cow Hollow is to the north; the Marina to the south), but for the purposes of a fun weekend, that works just fine. These affluent neighborhoods are snubbed by some for being home to a lot of young professionals, fitness studios, and athleisure wear shops, but it’s also a gorgeous part of the city with outdoor spaces, waterfront views, and top-tier bars, restaurants, and shopping.
Where to stay: This is a pretty residential area, and though there are a smattering of old school motels along Lombard Street, that street is a thoroughfare to lots of traffic and lacks aesthetic appeal. However, if you do want to go that route, Hotel del Sol is a cute, funky, and relatively affordable option. For a one-of-a-kind experience, stay at the Inn at the Presidio, a historic hotel that was once a home for bachelor officers when the Presidio was a U.S. Army post and is the perfect destination for those who want to enjoy nature while still being within walking distance of everything fun. Its sister property Lodge at the Presidio is also fantastic, though the location is a little less hidden since it’s right on the Main Post. The building used to be barracks that housed six artillery companies, a cavalry troop, and two infantry companies, but now the rooms are clean and modern with views of the forest or the Bay. Finally, if you’re looking for an elegant splurge, you can’t go wrong with Hotel Drisco up the hill in Pacific Heights. The 1903 Edwardian is away from the hustle and bustle of the neighborhoods down the hill but within walking distance.
Breakfast and lunch: For a fancy breakfast, Rose’s Cafe is a great choice, especially if you love a Breakfast Pizza (it comes with smoked ham, fontina, and sunny-side-up eggs). If the sun is shining, head to Colibri Mexican Bistro to enjoy a leisurely lunch on the patio, complete with some of the best Mexican fare in SF (and excellent cocktails, as well). Another option is to grab what may be the best toasted deli sandwich in all of San Francisco at Marina Submarine and walk down to Crissy Field to enjoy your lunch on the beach with views of Alcatraz, Angel Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge. The newest addition to the Presidio is the Presidio Tunnel Tops, a huge green space above the Presidio tunnels, with never-before-appreciated views of the bridge and Bay. Go between 9 am and 5 pm to find some of SF’s best food trucks.
Things to do: Explore the Presidio, a former military fort that’s now a 1,491-acre national park home to tons of hikes with scenic overlooks, four installations from artist Andy Goldsworthy, Fort Point (a masonry seacoast fortification that sits right below the Golden Gate Bridge), the San Francisco National Cemetery (which has a very peaceful overlook that’s easily accessible), the Walt Disney Family Museum, several great restaurants, and much more.
If you’re into architecture, you’ll want to visit the Palace of Fine Arts, a stunning structure built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific exhibition; the McElroy Octagon House, which is a house with eight sides that was built in 1861; and the Haas-Lilienthal House, a Queen Anne-style home constructed in 1886 that shows off the opulence and grandeur of a time long gone. If you’re in the mood to shop, eat, and drink, all you need to do is walk down Union Street, Fillmore Street, or Chestnut Street, and you’ll find plenty of all three.
Dining out: It’s not a successful visit to Cow Hollow if you don’t stop by The Black Horse London Pub, the smallest bar in San Francisco (7 feet wide by 19 feet deep), where the beer is kept in a clawfoot tub filled with ice. If you’re more of a wine drinker, West Coast Wine Cheese and California Wine Merchant both have a great selection and friendly service. Eventually, you’ll need to eat. There’s the classic Balboa Cafe, which remains as popular now as it was when it opened in 1913 (order the burger); A16, one of the best Italian spots in town (note: it gets loud); and Causwells, which is known for its burger but also excels in cocktails, including, most recently, large-format tableside martinis. For a vegetarian or vegan meal, try Greens on the water with panoramic views, and Wildseed, a vegan spot on Union Street. Colibri, mentioned above as a great lunch option, is also an excellent choice for happy hour and/or dinner.
Cole Valley/Upper Haight/Golden Gate Park
These three places could not be more different from each other, yet are all within close proximity, making for the perfect weekend adventure. Cole Valley is a little village that you’ll mostly venture into for food and drink. The Upper Haight, or “Haight-Ashbury” as the tourists call it, gave us the Summer of Love and the Grateful Dead and still represents all of that 50+ years later. And at the end of Haight Street is where the iconic Golden Gate Park begins, spanning over 1,000 acres of museums, gardens, lakes, and history.
Where to stay: Like so much of San Francisco, this area is very residential, but there are a few good options, starting with the Stanyan Park Hotel, a boutique Victorian hotel with San Francisco charm. In the Upper Haight, family-owned Metro Hotel is an affordable and cozy option with vintage decor and a relaxing garden patio.
Breakfast and lunch: Haight Street is full of quick, counter-service options. Our favorites are Slice House for great pizza, Street Taco for a stellar Tostada Salad, and What the Cluck for Thai Chicken and Rice. If you’re looking for a breakfast to cure last night’s adventures, try the Pork Store Cafe, a no-frills diner with food that is both hearty and delicious—their Eggs in a Tasty Nest dish includes two eggs in a bed of hash browns with a choice of meat, plus green bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and cheddar cheese, and is a crowd favorite. For a more leisurely brunch, the romantic back garden at Zazie, an adorable French-inspired bistro, is the best choice, though the wait can sometimes be a bit long.
Things to do: You can’t go to Haight Street without spending a little time exploring the shops. Whether you’re looking for vintage clothing, expensive sneakers, a new bong, or something tie-dye, Haight Street has it all—including a cannabis dispensary if that’s your vibe. And since you’re there, you should also take a picture in front of the Grateful Dead House at 710 Ashbury Street where Jerry Garcia and other band members lived from 1965 to 1968.
The other must-explore area is Golden Gate Park. You could spend a week wandering around this urban park that was once just sand dunes and still not see everything, but highlights include the California Academy of Sciences, which is among the largest museums of natural history in the world (go on a Thursday night for the 21+ party with cocktails and DJs); the de Young Museum, a fine arts museum with great special exhibitions (the Harmon Observation Tower, which has 360-degree panoramic views of the city is free, as is the sculpture garden—be sure to find the Turrell Skyspace, a walk-through meditation space); the Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest public Japanese garden in the U.S.; and the Conservatory of Flowers. Walking around Stow Lake and up Strawberry Hill (the highest point in the park) is a fun, mellow hike, and you can also rent rowboats and pedal boats, an experience we find is even better enjoyed if followed by a beer at the Boat House.
Dining out: There are two bars that are must-visits on Haight Street: The Alembic, which pioneered the craft cocktail movement in San Francisco, and Aub Zam Zam, a dimly lit Persian-inspired bar that’s been around since 1941 and is famous for its martinis. If you’re a beer drinker, you’ll also want to check out Magnolia Brewing, a cozy pub with a brewery in the basement. For dinner, if you didn’t hit Zazie for brunch, then be sure to go now (the Coq Au Vin is divine), or if you’re in the mood for something casual but delicious, check out neighborhood favorite Cole Valley Tavern, where you’ll enjoy friendly service, a legit burger, and excellent drinks.
The Mission is one of SF’s most popular neighborhoods thanks to its warmer and sunnier climate, copious amounts of diverse eating and drinking establishments, its arts and music scene, and Dolores Park (one of the city’s most frequented parks). Historically a Latinx neighborhood, the Mission has been a victim of gentrification, but local activists are doing their best to make sure the heart of this vibrant neighborhood keeps beating despite the changes that are occurring.
Where to stay: Since this is a residential neighborhood—despite an abundance of shops, bars, and restaurants—there aren’t a lot of hotels. Union Square is not too far, but if you’re determined to stay in the area, there are a few options. We’ve got the Inn San Francisco, a bed and breakfast in an 1872 Victorian mansion, and Nineteen 06 Mission, an affordable, no-frills, but clean and comfortable hotel with shared bathrooms.
Breakfast/Lunch: In a neighborhood with so many fantastic restaurants, it’ll be hard to pick a dining destination. But a few can’t-go-wrong spots include Tartine Manufactory, a huge bakery/restaurant/bar/coffee shop where breads and pastries are the stars (a morning bun is a must); Foreign Cinema, a favorite with locals for its charming outdoor courtyard, oyster selection, and its take on Pop-Tarts; and Monk’s Kettle, a fancy pub with one of the best beer selections in the city. Of course, you can’t go to the Mission without getting a burrito. The world will never agree on which taqueria has the best one, but El Farolito, La Taqueria, and Taqueria Cancun will all leave you very happy and very full.
Things to do: One of the most beloved parts of the Mission is Dolores Park. Consider taking your burrito or ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery there to enjoy while sitting on the hill, people-watching, and taking in the views. Misión San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores), the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco (1791), is just a couple of blocks away; stop in to learn about its unique history and architecture, as well as to spend some time in the cemetery and gardens. The Mission is also home to two mural projects: the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP), where the murals support “political, economic, and social justice messaging,” and Precita Eyes Muralists, dedicated to building community around the art of mural-making. Mostly though, you’ll have fun just wandering into all of the eclectic shops that line the streets, where you’ll find books, clothing, taxidermy, and more. If you’re looking for a night-time activity, check out Mission Bowling Club, a boutique bowling alley with great food and drinks. In the mood for live music? See who’s playing at The Chapel, a funeral home-turned-amazing music venue.
Dining out: If we’re forced to play favorites, we’ll say ABV, Trick Dog, and The Beehive for cocktails, El Techo for rooftop margaritas, and True Laurel for excellent cocktails and food (get the patty melt). For dinner, Delfina, a classic Italian spot responsible for helping make the Mission a dining destination, is excellent. If you want something more laidback, head to Zeitgeist for burgers, beer, and gruff service in a (sometimes) sunny beer garden.
No one in San Francisco calls North Beach “Little Italy,” but it’s probably the best way to describe this touristy part of town that is known for its Italian roots, being the epicenter of the Beat Generation, bumping up against Chinatown, and well, innovating the strip club industry (the Condor Club, which opened in 1964, was the first topless bar in the U.S.).
Stay: North Beach is within walking distance of Fisherman’s Wharf, which, as one of San Francisco's most popular tourist destinations, has tons of hotels. Our favorite boutique hotels are the Argonaut Hotel, a nautical-themed hotel in a historic exposed brick building; Hotel Zephyr, a waterfront hotel with an outdoor lounge with fire pits, shuffleboard, and other games; and Hotel Zoe, a recently remodeled hotel with high-tech touches in relaxing and contemporary rooms.
Breakfast and lunch: You will very likely have to wait in line to get into Mama’s on Washington Square, a cozy breakfast spot with gigantic fluffy omelets, indulgent French toast options, and tasty baked goods, but most will concede it’s worth the wait. Another line worth the wait? The one at Liguria Bakery, where the only thing on the menu is ten different types of focaccia (if you have to pick one, pick the pizza, and be sure to bring cash as they don’t take cards). For weekend brunch, check out Hilda and Jessie, which has traditional diner vibes but an elevated tasting menu you won’t find at any other brunch spot. (Craving actual pizza? The hardest thing will be picking what kind to get at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, home of 13-time World Pizza Champion, Tony Gemignani. The restaurant has seven different pizza ovens and offers 12 styles, including Napoletana, Detroit, and coal-fired.
Things to do: Get a workout by climbing the Filbert Street Steps to the top of Telegraph Hill. On your way, you’ll get unique views of the city and might catch a glimpse of the famous wild parrots who live there. Once at the top, play tourist and go up Coit Tower, a 210-foot Deco fluted tower built in 1933 with some of the best 360-degree views of the San Francisco Bay you’ll find. Be sure to check out the murals at the bottom as well, which were commissioned in 1933 and many of which express ideas of racial equality and Marxist views.
You’ll also want to stop by City Lights Bookstore, which was founded in 1953, and whose original owner is famous for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems and was, as a result, tried for obscenity.
When the sun goes down, the neighborhood is all about eating and drinking, but if you’re in the mood for an activity, there are the previously mentioned strip clubs, and also Cobb’s Comedy Club, the best comedy club in SF.
Dining out: There are lots of excellent places to get a drink in North Beach, including Tony Nik’s, an old school bar with great cocktails and a mix of locals and tourists, 15 Romolo, a back-alley bar with a jukebox that will make you want to stay all night, Vesuvio Cafe, a go-to spot for Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg back in the day, Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe, a bar with cheap drinks that is also part museum with things like historic mugshots, postcards from around the world, and even a whale penis bone, and The Devil’s Acre, a cocktail “apothecary” with cocktails to cure everything that ails you.
As far as dinner goes, you need to do Italian at least once. Fior d’Italia serves mounds of pasta and has an authentic Italian vibe. Sotto Mare is the best combo of Italian and seafood you’ll find in SF and has always-fresh oysters, as well as a killer cioppino. If you’ve worked up a serious appetite during your daytime adventures, settle into a booth at Original Joe’s, where you’ll enjoy potent martinis and classic Italian-American fare with enormous portions that will leave even the hungriest person satisfied. (The Dungeness crab cocktail, chicken Milanese, and butter cake are all must-orders.) A more casual, but just as fun option (that is not Italian) is Red Window, a Spanish tapas spot with outdoor seating and creative low-ABV cocktails, including several that arrive via a tableside bar cart. North Beach is adjacent to Chinatown, which has some excellent Chinese restaurants, including Empress by Boon, which serves upscale Cantonese cuisine in a stunning space, and Z & Y Restaurant, where you’ll find award-winning Chinese dishes.
SoMa (South of Market) is a more recently developed area that used to be home to warehouses, but is now where you’ll find lots of SF’s tech companies, some great museums, and Oracle Park, where the San Francisco Giants play ball.
Where to stay: There’s a Marriott and InterContinental in SoMa, but those are for the tech-centric conference-goers. Instead, try The Palace Hotel, which is technically a Marriott, but not like a Marriott at all in that it’s a hotel and a history lesson all wrapped up in one. It’s over 100 years old, completely decadent, and, fun fact, it’s where green goddess dressing was invented. Hotel Zelos is much more modern (not that hard when you’re comparing it to a hotel built in the early 1900s) and also has a rooftop bar, which is always a good thing. The Beacon Grand, an opulent and newly remodeled iconic hotel in Union Square (again, SoMa-adjacent), is also a lovely spot to call home for a few days as it mergest old-world artisanship and contemporary comforts, has several amazing dining options (the renovated Starlite Room on the hotel’s top floor won’t open until 2023 but we can’t wait to see that space) and is central to shopping, Chinatown, the Financial District, SoMa, the theater, museums, and more.
Breakfast and lunch: Zero Zero serves up wood-fired thin-crust pizzas that are perfect to share and has stellar cocktails in case drinking at lunch is a thing you’re looking to do (if not, you can always go for dinner). Don’t skip dessert—the soft-serve ice cream is heaven. If you’re a sandwich fanatic, then a visit to the Deli Board is a must. There you will find massive sandwiches with a creative flair.
Do: SoMa has some of SF’s best art museums. See contemporary art at SFMOMA, one of the largest modern art museums in the world. Celebrate the global impact of pan-African cultures at the Museum of African Diaspora (MOAD). Learn about the range and diversity of Jewish experiences at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. And, just a few blocks north of the SoMa boundary, take in one of the finest collections of Asian art in the world at the Asian Art Museum.
After museum hopping, catch a Giants game at Oracle Stadium (dress warmly if you go to a night game, as it gets very cold, especially in the middle of summer, and definitely get the Crazy Crab’z sandwich—two toasty, butter sourdough bread slices and a load of crab. It’s not quite SoMa, but just a hop, skip, and Uber or short walk away in Mission Bay, you can play miniature golf on a course that’s all about California history at Stagecoach Greens, snack on food from around the world (and enjoy adult beverages) at Spark Social SF, a food truck park and beer garden, and catch a Golden State Warriors game (or a concert) at the Chase Center.
Dinner/drinks: A meal at 1601 Bar & Kitchen, an under-the-radar, contemporary Sri Lankan restaurant, is a meal you will never forget (especially the egg hopper). The restaurant is a bit off of the beaten path but is worth the mini trek. You’ll find flavorful Moroccan fare at Mourad, a gorgeous Michelin-starred restaurant with food and cocktails to match. A low-key option is Cellarmaker Brewing Company, home to local beer and non-local, Detroit-style pizza. Settle in for a glass or three of wine (or whiskey) at District, a wine bar and lounge close to the ballpark, and end the night at Kona’s Street Market, where you can sip cocktails made by SF’s best bartenders.
The truth is, most San Franciscans are probably going to tell you to completely avoid the TL, SF’s grittiest neighborhood that faces a slew of unsettling, but all-too-real issues, like homelessness and people suffering from mental health crises. These things can be disturbing to witness, but they’re a part of San Francisco’s story and the truth is the neighborhood is actually quite safe for those who are just traveling through it. Plus, if you don’t visit the Tenderloin, you’ll miss a bunch of cool only-in-SF stuff.
Where to stay: The Proper Hotel, inside of a flatiron-style building and designed by Kelly Wearstler, is one of SF’s most stylish hotels and is within walking distance to SoMa, Union Square, and more. It’s also right on Market so it’s easy to hop on a historic streetcar for a quick ride to the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, or the Castro. It’s also home to one of SF’s sexiest rooftop bars, Charmaine’s, as well as an excellent (and gorgeous) all-day dining venue, Villon.
The brand new LINE SF is an excellent option for those who want to enjoy modern comfort and have access to four drinking and dining spaces, including a rooftop bar with panoramic views of SF and a moody hotel lobby bar.
Breakfast and lunch: The Tenderloin is close to most of the SoMa restaurants mentioned above, but it also has some gems of its own, including Ariscault Bakery, a French bakery with amazing croissants and lattes, and Brenda’s French Soul Food where you’ll find sweet and savory beignets and eggs benedict on cream biscuits with grits or hash. For a cheap and tasty lunch, try Saigon Sandwich, a tiny shop where you’ll get one of the best banh mi’s of your life for four bucks. If it’s a chilly day, stop into Turtle Tower and warm up with a bowl of Pho Ga. If you’d like to try a bunch of different foods from around the globe, you’ll find it at La Cocina Municipal Marketplace, an affordable mini food hall run by women entrepreneurs with Nepalese, Creole, Salvadoran, Algerian, Mexican, and Senegalese stalls, as well as coffee and a bar.
Do: The Tenderloin is surrounded by SoMa, Union Square, and the Civic Center, so you can easily take advantage of all of the shopping, theater, SF Symphony, opera, ballet, sports venues, and more. But for things to do that are TL-specific, check out the Tenderloin Museum where you’ll learn about the neighborhood’s fascinating history, including the 1966 Compton's Cafeteria Riot; being home to recording studios that saw the likes of the Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; and more. Call a day or two before to see if you can arrange a walking tour, all of which are led by neighborhood residents and is the best way to truly learn about the storied—and often misunderstood—area. In the evening, see a show unlike any shows you’ll find at home, including Drunk Theater (a comedian takes five shots of whiskey and performs a play with their sober counterparts), The Infinite Wrench (30 plays in 60 minutes), and more, at PianoFight.
Dinner/drinks: Anyone staying in the Tenderloin must get a drink at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, the last LGBTQ+ bar in the neighborhood and a place that welcomes all who are welcoming. Check the calendar if you’d like your drinks to be accompanied by a drag show. For dinner, Mensho Tokyo SF has some of the best ramen in SF (get there before opening if you want to avoid a long line). If you’re a whiskey fan, check out Bottle Club Pub where you’ll find creative cocktails, an excellent line-up of spirits, and a legit smashburger. If you’re more of a gin drinker, then you’ll want to enter the world of Whitechapel, a stunning bar designed to look like the London underground during the Victorian era where the gin list is never-ending (it has the largest selection in all of North America), with pub food to match. In the mood for music? Head to the basement of Black Cat, a quintessential date spot with a sexy vibe, live jazz, and dinner and drinks.