With its beautiful scenery, unique vibe, and top-rated restaurants, San Francisco has always been a wonderful city to visit for a long weekend. But with the long-awaited reopening of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on May 14, following a major three-year renovation and expansion, now’s the perfect time to start planning your next escape to the City by the Bay.
There will be plenty of time to enjoy all the city has to offer, so start out with a relaxing day in the woods. Once you arrive in town, head straight to the Presidio, the former U.S. Army base spanning 1,400 magnificent acres on the city’s northern edge. Tonight you’re staying at the Inn at the Presidio, a handsome Georgian Revival–style building that formerly housed bachelor officers and opened as a hotel in 2012. Check in, drop off your bags, and head out to explore the park.
Your first stop is the Presidio Officers’ Club, a building dating to 1776 that served as an exclusive gathering place for Army brass and their families; since 2014, it’s been a cultural center that serves to educate the public about the Presidio and its historical importance. Take a look at the special and permanent exhibits, then grab a seat on the expansive outdoor patio for lunch at Arguello, a Mexican restaurant helmed by acclaimed San Francisco vet Traci Des Jardins. After a few tacos and perhaps a margarita, it’s time to get walking.
The Presidio has 12 trails for walkers, hikers, and bikers, only two of which are rated difficult, so it’s easy to spend the better part of a day exploring its various districts. From the Presidio Officers’ Club, walk to the end of Graham Street to pick up the Presidio Promenade and head west to Crissy Field Overlook, one of the park’s scenic viewing points where you’ll be able to admire the surrounding greenery, city skyline, and the looming Golden Gate Bridge. Continue until you reach Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion, which offers an up-close view of the iconic structure.
From here, you have several options: you can continue on a bit to the northernmost tip of San Francsico to Fort Point National Historic Site; you can go backwards a bit to pick up the Bay Trail, which will lead you down to the waterfront and Crissy Field, a stretch of restored marshland along the sand of the bay; or, if you’re feeling ambitious, walk past the bridge and head southwest on the 2.7-mile California Coastal Trail. If you take it to the end, you’ll end up at Baker Beach, home to spectacular views and also, when the weather is right, nude beachgoers. If that’s not quite your taste, you can detour off the CCT to tackle the difficult (read: many stairs) Batteries to Bluffs Trail. No matter how you spend the afternoon, catch the free PresidiGo Shuttle back to the hotel for its nightly wine-and-cheese reception.
For dinner, take the shuttle to the Letterman District, then walk a few minutes to the Presidio Social Club. Here you can have cocktails and small plates and then call it an early night. Head back to your handsome accommodations and rest up for a big cultural day ahead.
Wake up early, skip breakfast downstairs, and head downtown to drop off your bags at stylish Hotel G, located one block away from Union Square. From here, it’s a short ride (skip the walk through the Tenderloin) to Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, a bakery with a cult following. The shop opens at 8 am on Saturday; you’ll want to be there as early as possible if you want to try the signature Cruffin, which locals line up for before the shop opens. If you’d rather not deal with the line, you won’t be disappointed with the other baked goods, available via a much shorter line. Get a mix of sweet (doughnuts filled with pineapple cream) and savory (an irresistible croissant baked with smoked salmon, ginger, wasabi, and nori inside) goods, which are packaged in the sharpest bakery box you’ve ever seen.
Take a 10-minute taxi ride to the Yerba Buena Gardens to enjoy your pastries on a bench and soak up a little sun. Afterward, walk across the street to the revamped San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (Timed admission tickets are available in advance, so book the earliest entrance time available.) Whether or not you’ve visited SFMOMA before, the new museum will dazzle you. As a result of the expansion, the gallery space has increased from 70,000 to 170,000 square feet, and SFMOMA is now the home of the incomparable Donald and Doris Fisher Collection, comprising 1,100 works by 185 artists; simply put, this is one of the greatest collections of postwar and contemporary art in the world. Through a special partnership, SFMOMA will display selections from the Fisher Collection for the next 100 years, alongside works from the permanent collection and special exhibitions. Only a few hundred selections from the collection are currently on view, so there will be much more to see in coming years.
It’s best to start at the top of the museum and work your way down. The expansion, overseen by celebrated architecture firm Snøhetta, features airy, smartly designed galleries that allow in tons of natural light and provide plenty of space for appreciating art, and also taking breaks from it to fend off gallery fatigue. You can and should spend all day here: viewing the Fisher Collection is like taking a 20th-century art history class, and the pieces look great in the new spaces. The top floors of the museum are occupied by the Fisher Collection and works that have been acquired from other collectors in recent years; lower floors house the new Pritzker Center for Photography and works from the permanent collection. Take your time to appreciate the art, take as many breaks as you need, and don’t forget to eat lunch. Cafe 5 serves light California-fusion fare outdoors in the sculpture garden; if you want to splurge, make a reservation for In Situ (opening in June), a new restaurant from three-Michelin-starred chef Corey Lee, whose menu will feature reinterpreted versions of dishes from famous chefs around the world.
The museum closes at 5 pm, at which point you might need a breather. Head back to Hotel G, get settled in your room and take a rest, then go downstairs for evening drinks and oysters at Benjamin Cooper, where the bartenders cater to cocktail geeks with all sorts of innovative creations. The space is tiny, so don’t show up much later than 6 if you want a seat. For dinner, head to one of San Francisco’s dining institutions, Nopalito, for creative yet authentic Mexican dishes. Reservations aren’t accepted, so call before you arrive to get your name on the list. Be sure to order the pork carnitas, undoubtedly one of the best dishes in the entire city.
Back at the hotel, take note of the art on display in public areas and in your room. All of the work displayed is shown through a partnership with Creativity Explored, a local organization where artists with disabilities create and sell their work. If you see anything you like at Hotel G, you’re welcome to buy it.
Sleep in if you want—the Italian bed linens at Hotel G encourage it—but make sure you give yourself time to enjoy the city before you have to leave. Ideally, the weather will be sunny and in the 70s, which means you’re going to spend the day outside like any good San Franciscan. Pack your bags, leave them at the front desk, then head to the Mission District. Once again, wait in line for more outstanding pastries, this time at Tartine Bakery, where it would be a mistake not to order the ham and cheese croissant.
Grab your goods and take them over two blocks to Dolores Park, one of the city’s liveliest playgrounds that looks better than ever following a major renovation in 2015. (It would be useful to have a blanket or something else to sit on, but you can just sit on the grass or benches.) Hippies, families, hipsters, dogs, and all walks of life congregate here on weekends to drink beer, listen to music, and soak up the city’s laid-back vibe. The park occupies two square blocks, but the best views of the city and Bay Bridge can be enjoyed from the top half of the park, along 20th Street.
Leave the park in time to enjoy one last San Francisco treat before you head to the airport. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, stop for a scoop or two at Bi-Rite Creamery; there are two lines, a longer one for standard ice cream, and a shorter one for soft serve, so pick whichever one your heart desires. If you’re craving something salty and filling, it’s the perfect time for a Mission-style burrito. Walk over to Taqueria Cancun (2288 Mission Street; 415/252–9560) and prepare yourself for a massive super burrito, which is great to share with another person unless you’re absolutely starving. There are a variety of fillings to choose from, but al pastor (sliced pork marinated in spices) is impossible to beat. With your belly full, go collect your bags at the hotel, then say goodbye to this wonderful city on your ride to the airport.
WHERE TO STAY
The aforementioned Inn at the Presidio is ideal if you like peace and quiet, while Hotel G is better for a central location and an artsy vibe. Other recommended options include Hotel Drisco in Pacific Heights, The Parker Guest House in the Mission, and Cow Hollow’s Union Street Inn.
WHEN TO GO
You can comfortably visit San Francisco year-round, but September and October tend to be warmest. Summer in the city is known for being a bit chilly, while winter brings rain, particularly in December and January. Still, the temperature rarely dips below 40 degrees or above 80 degrees, so the weather is never too extreme. Just be prepared to dress in layers as temperatures can fluctuate greatly at different times of day and in different parts of the city