To provide some insider knowledge of what to do and where to go in San Francisco, Fodor’s editor Maria Hart took part in the first ever Ask the Editor chat on Facebook to answer many inquisitive travelers’ questions. See her tips and start planning now because Fall is the perfect time to visit.
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Fodor’s: What are your favorite things about San Francisco?
Maria Hart: Strolling everywhere! With the Golden Gate Bridge, the cable cars zinging down hills, and the stunning architecture, it’s a pleasure just to walk around. It also has really strong neighborhood personalities: the charm of Chinatown, the laidback Haight, the vibrant scene in the Castro. And then there’s all the amazing food! San Francisco is a food lover’s town, and a key part of any trip is eating your way across the city.
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Fodor’s: Speaking of food, we received a few question from Facebook followers. Emilie D. wants to know “What’s the best bakery in San Francisco? I want some good sourdough.”
MH: There are a ton of amazing bakeries in San Francisco: Tartine and Citizen Cake come to mind. But neither focus on sourdough. For that, you may want to hit the city’s famer’s markets like the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market or the Heart of the City Farmers Market. In my opinion, those bakers there know their stuff.
Fodor’s: Facebook fan Nina C. asked about Dim Sum – where would you go for that?
MH: You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to Dim Sum. Locals love Great Eastern because you can check off what you want from a menu instead of waiting for a cart to roll around. Then again, it’s fun to hit little spots like Hang Ah or Dol Ho that are cheap, cozy, and bring around the carts.
Fodor’s: More on food, Facebook fan Georgina H. asks “are there some good gluten free places to eat?”
MH: Try Red Door Cafe or Om Shan Tea. Hog Island Oyster Company is another good bet, and I hear their clam chowder is totally gluten-free.
Fodor’s: When is the best time to visit?
MH: It’s comfortable any time of year in SF, but right now—September and October—are gorgeous times to go when the weather is summerlike and there are lots of outdoor events.
Fodor’s: What about the weather? Nina C. asked “my friend says the weather varies a lot in the city, and I should bring layers. Is this true?”
MH: Totally true. Wind off the ocean or fog that rolls in can turn a warm day into a chilly, wet, evening. Wearing layers is a good way to be prepared. Also note, inland things are warmer and the climate is more stable. If you’re on the waterfront, you can expect more fluctuation.
Fodor’s: What about the must-sees? Nina C. wants to know “I only have two days in San Francisco – what are the must-sees?
MH: With two days, I would do a waterfront crawl one day: start at the Ferry Building head up to the Exploratorium, walk west to Coit Tower and head back down Telegraph hill, pass Pier 39 hit the Musee Mechanique and then finish up at Fisherman’s Wharf and the Cable Car Turnaround. On the second day head inland and explore the Castro, the Haight, Noe Valley, and the Mission. Shop around the Castro, hit the Haight-Ashbury intersection, and definitely finish the day with an amazing dinner in the Mission. Limon would be a fun option. Then take in a late show at the Castro Theatre.
Fodor’s: And tell us about where we can go to see great art. Facebook fan Alice N. wants to know.
Fodor’s: Facebook fan Pam S. wants to know “What area do you recommend staying in SF? My husband thinks we should stay in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. Do you agree?”
MH: Some visitors love Fisherman’s Wharf because it’s boisterous and near lots of fun attractions like Musee Mecanique, Ghirardelli Square, and Pier 39. That said, most locals avoid it here because of the schlocky shops, overpriced/mediocre food, and crowds. Personally I’d opt for a more residential and elegant neighborhood like Pacific Heights. Depending on your budget, Hotel Drisco could be a nice option. Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, you could stay at the fun and funky Hotel Tomo in Japantown.
Fodor’s: What about repeat visitors?
MH: There’s so much to cover, that you’ll always leave with a list of what you’ll do next time. If you’ve already done the waterfront attractions, Chinatown, and the major museums, I would head to Japantown. Check into the Kabuki Springs & Spa for a long steam or massage, then wander around the Japan Center, New People, or the Kinokuniya Bookstore. I also recommend walking around Noe Valley, which is usually overlooked in favor of the Castro and the Mission neighborhoods, but it’s fun to stroll through the streets, eating at restaurants with locals and popping into places like Omnivore bookstore.
Fodor’s: Facebook fan Georgina H. wanted to know more about the graffiti tour. Any thoughts on this?
MH: I think you’re talking about the tours offered by the Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center. It covers a lot of the Mission’s vivid murals that have become a gorgeous backdrop to the streets around here. You can also make your own tour, by heading to the areas outlined into our Murals with a Mission feature.
Fodor’s: And what about city tours in general. Facebook fan Pam S. is looking at 5+ hour city tours and asks if you have any to recommend.
MH: There are a ton of wonderful walking tours in SF. See our Top San Francisco Walking Tour Recommendations.
And I’d definitely recommend doing a walking tour like All About Chinatown to get an in-depth look at the neighborhood and its history. For a good overview of the city, you can join a tour provided by the San Francisco City Guides.
Fodor’s: Facebook fan Alice N. asked about day trips outside the city. Where would you recommend she head?
MH: Short day trips are incredibly easy thanks to the BART. The classic day trip is to head over to Berkeley and eat your way across the “Gourmet Ghetto” and Vine Street. And do a little shopping at Amoeba Music. At night you could head to Oakland and hit Cafe van Kleef or Yoshi’s.
Fodor’s: What about activities for kids? Susan H. asks “I’m headed to SF in October for a wedding. We’ll be traveling with 2 kids (girls 4 and 8) and we have one free day to explore the city. What would be the best way to spend our free family day?”
MH : For a day with kids, the cable cars are a can’t-miss attraction. The white-knuckle descent down Hyde Street is a favorite, but the Cable Car Terminus where the cars get rotated on giant turntables, or the Cable Car Museum where kids can take the grip and ring the bell, are also big draws.I would also consider a trip to the California Academy of Sciences (Dinosaurs, penguins, rain-forest butterflies, oh my!), the Musee Mecanique, or a trip to the AT&T park for a ball game, if your girls are baseball fans.
Your Turn: What is your best San Francisco advice to share with other travelers?
Photo Credits: Golden Gate Bridge courtesy Jack Hollingsworth / San Francisco Travel Association