WHY WE LOVE IT
- A foodie's paradise, this may well be the country's best dining destination.
- Multicultural and proud of it.
- So many places to rest your head: grand and gilded hotels, Victorian B&Bs, stylish boutique hotels.
- It's walkable, and downtown public transportation will get you nearly everywhere you'll want to go; you won't need a car until that Wine Country or Monterey day trip.
- All those hills mean dreamy ocean and bay views.
- Plenty of "painted ladies" (Victorian houses), especially in Pacific Heights, the Haight and Alamo Square.
- Skyscrapers cede space to abundant greenery in Golden Gate Park, Yerba Buena Gardens and elsewhere.
WHEN TO GO
San Francisco is temperate year-round, with daytime temperatures generally between 55 and 65 degrees, but the fact that it's almost surrounded by ocean and bay makes its weather hard to predict. (It can even change drastically from one neighborhood to the next.) That said, April and May are usually cloudless and mild. Summers bring that famous fog, and days can be overcast and chilly. The best time to visit is during San Francisco's real summer: September and October. Days are warm and sunny—with temperatures from the high 60s to the 80s—nights are mild and fog and rainfall are rare. Want a bargain? Winter tends to be rainy but mild and hotel rates go way down.
WHAT TO PACK
Never did that old prescription—layers, layers, layers—more aptly apply. You'll always want a light jacket or sweater to protect you from those sudden blasts of cold air from the Pacific Ocean. Bring along tops with three-quarter or long sleeves and close-toed shoes. Don't bother with sandals unless you're visiting in the fall. From November through April, don't forget to pack your umbrella.
WHAT TO BUY
We haven't figured out how to bring home fresh oysters, Dungeness crabs or those fabulous Mission District burritos, so we'll settle for artisanal preserves, olive oil, vinegar and gourmet chocolates and teas from the Ferry Building Marketplace or its outdoor farmers' market (see Shop). To replicate Bay Area fashion, pass up the department stores and hit the indie boutiques; the best ones are in Hayes Valley, North Beach, Noe Valley, Pacific Heights and the Marina. Locally made arts and crafts range from museum-worthy (see Major Art Museums, in Play) to bargain. Art galleries cluster along Sutter, Post and Geary streets north and east and west of Union Square, though there are enclaves elsewhere, most notably Hayes Valley and (for more cutting-edge works) the Mission.
The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau (800-637-5196; onlyinsanfrancisco.com) has a Visitor Information Center (900 Market St., lower level of Hallidie Plaza) near the cable-car turntable at Powell and Market Streets. Two good tourist passes are the CityPass (888-330-5008; citypass.com), which covers admission to five attractions and offers free rides for seven days on city-run Muni buses, streetcars and cable cars, and the Go San Francisco Card (800-887-9103; gosanfranciscocard.com), good for admission to more than 45 attractions, activities and tours and available in one-, two-, three-, five- and seven-day versions. For transportation and discount-pass info, contact Muni (415-701-2311; sfmta.com). BART (415-989-2278; bart.gov) is a cheap, fast way to get downtown from either the San Francisco or Oakland airport.