There’s way more to San Francisco than expensive apartments and coffee shops that take Bitcoin. Exploring the City by the Bay reveals an intricate patchwork of cultures and communities. Read on for 10 reasons why San Francisco should be on your list of must-visit destinations.
Generations of fishermen have hauled their daily catch from the murky waters that surround San Francisco. This bounty has made the identity of the city and its inhabitants inseparable from the crab, mussels and halibut that feature on menus all over town. Oysters, however, are treasured by many of the area’s seafood aficionados far beyond any other bivalve and, perhaps, all ocean dwellers. This is largely because oysters are a local product, with some of the best farms directly north of the city, in the waters around Marin County. The best place to try this local staple is Swan Oyster Depot on Polk – a no-frills, 18-seat joint that Anthony Bourdain adored and the S.F. Chronicle has called “this holy church of fresh seafood.” The thing to order, of course, is fresh oysters, but they make a mean louie salad if you like your succulent crab or shrimp served dressed.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
After almost becoming extinct in the ’90s, Tiki culture is back in a big way. Numerous conventions celebrate the lifestyle and many books explore the history of what has slowly become known as Polynesian Pop. San Francisco, however, was the capital of this international craze. Tiki culture in mainland US has its beginnings in a bar called Don The Beachcomber that opened in LA in the 1930s, appealing to those who longed for a far-flung tropical escape. However, it was perfected in the Bay Area by Trader Vic’s locations in East Bay and San Francisco. Based on the dozen or so prominent Tiki bars that have opened in the city over the last decade, there’s a strong case to be made that San Francisco remains the heart of Tiki culture. If you want to see some retro Tiki fare, including a barge that floats in the middle of the dining area, head over to Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar. If you’re looking for something a little more contemporary, perhaps a mix of classic drinks and new concoctions, then Smuggler’s Cove is where you want to be. There are tons of Tiki bars across the city, and chances are if you find one, you’re going to find a good time.
The Chinatown area is almost as old as the city of San Francisco itself. As the 1849 Gold Rush encouraged a flourish of American migration from the East, Chinese migrants arrived from across the Pacific and saw an opportunity. The Chinese-owned restaurants, sundry stores and laundries helped establish a cultural enclave in the middle of San Francisco that was vibrant and permanent, despite numerous schemes by city leaders over the years to dislodge and relocate the community. San Francisco’s Chinatown is a place that everyone should visit at least once. Despite the crowds and shops brimming over with tchotchkes, the area is packed with art and culture waiting to be experienced. And, of course, there’s the food. Just make sure to head over to Golden Gate Bakery on Grant – it’s renowned for making the best silky-sweet egg custard tarts this side of the Pacific.
Golden Gate Park
It’s easy to forget you were ever in a major urban center when you’re strolling through Golden Gate Park. The lush woodland is home to an array of sights and activities to please visitors of any age. There’s archery in a field near the ocean, a buffalo reserve located along the northern drag, the De Young Museum lounging next to the Japanese Tea Garden – and all situated within walking distance of some great bars and restaurants. It’s the perfect spot for everything from a first date to a tranquil solo afternoon on a grassy bank sketching the bucolic splendor. There are also markets and events occurring regularly throughout the week, so be sure to check online for the latest goings-on.
The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the largest populations of Burmese people outside of South Asia. As such, Burmese restaurants abound and should be on every traveler’s itinerary of San Francisco eateries. Burma Superstar is the most famous establishment: a hugely popular spot with block-wrapping lines that’s frequently recommended by celebrity chefs. Don’t be put off by the crowds, though as the hearty and fragrant dishes are well worth the wait. For a twist on a traditional caesar, try the loaded tea leaf salad. A good pairing is the tangy samusa soup, flavoured with black mustard seeds and golden turmeric. Refresh your palette between flavorfuls with a cup of the Thai iced tea.
There was once a facility on the northwestern-most cliffs of San Francisco that contained 500 feet of saltwater and freshwater pools. This complex, called the Sutro Baths, was open from 1896 until it burnt down in 1966 in what was suspected to be arson. Today, the area is occupied by a nature park known as Land’s End. Hikers and day-trippers can follow a slightly precarious path down to the foundations of the derelict pools, where the tide washes over and fills the hollows in the ruins. A trail follows the coast until it reaches the Presidio national park and offers selfie-worthy vistas of the Golden Gate.
Dutch crunch bread
Sourdough bread has become ubiquitous in San Francisco, but the locals here have now given their hearts to a new loaf called dutch crunch. The bread is generally sold as small loaves and is used almost exclusively as a sandwich vessel. The soft, dense inside is slightly sweet, while the buttery, crisp parts of the mottled crust are like little croutons that add a satisfying crunch to every bite. The distinctive giraffe-print topping is caused by a coating of rice flour, butter, sugar and yeast applied prior to baking. The loaves are now arguably as synonymous with San Francisco as black-and-white cookies are with New York or cheesesteaks are with Philly.
San Francisco is a proper museum city. There’s always a quality show going on somewhere nearby, whether it’s at the De Young, the Legion of Honor, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, or the Museum of the African Diaspora. But, if you want to see art that tells the story of San Francisco, the best place to start is at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. SFMOMA is pricy by museum standards, with a single entry ticket costing $25. The price seems proportionate, though, as you ascend the staircase in the lobby and head into the galleries. The museum offers an unrivaled collection of mid-century San Francisco masters such as William Wiley, Bob Arneson and Joan Brown, to name a few.
It’s a little-known fact, but San Francisco County stretches thirty miles out to sea, encompassing the Farallon Islands. The islands were once inhabited by researchers from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but are now abandoned except for flocks of birds that perch on the rocky shores. Boats leave San Francisco wharves in droves to take curious onlookers out to the Farallones. Some go to learn about the island’s history, others to whale watch. The most intrepid travelers go to dive with great white sharks that circle the shores. The islands are a Shark Week staple, as the Pacific’s great whites are known for breaching the waves with full fury and flying a dozen or more feet in the air as they snatch a seal from the surface.
The Golden Gate Bridge
There’s no view of the Bay like the one seen from the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge. Churning water, Alcatraz, the downtown skyline – all of it looks so much more magical when seen from the bridge, as the briny air blows through your hair and the sun shines on your back. The Golden Gate is nearly 9,000 feet long and takes up two two hours for a leisurely stroll across and back, taking advantage of the many photo opportunities. The time goes by fast, however, and the one universal truth about the walk is that if you look around, everyone is having a blast. Bring a camera, bring a snack, and get ready to join in that good time.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.