San Francisco is a city full of delicious food, rich history and stunning character. There’s just so much to see and do (and eat!) in San Francisco. So, I’ve teamed up with Expedia.com and my friend and blog editor Jon Susemihl to help you plan a weekend in San Francisco.
From Alcatraz to sourdough bread, this post has some of the best things the Golden Gate City has to offer.
How to Spend A Weekend in San Francisco
Where to Stay:
The Mystic Hotel
If you’re still looking for a place to stay in SF, we recommend the Mystic Hotel. Located in San Francisco’s historic Union Square, the Mystic Hotel is a stunning property that marries industrial elements with modern decor. They offer rooms at several prices with varying amounts of space (and if you’re staying with friends or family, the rooms with lounge areas also have sleeper sofas). All rooms come with personal safes, free wifi and desk areas, making the hotel a great home base as you explore the city.
You can see the Mystic Hotel and all San Francisco hotel options on Expedia.com.
Where to Eat:
558 Castro St // +1 415-590-2404
Fable is a casual restaurant that serves the best of American cuisine. Crafted from fresh local and seasonal ingredients, their menu features a variety of dishes, from vegan lasagna to a half-pound double cheeseburger. And everything served here — even the cheeseburger, is impeccably plated and presented.
Fable has both a tastefully decorated indoor dining area and a gorgeous outdoor patio. Be sure to look for the mussels with chorizo dish on their revolving menu — it’s a personal favorite!
One Ferry Building #3 // +1 415-861-8032
The Slanted Door serves modern Vietnamese cooking against the stunning backdrop of the Bay Bridge.
At this restaurant, they pride themselves on their authenticity. After traveling to the source of their food, Executive Chef Charles Phan carefully crafts each dish from fresh, local ingredients to honor its international roots.
Pro tip: Call for reservations as soon as you start planning your weekend visit to San Francisco, reservations are notoriously difficult.
We stumbled upon Little Gem while looking for a spot to enjoy our Sunday morning with brunch and coffee.
For us, the restaurant lived up to its name. From our quiet corner table, we sipped coffee and watched the city hum by outside.
The almond and quinoa flour pancakes were delicious — even though they were gluten free, my wife and I agreed they were the best pancakes we’d ever had. The restaurant’s decor and design made it a great place to pass the morning. We plan to return.
Between Piers 39 and 45, you’ll find my favorite Boudin Bakery location, a San Francisco institution famous for its sourdough bread.
We stopped for coffee and a loaf of their chocolate sourdough. I wanted to spend some time at the Boudin Museum there, but the place was so packed on the Saturday we visited that we decided to move on. Even so, the coffee was good, and the bread was phenomenal.
The Mystic Room + Tavern
Inside the Mystic Hotel (417 Stockton St) // +1 415-400-0561
Connected to the Mystic Hotel, the Mystic Room + Tavern shares the same thoughtful design as the hotel. The tavern’s ambience, menu, and photos capture Union Square at different points in San Francisco’s history, from the 1880s, through prohibition and into the 1950s.
Dinner is served daily from 5:30 to 10 pm (10:30 on Fridays and Saturdays), and there’s live Jazz from 7-10 pm Thursday to Saturday. Notable dishes include the Squash and Riccota Canneloni and (of course) the Mystic Burger and Fries.
If you’re not hungry, they also have a great craft cocktail menu.
Where to Play:
Alcatraz Island is arguably one of the most famous historic sites in San Francisco. Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary operated on the island from 1934-1963. During that time, it held some of the country’s most infamous convicts — Al Capone and of course, John Morris and the Anglin Brothers, who were never seen again after their attempted escape in 1962.
You’ll be able to see this iconic prison out in the bay from Fisherman’s Wharf. But, if you want to get onto the island and tour the now retired penitentiary, you’ll need to plan ahead. Tickets through the official tour-giver, Alcatraz Tours, typically book up at least a month in advance. I’d recommend that you make reservations for the tour as soon as you book your flight.
Fisherman’s Wharf (with Pier 45 and Pier 39)
As a history buff, Fisherman’s Wharf was the highlight of my weekend in San Francisco. Located on the northern edge of the city, the Wharf dates back almost as far as the city itself. Here, Italian fisherman set up shop in the mid 1800s to feed the ever-growing influx of gold miners.
There is so much to see and do at Fisherman’s Wharf. In addition to some of the best views in the city, the neighborhood also contains two of San Francisco’s most iconic piers: Pier 45 and Pier 39. Pier 45 is home to two WWII-era US Navy vessels — the SS Jeremiah O’Brien and the USS Pampanito, a submarine that served against Japan in the Pacific. Both ships have been restored and are now floating museums. Tours are available daily, and if you have to pick one, I highly recommend the Pampanito — you simply won’t believe that 80 men called this submarine their home for weeks at a time.
After you’ve finished with Pier 45, amble over to Pier 39, where you can enjoy another iconic San Francisco experience — the Pier 39 sea lions. Each day, dozens of the 200-600 pound animals flop up on floating platforms to bathe in the sun. I admit, I wasn’t too interested at first, but by the end, I was hooked. They were hilarious to watch as they jockeyed for prime sunbathing real estate, often pushing each other into the water. As I watched fellow tourists mill about and pose for photographs with them, I caught myself wondering whether they find us as amusing as we find them.
We ended our afternoon out in the city with a visit to Coit Tower. Just a few minutes away from Pier 39 by foot (though beware that San Francisco hills are not for the faint of heart), Coit Tower offers an escape from the ceaseless crowds of the Wharf.
In addition to the tower, you’ll find patches of grass, trees, and even parrots. Inside the tower, you can enjoy beautiful artwork as you wait for the elevator.
When we reached the top, we found stunning 360-degree views of the entire city. I was most impressed by how San Francisco had molded and contoured to its many hills. This view captures the character of the city.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in North America. For over a century, this neighborhood has served as one of the primary cultural centers of Chinese-Americans and recent Chinese immigrants.
The neighborhood is also a popular destination for visitors to the city. You’ll enjoy the historic Chinese architecture along Grant Avenue. If you’d like, you can step into one of hundreds of authentic Chinese shops and restaurants.
If you want to learn a bit more about the history of Chinese-Americans and how they helped build the country, I’d recommend you spend an hour or two exploring the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum. It was a great find.