San Francisco is my favourite city in the US. I have visited twice and would happily go back. San Francisco has something for everyone, from iconic sightseeing, historic sites, delicious food and an eclectic mix of culture. This is a backpackers guide to San Francisco, covering everything you need to know if you plan on visiting.
Things to do in San Francisco
Marin Headland offers famous views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. Who doesn’t want that token shot in front of the Golden Gate Bridge? You can drive to Marin Headland or you can hire a bike from downtown and do the bike track over the bridge and to Marin Headland. This is very popular amongst tourists.
Hire a bike and ride over the Golden Gate Bridge
Renting a bicycle is a great way to cross the bridge to Marin Headland and Sausalito. But be warned, it isn’t an easy ride. Be sure to make time for lunch in Sausalito. And, if you’re not up for the ride back, don’t worry. You can catch the ferry or take a taxi back (there are taxis with bike racks usually waiting in the ferry parking lot).
You don’t want to miss the sea lions as they play on Pier 39. This is one of my favourite pastimes in San Francisco.
The view of the city from Alcatraz is one of the best in San Francisco. You can catch the ferry over to Alcatraz directly from Pier 39 or you can arrange a tour with hotel pick up. You’ll be provided with an audio guide where you can listen to the commentary while wandering around at your own pace.
Coit Tower sits atop Telegraph Hill where you can look out over the city and the bay. While you’re up there, check out the adorable houses of Telegraph Hill.
China Town is a famous part of downtown San Francisco, home to Chinese architecture, a wonderful atmosphere and the beautiful Chinatown Gate. I suggest adding it to your walking itinerary.
The most famous street in San Francisco and perhaps the world. Lombard Street is a steep one-block street that has 8 hairpin turns, making it the most crooked street in the world.
Lombard Street is a part of the 1-day tour of San Francisco. Click here to book a 1-day tour of San Francisco
Ride the Cable Cars
It wouldn’t be a trip to San Francisco without a ride on one of the famed cable cars.
The Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies are a set of 7 iconic San Franciscan houses, built in the 1890s, with gorgeous views of the city behind them.
Book a day tour of San Francisco
Highlights include Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Lombard Street, San Francisco Bay Cruise, Twin Peaks and Union Square. Click here to book a 1-day tour of San Francisco
Get off the beaten track: Here are 14 Hidden Gems to add to your San Francisco Itinerary
Only have one day in San Fran?
Day Trips From San Francisco
Visit Napa Valley
Famous Wine country just outside of San Francisco. Click here to Explore Napa Valley.
Take a tour to Yosemite from San Francisco
Yosemite National Park is one of the most recognised national park in the world, home to the famous half dome and Yosemite Falls. This is a must do for all nature lovers. I recommend hiring a car and venturing into Yosemite Valley on your own, but you can book tours into Yosemite Valley. Book a day trip to Yosemite Valley here.
The climate in San Francisco
Summer: June – August
Winter: December – February
I recommend travelling to San Francisco in spring. The weather will be warm and that’s when you will see the most seals hanging out at Pier 39.
Recommended trip length to San Francisco
I recommend staying in San Francisco for 7 days to give yourself time to explore the city and surrounding regions.
Getting to and around San Francisco
If travelling internationally or from far away, fly into San Francisco Airport. From the airport, you can take a bus, taxi or arrange a transfer to get downtown.
If in North America, you can get to San Francisco from any location on a Greyhound bus.
Once in Downtown San Francisco, I personally find that most things are within walking distance. Alternatively, I recommend using the cable car system that connects the city.
Places to stay in San Francisco
North Beach is the best part of Downtown San Francisco in my opinion.
If you are looking for a hostel check out Green Tortoise located in North Beach near China Town. Great rates and free breakfast included.
If you are looking for a hotel, Travel Lodge on Columbus Avenue offers competitive prices and is in a fantastic location near Fisherman Wharf and Pier 39. They have the comfiest beds EVER.
Search for cheap accommodation options here.
Budget for San Francisco
$ – Expect to pay around $40 USD for a bed in a hostel dorm room.
$$ – Expect to pay around $150 + USD for a mid-range hotel room.
$$$ – Expect to pay $500 USD for a luxury hotel room.
Car hire starts at $25USD per day in San Francisco. This excludes insurance.
You could survive on $15 per day for food if you book a backpackers in San Francisco that includes breakfast and cook your own meals. A meal in a restaurant will generally cost $10+ – more for drinks.
Tipping in San Francisco
Tipping is customary in San Francisco. See my guide to tipping in the US.
Currency in San Francisco
The currency used in San Francisco is USD.
Travel Insurance for Vancouver
Safety in San Francisco
It is recommended to exercise all usual safety precautions in San Francisco.
- Avoid flashing valuables and drawing attention to yourself.
- Avoid walking down unknown streets late at night.
- Don’t get too drunk.
- Be prepared to see a lot of homeless people.
Vaccination for San Francisco
Check the Travel Doctor website to find out if you need any vaccinations for your backpacking trip to San Francisco.
Other tips for Backpacking San Francisco
- San Francisco is a very walkable city. Wear your walking shoes and explore by foot as much as you can.
- Even on a sunny day, San Francisco can get cool. Always carry a jacket.
- Leave enough time on your itinerary to be able to experience all San Francisco has to offer.
- Keep an eye out for free walking tours, trivia nights and so on. There are plenty in San Francisco and are perfect for backpackers.
- San Francisco is a great destination for solo travellers. If it is your first solo trip, check out my advice.
- Download my Overseas Travel checklist so you don’t forget anything on your trip to San Francisco.
See more on the US here.
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Disclosure: This post on backpacking San Francisco contains affiliate links.