The essential San Francisco city guide


Touchdown in the European-style multicultural metropolis that is San Francisco and the first thing you might hear is how troubled the city, and in particular, its famed Silicon Valley tech sector, has been following the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the hard hit, San Francisco, famed for its monstrous hills, iconic tramlines and synonymous Golden Gate Bridge, remains a hive of activity with much to recommend it to the casual visitor. 

While some may seek out the tranquil setting of Fisherman’s Wharf to wind down at a winery, others will thrive in Union Square, which thrums with life day and night. Jetsetters can eat, drink, and cycle their way through the West Coast hotspot to their heart’s content, and there are plenty of hidden gems to uncover along the way. Whether you’re staying for a few nights or a few weeks, here’s everything you need to know to make the most of your time in San Francisco.

The hotel: Kimpton Alton Hotel

kimpton alton hotel san francisco

Kimpton Alton houses 250 retro-inspired rooms with luxe en suites and glamorous dressing tables. Situated in Fisherman’s Wharf, the Kimpton Alton is a prime location from which to tick sites off your bucket list, including the vermillion orange architectural wonder that is the Golden Gate Bridge.

With Kimpton Alton as your base, meander around the Ferry Building to experience the vast Farmer’s Market, while away hours at Pier 39 ogling the hordes of sea lions stretched out on deck, and board a ferry to Alcatraz or the quaint fishing village of Sausalito. Plus, if conquering the mighty peaks of San Francisco isn’t quite enough exercise Kimpton Alton’s plush 24-hour gym will put you through your paces.

Come dinner time, some of the city’s finest seafood restaurants canoe found in Fisherman’s Wharf – if you can resist the temptation of on-site restaurant Abacá that is. Kimpton Alton also hosts its own happy hour with free wine and beers, while the quaint tuck shop stocks sweet treats, savoury bites, and fizz to satisfy midnight snack cravings after a long-haul flight. 

Rooms from £233 per night,

The restaurant: Delfina

italian food gnocchi

San Francisco is said to boast almost 5,000 restaurants across a whole host of cuisines, from New American and Chinese to Mexican, seafood to fast food, light bites to fine dining. Described as “one of the city of San Francisco’s greats for rustic California-Italian meals” by the Michelin Guide, Delfina is the hangout locals and tourists alike flock to. And, while its Michelin seal of approval doesn’t mean this restaurant scrimps on portion sizes, be warned, securing a reservation is no mean feat.

Expect modern twists on classic Italian cuisine, such as cold cuts with warm salted gnocco fritto, fresh cured anchovies nostrani, ricotta artichokes – also known as carcioni fritti – melt in the mouth gnocchi and slabs of lasagne, followed by an enlivening affogato corretto for afters. 


The breakfast spots: Abacá and Tartine

Abacá is Kimpton Alton’s on-site restaurant serving flavoursome Filipino-Californian cuisine. Tuck into light and fluffy bibingka pancakes piled high with blueberry muscovado syrup and a dusting of salted egg powder, wake your tastebuds up with a full Filipino breakfast featuring pineapple-rued pork belly, or opt for the staple Alton breakfast, guaranteed to fuel a long day of sightseeing until dinner time when Abacá’s offers up exotic tapas-style dishes.

Meanwhile, Tartine, which has two locations in the Mission District and another close to Golden Gate Park, is the hotspot for breakfast, brunch, on-the-go snacks, and pastry supplies. Think hugely popular comfort food staples including a bread and butter pudding served with fresh strawberries, a decadent eclair (or two), a doorstop cheese toastie, or the best fresh sourdough you might have ever tasted.

Visit and

The bar: The Winery

the winery san francisco

A Napa Valley wine tour is a must for an extended stay in San Francisco, but for those strapped for time, the Tasting Room at The Winery on Fisherman’s Wharf promises the next best thing. If being greeted by a library-style wall filled with wines from numerous regions (and accessed by a rolling ladder) doesn’t tell you these guys are experts in vino, the variety of wine flights on offer will. Select from a red, white or mixed wine flight, all of which include five tipples to sample. Alternatively, create a personalised flight, perfect for wine connoisseurs or those who wish to expand their palate with the help of an expert.

For something a little stronger, stumble to nearby Buena Vista to try its famous Irish coffee, or utter the code ‘books’ at the doors of speakeasy bar, Bourbon and Branch, where the cocktail list is plentiful. Alternatively, wind down before bed with an indulgent hot chocolate at Ghirardelli.  


The hidden gem: Empress by Boon

empress by boon san francisco

San Francisco’s Chinatown is reportedly one of the largest in the world, so it’s only right the Asian cuisine on offer here is a cut above as well. Tucked away in a far from obvious concrete building, you’ll find the jewel in Chinatown’s crown, Empress by Boon, where Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon’s culinary mastermind shines through a modern Cantonese menu, complemented by specialty cocktails and stunning vistas from the sixth-floor dining room. 

For a full taste of what’s on offer, order the nine-course set menu, which features crispy squid doughnuts, Iberico pork xiao long bao, fresh soft shell crab, and roasted crispy chicken, among other delights.


The sightseeing: Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Powell Street, SFMOMA

golden gate bridge

We probably don’t need to tell you that San Francisco is famed for the Golden Gate Bridge, the now defunct Alcatraz prison, as well as the nearby Napa Valley and seal-lined Pier 39, all best explored on foot, bike, tram or boat.

A trip to Alcatraz grants you a closer look at the site famed for housing infamous crooks, such as Al Capone, in its 9x5ft cells, and the chance learn of inmates’ desperate fleas for freedom, before taking in breathtaking views of the city skyline on your return to shore. Alternatively, scale Coit Tower or head to the top of Tunnel Tops park to catch unrivalled panoramic views across the city.


San Francisco natives fear their beloved cable car may soon become extinct, so factor in a ride on a tram, which navigates must-see sights, including Union Square, the zig-zag Lombard Street, Chinatown, the Financial District, and marina. The chance to see the manual turnaround at Powell Street also shouldn’t be missed.
If the groaning seals at Pier 39 aren’t quite enough wildlife for you, a visit to the Aquarium of the Bay is ideal for families. The largest aquarium in California, it showcases over 200 species of wildlife native to the bay and its surrounding areas. Art lovers, meanwhile, can lose themselves admiring the contemporary art at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Those with more time should also venture to Redwood Park, Muir Woods and Sausalito, while road trips can also be extended to cover Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, and Los Angeles.

The shopping: Union Square and Haight/Ashbury

union square san francisco

Union Square. Image: Shutterstock/Jakub Zajic

Akin to London’s Oxford Street or New York’s Fifth Avenue, Union Square is the epicentre for fashion and food in San Francisco. Lined with designer boutiques, it’s also home to maze-like department stores, including Saks, Neiman Marcus and Macy’s. Thrifty shoppers looking for vintage or consignment stores, meanwhile, should explore the Haight/Ashbury district. Top pre-loved haunts include Wasteland, Held Over, Relic Vintage and Cary Lane.

Read more: Where fashion designers holiday

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