San Francisco is known for many things: its hippie history, its massive and culturally significant Chinatown district, its quirky culture, and its coastal views, all watched over by the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. You'll want to pack good walking shoes, since the city is pretty hilly, and a sweater, since it's also notoriously foggy, so you're totally comfortable as you explore this incredibly diverse and distinctive city.
First stop: Delessio Market and Bakery, best known for their tres leches cake and rabanada (a Brazilian sweet that's basically bread dipped in custard, fried, and covered in cinnamon-sugar). They also sell pre-prepped food and sandwiches too. Their version of a boring-sounding grilled chicken sandwich involves onion jam, wild arugula and aioli on house-made focaccia.
Take your sandwiches and baked goods to the park to see some of San Francisco's iconic and colorful Victorian homes, also known as the Painted Ladies. You probably recognize them from the opening credits of the TV show "Full House!" The home used for shots of their actual house is located a few blocks away. The door is no longer red, but if you're discreet, you can still snap a photo or two.
Not quite as famous as Golden Gate Park, the Presidio is just as loaded with things to see. Inspiration Point offers views of Alcatraz, the Palace of Fine Arts, Angel Island, and art installations along trails make for beautiful hikes, and there's even a Yoda statue from "Star Wars" hidden here!
Just off Pier 39 is Forbes Island, a sandy paradise with lighthouses, palm trees, and tiki decor... but, full disclosure, it's not actually an island. Forbes Island sits atop a barge decorated to appear as an island! When it was built in the 1970's, it was the pinnacle of luxury. Today, it's a fun novelty destination with a restaurant where you can enjoy dinner with some primo views. A water taxi will ferry you from shore to the island at your reservation time-- head to the top of the lighthouse for views of the Bay and Alcatraz, and then ask for a seat in the underwater dining room if you can!
Then hit up Aub Zam Zam, a beloved, old-school dive that's the perfect place to disappear for a bit. Known for their exotic, 1940's decor, their eclectic jukebox, and their stiff martinis, you'll seriously feel like you've stepped into a film noir.
While you're on a cocktail crawl, the Alembic bar has a cocktail menu that offers really great takes on classics (which range from bourbon old-fashioneds to corpse revivers), and some really intriguing new drinks. The Alembic is a really classy place to get a little tipsy.
Or visit the Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, which has a constantly rotating selection of beers that range from refreshing to funky. This joint is a little different from the cocktail bars already mentioned, but it's still a super San Francisco-y place to grab a pint. I mean, the name is a Grateful Dead reference!
When you're ready to call it a night, head to a colorful room at The Maker! The artsy vibes in this boutique hotel are pure San Francisco, and fun details, like a complimentary goldfish upon request, add to the charm. Plus, the old building is in an excellent location and has a great bar inside!
Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, start the day off right at a neighborhood gem: Sweet Maple. Deep-fried French toast, brown sugar coated Millionaire's bacon, and breakfast pizza are perfect if you're super hungry, but they also offer lighter options, like sweet potato pancakes and Dungeness crab omelettes. Plus, the value of friendly service, even while crowded, goes a long way, especially if you're still feeling slightly hungover from the night before.
Load up on spare change and head to the Musee Mecanique, an old-school arcade where most of the games were popular well before the 1980's. An impressive and amusing (and sometimes creepy) collection of machines from the 1930's through the present day are kept in working condition, and only cost a few cents to play. It's one of the most impressive displays of vintage games in the world, and everyone loves a museum where you can play with the exhibits!
Ready for more drinking? 21st Amendment is one of SF's most well-known craft breweries (mostly because of their much-loved seasonal Hell or High Watermelon wheat beer), but the brewpub makes a great place to grab a pre-lunch drink. It's a good place to catch a Giants game as well, or just chat with the locals.
Grab some lunch at La Taqueria, a no-frills, cash-only burrito joint that serves up some of the best Mexican food in NorCal. They're known for offering "traditional, rice-free" burritos, so what you're really getting is a hand grenade of meat and toppings. Order yours "super", get a Corona, and snag a spot at a table and get ready to enjoy pure, meaty goodness.
You've probably seen pictures of the famously windy Lombard Street before, but it's the kind of thing you have to see in person to fully appreciate. San Francisco is notoriously hilly, and their way of building streets to compensate for that is one of the city's most charming quirks.
Next, visit Pier 39 and the lazy sea lions that call it home. There's loads to do here, from tours of Alcatraz, souvenir shopping, seafood restaurants, bars, attractions, and more. Whether you just check out the atmosphere and get a picture of the iconic sea lions sunning themselves on the dock, or you spend a full afternoon here doing a tour, it's absolutely worth stopping by.
San Francisco is also known for its history with the beatnik scene of the 1950's and 1960's. Nowhere in the city is this more celebrated than at City Lights Bookstore. This indie bookstore was founded by famous poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, as the first all-paperback bookstore and a beat publishing house. To this day, it retains an impressive selection of interesting titles.
San Francisco is also home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. Grab a Peking duck, eat it at a park, or head to R & G Lounge, a Cantonese eatery that makes for a solid option when looking for good Chinese food. TIP: A few solid choices here include the salt and pepper fried crab, clay pots, lettuce cups, and the Peking duck.
Another spot rich in history is the Vesuvio Cafe, a European-style coffee shop (which also serves booze). This cafe has liquored up greats like Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and Francis Ford Coppola. Enjoy the eclectic decor and a craft beer, or an Irish coffee, a local favorite.
And if the bookstore and Vesuvio weren't funky enough for you, then you'll want to stop at Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe. Here an eclectic collection of oddities line the walls, there are old beatnik regulars sitting around, and the old-school drinks (and cheese and crackers), make this a great place to strike up a conversation with the locals.
Best time of year for a quick weekend visit to San Francisco: Summer can get a little busy in San Francisco, but the sun on the coast is worth it if you don't mind some crowds. Spring is kind of chilly, so the waning warmth of fall makes it a better transitional season. Winters are mild but rainy, so should you choose to visit then, pack an umbrella and wellies.