An Innkeeper’s Guide to San Francisco

Travelers are drawn to the coastal city of San Francisco, California for its ethnic and cultural diversity, as well as its scenic beauty, Victorian architecture, and flourishing foodie scene. Regarded as the centerpiece of the Bay Area, San Francisco attracts visitors from all around the world looking to experience the distinct culture of each of the city’s districts, from the touristy waterfront neighborhood of Fisherman’s Wharf (think Ghirardelli Square and the ferry launch to Alcatraz Island), to the Haight District (famous for being the home of the Hippie movement), to The Castro (historically known for being the cultural center of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community). When you stay at a bed and breakfast in San Francisco, you get the insider’s guide to the best of the city. This city guide is filled with tips from local innkeepers to help you make the most of your stay.

Things to do

San Francisco

San Francisco is famous for its steep rolling hills. Despite only encompassing a land area of approximately 46.9 square miles, there are more than 50 hills located within the city limits. To fully appreciate the natural beauty of the city, the innkeepers at the Parker Guest House recommend hiking to Twin Peaks, a pair of hills forming San Francisco’s second-highest point as well as a popular overlook spot.

If you’d prefer to hike along the water, then the proprietors of the Queen Anne Hotel suggest hiking the California Coastal Trail, which stretches for 10.5 miles through Lands End, a park within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) in the northwestern corner of the city. Also included within the GGNRA are two spots on the must-visit list of the innkeepers at My Rosegarden Guest RoomsBaker Beach and the Presidio.

Formerly a military base, the Presidio is now maintained as a park characterized by numerous wooded areas and scenic vistas overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, and Pacific Ocean. While you’re there, the innkeepers of the Union Street Inn suggest visiting Crissy Field, an area along the northern waterfront known for its spectacular views, nature-watching, and unparalleled recreational opportunities.

San Francisco PresidioOther unique outdoor activities, as suggested by the Barry House Hotel, include taking horseback riding lessons at Hyde Park Stables and joining Jason’s Trip (named after the authentic 107-year-old canal boat) for a tour of Regent’s Canal between Little Venice and Camden.

If you love design, then the proprietors of the White Swan Inn recommended visiting Grace Cathedral, the third largest Episcopal cathedral in the United States and a stunning example of Gothic Revival architecture. The cathedral also features two labyrinths, mosaics by Jan Henryk de Rosen, and a replica of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise. For those looking for art design in a more unconventional place, Gigi’s Bed and Breakfast suggest stopping by San Francisco’s Recology Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center. They’ve developed an Artist in Residence Program (“Art at the Dump”) that provides local artists with access to discarded materials, a stipend, and studio space. The works created in this space are displayed during a two-day exhibition open to the public.

Where to eat

With more restaurants per capita than any other major city in North America, San Francisco offers visitors a wide variety of flavors and cuisines to please any palate. Vegetarians and vegans will find the city to be a culinary paradise, while those favoring Asian cuisine will be hard-pressed to find a better selection of Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and Thai restaurants from which to choose. As for seafood, you won’t find anything fresher than the bounty of the sea down at the Fisherman’s Wharf.

The following restaurant has been recommended by multiple innkeepers:
San Francisco Cheese Plate
Mescolanza: This cozy Italian restaurant in the Richmond District features regional dishes from northern Italy. Specialties includes the Linguine al Limone, a variety of Pizzette (thin-crust pizzas), and entrees featuring either shrimp or veal.

Other recommended restaurants:

Angelina’s Deli-Café: With indoor and outdoor seating, this Richmond District café offers a variety of salads, pasta dishes, and assortment of artisan cheeses, as well as seasonal hot and cold dishes that are prepared fresh daily. Order a selection of items and enjoy a gourmet meal on-the-go, whether at the beach or in the park.

-Recommended by My Rosegarden Guest Rooms



Catch: Located in The Castro in a building that originally housed the NAMES Project, which famously organized the creation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, this affordable seafood restaurant offers a regularly rotated menu of Mediterranean-inspired dishes that highlight fresh catches of local, sustainably-sourced seafood as well as seasonal produce.

Frances: Named after Chef Melissa Perello’s grandmother, Frances, also located in The Castro, provides fine dining in a refined but comfortable atmosphere. The seasonal menu changes daily and features seasonal produce and products from local farmers in Northern California.

-Recommended by Parker Guest House



The Elite Café: For traditional American cuisine with a New Orleans twist, head to this restaurant in Lower Pacific Heights. The fully refurbished Art Deco accents will make you feel as if you’ve traveled back in time as you order a drink from their extensive cocktail list or 100-bottle wine list and enjoy seasonal dishes with Cajun and Creole accents.
San Francisco Thai Food
Jitlada Thai Restaurant: Locals consider this Thai restaurant in Lower Pacific Heights as one of the city’s best Thai restaurants, which says a lot given San Francisco’s reputation for serving some of the best Asian cuisine in the nation. Dishes are served family-style, and recommended items include the Evil Princess Tofu served in a spicy red curry and the Gaeng Keaw Wan served in a spicy green curry.

-Recommended by Queen Anne Hotel



Balboa Café: Located in the popular Marina and Cow Hollow neighborhood, this local favorite offers classic dishes in a casual atmosphere. Try their signature Balboa Burger on a Baguette, and be sure to order a drink from their “100 Years of Cocktails” list celebrating popular cocktails from each decade.

Capannina: Also located in the Marina and Cow Hollow neighborhood, this quaint Italian restaurant is the perfect place to enjoy a romantic meal. If you’re dining between 5 and 6 PM, then definitely inquire about their three-course prix-fixe menu for just $25 per person.

-Recommended by Union Street Inn


San Francisco Vegetarian Dish


Millennium: Ironically situated in the Tenderloin neighborhood of downtown San Francisco, this vegan/vegetarian restaurant is dedicated to supporting organic food production, sustainable agriculture, and the practices of recycling and composting. The items on the constantly evolving menu are so innovative that they’ll even intrigue the carnivores.

Nob Hill Café: This family-owned restaurant is known for its authentic Tuscan-style cuisine and extensive wine list. Take advantage of the outdoor seating area and do some people-watching as you dine al fresco on homemade pasta. Locals rave about the Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Gnocchi Bolognese.

-Recommended by White Swan Inn


Where to shop

San Francisco Painted Ladies

While developing your strategy for exploring what San Francisco has to offer, don’t forget to add some of the local shops and markets to your list. Given the city’s eclectic districts and neighborhoods, you will undoubtedly stumble across stores to meet your every whim or need.

The following has been recommended by multiple innkeepers:

Union Street Shopping District: If you aim to shop while you’re in San Francisco, then you’ll want to budget at least half a day to spend wandering through the Union Street Shopping District. This popular shopping area stretches along Union Street between Gough and Steiner Streets and features about 400 shops, restaurants, and other small businesses, including art galleries, florists, bookstores, jewelry shops, and specialty clothing boutiques.

Other recommended shops:


Park Life: This independent retail store and art gallery in the Inner Richmond District spans over 1400 square feet and features art and design products from all over the world. Offerings include hard-to-find and limited-edition books, modern design objects, prints, paper goods, t-shirts, housewares, jewelry, original art, and more.

-Recommended by Gigi’s Bed and Breakfast


San Francisco Homemade soap


Japonica: Locals love visiting this boutique in the Outer Richmond District for its artistic floral arrangements and selection of unique gifts. After browsing through items such as luxurious bath and body products, sophisticated housewares, and handcrafted art and jewelry, stop at the on-site artisan espresso bar for a latte and a snack.

-Recommended by My Rosegarden Guest Rooms



Rolo: With two locations in San Francisco (one in The Castro and one in the trendy SoMA neighborhood), this influential men’s clothing store offers an eclectic selection of European and U.S. brands, including Diesel, Fred Perry, and Life After Denim.

Unionmade: Voted as one of the country’s 10 best independent men’s stores by GQ Magazine and San Francisco’s best men’s store by SF Weekly, this store located in a pre-1906 earthquake Victorian storefront situated on the border of the Mission and Castro Districts is known for its appealing selection of men’s casual and fine clothing, shoes, accessories, and grooming products.

-Recommended by Parker Guest House



City Lights Bookstore: Founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, this independent bookseller features an extensive selection of poetry, politics, history, philosophy, music, spirituality, and more. The publishing arm of the company specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. Lit lovers from all around the world gather here to browse, read, and immerse themselves in the culture of one of the centers of the Beat movement.
San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market: This California-certified farmers market is renowned throughout the United States as one of the top farmers markets to visit. Open three days a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays), you’ll a diverse offering of high-quality fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, meats, and eggs from small regional farmers and ranchers, as well as a selection of regional artisanal specialties such as breads, cheeses, and jams.

-Recommended by White Swan Inn


Where to go for nightlife

To fully understand the intricacies of any city, you need to balance your daytime activities with some nightlife. Our innkeepers have come up with a list of must-hit spots to visit once the sun has set for the evening.

The following venue has been recommended by multiple innkeepers:

Yoshi’s: Opened in 2007 and designed by award-winning architect Mori Moto, this 28,000-square-foot, two-story live music club and upscale Michelin-rated Japanese restaurant resides in the Heritage Fillmore Center. It features the best of local, national, and international performance artists.

Other recommended venues:


The Balboa Theatre: This historic and classically renovated and restored movie theatre was originally opened in 1926 and is now run by the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation. Moviegoers can enjoy freshly popped popcorn with real butter and other complimentary popcorn seasonings as they watch the show.

-Recommended by Gigi’s Bed and Breakfast



The Castro Theatre: As one of the few remaining movie houses in the nation from the 1920s that is still in operation, this movie theatre features an interior with strong Asian, Italian, and Spanish influences in its architecture and design. Due to the unusually large seating capacity of the theatre, screenings very rarely sell-out, but be prepared before walking up to buy a ticket – this box office is cash-only and does not accept credit cards.

Harvey’s: Located in The Castro in the heart of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community, this bar and restaurant is a tribute to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, who was assassinated in November 1978. On Tuesday evenings, the bar hosts a free comedy show (with a one-drink minimum) featuring homosexual and homosexual-friendly comedians.

-Recommended by Parker Guest House



The Fillmore: This historic music venue in San Francisco was made famous in the late 1960s by Bill Graham and became a focal point for psychedelic music and counterculture in general. Numerous bands and solo artists launched their careers on The Fillmore’s main stage, including the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana.

Ruby Skye: Located just off Union Square in the heart of downtown San Francisco, Ruby Skye is one of the city’s most popular nightclubs. The facility was built in the 1880s and is a historical landmark that formerly housed the Stage Door Theatre. The Victorian building was fully restored with a state-of-the-art sound system, and the club now plays host to some of the most renowned DJs in the world.

-Recommended by Queen Anne Hotel



Comet Club: If you’re looking for a place where you can dance the night away to DJs spinning Top 40 hits, then head to this dance club in the Marina and Cow Hollow neighborhood. Drinks are strong and happy hour specials are offered all night on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.

-Recommended by Union Street Inn


Events

While planning your trip to San Francisco, check the dates on the following popular events to make sure you don’t miss them while you’re in town.
San Francisco Bay
Bay to Breakers: A quintessential San Francisco experience since 1912, this 12K race is the oldest consecutively-run footrace in the world. Runners begin near the San Francisco Bay, continue west through the city, and finish at the Great Highway where breakers crash onto the Pacific Coast’s Ocean Beach.

Day of the Dead: Celebrated in the Mission District, this traditional Meso-American holiday honors death and the cycle of life, as well as the relationship we still have with our ancestors and loved ones who have passed away. The event features art, music, performances, and a walking procession designed to encourage contemplation over our worldly existence and our mortality.

-Recommended by Gigi’s Bed and Breakfast



Castro Street Fair: Held annually on the first Sunday in October, the fair is a community celebration that was founded by Harvey Milk in 1974. Hundreds of local artists, vendors, craftspeople, and organizations line the fairgrounds (located in the heart of The Castro at the intersection of Market and Castro Streets) to celebrate the diversity of the neighborhood.

-Recommended by Parker Guest House


Where to go for day trips

The following day trips have been recommended by multiple innkeepers:
San Francisco Napa Valley
The Wine Country in Northern California is known around the world as a premium wine-producing region. With more than 400 wineries in the area north of San Francisco, it’s worth making the hour’s drive from the city for a day-long wine tasting tour around Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Russian River Valley in Sonoma County.

Nature-lovers will want to head to the Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, 12 miles north of San Francisco. The woods span 554 acres within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 240 acres of which contain old growth Coast Redwood forests.

Other recommended day trips:


Bike the Golden Gate Bridge: Rent bicycles and sign up for the nine-mile bike tour across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. The tour lasts two-four hours (approximately one hour of actual riding time), after which you’ll make the return trip back to the city on the ferry. Sights of interest along the way include Fisherman’s Wharf, Aquatic Park, Ghirardelli Square, Crissy Field, The Presidio, Alcatraz, and shops on Sausalito.

Giants Game at AT&T Park: Baseball fans can catch a San Francisco Giants game sign up for a behind-the-scenes ballpark tour to learn more about the stadium’s history and design.

-Recommended by Gigi’s Bed and Breakfast




Carmel-by-the-Sea (Carmel) : Located on the Monterey Peninsula approximately 120 miles south of San Francisco, this extremely dog-friendly city is known for its natural scenery, rich artistic history, and reputation for inspiring romance.

-Recommended by My Rosegarden Guest Rooms