Travel + Leisure is exploring America one three-day weekend at a time. Here’s what to do on a short trip to the City by the Bay.
If you don’t plan well, a weekend vacation in San Francisco can be marked by wrong turns, windy walks across the Golden Gate Bridge, and waiting in lines at all the wrong places. Go in September, and you’re already on the right track—it’s the most reliable month for mild, sunny weather. And while each neighborhood is said to have its own weather microclimate, each has its own cultural climate as well. In a strategically planned weekend like this, you can hit the best neighborhoods (and attractions) for a comprehensive view of the quickly changing city’s cultures—from techie SoMa, to the windswept coast, to the hip Mission District.
Start your weekend in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood, a swift BART ride from SFO. A block from Montgomery Station lies the Palace Hotel. The city’s historic hotel first opened in 1875, and was once the largest luxury hotel in the world. Recently it’s undergone a massive renovation (and now part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection), bringing it into the modern age while still keeping its ritzy gold-and-glass charm. Head to the opulent Garden Court atrium, where a white-linen brunch is served beneath a dozen chandeliers.
Beyond the Palace walls is San Francisco’s modern era of tech, art, and unabashed gourmet gluttony.
After being closed for two years, SFMoMa re-opened this spring. It’s now more than twice the size of the former one, for more world-class modern art in an architectural space that serves as a piece of art itself.
Recoup with dinner a few blocks east at Mourad, a new ultra modern Moroccan-California restaurant that could be mistaken for an off-site SFMoMa exhibit. Hold out for the flaky basteeya, with duck, aprium, and lemon verbena. Indulge in a nightcap back at the Palace Hotel’s Pied Piper bar, where longtime locals are always eager to chat up a visitor over a drink.
Related: Things to do in San Francisco
San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood is still flying under the radar for most travelers, but locals trek across the city to this slow-paced enclave for its mellow vibe. A grid of colorful townhouses gives way to Noriega Street, one the neighborhood’s pedestrian streets. Begin with breakfast at Devil’s Teeth Baking Company, where surfers stand in line for breakfast sandwiches with homemade biscuits. Walk it off on the way to the beach, but first, make a pit stop a few blocks down at General Store on Judah Street, a destination shop selling modern ceramic and woven fixtures, textiles, and a makeshift apothecary in a Kinfolk-esque space (don’t miss the garden patio and greenhouse in the back).
From there, make your way three blocks to Ocean Beach—a scenic place to watch the sun sink into the Pacific. Bonus: Fire rings are now available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Just remember to BYOWood.
After sunset, head back up to Judah Street to finish the evening at Outerlands, a driftwood-adorned restaurant tastefully inspired by the beach a few blocks away. The food is rustic Californian (think hangar steak with snap pea pesto and peaches), and best consumed in a cove of the succulent-strewn parklet in front.
It’s not a complete trip to San Francisco without a trip to Dolores Park, a swath of grassy land in the Mission District where nearly all of the city’s cultures collide. Do as the locals do, and stop by Ritual Coffee for a potent cup of drip coffee. Then, swing by Bi-Rite market for proper picnic provisions (rosé, fresh sourdough bread, and cheese), make your way across the street to the park, and find a perch to watch the entertaining flow of city residents.
When the fog rolls in (as it always does), head to one of Mission’s dozens of taquerias to warm up and refuel. While it’s hard to go wrong, Taqueria El Farolito is the reigning favorite for its crisp overstuffed burritos—a satisfying send-off before your departure.
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