So, by the time your out-of-town loved ones actually arrive, you probably just want to sit back, relax, and enjoy their company — not stress about how to show them a good time. That's why, in the interest of maximizing glee and minimizing hassle, we made a list (and checked it twice) of some of the city's most crowd-pleasing spots.
From yummy restos with stunning Bay views to contemporary-cool and totally affordable hotels to an awesome museum with live reindeer and indoor snowfall, this cheat sheet spans all of the season's most merry S.F. activities that your visitors will absolutely love.
For the parents who appreciate peace and quiet and would rather opt for a hotel that’s not right in the bustling Union Square area, we're all about Hotel Kabuki. It runs about $150 per night (what a steal, right?) and is located in the heart of Japantown, which means it’s surrounded by tons of yummy eateries and is a skip from Sundance Kabuki Cinema, one of our favorite movie theaters in the city for its assigned seating and ultra-clean interior — and booze. And, although it’s not as near the downtown stores as some of the other hotels, it's walking distance from the trendy shopping mecca that is Fillmore Street, which is easily as tempting in our books.
Hotel Kabuki, 1625 Post Street (at Laguna Street), San Francisco; 415-922-3200.
When your sassy sister or best friend comes to visit, this is the hotel he or she should book. First off, it’s located just west of Union Square, in close proximity to all the shopping the ‘hood has to offer, which will keep 'em entertained for days. Plus, it’s priced at around $150 per night, making it more affordable than a lot of the other options in the area. Expect to see the cheeky “diva” theme carried throughout, right down to the dark walls and lingerie artwork. But, we are particularly smitten with the iPhone pillows and the Perrier Bubble Lounge.
Hotel Diva, 440 Geary Street (between Mason and Taylor streets), San Francisco; 415-885-0200.
Have a friend or relative who refuses to part with her pet when visiting? Hey, we get it — the pup’s part of the fam, too! Just direct her on over to Hotel Triton, a quirky Kimpton refuge in FiDi, right on the border of Chinatown. It’s pet-friendly, and at about $200 per night, it’s a relatively affordable option as far as boutique hotels go. Plus, its playful décor makes it a good fit for creative types. For the ultra-eclectic guest, it also offers themed suites like the Häagen-Dazs “Sweet Suite” complete with a fully stocked ice-cream cabinet, the “D-List Suite” designed by none other than Kathy Griffin, with floor-to-ceiling white-suede drapes, and the “J. Garcia Suite" designed by the room’s namesake, with his original watercolor paintings and an autographed wall.
Hotel Triton, 342 Grant Avenue (between Bush Street and Harlan Place), San Francisco; 415-394-0500.
It’s the holiday season, and that means more than ever, some visitors just want a place to stay where they can zen out and unwind. For those friends and family members, the luxurious Hotel Vitale is an excellent option. The rooms are designed in soft, soothing hues, the bathrooms are made of limestone, and the hotel has spa services available. At more than $250 per night, this hotel is a little pricier than the others we’ve profiled. On the plus side, though, you get what you pay for — it’s situated a stone’s throw away from the Ferry Building and is also home to the ever-popular Americano restaurant and bar, an eatery with a big outdoor patio that’s a favorite among the FiDi see-and-be-seen crowd.
Hotel Vitale, 6 Mission Street (between Steuart Street and The Embarcadro), San Francisco; 415-278-3700.
This arty, contemporary hotel is ideal for out-of-town friends on a budget who are also looking to hit up nearby nightlife. It’s located in the ‘Loin, a far-from-glamorous part of town, but it also happens to be right around the corner from Jones and near a whole slew of other bars like Le Colonial, Swig, Bourbon & Branch, and Rye. At about $180 per night, it’s a pretty good value, and we’re fans of the funky décor.
Hotel Adagio, 550 Geary Street (at Shannon Street), San Francisco; 415-775-5000.
This is kind of the go-to place for visitors that are looking to swank it up a bit, but still capture the downtown S.F. essence, which is pretty magical around this time of year. The dynamic views of the Bay, luxe and spacious rooms, and delicious restaurant will make your guests feel right at home — a sleek, stylish home, naturally. The creative cousin, younger sis, hip pal — you name it, if they are into the prim details and cool scene, this is where they need to rest their heads. And plus, considering there are W Hotel’s in every major city, chances are they know what they are in for — no head-snapping surprises here. It’s the last thing you’d need, right? Just impeccable service and gorgeous interiors! Hey, maybe we’ll even kick it at the W Hotel with them? Why not?
W Hotel, 181 3rd Street (at Howard Street); 415-777-5300.
Photos: Via Hotel Adagio; Hotel Vitale; Hotel Kabuki
The secret’s out: Suppenküche has it all — hearty, delicious food, tons of German beer on tap, and a lively, laid-back atmosphere great for even the rowdiest friends and family. Reservations are only open to groups of six or more, so if you have a smaller party your best bet is to arrive 10 minutes or so before it opens so you can get seated sans a super-long wait. And, oh man, is it worth it. Expect simple, expertly executed favorites like schnitzel, cheese spätzle, potato pancakes, and lots more. Party people, take note: They do offer boots. Prost!
Suppenküche, 525 Laguna Street (at Hayes Street), San Francisco; 415-252-9289.
Everything about this Mission hotspot is elegant and approachable (Grams will not feel out of place), from the fantastic Italian fare to the inviting interior. If at some point you want to impress your out-of-town guests with an upscale meal (and let’s face it — you probably will), you’ll never go wrong at this tried-and-true restaurant. You will, however, want to make a reservation. Chances of nabbing walk-in seating here are slim, unless you’re willing to wait a while. It’s easy — you can book online right on its site.
Delfina, 3621 18th Street (between Guererro and Oakwood streets), San Francisco; 415-552-4055.
Off The Grid
Entertaining any thrifty-but-choosey guests this holiday season? These traveling food trucks, carts, and tents are an S.F. trifecta — delicious, a point of local pride, and as affordable as it gets. Consult the Off The Grid calendar to find out when and where you can find this mobile food fest, or stalk your favorite vendors on Twitter. With more than 60 purveyors in rotation (including favorites like The Chairman, Crème Brûlée Cart, Bacon Bacon, and Curry Up Now), it’s easy for everyone in your group to find something tempting.
Off The Grid, check calendar for rotating locations, San Francisco; 415-339-5888.
So your fam’s coming to visit, and you found out they went vegan — that’s no reason for either of you to have to suffer sub-par grub. This locally grown, organic Mexican restaurant in the heart of the Mission passes the taste test (and then some!) for vegan, veggie, and meat-eaters alike. A word of caution: The dishes are heavy on cashew and almond sauces, so those with severe nut allergies are advised to steer clear. But for everyone else, it offers yummy, satisfying food in a warm, homey atmosphere.
Gracias Madre, 2211 Mission Street (between 18th and 19th streets), San Francisco; 415-683-1346.
Sam’s Anchor Cafe
Family day-trip time! The second we get to Sam’s, we feel like we’re on vacation. Situated in Marin County right next to the boat docks, the venue is charming and the view is nothing short of picturesque. As far as the actual food goes, expect waterfront fare done right (think fresh oysters, crab cakes, fish ‘n’ chips, and burgers). Plus, getting to the joint is totally part of the experience. Although it’s easily accessible by car, we suggest making a day of it and booking a ferry — yes, it’s just as fun as it sounds.
Sam’s Anchor Cafe, 27 Main Street, Tiburon; 415-435-4527.
Photos: Via Gracias Madre; Courtesy of Delfina/Eric Wolfinger; Via Sam’s Anchor Cafe
California Academy of Sciences
As if Golden Gate Park weren’t enough of an attraction on its own, in the heart of the grounds is this LEED-certified museum that cost $500 million in the making. Between the “living roof” covered in live plants and soil, aquarium (complete with albino alligator), planetarium, and the incredible, sleek architecture, we’re hard-pressed to think of a friend or family member who wouldn’t find something to love at the California Academy of Sciences. Plus, for the second year in a row and now until January 6, there’s also a special holiday exhibit, “‘Tis the Season for Science,” with attractions like live reindeer and indoor snow flurries — how awesome is that?
California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive (across from the De Young Museum), San Francisco; 415-379-8000.
Lands End Trail
Your guests may have a hard time believing there are sites this scenic — not to mention stunning — right in the middle of our metropolis. Lands End Trail is a comfortable hike with gorgeous scenery in the northwest corner of S.F. Between the Cyprus-covered path, lush, hilly landscape, and tucked-away beaches, it'd be tough to find a more relaxing walk in the city. It’s located just north of the Cliff House, a restaurant with equally amazing views, so we recommend stopping there afterwards if you and your guests get hungry or thirsty.
Lands End Trail, (between El Camino Del Mar and 32nd Avenue), San Francisco; 415-426-5240.
Bay Area Day Trips
Admit it — even as a local, you know there are always a ton of new places to explore in every Bay Area ‘hood. Sometimes outside visitors provide the perfect excuse for you to truly check out what each part of the area has to offer. Luckily, we have stellar suggestions for that. Tour the best spots in the beach-bordering, west side of S.F. and the seaside village across the Golden Gate Bridge with our insiders’ guides to the Outer Sunset and Sausalito.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
It doesn’t matter if your out-of-town friends and family are adults or kids – you’ll all geek out over the awesome marine life in this protected area. Here you’ll find harbor seals, octopi, sea stars, and more. The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is in Moss Beach, just a short (half hour-long) trip southwest of the city, and it’s beyond worth the drive to see the beachy scenery and all the super-sweet creatures. You’ll want to come at low tide (1” or less, so the reef is exposed) during daylight hours, so check the tide table and plan your visit accordingly. Groups of 10 or more should make a reservation before coming. We also suggest packing an extra pair of shoes and socks in case your feet get wet while you’re exploring.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, 200 Nevada Avenue (at Lake Street), Moss Beach; 650-363-4021.
Every holiday season, we face the same what-should-we-do family conundrum — do we spring for a show, or just see a movie instead? The Castro Theatre offers a unique hybrid of both worlds. The auditorium has the type of regal flair you’d see in a performing-arts venue, but instead it screens hit films of yesteryear. What’s more: December 22nd is the full-day holiday movie-athon, “‘Twas the Night Before Sketchfest." Presented by the same folks who bring us the San Francisco Comedy Festival, they’re showing winter classics like Elf, Scrooged, Bad Santa, and more. We. Can’t. Wait. And a word to the wise — the box office is cash only, so you may want to buy tickets online.
Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th streets), San Francisco; 415-621-6120.
Photos: Via Castro Theatre; Photographed by Christine Ting; Michal Venera, Courtesy of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
Are your guests modern ladies and men-about-town types? This FiDi favorite has a solid selection of wine and beer and is a perfect pre- or post-dinner drink spot. The interior feels like a super-sleek bachelor basement and is also a prime haunt for people-watching. Added bonus: It is known for its hand-picked, ultra-creative themed flights, like “Bubbles," “The Europeans," “Just Pinor Noir,” and “The Usual Suspects”.
Press Club, 20 Yerba Buena Lane (between Market and Mission streets), San Francisco; 415-744-5000.
This S.F. spot — renowned for its mixology and its locally sourced food — is the place to be to impress even the most critical cocktail-loving friends and family. The drinks are delish and we love the classy, throwback names like the Bourbon Old Fashioned, Foxtrot, Brown Derby, and Tequila Fix. And, if you’re entertaining any design-savvy guests, you’re in good hands here, too. The sleek, modern-rustic space is LEED certified and won the James Beard Award for outstanding restaurant design in 2011.
Bar Agricole, 355 11th Street (between Folsom and Harrison streets), San Francisco; 415-355-9400.
Southern Pacific Brewing
Finding easy-going spots that are also clean, modern, and provide enough seating for all your guests can be tricky, but this massive, loft-style brewery has it all. Fun fact: It’s actually a converted warehouse that was once home to a factory along the Southern Pacific railroad line. The venue does tend to stay busy, but because the space is so big, it’s relatively easy for groups to find a spot to sit without having to worry about bumping elbows with other bar-goers. (We all know how mom and dad need their space). And, in case you or your guests get hungry, they offer a full lunch and dinner menu, as well as light bites.
Southern Pacific Brewing, 620 Treat Avenue (between 19th and Mistral streets), San Francisco; 415-341-0152.
Here’s one venue your guests won’t forget anytime soon. Stepping foot in this bustling, 1900's-style saloon feels a little like traveling back in time. (Read: Your history buff brother’s going to love it). The décor is old-timey, the drinks are stiff, and from time to time you can even catch a live jazz band playing. Plus, it was deemed one of the 50 Best Bars in America by Food & Wine magazine — no big surprise considering it’s part of the esteemed culinary crew the Absinthe Group. Keep in mind the space fills up fast, so we suggest making a reservation.
Comstock Saloon, 155 Columbus Avenue (between Pacific Avenue and Kearny Street), San Francisco; 415-617-0071.
The Cliff House
If there’s one activity any local or out-of-towner alike can easily get on board with, it’s grabbing drinks at a spot with spectacular views of the Bay. The upper terrace lounge at the Cliff House fits this bill to a T — plus it has first come, first serve seating, so there’s no need for a res. As the name implies, this elegant building is on the edge of a cliff, so the ocean views are amazing. It also happens to be located at the end of Lands End Trail, another site we highly recommend taking your friends and family to check out. Post-hike cocktails all around? Yes, please!
The Cliff House, 1090 Point Lobos Avenue, San Francisco; 415-386-3330.
The Abbot’s Cellar
Okay, let’s be honest here — with so many visitors in town it really is enough to drive you to drink. So, why wouldn’t you? Feel like getting out of the house and bringing along a select one or two of your fave relatives (we won’t tell!), go to The Abbot’s Cellar. It’s sure to impress with its great interior, amazing pairings, and phenomenal beer list. Ah, freedom at last!
The Abbot's Cellar, 742 Valencia Street (between 18th and 19th streets); 415-626-8700.
Photos: Via The Cliff House; Courtesy of Christian Albertson/Abbot's Cellar; Via Press Club
What do you do when one of your guests is active and another, not so much? The famed Coit Tower, an S.F. landmark, can easily be enjoyed by both. For the active out-of-towner who’s game for a good workout, we suggest starting at Filbert and Sansome streets and trekking up the steep steps. Walking up the hill feels like you’re entering an urban oasis — charming gardens and lush greenery line the way up to the tower. Meanwhile, the less athletically inclined in the group can skip the hike and instead just park at the top of Telegraph Hill. All parties can reconvene at the tower. It costs $7 to take the elevator to the top, so worth it for the sweeping, panoramic views of the city.
Coit Tower, 1 Telegraph Hill Boulevard (at Greenwich Street), San Francisco; 415-362-0808.
Golden Gate Bridge
Yes, the Golden Gate Bridge is far and away the most iconic landmark in the city, and if your visitors haven’t already seen it, you should show it to them. Chances are, you’ve done your fair share of driving across it, but have you gotten around to walking or biking it? Your guests are coming, so seize the opportunity! Keep in mind, the bridge sidewalk has set hours of operation, so you should check out the schedule before crossing. If you decide to rent bikes and do so from Fisherman’s Wharf, expect an eight-mile round trip from the bike rental spot to ride across the bridge and over to Sausalito. From there you can take the ferry back to several S.F. bike rental spots, including Blazing Saddles Bike Rental and Bay City Bike.
Golden Gate Bridge; 415-921-5858.
Golden Gate Park
There’s no two ways about it — this park is really, really big. No matter what outdoorsy activity your guests want to partake in, chances are, you’ll find it here. The park is home to a buffalo paddock, a Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, massive trees, meandering paths, a Dutch windmill, multiple museums, and more. On Sundays, the streets are blocked off, so it’s easy to walk and bike. And, just about every day, there’s an enthusiastic drum circle, which acts as a helpful reminder to you and your visitors that you are, in fact, still in San Francisco.
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco; contact via this form.
Generally speaking, out-of-towners appreciate experiencing a true taste of the city’s local flavor. Well, besides offering some of the best views around, a playground, and tennis and basketball courts, Dolores Park is also home to a truly diverse slice of S.F. life. On any given day, you’ll find puppies, hippies, yuppies, homeless, substance purveyors, adults, and kids all happily co-existing within its grassy knoll. Plus, nearby is a host of yummy S.F. food favorites like Tartine Bakery, Bi-Rite, Namu Gaji, and Delfina. As far as we’re concerned, it’s a must-visit for any newcomers looking to get the real deal.
Dolores Park, 566 Dolores Street (between 18th and 20th streets), San Franciso.
Ferry Building Marketplace and Farmers’ Market
With tons of amazing eateries and a seemingly endless array of specialty stores, this S.F. institution is truly a yuppie paradise, in the best way possible. Inside the Ferry Building you’ll find some of the city’s most celebrated local shops: The bakery bliss that is Miette, the cheese extravaganza Cowgirl Creamery, Bay Area-based cult coffee favorite Blue Bottle, and the list goes on. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., you and your guests can also snatch up fresh fruit, veggies, and artisan street food fare at the storied farmers’ market.
Ferry Building Market and Farmers’ Market, One Ferry Building (between Mission and Washington streets), San Francisco; 415-983-8007.
Photos: Via Dolores Park; Golden Gate Park; Ferry Building Marketplace and Farmers’ Market