San Francisco, the City by the Bay, is a bustling metropolis in Northern California that more than 837,000 people call home.

Iconic sights and sounds synonymous with San Francisco are easy to rattle off. From the bright orange Art Deco Golden Gate Bridge to the ding! ding! of colorful cable cars to savory Rice-A-Roni, there are several dozen attractions that make San Fran a perennially popular place to explore.

While new bars, restaurants, shops and cultural attractions are becoming popular points of interests for locals and visitors, there are many mainstays not based on trends that are just so San Francisco. Here are 25 things that evoke an instant association with San Francisco.

1. Cool, cool summers

It’s a cool, cool summer in San Francisco (Image: San Francisco Travel Association/Scott Chernis)

San Francisco’s location between the Pacific Ocean and the Central Valley contribute to its cold summers when average high temperatures hover in the mid-60s. A marine layer sits above the Pacific Ocean and heat in the valley to the East create thinner air and low pressure that create a vacuum over San Francisco, making it chillier than other cities in California and in the United States.

2. Crazy for craft beer

Like other major cities in the U.S., the craft beer craze is alive and well in San Francisco. From homebrews to microbrews to the beer aisle at Whole Foods Market, the city has beer drinkers covered.

3. Classic cable cars

First zooming through San Francisco’s Victorian streets in 1873, the iconic, motor-less cable cars travel on steel tracks and an underground cable, gliding seemingly effortlessly along the city’s steep hills and grades. The $6 ride affords a fantastic trip around the city. Learn how the cable cars operate at the Cable Car Museum on Mason Street.

4. The San Francisco treat: Rice-A-Roni

San Fran resident Vince DeDomenico took his family’s recipe for rice, vermicelli pasta and chicken broth and boxed it up in 1958 and called the creation Rice-A-Roni. With a catchy jingle that proclaimed Rice-A-Roni “The San Francisco Treat,” the comfort food has become an icon for San Fran and a staple in American family kitchens for decades.

5. Iconic Golden Gate Bridge

Connecting San Francisco to California’s northern counties is the Golden Gate Bridge. The orange, Art Deco suspension bridge has grand 746-foot tall towers and attracts more than 10 million visitors each year.

6. Bike, bike baby

Health conscious San Franciscans like their bicycles. There are 217 miles of bike routes in the city and ridership has increased 14 percent since 2011, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which counted 23,225 bicycle trips at 51 intersections during its annual SFMTA 2013 Bicycle Count.

7. Wine tastings in one hour or less

California’s famed wineries are quick trips from San Francisco: Napa, Sonoma and Los Gatos are all one hour or less from San Fran. Cheers to that!

8. More dining options than a Zagat guide

If you ate out at a new restaurant every day, it would take years to try all the eateries in San Francisco, which has the most restaurants per capita in the U.S. – 39.3 restaurants per 10,000 households, according to real estate website Trulia.

9. Don’t worry, be happy attitude

Host to one of the largest annual pride parades and known for its tolerance of all people, San Francisco is one of the most welcoming and diverse cities in the U.S

10. Tech that, Silicon Valley

First, there was the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, then, the dot-com era in the 1990s that brought folks to the City by the Bay. Now, there is a tech boom in San Francisco, giving Silicon Valley a run for its money. While the tech boom has brought more jobs, it’s also been blamed for skyrocketing rents and housing prices.

11. Our rent is higher than yours

Move over New York City, San Francisco is the most expensive rental market in the U.S., according to Zumper, a rental search website. A one-bedroom apartment is – wait for it – $3,460.

12. Fashion forward

San Francisco’s sidewalks are eye-catching catwalks with locals dressed to the nines. It’s not surprising; San Francisco is where Levi Strauss opened a wholesale dry goods business in 1853 and created jeans – work pants that could hold up in rough conditions. The first product line designated by the lot number “501” was created in 1890 and the iconic jeans are now sold in 50,000 locations in 110 countries resulting in $4.6 billion in net revenues in 2013, according to Levi Strauss & Co. Jeans were also the inspiration behind the first Gap store that was opened by Doris and Don Fisher in San Fran in 1969. When Don couldn’t find a pair of jeans that fit, he and his wife opened Gap, which has since expanded to six brands and 3,700 stores.

13. Doggone paw-fect

Man’s best friend can walk around the city enjoying two-legged and four-legged fun. Many bars allow dogs to accompany their owners and dogs can even ride the bus!


14. Fog, not smog

Similar to the chilly summer situation, fog is an inevitable way of life in San Fran. Hot air rising from the Central Valley contributes to the conditions that create fog that blankets the city and its iconic spots like the Golden Gate Bridge.

15. Streetcars named desirable transport

Classic streetcars whisk travelers along the F Line, which travels from Fisherman’s Wharf along the Embarcadero, down Market Street and ends in the Castro District. The vintage trams are part of San Fran’s public transportation system, the Municipal Railway, called “Muni” by the locals, and they run on steel rails and are propelled by onboard electric motors and a trolley pole that draws power from an overhead wire.

16. SoMa = startup central

SoMa, a neighborhood South of Market Street, is startup central for tech companies, art galleries, trendy restaurants and bars.

17. Brag-worthy selfies with picturesque panoramic backgrounds

Whether in the rain, fog or sun, San Francisco has picture postcard views around nearly every corner and up and down its hilly streets. Take in the views on an exhilarating cable car ride – just hold on tight (to the camera and the car’s poles!).

18. The great escape: Alcatraz Island

Famous for the U.S. penitentiary that housed some of America’s most dangerous felons like Al Capone between 1934 and 1963, Alcatraz is a must-see. While a dozen prisoners tried to escape “The Rock” by swimming in the chilly waters to San Francisco, no one made it. Each year, athletes prove it is possible to make the 1.5 mile swim with the annual ESCAPE from Alcatraz Triathlon. Make the trek with less effort (and stay dry) by accessing the island via private ferry.

19. Enviable waterfronts

Created from the rubble of buildings destroyed in the great earthquake and fire of 1906, Fisherman’s Wharf has gone the way of most city waterfront projects offering a plethora of dining and shopping options and water and land tours. Over at Pier 39, the vibe is similar with scenic views, waterfront dining and shopping (bonus: sea lions like to congregate here too!).

20. Mission possible: a no-fog San Francisco neighborhood

The Mission, San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood, is where you go when you are hungry and want to escape the fog. Plus, there are dozens of colorful murals to admire.

21. Who you callin’ crooked?

Named after a street in Philadelphia of all things, Lombard Street is known as the crookedest street in the world; however, it’s actually not (Vermont Street between 20th and 22nd Streets is actually the most crooked). The eight hairpin turns were actually added to Lombard Street in the 1920s to make the street safer for pedestrians. Now, it’s just over-run by them.

22. It’s hip to be Haight-Ashbury

1960s hippie culture is alive and well here. The pastel-hued row of Victorian houses that sit along Hayes and Steiner streets is one of the most famous San Fran backdrops. The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is the birthplace of the city’s hippie culture; vintage record and clothing shops stand as testaments to the neighborhood’s historic importance and vibe.

23. Artsy fartsy

San Franciscans are artsy. Brag-worthy performing arts institutions include the San Francisco Ballet (the largest and oldest ballet company in the U.S.), San Francisco Opera (second largest opera company in North America), San Francisco Symphony and American Conservatory Theater. The City by the Bay is also home to The Fillmore Auditorium where musicians like Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead performed.

24. San Francisco Giants

Originally the New York Gothams, the baseball team moved to San Fran in 1958. The San Francisco Giants have won eight World Series championships, most recently in 2014, and play at scenic AT&T Park.

25. Nicknames and lots of ‘em

San Fran, Frisco, SF, Baghdad by the Bay, The Golden City, City by the Bay…while nicknames come and go and evolve, one thing remains constant – San Francisco, no matter what you call it, is unlike any place you have ever been.


Main Image: Luciano Mortula

About the author

Lauren MackLauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.

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