San Francisco, California

San Francisco is a major city in California, the centerpiece of the Bay Area, well-known for its liberal community, hilly terrain, Victorian architecture, scenic beauty, summer fog, and great ethnic and cultural diversity. These are only a few of the aspects of the city that make San Francisco one of the most visited cities in the world.

San Francisco, in northern California, is a hilly city on the tip of a peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. It’s known for its year-round fog, iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and colorful Victorian houses. The Financial District’s Transamerica Pyramid is its most distinctive skyscraper.

Although huge in terms of offerings, San Francisco is physically quite compact. It is located on a seven-by-seven mile (11 x 11km) square of land at the tip of a peninsula between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast. It has a population of 812,000 which represents a small fraction of the entire Bay Area population of 7.1 million. San Francisco is just one of the cities which makes up the entire San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco’s neighbors -Oakland and Berkeley east of the Bay Bridge, Marin County north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Peninsula south of the city are all part of separate counties, each with their own governments and local public transportation systems. San Francisco suffers from crime in some downtown districts like the Tenderloin, Mid Market, 6th Street, Soma and the Western Addition. The south-eastern part of the city also suffers from violent crime. Visitors should be aware of their surroundings when walking late at night near some downtown hotels. San Francisco also has a high rate of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities.

District

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin County with San Francisco in background
Each district of San Francisco carries its own unique and distinct culture. This map is predominantly based on the 11 official governmental districts of San Francisco, but it has been adapted to suit the purposes of this travel guide. Some districts of particular interest to travellers have been broken up into popular neighborhood groupings, while others, mainly residential districts, have been merged together.

Golden Gate
Fashionable and upscale neighborhoods, e.g., the Marina District, Cow Hollow, and Pacific Heights, with extensive views and historical landmarks — Fort Mason, The Presidio, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Fisherman’s Wharf
A touristy waterfront neighborhood which encompasses Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39, and the ferry launch to Alcatraz Island, as well as a plethora of seafood restaurants and souvenir stores.
Nob Hill-Russian Hill
Two ritzy neighborhoods with upscale hotels, cable cars, panoramic views and steep inclines.
Chinatown-North Beach
Two vibrant immigrant communities; the crowded and largest Chinatown outside of Asia next to the stylish laid back ‘Little Italy’, as well as Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower.
Union Square-Financial District
Union Square is the center of shopping, theater and art in the city, next to the many skyscrapers of downtown and Market Street.
Civic Center-Tenderloin
The neoclassical Civic Center next to the grit of the Tenderloin. The San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony and SFjazz are located there. While the ‘Loin’ is grittier compared to its ritzier neighbors downtown, there’s plenty of interesting architecture and attractions to see here.
SoMa (South of Market)
A rapidly changing neighborhood of downtown that is the center of a lot of new construction, including new skyscrapers, some of the city’s newest museums, and AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
Western Addition
A historic neighborhood with many Victorian homes that was once a hotbed of African-American culture. Within the area is also Japantown, once the center of San Francisco’s Japanese population, still populated with many Japanese stores and restaurants, and hotels that cater to Japanese travelers.
Haight
Famous for being the home of the Hippie movement, this once bohemian area is still an eclectic treasure.
The Avenues
Includes the foggy Richmond. Sunset and Parkside Districts, separated by scenic Golden Gate Park, bounded on the west by Ocean Beach and on the south by Sloat Blvd. The Richmond District is north of Golden Gate Park and the Sunset is south of the park. Additionally you will often hear locals referring to the inner and outer Richmond and inner and outer Sunset. The demarcation in the Richmond is Park Presidio and in the Sunset 19th Avenue.
Twin Peaks-Lake Merced
Covering most of southwestern San Francisco, this area is home to many of the taller hills of San Francisco and the large Lake Merced park, which contains the San Francisco Zoo.
Castro-Noe Valley
Colorful and cohesive, the Castro (Eureka Valley) is historically known for being the cultural center of the city’s LGBTQ community. Nearby Noe Valley offers excellent restaurants and shops along pleasantly walkable streets.
Mission-Bernal Heights
This colorful area is home to a large Hispanic community as well as new urban artisans, and is a center of San Francisco night life. For visitors wishing to get off the beaten tourist paths and catch some local flavor, this is the place to go.
Southeast San Francisco
A mostly lower income residential area, this district contains several bay-side neighborhoods, and many nice parks.

Climate

San Francisco has a mild climate, with cool, wet winters and dry summers. In most months, you can expect the high temperature to be in the upper 50s, 60s or low 70s degree Fahrenheit (15-25°C). However, these mild temperature readings belie a unique climate not shared by other major cities in the state or country. Essentially San Francisco is never warmer than 73 degrees but never colder than 50 degrees. The nights are chilly so usually people in San Francisco always carry around a light jacket because the temperatures can drop or rise drastically within an hour.

Summer days usually start out under fog, slowly burning off towards the ocean into a sunny albeit windy afternoon. Measurable precipitation during the summer months is rare, although light drizzle is possible. Humidity is very constant, but rarely uncomfortable. At late afternoon, when the fog and wind returns people generally find themselves needing a jacket (and this is summer!). There are some days when the fog lingers all day.

In the winter, the rainy season is in full swing. That being said, the chances for a calm, windless, sunny day are actually higher in the winter than in the summer! However, the overall temperatures are going to be lower in the winter.

Spring and fall are not so much seasons in themselves in San Francisco, but rather they are quick transitional periods with some days resembling summer and others the winter. Fall in particular is a good time to visit because the summer wind & fog has mostly gone, but the rainy season has not yet started. The late summer month of September, as summer transitions into fall, is the warmest and driest month of the entire year for San Francisco. Heat waves can occasionally occur around this time of year.

Within these general rules, San Francisco also has a series of microclimates created by the city’s topography and maritime setting. Large hills in the city’s center block much of the fog, wind, and precipitation that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean. Because of this, there can be significant weather differences in different parts of the city and the surrounding Bay Area at the same time. Generally, the more windward areas along the coast are cooler and foggier, while the more leeward areas in the east are warmer and drier. Temperature differences of 10-15 degrees or so are common on days where the fog persists on the western side of the city. These differences continues as you move east, out of the city and into the outer East Bay (on the other side of the hills from Berkeley and Oakland), where it can be much hotter and drier. Local meteorologists routinely have three forecasts: one for the coast, one for the bay, and one for the inland areas. In short, if you don’t like the weather, perhaps travel a few miles east or west to your desired climate.

Language

English is the dominant language spoken in San Francisco. Cantonese is spoken by the majority of San Francisco’s large Chinese population, with an increasing Mandarin-speaking minority. Spanish is also commonly spoken in San Francisco, although not as common as in the rest of California.

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