San Francisco has many interesting neighbourhoods for visitors to explore. The variety found here has given San Francisco a deserved reputation as one of America's most vibrant and popular tourist destinations. With its rolling hills, stunning views, temperate climate and dazzling architecture, there's plenty here for all manner of visitors to enjoy.

    From Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge to iconic cable cars and the sea lions of Pier 39, the city is full to the brim with must-see sights and unique experiences. Here we digest some of the unique delights of San Francisco's varied neighbourhoods, helping you to choose the perfect base from which you can enjoy the best the city has to offer.

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    Union Square

    Hit the shops in San Francisco’s retail paradise

    Union Square is a lively shopping, dining and entertainment district in downtown San Francisco. The area is known as a true shopper's paradise, boasting almost all imaginable forms of retail therapy, from luxurious department stores to bargain outlets and just about everything in between.

    The plaza, which gives the area its name, was given a multimillion-dollar facelift in 2002. It's home to a giant amphitheatre and stone pedestals from which performers entertain the crowds. The bright, open area is adorned with colourful flowers and tropical palm trees, making it a great spot to unwind after navigating the shops. Union Square is home to a fine selection of restaurants, including low-key cafes and juice bars, casual eateries and fine dining establishments. You'll also find a host of excellent bars in the vicinity. Union Square is within close proximity to San Francisco's theatre district, making it a great option if you're looking to catch a show while in town.

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    2

    Fisherman's Wharf

    Enjoy San Francisco's quintessential visitor experience

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    • Couples
    • Families
    • History
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    Fisherman's Wharf is a colourful ocean-side neighbourhood on the city's northern waterfront boasting views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. The bustling Wharf area stretches from Pier 33 to Ghirardelli Square, and with its abundance of famous attractions, hotels, restaurants, shops and striking scenery, exploring the historic area perhaps represents the archetypal San Francisco experience. The popular tourist destination is home to the iconic Pier 39 – with its adorable sea lions, aquarium, restaurants and shops – as well as entertainment options to keep all ages occupied. 

    You can enjoy a cable car ride over the famously hilly streets below via the Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde lines, check out one of the many fascinating Museums, ride the San Francisco Carousel, or get your maritime history fix at Hyde Pier. From Pier 33, it's possible to book boat cruises to visit Alcatraz Island – home to its infamous abandoned prison and the West Coast's oldest working lighthouse – book ahead as the tours tend to fill up in advance. 

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    3

    South of Market

    Immerse yourself in the city's buzzing tech epicentre

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    • History
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    South of Market is a busy neighbourhood within walking distance of Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf. Known locally as SoMa, the area is packed with buzzing bars, restaurants, and museums. The waterside area consists of 6 sub-districts – South Park, South Beach, Yerba Buena, Mission Bay, the Design District, and Rincon Hill. One of biggest attractions is the impressive Oracle Park baseball stadium, home of the San Francisco Giants. If sports aren't your thing, visit the Museum of Modern Art (or MOMA) for a fix of contemporary paintings, sculptures, and photography.

    Other museums in the South of Market area include the Museum of African Diaspora, the Children's Creativity Museum, and the International Art Museum of America. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and Waterfall is a great place for quiet reflection. Those wishing to further escape the hubbub can head to the Yerba Beuna Gardens for some open space tranquillity. When it comes to mealtimes, all imaginable cuisines are catered for, including the classic Americana of Boulevard, traditional Italian fare at Cento Osteria, and the contemporary Asian fusion of Beno. 

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    4

    Nob Hill

    Explore the affluence and grandeur of this historic neighbourhood

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    • Families
    • History
    • Luxury

    Nob Hill is undoubtedly one of the most luxurious neighbourhoods you'll find in San Francisco. The area was previously the location of the Big Four railroad barons' mansions, and the illustrious atmosphere endures today thanks to its upscale hotels, resplendent buildings, and fancy restaurants. The stunning Gothic architecture of Grace Cathedral remains one of the biggest attractions in the vicinity, and with good reason. The West Coast’s largest Episcopal cathedral features elegant stained-glass windows and bronze doors fabricated from casts from the Florence Baptistery. Next door, you'll find Huntington Park, a serene spot built on the site of the former home of railway Tycoon Collis P. Huntington after it was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake.

    Though not overflowing with museums, the area is home to The Cable Car Museum, where visitors can learn more about the history of San Francisco's iconic public transport system. Those wishing to marvel at the areas prestigious past can head to the Pacific Union Club – a super-exclusive members club housed in the only surviving Nob Hill mansion – whose members comprise of a top-secret list of high-rollers. Restaurant options include the Italian spread at Nob Hill Cafe and the American favourites on offer at The Big 4. 

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    5

    Marina District

    Soak up the energy of this atmospheric waterfront district

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    • Budget

    The Marina District on San Francisco's northern shore is famed for its lively restaurants, energetic bars, and bountiful shopping. An excellent place to start when exploring the Marina District is Fort Mason, a former military base which was repurposed as a centre of arts and culture, and now houses a selection of cafes, museums, and regular cultural events. The complex is situated next to Marina Green Park, from where visitors can enjoy a picnic, fly a kite, or enjoy a run alongside exceptional views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Architecture buffs should enjoy the Palace of Fine Arts, a delightful European-style pergola which was originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. 

    Head to Chestnut Street for the epicentre of the area's varied retail offerings, where high street favourites sit alongside boutique outlets and all manner of desirable goods can be purchased. There's an abundance of good eating in this neighbourhood, with highlights including the delicious seafood of Pacific Catch, hearty patties at Roam Artisan Burgers, and the Korean delights on offer at Surisan. If it's vibe-rich nightlife you're after, try mingling with the locals over a cocktail at Reed & Greenough or opt for the understated charm of Marina Lounge. 

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    6

    Financial District

    Experience true city living in San Francisco's downtown

    • Couples
    • History
    • Luxury
    • Business

    The Financial District is the high-rise hub of San Francisco's business and finance sectors. The area is dominated by jaw-dropping skyscrapers, and none is more striking than the magnificent Transamerica Pyramid. Built in 1972, it's the tallest building in San Francisco, and remarkably futuristic for its age. Other landmarks include the Flatiron Building, the Corporate Goddess, and the distinctive clock tower of Ferry Building. Anyone wishing to escape from modernity can take a trip to the Wells Fargo Museum to learn about the California Gold Rush, Stagecoach travel, and what life was like in the Old West.

    Looking to expend some energy while you explore? Head to Filbert Steps, a 284-ft walkway leading up to the top of Telegraph Hill. As well as stunning vistas, you might meet a colourful parrot or two along the way. When mealtime arrives, choices include mouth-watering seafood at Tadich Grill, tasty soup slurping at Ramen Underground, and a cosy Italian spread at Perbacco. There are plenty of bars catering for the area's after-work crowd, including the superb Whisky selection at Rickhouse, vino and snacks at The Barrel Room, and the deconstructed elegance of Iron Horse Cocktails.

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    7

    Japantown

    Experience a slice of Japan with a state-side twist

    Japantown is a compact, 6-block neighbourhood in the city's Western Addition. Also known as Nihonmachi, it's San Francisco's home of Japanese culture, and as you might expect, is packed full of delights from the Island Nation. Karaoke bars, traditional spas, speciality grocery stores and restaurants selling authentic sushi, ramen, and shabu-shabu are some of the features of this unique locality – one of only 3 remaining Japantowns in America today.

    Central to the neighbourhood is the distinctive Peace Pagoda, an elegant monument in Peace Plaza which was donated by San Francisco's twin city, Osaka, back in 1968. If you're lucky enough to visit in springtime, the area hosts the annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, offering a taste of Japan's famous Hanami season with a West Coast twist. Budding singers can warble to their heart's content at one of the area's many karaoke bars, with Festa Lounge and IchiPub proving popular choices. All flavours of Japan's varied cuisine can be found here. Marafuku Ramen, Hinodea Ramen, and Waraku good spots for soup lovers, while if it's sushi you're craving, Kui Shin Bo is a local's favourite. If Japanese food isn't what you're after, Octavia is known for its high-quality American menu and includes great options for vegetarians and vegans. 

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    8

    Chinatown

    The largest Chinatown outside of Asia

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    • History
    • Photo

    Chinatown is one of the foremost tourist attractions in San Francisco, with its bustling atmosphere offering visitors an abundance of sights, sounds, and aromas to enliven the senses. San Francisco's Chinatown is not only the oldest in the US but also the largest outside of Asia. The expansive area covers 24 blocks, with charming streets overflowing with colourful shops, authentic Chinese eateries and tea shops, and outlets selling traditional Chinese medicine. The neighbourhood's entrance is marked by the green-tiled Dragon Gate, where auspicious sculptures of dragons, koi fish, and lions welcome you to the densely populated streets inside. 

    The Chinese Cultural Centre is a sensible place to head when trying to find your bearings and enjoy regular exhibitions and activities. You can also book walking tours or learn more about seasonal happenings in the local area. When it comes to refreshment, the knowledgeable staff at Red Blossom Tea Company serve delectable teas from China and Taiwan, while those with a sweet tooth should consider Dragon Papa Desserts for some beard dragon candy. When dinnertime comes, Good Mong Kok is famed for its sensational Dim Sum. If you're looking to extend the evening over a delicious cocktail, the wonderfully elegant Moongate Lounge is a popular hangout. 

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    Patrizio Cavaliere | Contributing Writer

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