A diverse city that often finds itself on the edge of social and technological change, San Francisco is ground zero for cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, colorful Victorian houses, and a counterculture that celebrates eccentricities.
10 p.m. | Dine in a Dying Breed of Restaurant
While there are plenty of late-night locations in the downtown neighborhood of the Tenderloin, none are as iconic as Tommy’s Joynt, one of the last authentic “hofbräus” in San Francisco (hofbräu refers to cafeteria-style eating that was once a popular Bay-area tradition). This kitschy, no-fuss barbeque joint serves about 700 people a day from a menu full of comfort food – including turkey, ham, and beef carved to order or piled high in a sandwich – but the main draw is the over-the-top decor. Every Instagram-worthy corner is packed with neon, antiques, paintings, signs, and mismatched lighting.
12 a.m. | Midnight Movie Madness
During the day, the Landmark Clay Theatre in Pacific Heights operates like any other movie theater. But come midnight on Fridays, this century-old art deco venue turns into a haven of cult classics, showcasing movies that range from Rocky Horror to Nightmare on Elm Street. If you’re lucky, the showings are sometimes accompanied by a post-feature Q&A with the filmmakers themselves.
9 a.m. | Peruse the Pier
It wouldn’t be a visit to San Fran without a stop at one of its most beloved destinations: Pier 39, located on the waterfront in Fisherman’s Wharf, which offers dozens of attractions like a two-tiered antique children’s carousel, street performers, bars, and gift shops. A favorite: Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze, composed of walls of mirrors, thumping ’80s dance music, and constantly shifting neon lights that creates a Wonderland-esque challenge that is fun for all ages.
1 p.m. | Lunch in Italy
While just a short walk from Pier 39, Hotel Zoe’s on-site Italian restaurant, Pescatore, summons a bit of the boot-shaped peninsula in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf. Designed to resemble a modern Italian trattoria with hanging copper pots and a dining room– based wood-fired oven among dark wood and tile accents, the restaurant specializes in classic dishes like cioppino, osso buco, and scores of pastas from linguini vongole to pappardelle con pettini. The only thing clearly reminding you that you are, in fact, still in San Francisco? The huge panoramic windows overlooking the bustling Mason Street.
3 p.m. | Experience the Circus Arts
Ever wanted to run away to the circus? Now’s your chance. The Circus Center, located in the Haight-Ashbury district (ground zero for the free love culture of the ’60s), has been one of the country’s foremost circus schools since its inception in the 1970s. But only in the last few years has the school opened its doors to the masses with beginner classes in trapeze, contortion, and juggling.
6 p.m. | Sushi Show
To experience a true “dinner and a show,” head to Ju-Ni in the NoPa neighborhood, a Michelin-starred, 12-seat sushi restaurant with just one thing on the menu: An 18-course “omakase” of nigiri sushi. Omakase? It means “chef ’s choice,” in which each table receives their own personal sushi chef who hand rolls 18 courses of hyperseasonal sushi in front of the guests. Reservations are a must and are only accepted online.
8 p.m. | Music in Mission
Located in a former Prohibition-era speakeasy in the basement of a Swedish American Hall in the Mission, Café du Nord looks like a set out of Twin Peaks. The intimate art-deco-meets-midcentury digs create a timeless atmosphere to take in touring acts like Vancouver-based Dear Rogue and the “gothic blues” stylings of Adia Victoria.
9 a.m. | Aloha, Brunch
Spam as a delicacy? Only at ‘āina, an upscale Hawaiian joint in Dogpatch with a menu that eradicates any preconceived notion you’ve ever had about pineapples and ham, delivering some truly vibrant and complex plates. Take, for example, their Musubi, which pairs housemade kimchi and Massa Farms whole-hog spam with traditional furikake-seasoned egg yolks and kabayaki sauce to create a high-end version of a favorite Hawaiian “peasant” breakfast.
11 a.m. | A Mid-Morning Art Walk
Within walking distance of ‘āina, Minnesota Street Project is an art-based revitalization project where three converted warehouses now play home to trendy artist studios and galleries. The interconnected mini-neighborhood usually takes about three hours to walk through, so be ready to spend the morning.