Home California Insider Tips From Hospitality Pros: San Francisco

Insider Tips From Hospitality Pros: San Francisco

written by Penny Sadler

The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Chinatown, Union Square, North Beach – travelers to San Francisco will likely recognize the names of these popular tourist attractions and neighborhoods of San Francisco.


Hospitality Pros Are In The Know

But what if you want to go native? What if you’ve been there, done that, and are looking for a new adventure; be it a new place to eat breakfast, or the perfect place for expansive photo-worthy vistas. Or maybe you’re the kind of traveler that thrives on surprise and spontaneity.

Insider Tips From Hospitality Pros San Francisco

The City By The Bay, seen from the water.

One of the best ways to discover new places is to simply ask one of the staff at your hotel.

Whether a five-star hotel or a bed and breakfast, hotel and hospitality pros always have the best insider tips. And, there’s a good chance they live in the city. Most welcome the chance to talk about something a little bit personal, while doing their job and being helpful at the same time. It must be refreshing to answer a question like, “What’s your favorite place to eat breakfast,” compared to, “How do I get to Chinatown?”

I asked the staff at the Hotel Nikko to share their favorite insider tips, and they graciously complied. If you’d like to know more about my stay at the Hotel Nikko read, The Best Place To Stay In San Francisco. As if the title isn’t spoiler.

I now give you:

Insider Tips From Hospitality Pros: San Francisco

1. San Francisco is only 50 miles across, hence a great place for walking. The San Francisco library offers free educational walking tours by local volunteers who love the city, its history, lore, and legends. The tour is free but donations are appreciated and accepted. Tours run daily. Please check the website www.sfcityguides.org.

Insider Tips from Hospitatlity Pros San Francisco

Cable Car in front of the St. Francis Hotel, Union Square.

2. Cable cars are an iconic attraction in San Francisco. Usually a cable car is boarded at the turn around. The most popular place to hop on is the Powell Street turn around.

To avoid the long line there walk one block to the cable car stop in front of the H&M Store on Union Square. The conductor will usually reserve a few spaces for people waiting in front of the store.

Another option is to take the F Line which runs along Market St. and the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. Get off there, walk to the cable car stop near Ghirardelli Square (the California St. line), where you can catch a ride all the way back to Union Square.

Insider Tips From Hospitality Pros San Francisco

Alcatraz seen from Coit Tower

3. How to score tickets to Alcatraz. People are passionate about visiting Alcatraz Island and tours sell out very quickly. Go to this website www.alcatrazcruises.com several times a day to check for available tickets. Keep checking until you score a ticket.

There are tour companies selling packages and those are advance only tickets. Anything not sold for that day, or up to four days in advance is released back to the official website.

Insider Tips, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Grace Cathedra, Nob Hill.


4. Want to take your yoga practice to a new level? Visit Grace Cathedral, a beautiful gothic church with a labyrinth, on Nob Hill. Grace Cathedral offers free yoga classes every Tuesday from 6:15 – 7:30 pm. (donations are greatly appreciated).

5. When I was in Monterey, California last year I visited Phil’s Fish Market, famous worldwide for their cioppino. Apparently there’s a place in North Beach that gives Phil’s a run for the money, Sotto Mare. Sotto Mare is widely believed to be the best cioppino in San Francisco.

Reservations for groups of four or more are accepted. If you find yourself waiting for a table you can step next door to Gino & Carlo Cocktail lounge. They’ll let you take your cocktail with you if you haven’t finished it by the time your table is ready.

Insider Tips San Francisco

Russian Hill

6. Photo-op tip. San Francisco has a lot of famous parks and vistas but why not try one not so famous? Ina Coolbrith Park on Russian Hill feels like a secret garden and has killer views of the Bay Bridge and the City. Located at Taylor and Vallejo St.

My tip: Russian Hill is also where you’ll find the famous one way stretch of Lombard Street, with eight hair raising sharp turns. Some may say it’s too touristy, but if you’ve never been there it’s worth doing.

Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world.

Me at the top of Lombard Street in San Francisco.

7. One of my favorite insider tips was a referral to this website: SF.funcheap.com , with tips on what is happening daily in San Francisco. SF.Funcheap.com truly does live up to its name. Great site for off-beat suggestions.

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

View of the Golden Gate Bridge and the City from the Marin side.

8. Another great photo-op can be found at the Wave Organ located on the eastern edge of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

There is a panoramic view of the city across the narrow channel. On one side you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, and on the other, the city. Bonus: the park and trail to it are wheelchair accessible, with the trail head at the Marina Green park.

Many thanks to these fine folks for sharing their city with us: Theresa Vaillancourt, Conceirge; Reggie Harris, Doorman; and Anne Estiva, at the Nikko Front Desk.

ONE MORE TIP:  from my friend Megan, 4 Essential Island Stops in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have some great tips to share about San Francisco? Leave a comment.



Go Ahead. Pin It!


Insider Tips from Hospitality pros San Francisco



If You Liked This Article Check Out Another!


Vishal Vashisht November 21, 2016 at 11:29 pm

Over the years, I have found that if asked a local especially someone, where you’re staying, can give you very valuable advice. It has worked for me and happy to see you have the same feeling.

Carla Abanes November 21, 2016 at 7:31 pm

Neat travel tip! I always ask the hotel receptionist of where I’m staying “Where to eat for dinner?” LOL. Anyways, thinking of doing a California trip soon and will keep this in mind!

Penny Sadler November 21, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Great! Check out my other California content.

Juliette | Snorkels to Snow November 20, 2016 at 11:17 pm

What a great idea to ask the hospitality workers for advice & insider tips! We did that when we visited Niue in the Pacific and our waiter drove us around to a few places over the weekend! Locals know best – and hospitality workers are easy to talk to!

Penny Sadler November 20, 2016 at 11:45 pm

so true. I almost always have the best conversations with the staff or waiters.

Mike November 20, 2016 at 9:09 pm

You are so right! Getting inside tips is so helpful while traveling. Thanks for your advice. I always ask the staff while I’m traveling too. They know the best places to go.

Penny Sadler November 20, 2016 at 11:45 pm

thanks for the comment

Mike November 20, 2016 at 11:38 am

Oh awesome tips, thanks for sharing them. I am heading out to SF early January to visit my brother….so I am definitely going to check out the SF Cheap site, AND the Ina Coolbrith Park! Thanks for the inside scoop!

Penny Sadler November 20, 2016 at 12:39 pm

have a great time!

Rosemary November 20, 2016 at 10:54 am

These are great tips and nice to go beyond the famous attractions. Good to know where to find the best cioppino:) Noted the SF funcheap.com for my next trip to San Francisco. Thanks for sharing!!

Penny Sadler November 20, 2016 at 12:38 pm

yes SF funcheap.com can’t wait to use it myself!

Punita Malhotra November 20, 2016 at 9:53 am

These photo tips are so helpful! Its so important to come home with perfect pictures…memories you can rewind and relive anytime, always without having to go back. Lovely post.

Penny Sadler November 20, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Thanks for the compliment on the photos.

Ticker Eats The World November 20, 2016 at 2:10 am

There’s absolutely nothing better than asking the locals about what to see and eat in a city. I’m so glad that you pointed this out as we had a similar experience in Switzerland and it made the trip all the more special. Lovely list of places to see and things to do…thanks

Penny Sadler November 20, 2016 at 12:38 pm

thanks for the comment!

Holly November 19, 2016 at 8:54 pm

As long as I have lived and visited Cali I haven’t made it up that way. 2017 I will make it happen. I will keep this info in mind if I don’t go with one of my local friends.

Penny Sadler November 19, 2016 at 9:12 pm

I love this city. It is so free-spirited and beautiful.

Claudia November 19, 2016 at 8:26 pm

Thanks for the great tips. Agree so much on talking to locals and asking for insider knowledge and local favorite place and restaurants to visit. Glad you included some tips on scoring tickets for Alcatraz, it’s such an interesting place to visit with or without kids.

Penny Sadler November 19, 2016 at 9:13 pm

Hey Claudia, I thought the Alcatraz tip was one of the best!

Lillie June 12, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Very cool insider tips for a city I love! Excellent idea to ask the hotel staff about recommendations. I hadn’t heard of cioppino before but it sounds scrumptious.

Penny Sadler June 12, 2016 at 2:35 pm

Oh you’d love it!

Tawanna Browne Smith June 7, 2016 at 8:28 pm

Public transportation is always the best way to see and get a feel for the people in the city. I also love asking the people who work at hotels for advice. I especially like to chat with the doormen and the people who DON’T work at the desk as they tend to be less about the commercial places to visit and recommend places where THEY eat and hang out. Different demographic usually and it gives me a much wider experience.

Tawanna Browne Smith June 7, 2016 at 6:53 pm

Yup! I follow that advice all the time – ask a local. I talk to not only the hotel desk people but also the door men and people in lesser paid positions. I know that they’ll share the REAL off-the-beaten (and often less expensive) spots with me. I want a range of experiences…not just the guide book suggestions.

Megan Donoghue June 6, 2016 at 10:13 pm

Great tips! I totally agree – I’ve always maintained that one of the best sources of local information is the hotel front desk or concierge – easy access to locals when you’re staying in a new place. We love San Fran, and it was from asking our hotel front desk that we found out about the parking lots for walking across the Golden Gate Bridge – not much info available online, but the lcoals knew where it was at 😀

Penny Sadler June 10, 2016 at 5:38 pm

And the locals in SF are soooooo friendly!

Marcy Braiker May 21, 2016 at 12:43 am

I was going to suggest Lombard Street, but went back to review your post and see that you didn’t miss it. That’s a good one.

I love all your posts. I think it is fun that you are open to additional comments from your readers. Did you ever mention the Alta Mira Hotel in Sausalito for gin fizzes, on a hill overlooking the bay, or that one of the mayors of Sausalito was a brothel owner, and had a place just off of Bridgeway?

Penny Sadler May 21, 2016 at 1:41 pm

No, I haven’t mentioned Sausalito at all. In fact don’t know a lot about it other than you can take a hop on hop off bus there and it’s over flowing with tourist traps and junk shops along the waterfront. The Alta Mira Hotel is now closed and has been for some time so no slo gin fizz there. The restaurant that was owned by the former mayor was Valhalla and is also closed. Bummer! I’ve just discovered the best way to get to Sausalito is by taking the Golden Gate Transit Ferry. You board at the Ferry Building down at the Embarcadero and it drops you off in downtown Sausalito. Have you been back recently?

Marcy Braiker May 15, 2016 at 5:21 pm

You can sail the Marin side to Angel Island. That is fun to do also. i don’t remember if they have a ferry.

Brenda May 15, 2016 at 2:03 am

Yes, San Francisco is a great walking city (as long as you don’t mind hills or take the long way around). We often will walk from the Marina District down to Fisherman’s Warf and along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Buiding and up Market Street to the Westfield Center. Then we hop the #30 bus and ride back. It’s a great walk.

Penny Sadler May 15, 2016 at 11:04 am

Great tip Brenda. Thanks for sharing. The hills take no prisoners! 🙂


Leave a Comment