Downtown San Francisco: What to See & Do + Where to Eat, Drink & Stay

Want to explore the Golden Gate City on your next trip? Don’t miss out on checking out Downtown San Francisco, the commercial and business hub of the city. Also known as the Financial District, Downtown is a world of towering skyscrapers, harbor views, and impressive landmarks.

During your visit, you’ll spot the iconic Salesforce Tower and shop at the impressive Embarcadero Center. A visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will help you get a taste of the city’s creative energy. Downtown San Francisco also has an exceptional seafood scene, which you can sample at Hog Island Oyster Co. and Tadich Grill.

Ready to experience the magic of this vibrant metropolis? Create the perfect itinerary with this complete guide to Downtown San Francisco, including where to stay, where to eat and drink, and what you should see & do.

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What to see & do in San Francisco’s Financial District

Ferry Building

Get a taste of Northern California flavor at the Ferry Building. Both a city landmark and a public food market, you can tick off a must-see Downtown San Francisco attraction and get lunch at the same time.

The Beaux Arts building, featuring a 245-foot clock tower, was once a major transport hub, welcoming 50,000 ferry commuters every day. The Ferry Building sits on the Embarcadero, home to some of the top waterfront points of interest in the city.

Ferry Building

Today, the Ferry Building is a thriving food market. Artisanal vendors sell everything from wine to ceramics. Savour fresh micro-roasted espresso at Blue Bottle Coffee, along with an organic treat from Donut Farm. Browse botanical skincare at Benedetta and craft spirits from Epicurean Trader.

When you’re all shopped out, fuel up at a wonderful choice of restaurants. Sink your teeth into juicy burgers at Gott’s Roadside. Or graze wine and seafood while looking out at the bay in the elegant Hog Island Oyster Company.

Salesforce Tower

The majestic Salesforce Tower is the 17th tallest tower in the United. This iconic staple in the San Francisco skyline is a base for 100,000 employees of the cloud-based software company, Salesforce, Inc. Sleek curves of steel and glass jut into the sky in this masterful Financial District skyscraper.

At 1,070 feet high, Salesforce Tower is the perfect destination to get panoramic views of the city. Head to the 61st floor to take in vistas of the skyscrapers and San Francisco Bay. There are limited slots for visitors to take tours of the building, so book early to snag a viewing.

Salesforce Tower

Even if you don’t get to go inside Salesforce Tower, you’ll be able to spot this landmark from many different viewpoints across Downtown San Francisco. Make a visit to the neighboring Salesforce Park. This rooftop oasis has five and a half acres of lush greenery. Lose yourself in nature while surrounded by shimmering skyscrapers.

Embarcadero Center

The Embarcadero Center is an emporium of activities for your San Francisco itinerary. The 45-story building spans four blocks of Downtown San Francisco and is one of the top landmarks in the Financial District.

Shop at over 125 stores, including big-name brands and specialty goods. Buy everything from fresh flowers to a brand-new outfit. Afterward, grab a delicious dinner at the vast choice of restaurants with panoramic views of the city. Choose anything from Cantonese cuisine at Habour View to modern dishes at Stone Korean Kitchen. Or skip dinner and catch the latest movie at the five-screen cinema.

Embarcadero Center

The best thing about the Embarcadero Center is the artwork, greenery, and flowers adorning the outdoor spaces. Marvel at the immense steel sculpture by William Gutmann and vibrant hand-woven tapestries by Françoise Grossen.

Sit among the plants and take in the sweeping skyline. Or head to the Embarcadero Plaza, where you’ll find a fountain crafted from a maze of concrete blocks.

Union Square

Union Square is the commercial hub of the city and one of the most popular places to visit in San Francisco. Here, you’ll find the major hotels and large department stores, making it a great stop for dining, entertainment, and retail therapy. The historic square was named after its location for the support demonstrations of the Union Army.

The middle of Union Square is a blend of palm trees, outdoor cafes, and public art and monuments. The central feature is the Historic Dewey Monument, a towering memorial statue commemorating the Spanish-American War. If you’re lucky enough to be here during the festive period, you’ll be treated to a giant Christmas tree and ice rink.

Union Square

Shopaholics will have a fantastic time in the upscale boutiques and galleries around Union Square. Buy stylish homeware and jade jewelry at Gump’s or browse the designer shops inside the glass dome of the Crocker Galleria.

Wrap up the day with dinner at a fabulous choice of restaurants. John’s Grill has been serving succulent steaks since 1908, while Ula Restaurant & Tapas Bar has stylish Mediterranean cuisine in an elaborate art deco setting.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Less than a 10-minute walk from Union Square is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, one of the must-visit attractions in San Francisco. This art museum is not only a haven for modern art lovers, but the site’s innovative architecture is sure to get even the most uncreative person inspired.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was recently expanded by the celebrated architecture firm Snøhetta. Marvel at the ripples on the facade that appear to shift and change through the day, recreating the feeling of the waters and fog on San Francisco Bay. There’s also a two-story living wall teeming with native plants.

Lose yourself in seven floors of exhibits with over 33,000 masterpieces. Transport yourself to new worlds with neon structures and light installations. With artwork on display by Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, you can leave saying that you have experienced some of the great modern artists for yourself!

Yerba Buena Gardens

Step into a natural oasis in the heart of the concrete jungle of Downtown San Fransisco. Located in the South of Market (SoMa) district, Yerba Buena Gardens offers two blocks of green spaces, waterfalls, and vibrant flowers. An idyllic place to recharge before heading back into the city. But with so much to do, you may find yourself spending the whole day here.

Take some time to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. This impressive waterfall sculpture with sleek glass panels is a beautiful tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of peace and unity.

Yerba Buena Gardens

There’s a great selection of activities on offer at Yerba Buena Gardens, including an indoor ice rink and a bowling alley. Kids and adults alike will have a great time riding the animals on the LeRoy King Carousel.

If you didn’t get your creative fix at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts offers a diverse look at contemporary visual art, performance, and film.

Museum of the African Diaspora

Get a unique perspective on black culture at the Museum of the African Diaspora. This contemporary art museum is a rare type of museum in the United States. Explore the art and culture of the African Diaspora and take the opportunity to challenge your views.

Works from Afro-Cuban, Afro-Asian, Afro-Caribbean, and African-American artists give you a chance to explore the origin, movement, and transformation of African descendants. From fashion photography to mixed media, the Museum of the African Diaspora makes a conscious effort to highlight new and underrepresented artists from around the world.

The stunning front façade of the building is a mosaic of photographs telling the story of African history. Step into other lives with immersive video exhibitions and ponder the meaning of unusual cultures.

Regular events at the Museum of the African Diaspora feature talks from the artists and curators as well as open mics and literature readings.

Wells Fargo Museum

Discover the role a financial powerhouse played in the banking industry at the Wells Fargo Museum. Wells and Fargo founded their company in 1852 and went on to become a thriving multinational financial services company. From the Gold Rush to Silicon Valley, engaging exhibits explore how historical events shaped the US financial system.

The Wells Fargo Museum is based at the original Wells Fargo Bank location on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown. You can find over 100 items and displays detailing the rise of Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo Museum

History buffs will have a fantastic time discovering rare documents and photographs from the 1800s. Interesting artifacts include an original Abbot-Downing Concord Coach that Wells Fargo used in the 1860s.

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There’s a great choice of interactive exhibits to get everyone engaged. Enjoy a bumpy ride on the simulated stagecoach exhibit or transport yourself back 100 years and send your own telegram.

Where to eat & drink

Many assume that San Francisco’s Financial District doesn’t have much to offer after dark. But the wealth of this area has drawn in a buzzing dining and nightlife scene.

Foodies will be happy to learn that this area has some of the most in-demand restaurants in the city. And from swanky cocktails to dive bars, you’ll have no problem finding a spot for an after-dinner nightcap.

Treat yourself to waterside delights at the Hog Island Oyster Co. Their seasonal menu uses seafood straight from the boats outside and has an elegant choice of craft cocktails.

Clam Chowder at Hog Island Oyster Co.

Or sample San Francisco’s rich Chinese-American culture with dishes from Harborview Restaurant and Bar. Dine on succulent Peking duck and delicate noodles on the patio with panoramic harbor views.

Tadich Grill is the third-oldest restaurant in the country. The opulent art deco setting serves up some of the best seafood dishes in the city.

Or sample San Francisco’s incredible seafood Japanese style at PABU Izakaya. Graze mouthwatering sashimi and sushi and wash it down with Japanese-style cocktails or authentic sake.

If you’re ready for a drink, kickstart your night at the Irish Times or the Irish Bank. Both of these pubs are great casual spots to grab a Guinness and make new friends.

The Irish Bank

You’ll get a drink with a difference at Novela. With décor and cocktails taking inspiration from literary heroes, you’ll find themed punches on tap and drinks using fresh seasonal ingredients.

If you want somewhere cozy to unwind after your day of exploring Downtown San Francisco, head to The Barrel Room. The speakeasy-style venue has a global wine menu and a prohibition-era basement.

Or, for great cocktails in a chic setting, check out Wayfare Tavern. Soak up the ambiance indoors or drink alfresco on the patio.

Where to stay

With a great selection of hotels and sightseeing opportunities, Downtown is one of the most popular neighborhoods to stay in San Francisco. Get your accommodation search started with this superb Financial District hotels…

Harbor Court Hotel

Harbor Court Hotel

This beautiful waterfront hotel was once a residence for the Navy. Today, this Spanish Colonial Revival building is a stylish boutique hotel with grown-up décor and stunning views of the harbor. Start your day with complimentary donuts and end it with a nightly wine and beer hour.

The Clancy

The Clancy, Autograph Collection

The central location of this modern hotel is within walking distance of some of the best attractions in Downtown San Francisco, including Union Square and the Yerba Buena Gardens. The arty and colorful spaces are perfect for catching up after your day in the city. In the evenings, blow off steam in the fitness center or grab a drink at the trendy taproom.

Palace Hotel

Palace Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Francisco

The opulent Palace Hotel serves up luxury at every turn. Marble archways and glistening 11-foot ceilings make this one of the grandest places to base yourself in Downtown San Francisco. Work up an appetite with some laps in the indoor pool while gazing up at the city lights. Then dine under chandeliers in the 110-year-old glass dome.

Hyatt Regency

Hyatt Regency San Francisco

The stunning modern design of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco is more than enough reason to stay here. The impressive lobby has futuristic features and mind-bending sculptures. Just steps away from the Embarcadero Center, you might be able to spot the Vaillancourt Fountain from your balcony.

Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco

Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco at Embarcadero

Stay up in the clouds at this 48-story landmark building. Enjoy panoramic views steps away from Union Square and the Ferry Building. Minimal rooms with warm features give you breathtaking views of the harbor and San Francisco skyline. Squeeze in a workout at the fitness center. Then reward yourself with beautifully crafted pasta and seafood at the Italian restaurant.


Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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