Hey, I live just south of SF… full disclosure… SF is my least favorite city I’ve ever visited.. and I’ve visited quite a few all over the globe. That said, it’s still the nearest place to get good food, see a musical, etc… so I’m there a decent amount.
Anywhere you stay is OK.. I dislike SF at night, in most areas to be honest. If you’re using airbnb I assume you want a more hip, neighborhood sort of time in SF than a touristy hotspot sort of trip… I personally like that idea, I dislike SF’s touristy neighborhoods, especially at night. Lots of homeless people yelling at each other and you at night.. I never feel safe.
The mission dolores, the castro, and north beach are the neighborhoods I like the most. There are still seedier streets, but the neighborhoods themselves are pretty awesome. I would pick the places you like the most and then do a couple google searches saying “streets to avoid in X district” and make sure your street isn’t one of them. Total eyeroll, I know, but c’est la vie.
The mission is nice, because there are two bart stations within it so you can use either and travel up to Union Square and take a cable car up to Chinatown (yay tourist stuff) or see a musical, or go shopping.
Use Uber, rather than a cab, I hear. (I haven’t done either, so this is just passed down from ppl I know).
Eat… this depends SO much on what you’re in to. I have a great dim sum recommendation and a great vegetarian/burmese recommendation. That said, yelp will help you out the most–just find what’s rated well nearby, so much good food, no real need to travel far. The nice thing about the areas I mentioned above–they all have lots of restaurants so you don’t have to travel to eat.
Must-do tourist stuff:
1. Golden Gate Bridge. Actually– Crossing the bridge and taking a photo at the lookout point is best–you get the city and the bridge behind you.
2. Golden Gate Park. So much to do and see there–walk around the park (duh), go to the California Academy of Sciences (aquarium, planetarium, & natural history museum), go to the de Young art museum. All high quality and fun and interesting. Skip the japanese tea garden unless you’re super in to that sort of thing. It’s tiny and underwhelming considering you have to pay to go in. (IMO)
3. Visit the Redwoods at Muir Glen State Park. It’s like, $7 per person to visit, but… redwoods! Bring a jacket, it’s always chilly. Same goes for the GG bridge.. actually just bring a jacket anywhere in SF. Weather always changes in a snap.
4. North Beach has to be the cutest area of SF ever. I love it. The shops are adorable, there are little parkettes with people and kids, the restaurants look so yummy, there’s a really good nail shop (heh, what can I say), there’s a hattery. yes, a hattery.
5. Mission Dolores has to have the most random stores–there’s a pirate store. It’s a lot of fun to window shop around there. Good restaurants too.
6. The castro.. if you enjoy vibrant, fun, gay districts… this is the one to beat.
7. Lombard street… it’s so steep it’s a switchback! It’s so steep you can take a photo in front of it with the street in the background. Free, interesting, good view of the city, and total photo op.
As for the tourist things I’d skip..
1. Alcatraz… I think it’s a total “skip” item, but some people think its worth visiting… up to you.
2. Fisherman’s Wharf… Again, I’d skip it.. ONE CAVEAT–if you do go, there are all these street vendors selling shrimp and crab dishes out of cards around the wharf. It’s DELICIOUS.
3. Union square… if you like to shop, it’s awesome, otherwise.. it’s just a square with lots of people and shops.
4. Chinatown is a hit or miss–it’s kind of like every other chinatown in north america.. but you can take a cable car up to it from Union Square which is fun.. and there’s an iconic arch at the entrance which is a photo-op.