Asian Art Museum - Holds one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the world. Free the first Sunday of the month and extended hours until 9 p.m. on Thursdays.
Civic Center Plaza - Open space where rallies, concerts, outdoor screenings, and gatherings of all kinds take place. There's a farmer's market here on Sundays and Wednesdays near Larkin and Grove streets, across the plaza from City Hall.
City Hall - A truly grand building with a stunning staircase beneath the rotunda, tour the magnificent beaux-arts structure on your own or on a free docent-led tour.
The War Memorial Opera House - One of the most beautiful and technologically advanced performing arts centers in the world, it's a true San Francisco jewel. Home to both the San Francisco Opera as well as the San Francisco Ballet, guided tours of the building are available on Mondays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
San Francisco Symphony - Tours of Davies Symphony Hall and Herbst Theatre are available for $5 on Mondays from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., every hour, on the hour. Score a discount ticket to the symphony from the last-minute ticket booth in Union Square.
Street Art - Street murals dot the Tenderloin district. Check them out at 434 Ellis Street, around the corner at Cohen Place (Ellis between Hyde and Leavenworth), on Turk Street at Hyde, and on the walls at the Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theater (Polk Street at O'Farrell).
Got more time?
Federal Building - Innovative structure designed to be a "green" building consuming less than half the power of a standard office tower, praised for its open spaces and environmentally friendly design.
Luggage Store Gallery - No luggage sold here, rather it's a cultural center hosting a variety of public arts programs and exhibitions.
San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery - Located in the Veteran's Building, exhibits contemporary art by local artists.
Museum of Performance and Design - The first museum in the country dedicated exclusively to the performing arts and theatrical design. Also includes an extensive Performing Arts Library.
San Francisco Public Library Main Branch - Offers free exhibits, screenings, and other programs.
Worth the extra effort!
Hayes Valley - If shopping is on your agenda, walk over to Hayes Valley for cute boutiques. Just past Hayes Valley is Alamo Square, a sprawling park on a hill and site of the famous "Painted Ladies."
Japantown - Eccentric Japantown is only a few blocks from Civic Center. Come here for sushi, ramen, or shabu shabu, all relatively inexpensive. Finish off with karaoke! Or the Kabuki Theater is a prime spot for a movie.
The Castro - Catch the historic F-line streetcar (or walk) up Market Street to the Castro. You'll find shopping, dining, rowdy nightlife, and DuBoce Park in this beautiful part of town.
The Mission - Jump on BART at Civic Center and get off at either 16th Street or 24th Street. Either stop will bring you to the diverse neighborhood that is the Mission. The quintessential experience includes grabbing a burrito and chilling in Dolores Park. Eateries and bars line the Valencia Street corridor from 16th Street to the south.
Cheapest of the cheap:
Bob's Donuts and Pastry Shop - When late night munchies call, make your way to hole-in-the-wall Bob's. The fresh donuts, cookies, and pastries are to die for.
Cordon Bleu Vietnamese Restaurant - If there's only $10 left in your wallet, come to one of the few stools at this narrow closet-like space for Vietnamese comfort food. Look for the sign "5 Spice Roast Chicken."
Saigon Sandwich Shop - $3.25 for a delectable sandwich? Enough said. For meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.
Pizza Pino - Cheap and open until 3 a.m., Pino's thin slice is the best pizza in the 'hood. Also delivers.
Taqueria Cancun - Greatest vegetarian burrito in the area. Other items on the menu satisfy too, and it's nice on your wallet.
A La Turca - Mouth-watering Turkish cuisine including kebabs, pitas, and flat breads. The platters are more expensive (barely) but come in huge portions.
Brenda's French Soul Food - Brenda's traditional French and Creole fare is complemented by stuffed beignets and sweet watermelon tea. Most items are under $10. Lines can be very long on weekends.
Burmese Kitchen - Many fans flock here, especially for their vegetarian options. Most entrees are under $7.
Chai Yo - Delicious Thai food and friendly service, the average entree costs a mere $7.95.
Darbar - Unassuming Darbar serves up traditional South Indian meals. The lunch buffet is $7.99 all-you-can-eat and most curries are well under $10.
Dottie's True Blue Cafe - You will wait in line here, but it's worth it for homemade pastries and scrumptious breakfasts and lunches. Arrive at 2 p.m. (open until 3 p.m.) to avoid the long wait.
Grubstake - Open 'til 4 a.m., Grubstake serves up traditional diner fare and Portuguese specialties in an old railcar that used to cross the Bay Bridge until 1927.
Nara Sushi - Good sushi spot on Polk, they're open 'til midnight (2 a.m. on weekends).
Thai House Express - Another solid Thai option close to the hostel, with a price range of $7-$10.
Tikka Masala - A good and cheap Indian favorite in the Tenderloin, the most expensive item on the menu is $12. (Plus, Tikka Masala gives our guests a 5% discount on food and drinks.)
A slight splurge...
Canteen - Dinner would be a splurge, but weekend brunch is reasonable and well worth it. When you can't take the line at Dottie's, come to this tiny, chic, and delicious kitchen.
Pagolac - Vegetarians may make an exception for the 7-course beef dinner. The claypots are nice too.
Swan Oyster Depot - Super fresh oysters, clam chowder, crab salad... after a long wait in line, these delicacies can be yours.
Fancy a night on the town?
222 Club - A funky Tenderloin bar where hipsters shake it on the small dance floor in the back.
Bourbon and Branch - An upscale speakeasy of sorts that stirs up yummy, fancy cocktails; use the password "books" to be escorted to the secret back room behind the bookshelves.
Rickshaw Stop - Quirky medium-sized club with various DJ acts and live bands. Often a low cover charge. Non-Stop Bhangra is one of their popular monthly events.
Rye - Cocktail bar with a nice selection of whisky and an enclosed outdoor smoking area.
Prefer a laidback ambience?
Amsterdam Cafe - Pouring over 170 worldwide beers as well as wine, champagne, Soju cocktails, and coffee, this Tenderloin bar also hosts random events like open mic and art openings.
Cafe Royale - Chill spot to have a glass of wine and listen to some lounge or jazz.
Edinburgh Castle - Fun pub; their Tuesday trivia night is popular.
Hemlock Tavern - Classic bar with a daily happy hour; a separate back room hosts underground rock shows for a small cover.
Lush Lounge - Fun, cozy bar with happy hour every day until 7 p.m.
Olive - Incognito location makes you forget you're in the Tenderloin. Slick bar with a weekday food and drink happy hour.
R Bar - Laidback neighborhood bar, where everybody really could know your name (if you were in a frat or sorority). Always showing the game, whatever it is, there's also a pool table and cheap beer.
Space Gallery - Small bar and gallery space with changing exhibits by local artists.
Whiskey Thieves - A divey spot with pool tables and cigarette smoke swirling in the air.
Vertigo - No cover here for DJs, dancing, and cheap drinks.
The Warfield - A fantastic space to see accomplished bands, DJ's also spin here occasionally. Tickets are usually in the $20-35 range.
Great American Music Hall - Touring bands love playing this classic venue. See anything from rock to blues to country to jazz.
American Conservatory Theater- A professional theater company presenting groundbreaking productions of classical works and bold explorations of contemporary playwriting. Hostel guests can get half-price "rush" tickets by paying in cash and showing their HI membership card or paid hostel receipt at the ACT box office, up to two hours before showtime.
Exit Theatre - Presents indie and experimental theater.
Herbst Theater - Recital hall in the Veteran's Building hosting plays and performances.
Orpheum Theater - Big Broadway musicals play here.
AMC Van Ness - Multiplex in what was once an auto showroom. Enjoy Hollywood's latest in surround sound and luxury seating.
Lumiere Theater - Screens smaller art-house and foreign flicks.
MUNI - Bus lines within 3 blocks include the 2, 3, 4, 19, 27, 31, 38, 47, 49, and 76.
BART- The Civic Center BART station is just 5 blocks from the hostel.
Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals and Tours offers our guests a discounted rate of $18-22 per day (reg. $28-32) for city-ready mountain and hybrid bike. Helmet, lock, rear rack, camera bag, bungie cord, and map included in cost of rental. Performance, tandem, and other specialty bikes are also available.
For more on biking in San Francisco, see: Cycle the city with self-guided San Francisco bike routes.