San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the United States, with rolling hills and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. It is also the jewel of Northern California. The city is rich in history, has wonderful neighbourhoods, parks, beaches, museums, and a plethora of entertainment options and activities.
Alcatraz Island and Fisherman’s Wharf are two of the most well-known attractions, but there are numerous other places to visit. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest in North America and well worth a visit. Take a ride on one of the city’s historic cable cars for an interesting experience.
The Golden Gate Bridge, which spans San Francisco Bay, is a California landmark. It is the city’s most photographed location, with the orange structure backed by blue water or, in many cases, peaking through low lying cloud. The flood-lit structure is equally impressive at night.
The Golden Gate Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Marin County and other districts further north, was once named the best man-made sight in the United States by the United States Travel Service.
The bridge, which opened on May 28th, 1937, took four years to build and was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its completion, measuring approximately two miles in length.
If you want to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, take US Highway 101, also known as SR 1, and there are walkways on both sides of the bridge that are open to pedestrians and cyclists. The walk starts at the bridge’s beginning (accessible via the Presidio shuttle) and ends at a viewpoint in Marin County.
Many residents enjoy riding their bikes across the bridge to the nearby waterfront town of Sausalito. Pedestrian access is available on the East Sidewalk, while bicycle access is available on both the East and West Sidewalks. The bridge is only accessible to pedestrians and cyclists during the day.
There are a number of ideal vantage points for a great view of the bridge or for anyone interested in photographing the bridge. From the San Francisco side, Nob Hill, known for its opulent old mansions, provides some stunning views of the bridge.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Marin County, on the other side of the bridge, is also a good place to visit. There are also completely open views from the boat and island if you plan on taking a tour to Alcatraz.
One of America’s most infamous prisons is the historic and notorious Alcatraz penitentiary, located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. It was in operation for nearly three decades, closing in 1963 and reopening as a tourist attraction in 1973.
Some of America’s most well-known criminals were imprisoned here, including Al Capone and the “Birdman,” who inspired the fictional film The Birdman of Alcatraz.
You can take a ferry to the island and tour the site while listening to an excellent audio recording that provides a glimpse into life in the prison rather than a historical list of facts. Former Alcatraz inmates and guards even lend their voices to the narration.
During its 30-year history, the penitentiary received a total of 1,576 convicts. Even though there were 450 cells measuring about 10ft by 4ft, there were never more than 250 at any given time. At times, the number of guards and staff outnumbered the number of inmates.
While most visitors come for the history or the novelty of seeing a former prison, the island is now a popular nesting site for seabirds.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular tourist destination in San Francisco. If you’re visiting the city for the first time and only have a day or two to see the sights, Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the best places to go.
This historic district, formerly known as San Francisco’s Little Italy, is known for its shops, restaurants, and picturesque setting along the waterfront. The views back towards the city from Pier 39 are spectacular.
It’s a pleasant place to walk around and get a feel for the city. You can also organise a fishing charter or take a sightseeing cruise from here for spectacular views of the city. The docks near Pier 39 are among the best places in town to see sea lions.
Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Musée Mécanique, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, and Ghirardelli Square are some of the area’s main attractions. The Hyde Street Pier, which is now the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, is lined with restored 19th- and 20th-century ships.
The USS Pampanito is a WWII submarine that is a national historic landmark and part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Pier 39, which is located in this general area, is home to more than 50 stores and unique dining options.
Map of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf (Historical)
- The Fisherman’s Wharf
- Pier 39
- Ghirardelli Place
- The Fish Cannery
- Mason’s Fort
- Maritme National Museum
- State Historic Park of the Seas
- Pampanito (USS)
- The Art Institute
- Telegraph Hill
- The Coit Memorial Tower
- Saints Peter and Paul
Cable cars were introduced in 1873 to assist locals in navigating the city’s many hills. Today, the few remaining cable cars provide tourists with an excellent opportunity to explore the city in a historic manner. Since 1964, these tram-like vehicles have held the distinction of being the only public transportation system to be designated as a historic monument.
The Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde routes are the most scenic. You can also take the cable cars to major tourist attractions like Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, the Ferry Building, Nob Hill, and Lombard Street.
Tickets can be purchased on the cable car, or if you plan on taking more than a couple of rides or staying for a few days, consider purchasing a pass.
Golden Gate Park, home to gardens and museums, is a fantastic green space in the heart of San Francisco, often referred to as the city’s “lungs.” This was an area of arid dunes before development began in 1871.
The park now has a network of walking trails and cycling paths, over 5,000 different plant species and dozens of tree species, several lakes, bridle paths, and a buffalo paddock.
The de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences Museum with the Steinhart Aquarium, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden are among the main attractions.
You may have visited Chinatown in other cities, but San Francisco’s Chinatown is in a league of its own. It is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest in North America. Chinatown, which was almost completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, was rebuilt entirely in Chinese style and quickly became even more appealing than before the disaster.
Visiting Chinatown has become one of the top things to do in San Francisco, with its temples, theatres, workshops, small businesses, stores, antique and souvenir shops, teahouses, and traditional pharmacies.
If you happen to be in San Francisco during a major Chinese holiday or event, you can expect to see a lavish celebration. Chinese New Year celebrations are frequently regarded as the best in North America. Grant Avenue is the main street in Chinatown for tourists, with the Chinatown Gateway at Grant Avenue and Bush Street.
The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is San Francisco’s most exquisite museum, housed in an impressive Neoclassical Beaux-Arts building in an incredible setting.
Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, a socialite, philanthropist, and arts patron, presented the Legion of Honor. Because of her passion for all things Parisian, the museum was designed to be a replica of Paris’s Palais de la Légion d’Honneur.
The Legion of Honor museum houses an outstanding collection of European decorative arts, sculpture, and paintings, as well as antiquities from the Mediterranean and Near East. This museum’s admission includes same-day admission to the de Young Museum.
The museum is located in Lincoln Park, a beautiful green space with a golf course and coastal woodlands that is ideal for a leisurely walk. Visitors can follow the path along Lincoln Highway just outside the museum, which offers spectacular ocean views and perfect views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Land’s End Trail is ideal for those looking for a more challenging hike. This winding cliffside trail in wild, rugged terrain offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco is the only structure from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition still standing. This classical-looking building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is beautifully situated on a lagoon that reflects the mirror image on the surface of the calm water, while ducks and geese drift by.
The palace, as well as the grounds, have been restored and are now used for art exhibitions and performances. The Palace of Fine Arts Theatre has a capacity of 1,000 people.
3301 Lyon Street, San Francisco, CA
In Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is both an architectural marvel and a multifaceted museum.
This cutting-edge “green” structure with a sustainable design features a 2.5-acre Living Roof covered in native plants and even rolling hills to match the natural surroundings. Solar panels on the roof generate electricity, and the soil acts as natural insulation. The walls are mostly made of glass, allowing for plenty of natural light.
There is a fantastic natural history museum, planetarium, aquarium, rainforest, and more on the inside. The Steinhart Aquarium houses 38,000 live specimens as well as a 25-foot-deep coral reef. The Osher Rainforest is four stories tall and has a fantastic layout for animals and amphibians.
You can descend to the deepest depths in a glass elevator and look up through an acrylic tunnel to see fish swimming overhead in the flooded forest. The Kimball Natural History Museum houses T-Rex and blue whale skeletons, as well as a variety of interesting exhibits.
Golden Gate Park, 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco
With 170,000 square feet of exhibition space spread across 10 floors, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is one of the city’s top museums.
The museum focuses on 20th-century art in all of its forms, and the innovative and interesting exhibits change on a regular basis. The permanent collection contains 33,000 pieces, with the Fisher Collection being one of the more interesting collections.
The museum is housed in a modern, architecturally stunning building that was renovated and expanded extensively in 2016. It’s a pleasure to walk around the light and airy building.
If you get hungry, stop by Café 5 in the museum’s Jean and James Douglas Family Sculpture Garden. Try to get a table at the Michelin-starred In Situ restaurant for a more refined dining experience.
151 Third Street, San Francisco, CA
The de Young Museum, located in Golden Gate Park, is a fine arts museum and one of San Francisco’s largest public art institutions. Exhibits span a wide range of time periods and geographical locations.
While North American art and period interiors are prominent in the collection, many other exhibits from Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Near East are noteworthy. There is also a good representation of British art and folk art from Africa, America, and the Pacific Islands.
These two uninhabited hills, more than 900 feet in elevation, have some of the best views of the city and bay. You can drive to the north peak parking area, park your car, and enjoy the breathtaking views.
Hike along the trails that run between the north and south peaks if you want to get some exercise. This is some of San Francisco’s best hiking. While you’re up here, you could be forgiven for thinking these are the highest of San Francisco’s 43 hills; however, Mount Davidson is 33 feet higher.
The Twin Peaks are the only hills in San Francisco that have not been built over and have retained their original appearance. The Spaniards dubbed them “Los pechos de la Chola,” or “Indian Maiden’s Breasts.” Even on hot days, strong, cool breezes from the Pacific blow in, especially in the late afternoon.
The Asian Art Museum is without a doubt one of San Francisco’s most important museums. The museum opened in 1966, with Avery Brundage’s collection serving as the foundation.
Brundage amassed a private collection, which he offered to the city of San Francisco in 1959 in order “to bridge the gap between East and West.” The museum building was built, and when he died in 1975, at the age of 88, the museum received the remainder of his art collection as a legacy.
Building on this, the museum has amassed a large collection of sculptures, paintings, bronzes, ceramics, jade carvings, and architectural fragments from Japan, Korea, China, India, Iran, and other Asian cultures. The works date back over 6,000 years. A significant expansion, including the construction of a new pavilion, is in the works.
San Francisco, California, 200 Larkin Street
The Exploratorium, one of San Francisco’s most popular family attractions, is a popular science museum with exhibits for both children and adults. A large number of diverse exhibits, many of which include hands-on learning experiences, cover a wide range of topics and are all intended to educate and entertain.
Children love this museum because it has so many experiments and fun things to do, and most adults, whether they have kids or not, love it as well.
Pier 15 in San Francisco, California