1. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is a picture-perfect site with views of water and blue sky, situated in the San Francisco Bay. The bridge’s orange structure is lit up at night, making it just as dramatic as it usually is during the day.
Connecting San Francisco with Marin County and other districts further north, the Golden Gate Bridge is considered one of the greatest man-made sights in the United States. The bridge was completed on May 28th, 1937, measuring approximately two miles in length.
If you want to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, US Hwy 101 is the road to take. Additionally, walkways are on either side of the bridge, with pedestrians and cyclists able to enter and exit them. You can begin your hike at the start of the bridge (near Phoenix Street) and end with a view in Marin County.
Sausalito, an island town in the San Francisco Bay near the Golden Gate Bridge, is enjoyed by locals who enjoy biking across it. Bicyclists may access the bridge on its East and West sidewalks. The bridge is open to pedestrians and bicycles during daylight hours.
For great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, some options include taking photos from Nob Hill on the San Francisco side. This area is known for its posh mansions and offers some beautiful views over the bridge.
The view of Alcatraz from the boat is one of a kind. The open views are refreshing for any visitor, whether you are taking a scenic trip around the island or going to see Alcatraz on your own.
2. Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island, an ocean-side penitentiary location in San Francisco Bay, was closed in 1963 and became a tourist attraction with its reopening in 1973. It was the home of infamous criminals such as Al Capone and the “Birdman,” who served as inspiration for the fictional movie The Birdman of Alcatraz.
On the island, the audio tour takes you through the history of Alcatraz, with a specific focus on the inmate experience and what drew them there. It’s even voiced by former inmates and guards themselves.
In its 30-year history, the penitentiary was occupied by 1,576 convicts and there never were more than 250 inmates at any one time; even though there were 450 cells, measuring about 10ft by 4ft. At times, the number of guards and staff was greater than the number of prisoners.
Throughout the 17th century, France was used as a prison and also subject to natural disasters. The island became a showcase for different species of seabirds that are now seen nesting on the grounds today.
Bringing you to Alcatraz and some the other highlights of San Francisco like Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and the Golden Gate Bridge, a San Francisco City Tour gives you the best way to explore in one day. Alcatraz usually sells out so book now to avoid disappointment!
3. Fisherman’s Wharf
The Fisherman’s Wharf tourist area is one of San Francisco’s most popular areas and the perfect spot to visit if you only have a short amount of time. Meeting with great views, Pier 39 is a destination where you can go and experience Italian-themed shops and restaurants while admiring the city vistas from the seaport.
“San Francisco Information Center” is a fun place to stroll around and get a taste for the city. From here, you can also take a sightseeing cruise for spectacular views of the city, or organize a fishing charter. The docks by pier 39 are some of the best areas in the city to see sea lions.
San Francisco offers attractions for every visitor’s needs. From Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, to museum exhibits of mechanical history, to the famous Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum, the city is not lacking in things to see and do. One of your first stop while visiting should be at Ghirardelli Square and pack a picnic lunch before heading off to explore the most popular waterfront spots such as Hyde Street Pier.
The national historic landmark USS Pampanito is a WWII submarine, and part of San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Pier 39 is home to more than 50 stores and unique places to eat.
4. Ride the Cable Cars
cable cars built, in 1873, to help locals with the many hills on which the city is built, were originally designed for guests. With a mere few remaining wagon-like vehicles that offer tourists a great historic experience, cable cars have stood out from other forms of public transportation since 1964.
There are two scenic routes to get between the Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde neighborhoods of San Francisco: cable cars. Both routes have tourists attractions such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, the Ferry Building, Nob Hill, and Lombard Street, which are all within walking distance. Tickets for the cable cars or passes to use for multiple rides can be purchased either on board or at ticket vendors in downtown San Francisco.
5. Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park, which covers nearly 100 acres in the heart of San Francisco, is a gorgeous green space that’s home to gardens and museums. This area was once an arid land of dunes before development began in 1871.
Today, the park has a network of walking trails and cycling paths. There are more than 5,000 different kinds of plants and dozens of species of trees. There are several lakes that can be found along with a buffalo paddock. The main attractions include the de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences Museum with Steinhart Aquarium, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
Golden Gate Park can be explored in a variety of ways and as easily in a couple of hours as a couple of days. It has bike rentals, so it can also be used to explore the park. Alternatively, try an organized 2.5-hour Segway tour with a local guide and cover all the major highlights on two wheeled transport.
It is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, and it’s the oldest of its kind in North America. Almost completely destroyed in a 1906 earthquake, Chinatown was rebuilt entirely in the Chinese style. After only three years, there was more foot traffic than before the disaster.
Now with its temples, theaters, workshops, small businesses, stores, antique and souvenir shops, teahouses and traditional pharmacies, Chinatown has become one of the top things to do in San Francisco.
If you’re in San Francisco during a Chinese New Year event, you can expect to witness extravagant celebrations. The best place to watch a celebration is on Grant Avenue near the Chinatown Gateway, with festivities scheduled for both days of the celebration.
If you want a challenging walk, take on our Chinatown Walking Tour through the bustling city of San Francisco.
7. Legion of Honor
A stunning Beaux-Arts building in an amazing setting, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco is San Francisco’s most exquisite museum. The Legion of Honor was the gift of the socialite, philanthropist, and patron of the arts Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. As a tribute to her love for all things Parisian, the museum was designed to be a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris.
There is a superb collection at the Legion of Honor Museum, including European decorative arts, sculpture and paintings. There are also antiquities from the Mediterranean and Near East from the admission you get for visiting the de Young Museum.
Located just outside the museum, visitors in Lincoln Park can enjoy a leisurely walk with beautiful scenery. Just outside the Museum, you can follow an easy path that leads along Lincoln Highway, which offers spectacular ocean vistas and fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Those seeking a more adventurous hike can head to the Land’s End Trail. This winding cliffside trail in a wild, rugged terrain offers sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.
8. Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco is the last remaining structure from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. This classical-looking building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is beautifully positioned on a secluded pond that often reflects an image of one’s self on top of its calm water surface. Ducks and geese also tend to see themselves while they fly by.
Today, the grounds and palace are used for art exhibitions and performances. The Palace of Fine Arts Theater is a place where nearly 1,000 people can view a theatrical performance.
Address: 3301 Lyon Street, San Francisco
9. California Academy of Sciences
The natural design and building of the California Academy of Sciences creates an architectural masterpiece located in Golden Gate Park, as well as a museum. The “green” sustainable design uses 2.5 acres of living roofing plants to match the surrounding landscapes. The wall is mostly made of glass for the natural light and the cool California climate. Many of the walls are also solar panels and coverings to produce electricity needed within its walls.
The Garden Conservatory consists of the museum, planetarium, aquarium, a rainforest, and more. It was started in 1988 by the head gardener of the Chicago Botanic Garden, Norton Dovifat. With 38000 live specimens inside and a 25-feet-deep coral reef at its center, it is a wonderland for visitors.
The Kimball Natural History Museum has many interesting exhibits of the world’s most impressive animals, such as the T-Rex and blue whale. Visitors can take a transparent elevator to the deepest depths that enables them to see fish swimming overhead in the flooded forest or their bones in their natural habitat.
Address: 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
10. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is one of the top museums in the city, with 170,000 square feet of exhibition space spread across 10 floors. The museum focuses on 20th-century art forms and emphasizes contemporary exhibitions that change regularly. The permanent collection includes 33,000 pieces, and one highlight is Fisher Collection exhibit.
The museum is housed in a modern, architecturally stunning building that was renovated and expanded in 2016. The light, airy building is a pleasure to wander about.
Should you feel like grabbing a bite, go to Café 5 in the Jean and James Douglas Family Sculpture Garden. For a more refined dining experience, try and secure a table at In Situ.
Address: 151 Third Street, San Francisco
11. de Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
In Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum is a fine arts museum, and one of the largest public art institutions in San Francisco. The Museum covers a variety of time frames and geographical locations from Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Near East. While art and period interiors from North America feature strongly in the collection, many other exhibits from Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Near East are of note. British art and folk art from Africa, America, and the Pacific Islands are also well represented.
You can visit the de Young Museum and enjoy free same day admission to the Legion of Honor.
12. Twin Peaks
These two separate peaks above San Francisco Bay from 900 feet high are able to offer a beautiful view over the city. They have parking spots close, and it is easy for locals and tourists to find this hidden spot.
To cool down after these miles of walking, you could head to the south or north peaks. The best hiking in San Francisco is found here, with a hike to the top of Mt. Davidson. This lofty distinction often goes unnoticed because it’s the highest point in San Francisco; however, that is not true for this area.
Twin Peaks are the only hills in San Francisco that haven’t been built over, remaining untouched since it’s origins. Known by the locals as “The Breasts of the Indian Maiden,” cool breezes blow in from the Pacific Ocean and into the San Francisco Bay Area in late afternoons.
13. Asian Art Museum
The Asian Art Museum is one of the most important museums in San Francisco. The museum opened in 1966, drawing from a collection of art collectors Avery Brundage.
With his wealthy nephew’s support, Brundage amassed a private collection which he offered to the city of San Francisco “to bridge the gap between East and West.” The building was constructed to house his collection of works of art. On his death in 1975 at the age of 88, Brundage also received a legacy in form of his collection.
The Museum of Asiatic Art now contains 6,000 year-old pieces in its extensive collection. The works span from Japan, Korea, China, India, Iran and other Asiatic cultures. A new pavilion is in the works for a future expansion.
Address: 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco, California
One of the top attractions in San Francisco, the Exploratorium is an interesting and interactive science museum that has educational opportunities for children and adults. There are a diverse number of exhibits and many hands-on learning opportunities that cover many interesting topics in various areas, all designed to educate and entertain.
Children tend to rate an experience at the Exploratorium near Fisherman’s Wharf in a very high tier. There is lots of fun stuff for kids, and it is also great for adults who have kids and want to do a fun activity without getting to involved with the kids themselves.
Address: Pier 15, San Francisco, California
15. Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Golden Gate National Recreation Area, often confused with Golden Gate Park, is a 600 square mile natural area that is across the Golden Gate Bridge from downtown San Francisco. It is here in Marin County that a Biosphere Reserve covers this beautiful place and includes many attractions for visitors. It’s simply a beautiful natural space to spend time enjoying nature and relaxing.
With three beaches, it offers plenty of space for people to enjoy, from a picnic area to extensive trails and gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge. It also holds a historical past as it is home to Fort Baker, which was a former US Army post dating back to the early 20th century.
16. Oracle Park
Oracle Park is a great place to catch baseball when you’re visiting San Francisco. When you purchase seats in the 1st or 3rd base lines, you’ll have a perfect view of the city as well as the bay and ocean.
If you are in the market for a ballpark tour, consider taking a scenic 90-minute journey to see historic moments of MLB games from behind the scenes and explore one of baseball’s greatest stadiums. Tours are scheduled around baseball games and do not run every day, so be sure to check their online calendar before your visit.
Address: 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco
17. Day Trip to Napa Valley
Napa and Sonoma valley are two of the best known and largest grape-growing areas in California. These two sites are popular places to visit among travelers who visit during a day trip or overnight stay.
With a sunny, dry climate and rustic beauty embodied by its valley in the Napa County region of Northern California, Napa is one of the largest communities north of San Francisco. It was founded in 1848 and bears the name of the long-extinct Napa Indians. The western boundary is formed by the Napa Mountains. The Howell Mountain form the eastern boundary of Napa County and they also protect the valley from storms.
18. Hike and Picnic on Angel Island State Park
If you are visiting the city of San Francisco, you can escape from the busy streets and head over to Angel Island State Park for a day full of fresh air and some relaxing time outdoors. The island is about 1,000 acres in size, and has stunning views off into the bay.
The island features well-groomed trails with beautiful views. It’s possible to hike as high as the summit, Mount Caroline Livermore, at 788 feet, from which the views are sensational. There are also five picnicking spots, eleven campsites, and several beaches for outdoor activities to keep visitors happy.
Designed for visitors, the island has a café that is open all week long during most of the year (except winter) and a casual restaurant that’s open on the weekends from June to October featuring live music performances.
19. Ghirardelli Square
Located in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, Ghirardelli Square is a restored factory area that surrounds shops, galleries, and restaurants in renovated industrial buildings. The square was inaugurated in 1964 and was the first of a number of projects designed to give new life to abandoned factory complexes.
Ghirardelli Square has been turned into a center for shoppers, art-lovers, and those in search of entertainment or good food. It is perfect for chocolate lovers who want to sample some treats. Its belfry was modeled on that of the Château of Blois in France, as well as its later additions: rose gardens with fountains and terraces offering scenic views.
20. High Tea at a Historic Hotel
Enjoying high tea at a historic hotel gives tourists a sense of the city’s grandeur during the Victorian era and turn of the century. The Fairmont San Francisco on Nob Hill, opened in 1907, is renowned for its opulent lobby and elegant ambience. The Fairmont’s Laurel Court offers afternoon tea service on Saturdays and Sundays.
On Nob Hill, the Ritz-Carlton is known for providing over-the-top afternoon tea to guests who step into the The Lounge. This room is full of magnificent views of San Francisco and spending an hour or so here is luxuriously decadent.
One of the city’s most historic and grand hotels, the Palace Hotel is a Luxury Collection Hotel that was built in 1875 near Market Street. The Palace House is perfect for the way it’s beautiful garden court reception area that invites visitors to enjoy an afternoon tea with fine china and sterling silver. There are also plenty of classic snacks like finger sandwiches and delightful scones for you to enjoy.
21. Walt Disney Family Museum
To get the full experience, visit the Ferris wheel on Pier 39 and then access Wright’s life in the museum. You can see what a father, business titan, world traveler, and historic figure Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt is all about.
Another highlight of the museum is the Multiplane Camera, which Walt Disney created. Also on display are numerous awards, drawings of Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney’s life story.
The museum is located in the Presidio neighborhood, which is a popular destination throughout San Francisco. Combined with other popular attractions, you can make a day trip to this location and have it be convenient for the traveler.
22. Gaze Up at the Giant Redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument
In traveling to San Francisco, it is important to visit the Muir Woods National Monument, which is a 45-minute drive from the city. You can take relaxed paths underneath ancient trees that are over 260 feet high. By not visiting and by not appreciating what these trees have been doing for 1,200 years, it would be difficult to understand how stunning they are.
To get the most out of your time, be sure to check out the visitors center. You’ll find fascinating exhibits and displays there with friendly park staff.
To visit the park, plan to book your parking spot in advance and make sure to visit during off-peak times. Your parking will be required if you want to eagerly explore the many places in the park.
23. Coit Tower
As you look at The Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, you may notice the cylindrical tower that looks a little like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This is the Coit Tower. It was completed in 1933 and stands 210 feet high, giving access to spectacular views of the city. It includes Lombard Street, Pier 39, downtown skyscrapers, Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
Early in the 1930s, pastel murals about life during the Depression were painted inside of Lillie Hitchcock Coit’s tower. These murals are named after their benefactor, Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who was a wealthy and somewhat eccentric lady.