Top attractions in San Francisco
Once known as the "Paris of the West," the gold-rush population boom made San Francisco a polycultural hub long before its Summer of Love. Here are some of the top attractions of this iconic west coast metropolis.
Alcatraz has had a colorful history but is most famous for being the prison that once held some of the US' most notorious gangsters, from Al Capone to Whitey Bulger.
The once-neglected Washington Square has evolved into an incredibly vibrant pocket of culture. It's now home to some of San Francisco's best restaurants and cafes.
San Francisco Bay actually consists of several bays, and its windy urban beaches make it a popular destination for sailors and windsurfers, as well as those just there for the scenery!
Standing proud between the Bay and the Pacific, the Golden Gate Bridge is considered by many to be the most beautiful bridge of the industrial age...
...But the San Francisco Bay Bridge is a strong contender for that accolade when lit up at night!
Inspired by New York's Central Park, the Golden Gate Park provides a leafy respite from the city, as well as attractions like the Academy of Sciences and Japanese Tea Garden.
Fisherman's Wharf is the touristic center of San Francisco. It boasts seafood restaurants that go back generations, as well as museums, parks, and its own sea lion colony!
Stow Lake is the largest and most scenic of the manmade lakes at Golden Gate Park. Its island, Strawberry Hill, offers spectacular downtown views over the treetops.
Explore San Francisco's more affluent side with a jaunt around Alamo Square. The neighborhood's hilltop park looks over much of the city, and don't forget its "painted ladies!"
The Painted Ladies are extravagant Victorian rowhouses which survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. It's astonishing to think so much of the city once looked this way!
Some would say for as long as you can, so bear in mind that it's a big and busy city with plenty to see and do. First-timers should consider spending at least a week there if possible, though even that might not be enough!
Which of San Francisco's neighborhoods is best for you depends on the nature of your trip. Fisherman's Wharf will meet all the immediate needs of a fleeting visit, though Union Square is a more neutral and relaxed jumping-off point for tourists. Other neighborhoods each have their own personality so it's worth putting in the research, but high-crime areas to avoid include Bayview, Hunter's Point, Sunnydale, and Visitation Valley.
"San Francisco has one of the world's most unique public transport systems. As well as buses and trains, the city is mostly mobilized by its historic cable-car network. Although newer trams do operate, visitors may want to ride one of the older ones for the novelty. Be warned though, notable routes such as the F-Market & Wharves line tend to get very crowded!
The city is also very bike-friendly,with extensive bicycle lanes and even bike lockers!"
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- Summer, Fall
Things to Do in San Francisco
Top Attractions in San Francisco
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Other Sightseeing Options in San Francisco
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What people are saying about San Francisco
The cruise was exceptional. The crew assisted by volunteering to take pictures at the perfect moments. My phone had died and they allowed me to charge it at the bar and then took photos on their phone and air dropped them to me at the end of the cruise. Wonderful photogenic experience. My only tip for improvement, it was hard for me to find the exact pier. Locals may know that Pier 39 is famous for the sea lions that hang out on the dock, but I was new to SanFran and didn't know I was looking for actual living sea lions. I was standing by a statue of of seals on the boardwalk and waited for 20 minutes before I realized the seal statue may not be what they had meant. I asked 3 people and called the company to find out where to be. Leave yourself plenty of time. Also, seals and sea lions are different animals, so please be more specific in describing that the boat leaves from the pier next to where the actual living sea lions sunbathe.
Loved the visit ! The ride up there is harrowing at times but our driver was excellent. The only way to go, in my opinion, is by mini tour bus. We had 7 people in our van and even though admission wasn’t included in the tour it was worth the cost to not have to drive on those zigzag roads. You can’t go in your car without a parking reservation. People not informed hold up traffic because they have to have this explained by the park rangers when they pull up to park with no reservation. They then can’t go online to make a reservation because there is no cell service up there. Parking for cars can be a mile away. The walk is all uphill and then walking around the forest would be exhausting for kids and older people. I didn’t see any strollers so I don’t think they are permitted.
Our bus commentator (not on every bus) was hilarious and informative. When we were on a bus without the live person, the recorded info was great to listen to as well. Doing the combo tour let us see alcatraz when tickets were sold out everywhere! Alcatraz was also a welcome surprise. So much cooler than anticipated. We listened to the audio and hopped back on the boat. Took about 1 hour. We were cramming our days so didn't have much more time to spend than that, but definitely worthwhile!
We had a rough start in the beginning trying to figure out how to use the GoCar, but San Francisco's drivers seemed rather patient with us as we were getting our bearings, so it felt very safe. The GPS guide was fun to follow too, and we learned a lot about San Francisco's landmarks along the way. My advice would be to go for the all-day package and start in the morning so you can have all day to spend time at all the sights for as long as you want and at your own pace.
We had a great time on our tour with Mario. Even though our group was comprised of people who ran the gamut of newcomers to old hands in San Francisco, he showed us parts of the city that none of us had seen, and gave us great suggestions for things to do after the tour. His warm-hearted and smiling presence was a special bonus for the tour. Highly recommended!