San Francisco is the pride and joy of the northern part of the Golden State, not to mention its financial, commercial, and cultural hub. Besides being the 13th most populated city in the United States, it’s also the second-highest in its population density, next only to New York City! Going by these numbers, the city’s popularity isn’t surprising. SF goes all out for its residents, so whether it’s beaches, parks, museums, or neighborhoods, there’s a whole gamut of things for you to explore. Likewise, as far as entertainment’s concerned, SF doesn’t seem to run short of places for you to see or things for you to do! Since there is an overwhelmingly large number of tourist attractions, we’ve picked 12 of the choicest ones for your benefit. So, without any delay, get ready, step out of your rental room in San Francisco, and enjoy yourself!
1. Fisherman’s Wharf
Fishermans’ Wharf is one of the oldest and most sought-after places in SF. Known as the Little Italy of San Francisco at one point, it’s a pleasant place filled with restaurants, shops, and stunning waterfront views.
Walking around for a couple of hours can give you a feel of the area. Some other options include a sightseeing cruise for some spectacular city views or getting into a rented boat and attempting to catch fish! Don’t forget to drop by the Pier 39 docks and see some amazing sea lions. The top visitor spots here include Musee Mecanique, Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Pier 39 is a delightful place in itself. It houses over 50 shops and eateries, each offering something different!
At the Hyde Street Pier, which is currently known as the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, you can see renovated 19th and 20th-century boats.
2. Cable cars
One of the most popular attractions in SF is its cable cars. The cable car system is manually operated and is the last one of its kind! In its heyday, there were 23 cable car lines, but now you only have three! The first cable car opened up in 1873, and thanks to the revenue it was making, several more were added to the list. But with the launch of electric streetcars in 1892, the cable car began to lose its demand and popularity.
Besides helping you experience the sights and sounds of the city the old-fashioned way, these vehicles have the honor of being declared a historic monument! You can travel to places such as the Ferry Building, Nob Hill, and Lombard Street, among others. Finally, to experience the beauty of the city, take the Powell-Mason or Powell-Hyde routes. You can buy the tickets once you are in the car.
Interestingly, you’ll find a Chinatown in several cities, although the one in SF has an edge. For starters, it’s the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest one in the USA! Unfortunately, the 1906 earthquake managed to destroy almost all of the neighborhood. But it rebuilt itself and eventually transformed itself into an even finer community than ever before and one of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco!
You’ll find many workshops, theaters, stores, small businesses, temples, shops selling antiques and souvenirs, teahouses, and pharmacies that make it all the more worthwhile to visit the place. There’s also a fortune cookie factory that you can drop by to see how they’re made. The tourist hotspot is Grant Avenue, where you can walk around, shop for mementos, eat, and click photos. If your visit happens to coincide with the Chinese New Year, you’re in for a treat! The large-scale festivities are the best in the United States!
4. Legion of Honor
Legion of Honor is a magnificent Neoclassical Beaux-Arts building set against the backdrop of Lincoln Park, a beautiful park with a golf course and coastal woodlands. The legion was gifted to the city by socialist and philanthropist Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. It’s a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris because of her love for the country and its things.
The museum is home to a massive collection of European decorative arts, paintings, and sculptures, with more than 800 paintings, including several by Monet, Picasso, and Rembrandt. There are over 90 sculptures by renowned artist Auguste Rodin, with one of the highlights being “The Thinker.”
Walking along the Lincoln Highway path outside the legion will lead you to spectacular views of the ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge.
5. Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is a breathtaking Greco-Roman style structure built in 1915 for the Panama Pacific Exposition, the sole aim being to showcase art exhibits. The palace has added another feather to its cap by featuring in the US National Register of Historic Places and happens to be a San Francisco Designated Landmark. Worth a visit, don’t you think?
The palace perches on a lagoon and has ducks, swans, and geese swimming around. And it’s an extremely peaceful place. Some of it has been refurbished while some of it has been removed, but the structure still manages to captivate visitors. Today, it runs art exhibitions and hosts the occasional wedding too.
6. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is an 80-year-old museum housing 33,000 pieces of 20th-century art that comprise sculptures, paintings, pictures, and architecture. Some of the astounding pieces you might see are book-shaped lamps burning brightly, fragile silver necklaces, and a chess set with pieces representing the city’s landmarks! Pieces that draw the attention of most visitors are changed now and then.
The SFMOMA is a sprawling museum spread over 170,000 square feet with 10 floors and has lots of space for strolling. If you feel hungry, head over to Cafe 5, located in the Jean and James Douglas Family Sculpture Garden inside the museum, for a light meal. For more elaborate dining options, get a reservation at the upscale In Situ restaurant.
In a word, whether you’re an art lover or not, this place is a jaw-dropping piece of work, architecturally. So, you should explore as much of it as you can; you might even end up liking it!
7. Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks refer to two hills standing next to each other, each 922 feet tall. They’re a famous tourist spot in SF, offering exceptional views of the Bay Area.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, use the trails in the north and south peaks for hiking. The Twin Peaks are pristine and uninhabited, so what you see is authentic and natural. In the earlier days, the Spaniards used to refer to them as Los pechos de la Chola or “Breasts of the Indian Maiden.” It’s always chilly, even on sunny days when strong winds blow in from the Pacific Ocean. Besides the peaks, you’ll find a park, spread across 64 acres, as well as a variety of plants and animals.
8. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is flanked by San Francisco Bay and Marin County on either side. People are more interested in clicking photos of the bay instead of experiencing its splendour and expense! The bridge, inaugurated on May 28, 1937, was known as the longest suspension bridge worldwide around the time, and stretched for two miles!
The bridge has six traffic lanes that passengers use to travel to and from different parts of the city. The East Sidewalk is for pedestrians, and both the East and West Sidewalks are for cyclists. However, cyclists and pedestrians aren’t allowed to cross the bridge after daylight. Sometimes, people cycle to Sausalito, a small town in Marin County. So, be sure to explore the bridge in the morning or afternoon hours and soak in its striking views!
9. High tea at a luxury hotel
Having tea at some of the best, most luxurious best hotels for kids in San Francisco will give you a peek into the splendid Victorian architecture that these places have had since their inception. For instance, the Fairmont San Francisco, built in the early 19th century, is famous for its lavish lobby and refined surroundings. Tea is served on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the Laurel Court. Similarly, The Ritz Carlton on Nob Hill serves tea on weekend afternoons in The Lounge, a stylish reception room that offers lovely views of SF.
Finally, one among the city’s most magnificent hotels, the Palace Hotel, constructed in the latter part of the 19th century, is famed for its Garden Court reception area that offers afternoon tea, along with snacks befitting the aristocratic, such as finger sandwiches and scones, served on sterling silver platters and chinaware. So, take your pick and spend a lazy, relaxing afternoon, having tea and snacks while observing the people around you.
10. Napa Valley day trip
Do you love wine? Who doesn’t, right? If you do, Napa Valley is the perfect place for you to be! Not too far from San Francisco, you’ll find Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, comprising two of the biggest and most notable areas for growing grapes. You can attend wine tasting events, go for wine tours, and have mouth-watering food at fancy restaurants. Most people prefer traveling to Napa Valley during the day and enjoy the views along the way, but if you’d like to explore every bit of the place and need more time, you can stay overnight.
11. Ghirardelli Square
Ghirardelli Square has a fascinating history that will pique your interest levels. The place had a small chocolate factory owned and run by Domenico Ghirardelli from Italy. After working for some time as a confectioner, he moved to Uruguay at 20. Over time, Ghirardelli went on to become a chocolate merchant and moved to San Francisco to set up a chocolate factory.
His red-brick chocolate factory is now a center with restaurants, shops, and hotels aplenty, so if you’re keen on shopping, having lip-smacking food, or just hanging around, explore the area. It may interest you to know that all the shops and restaurants have been set up in refurbished industrial buildings! That way, structures that are a crucial part of the city’s history aren’t erased from people’s memories! Chocolate lovers and anyone with a sweet tooth, will find this place a paradise because you get to try out assorted chocolates of different shapes and sizes, each with a unique flavor!
12. Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island, situated about 1.5 miles from the coast of SF, houses the ill-famed Alcatraz penitentiary. It was set up to serve as a military and a federal prison and housed many notorious criminals such as Al Capone and Robert Franklin Stroud. Hordes of people visit the prison because they’re drawn to the history of the place. It ran for 30 years till 1963 before closing down. The site was opened to the public 10 years later, in 1973, and has been a tourist attraction ever since.
To reach the island, you need to take a ferry. The highlight of the prison is its guided tour that shares details of and insights into prison life here and also includes the voices of inmates and guards who were a part of the place at some point. It seems intriguing, doesn’t it? Make sure this is one of the must-visit places on your list.
We hope we’ve inspired you to pack your bags and hop on a plane to the City by the Bay that has so much to offer. Let us also tell you that depending on the length of your trip, go all out and explore as much of the city as possible till you feel like it’s your second home! As a tourist, it might be a good idea to stay somewhere close to Union Square for two reasons. One, you’ll find an exhaustive list of restaurants, hotels, galleries, shops, and theaters here. Two, it has multiple transportation options, such as cable cars, buses, and taxis, which you’ll need to travel across the city while you’re sightseeing!