San Francisco is known for its dense fog coverage, iconic attractions, and beautiful views of the many hills and bodies of water within its city limits. If you're planning a vacation to the City by the Bay, you won't want to miss its numerous tourist hotspots including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the Fisherman's Wharf.
Plan your next trip to the city by reading through the following list of great and iconic locations in and around the Bay Area. If you plan on traveling by public transit, also make sure to utilize this Muni Trip Planner, which also and includes info on taking BART to SFO & Oakland International Airports, or check out details on Uber and Lyft here.
Because of SF's propensity for varying temperatures and fog coverage, depending on which neighborhood you find yourself in, you'll also want to check out this San Francisco Planning Guide to make sure you pack appropriately for your trip.
It's impossible to fully grasp the scale of the Golden Gate Bridge without seeing it on foot or two wheels. Even if you're afraid of heights, do your best to suck it up for this walk—because you'll be blown away by the views, the sensation of being atop this San Francisco icon and, on some blustery days, by the fickle clouds that will drift over you in a mist of advection fog.
For those afraid of heights, it may be disconcerting at first to be so high. But there are guard rails. And, the walk gets easier as you grow accustomed to the sensation.
This walking guide (from Crissy Field to the Golden Gate Bridge) will help give you a better idea about how to plan your walking tour of San Francisco's most iconic landmark, or if you'd rather bike, you can always take the ferry back to SF once reaching Sausalito.
Before you ever take the Alcatraz Night Tour, you might envision a much creepier crawl among the ghosts of the rock, and anyone drawn to the night tour might have a high threshold for eerie encounters. If you do, you'll be a bit disappointed by how perfectly normal, organized and populated the night tour actually is.
That's not to say evening hours on Alcatraz Island don't have their ghostly elements, sometimes enhanced by the mist sweeping over the island, but there are no scary surprises as you meander through the dim halls with your self-guided audio.
Then, chill yourself into a cube, as you stand on the cliff, contemplating the lethal jump escapees made into 50-degree bay currents.
Fisherman's Wharf History & Nature
You'll hardly hear a good word about Fisherman's Wharf from city natives, but the area really gets too much of a bad rap for simply being a tourist zone where the streets are lined with vendors selling identical pastel sweatshirts. Though it does feel, at times, like a typical, arcade-style seaside resort, there's much more to Fisherman's Wharf than meets the eye.
The wharf also showcases the city's affiliation with the sea. In and around the tourist venues are a hidden memorial chapel, a self-guided historic walk, and an old three-masted schooner, and it's also home to a large raft of sea lions and a range of seabirds.
Be sure to check out the Maritime Historical Park, The U.S.S. Pampanito, Musee Mecanique, and the Aquarium of the Bay on your trip to the historic wharf.
Barbary Coast Trail: Union Square - Chinatown - North Beach - Coit Tower
Grant Avenue in San Francisco's Chinatown is a straight passage from Union Square to North Beach. You can expand your day's walk by following the historic Barbary Coast Trail through the (mostly) modern structures and amenities which now line the route.
The beauty of the Barbary Coast Trail is that in the span of this walk, you'll visit some of San Francisco's popular destinations: Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach, Coit Tower, and Fisherman's Wharf.
Cable Cars, Street Cars & Cable Car Museum
There's probably not a soul who visits San Francisco without anticipating a cable car ride, but you simply must remember to interrupt your ride to disembark at the Cable Car Barn and Museum, the control center that drives the entire cable car system. There, you'll see the motors, cables, and sheaves used to propel the cars throughout San Francisco.
At sea level, along Market Street and the Embarcadero, is another breed of streetcar known as the F-Market Line. It can be near impossible to get on during high season (crowds). But, even from the outside, you can admire the fleet of historical streetcars imported from Australia, Milan, and Chicago.
San Francisco Ferry Building
It wasn't that long ago that visitors to the San Francisco Ferry Building were met with the atrocity of a freeway blocking the view to the waterfront. However, after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, that section of freeway came down and the Ferry Building was redeemed.
An extensive renovation rendered the Ferry Building as one of SF's most beautiful, historical central marketplaces. At the foot of Market Street at the Embarcadero, the San Francisco Ferry Building is home to restaurants and proprietors selling Bay Area produce, cheese, seafood, and freshly-baked bread—among other sustainable and seasonal goods.
San Francisco Bay Waterfront
In either direction from the Ferry Building, enjoy a walk with a view of the San Francisco Bay waterfront. If you're heading toward Fisherman's Wharf, exit the Ferry Building on Embarcadero and turn right. Access the beginning of a promenade at Pier 1 and follow the promenade around all the way to the long fishing pier between Pier 5 and Pier 7, before heading north to the Wharf.
In the other direction (south), turn left from Ferry Building on Embarcadero. Walk toward Pier 14 which has a rotating exhibit of public art at its gate. If you choose to go further, you can walk all the way to the Bay Bridge and past that, to Oracle Park along the water.
San Francisco Museums
The Yerba Buena Arts District (mentioned below) is a great spot to explore San Francisco's art scene in a relatively small area, but the collections and exhibitions, of course, don't stop at the border of Market Street.
To get a better sense of San Francisco's breadth of museum offerings, check out this San Francisco Museum Guide where you can link out to profiles of individual art venues.
Many of the city's museums offer once-a-month free admission, and the first Tuesday of each month is free at a number of local favorites while other museums offer free admission throughout the year. See this San Francisco Free Museum Days roster to learn about the free and discounted hours and events.
Yerba Buena Arts District
The greatest concentration of museums is within a small radius in the South of Market (SoMa) area. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art used to be the new kid on the block, but with the 2008 ribbon-cutting at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the existing community of smaller museums, SF MOMA is now a mature inhabitant of this growing arts district.
Start at Yerba Buena Gardens and you won't go more than a few blocks to hit the major museums of the area. Follow this San Francisco Museum Guide (A to Z) to make sure you don't miss a potential new favorite while you're in town.
Golden Gate Park
End to end (east to west) Golden Gate Park is just a bit more than 3 miles long. You can walk from the east end (Haight Ashbury) to San Francisco's Ocean Beach (on the Pacific Ocean), then reward yourself with a microbrew at the Beach Chalet, which has Works Progress Administration (WPA) murals similar to the murals at Rincon Center.
You can also Visit the de Young Museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco Botanical Garden, and the California Academy of Sciences all within the confines of SF's biggest public park.
Haight Ashbury & Alamo Square Victorians
The Haight is but an urban ghost of its Summer of Love days. But there's history, including the famous Grateful Dead house and, of course, the Victorian homes that pre-date the Summer of Love by a long shot.
In the Haight (and in adjacent Cole Valley) you'll see exceptional examples of this Victorian style. You can also walk a mile (east) to Alamo Square to get a photo of the Painted Ladies—Victorians lined up with San Francisco as a backdrop that was used in the title credits of the popular 1990s show "Full House."
The east end of Golden Gate Park is at the west end of the Haight. Destinations like the de Young Museum are walkable if you don't mind trekking a mile west. You can also get on the N-Judah metro line in Cole Valley.
The Castro is best known as the hub of San Francisco's gay community. The neighborhood, formerly known as Eureka Valley, went through several cultural transitions, from its years as a Scandinavian neighborhood to a center for Irish immigrants.
The Castro Theatre is the area's most distinct icon (aside from the rainbow flag) and is an important San Francisco institution and historical landmark. It showcases a diverse set of films and happenings and plays host to the San Francisco International Film Festival and the International LGBT Film Festival.
To get an overview of the Castro, consider joining the Cruisin' the Castro guided walk—a tour infused with cultural information about the district.
Mission Dolores & Mission District Murals
Venture away from the water toward the inner workings of San Francisco by visiting the vibrant—and sometimes a little grungy—Mission District. These days, this neighborhood is a culinary and drinking hub, with some of San Francisco's hippest restaurants and watering holes within steps of one another.
The Mission is also home to robust public art in the form of murals. The neighborhood's past is drenched in vivid multicultural stories, as it was a hub for immigrants from Europe before attracting a vibrant community from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. The art, the language, the shops, and the food still speak to that ethnic diversity.
Civic Center is a dramatic contrast between its Beaux Arts splendor and the street-life born of an imperfect social system, and the buildings at Civic Center are among the most majestic in the city. But the area has its share of homeless—which is sometimes a surprise to visitors, especially those who travel from countries where homelessness is not the issue it is here.
City Hall is the product of an almost $300 million renovation, and in 2008, it became the busy site of California's first same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Also visit the Asian Art Museum, the Herbst Theater, the San Francisco Opera, Ballet, and Symphony buildings or check out the nearby hip restaurant and shopping district of Hayes Valley.
Japantown & The Fillmore District
The Fillmore District is home to the Jazz Heritage Center and also hosts the annual Fillmore Jazz Festival, honoring the district's distinct cultural and musical heritage—as does the landmark Boom Boom Room on the corner of Fillmore and Geary. Today a string of new development and top-notch eateries stretch toward the busy restaurant and shopping area of Fillmore Street in neighboring Pacific Heights.
Just east of Fillmore Street, Japantown ("Nihonmachi") joins the district as part of a larger area collectively known as the Western Addition. In Japantown, explore the cuisine, pastries, and shops, visit the Peace Pagoda (a gift from sister city Osaka) or enjoy a spa treatment at Kabuki Springs. Annual festivals include the Nihonmachi Street Fair in August and the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (April).
Pacific Heights, Marina District, & Cow Hollow
If you're interested in seeing the Victorian mansions and architecture of Pacific Heights, one of the best ways to tour is through San Francisco City Guides. They offer free walking tours of the Pacific Heights and the Marina District—which includes Cow Hollow, the former pasture tucked in between the hill and the Marina flats below.
The Marina District and Cow Hollow are epicenters of food and shopping. A stroll along Union and Chestnut streets will render more than enough possibilities for restaurants, bars, and boutiques.
Lands End & Legion of Honor
The Lands End area is part of the Outer Richmond district, and if you have just a few days in San Francisco you may not have time to venture to these "Outside Lands."
But Lands End is a jaw-dropping visual treat. From points along the Coastal Trail, you'll have a view of the Pacific Ocean with massive container ships moving through the Golden Gate and under the bridge.
If you find yourself craving a rugged coastline, this part of the coast includes the Legion of Honor museum (with Rodin collection) and its free-to-visit outdoor Holocaust Memorial.
Also, have a cocktail at the historic Cliff House overlooking the ocean and try your hand (or eyes) at the camera obscura, a walk-in camera that offers 360-degree views of your surrounds.
Presidio San Francisco
The Presidio is a gorgeous spot just this side of the Golden Gate Bridge—a mix of history, natural parkland, and some growing amenities, including exhibit spaces, cafes, and a winery in an existing airplane hangar at Crissy Field.
The Bay Area is fortunate to have a significant amount of undeveloped land along the water due to the military's presence. These lands were not commercially developed and are now parks, offering a rich habitat for wildlife as well as hubs for people who use the parklands for hiking and outdoors activities.
The Top of the Mark and the Buena Vista Cafe are both landmark bars that can almost be thought of as San Francisco cliches. But, you'd have to be hardened to a pip not to appreciate these icons—even if they do tend to draw a touristed crowd.
Visit the Top of the Mark for a chance to sip a cocktail while watching an impressive sunset, with the grand expanse of San Francisco below this Nob Hill perch. Afterward, capping the night with a cable car ride to the Buena Vista Cafe (for their famous Irish Coffee) can be the quintessential San Francisco escapade for newcomers.
The GoCar is a GPS-driven vehicle—a bright yellow go-cart you'll see navigating the streets and hills of San Francisco. The beauty of GoCar tours is the autonomy you'll have, even in the context of a guided tour.
You can choose from several different GPS programs: Downtown San Francisco, Urban Parks, Mister SFs (insider tour), and Bridge to Lombard, but once you embark in the car, you're in control. The GPS will guide you via spoken voice, and provide information about stops along the way. But it's up to you how fast you go, and how long you want to linger at the various locations.
San Francisco Bay is at the heart of this region's existence. Long before San Francisco was so named, the bay sustained a thriving abundance of wildlife and native peoples relied on the bay for their food and navigation.
Today's bay is but a fraction of its original size, due to new shorelines created by landfill, but it's as integral a part of the lives of San Francisco's inhabitants.
Take a Bay tour that includes some audio of what was, what is, and what will be on these beautiful shores. Red and White Fleet offers one of the best bay cruises, The San Francisco Explorer Cruise, where you can listen to three self-guided audio tours on Native American, biological, or architectural history of the area
For baseball fans, Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) is an obvious destination. With its old-time ballpark style set on the shores of San Francisco Bay, you almost can't go wrong no matter where you sit. If you're down below, you'll experience the intimacy of your proximity to the field, while up above views of the bay and the San Francisco Bay Bridge are added bonuses of this stadium.
The neighborhood around Oracle Park, South Beach, is one of the newer developments in town, with fresh restaurants and bars constantly rolling into the zone around the stadium.
The guided walking tours around San Francisco range from the absolutely-free-though-incredibly-enlightening (City Guides) to more expensive, all-inclusive walking and dining tours like Wok Wiz in Chinatown. There are themed walks (the Flower Power Tour in Haight Ashbury), historical tours of Victorians in neighborhoods like Pacific Heights, and even walks led by San Francisco comics. The list is seemingly endless.