With 49 hills and three sides surrounded by water, San Francisco is a city that offers views around each and every corner. From the downtown skyline to the islands of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge to the rugged open ocean, there are more majestic views in SF than in any other city in the world. Here are the top spots in the city for catching an amazing view, all of them well worth going out of your way to visit.
There is no other reason to visit Twin Peaks other than the splendid views of downtown San Francisco and the whole bay area that it amply offers. At nearly 1000 feet above sea level, the twin summit urban mountain offers panoramic vistas in every direction and is a frequent stop on city tour bus itineraries. You can get up there yourself by foot from the Castro District, which lies at its base, or even by public transit, but bring a jacket as fog and wind often sweep in unannounced.
Gracing the top of Telegraph Hill like a silent stone sentinel from the past, Coit Tower is not only one of the city's most iconic architectural landmarks but is also one of its top viewpoints. You can go up the tower during the day, which allows 360-degree views of the bay and the skyline, but even the base of the tower provides great vista points and has coin operated binoculars for zooming in on city hotspots. At night the tower is lit up with colored lights and the base is a popular place for couples to take in views of the city.
Sitting in the heart of Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum is home to a vast collection of art from all around the world. But you don't have to pay the museum admission price to visit the observation tower, which rises up above the tree line of the park and offers astounding views of the city on all sides. A scale model of San Francisco allows you to pinpoint various landmarks and sights with accuracy as well.
Occupying a hill in the geographical center of the city, Buena Vista Park pokes up out of the Haight Ashbury area to offer panoramic views of the city in every direction. Although the grassy area on top offers nice vistas to the north, exploring hidden peek-a-boo points on the winding trails on the way down also offer a variety of unique perspectives of the city from different vantage points.
Wrapping around the city's rugged northwest corner, the Land's End area offers several spectacular views of pristine nature and the city. From Sutro Heights Park, you have never-ending views out over the Pacific Ocean and southwards down the coast. Once on the trail, vistas open and close before you, most of them providing gorgeous views of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the verdant Presidio National Park.
Although views are prolific all along the Fisherman's Wharf area, especially at the end of Pier 39, the best view out onto the bay is located just south of the wharf at Fort Mason. You have to climb up the cliff from the aquatic park to get there, but once you do the bay and the waterfront lie out before you like a miniature model. The best views are from Battery Point, an old lookout and defensive fort that used to house live canons but now offers peaceful picnic tables.
The San Francisco Art Institute
This rarely visited architectural and artistic treasure on the side of Russian Hill sports a huge outdoor pavilion that offers views for miles in every direction. Add to this the fact that a student-run cafe serves up fresh organic meals and house-brewed coffee and you have quite possibly the best little-hidden viewpoint in the city.