San Francisco is one of the greatest cities on earth and there are endless reasons why. From the culture, weather and scenery, to the eclectic eateries, outdoor activities and world renowned restaurants, it’s safe to say that there is literally something here for everyone. When you are visiting San Francisco, it can be a little tough deciding on where to begin and what exactly you’re going to do. This is to your benefit actually because it means that the destination your about to experience has so much to offer. The best thing to do is to make a general outline of the points of interest that attract you and make one of them a planned destination for each day. This way, you can adjust your day around that one activity and then do more or less around that as you see fit.
When you take this approach, you’ll be able to soak in that point of interest or activity you choose and not feel rushed on your experience. Take a look at some of the highlights that you will not want to miss while in this world class city and you’ll quickly see why this San Francisco is one of the most desirable areas of the world to live. Don’t feel like you have to go to every single spot, unless you are fortunate enough to have the time to do so, but rather use the list as a reference to help you start planning your visit.
There’s also a fantastic book that will give you great insight, tips and suggestions on this vibrant city.
The heartbeat of downtown San Francisco is Union Square. From the iconic and historic Westin Hotel to some of the most famous shopping in the world, this area will please everyone. Some of the shopping highlights include Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Levis, Barney’s, Prada, Gucci, and endless other high end stores makes Union Square one of the highest end shopping districts in the world. When you’re visiting San Francisco’s Union Square, you will find that throughout the year there are multiple events, festivals, and fairs in the center plaza and the entire area transforms to a holiday wonderland complete with a stunning towering Christmas tree and ice rink during the holiday season.
Golden Gate Park
If escaping to nature is your cup of tea while in any city, Golden Gate Park should top your list. While many tourists may naturally think that Central Park in New York City is the largest major city park, Golden Gate Park actually edges out Central Park and is larger. The park includes the California Academy of Science, the Flower Conservatory, Japanese Tea Gardens, Band Shelters, gorgeous bike paths and hiking trails, soccer fields, baseball fields, tennis courts, paddle boats and endless other outdoor activities. Throughout the year you will find festivals, concerts, parades and holiday festivities that always make for a spectacular day in the park. Locals of San Francisco are proud of this park and it is enjoyed on a daily basis by thousands. You will feel the abundant sense of nature and community in this world class park, as it is never just a place occupied by those that are visiting San Francisco.
The Wharf is one of the largest tourist destinations for travelers visiting San Francisco. There are a plethora of restaurants, souvenir shops, street performers, and activities to take part in. If finding the perfect souvenir does not interest you, try visiting the Boudin Sourdough Bakery. Fresh sourdough bread is made here and you can witness it being baked right in front of you. The smell is fantastic and you can get some fresh options to take with you. If you’re hungry, there’s a fantastic restaurant on site and the soups are served in the famous sourdough bowls. Fisherman’s Warf is worth the visit especially if this is your first visit to the city.
If you’re wondering what the second most visited place in California is, well you have just found it. Pier 39 is one of the most lively destinations and attended areas from travelers visiting San Francisco. This area is a double decker pier filled with scrumptious restaurants featuring crab and seafood as well as classic burger eateries. If you’re up for a little shopping, you will find everything from souvenirs, clothing, art, jewelry and a vast array of fun snacks. One of the most exciting things that Pier 39 is home to, are the Sea Lions. There is an entire area that the Sea Lions call home and have been there ever since 1989. If all of that isn’t enough, you will also find a beautiful huge aquarium and the Hard Rock Café. From this location, you will have a picture perfect view of Alcatraz as well and be able to capture some great photographs of the San Francisco Bay.
Golden Gate Bridge
These three words speak for themselves. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks of the world, and one of the first stops when visiting San Francisco. This stunning bridge will leave you speechless in its beauty, size, and the history that surrounds this historic monument. There are a multitude of viewing areas, bike tours, bus tours, and trails that will let you experience this wonder up close and personal. There is something magical about this bridge and once you witness it for the first time, you will easily see why this golden wonder leaves you speechless. When you speak of San Francisco, your trip is not complete without witnessing the Golden Gate Bridge.
Crissy Field is a public park area along the water with stunning views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. From the trails and bike paths to the wide open spaces, this is a beautiful area to soak in. Depending on the time of year you visit, you can also see windsurfers in this area as it is one of the most famous destinations for this sport. Take a relaxing afternoon and enjoy the year round beauty of this location. Crissy Field is one of those gems that many tourists do not take advantage of when visiting San Francisco.
Powell Street Cable Cars
No trip is complete without a ride on the trolley while visiting San Francisco. There are two different popular lines that you can experience. One of the routes runs from Ghirardelli Square to Union Square and the other runs up and down California Street. Both offer your spectacular views and a real sense of the vibe and history of the city. One trick for the Powell street line is to not wait in the line at Ghirardelli square, but walk up one block and get picked up there. You will save about 3 hours of time waiting in line. If you have the time, take a ride during the day and during the evening hours for a completely different feel and experience.
Chinatown in San Francisco is the second largest Chinatown in the United States after New York City. If you are looking for a little culture and some great finds, head to this area of the city. You’ll also find some great picture locations at the entrance with the welcoming Chinese Dragon’s that were a gift to the city. Situated close to Union Square, you’ll be able to experience this area with relative ease and be able to pick up some great finds along the way while visiting San Francisco’s Chinatown.
A quick drive, cab ride or equivalent, will take you to one of the most beautiful view points in all of the United States. Twin Peaks is one of the most beautiful residential areas of the city and atop this area lays Twin Peaks view point. Many visitors do not take advantage of this area while visiting San Francisco, so ma sure you do. Not only will you be able to see the entire city, but you will also be able to see all the way to Mt. Diablo in the East Bay area, the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge, Bay and Bay Bridge, Sausalito, Golden Gate Park and all the surrounding areas. The winding road up the mountain side gives you perspective of how high you are climbing. Take a trip up during the day and then again during the evening hours when the Bay area lights up for a spectacular sight.
The location of Baker Beach alone makes it irresistible and at no surprise is one of the most popular areas for traveler’s visiting San Francisco. Not only do you have spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, but you have the stunning California coastline as well. From the sound of the waves crashing along the cliffs and the rocks, to the sights of the beautiful mountain sides, this is one beach that you will not want to miss. There’s a small parking area if you need it, but during festive holidays, do not attempt to park here. There are surrounding areas that you can park and then walk down to the beach. This is another area of the city that the locals love, and if you’re lucky enough you might meet up with some to give you some points of interests to consider during your visit.
One of the sweetest locations to head to while visiting San Francisco is Ghirardelli Square. If you’re a chocolate lover then Ghirardelli is probably already a part of your vocabulary. Ghirardelli Square has one of the most spectacular locations in the entire city and is a great hangout location. One of the perks about visiting this chocolate lover’s dream is you receive a free piece of chocolate every time you enter (***hint, there are multiple entrances), and once inside you will be in chocolate heaven. There’s even an ice cream parlor where you can get hot fudge made from Ghirardelli chocolate. This is one destination that you will want to save room for desert.
These historic Victorian homes built in San Francisco between 1892 and 1896 have become some of the most iconic Victorian designs not only in the city but in the entire world. This row of homes, across from Alamo Square Park, can be seen in a multitude of television programs, movies, commercial ads, and most famous for appearing in the opening credits of the television series Full House. The entire area is graced with these Victorian works of art, and provides a beautiful historic stop in this magnificent city. The painted ladies are one of the most popular stops for travelers visiting San Francisco.
If you’re a sports lover, and quite honestly even if you not, AT&T Park is a great place to visit in San Francisco. Located right on the water, this baseball stadium home to the San Francisco Giants, is one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums in the franchise. This stadium also hosts concerts and other events and there are tours available year round. There are a multitude of picture areas, monuments, statues, posted statistics and a Giants memorabilia store. If you’re able to attend a game while you’re in town that just adds to the experience you’ll have at this famous ballpark.
Another popular spot for tourists visiting San Francisco is Lombard Street. This is one of the most crooked and most famous streets in the world all at the same time. Originally designed to help with slowing vehicles down and assist with braking, this is now one of the most photographs streets in the entire world. While you are still able to drive down the street, it can get very congested so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time. You can also go to the top or bottom of this street by foot and capture some great pictures. The entire street is lined with gorgeous flowers and the surrounding residents take pride in this being a part of their neighborhood.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
This internationally recognized museum holds an exceptional collection of contemporary and modern art and was the first museum on the West Coast that specifically designated itself to solely showcase 20th century art. The collection is approaching 30,000 works of art including paintings, sculptures, photography, media arts, design and architecture. The Museum of Modern Art is a must stop for any cultural art lover or for anyone that wants to add a touch of international culture to their travel resume while visiting San Francisco.
The Presidio is a stunning park area on the northern tip of San Francisco that was formerly a military base. It was a fortified location since 1776 with New Spain, passed to Mexico then to the United States in 1848. Later the area was transferred to the National Park Service ending over 219 years of military use. Today the Presidio is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and maintains the areas spectacular trails, hills, wooded areas and scenic vistas. The Presidio provides the great outdoors amongst one of the most historic sites in the United States always keeping it one of the most popular areas to see while visiting San Francisco.
Notably one of the most famous prisons in the world, Alcatraz has drawn millions of visitors. It’s a pretty safe bet, that when most travelers talk about visiting San Francisco, Alcatraz is usually one of the top things to do on their list. Often referred to as “The Rock”, this prison was a federal prison from 1933 to 1963 and later established as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. To this day the lighthouse on the island is the oldest operating lighthouse on the entire west coast. There are stunning tours that take place daily and provide you with in depth information, facts, experiences and a voice guided tour narrated by real past wardens. There’s a magnitude of rich history here and the ferry boat ride alone by Hornblower Cruises (the official Alcatraz ferry provider) enables you to take in the bay and city views. Make sure you reserve your tickets early as the tours sell out weeks in advance.
Completed in 1898, the Ferry Building at one time was the largest project in the city at the time. Built as a ferry terminal for ferry’s traveling across the bay, this terminal was the second busiest transit terminal in the world, only to London’s Chairing Cross Station. The terminal underwent a dramatic restoration and today hosts a beautiful shopping and dining hall, cafes, restaurants, farmers markets and festivities year round. The clock tower is still in operation and chimes on every hour and half hour. The Ferry building is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once you enter this historical landmark, you will be able to see some of the history still present today and get a sense of this once bustling passenger station. This Ferry building should be on your list of the best places to go while visiting San Francisco.
Take a look at one of the best travel books available on San Francisco for tips, highlights and suggestions.
These areas of interest listed are just a small collection of the sights and activities to get you started. What’s very exciting is around each of these areas is a plethora of additional activities and hot spots to explore. From historic Victorian neighborhoods, biking and hiking trails, world class designer shopping areas, café’s and coffee shops lining the streets, parks and eateries, you can be assured that when visiting San Francisco, your daily adventures will be filled with non-stop experience and adventure. This is also a city where the locals love their city and the entire “Bay Area” as they call it, even more than the tourists, and are more than happy to let you know about some of the vast array of local hotspots, activities and places to explore. When you’re able to take part in and experience the feeling of being a local, it adds another element that many will never experience. Overall, no matter what your agenda ends up being, this is one city that will take care of you in every aspect and will have you wanting to come back time and time again….if you don’t end up moving to the area first.
(images:San Francisco,Union Square,Golden Gate Park,Fishermans Wharf, Pier 39,Golden Gate Bridge,Crissy Field,Trolley Cars,Chinatown, Twin Peaks,Baker Beach,Ghirardelli Square,Painted Ladies,AT&T Park, Lombard Street,San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,Presidio,Alcatraz,Ferry Building)