San Francisco things to do and see

San Francisco Tourist Attractions

Situated in the north of California, this wonderful laid-back city is well know for it’s steep streets and cable cars.  The moment you arrive, you get a feeling of belonging that you don’t really get in some other big American cities.  Some of the San Francisco things to do and see are down to the city’s unique topography.

The famous hilly streets are very steep in places. Because of these, walking can be tough, but the cable cars and buses can alleviate some of this. Personally, I prefer to walk where possible as it’s the best way to take in all the great victorian buildings and neighbourhoods.  And basing yourself around the Union Square  area will give you a great place to go off site seeing from.

There is so much to do here that it’s a bit challenging making up a definitive list. But here are the attractions you should consider first.

 


Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is probably the most recognised suspension bridge in the world. Built in 1937 after over 4 years of construction, it was the longest in the world until 1960 when the Verrazano Narrows bridge in New York was built at 60 feet longer. It’s one-mile length over the strait connects the San Francisco peninsular to Marin county in the north. And with the two 746ft Art Deco towers, it’s easy to understand why it is one of the 7 wonders of the modern world.

On our first visit we walked across the bridge, which is worth it for the views of the skyline alone. On a recent visit we drove a hire car over and viewed the bridge via a boat trip. Overall, we found the boat was the best way to see this marvel in all it’s glory.

 

Nearest Bus Stop
Golden Gate Bridge Plaza (2)

 

 

 


Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz island started off as a military prison back in 1828, becoming a federal prison in 1934.  It has detained some famous criminals such as Al Capone, Robert “The Birdman” Stroud, & George “Machine Gun” Kelly

Being the subject of a few films, it’s a strange feeling standing in the cell once inhabitited by the ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’ Robert Stroud.  And the eerie understanding that on New Years Eve, the inmates could often hear the distant sound of partygoers drifting across the bay from the mainland.  This really puts you in the middle of it all.

If you’ve never been, put this on your list of San Francisco things to do and see, as it really shouldn’t be missed.

It’s worth doing the self guided tour as you can make your way around the prison at your own pace, stopping to enjoy the things that interest you more.

Only accessible by ferry, these run every 30-40 mins throughout the day. But check the summer v winter times for first and last ferries.  After all, you really don’t want to be left behind here!

 

Nearest bus stop for ferry at pier 33
North Point St & Kearny St (8 & 8BX)

 

 

 

 


Coit Tower

Coit TowerThis famous white monument was built in 1933 and sits on top of Telegraph hill.  It is named after Lillie Hitchock Coit,  a patroness for the volounteer firefighters of San Francisco.  She was also the benefactor for it’s construction.

The tower is art deco in design and the fact that it looks like a fire-hose, we are told,  is just a coincidence.

At a height of 210ft (64m) on top of the 284ft (87m) Telegraph Hill, gives you fantastic 360 degree views of the city.

Since the stairs were closed a couple of years ago, it is only accessible by one lift, so the queue can become long. Get there early if possible or go as part of a tour that gives you a time slot.

 

Nearest Bus Stops
Telegraph Hill Boulevard (39)
Coit Tower (39)

 

 

 

 

 


Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman's WharfThis bustling harbour contains loads of restaurants, attractions & shops to keep you busy.  You can pick up ferries here for tours around the harbour and Alcatraz.  But it’s great for just walking around and taking in the atmosphere anyway.  You’re never quiet sure what you’re going to come across next.

Pier 39

This famous pier  in Fisherman’s Wharf is renowned for it’s attractions, shops, restaurants and of course, the resident sea lions.

The pier, like the whole of the wharf is always bustling with tourists.  The noisy Sea lions can be found (and heard) near the end of the pier.  If you want eat here, ensure you book a table as it took a few restaurants before we were able to settle down for lunch. But the clam chowder was to die for.

Live Street Performances show throughout the day near where an impressive 2-tier carousel resides. There is also the aquarium of the bay showcasing the local marine animals.

 

Nearest bus stops
North Point St. & Hyde St. ( 2,4,8,18,24,27,30,38,44,47,54,58,72,74,76 & 91)

 

 

 

 


Union Square

Union Square

A famous public plaza surrounded by department stores, boutiques & art galleries.  Recognisable by it’s Dewy Monument in the centre with the Goddess of Victory at the top

Here you will find Macys, Levis, Tiffany & Co. & Saks among many other stores to peruse.

Comedy, theatre & music can often be found playing here along with ice skating in the winter months

This is a great area to stay and base yourself for the San Francisco things to do and see list.

Nearest bus stops
Post St & Grant Ave (38, 38R & 76x)
Post St & Grant St (2 & 3 )

Nearest tram stops
Powell St & Post St (PH, PM)
Geary St & Powell St (PH, PM)

 

 

 

 


Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

This beautiful park stretches nearly half way across the width of the San Francisco Peninsular.  Starting from Ocean beach on the east side through to the Pan Handle in the centre.

Walking through it’s many paths and lakes, you’ll come across a multitude of different things to do.

Conservatory of flowers
A huge glasshouse containing thousands of flowers and plants.

California Academy of Sciences
A natural history museum containing a planetarium and aquarium

Japanese Tea Garden
Walk around a peaceful garden full of Japanese plants and flowers.  Also includes Drum Bridge, a Pagoda and a waterfall.

Bison Paddock
If you like your animals, you can find a herd of American Bisons here grazing in their paddock.  A strange site in a big city, but San Fran likes to do things differently.

 

Nearest bus stops
Across the north side (5 & 5R)
Mid south side (7, 7X, 28 & 29)

 

 

 

 


Other San Francisco things to do and see..

City Hall


A beautiful building for the city’s seat of government. Worth a tour inside.

Lombard Street

lombard_street
The most crooked street in the world, built to replace the original 27% slope

The Painted Ladies

painted ladies
Famouse row of multi-coloured Victorian houses viewed from Alamo Square Park

China Town

  china town san francisco

An interesting neighbourhood with fantastic food. Go where the locals go!

Cable Car Museum

 

A museum dedicated to the city’s most famous mode of transport

San Francisco Marriott Marquis (View Lounge)

A  39th floor bar with incredible views across the city. Great for cocktails at night.


Other City Attractions

Chicago Tourist Attractions

Sydney Tourist Attractions

Vancouver Tourist Attractions

 

22 Comments

  1. Hey Adam,

    Thank you for your awesome San Francisco Tourist Attractions guide.

    I was thinking about visiting San Francisco in the near future for a vacation with my girlfriend and I needed it.

    In fact, I will print out the entire page to take it with me 😛

    We will definitely visit Alcatraz I’ll tell you that for sure!

  2. Hi Adam,

    This a wonderful post with specific information about San Francisco Tourist Attractions. I have heard that there are many things to visit but not yet explored myself. I am planning a tour with my friends. I am going to share this with them. However we need a budget plan for this tour. I am looking for more information about those area’s travel route, hotel information and guideline. Thanks for writing this helpful information.

    • I have twice traveled from the UK to San Fran so haven’t explored the budget options. You can often get tourist attraction deals in with the airline company, but there are sites dedicated to the budget traveler too. There’s some good advice on TripSavy for this

  3. I’ve always wanted to visit San Francisco! Everyone seems to love it and reading your post, they have some really cool tourist attractions – I would probably hang out in a Golden Gate Park, flowers are my soft spot. I also heard San Fran has a very very good bread..I think that was said for San Fran and not some other city..

    Do you recon there’s a low and high season to visit San Francisco? What time of the year would you visit it?

    Thanks,

    Katya

    • Hi Katya, San Fran is a popular place for tourists throughout the year. Low season tends to be between December and February. But you can get better deals around this time if you can deal with the inclement weather.

  4. One of my best hobby is travelling;  I never knew san franscisco is this lovely. Thanks for reviewing the tourists, I  hadn’t heard of it before, but am glad you brought it to my attention. I am hoping to visit the golden gate bridge and alcatraz anytime soon. Thanks for your indept analysis. Your post is well appreciated

  5. Hello there!

    What a great post! I love to travel, but I have never been in San Francisco before. I’d love to visit the Alcatraz, especially because Al Capone was detained there. 

    The Golden Gate Park and The Union Square seem awesome as well. I think your website is so useful to travellers. I saved it too. 

    Thank you for sharing! 

  6. I love posts like this that deals with vacation. Thank you for taking your time to write this to give me clue on what my summer will look like. The Golden gate bridge would awesome and historical place to visit in the summer. The next stop will be Coit Tower. Those two place would capture my summer in good memories

  7. Thanks alot for this informative post, San Francisco no doubt is a beautiful place to visit. there is a lot of structures build in the early times that I would want to see on one like the Golden Gate Bridge, along side China Town with fantastic dishes. With this post I can say I’ve got my own San Francisco travel guide. Thanks for this review.

  8. Thank you so much for the article on San Francisco Tourist Attractions. After reading your article, I realised that San Francisco is a great place to visit. I like to visit all the sites you have mentioned in the article with beautiful pictures. I have some friends who are interested in visiting San Francisco as well, and I will share the article with them. I would like it if you can provide a budget (transport, accommodation, airfare) for someone who is planning to visit San Francisco or recommended package.      

    • Hi, everybody’s budget is different from the next person and depends where you are visiting from. But there are hostels you can stay in rather than the hotels which would save a lot. Also, travelling around, you could look at the MUNA day pass rather than buying tickets for each ride.

  9. Very informative article on the many things to do in San Francisco. I specifically would be interested in visiting Golden Gate Park with the vast amount of things to see there. Sounds amazing! Also Pier 39 just to see the sea lions. Nice to know that these are all accessible by public transit.

    • Indeed, walking around the park is also a great release from the crowds when you need a recharge.

  10. Hi Adam,

    I must admit that, even though I’ve been to just about every tourist site in the U.S.A., I have never been to San Francisco.

    Friends and family who have made the trip tell me that it is one of the most amazing places to visit – that there is so much to see in this truly remarkable city!

    I have also been told that the Gary Danko restaurant in Fishermen’s Wharf is “the place to go” for great food, customer service, and atmosphere.  It’s a little bit pricey – but, what the heck – you’re a tourist and, if you don’t have dinner there at least one night, you’ve missed out on something very special.

    So, here I am – having San Francisco on my bucket list of places to visit before I get too old and weary.

    🙂

    Jim

    • Hi Jim, not been to the Gary Danko restaurant but will certainly look it up.  To be honest, most of the restaurants in the area are pretty good anyway. Thanks for the feedback.

  11. i have  never seen such abeuty in city and I would say San Francisco is very great place I hope when will make tour Of States, San Francisco   will be a must  visit and for those who are already day in America you need to visit San Francisco very soon for their is a lot of  Tourist Attractions you need  see. 

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