San Francisco is undoubtedly one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Known for its diverse culture, stunning landscapes, and bustling city life, it is no wonder that millions of people visit this city every year. With so many tourist attractions and activities, it can be hard to know where to start. That’s why we’ve put together a list of 10 must-see SF tourist attractions to visit. From famous tourist spots with history to hidden gems that only locals know about, we’ll cover it all. We’ll also explore the reality of these tourist spots versus expectations and compare them to lesser-known local spots. So if you’re planning a trip to San Francisco, be sure to check out our list of must-see tourist attractions and get ready for an unforgettable adventure!
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Alcatraz Island
- Golden Gate Park
- Painted Ladies
- Cable Cars
- Coit Tower
- The Presidio
1. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is undoubtedly one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. The bridge spans 1.7 miles across the Golden Gate Strait, connecting San Francisco to Marin County. The bridge’s distinctive orange color, sweeping views of the city and the bay, and impressive engineering make it a must-visit attraction. Visitors can walk or bike across the bridge, or simply admire it from the many viewpoints around the city.
Local SF Hot Tips for the Golden Gate Bridge
- Dress in layers: The weather around the Golden Gate Bridge can be quite unpredictable, so it’s always a good idea to dress in layers so you can easily adjust your clothing according to the temperature.
- Start early or visit during off-peak hours: The Golden Gate Bridge is a popular tourist attraction and can get crowded, especially during peak hours. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting early in the morning or during off-peak hours.
- Take public transportation: Parking near the Golden Gate Bridge can be difficult, and you may have to pay a hefty fee for it. Consider taking public transportation, such as a bus or a ferry, to get to the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Visit the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center: The Welcome Center offers a lot of information about the bridge, as well as exhibits and a gift shop. It’s a great place to start your visit and learn about the history of the Golden Gate Bridge.
2. Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is a bustling neighborhood on the waterfront that’s packed with restaurants, souvenir shops, and tourist attractions. Highlights include the historic Pier 39, which is home to a large sea lion colony, as well as the Aquarium of the Bay, Madame Tussauds wax museum, and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
Local SF Hot Tips for Fisherman’s Wharf
- Visit early in the morning: Fisherman’s Wharf can get crowded, especially during peak hours. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting early in the morning.
- Watch the sea lions: The sea lions at Pier 39 are a popular attraction, and you can watch them sunbathe and play. Be sure to take some photos and enjoy the sights and sounds.
- Check out the street performers: Fisherman’s Wharf has a lot of street performers, from musicians to magicians. It’s a fun way to spend some time and enjoy the local talent.
- Take a boat tour: There are many boat tours available at Fisherman’s Wharf that offer great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco Bay. It’s a great way to see the city from a different perspective.
- Explore the nearby neighborhoods: Fisherman’s Wharf is located near some great neighborhoods, such as North Beach and Chinatown. Take some time to explore these areas and experience the local culture and food.
- Dress in layers: The weather in San Francisco can be unpredictable, so it’s always a good idea to dress in layers. Bring a jacket or sweater, even if it’s sunny when you leave your hotel.
3. Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island is a former federal prison that’s now a National Park and popular tourist attraction. The island is located in the middle of San Francisco Bay and can only be reached by ferry. Visitors can explore the prison cells, learn about the island’s history, and enjoy stunning views of the city and the bay.
Local SF Hot Tips for Alcatraz Island
- Book tickets in advance: Alcatraz is a popular attraction, and tickets often sell out days or even weeks in advance. It’s recommended to book your tickets online in advance to secure your spot.
- Arrive early: The first ferry to Alcatraz leaves in the morning, and it’s recommended to arrive early to avoid the crowds. You can also take advantage of the early morning light for better photo opportunities.
Dress in layers: The weather on Alcatraz Island can be unpredictable, so it’s always a good idea to dress in layers. Bring a jacket or sweater, even if it’s sunny when you leave San Francisco.
- Wear comfortable shoes: Alcatraz involves a lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes to make your visit more enjoyable.
Take the audio tour: The audio tour is included with your admission ticket and is a great way to learn about the history of Alcatraz. It’s available in many different languages and takes about 45 minutes.
- Explore the island: In addition to the main cell block, there are many other interesting areas to explore on the island, such as the gardens, the lighthouse, and the old military buildings.
Stay for the sunset: The last ferry leaves Alcatraz in the evening, and it’s a great time to stay for the sunset. The views of San Francisco from the island are stunning, and you’ll get a unique perspective of the city.
4. Chinatown San Francisco
Chinatown is one of the oldest and largest Chinatowns in the world. The neighborhood is packed with shops, restaurants, and historical landmarks, including the Dragon Gate, the Tin How Temple, and the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum.
Local SF Hot Tips for Chinatown
- Explore on foot: Chinatown is best explored on foot, as there are many interesting streets, alleyways, and shops to discover. Wear comfortable shoes, and be prepared for some hills and staircases.
- Try the food: Chinatown has many great restaurants and food shops. Try some of the local specialties, such as dim sum, noodles, or boba tea. You can also find some great souvenirs, such as tea, spices, or Chinese sweets.
- Visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory: This small factory is located in an alleyway and offers a unique glimpse into the making of fortune cookies. You can even try some freshly made cookies.
- Check out the murals: Chinatown has many beautiful murals, depicting the history and culture of the Chinese community in San Francisco. Look for them on the sides of buildings and in alleyways.
- Visit the Tin How Temple: This small temple is one of the oldest in Chinatown and is still in use today. You can take a tour and learn about the history and practices of the Chinese religion.
- Watch a parade: Chinatown hosts many parades throughout the year, especially during the Chinese New Year. Check the calendar for upcoming events and join in the festivities. Learn about the history: Chinatown has a rich history, dating back to the 1850s when Chinese immigrants first settled in the area. Visit the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum to learn more about the community and its contributions to San Francisco.
5. Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is a massive urban park that covers over 1,000 acres in the heart of the city. The park is home to a range of attractions, including the de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
Local SF Hot Tips for Golden Gate Park
- Rent a bike or a scooter: Golden Gate Park is quite large, and renting a bike or a scooter is a great way to explore it. There are many rental shops near the park, and you can find a bike path that goes around the entire park.
- Check out the Bison Paddock: The Bison Paddock is a unique attraction in the park, with a small herd of American bison. You can view them from a fence or take a guided tour. Watch a concert at the Spreckels Temple of Music: The Spreckels Temple of Music hosts free concerts on Sundays during the summer. Bring a blanket and a picnic and enjoy some live music in the park.
- Relax in the park: Golden Gate Park is a beautiful and peaceful spot in the city, with many different areas to relax and enjoy nature. Bring a book, a picnic, or a frisbee, and spend some time in the great outdoors.
6. The Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies are a row of Victorian houses that are famous for their colorful facades and stunning architecture. The houses are located on Steiner Street and are a popular spot for photography and picnics.
Local SF Hot Tips for the Painted Ladies
- Choose the right time: The best time to visit the Painted Ladies is during the day when the sunlight is the strongest. This is usually midday when the sun is overhead, providing the best lighting for photos.
- Go early: The Painted Ladies are a popular attraction, and it can get crowded, especially on weekends. To avoid the crowds, go early in the morning or during the weekday.
- Take a picnic: The park across the street from the Painted Ladies is a great spot to have a picnic or relax with a book. Bring a blanket and some snacks and enjoy the beautiful views.
- Explore the neighborhood: The Painted Ladies are located in the Alamo Square neighborhood, which is known for its beautiful Victorian homes, boutique shops, and trendy restaurants. Take some time to explore the area and see more of the city’s unique architecture.
Haight-Ashbury is a neighborhood that’s known for its hippie culture and colorful past. The neighborhood is home to a range of vintage clothing shops, record stores, and restaurants, and is a great place to explore the city’s counterculture history.
Local SF Hot Tips for Haight-Ashbury
- Learn about the history: Haight-Ashbury is famous for its role in the 1960s counterculture movement. Take some time to learn about the history of the neighborhood and its significance in American history.
- Visit the shops: Haight-Ashbury is known for its eclectic and colorful shops, selling everything from vintage clothing to record albums to spiritual items. Take some time to explore the shops and find some unique souvenirs.
- Check out the street art: Haight-Ashbury is home to many beautiful and colorful murals and street art. Look for them on the sides of buildings and in alleyways.
- Visit the landmarks: Haight-Ashbury is home to several landmarks, such as the Red Victorian Bed & Breakfast, the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, and Buena Vista Park. Take some time to explore the area and see these iconic spots.
- Try the food: Haight-Ashbury has many great restaurants and cafes, offering everything from vegan cuisine to classic American fare. Try some of the local specialties, such as falafel or avocado toast.
- Attend a festival or event: Haight-Ashbury hosts many festivals and events throughout the year, such as the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Check the calendar for upcoming events and join in the festivities.
8. Cable Cars San Francisco
Cable cars are a classic mode of transportation that has been in operation since the late 1800s. Visitors can ride cable cars up and down the city’s steep hills and enjoy stunning views of the city along the way.
Local SF Hot Tips for Cable Cars
- Plan ahead: Cable cars are a popular attraction in San Francisco, and they can get busy, especially during peak tourist season. Consider planning ahead and purchasing tickets in advance or going early in the day to avoid long lines.
- Choose the right route: San Francisco has three cable car lines: the Powell-Mason line, the Powell-Hyde line, and the California Street line. Each line has its own unique sights and attractions, so choose the route that interests you the most.
- Stand in the right place: When waiting for a cable car, stand in the designated area marked with a yellow line. This is where the cable car will stop, and standing elsewhere can be dangerous.
- Hold on tight: Cable cars are a unique mode of transportation and can be bumpy and steep. Hold on to the handrails or the poles inside the car to stay safe.
- Take in the sights: Riding a cable car is a great way to see some of San Francisco’s most iconic sights, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the city’s beautiful architecture. Be sure to look around and take it all in.
- Be courteous: Cable cars can get crowded, so be courteous to your fellow passengers. Offer your seat to someone who needs it, keep your belongings close, and be patient when boarding and exiting the car.
- Don’t forget to pay: Cable car fares are cash only and can be paid onboard the car. Make sure to have the exact fare ready or purchase a ticket in advance to avoid delays or inconvenience.
9. Coit Tower
Coit Tower is a 210-foot-tall tower that offers stunning views of the city and the bay. The tower was built in 1933 and is located on Telegraph Hill. Visitors can take an elevator to the top of the tower and enjoy panoramic views of San Francisco.
Local SF Hot Tips for Coit Tower
- Learn about the history: Coit Tower is a historic landmark in San Francisco, built in 1933 as a monument to the city’s firefighters. Take some time to learn about the tower’s history and significance in the city’s architecture and culture.
- Enjoy the views: Coit Tower offers stunning panoramic views of San Francisco and the bay area. Be sure to take the elevator to the top of the tower for the best views. Explore the murals: The interior of Coit Tower features beautiful murals painted by local artists during the Great Depression. Take some time to explore the murals and appreciate the art and history they represent.
- Plan for crowds: Coit Tower is a popular attraction, especially during peak tourist season. Consider visiting early in the day or on a weekday to avoid crowds and long lines.
10. The Presidio
The Presidio is a former military base that’s now a national park and recreation area. The park covers over 1,500 acres and is home to a range of attractions, including the Walt Disney Family Museum, the Presidio Golf Course, and Crissy Field, which offers stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Local SF Hot Tips for the Presidio
- Learn about the history: The Presidio is a former military base that has been transformed into a national park. Take some time to learn about the Presidio’s history and significance in San Francisco’s past and present.
- Explore the trails: The Presidio offers over 24 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging hikes. Consider exploring some of the trails to experience the natural beauty of the park.
- Visit the cultural institutions: The Presidio is home to several cultural institutions, such as the Walt Disney Family Museum and the Presidio Officers’ Club. Consider visiting these institutions to learn more about the art, history, and culture of San Francisco and the Presidio.
- Enjoy the views: The Presidio offers stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, and the city skyline. Be sure to take in the views and appreciate the natural beauty of the park.
- Bring a picnic: The Presidio has many picnic areas, offering a great opportunity to enjoy a meal in a beautiful setting. Bring some food and drinks and relax in the park.
- Attend an event: The Presidio hosts many events throughout the year, such as outdoor concerts and film screenings. Check the calendar for upcoming events and join in the fun.