San Francisco has much to see — these are just the most significant sights. For more detail see the individual district sections, often linked from this entry.
Two passes are available which offer discounts to many interesting attractions:
- San Francisco CityPASS. A relatively cheap and easy way to cover many attractions in the city is the CityPASS. You get admission to the California Academy of Sciences, a Blue and Gold Fleet bay cruise, the Aquarium of the Bay or the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Exploratorium or the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum (both must be visited on the same day). A CityPASS works for 9 consecutive days starting with the use of your first ticket (each ticket only accounts for one visit to each attraction). The pass also includes seven consecutive days of Cable Car and MUNI fares.
- Go San Francisco Card - An all-inclusive pass that lets you visit multiple San Francisco attractions for one price. You can save up to 55% on top museums, tours, and activities vs. paying at the gate. The pass is available in 1, 2, 3, 5, or 7-day increments, and includes admission to dozens of top San Francisco attractions including a Hop-On/Hop-Off Trolley Tour, the California Academy of Sciences, a Golden Gate Bay Cruise, and many more.
- Aerial tour if you are adventurous, you can see San Francisco from the air. There is a new modern power gilder at Palo Alto airport about 25minute south of San Francisco. You can see Stanford, get an idea of how long SLAC is, and be exposed to some of the most beautiful natural vistas. Check out power glider tours at Palo Alto airport.
- There are many highlight walks you can take to really capture the feel of the city and see a whole lot of attractions at the same time. Some of the best ones are:
- Chinatown. Grant from Bush to Broadway takes you through the heart of the famous district. Returning by the parallel Stockton or Powell will give you a better feeling of the day to day life of the residents, and are both good for those looking for imported commodities such as tea or herbs.
- Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach is entirely open to pedestrians in both the Richmond and Sunset districts from the Cliff House restaurant and Sutro Baths in the north to the zoo in the south. For a shorter walk, the windmills near Lincoln at the end of Golden Gate Park offer a good base for a stroll north.
- Telegraph Hill. Greenwich and Filbert Steps on the east side of Telegraph Hill, both strenuous and unforgettably beautiful, offer cottages and a flock of wild parrots to enjoy on the way up to the Coit Tower.
- North Beach. Columbus runs from North Point in Fisherman's Wharf, through the grand church and famous cafés at the heart of North Beach to the landmark Transamerica pyramid, accessible to transit on nearby Market.
- Haight Ashbury. Haight from Divisadero to Stanyan covers the shopping district famous for hippie culture; at Stanyan the street becomes a path through Golden Gate Park to a popular site (then and now) for relaxing and concerts.
- Cow Hollow. Union Street between Gough and Fillmore is one of the finest shopping streets outside of the city center.
- Mission. Mission between 15th and Cesar Chavez streets provides a look at a neighborhood famous for its murals, Latino food and culture, as well as occasional gang activity east of Mission Street. Parallel to Mission, Valencia Street is the artery of the many higher end boutiques and offbeat cafés starting to characterize the neighborhood, and has little of the grit of Mission St. 16th Street between Mission and Guerrero Streets offers a diversity of cuisine and several hip bars.
- Pacific Heights. Fillmore between Pine and Broadway is lined with a good mix of shopping, views, steep slopes, and some of the city's largest and most expensive homes.
- Fillmore. Post from Laguna (near 38 bus stop) to Fillmore takes you through upscale shopping and restaurants in Japantown, and turning left onto Fillmore across Geary and on to Turk takes you past the internationally known jazz venues and a mix of Black and Korean owned shops.
- Castro and Noe Valley. Market from Church to Castro St. and a left down Castro St to 19th takes you through the center of the city's famous gay mecca. Continuing up Castro St over the hill from there takes you to 24th St, the main drag of bohemian Noe Valley.
Perhaps the most recognizable landmark in San Francisco and one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge, spanning the Golden Gate, has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and is the first thing you see of San Francisco if driving in from the north, as it is one of the major road routes into and out of the city. Overlooking the Golden Gate is the Presidio
, a former military post with beautiful architecture and a very scenic park setting. Within the Presidio is the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts
, built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and reminiscent of Roman and Greek architecture.
Within the center of the city, the famous cable cars run up and down the hills of San Francisco between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf and offer quite a ride (see above under Get around for more info). Atop one of those hills, Telegraph Hill in North Beach, is Coit Tower, a gleaming white tower dedicated to the San Francisco firefighters. At 275' high, the hill is a healthy hike from the nearby neighborhoods just below. Another prominent tower nearby is the Transamerica Pyramid
, the tallest and most recognizable building in the San Francisco skyline, located among the skyscrapers and highrises of the Financial District. Perhaps the most famous view of that skyline is from Alamo Square
Park in the Western Addition district, home to the famous Painted Ladies row of Victorian houses, with many other pretty Victorians encircling the lovely park.
Over on Russian Hill
is the famous stretch of Lombard Street
between Hyde & Leavenworth, the (nearly) crookedest street in America. The city also has a twistier but less scenic stretch of street, Vermont Street on Potrero Hill. Other street oddities in San Francisco include 22nd Street between Vicksburg and Church in Noe Valley and Filbert Street between Leavenworth and Hyde on Russian Hill — At a 31.5% grade, these streets share the honor of the steepest streets in San Francisco.
San Francisco is also well-known for its collection of unique and intriguing neighborhoods. Most tourists start with Fisherman's Wharf; although many of the locals consider it a tourist trap, it is a great place to see amazing street entertainers, watch sea lions, visit museums, or take a cruise to the infamous Alcatraz Prison
or the pleasant Angel Island
. Working fishing boats still come into the small harbor here, and the district is home to several excellent seafood restaurants. The fresh breeze from the bay can provide a bracing setting.
The Downtown area around Union Square-Financial District | Union Square
is the heart of the city's main shopping and hotel district. Many other interesting areas are in walking distance or a short Muni ride from there.
, just north-west of Downtown, centered around Grant Street
from Bush to Columbus, is a part tourist trap, part an exhibit of local life. Good eating places abound, and the side streets especially have stores one wouldn't find in a mall. Stockton Street is where most locals do their shopping for groceries; be sure to sample some of the dim sum and other specialties offered in the many bustling shops. However, many local Chinese prefer to eat and shop in the new Chinatowns located in other neighborhoods such as on Clement Street between 2nd and 12th Avenues in the Inner Richmond neighborhood. The Muni #1 (California) and #2 (Clement, does not run at night) buses get people from one Chinatown to the other.
South of Downtown is the Civic Center
, with its impressive Beaux Arts buildings including City Hall
and the War Memorial Veterans Building, the celebrated Asian Art Museum
, music and theater venues (including large concert halls and a renowned Symphony and Opera), and the main public library.
The SoMa, across Market and Mission streets from Downtown to the south-east is rapidly gentrifying. It is the location of the city's main convention center and several new museums.
Further south is the Mission District, home to the Mission Dolores Church, one of the oldest structures in the city, and a fantastic collection of murals of all sorts on the walls of many nearby buildings, especially on alleys between Market and Valencia. BART and the Mission Street #14 bus go there.
At the southern end of Market Street is the Castro, the center of San Francisco's Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Transgender (LGBT) community, with numerous theaters, small shops, and restaurants. The Muni historic F-line is the best way to go there, although most underground Muni-trains stop there as well.
Further west is Haight Ashbury, famous for being a center of the Hippie movement in the 60s and 70s. While tourism has softened the image of the neighborhood somewhat, the area still retains its distinct feel with small organic coffee shops and store after store selling marijuana-themed goods, tie dye tee shirts and hand bands. The Muni Judah N-line and the Parnassus #6 bus from market street go there.
, an artificial island half-way between San Francisco and Oakland connected to the Bay Bridge
, has excellent views of the San Francisco and Oakland skylines and quirky structures from the international fairground-turned-navy base-turned-neighborhood. Accessible by Muni bus #108 from the Transbay Terminal in SoMa.
When the morning is foggy, you may want to spend a few hours in one of the city's many world-class museums. Golden Gate Park is home to the copper-clad M.H. de Young Memorial Museum
, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary and indigenous art. The de Young Museum's former Asian collection is now permanently housed in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, located in the Civic Center. Across from the de Young Museum stands the California Academy of Sciences
, which holds a huge array of science exhibits, including an aquarium and a natural history museum.
The California Palace of the Legion of Honor
is in Lincoln Park
in the northwest corner of the Richmond district. In Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum
offers exhibits on the famous moving landmarks of San Francisco. Near the Castro is the Randall Museum
, a lovely little children's museum. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
, the Moscone Center, the Yerba Buena
Center for the Arts, Zeum, the Cartoon Art Museum
, the Museum of the African Diaspora
and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art are all located in SoMa, south of Union Square. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, which was designed by Daniel Libeskind and opened in June 2008, is the latest major addition to San Francisco's museum scene.
At the Hyde Street Pier
in Fisherman's Wharf, you can go on board several historical ships, including the 1886 Balclutha
clipper ship, a walking-beam ferry, a steam tug, and a coastal schooner. At Pier 45 just to the east, the World War II submarine USS Pampanito
and the World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien
can be visited. Nearby is the Aquarium of the Bay
on Pier 39
and the newly opened Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
. The Musee Mecanique
on pier 45 contains hundreds of coin-operated amusement machines, many from the 19th century. Most can be used for just a quarter.
The newly relocated and bigger and better than ever Exploratorium
on Pier 15 is walking distance from Embarcadero
and will keep you busy for an entire day with their science and perception exhibits. In the Marina district is Fort Mason
, home to a few cultural museums.
Many museums offer free admission on certain days during the first week of every month.
Parks and outdoors
San Francisco has numerous parks, ranging from the tiny to the huge. The most famous of them is Golden Gate Park in The Avenues district, a massive (roughly 1/2 mile-by-four mile) urban oasis with windmills, bison, museums, a carousel and much more hidden among its charms. The park contains the antique palatial greenhouse of the Conservatory of Flowers
, the modern and ethnic art focused de Young Museum, the large Japanese Tea Garden
, the new California Academy of Sciences
building designed by Renzo Piano and the Strybing Arboretum, a collection of plants from across the temperate world. Defining the extreme Northwestern corner of the city is Lincoln Park in Richmond, which provides majestic views of the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge from the ocean side, and the Pacific Ocean itself. At the extreme western end, the well known Cliff House
provides both semi-casual and a more formal eating and drinking place. The Legion of Honor museum at the center of the park houses many incredible artworks.
Near the physical center of the city is the Twin Peaks
, one of San Francisco's highest points (875' above sea level); providing spectacular views in all directions. Tour buses can get backed up here during the day, but it's a great place to really appreciate the city from above, especially at and after sunset. Temperatures up there can be quite a bit lower than in the rest of the city, so bring a jacket. Nearby in the Lake Merced
area is the San Francisco Zoo
, a large and well-maintained zoo which is a great place to go if you are traveling with children or have a fondness for penguins, primates, lions or llamas.
While not particularly well known for its beaches, San Francisco has a couple of good ones along the Pacific Ocean — but the water is brisk, the winds can be rough, and due to strong rip currents swimming at any of them is not recommended. Ocean Beach along the Sunset district is the largest and most famous beach, with plenty of sand and people enjoying themselves. China Beach
in Richmond and Baker Beach
in Golden Gate are smaller, rather secluded beaches with lovely views.
On sunny days hipsters flock to Mission Dolores Park
, so named due to its location across the street from the Mission Dolores Basilica. The park often comes to resemble a large party, with music, coolers of beer and, er, uh...medical marijuana treatment. Mission Dolores Park is situated on a slight slope in the Noe Valley neighborhood, just a few blocks from the many restaurants and bars in the Mission. The east side of the park is bounded by Dolores Street, a hilly and scenic drive lined with palm trees and Victorians. During the fire of 1906 that destroyed much of the city, one of the few working fire hydrants was located near the Southwest corner of the park. This fire hydrant provided water that helped stop the fire. The fire hydrant is still functioning and is repainted gold once a year on the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake.
In the southern half of the city is the often overlooked but wonderful Bernal Heights Park, a small park on top of a hill overlooking the entire eastern half of the city, with excellent views of the skyscrapers in the Financial District, the Mission District, and the hills in the southeastern corner of the city. A wide trail runs around the base of the park below the peak which can be walked in ten to fifteen minutes. Bernal Heights Park is dog-friendly, so much so that a coyote is often observed there.