Top 10 Attractions in San Francisco
San Francisco is not a tourist town in the same way that, say, Las Vegas or Key West are tourist towns. But there are so many cool things to do in San Francisco, it has become one of the nation's top destinations for travelers. From the barking seals and seafood at Fisherman's Wharf to the cafes and bistros in North Beach to the gardens and museums of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco attractions have become brand-names recognized the world over. Our online San Francisco guide includes tours for those so inclined, as well as lots of information about the restaurants, hotels and nightlife that make a trip to the City by the Bay unforgettable.
Golden Gate Park:
Bigger than New York City’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park is an oasis of towering eucalyptus trees and lush rolling lawns. Rent a pedal boat on Stow Lake, wander the paths of the Japanese Tea Garden, or enjoy exotic blooms in the Conservatory of Flowers; Golden Gate Park offers a multitude of activities. In addition to its vast natural wonders, the park also hosts sporting events, concerts, numerous festivals, and two world-famous museums—the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum—both of which have undergone extensive recent renovations.
de Young Museum:
Situated in the heart of Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum primarily showcases American, Pacific, and African art. However, as one of the major art museums in the Bay Area, it also regularly hosts special exhibitions of some of the most well known art works in the world, such as the treasures of King Tut and Impressionist masterpieces from France. While you are there, be sure to go to the top of the tower for a 360-degree view of San Francisco’s rolling hills, the Bay, and the world famous Golden Gate Bridge.
Academy of Sciences:
Located directly across from the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is a small slice of heaven for science buffs. Having recently undergone an extensive remodel, there are no more dusty dioramas here; in addition to a planetarium and natural history museum, visitors will find a rainforest habitat, an aquarium full of fascinating sea life, and the academy’s already famous “living roof.” The Academy also offers an adults-only experience every Thursday with music, drinks, and special themes.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America, springing up in the mid-1800s as people from all over the world came to California seeking their fortunes. Though it was almost entirely demolished in the 1906 earthquake, Chinatown quickly re-built and continued its role as a center for the Chinese community in San Francisco. The streets of Chinatown are packed with open-air markets, souvenir shops, and the delicious scent of dumplings. For those who want a deeper look at Chinatown’s fascinating history, the Chinese Culture Center offers a Chinese Heritage Walk.
The home neighborhood of the original hippies, Haight-Ashbury is still a center of counterculture in San Francisco. In addition to head shops and tie-dye, the Haight is filled with vintage clothing stores, restaurants and cafes. Stop by Amoeba Records, enjoy a cappuccino, or pick up a stylish second-hand shirt while you soak in the 60s vibe.
North Beach is the “little Italy” of San Francisco, its rolling hills filled with gelato shops, pizza parlors and Italian bistros. Enjoy a steaming cappuccino or a slice of tiramisu at one of the many sidewalk cafes or soak in some sun on the grassy expanse of Washington Square. Those with literary leanings can find old beat poets' haunts, including like City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio bar.
The cable car may be the ultimate San Francisco icon. Featured in nearly every film set in San Francisco, these pieces of moving history have been running up and down the steep hills of the city since 1873. Today, three routes remain to take tourists and commuters alike back and forth from the waterfront and downtown.
World famous for its fried fish, clam chowder, and the famous San Francisco sourdough and fabulous bay views, this international tourist hotspot also hosts Musee Mechanique, home to more than 300 antique mechanical items and games that still work. Get a roll of quarters and go nuts with Laffing Sal, fortune tellers, mechanical monkey bands, foosball, and 1980’s arcade games. Nearby sights include historic ships, Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39, and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.
Golden Gate Bridge:
It is no longer the longest suspension bridge in the world, but the Golden Gate Bridge is certainly still the most famous. Joining Marin County to the City of San Francisco, the bridge has seen untold numbers of tourists and commuters across the water since its completion in 1937. Bicycle lanes and footpaths make the Golden Gate Bridge a great attraction for those who want a more leisurely experience.
Alcatraz was at various times home to such famous criminals as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and Mickey Cohen. A guided tour of the prison reveals cramped cells and a creepy hospital wing, along with stories of fantastic escape attempts and the prison’s famous personalities. But Alcatraz is more than just a prison; it has been a lighthouse, a military fortification, and for 19 months between 1969 and 1971, it was occupied by Native Americans wanting to build an education and cultural center there. Explore its fascinating history while enjoying gorgeous views of San Francisco.