Known for its breathtaking views, delicious food, a long list of tourist attractions, dazzling entertainment, and unique diversity, San Francisco has a distinct personality, highly appreciated by locals and tourists. The following attractions will give you the opportunity to join in the celebration and joy that is San Francisco.
The Fisherman’s Wharf area was established in the mid-1800s by Italian immigrant fishermen who settled in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. It has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. Strolling the Wharf can be a fun experience for the entire family. From street performers to novelty shops, there is plenty to see and do. The food is what makes the wharf famous worldwide . Grab the best clam chowder bread bowl ever from the Boudin Bakery on Jefferson Street, or stop into other famous family-owned restaurants on the wharf such as Fisherman’s Grotto, Alioto’s, Pompeii Grotto, or The Franciscan.
After walking the wharf, head a couple blocks north to world famous Ghirardelli Square, or stroll a few minutes down to Pier 39. On your way to the pier, look out onto the harbor and notice a huge sea lion colony that has taken over. You won’t have to look too hard as you will hear and smell them long before you get there. The sea lion colony grew from about 10 to 300 over the years, and sometimes upward of 900 can be seen there lazing on the marina docks.
Pier 39 is very touristy, and the food is good. Attractions include escape rooms, an aquarium, dozens of one-of-a-kind stores, and a huge arcade for the kids. You might have a hard time getting them out of here, so don’t even bother; relax and enjoy yourself with a little wine or beer while the kids are being entertained. Make sure to wear walking shoes. Weekends are packed, and the pier is somewhat pricey but lots of fun.
Union Square is situated a couple blocks north of Market Street. There are many dining and hotel options in this area, but let’s face it, Union Square is where you come to shop. Send your partner and the kids to the Giants game at Oracle Park and then get your shopping on!
This one-block plaza and its surrounding area has one of the country’s largest collections of department stores and beauty salons. Department stores within a three-mile radius include Neiman Marcus, Barney’s, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdales. Luxury retailers include Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Tiffany & Co.
Other activities in the area include the Asian Art Museum, the War Memorial Opera House, Curran and Warfield Theaters, and a Cable Car turnaround on Powell and Market Street. Streets are congested with cars, and parking is a nightmare, so public transportation is recommended. Cable Cars are a great option.
Cable Cars are a San Francisco icon. One of the original remaining lines, Powell-Mason, which began in 1888, still serves Union Square. The wait can be two hours and the ride costs $8 and is worth every penny.
ASIAN ART MUSEUM
The Asian Art Museum is only a 15-minute walk from Union Square. With more than 18,000 works of art in its collection, some dating back 6000 years, this is one of the world’s largest Asian art collections. Art is devoted to South Asia, Iran, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan. Admission is free every first Sunday of the month; otherwise it’s $15 for adults.
ORACLE PARK – San Francisco Giants Stadium
Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) has been the home of the iconic San Francisco Giants baseball team since 2000 and is one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country. Located at the China Basin in the SoMa neighborhood, this is a great way to take in a San Francisco afternoon or evening.
The park’s signature attribute is its proximity to the water. A long home run over the right field wall will ultimately splash into the bay — McCovey Cove as it is known, named for the Giant’s great hall of famer Willie McCovey. Approximately 91 home runs have splashed into this cove since the ballpark opened, 35 of these coming from Giant’s slugger Barry Bonds.
The food at the park is amazing. Try the Crazy Crab Sandwich — Dungeness Crab between two slices of sourdough bread or a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae; but don’t miss out on the Gilroy Garlic Fries, a crowd favorite. If they post you up on the stadium’s big screen KissCam after you’ve had a tray of these garlic fries, things may quickly get awkward with your kissing partner because these babies are super garlicky!
Displayed on the promenade deck behind home plate are the trophies and rings from the Giant’s World Series wins of 2010, 2012, and 2014. This is a great family outing, or it can be a place to go while your significant other is spending all your trip’s fun money at Union Square; just remember, the cheapest beer is $8. The regular season goes from April to October. Tickets can be as low as $15, but average is about $75 per seat. Expensive activity but well worth it.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
The beautiful Golden Gate Bridge is a must see on your trip to San Francisco. You can see it from almost any place in the city, but nothing can match the thrill and awesome feeling of seeing it up close. There are parking areas on both sides of the Bridge. Walking the Bridge can make for an unforgettable experience. Give yourself about an hour each way to make the walk, allowing time to admire the wonderful views of the Bay Area along the way. Whether your plan is to walk, bike, or just take in the view from the sidewalk, make sure you dress warm as it can get really windy at the Bridge.
Check out the Bridge visitor center on the south end while enjoying a cup of coffee from the Roundhouse Café. Then take a short walk down a beautifully flowered path to get to Fort Point beneath the Bridge. You can view the old Civil War fort in all its glory and have lunch at the Warming Hut Restaurant and bookstore. From there, head east along the shoreline stopping at the Crissy Field Recreation Area and catch your breath while enjoying another unique view of the Bridge, before continuing your walk another few minutes to the famed Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District. Spending a day at the Golden Gate Bridge will take your senses to a level of satisfaction that can’t be imagined until you experience it firsthand.
Ocean Beach stretches over three miles along the coast in both the Sunset and Richmond districts. This really isn’t a beach where you’re going to throw on a bathing suit and run out into the ocean. The water is usually frigid with hazardous currents. The beach is a popular surf spot.
You can count on the beach being covered in fog nearly every morning. Average temperatures are in the 50s. The beach is popular for morning jogs, lounging in the soft sand, and walking during sunset. Bonfires can be built in the fire rings scattered along the beach. Parking is free but hard to get on days the weather is nice. Nearby attractions include the Cliff House, the zoo, and the Legion of Honor.
THE CLIFF HOUSE
The Cliff House is only a few minutes’ walk from Ocean Beach. The neoclassical style building resides majestically on the cliffs at the north end of the beach. Originally built in 1863, the Cliff House has hosted some of the most important people in the country over the years.
The site has always been known for its first-class restaurants and bars, and the gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.
THE LEGION OF HONOR
The Legion of Honor is an art museum located two miles from Ocean Beach. Ancient artifacts from Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Near East are on display in the hall of antiquities. An extensive collection of European art (mostly French) can be seen throughout the museum. Also, a very distinguished collection of sculptures by Auguste Rodin are on display. Price of admission maxes out at $15 for adults. The Legion of Honor isn’t as crowded as most museums in San Francisco, making it easier to take time to admire the art.
GOLDEN GATE PARK
This gem of the city could take days to fully explore. Golden Gate Park opened in 1870 and welcomes over 20 million visitors annually, making it the third most visited park in the U.S. The park is three miles long, encompassing over a thousand acres of green lawns, trails, playgrounds, gardens, picnic areas, museums, lakes, and over 7,000 plant varieties. It’s probably best to plan ahead how you want to spend your day here.
Top places in the park to visit include the de Young Museum, Aids Memorial Grove, Botanical Garden, Spreckels Lake, Kesar Stadium, Conservatory of Flowers, and, of course, the Japanese Tea Garden. The California Academy of Sciences is one of the park’s most popular attractions and is great for the whole family. A nearby neighborhood to explore is the culturally iconic Haight-Ashbury district.
THE CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is the Bay Area’s most visited science museum — a must-see attraction on your trip to San Francisco. The Academy is home to four acclaimed museums: the Morrison Planetarium, the Ocher Rainforest Room, the Kimball Natural History Museum, and the Steinhart Aquarium. The Planetarium and Rainforest Exhibit are covered by a living roof with about 1.7 million plants native to California. Nearly every child who grew up in the Bay Area has likely visited the California Academy of Sciences at least once on a school field trip, and, being as I was one of these kids, I can assure you that your children will love it here. Admission is somewhat costly at $37 for adults, $29 for children, but there is so much to explore and excite the senses.
On a small island in the middle of the Bay sits one of the most infamous prisons in the country. Known as The Rock, this site is a must-see during your visit to San Francisco. Alcatraz became a federal prison in 1934 and housed many notorious prisoners of the day, most notably prohibition-era mob boss Al Capone. Surrounded by frigid waters and strong currents, escape from this prison was nearly impossible. I say “nearly” because it is said one man did escape, but that’s a story best saved for your guided tour of the island.
The prison closed in 1963 and has become one of the country’s top tourist attractions. You can reach the island by ferry. Once on Alcatraz, you can explore the island and the prison itself. You’ll also enjoy unique views of the San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge.
Entrance to the island is free, but you must buy a ferry ticket to get there. Tickets aren’t cheap, starting at about $40, and you should probably purchase tickets in advance to avoid long lines. The first tour of the day seems to be the least crowded. Tours usually take up to four hours and are highly informative and extremely entertaining.
Another way to see Alcatraz up close is a boat tour. The Red and White Fleet and Blue and Gold Fleet, both located at Fisherman’s Wharf, offer tours that circle the island.