Looking for SFO sightseeing? Check out this guide for the best sights San Francisco!
San Francisco is a lively city that draws in millions of visitors annually. It stands as a beacon for travelers seeking an unforgettable experience. With so many sights to see in San Francisco, it can be challenging to navigate through the wealth of choices. In this guide, we dive into sightseeing in San Francisco. Read on to learn the must see places in San Francisco and local insights.
1. San Francisco Sightseeing: The Golden Gate Bridge, Of Course!
This is one of the most recognizable landmarks globally! The Golden Gate Bridge spans 1.7 miles, connecting San Francisco to Marin County. Its orange hue, breathtaking views, and amazing engineering make it a one of the best sights San Francisco.
There are many ways to explore the Golden Gate Bridge. For example, you can drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, you can walk over it, and you can look at it from afar.
- By car: Cash tolls are no longer accepted at the Bridge. Instead, pay by a toll invoice, a one-time payment, a license plate account, or by a FastTrak account. Don’t forget to buckle your seatbelts!
- By foot: San Francisco City Guides offer free walking tours on Thursdays and Sundays. If you’re interested in learning about the Bridge’s history, don’t miss out! The walkway is open from 5 AM to 6:30 or 8 PM, depending on the season.
- By bike: There is a bike lane, too! Check out the Golden Gate Bridge Bike Tour that departs from Fisherman’s Wharf and concludes with a ferry ride.
- From afar: There are plenty of places to look at the Golden Gate Bridge! Some of the most popular at Fort Point National Historic Site, Baker’s Beach, and Land’s End. You can even see the bridge while dining at Pier 39 restaurants.
Here are some local tips to make the best of visiting the Golden Gate Bridge:
- Dress in layers! Even when it’s sunny, San Francisco guarantees at least a few chilly hours per day.
- The Golden Gate Bridge gets crowded. Opt to visit early in the day or during off-peak times.
- The parking lot is tiny. Consider taking public transportation!
- Explore the Golden Gate Bridge Visitor Area for a deeper understanding of its history.
2. Fisherman’s Wharf: A Waterfront Wonderland
Fisherman’s Wharf is a bustling neighborhood teeming with restaurants, souvenir shops, and attractions. Explore the historic Pier 39, home to a lively sea lion colony, and visit the Aquarium of the Bay, Madame Tussauds, and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.
Check out this detailed guide for the best things to see and do in San Francisco at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Here are the best tips from locals for making the most of Fisherman’s Wharf:
- One of San Francisco’s famous dishes is clam chowder. The best clam chowder is at Pier Market Seafood Restaurant. Our award-winning recipe is a favorite for locals. Make sure to try it in a Sourdough Bread Bowl!
- The top thing to see and do in San Francisco is trying our local Dungeness crab. Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to do eat sustainable seafood! Local, fresh Dungeness crab can be found at Pier 39 restaurants.
- Catch free entertainment at Pier 39 by catching their street performances! They share their schedule on their website, so you can know where to be!
- Bring a reusable bag with you if you plan on shopping at the many outlets on the wharf. San Francisco Ordinance mandates stores charge 25-cents per bag!
- Sail with the Blue & Gold Fleet to really experience the Bay! The hour-long San Francisco Bay Cruise starts as low as $27 per ticket.
- It can get pretty windy here, so keep that sweater with you!
3. A must for SFO sightseeing: Cable Cars
San Francisco’s iconic cable cars have been in operation since the late 1800s! Cable cars (aka streetcars) offer memorable transportation with stunning city views.
Cable cars operate between 7 AM and 10:30 PM Monday through Sunday. A single ride costs $8. There are three lines that will take you to the following neighborhoods:
- North Beach
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Union Square
- Nob Hill
Here are our top local tips to successfully ride San Francisco’s iconic cable cars:
- Cable cars run on a schedule. So, help your peers avoid tardiness by having your payment ready before you get on!
- You can pay cash if you have exact change. Blend in with the locals by paying through the MuniMobile app or with a Clipper card (which can be added to your Apple Wallet!).
- Learn more about their history at the free cable car museum. Be sure to check out their collection of historic cable cars and mechanical displays.
4. Unique San Francisco Sightseeing: Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island is an intriguing tourist spot nestled in the middle of San Francisco Bay. It is a former federal prison which famously held Al “Scarface” Capone! The prison opened in 1934 and closed in 1963.
It specialized in holding violent prisoners who were considered escape risks. In its 29 year tenure, prisoners attempted fourteen escapes! Learn all about it and so many more tales–including The Battle of ’46–by visiting Alcatraz Island.
Read on to see our top tips from locals for visiting Alcatraz:
- Self-guided audio tours are available in several languages. They feature excerpts by former correctional officers and inmates.
- Book your tickets in advance, because they can sell out weeks in advance depending on the season.
- Dress in layers (especially for the ferry ride!) and wear good walking shoes. It can get chilly in the Bay.
- After checking out the prison, explore the rest of the grounds to see more military outposts, lighthouse, and gardens.
- Plan to spend 2-3 hours walking the grounds.
5. Coit Tower: A Towering Monument with Panoramic Vistas
Coit Tower, standing 210-feet tall on Telegraph Hill, offers panoramic views of the city and the bay. Built in 1933, Coit Tower has graced San Francisco’s skyline for almost a century.
The interior is adorned with fresco murals by 30 local artists depicting 1930s life in San Francisco. Pioneer Park and its famous flock of parrots surround the tower.
Tickets to the elevator range from $3 for Children 5-11 years old and $10 for non-resident adults. Children 4 & under ride free. Non-resident seniors and youths are charged $7. If the elevator is unavailable, you can always climb the 13 flights of steps.
These are our best local tips for visiting San Francisco’s Coit Tower:
- Skip the line by reserving time-specific mural tour and elevator tickets online.
- Coit Tower has a very interesting history that starts with a wealthy eccentric’s dream. Don’t miss out on the guided tours!
- If you can, visit at sunrise or sunset for optimal views.
6. Chinatown San Francisco: A Tapestry of Culture and Cuisine
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in the United States! It started with the Gold Rush but was able to flourish when the Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882. Today, it contains a rich tapestry of shops, restaurants, and historical landmarks. Chinatown covers 24 city blocks and deserves a good chunk of attention during your visit!
These are our recommendations from a local perspective for making the best of your visit to Chinatown:
- Explore on foot to discover hidden gems. Around every corner there is a beautiful mural to admire or a fun hole-in-the-wall shop to drop into.
- Sample local delicacies like dim sum and shop for special spices and condiments.
- Check out the famous Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where 20,000 fortune cookies are made a day.
- Catch some Instagram-worthy selfies in front of the Dragon Gate.
- Don’t miss the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, which hosts rotating art exhibitions.
7. Golden Gate Park: Urban Oasis and Cultural Hub
Encompassing 1,000+ acres, Golden Gate Park is a sprawling urban oasis with diverse attractions. It is 200 acres larger than New York City’s Central Park. It contains 680 acres of forests, 130 acres of meadows, 33 acres of lakes, and 7,000+ plants.
- Parking is historically difficult to find. According to legend, street parking is available within and around the park. However, we recommend traveling by foot, bike, or public transportation. The park also offers a free shuttle 365 days a year.
- Did you know that a herd of wild bison have lived in the park for over a century? They are not dangerous and prefer grazing peacefully on their own.
- With a little planning, you can apply for a permit to participate in the Secret Treasure Hunt. That’s right, there’s hidden treasure at the park.
- Take a loved one for an unforgettable picnic and a paddle boat ride at Stow Lake.
- If you’re visiting in springtime, don’t miss out on the spectacular cherry blossoms at the Japanese Tea Garden!
- Always check online before your visit for the numerous free and ticketed concerts and events happening throughout the park!
8. San Francisco What to See? The Painted Ladies!
The Painted Ladies, a row of Victorian houses, is one of the sights in San Francisco for those who love architecture. The name “painted ladies” is used to refer to the style of the homes, which can be found throughout San Francisco. These Painted Ladies, however, are famous for their scenic beauty and backdrop of the San Francisco skyline.
Here are our local tips for viewing these beauties:
- You’ll see them best from the Alamo Square Park. There, you can see them against the backdrop of the San Francisco skyline.
- There is no bad time to visit. But, consider going on a clear day at sunrise or sunset for some extra special views.
- Don’t forget to capture some selfies with them!
- These homes are privately owned, so please respect the properties. However, the blue house offers tours of the interior every day at 4 pm. Tickets are $30 per person for the exclusive 90-minute tour.
9. Haight-Ashbury: A Journey Through Counterculture History Counterculture Haven
Known for its hippie culture, Haight-Ashbury is has sites to see in San Francisco. Immerse yourself in the neighborhood’s counterculture history, visit eclectic shops, appreciate street art, and attend local festivals and events for an authentic experience.
These are our best local tips to make the most of your visit to Haight-Ashbury:
- While less famous than the Painted Ladies, the Four Seasons are equally beautiful and interesting to see. These Queen Ann Victorian homes are painted to represent the winter, spring, summer, and fall.
- Amoeba Records is a classic haunt for the neighborhood. Music lovers, don’t miss this one!
- Check out the homes of famous Flower Power rockstars like The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and more.
- Don’t forget to snap a pic of the Haight/Ashbury intersection street signs!
10. Lombard Street
Lombard Street is famously known as the “Crookedest Street in the World.” This is one of San Francisco’s most well-known landmarks. It has eight hairpin turns within one block!
- Remember that people do live on Lombard Street, so please be respectful. Stay on the public walkways, and never block someone’s doorway.
- Only walk on the sidewalk! Do not walk where cars are driving. Stay safe!
- Pay attention to the cars while you’re walking, too. Many drivers are tourists unfamiliar with the terrain, so you’ll want to keep an eye on them.
- Take a photo from the bottom of Lombard Street looking up at it. Also, take a photo from the top of Lombard Street looking down at it. Either way, you’ll get a great shot of your San Francisco sightseeing!
- Did you know that Lombard Street is only the second-most crooked home in San Francisco? Check out Vermont Street on Potrero Hill for an even steeper one!
Your Unforgettable San Francisco Adventure
San Francisco is a city that must be explored. Whether you’re excited to see iconic landmarks or hidden local gems, this guide serves as your compass for San Francisco sightseeing.
As you plan your San Francisco adventure, remember to embrace the unexpected, wander off the beaten path, and savor the unique experiences this vibrant city has to offer. Your journey awaits!
Pier Market Seafood Restaurant
Pier Market’s scenic waterfront location a delicious seafood makes it stand out as the place to dine on Pier 39. The perfect place to stop on your San Francisco sightseeing adventure.