There are so many things to do in San Francisco that choosing just 5 was difficult enough. My top tip – spend more than one day exploring San Francisco! There’s no way you can do it all in one day, especially because the city isn’t walkable. You will need to hop on a bus, cable car, scooter, bike, etc. to see everything, so I would focus on a couple areas per day. However, these five below are must-see sights/places, chosen from living in the Bay Area for 23 years and showing friends around when they’ve visited. I hope you enjoy the city as much as I do!
Fisherman’s Wharf is my favourite place in San Francisco because there is so much to do in close walking distance. This is where you buy tickets for various city/bay tours (including a cruise around the bay which takes you under the Golden Gate Bridge, a cable car tour, and a trip to Alcatraz). It’s also home to some of the best seafood restaurants in town, though they are usually crowded during peak tourist season, so either call ahead or be prepared to wait around for a bit. Either way, you must have seafood for at least one meal in San Francisco, as most of it is caught fresh that morning! Also check out the sea lions near Pier 39 as they lay in the sun all day, making noise and pushing each other off the docks. Musee Mechanique houses antique arcade games and the USS Pampanito is right around the corner (a WWII submarine open for tours). Pier 39 is a fun shopping experience (there’s a store with all sorts of items made specifically for left-handed people), with some great food and also the Aquarium. Don’t miss out on Mrs. Field’s cookies!
Golden Gate Park
Take a picnic to Golden Gate Park or ride around on scooters. The park is a big open green space in the middle of an otherwise bustling city. Have afternoon tea at the Japanese Tea Garden, visit the deYoung Museum, or go horse riding. There’s so much to do in the park, with events running almost everyday and loads of attractions.
What was once a military post then one of the most secure prisons in the country then occupied by indigenous peoples, is now a tourist attraction. Alcatraz is best known for its prison period – 29 years as a federal penitentiary, housing difficult-to-manage prisoners from other prisons, mostly bank robbers and murderers. Some famous prisoners include Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. 36 prisoners tried to escape, with 5 missing or presumed drowned. There is now an Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon every year in which people swim the 1.5 miles to shore. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions so make sure to book your tour in advance!
Also known as the “crookedest street in the world”, Lombard St. is a tourist favourite in San Francisco. Cars queue to go down this one-block hill that has eight hair-pin turns. It is lined with colourful flowers and yes, people do live in the homes on the street (must be quite annoying having to contend with the constant stream of vehicles). Located in Russian Hill, with a view overlooking the entire bay, this is still one of my favourite places to take visiting friends in San Francisco.
Ferry Building Marketplace
The Ferry Building, sitting at the end of Market Street, was the city’s primary portal – visitors arriving by train entered the city through the Ferry Building. It was the only way travellers and commuters could enter the city after ferrying across the bay. It lost its official use in the 1950s, but in 2003 was reopened as a marketplace. Today, it is dedicated to local artisans, farmers and producers, presenting a world-class food market and continuing to operate its ferries. I recommend to anyone who wants to eat good food with a good view and support local business owners.
- Spend more than a day exploring the city.
- Book certain attractions in advance.
- Support local business owners.