Situated at the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, San Francisco is surrounded by water. The Pacific Ocean swells on the West, and the San Francisco Bay to the East. Connecting these two bodies of water together is the Golden Gate strait. There’s also a pretty famous bridge that spans across the strait of the same name; heard of it before?
Maybe it’s the Golden Gate Bridge you think of when you hear San Francisco, or maybe it’s Silicon Valley, cable cars, and steep hills. If you’re local to the area, then maybe it’s the sky-high cost of living. It takes a pretty famous city to evoke such imagery when you hear its name. Welcome to San Francisco. Here are the top 12 things to see and do in San Francisco.
12. Golden Gate Bridge
It might be the most famous bridge in all of America. The Golden Gate Bridge is a sight we’ve all seen in pictures, TV, and movies, but to see it for yourself is a sight to behold. The bridge connects San Francisco and the peninsula to Marin County across the Golden Gate strait. Driving across the bridge is a real pleasure, but to get the full experience take your time and walk or bike across instead.
One of the most notorious prisons in the world is set in the San Francisco Bay just off the coast of The City. A tour of this eerie penitentiary will show you why this was touted as the impossible prison to escape. During its operation 36 men made escape attempts. 23 were caught alive, 6 were shot and killed, 2 drowned, and 5 are listed as “missing and presumed drowned”. The only man known to escape and make it to shore was so tired from the swim and the cold water that he was found unconscious by police. Take a tour to Alcatraz if you dare.
10. Cable Cars
San Francisco is the only city left in the world with manually operated functioning cable cars. They were implemented to help pedestrians navigate the steep neighborhoods and are still in use today. Although they don’t have an extensive travel network, they can still be used to save your legs from hiking up some of the steep streets of San Fran.
9. Twin Peaks
To get a phenomenal view of the city and its surrounding area, head to the top of Twin Peaks. Standing 922 feet above sea level, these two peaks offer a fantastic panoramic view of the bay area. There is free parking at the top so you can drive your car there to save on time and effort, but if you have the energy and gusto for the hike, the views at the top will serve as quite the reward.
8. The Castro
One of the many things that San Francisco is famous for is its LGBTQ community and neighborhoods. The Castro is at the center of it all. This trendy neighborhood is full of vibrant nightlife, hip restaurants, shops, and museums. All walks of life are welcome to enjoy the neighborhood and get lost in its infectious vibe.
7. Fisherman’s Wharf
While some may complain that the Fisherman’s Wharf has become over-touristic, it’s a staple of the city and one can’t go to San Francisco without at least walking through the area. Located on the northeast shore of San Francisco, this area is where you can find all the touristy souvenirs that you’re looking for and enjoy a bowl of clam chowder in a bread bowl. You might not want to spend too much time here, but take a walk to Pier 39 while you’re there and catch a glimpse of bathing sea lions.
6. Ferry Building
The Ferry Building is home to one of San Francisco’s most bustling marketplaces. Bursting at the seams with food options make sure you are hungry when you go here because you will want to eat more food than you could ever possibly fit in your stomach while walking through. You may want to come here more than once on your trip. You can find many crafts and souvenirs alongside the food options.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is something to behold. The Asian community in San Francisco is one of the largest outside of Asia, and the Chinatown here is the oldest in North America. Another place in San Francisco where you’ll want to arrive on an empty stomach to take in everything the area has to offer. Take a guided tour or just explore the area on your own. If you are craving authentic Chinese food, this is the place to be.
4. Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park encompasses over 1,000 acres West of San Francisco’s downtown area. This park is bigger than New York’s Central Park and sees fewer visitors. That means you can better escape the bustle of city life and get lost in an urban forest. With countless trails, sports courts, gardens, museums, and so much more you can easily spend a full day here and not realize you only saw half of the park.
3. Baker Beach
On the northwest shore of the city you will find its most iconic spot to lay in the sand and soak up the sun, Baker Beach. With stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and good enough swell to surf, this beach is a favorite among visitors. The northern shore of the beach is a clothing-optional stretch of sand, while the more southern parts are clothed if you prefer to wear a swimsuit in the water.
2. Union Square
Every big American city has a ritzy shopping neighborhood, and San Francisco is no exception. Union Square is home to designer stores where you can shop the day away so long as you can keep your spending in check. The square itself is a beautiful place to have a rest, or just sit back and watch the people stroll by.
The last item on our list is perhaps one of the coolest. The Exploratorium is a fascinating science museum that is fun for all ages. The abundance of hands-on exhibits (600 of them) on display will have you laughing in disbelief and unable to shake the bewildered gaze from you face. Adults are just as excited or amazed at the exhibits as kids are. This is a must-stop if you are travelling with family.