A city full of picturesque architecture, art and poetry, cafés and hidden live music gems. Hippies, hipsters and techies.
This is a city like no other. With all its character and eccentricities, you will find no shortage of things to experience.
If you’re finding you have sensory overload, don’t let it discourage you. There is a lot to see, but even a lot more to experience. We’ll help you get started on making sure you hit the top ten things to do – and let you have fun experiencing the rest that San Fran has to offer.
1. The Golden Gate Bridge
Perhaps an obvious one, but how many people fail to even make the journey across this 1.7-mile span architectural masterpiece? Sure you snap a few photos, and there, that’s good enough. It’s not. The rush of driving or walking this big orange bridge is worth it. If you’re lucky enough to find a non-foggy day in the city, then head over the bridge from downtown and make your way up to Battery Spencer fort, for the most breath-taking views of the bridge and the city. Try Vista Point for another angle of the bridge.
2. The Painted Ladies at Alamo Square
You may recognize them from the TV series “Full House”, this row of Victorian homes from 710–720 Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square, are the best-known “painted ladies” in the city. To get the best postcard picture, stand across the street at Alamo Square Park. There’s a reason they call it “Postcard Row”.
3. Fisherman’s Warf
The city’s historical fishing district is packed with world-famous restaurants serving delicious, fresh-caught seafood. Go here for a dinner and try the fresh Dungeness crab either inside or at the several crab shacks outdoors that are surrounded by street-performer and other entertainers. After dinner, head to “Pier 39” to see the hundreds of sea lions lying beside the pier, eating and barking. Don’t forget your camera!
4. Golden Gate Park
This park is 1,017 acres of trails, ponds, Japanese and botanical gardens, lakes, monuments and playgrounds. You can literally spend a week there visiting the The California Academy of Sciences, that includes an aquarium, the world’s largest all-digital planetarium, and museum of natural history, the De Young Museum, the city’s oldest museum housing a large fine art collection, and the Conservatory of Flowers, that showcases 1,700 species of tropical plants. It’s the perfect getaway from the city, and great for families.
5. Union Square
If you’re a shopaholic, theatre or gallery nut, or just want to hit up some upscale restaurants and nightclubs, then this 2.6-acre public plaza is your starting point. You’ll find every luxury you need here, so grab a cocktail and stay a while, but don’t forget to find the Hearts of Francisco public art installations, located in the square.
Often referred to as “the Rock”, this high-security federal island prison that once housed Al Capone, is one of the most popular places to visit in the city. To reach it, take a ferry from “Pier 39″ on one of the Alcatraz Cruises, but make sure to book your ticket far ahead, this is a popular tour. The tour is mostly self-guided, and you can stay as long as you want, but plan for 2-3 hours to be enough.
Being the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, means you’ll have endless supply of Dim-Sum and fortune cookies. In fact, this is the birthplace of American Chinese cuisine. Go through the Grant Street “Dragon Gate” to access the area and try out Stockton Street, if you want a more authentic local experience, with fish markets, restaurants and stores.
8. Lombard Street
While the city boasts many steep hills, the most crooked street in the city can be found on Lombard. The one-way street starts at the top, with switch-back turns with manicured mediums and surrounded by some of the city’s most expensive real estate. Don’t miss driving down the famous street.
9. Cable Cars
Historic symbols of the city, cable cars are the perfect mode of transportation for the city’s steep hills. Start at Union Square and hop on one of the two main lines, Powell/Hyde and Powell/Manson. These are the most popular lines because they climb some very steep hills with great views, ending around Fisherman’s Warf. Hold on tight!
10. North Beach
Best known as the city’s Little Italy, this neighbourhood is beloved by tourists and locals alike for its authentic Italian restaurants and delicatessens. It’s also the birthplace of the “Beat” movement where you can find a museum on the subject, as well as has the oldest street in the city – Grant Avenue which served as a gateway for new immigrants. There are plenty of unique shops, clothing stores and espressos to drink here.
Around San Francisco
If you’re looking for something right out the city. Don’t miss the beautiful cafés, galleries and boutiques of Sausalito, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
Are you a techie? Take a half-day trip to Palo Alto’s Silicon Valley to experience the high-tech world of start-ups and multi-million dollar companies like Google, Facebook and PayPal. Don’t forget to swing over to Stanford University for a walk on the campus.