14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in San Francisco
San Francisco is a beautiful city, set along the water, with rolling hills and a unique mix of architecture. It contains some of California's most notable landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
1 Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is a California icon gracing San Francisco Bay. It is likely the most photographed site in the city, with the orange structure backed by blue water, or in many cases, peaking through low lying cloud. The Bridge has an interesting history and adds a unique charm to San Francisco.
2 Alcatraz Island
This is the site of one of America's most infamous prisons, with many well known inmates having resided here over the nearly 30 years that Alcatraz was in operation. Today visitors can tour the island and the prison, which has become one of the city's top tourist attractions. Ferries depart for Alcatraz from Fisherman's Wharf.
3 Fisherman's Wharf
One of San Francisco's most well known attractions, Fisherman's Wharf draws large crowds who come to shop, eat, and wander along the waterfront. There are museums and various other kinds of entertainment down here. For anyone looking to get out on the water, tour boats and ferries for Alcatraz leave from Fisherman's Wharf.
4 Cable Cars
Cable Cars were introduced in 1873 to help locals contend with the many hills the city is built on. Today, the few remaining cable cars offer tourists a great way to explore the city in historic fashion. Since 1964 these tram-like vehicles have had the unique distinction of being the only public transport system to be declared a historic monument. The Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde are the most scenic routes. The cable cars will also get you to the major attractions such as Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square the Ferry Building, Nob Hill, and Lombard Street. If you are planning on more than a couple rides or are going to be sightseeing for a few days you should consider buying a pass.
5 Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is a fabulous green space in the heart of San Francisco, often considered the "lungs" of the city. It also contains a number of lovely gardens and museums. Before development began in 1871 this was an area of arid dunes. Nowadays visitors to the park enjoy a grand network of walking trails and cycling paths, more than 5,000 different kinds of plants and dozens of species of trees, several lakes, bridle-paths, and a buffalo paddock. The park also has three museums, a Japanese tea garden, greenhouses, a botanical garden, and considerably more besides. Golden Gate Park is one of those places that can just as easily take up a couple of hours as a couple of days. Bike rentals are available, and this can be a good way to explore the park, rather than trying to do everything on foot.
You may have been to Chinatown in other cities but San Francisco's Chinatown is a whole other realm. It is both the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest of its kind in North America. Almost completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, Chinatown was rebuilt entirely in the Chinese style and was soon even more attractive than before the disaster. Now with its temples, theaters, workshops, small businesses, stores, antique and souvenir shops, teahouses and pharmacies with their old nostrums, Chinatown has become one of the major sites of San Francisco. If you are traveling through San Francisco during an important Chinese holiday or event you can expect an elaborate celebration to be taking place. Chinese New Year celebrations are often considered the best in North America. The main street in Chinatown for tourists is Grant Avenue. At Grant Avenue and Bush Street is the Chinatown Gateway.
7 California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park, is an architectural marvel as well as a multifaceted museum. This state of the art "green" building with a sustainable design has a 2.5 acre Living Roof, covered with native plants and even rolling hills to match the natural surroundings. The roof also has solar panels to generate electricity, and the soil acts as natural insulation. The walls are largely made of glass allowing for natural light.
Inside is an incredible natural history museum, planetarium, aquarium, rainforest, and more. The Steinhart Aquarium includes some 38,000 live specimens, and a 25 feet deep coral reef. The rainforest is four stories high with all kinds of animals and amphibians in a fantastic layout. You can descend in a glass elevator to the deepest depths where you can look up through an acrylic tunnel to see fish swimming overhead. The Kimball Natural History Museum has skeletons of a T-Rex and blue whale and all kinds of interesting exhibits.
8 De Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
The De Young Museum is the oldest museum in San Francisco. While art and period interiors from North America feature strongly in the collection, there are also many exhibits from Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Near East. British art, and folk art from Africa, America and the Pacific Islands, are also represented.
9 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is housed in the War Memorial Veterans Building on the west side of the Civic Center Plaza. Its origins go back to the 1890s, but it was set on a firm footing only in 1916, thanks to the efforts of the San Francisco Art Association. The museum has transitioned over the years and today it is devoted exclusively to the art of the 20th century.
10 Twin Peaks
These two unique and uninhabited hills, almost 1,000ft high, are not in fact the highest of San Francisco's 43 hills, a distinction belonging to Mount Davidson which is 33 ft higher. However, they are easier to get to and offer what is perhaps the finest views out over the city and the bay.
Twin Peaks are the only hills in San Francisco not to have been built over and remain in their original state. The Spaniards called the twin peaks "Los pechos de la Chola" or the Breasts of the Indian Maiden. Even on warm days strong cool breezes blow in from the Pacific, especially in the late afternoon. Warm clothing is recommended.
11 Asian Art Museum
The Asian Art Museum is unquestionably one of the most important museums in San Francisco.
The museum opened in 1966, with the basis of the collection coming from art collector, Avery Brundage. Brundage, built up a private collection which, in 1959, he offered to the city of San Francisco "to bridge the gap between East and West". A museum building was constructed. On his death in 1975 at the age of 88, the museum also received the rest of his collection of works of art in the form of a legacy. Building on this, the museum has continued to amass various pieces and now contains an extensive collection of sculptures, paintings, bronzes, ceramics, jade carvings, and architectural fragments from Japan, Korea, China, India, Iran and other Asiatic cultures. The works cover a span of more than 6,000 years. Displays are rotated regularly.
the Exploratorium is a premier science museum. It is largely targeted towards children and families but it can really be enjoyed by anyone. There are a huge number of diverse exhibits covering various areas of interest, all of which are designed to educate and entertain. Children tend to rate this museum very highly, with all kinds of experiments and interesting things to do. Surprisingly, whether they have kids or not, most adults also rave about the Exploratorium.
13 Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco is the last remaining structure from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. The palace has been restored, along with the grounds. The Palace of Fine Arts Theatre seats approximately 1,000 patrons.
14 Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a huge area located across the Golden Gate Bridge from downtown San Francisco. Due to the similarity of the name, some visitors confuse this area with Golden Gate Park in the downtown area. Golden Gate Recreation Area, in Marin County, is home to a myriad of attractions but is also just a beautiful space to enjoy nature and relax. There are walking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, and beautiful beach areas. Some of the beaches have fabulous views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The park is also a place of history. Fort Baker was a US Army post in the early 20th Century with many historic buildings. It is also the location of a children's museum and the Bay Area Discovery Museum, among other things. Similarly, Fort Barry contains a number of historic batteries. Overall, with some 600 square miles of park land there is lots to explore.
15 Napa Valley
Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are the best-known and largest vine-growing areas in California. Situated at the southern end of the valley of the same name, some 52mi/85km from San Francisco, Napa is one of the largest Californian towns north of San Francisco. It was founded in 1848 and bears the name of the long extinct Napa Indians. Today there are a number of light industries and electronic firms. The western boundary is formed by the Napa Mountains. The Howell Mountains form the eastern boundary of Napa County and they also protect the valley from storms.
The valley is becoming more and more tourist-oriented (about 2.5 million tourists each year).