Set along the ocean, with rolling hills and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the United States and the jewel of Northern California. The city is full of history, great neighborhoods, parks, beaches, museums, and a whole host of entertainment options and things to do.
Some of the most famous attractions are Alcatraz Island and Fisherman’s Wharf, but the sightseeing possibilities here are extensive. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest of its kind in North America and definitely worth visiting. For an interesting experience, hop on one of the historic cable cars and tour the city.
Discover more things to do with our list of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is a California icon gracing San Francisco Bay. It is the most photographed site in the city, with the orange structure backed by blue water, or in many cases, peaking through low lying cloud. At night, the flood-lit structure is equally striking.
Connecting San Francisco with Marin County and other districts further north, the Golden Gate Bridge was, at one time, designated the greatest man-made sight in the United States by the U.S. Travel Service. Opened on May 28th, 1937, the bridge took four years to build and at the time of its completion, was the longest suspension bridge in the world, measuring approximately two miles in length.
If you want to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, the road is US Hwy 101, or SR 1, and walkways on either side of the bridge are open to pedestrians and cyclists. The walk begins at the start of the bridge (accessible from the Presidio shuttle) and ends with a viewpoint in Marin County.
Many locals enjoy biking across the bridge to the nearby waterfront town of Sausalito. Pedestrian access is on the East Sidewalk; bicycle access is on the East and West Sidewalks. The bridge is only open to pedestrians and cyclists during daylight hours.
For a great view of the bridge, or for anyone interested in photographing the bridge, there are a number of ideal vantage points. From the San Francisco side, Nob Hill, an area known for its posh old mansions, offers some beautiful views over the bridge.
On the opposite side of the bridge, in Marin County, Golden Gate National Recreation Area is another good place to visit. Also, if you are planning on taking a tour to Alcatraz, there are completely open views from the boat and island.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park, home to gardens and museums, is a fabulous green space in the heart of San Francisco, often considered the “lungs” of the city. Before development began in 1871, this was an area of arid dunes.
Today, the park has a 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 main attractions include the de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences Museum with Steinhart Aquarium, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
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. Alternatively, try an organized 2.5-hour Segway Tour with a local guide, and hit all the major highlights.
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 Osher Rainforest is four stories high and houses animals and amphibians in a fantastic layout.
You can descend in a glass elevator to the deepest depths and look up through an acrylic tunnel to see fish swimming overhead in the flooded forest. The Kimball Natural History Museum has skeletons of a T-Rex and blue whale, along with an array of interesting exhibits.