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By Karen

Posted June 1, 2023.

San Francisco Attractions: the Top 10 (and more!) 

A local's guide to the best places to visit in SF.

San Francisco is chock full of beautiful and iconic attractions. I've been to all of the places I've described. Here's my list of the best things to see in San Francisco.

Are some of them touristy? Absolutely! But they're a lot of fun; there's a reason they're popular tourist attractions!

  1. Alcatraz: the eerie remains of the federal prison.
  2. The Golden Gate Bridge: beautiful symbol of the city.
  3. Lombard Street: crookedest street in the world?
  4. Fisherman's Wharf: ships and seafood.
  5. Pier 39: SF's mini amusement park, with sea lions.
  6. Chinatown: cultural immersion with a fascinating history.
  7. Golden Gate Park: museums, lakes, tea garden & more.
  8. Twin Peaks: best 360 view of San Francisco.
  9. The Painted Ladies: pretty Victorians & Full House setting.
  10. San Francisco's Beaches. We have a lot of beautiful beaches with great views. But bring a jacket.

Plus some more major attractions, and the some lesser known ones...

See my list of some city tours that have been rated highly, and some planning tips.

1. Alcatraz Island

View of Alcatraz from ferry

Alcatraz Island may be the most popular attraction in San Francisco. 

Over a million people make the trip out to the island every year to explore the prison and gardens of Alcatraz. You can go through the old cell block and see the cells where Al Capone lived.

The audio tour which is included in the ticket over there takes you through the prison and gives you fascinating information about the prisoners and the escape attempts.

See detailed info on:

2. The Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge from SF side

It's had to think of a more iconic sight than the Golden Gate Bridge. It's just as amazing in person as in the photos, maybe more so.

You can admire it from a number of viewpoints in the city or walk across it for the best views. Take a boat cruise right underneath it or ride a bike across it to the charming town of Sausalito.

3. Lombard Street

Driving down Lombard Street

Is Lombard Street the crookedest street in the world? No, but it's definitely one of the prettiest! San Francisco even has a street that's twistier than Lombard.

Walk down it, drive down it, or even ride a little yellow Go Car down it. Site of a Hitchcock film, a TV series, and an eerie haunting.

See the details on exploring Lombard Street

4. Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf marina

Visit one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Francisco, where the Italian fisherman brought their daily catch (and still do).

Fresh seafood, and waterfront ambiance. Catch a cable car, visit Madam Tussauds, and enjoy clam chowder at the Boudin Bakery. Explore old ships and a WWII submarine. Bay cruises and ferries to Sausalito leave from here.

5. Pier 39

Watching the Pier 39 sea lions

Is Pier 39 worth seeing? The locals avoid it but it's really a fun place to visit. Lots of restaurants, arcade games, strange mazes, Italian carousel, souvenir shops, magic shows, musical stairs, a nice aquarium, bay cruises, rides, and more. And my favorite, the sea lions.

Don't miss it, especially if it's your first time in the city.

More on Pier 39.

6. Chinatown

SF Chinatown side street

San Francisco has one of the oldest and largest Chinatowns in the world. It's like entering another world. Great place for eating dim sum, shopping for unusual items, and experiencing a different culture.

7. Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden Golden Gate Park

San Francisco's grand city park is even larger than Central Park in New York City.

It's an oasis of green in the western side of the city, full of lakes to boat on, museums, gardens, art studios, a variety of sports to play, a herd of bison, playgrounds, a carousel and more. There's so much to see there it would take days to do it all.

See my local's guide to Golden Gate Park: best things to see there, and cool stuff off the beaten track. including:

8. Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks view of downtown SF

Twin Peaks is the tallest spot in the city (after the Salesforce Tower). It's two hills right in the middle and they give you a super, 360-degree view of the entire city.

See my tips for visiting Twin Peaks and photos.

9. The Painted Ladies

Painted Ladies row

The row of much-photographed, pastel Victorian houses that are famous from postcards and posters, and being the site of the intro to Full House.

Why these Victorians, out of the hundreds of photogenic ladies in the city? Possibly because of the downtown city view as their backdrop.

Where are the ladies? Find them along the 700 block of Steiner Street at the Alamo Square park. You can GPS it as 710 Steiner Street, or take the Muni bus #21-Hayes and get off at Hayes & Steiner. See #21 route map.

10. San Francisco's Beaches

China Beach in San Francisco

San Francisco has lots of gorgeous beaches. Not what people generally picture when they think of urban San Francisco, but not too surprising since we are sitting on a peninsula.

The best aspects of our beaches are the spectacular views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge a visit rewards you with. What they are not are Southern California swimming and suntanning beaches (brrr!).

  • Ocean Beach. This is the largest one that stretches the whole length of the western edge of the city. Favorite of surfers.
  • Baker Beach. The most famous postcard view of the bridge.
  • China Beach. Small beach in an exclusive neighborhood.
  • Fort Funston. Just south of the city limits. Favorite of hang-gliders and dogs.
  • Aquatic Park. At the end of Fisherman's wharf. The only SF beach safe for swimming.
  • Chrissy Beach. Wide beach between Fisherman's Wharf and the bridge. Great view of the bridge!
  • Marshall's Beach. Closest beach to the bridge, also a nude beach.
  • Mile Rock Beach. Tiny, rocky beach in Lands End. Great views.

Most San Francisco beaches are not safe for swimming because of strong currents and rip currents. See my safety tips on avoiding the problems. 

More Attractions

But wait, there's more. 

Don't feel like struggling with parking? Check out my list of 10+ attractions with big, free parking lots. They do exist!

See attractions with free parking.

Tips for planning your trip

City Tours

SF City Tours by bus and van

Want to have a guide show you the city? There are lots of choices available, but I picked out some highly-rated tours for seeing the city.

This can be a good option for first time visitors especially to get an overview of the top sights, allowing for further exploration later.

Hop On Hop Off bus tours

Another way to see the city is take one of the Hop On Hop Off buses.

They get you around the city in a big loop while telling you about the sights, and you can get on and off to explore the individual attractions, taking your time.

Go Car tours

We had a lot of fun riding the little yellow Go Cars around the city.

It's a GPS-guided tour while you're driving the car. It tells you where to go and narrates interesting info about what you are passing. 

Read about our Go Car experiences and avoid our mistakes (!) and check out the maps, or book a Go Car.

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