San Francisco is one of the most popular and unique cities to visit in the US. With so much to do, what's the most important spots to visit during your trip to San Francisco?
As sisters born and raised in San Francisco, we have a ton of opinions on what actually makes the city special and unique. So if you’re coming for a visit, here’s our top 11 must see attractions you can’t miss!
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1. Karl the Fog
You can’t go to the city without seeing Karl. Literally, it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, it hardly goes for more than a few days without fog rolling through, especially in the morning and evenings. Everything you’ve heard about cold San Franciscan summers are true - so layer up! Read our Guide How to Dress for Every Season in San Francisco
2. Golden Gate Bride
The Golden Gate Bridge is the most iconic sight of San Francisco, making it an absolute must see. Our favorites: 1) to grab some food and a picnic blanket to sit on Baker Beach, and 2) the photogenic spot Battery Spencer, which we mentioned in our list of Ten Best views of San Francisco. You can also walk or bike across the bridge to enjoy a bayside lunch in Sausalito.
3. Alcatraz & Angel Island
Alcatraz and Angel Island are in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, and you can visit with a short ferry ride. Alcatraz, also known as “The Rock” is a former fort, military prison, and maximum security federal penitentiary that has fascinated people for years with stories of escape attempts. In 1969, the Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz for 19 months in the name of freedom and Native American civil rights. Angel Island State Park was a U.S. Immigration Station with a rich history and beautiful beaches and hiking trails, so pack in a lunch to enjoy the view.
One of the first gay neighborhoods in the US, the Castro remains one of the most prominent symbols of LGBTQ activism. You’ll find bars, restaurants, and stores with cheeky punny names, the GLBT History Museum, rainbow flags and crosswalks, the LGBTQ Walk of Fame called the Rainbow Honor Walk, and the historic Castro Theatre.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America. Here you can take a photo by Dragon’s Gate, enjoy Dim Sum, tour the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, visit market-style restaurant and bar China Live, and shop at the numerous stores.
6. Cable Car
San Francisco is one of the few places in the world where you can ride on a national historic landmark. The cable cars are the world's last manually operated cable car system.
Rather than starting at downtown’s turnaround as most people do, we recommend starting at literally anywhere else! They usually leave spots open to pick up people along the way so you can usually hop on at one of the other stops without waiting in the long line.
7. Lombard Street
SF is known for their steep hills, which go hand in hand with gorgeous views from the top. Lombard is the best of both worlds, as you get the famous crooked streets that is a fun to drive down, the pretty landscaped flowers for an iconic photo, as well as the gorgeous view of the bay when you turn around. Hot tip: the cable car stops here so it’s a perfect place to hop off / on!
8. Painted Ladies
Head to Alamo Square to see the beloved pastel Victorian houses that are affectionately known as the Painted Ladies. These classic beauties built in the Queen Anne style are set against the gleaming downtown skyline, so it’s the perfect spot at sunset to capture San Francisco’s old and new. And yes - they are the houses featured in “Full House”!
9. Musee Mechanique
Located by the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, this is a museum of antique arcade games that is free to enter, and only costs a few quarters to play games. This is a unique and large arcade that both kids and adults will enjoy.
10. Haight Ashbury
For a blast to the past, visit the neighborhood where flower power blossomed. San Francisco’s ‘60s and ‘70s hippie culture can be spotted in this colorful neighborhood that celebrates with hippie memorabilia and street art that honors 1967’s Summer of Love. Find colorfully painted Victorian houses, restaurants and boutiques.
11. Food Truck Parks
SF’s known for their restaurants, so it can be hard to decide where to eat! The good news is that there’s a couple food truck parks where you can sample several up and coming food trucks while enjoying the outdoors, live DJs / music, and local vendors. Check out District Six (Formally SoMa StrEat Food Park), SPARK Social, and Off the Grid (multiple locations).
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