SF has always been a rich, cool city, long before the tech invasion and bubble craze. With its diverse population of immigrants living in multifarious neighborhoods, this big city is one of the best on the West in terms of history, culinary expertise, and scenic views. Sunny with moderate temperatures all year-around, San Francisco has so many people wanting to call it home.
Here are my top picks when you’re in town listed in order of priority. Neighborhood in parentheses and anything in italics is on my to-do list. Special shout out to S. Young who has lived in San Francisco for 3 years and provided most of these recs!
1. Golden Gate Bridge (Free): It’s the most iconic feature of SF; you can walk it. Soak it in and believe that red is gold. For the best photo of bridge, check out Crissy Field (Free, Presidio), a former U.S. Army airfield.
2b. AT&T Ballpark ($$, SoMa): Enjoy sports and visiting on a game day? Watch World Series-winning Giants play a baseball game in this ocean-setting stadium. Try the Cola-cola slide. Another beautiful park is Twin Peaks (Free) which has amazing views of the city.
3. Alcatraz Island ($$): For the super OG tourist, visit this infamous old prisoner island ($40 for adults) that used to hold Al Capone. Known as the Rock, Alcatraz belongs to the National Park Service and has gardens, tide pools, and nice views. Want a less touristy but still history-laden island? Try Angel Island on for size.
4. Fisherman’s Wharf (Free): More straight-up, full-blown tourism with a pier that has the most epic view of planks on planks of sea lions shouting at each other – some are just sunbathing. Sourdough, chowder, but most importantly, In-n-Out. Walkable to and from the San Francisco Ghiradelli Square.
5a. San Francisco Ferry Building ($$, Embarcadero): Every Tues, Thurs, and Sat, there is a farmers market open till 2pm for you to enjoy fresh produce. Otherwise, just enjoy fancy cold-brew Blue Bottle coffee, cold-pressed Pressed Juicery juice, and cold Humphry Slocombe ice cream. This crazy expensive building with gourmet delights is photogenic and great for sandwiches and oysters. Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie food truck for the win!
6. Union Square (Free): Shopping central for city and suburban inhabitants but for the tourists, head up to the Cheesecake Factory on top of Macy’s department store for the best view of Union Square. Then, walk down and wait in line to ride the San Francisco Cable Car System ($7 one way) – the Powell-Hyde line ends near San Francisco Ghiradelli Square (Free). The square offers a chocolate factory tour and nice ambience.
7b. Lombard Street (Free, Russian Hill): Iconic switchback road in the city. Photo op of hairpin turns. Look at it from the top but the photo you really want is from the bottom on a sunny day. The view from the Coit Tower ($$, Telegraph Hill) is pretty great.
ICONIC SF BUILDINGS
8a. Palace of Fine Arts Theatre (Presidio): Pretty place to take pictures and walk around for free outside the building.
8b. Transamerica Pyramid (Financial District): You don’t need to visit but taking a photo says, “Hey, I’m in SF.” It’s just a commercial building for white collars and also the tallest skyscraper in SF. Great view of the building from Clay & Jones (Nob Hill).
9c. Little Italy (Free): Garlic, pasta, and all things that is associated with Italian-Americans. Delicious.
10a. California Academy of Sciences ($$, Golden Gate Park): I used to go to the original one but the new one is very cool as well with so many new features for teaching people of all ages about the most wonderful world of science. Additionally, check out the Exploratorium ($$, Embarcadero) if you’re super into science displays.
10b. Asian Art Museum ($$, Tenderloin): A large but well-curated museum, this classy museum is the place to relax and admire beautiful ancient arts. Try the San Francisco Modern Museum of Art ($$, SoMa) if you’re looking for less ancient visuals. Drop by the Yerba Buena Gardens (Free, SoMa) if you go to the SF MoMa.
10c. The Walt Disney Family Museum ($$, Presidio): I’ve never been but it’s on my to-do list!
Go the distance to Land’s End (Free): Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this place is top-notch for scenic views and light outdoor hiking. It’s a $20 Uber ride or hour long bus 1 ride very worth your time and money. Visit the Cliff House and Sutro Baths, a previously lavish 25,000-person swimming facility and museum built in the 19th century by old SF mayor Adolph Sutro but now in ruins.
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