San Francisco General Attractions
San Francisco General Attractions are as numerous and diverse, as should be expected for a global city. The city seems to add major attractions every few years. That said, everything begins with the waterfront from Golden Gate Bridge to Fisherman’s Wharf to Ferry Building to Mission Bay, then spreading inland to more engaging districts.
Golden Gate Bridge
DESCRIPTION: Opened in 1936, its art deco design, rust-red color and connection between sophisticated San Francisco and verdant Marin County make it arguably, the world’s most beautiful bridge. Such beauty makes it a perfect candidate for Hollywood to embellish or destroy in too many movies to name. Though constantly busy, visitors can also bike or walk across the two-mile suspension bridge. For walking or biking, drive west bound from Lombard Street in San Francisco towards U.S. 101 Freeway signs in the Presidio, until you see signs approaching the toll booth that direct you to a parking area. If approaching from San Francisco’s Marina Blvd, enter the Presidio at Old Mason Street, pass Crissy Field where you’l see kite flyers and windsurfers, then left on Crissy Field Ave to Lincoln Blvd a few blocks then, right onto Long Ave to Fort Point at the base of the bridge.
San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
DESCRIPTION: Locally called “Bay Bridge”, it also opened in 1936. This iconic and utilitarian structure is still the longest steel, two-level bridge in the world. It took three years to construct, partly because the suspension cables had to be individually strung and more concrete had to cure than laid in the Empire State Building. The main pylons extend 240 feet below the water surface. The five-lane upper deck and 5-lane lower deck carry more automotive vehicles than all, but a handful of freeways in America. Technically, it is part of I-80 Freeway extending cross county to New York. A toll is charged entering the bridge from Oakland. Passage is FREE from San Francisco to Oakland.
DESCRIPTION: Like a sentry in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz is the oblong precious jewel of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and one of the region’s most popular destinations. This infamous federal prison became accessible to the public in the early 1970s. See where Al Capone, The Bird Man of Alcatraz and many other notorious criminals did hard time on “The Rock” and learn about the Indian occupation of 1969–71. A surprise to many visitors are the island gardens, bird colonies, intricately preserved buildings and million dollar bay views.
ADMISSION: No cost to enter Alcatraz prison, but you pay for the round-trip ferry ride; ages 12-61 $28, age 62+ $26, ages 5-11 $17, age 4 and under enter Free; cruises frequently sell out 2 weeks in advance in the summer and for holidays; there are also Night Tours and tour bundles with Angel Island
DAYS & HOURS: departures every half hour beginning at 9a-3:55p plus 6:10p and 6:45p night tours; tours combined with Angel Island are also available depending on the season
ADDRESS: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco MAP
TRANSIT: Muni F line Vintage Streetcars to Pier 33
PARKING: Fisherman’s Wharf garage
DESCRIPTION: Though no one welcomed the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, safety requirements forced the city to tear down the Embarcadero Freeway in 1991, an eyesore that hid the waterfront. Despite heavy political opposition to rebuild the freeway, city leaders wisely replaced it with a landscaped boulevard, a linear jogging-biking trail, major works of public art, historic markers, and the historic facades of each pier were sandblasted and restored to a shiny patina, attracting many restaurants. The Ferry Building returned to its former glory (see below). Vintage streetcar service returned to the Ferry Building and The Embarcadero, extending north into Fisherman’s Wharf, while Light Rail service extends south on the Embarcadero to AT&T Ballpark. The Exploratorium museum of science, art and perception moved to Piers 15. A new cruise center hosts large cruise ships on rebuilt Pier 27. Pier 7 through Pier 14 feature restaurants, small businesses with city skyline or bay vistas. Odd-numbered piers are north above the Ferry Building and even-numbered piers are south below the Ferry Building.
DAYS & HOURS: daily
ADDRESS: AT&T Park on its southern axis up to Pier 39 at its northern axis, San Francisco MAP
TRANSIT: California Street Cable Car, BART-Muni Metro Embarcadero Station, the Ferry Building, Muni F line Vintage Streetcars
PARKING: paid lots along the Embarcadero
DESCRIPTION: Built in 1898 and rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, the 660-feet long transportation center with a a 245-foot tall clock tower is modeled after the 12th Century bell tower of Seville Cathedral in Spain. For many years, ferries were the fastest way to travel from San Francisco to the East Bay. Then in 1936, the San Francisco Bay Bridge opened for cars and trains, triggering a major decline in ferry traffic; by 1955, it was converted to office space, which probably saved it, since by 1957, a horrendous double-decker Embarcadero Freeway opened in front of it. Despite growing seedy over many years, this attraction would have never revitalized, if the 1989 quake had not forced the freeway to be torn down in 1991. In place of the freeway, a beautiful new landscaped boulevard with streetcar tracks in the media was built. Easily visible to the public again, the Ferry Building was spruced up inside and out. As another tourist attraction-rebirth of ferries and tax generator as impetus to complete a major renovation in 2002. Today, it hosts an outdoor Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, cafes, bars, wine, cheese, coffee, vegetables, fruit, meats and fish vendors who keep the place buzzing, while the vaulted nave skylight always feels comfortable. Sip a cocktail at several bars or cafes open to the bay as you watch a ferries come and go.
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Fri 10a–6p, Sat 9a–6p, Sun 11a–5p
ADDRESS: 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco MAP
TRANSIT: Ferries, BART-Muni Embarcadero Station, California Street Cable Car and Muni F line Vintage Streetcars
PARKING: paid lots on the premises
DESCRIPTION: The great chocolate maker, Domingo Ghirardelli opened his first store downtown in 1856. In 1893, his sons bought the entire block which is home to Ghirardelli Square today. In the 1960’s, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was sold and relocated to San Leandro. In 1964, two real estate developers with a sense for historic preservation, engaged with the city to renovate the entire Ghirardelli block, in what is known as one of the earliest adaptive reuse projects in the country. Today, one can get self-absorbed in all the shopping and fine dining at McCormick & Kuletos with priceless waterfront views and talented street performers in the historic Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. To top things off, there’s a beautiful Fairmont Heritage Place Hotel on the premises.
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Thu 10a-6p; Fri-Sun 10a-9p; restaurants open later
ADDRESS: 900 North Point Street, San Francisco MAP
TRANSIT: Hyde Street Cable Car and Muni F line Vintage Streetcar
PARKING: 6a–2, daily; priced every 20 minutes with $30 maximum up to 24 hours; parking validation with purchase at stores and restaurants; enter garage on Beach Street between Larkin & Polk Streets
Del Monte Square
DESCRIPTION: Built in 1907, it was once the largest peach cannery in the world. The square was operated as a fruit cannery by the Del Monte Company until 1937. In 1963, the historic structure was saved as a place for people to shop and relax in romantic European marketplaces. A smart team of architects, designers and engineers restore the abandoned cannery into a three-level complex of brick walkways and bridges encasing an emporium of fine stores, restaurants and entertainment venues surrounding a courtyard with 130-year-old olive trees. It is still called “The Cannery” by most locals, today this red brick warehouse remains an energetic waterfront marketplace featuring unique shops and restaurants, live entertainment, and a jazz club.
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Thu 10a-6p; Fri-Sun 10a-9p; restaurants open later
ADDRESS: 2801 Leavenworth Street, San Francisco MAP
TRANSIT: Hyde Street Cable Car and Muni F Line Vintage Streetcar
PARKING: Anchorage Parking Garage at 500 Beach Street; 2-hour validation available at some Del Monte Square restaurants
North Beach & Coit Tower
DESCRIPTION: This district San Francisco’s version of a neon red-light district blending into a traditional Italian-American district. Although it has strip bars, the doormen and signage do not offend a typical family walking by, besides they make their money on single men. The Italian part of the district has the finest collection of Italian restaurants in the city and a fancy Beatnik-era bookstore, City Lights, at the corner of Columbus Avenue, Jack Kerouac Alley and the landmark Coppola Building. Speaking of buildings in this district the spires of Saints Peter & Paul Roman Catholic Church help frame Washington Square, while Coit Tower was for many years the tallest landmark in the city. At her death in 1929, Lillie Hitchcock Coit left one-third of her estate for civic beautification. Opened in 1933, Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill is a 210-foot tall monument whose firehouse design chosen post-mortem in part, to reaffirm Lillie’s affinity for helping and honoring San Francisco firemen. It contains striking murals that were federally funded as Depression Era Public Works of Art Project.
DAYS & HOURS: daily, dawn until late night
ADDRESS: Columbus Avenue from Washington Street to Leavenworth Street, San Francisco MAP
TRANSIT: Hyde Street Cable Car
PARKING: mostly on street; some restaurants offer valet parking
DESCRIPTION: The first Chinese arrived here in 1848, today this district retains the highest density of Chinese restaurants, shops and street vendors in California. Its exciting to visit, but not for the claustrophobic; you can get great unique gifts and excellent Dim Sum here. The fireworks and dragon during Chinese New Year are a must-see event enjoyed by all San Franciscans and savvy visitors.
DAYS & HOURS: daily
ADDRESS: Grant Street from Bush to Broadway, San Francisco MAP
TRANSIT: California Street Cable Car
PARKING: street parking impossible to locate; take transit, taxi or walk from a garage
San Francisco Museum & Historical Society
DESCRIPTION: Preserves and interprets the historical heritage of San Francisco from its variegated natural history to its lively human history. The Society fulfills these objectives through a broad spectrum of exhibitions, programs and special events, and The Argonaut, a journal featuring photographs and in-depth reviews of our city’s history; in the near future, the Old US Mint. It will be reimagined as a dynamic new Museum of San Francisco and the Bay Area and home for the San Francisco Visitor Information Center, retail and restaurant space.
DAYS & HOURS: Coming
ADDRESS: U.S. Mint Building at Fifth and Mission Streets, San Francisco MAP
RAPID TRANSIT: BART-Muni Metro Powell Street Station
PARKING: garages and paid lots nearby
Wells Fargo History Museum
DESCRIPTION: The museum connects the bank’s history to the Gold Rush, historic San Francisco, and stagecoach travel in early California. Henry Wells and William Fargo started Wells Fargo & Company in 1852, providing express delivery and banking services to 1849 Gold Rush men. Visitors can see an original 1868 Wells Fargo stagecoach and experience riding a replica coach. They can also operate a telegraph station, view rare gold coins and nuggets from the Mother Lode, handle historical artifacts similar to those that Wells Fargo agents would have used. Come learn about the people who settled the West, including African-American figures such as William Robison and George Monroe, who were both legendary stagecoach drivers.
DAYS & HOURS: Mon-Fri 9a-5p (closed on bank holidays)
ADDRESS: 420 Montgomery Street, San Francisco MAP
RAPID TRANSIT: MART-Muni Metro Montgomery Street Station
PARKING: garages nearby
Cable Car Museum
DESCRIPTION: Established in 1974, in the Washington/Mason cable car barn and powerhouse; the museum deck overlooks the engines and winding wheels that pull the cables; downstairs is a viewing area of the large sheaves and cable line entering the building through the channel under the street; on display are 3 antique cable cars from the 1870s, grips, track, cable, brake mechanisms, tools, detailed models, and historic photographs; museum store offers memorabilia, books, clothing, and cable car bells.
DAYS & HOURS: daily 10a-6p April 1 thru Sept 30 and 10a-5p Oct 1 thru Mar 31
ADDRESS: 1201 Mason Street, San Francisco MAP
TRANSIT: Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason Cable Car lines
PARKING: nearby garages
San Francisco Railway Museum
DESCRIPTION: celebrates the history and impact of rail transit in San Francisco. It features unique historic artifacts, illustrative and informative displays, rarely seen archival photography, in-depth historical interpretation, and audio-visual exhibits, and a wide variety of unique San Francisco souvenirs and memorabilia.
ADMISSION: donations gladly accepted
DAYS & HOURS: Tue-Sun 10a-6p
ADDRESS: 77 Steuart Street, San Francisco MAP
RAPID TRANSIT: BART-Muni Metro Embarcadero Station, Muni F-line Vintage Streetcar, California Street Cable Car, and Ferry Building
PARKING: garages nearby
DESCRIPTION: In 1847, Jasper O’Farrell designed Union Square as a public plaza. As wealth increase due to the 1849 Gold Rush, by the 1880s, it was a fashionable residential district. In 1903, a towering monument was added. After the great earthquake of 1906, Union Square became San Francisco’s premier shopping district. By the 1930s, it was the site of the world’s first underground parking structure. Having undergone several renewals, it remains the city’s shopping focal point ringed by Macy’s, Saks, Nieman-Marcus, NikeTown, flower stands and show tickets. To the east you find Gump’s for fine oriental gems. Union Square features as many designer stores as Beverly Hills, including: Coach, Bulgari, Cartier, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Prada, Hermes, and Wilkes Bashford. A little further to the south you find Ferrari store as well.
DAYS & HOURS: daily, sunrise to sunset
ADDRESS: Post, Powell, Geary and Stockton Streets, San Francisco MAP
RAPID TRANSIT: Powell Street Cable Car; BART-Muni Metro Powell Street Station is nearby
PARKING: garage underneath the park; begins at $3 per hour with a tops fee of $31 for 24 hours
San Francisco Centre
DESCRIPTION: The centre is a premier destination for world-class shopping, entertainment and dining. Nordstrom, Bloomingdale, Burke Williams Day Spa, Century Theaters and 200 boutiques that include designer brands Betsey Johnson, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Juicy Couture, Tous, Kate Spade, Madewell and Tory Burch, call the Centre home. The Restaurant Collection Under the Dome offers award-winning cuisine options like Lark Creek Steak, Straits, Cupola Pizzeria, Tom Colicchio’ s‘wichcraft, La Boulange du Dome and M.Y. China. Westfield Concierge also gives service with warm, knowledgeable assistance shopping and dining.
DAYS & HOURS: Sun-Sat 10a-8:30p
ADDRESS: 845 Market Street, San Francisco MAP
RAPID TRANSIT: Powell Street Cable Car; BART-Muni Metro Powell Street Station
PARKING: garage behind the mall
Yerba Buena Gardens
DESCRIPTION: In 1980, Mayor Dianne Feinstein and the Redevelopment Agency issued an invitation to developers worldwide to create a magnificent urban garden that featured the arts. Opening in 1993, Fumihiko Maki’s daring architecture connected peaceful gardens and family entertainment center over a convention center. This magnificent, but hard to categorize public treasure is the place to meet friends and ;paved ones. It includes the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial Waterfall, Esplanade, Center for the Arts Gallery, Center for the Arts Theater, Metreon dining and entertainment complex, Children’s Creativity Museum, a bowling center, ice rink, children’s garden, Child Care Center, and Convention Center Ballroom. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of the African Diaspora and Contemporary Jewish Museum across the street. Yerba Buena Museum Center for the Arts is a popular setting for experimental artistic performances and Indie films. The lawn of Yerba Buena Gardens is great for relaxing and includes free concerts on many summer days. Did we mention that a giant convention center lies underneath?
DAYS & HOURS: daily sunrise to sunset
ADDRESS: Third Street, Mission Ave, Fourth Street and Howard Avenue, San Francisco MAP
RAPID TRANSIT: BART-Muni Powell Street Station and Muni F line Vintage Streetcars
PARKING: garage on 3rd Street next to Museum of Modern Art
PHONE: 415-820-3550 Management Office
Crookedest Street in the World
DESCRIPTION: Perhaps you’ve seen post cards of the garden-lined street the crookedly winds down a residential hill. There’s nothing like the real thing. The crooked design opened in 1922 to reduce the hill’s 27% grade, which was too steep for most vehicles to climb, to a 16% grade on the block long crooked section of the street. The street travels 5 mph one-way east (downhill) and is paved with red bricks and landscaped gardens.
DAYS & HOURS: daily
ADDRESS: Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, San Francisco MAP
TRANSIT: Powell-Hyde Cable Car
DESCRIPTION: The center of 1960s Hippie-era, it has an eclectic collection of anarchist bookstores, piercing salons, offbeat clothing shops, head shops and restaurants set amidst Victorian houses. Despite over 30 years of gentrification, it remains a focal point for alternative lifestyles.
DAYS & HOURS: daily
ADDRESS: Haight Street from Central Avenue to Golden Gate Park, San Francisco MAP
RAPID TRANSIT: Muni Metro N Judah Line
PARKING: on street
DESCRIPTION: On Mission Street between 16th and 24th Streets, lies the heart of San Francisco’s Latino-American community. The area is doted with a colorful collection of authentic Mexican restaurants, produce markets, bakeries, specialty shops and attractive murals. Two blocks east of Mission at Dolores and 18th Street, Spanish-style Dolores Park sites adorned with mature palm trees — its a well appreciated site to relax from the hectic pace of the Mission District.
DAYS & HOURS: daily
ADDRESS: Mission Street between 13th Street & Cesar Chavez Street, San Francisco MAP
RAPID TRANSIT: BART Mission-16th Street and Mission-24th Street stations
PARKING: on street
DESCRIPTION: first built as a bath house in 1863 by Adolph Sutro and rebuilt several times, it is the best place to watch and photograph seals off the Pacific Coast and San Franciscans enjoying Ocean Beach. This restaurant-attraction had two predecessors that burned to the ground to form ruins adjacent to the Cliff House. As a result, the third Cliff House version is more modest than the original eight-story French Chateau. Now operated by the National Park Service as a restaurant, lounge and viewing deck visitor attraction, the house is as beloved as ever, with the Sunday Brunch being most popular.
DAYS & HOURS: Sun—Thur 9am—12a, Fri-Sat 9a-1a
ADDRESS: 1090 Point Lobos, San Francisco MAP
RAPID TRANSIT: None
PARKING: lots within walking distance