WHAT ARE THE BEST THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN SAN FRANCISCO?
Located on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco is best known worldwide for its mythical bridge, famous hills, sloping streets, beautiful colorful Victorian homes and very relaxed atmosphere.
If this is your first time in this city, this list of the 10 best things to do and see in San Francisco will help you plan an itinerary and organize your stay.
- Book your hotel in San Francisco now on Booking.com
1. THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
A must in San Francisco, the famous Golden Gate Bridge is difficult to miss. Try to start your visit to San Francisco by taking a look at the Golden Gate Bridge early in the morning (bus number 28 is convenient to get there directly). There are very interesting explanatory panels on the construction of the bridge, the materials used… it’s possible to cross it free of charge on foot but the noise of the cars is quickly unbearable! If you feel the courage, you can walk from the Golden Gate Bridge car park along the beach to the Palace of Fine Arts, visible from a distance.
Alcatraz is an island located in the Bay of San Francisco less than 2km from the coast, and which houses a former high security prison. The ferry to get there from Pier 33 with Alcatraz Cruises (the only company able to go there), but remember to book your tickets online several days in advance. Admission is $38 and an audioguide is provided. More information on the Alcatraz cruises website.
The biggest Chinatown outside Asia! A very nice neighborhood to visit that reminded me of the movie “Jack Burton’s Adventures in the Claws of Mandarin” (Big Trouble in Little China) with Kurt Russell. At the same time, the film was shot there. The district is especially interesting for its architecture, its superb street art frescoes, and for cheap food: I recommend those of ‘Delicious Dim Sum‘ (very original name…) which are just excellent.
4. SEE THE PAINTED LADIES
Pretty colourful houses that can be admired from Alamo Square, with the more modern buildings of San Francisco in the distance. The place is also nice to see the sunset. Consider taking a picnic with you.
5. SEE THE VIEW FROM THE COIT TOWER
A 64-metre high tower at the top of Telegraph Hill, built in the Art Deco style and inaugurated in 1933. Even if you don’t want to pay the entrance fee to get to the top ($9), the view from the parking lot at the foot of the tower is worth the trip alone, both during the day and at night. Feel free to take a look at the murals located before the entrance, on the ground floor (it’s free). To get back down, take the wooden stairs of the Filberts Steps which lead to the promenade along the harbour.
6. SEE THE SEA LIONS AT PIER 39
The place is very touristy at first sight with all its restaurants and souvenir shops, but I guarantee you’ll smile as soon as you see the dozens of sea lions on the barges sunbathing or fighting. Besides, it’s free. After seeing the sea lions at Pier 39, you can follow the walk along the harbour to eat at the Ferry Building either on foot or by bus. The Ferry Building is rather pretty but it only houses one shopping mall, its only interest is that there are nice restaurants and snacks (apart from that not much to see).
7. WATCH A BASEBALL GAME AT THE AT&T
If you have enough time in San Francisco, try to watch a baseball game at AT&T Stadium. Even if you are not a fan of this sport, the atmosphere is great and it’s an interesting experience to live.
8. THE MUSEUM OF ASIAN ARTS
One of the most important museums in San Francisco, which gathers very beautiful collections of Asian art (vases, sculptures), from Japan, Korea, Cambodia, Tibet… An audioguide in French is available. Admission is $15 ($25 with access to temporary exhibitions). Free on the 1st Sunday of the month and $10 on Thursday evening starting at 5pm.
9. SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (or SFMOMA) is a multi-storey museum that houses beautiful and quite varied collections of modern and contemporary art. Don’t forget to book your tickets online in advance!
10. DE YOUNG MUSEUM
Located in Golden Gate Park, De Young Museum is located in a building with a surprising architecture. Inside, you can see art galleries from Africa, Oceania, Asia and America. The observation tower offers a 360° view of the surroundings of San Francisco. Admission is $15 (free on the first Tuesday of the month).
MORE THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN SAN FRANCISCO
If you have more time to visit San Francisco, here are some other places to see in and in the surrounding area of San Francisco:
- Lombard Street: a winding street, very photogenic (you can see it in the distance from the Coit Tower).
- Haight-Ashbury: a district with a rather special atmosphere, to be seen especially for the architecture of the houses.
- The Yoda statue, in the Presido Park (for Star Wars fans ! – free)
- Not far from the statue of Yoda, is the Palace of Fine Arts: a rather pretty Greco-Roman inspired monument with a park (free)
- Enjoy the view from Twin Peaks
- Visit the World War II submarine USS Pampanito ($20)
- Hiking in Lands End
- If you have a car, take an excursion to Sausalito and then Muir’s Wood, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Golden Gate Park: in its eastern part is the California Academy of Sciences (a natural history museum) and a Japanese tea garden (free before 10am). The western half leading to Ocean Beach is not very interesting to visit (just an enclosure with Dutch style buffaloes and mills).
- In the city centre, rest in one of the many POPOS (Privately Owned Public Open Spaces – free).
SOME TIPS FOR A GOOD VISIT TO SAN FRANCISCO
- If there are several of you, avoid the train to get to the centre from the airport because it’s quite expensive: use Uber instead.
- Accommodation is very expensive: book your accommodation in San Francisco as soon as possible on Booking.com. I will also give you a 25€ credit if you register for the first time on AirBnb.
- To get around, use the bus! The city is quite large and you will soon have a sore foot. The day pass is only profitable after 8 or 9 trips so it’s not necessarily a good plan, but on the other hand use the MuniMobile app which allows you to buy cheaper bus tickets. I’m putting a link to the San Francisco bus network for you. Pay via the application, show your phone to the driver and voilà (otherwise you can buy a ticket directly on board the bus).
- Forget the old tram, it’s very touristy and expensive enough for what it is ($7). To avoid the queue you can take the tram at the stop above, rather than wait for an hour. Alternatively, instead you can visit the cable car museum.
- For a great photo spot, go up to the top of Powell Street (you can start at the bottom of the street from where the cable cars leave). At the top of the street, turn right on California Street and from there you will have a great view of the tramway with the Bay Bridge in the distance.
- A dish you should absolutely try when you’re in San Francisco: the clam chowder, served in a loaf of bread.
- To eat good and cheap food, go to Chinatown.
- If you are in San Francisco for a few days and you need wifi, the public library has a very fast free connection.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN SAN FRANCISCO ON GOOGLE MAP
On this map you’ll find the best places to visit, the best photo spots/Instagram as well as the best lookouts to enjoy a nice view: