Top 7 San Francisco Attractions
As one of the world’s most beautiful port cities, there is no shortage of things to see and do in ‘Frisco – so we’ve done the legwork and narrowed it down for you. Grab a comfortable pair of walking shoes and prepare yourself (and your thighs) for a city like no other.
1. Golden Gate Bridge
This suspension bridge is the classic San Fran symbol for a reason: it’s simply magical, whether shrouded in mist or showing off its distinctive orange hue under the sun. Even when you’re several hundred feet away, it somehow seems like an illusion. But once you’ve admired it and taken the requisite photos – get right on it! You can bike, drive or even walk across the structure. Take Marine Drive along to Fort Point, park in the lot (free after 5PM) and snap some amazing photos as the sun starts to set. Then walk underneath it and up the other side right onto the bridge itself. Tip: Wear a hoodie or a hat, as the wind is incredibly strong!
2. Visit Chinatown
The first three Chinese immigrants arrived here by boat in 1848 – and the rest is history! The largest and oldest Chinatown outside of Asia (covering 24 square blocks), you could imagine you’ve left North America when you pass through one of the green dragon gates. But don’t just use your eyes: let yourself get lost for an hour (or two) in the alleys and side streets marked with calligraphy. Peruse an herbal shop, sip tea in a tearoom, or pop in and visit a fortune cookie factory. It’s not hard to time your visit with a Chinese festival or parade either. There is always something happening in the city’s most densely populated neighbourhood.
3. Ferry Building Marketplace
This historical marketplace lies in the shadow of the Bay Area Bridge – another architectural beauty. Completed in 1898, the Beaux Arts-style building, with its 245-foot clock tower, is visible for miles. Originally designed as a terminal for ferries travelling across the San Francisco Bay, the neoclassical building was completely renovated in 2002 and now houses an extensive marketplace on the ground floor. With dozens of kiosks, cafés and eateries, this stop is a must on any foodie’s bucket list. You’ll find gourmet shops offering everything from artisan cheeses and fungi for mushroom fanatics to freshly baked breads – and even vegan doughnuts!
4. Ride a Streetcar
The first cable cars rolled down the tracks in 1873, and it’s a testament to the city that they’ve kept running in this day and age. Everyone loves a photo op on the Powell Street line with its breathtaking views, but it’s usually crammed with tourists and the wait to get on one can be lengthy. Try the California line, which runs east/west and offers equally stunning views of the city, but be sure to hop on a heritage streetcar as well. The light rail takes you on a lovely ride along from the shops along Market Street to the Bay, including the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf. Each one is painted differently than the last and come from cities all over the world. Even if you’re only there for three days, do buy a transit pass; one-way on a cable car is $6. (And your thighs will thank you after climbing yet another hill.)
5. Shop on Fillmore Street
Beautifully designed homes, clever little boutiques and trendy restaurants: the perfect shopping experience awaits you on Fillmore Street. Whereas Union Square is all about the larger chains, Fillmore is an upscale district with unique stores and a relaxed and welcoming vibe. Start at the southern end near Geary St. and head north, passing diverse restaurants, bakeries, clothing stores and beauty shops along the way. Once you hit Jackson Street-it might take a while, depending just how much you nosh, buy, and imbibe – it’s a pleasant walk through the Pacific Heights neighbourhood where you can catch incredible views of the Bay dotted between majestic mansions.
If a trip to the legendary penitentiary isn’t enough to tempt you over to Alcatraz Island, the ferry ride alone makes the visit worthwhile: it offers a magnificent view of San Francisco. Once there, head straight to the prison – the audio tour is a must, and if you’re lucky, you can tag along on one of the free extra tours into areas that are normally off limits. When planning your visit to The Rock, think about a morning departure, packing a picnic lunch (and a jacket: it’s chilly!) and extending your stay into the afternoon as you can take any ferry you like back and there is a lot more to see. If you’re feeling brave, there are night cruises as well. Just be sure to book your ticket on Alcatraz Cruises as soon as you arrive in ‘Frisco, if not before, as the time slots fill up quickly, especially in summer.
7. See the Seals at Pier 39
After your visit to Alcatraz, wander over from Pier 22 to K-Dock over at Pier 39. The best reason to hit that pier is to see-and hear-the California sea lions. Vocal at all hours of the day, the big lovable beasts are amusing and highly entertaining, whether sunning themselves or squabbling over territory. Indigenous to the area, they used to suntan out on Seal Rock (a natural rock formation at the northern end of nearby Ocean Beach), but in 1989 started immigrating to the K-Dock. There is a plentiful supply of restaurants and shops to peruse along the boardwalk as well, but be warned, prices are inflated!