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Why a guide to San Francisco? San Francisco is a city with a rich history. From the Gold Rush in the 1800s to three-quarters of the city being destroyed by an earthquake and fire in 1906, The Paris of the West should definitely be on your Bucket List!
San Francisco is a city of many faces. It’s a place where you can find the best beaches, explore the most popular tourist attractions, and experience some of the quirkiest neighborhoods in America all within minutes from each other. Our guide will take you through our favorite San Francisco hotspots so that your visit isn’t just another vacation – it’s an unforgettable experience!
Must-See in San Francisco
Kick your San Francisco visit off on the right foot by hopping on a cable car. Can you really visit The Golden City without thinking of Rice-A-Roni, Full House, or cable cars? Check the status of the cable cars before you go. If there are restrictions or the cars aren’t operating for some reason, you’ll see the status updates on their website.
Cable Car Museum
What are you usually doing at 4:00 AM? Well, Andrew Smith Hallidie tested his first cable car at that time, back in 1873. If you love cable cars as much as my family does, you’ll enjoy a visit to the Cable Car Museum. You’ll learn about the invention of cable cars, and how they’ve evolved since 1873. The idea of a steam-engine powered, the cable-driven rail system was conceived after the inventor witnessed horses being whipped while they struggled on wet cobblestones.
And that’s just the beginning! Cable cars have an interesting history. The San Francisco Cable Car Museum is located at the intersection of Mason and Washington Streets. We recommend buying your tickets online before you go, especially if it’s a busy day.
16th Avenue tile steps
In an effort to beautify Golden Gate Heights back in the early 2000s, neighborhood residents collaborated on this 163-step stairway. It truly is a beautiful site to see. One of a kind!
The Crookedest Street
It’s a steep walk, but you must visit Lombard Street. It’s a fun photo opp, you’ll find tucked between Leavenworth and Hyde. Even though it’s called the “Crookedest Street”, it isn’t even the most crooked in San Francisco. Love twisty bendy streets? Check out Vermont Street, too.
Fire truck tour
Take a fire truck tour of the city. Yes, that’s right! Suit up in a firefighter jacket and hat, and climb aboard the shiny red vintage fire truck. You’ll see Fisherman’s Wharf, go across the Golden Gate Bridge, and visit the village of Sausalito. The tours are limited to 13 passengers and safety measures are in place.
Love fire trucks? Stop by the SFFD Fire Museum. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
Golden Gate Park
Also part of Golden Gate Park:
- California Academy of Science
- Steinhart Aquarium
- Garden of Shakespeare’s Flowers
- Golden Gate Windmills and Tulips
Be sure to download the printable park map before heading out. This is one of those attractions that you can make a whole day out of. There’s so much to do and see!
Kids and adults alike will enjoy visiting the Wave Organ. What is the Wave Organ? I’m so glad you asked. 😉 It’s a sculpture that’s wave-activated, and it’s located right in the Small Boat Harbor, in the San Francisco Bay. Sounds are created by the impact of the water against 25 organ pipes made of PVC and concrete. Because of lack of care, the sound isn’t as clear as it used to be. However, it’s still worth a trip for the views alone!
Check the tides before you go; you’ll get the best experience at high tide (early in the morning).
Adjacent to Golden Gate Park and situated along Highway 1, Ocean Beach is a photo-worthy stop for biking, hiking, and enjoying the scenery. It’s not suitable for swimming due to the strong currents, which means many tourists pick another beach to visit. Pack a lunch and enjoy the sights, without the crowds. The kiddos will especially love the giant windmills!
Remember to pack a jacket; the temps are usually in the 50s and it is foggy most of the year. To get to Ocean Beach, consider taking public transportation. Parking is limited.
Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Factory
A dream come true for most of us, visiting a chocolate factory is one more “must see” stop on our list. Ghirardelli Square is a one-stop shop for all of your chocolate and ice cream needs. Located at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf, the Square is a former chocolate factory; they still have some of their original equipment on display.
Dandelion Chocolate, located on Valencia Street, is another chocolate factory. They make small-batch chocolate with cacao beans sourced from small farmers worldwide.
Ready to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city? Drive out to Muir Woods and escape it all. Filled with majestic, giant redwoods and open 365 days a year, Muir Woods is the perfect remote get away from city life. The hiking trails at Muir Woods include a half an hour loop, as well as longer trails for more experienced hikers. The main trail, Bridge 2 and back, is wheelchair and stroller accessible.
Before you go, download your parking reservation or shuttle ticket. There is no cell service at or around Muir Woods.
Scenic 49-Mile drive
Love to drive? Have plenty of time to take in the sights and sounds of picturesque San Francisco? The scenic 49-mile drive includes:
- City Hall
- Nob Hill
- Lombard Street
- Alcatraz (as long as it’s not too foggy)
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Bay Bridge
- and more!
A visit to San Francisco isn’t complete without taking an Alcatraz tour. Alcatraz is the famous former federal prison that once held notorious “bad guys” like Al Capone. Hear stories from former inmates, and pass by the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the Bay Bridge, on your ferry rides in and out. You’ll want to plan this one ahead of time: Alcatraz tour tickets are sold out on a regular basis.
What else is there?
San Francisco has so many attractions, you’ll need several days to get through them. There are more activities such as the botanical gardens, zoo, etc but everyone mentions those. The stops on this list are sure to keep the whole family entertained, and if you pick up a CityPass or Explorer Pass, you can save some money. It’s definitely not cheap to visit this beautiful city, but those two things can make it more affordable, depending on where you plan on spending your time.