Top 20 Attractions in San Francisco
When a person thinks of San Francisco, a giant International Orange-colored bridge, a park spanning more than 1,000 acres or a city where contemporary art and culture collide often come to mind. While these mainstays never lose their luster, the reasons to visit San Francisco are even more numerous. Where most visitors go while here might surprise you.
Based on data collected from visitors, here are the top 20 attractions:
- PIER 39: From amazing views and a sea of sea lions to chowder bread bowls and California wines, your visit to San Francisco starts at PIER 39. PIER 39—the most visited destination in San Francisco—offers two levels of dining, entertainment, shopping and attractions, all surrounded by unbeatable views of the city and the bay. Located along the historic San Francisco waterfront, PIER 39’s location provides the picture perfect backdrop for postcard views of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the famous city skyline. Aquarium of the Bay* at the entrance of The PIER, offers an astonishing view of life teeming under the surface of San Francisco Bay. Be treated to an unforgettable San Francisco experience and discover why a visit to San Francisco starts at The PIER.
PIER 39 is located in San Francisco’s Fisherman's Wharf, at Beach Street and The Embarcadero. Parking is conveniently available in the PIER 39 Garage located directly across from the Entrance Plaza.
- Golden Gate Bridge: Once called "the bridge that couldn't be built," today it is one the seven wonders of the modern world. This magnificent bridge, perhaps San Francisco's most famous landmark, opened in 1937 after a four-year struggle against relentless winds, fog, rocks and treacherous tides. Spanning 1.7 miles from San Francisco to the Marin headlands, the bridge’s sidewalks are open during the day to pedestrians including wheelchair users and bicyclists.
- Golden Gate Park: One of the largest urban parks in the world, Golden Gate Park stretches for three miles on the western edge of San Francisco. There’s not a single “Keep Off the Grass” sign and its 1,017 acres are a tonic for mind and body. Two major museums, splendid gardens and facilities for more than 20 sports confirm that this is a playground in every sense of the word. Among the ever-evolving attractions located in the park are the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, the Conservatory of Flowers and the Koret Children’s Quarter. Buy tickets to California Academy of Sciences or the de Young Museum.
- Lombard Street: Often called the “crookedest” street in the world, this scenic road on Russian Hill features tight turns, fragrant gardens and beautiful views of the bay, Alcatraz, and Coit Tower.
- Alcatraz Island: Alcatraz was the site of the first lighthouse in the Western United States but became a federal penitentiary from 1934-1963, housing famous convicts such as Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly. Now, this once infamous prison island is part of the Bay Area’s 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Located one-and-a-half miles from Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz is one of the city's most popular attractions. A visit to the island includes a tour of the cell house where visitors can see where the prisoners lived. Find an Alcatraz Island tour package.
- California Academy of Sciences:* Home to an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and world-class research and education programs, the California Academy of Sciences is one of San Francisco's must-see destinations. From the splashing penguins in African Hall to the wildflowers on the roof, the building is bursting with life. A four-story living rainforest and awe-inspiring coral reef ecosystem will delight visitors of all ages, while immersive planetarium shows will transport audiences through space and time for a new perspective on our planet. Dynamic daily programs—from penguin feedings to coral reef dives - offer a wealth of opportunities to dive deeper. Available with San Francisco CityPASS.
- The de Young Museum:* Located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the de Young showcases American art from the 17th through 21st centuries, modern and contemporary art, photography, international textiles and costumes, and art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. The ninth-floor Observation Level of the de Young's Hamon Tower offers breathtaking 360-degree views of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. Available with San Francisco CityPASS.
- SFMOMA: Founded in 1935 as the first West Coast museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art, a transformed SFMOMA reopened on May 14, 2016. The Snohetta-designed expansion includes 170,000 square feet of new and renovated galleries, enabling SFMOMA to display more than 32,000 modern and contemporary artworks and an entire floor dedicated solely to photography.
- The Presidio: Formerly a military post, the Presidio is now a national park site and recreational paradise featuring spectacular vistas, beautiful trails, and historic and architectural treasures. Come for a hike, a walking tour, a picnic, to view an exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum, or take a stroll back in time. Buy tickets to the Walt Disney Family Museum.
- Yerba Buena Gardens: An award-winning public facility at the heart of San Francisco’s downtown cultural district, Yerba Buena Gardens features a children’s garden, public art, museums, a historic carousel, ice-skating and bowling centers.
- The Cable Car Museum: Located in the Washington-Mason powerhouse and carbarn on Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum overlooks the huge engines and winding wheels that pull the cables for San Francisco’s famous trams. It also features three antique cable cars from the 1870s, photographs, mechanical displays and a fun gift shop.
- Crissy Field: This northern waterfront park in the Presidio offers spectacular views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as unparalleled recreational opportunities including BBQs, picnics, and beach sports. Enjoy long walks along its scenic marshes and catch glimpses of rare birds and native plants. Once housing the first air coast defense station on the West Coast, Crissy Field is also home to numerous historical buildings.
- Asian Art Museum: This museum is home to one of the most complete collections of Asian art in the world, with a collection spanning cultures from Turkey to India and China to the Philippines through 6,000 years. Through providing rich art experiences, the museum strives to spark connections across cultures and through time, while igniting curiosity, conversation, and creativity.
- The Exploratorium:* Newly renovated and now open on Pier 15 on the Embarcadero at the heart of the waterfront, the Exploratorium is a home-grown, hands-on museum igniting curiosity and inspiring creativity in people of all ages. Explore more than 600 hands-on exhibits, including 150 new experiences and enjoy breathtaking views of the city and bay in the spectacular glass-and-steel Bay Observatory. Available with San Francisco CityPASS.
- San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park: AT&T Park is the home of the 2010, 2012 and 2014 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. Located on the city's scenic waterfront, this classic urban ballpark is a short walk from downtown San Francisco and Moscone Center and is accessible by every means of public transit.
- Legion of Honor:* Built to commemorate Californian soldiers who died in World War I, the Legion of Honor displays a collection of more than 4,000 years of ancient and Europejewishan art and houses the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in a neoclassic building overlooking Lincoln Park and the Golden Gate Bridge. Multilingual tours available. Available with San Francisco CityPASS.
- Angel Island State Park: Often referred to as the “Ellis Island of the West, the Immigration Station originally opened in 1910 and closed in 1940 as the result of a fire. During that time more than one million individuals were processed through the center. Ferry service to the island, the largest in San Francisco Bay, is available from Fisherman’s Wharf.
- Contemporary Jewish Museum: Located in downtown San Francisco, the Contemporary Jewish Museum presents dynamic exhibitions and educational programs, exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history and ideas.
- San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall: Founded as an orchestra for the people just five years after the 1906 earthquake, the San Francisco Symphony has offered innovative programs that provide a mix of classical and new music for more than 100 years. With performances over 200 days per year, from Mahler to pops, it’s easy to find a concert you’ll love that fits into your trip.
- San Francisco Zoo and Gardens: The San Francisco Zoo and Gardens is an historic treasure with 1,000 endangered and rescued animals representing 250 species on view in 100 acres of lovely, peaceful gardens nestled against the Pacific Ocean. Their mission is to connect visitors with wildlife, inspire caring for nature and advance conservation action. The Zoo offers a rich history for its guests, including educational programs, keeper talks, fun rides and exciting events for children of all ages.
* Denotes part of CityPASS. Buy a CityPASS today.
Photo by Louis Raphael