In San Francisco, the former hippie stronghold on the west coast of America, there is a very unique atmosphere in the air. The Golden Gate Bridge in the fog, iconic cable cars and Victorian apartment buildings, the hustle and bustle at Fisherman’s Wharf or a relaxed walk on the Pacific coast – in San Francisco you can let yourself drift in different ways. Would you like to know more about the fourth largest city in California? Let’s go to San Francisco! To find the latest population data of San Francisco, please visit citypopulationreview.
Tips for a stay in San Francisco
Before you set off on your trip to the Golden State of California, take a moment to read our tips:
- Indulge your taste buds: A stay in San Francisco means excellent food on every street corner! Don’t miss the fresh fish in the gourmet temples at Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can enjoy local specialties such as clam soup on sourdough bread. To add variety to your menu, stop by for dim sum in Chinatown or a pasta in Little Italy.
- Go out in an onion look: The weather in San Francisco is unpredictable. It can be sunny and warm, but especially when it gets foggy, large temperature differences are possible – even within the urban area. If you are on your feet all day, then not only comfortable shoes, but also the layered look are a great advantage. So you can get rid of or add layers of clothing if necessary and thus always adapt to external conditions.
- Looking for something special: Top sights such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz or Fisherman’s Wharf are rightly part of every wish-list, but only the extraordinary makes a vacation truly unforgettable. Why not set out on a sailing trip in San Francisco Bay or take off for a hot air balloon ride over the Napa Valley? With providers like Get your Guide or Viator you will find everything your adventurous heart desires.
With our tips in your luggage, you are now well prepared for your trip to the north of the American Golden State. Which highlights belong at the top of the must-see list? Here they are, our top 10 San Francisco attractions:
- Golden Gate Bridge
The bright orange landmark of California, the Golden Gate Bridge, rises with its two distinctive pylons from the mostly foggy waters of San Francisco. But the most photographed bridge in the world is not only a feast for the eyes, it is also a true masterpiece of engineering.
After only 4 years of construction, it was opened in 1937 and at that time it was the longest suspension bridge ever built. Since then, the steel giant has reliably spanned Golden Gate Road, the strait between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific. Over a total length of 2.7 km, six lanes as well as bicycle and pedestrian paths lead over the bridge from San Francisco in the south to Marin County in the north.
The Golden Gate Bridge proved its incredible stability in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, which it survived unscathed, while newer bridges were badly damaged. By the way, the builders of the Golden Gate Bridge deliberately chose the striking International Orange so that the bridge and its 227 m high pylons are always clearly visible even in fog.
Our tip: put on comfortable shoes and walk a little along the San Francisco Bay Trail before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. This San Francisco Bay trail stretches for half a mile and includes 9 Bay Area counties and 47 cities.
- Address: Lincoln Blvd and Hwy 101, San Francisco, CA 94129
- Opening times: Vehicles can pass the bridge around the clock, it is available for pedestrians from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
- Price: Crossing the bridge is free.
- Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39
Excellent restaurants, numerous leisure activities and boats as far as the eye can see – the lively Fisherman’s Wharf has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco since the 1970’s. The district was created during the gold rush in the 18th century as a center for fisheries handling. The freshest fish in San Francisco can still be found today at Fisherman’s Wharf: open-air stalls sell freshly caught dungeness crabs, while some of America’s best gourmet restaurants invite you to linger.
Well strengthened, you can then go to Pier 39, the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf. This long walkway extends into the Bay of San Francisco and is practically a huge shopping mall with numerous small shops, restaurants and even an aquarium. Street artists and musicians create a relaxed, lively atmosphere. In addition to the hustle and bustle on the mall, the famous sea lions from Pier 39 bask in their resting places by the water. If you still have energy after shopping, you can set off on Segway, hiking or boat tours from Fisherman’s Wharf.
Our tip: If you are more in the mood for something sweet, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory will feel like you are in the land of plenty. In the shop of the traditional chocolate factory you can even secure a free sample.
- Address: The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133
- Opening times: Fisherman’s Wharf is always accessible, the opening times of the various restaurants, shops and attractions vary.
- Price: The walk on the pier is free, your appetite and travel budget decide everything else.
Although prison sentences are no longer being served here, Alcatraz Island is still America’s most famous prison. A forced stay on Alcatraz was probably doubly bad for convicts: On the one hand, due to the location in San Francisco Bay, they constantly had the pulsating metropolis on the other bank in front of their eyes. On the other hand, the island, also known as “The Rock”, was considered to be almost escape-proof due to the cold water and strong currents around it.
The first building on Alcatraz was originally a fort with a lighthouse. It later became a military prison and finally a federal prison, in which between 1933 and 1963 particularly difficult but also famous prisoners such as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and Robert Franklin Stroud sat behind Swedish curtains.
Today the former prison island, administered by the National Park Service, is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Visitors not only have the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful view of the Bay of San Francisco, but also take part in guided tours and learn about the eventful history of Alcatraz. Make sure you set aside half a day for your excursion, because there is a lot to discover on the island!
Our tip: The Alcatraz Cruises LLC ferries are the only ones that also dock on Alcatraz Island. Everyone else just drives past it. Since tickets are usually sold out a few days in advance, it is advisable to order them online in advance.
- Address: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay, CA 94133
- Hours of Operation: Ferries for day tours to Alcatraz operate daily from 11am to 3pm; the last ferry back to the mainland departs at 17:40.
- Price: A one-way day tour to Alcatraz including ferry costs $ 39.90. Special tours such as a night tour or behind the scenes tour can be booked for an additional charge. (Status: November 3rd, 2020)
- Lombard Street
It is well known that the route through the hilly urban area of San Francisco can be quite arduous. This is particularly evident on Lombard Street, “the crookedest street in San Francisco”. This meanders between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street on an approximately 150 m long, winding section down the mountain.
When it was built, Lombard Street, like all other streets in San Francisco, was initially laid out straight – with an incline of an incredible 27 degrees! Since such a steep gradient naturally soon caused problems, the eight serpentines known today were created in 1922, which have a milder gradient of 15 degrees. However, extreme caution is advised: Vehicles may only travel at a speed of 5 mph (around 8 km / h) in one direction, from top to bottom.
Our tip: If you want to get very close to Lombard Street without a car, there are pedestrian stairs to the right and left of the street, from which you can also take great photos of the street including approaching vehicles.
- Address: 1099 Lombard St, San Francisco, CA 94109
- Hours of Operation: Lombard Street is open 24/7.
- Price: Use is free.
- Cable cars
Next to the Golden Gate Bridge, images of the iconic cable cars are probably the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of San Francisco. A tour in one of the nostalgic vehicles should indeed be high on your to-do list when you visit San Francisco. The Californian metropolis is the only place in the world where they are still in operation today.
Cable C Cars are streetcars pulled by cables over the hills of San Francisco that were the city’s main means of transportation in the late 19th century. A total of 23 lines ran when cable cars were booming as a means of transportation in San Francisco . Today only three lines are still in operation:
- Powell / Mason Line from Powell Market to Fisherman’s Wharf,
- Powell / Hyde Line from Powell Market to Aquatic Park
- California Line from California and Market Streets to the Financial District
Don’t miss out on watching the cable car turn around at the end of a line on the large turntable. The turning point at Fisherman’s Wharf is particularly famous. You can then gain interesting insights into the history of these extraordinary means of transport in the Cable Car Museum on Mason Street.
Our tip: There are two ways to ride a cable car: sit inside or stand outside. Be sure to try the stylish standing version! Since waiting times can be very long during the day, try to avoid the weekends and rush hour for your joyride.
- Address:Powell / Mason Line: Powell St, Mason St, Columbus Ave, Taylor St; Powell / Hyde Line: Powell St, Jackson St, Washington St, Hyde St; California line: California St
- Opening times: Trains run daily from 7 a.m. to midnight.
- Price: The ticket for a single ride is available for $ 8.00. (Status: November 3rd, 2020).
- Chinatown San Francisco
Anyone who comes to Chinatown San Francisco will get the impression of moving in a city within a city. In fact, San Francisco has four Chinatowns. However, the one around Grant Avenue and Stockton Street is by far the largest of them and also the oldest in North America. It is thanks to Chinese immigrants who came to San Francisco in the mid-19th century that travelers in Chinatown San Francisco can now enjoy a variety of Far Eastern culture and cuisine.
The two main streets Grant Avenue and Stockton Street you reach when you by stride the famous Dragon Gate at the entrance to Chinatown. Countless restaurants and small shops are lined up here as far as the eye can see. A detour into the side streets can prove to be extremely worthwhile, because their excellent restaurants are usually cheaper than those on the main streets.
Our tip: If you are curious about what the future will bring, you should pay a visit to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley. This traditional Mecca of fortune cookies has been in the same place since 1962 and makes fortune cookies in a wide variety of colors and flavors.
- Address: Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94108
- Opening times: The streets of Chinatown San Francisco are always accessible, individual restaurants and shops have different opening times.
- Price: You can enjoy a stroll through Chinatown for free. What you spend in the restaurants depends entirely on how hungry you are: P
- Golden Gate Park
If you thought New York’s Central Park was huge, you will be amazed at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. With a length of 5 km and a width of 800 m, the extensive green space in the northwest of the city is around 20% larger than its New York counterpart. The huge park is criss-crossed by lakes, picnic areas, monuments, playgrounds and gardens, which invite you to walk, relax and watch people.
There are also numerous sports facilities and cultural attractions on the grounds of the Golden Gate Park. The best known include the Japanese Tea Garden, a small Japanese-style garden, the MH de Young Museum with works of art from antiquity to modern times, and the California Academy of Sciences natural science museum. At the westernmost end of the park you come to Ocean Beach, an idyllic stretch of beach where you can stroll along and listen to the waves of the Pacific.
Our tip: There are a few streets that are open to traffic through Golden Gate Park. Kennedy Drive is closed every Sunday, so that especially skaters have a free run. Alternatively, rented bicycles, Segways or boats help to get around the vast expanse of the Golden Gate Park.
- Address: between Fulton St, Stanyan St, Lincoln Way and Ocean Beach
- Opening times: the park is accessible 24/7.
- Price: Staying in the park is free, admission prices for the individual attractions vary.
- Twin peaks
No, the San Francisco Twin Peaks have nothing to do with the famous mystery series of the same name from the 1990’s. The twin peaks, or more precisely the view from them, are also worth seeing. From the 276 m or 277 m high peaks in the middle of the city, you have a wonderful view of the city center as well as of the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge.
You can get up to the peaks via Twin Peaks Boulevard. At the northern Eureka Peak there is a parking lot with the most famous viewpoint, the Christmas Tree Point. By the way, the hills weren’t always called Twin Peaks. Spanish missionaries, the first settlers in what is now San Francisco, called the two peaks “Los Pechos de la Chola”, which means “the breasts of the Indian girl”.
Our tip: For the most beautiful panoramic shots of San Francisco, you should go to the viewpoint about an hour before sunset. When darkness falls, San Francisco will be immersed in a wonderful play of colors before your eyes!
- Address: Christmas Tree Point Rd, San Francisco, CA 94131
- Opening times: The lookout point is open daily from 5 a.m. to midnight.
- Price: The fantastic view from the Twin Peaks is free of charge.
- Union Square
The central Union Square already served during the time of the American Civil War in the 19th century as a place for meetings. Today it is the lively shopping district of San Francisco, in which there are numerous shops, restaurants and hotels, but also art galleries and clubs.
As the central point of the complex, the Dewey Memorial commemorates Admiral George Dewey and his victory in the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. All around, seating invites you to take a break and take in the urban atmosphere.
- Address: 350 Powell St, San Francisco, CA 94102
- Opening times: You can walk through Union Square at any time. The opening times of the various shops and restaurants vary.
- Price: Window shopping is free, otherwise it depends on the contents of your travel budget.
- Painted ladies
You may know the Painted Ladies of San Francisco from countless movies, TV shows, and commercials. These grand Victorian and Edwardian homes were built between 1892 and 1896 under contractor Matthew Cavanaugh. In an earthquake in 1906, many of the colored buildings in San Francisco were destroyed, but most of them were restored.
During another restoration in the 1960’s, the buildings were given a coat of paint in three or more colors that enhanced their architectural details. The term Painted Ladies was first used around 1978 in the book by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larson to describe the multi-colored painted wooden houses in Alamo Square.
Our tip: You can take wonderful snapshots of the Painted Ladies and downtown San Francisco from Hayes Street.
- Address: Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94117
- Opening times: You can see the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square at any time. However, you can only see their colors during the day.
- Price: free