San Francisco, in northern California, is a hilly city on the tip of a peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. It’s known for its year-round fog, iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and colorful Victorian houses. For an interesting tour of the city, hop on one of the historic cable cars, which stop at many of the city’s top sites.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit San Francisco is from September to November. Believe it or not, fall offers some of the city’s warmest temperatures year-round, not to mention fewer crowds than summer. Spring is another good time to visit thanks to its mild temperatures and lack of rain.
Top Places to Visit in San Francisco
1. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is a California icon gracing San Francisco Bay. It is the most photographed site in the city, with the orange structure backed by blue water, or in many cases, peaking through low lying cloud. At night, the flood-lit structure is equally striking. For a great view of the bridge, or for anyone interested in photographing the bridge, there are a number of ideal vantage points. From the San Francisco side, Nob Hill, an area known for its posh old mansions, offers some beautiful views over the bridge.
2. Alcatraz Island
The historic and notorious Alcatraz penitentiary, located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, is one of America’s most infamous prisons. You can take a ferry over to the island and tour the site while listening to an exceptional audio recording that offers a glimpse into life in the prison, rather than just a historical list of the facts. If you have only one day to explore the city, and Alcatraz is on your must-see list, this guided tour is the best option.
3. Fisherman’s Wharf
One of San Francisco’s most popular tourist areas is Fisherman’s Wharf. If this is your first visit to the city and you only have a day or two to see the sights, Fisherman’s Wharf is a good place to start. This old section, once the Little Italy of San Francisco, is an area known for its shops, restaurants, and beautiful setting along the waterfront. It’s a fun place to stroll around and get a taste for the city.
You may have been to Chinatown in other cities, but San Francisco’s Chinatown is a whole other realm. It is both the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest of its kind in North America. With its temples, theaters, workshops, small businesses, stores, antique and souvenir shops, teahouses, and traditional pharmacies, Chinatown has become one of the major sites of San Francisco. If you are traveling through San Francisco during an important Chinese holiday or event, you can expect to see an elaborate celebration. Chinese New Year celebrations are often considered the best in North America.
5. California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park, is an architectural marvel as well as a multifaceted museum. This state-of-the-art “green” building with a sustainable design has a 2.5-acre Living Roof, covered with native plants and even rolling hills to match the natural surroundings. The roof also has solar panels to generate electricity, and the soil acts as natural insulation. The walls are largely made of glass allowing for natural light. Inside is an incredible natural history museum, planetarium, aquarium, rainforest, and more. The Steinhart Aquarium includes some 38,000 live specimens and a 25-feet-deep coral reef. The rainforest is four stories high, with all kinds of animals and amphibians in a fantastic layout.
6. Twin Peaks
These two unique and uninhabited hills, more than 900 feet high, are not in fact the highest of San Francisco’s 43 hills, a distinction belonging to Mount Davidson, which is 33 feet higher. They do have one of the finest views out over the city and bay, they’re undeveloped, and they’re easy to access. You can drive to the north peak parking area for fine views and hike along trails over the north and south peaks.
7. Asian Art Museum
The Asian Art Museum is unquestionably one of the most important museums in San Francisco. The museum opened in 1966, with the basis of the collection coming from art collector Avery Brundage. Brundage built up a private collection, which in 1959 he offered to the city of San Francisco “to bridge the gap between East and West.”
8. Hike and Picnic on Angel Island State Park
A 25-minute ferry ride away from Pier 41 in San Francisco, Angel Island State Park is a wonderful escape to nature. The largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island has astounding views of the surrounding bay. Tourists can enjoy the lovely scenery while hiking or biking on the well-groomed trails.