San Francisco is a gorgeous city that has its own culture and moves to its own rhythm. I compiled a list of 6 places you should visit in San Francisco but there are plenty of other amazing places to see. Transportation and time constraints in mind, these are the places that I highly recommend you cross of your must-see list when visiting San Francisco before exploring the lesser known destinations. After all, what’s a vacation without a few cliché tourist spots?
1. Golden Gate Park
This park reminds me of a small scale Central Park. (You can even get a pretzel from a cart here!) The park has a huge variety of activities for people of all ages and you could spend an entire day in the park and not get through all of it. If you only want to spend a few hours in the park, visit on a weekend when the free shuttle runs through the whole park. Stops are conveniently located at most major areas in the park and run roughly every 15 minutes, however be prepared to wait upwards of 20 minutes on a nice day when there are lots of people. From the Conservatory of Flowers where you can see exotic plants (or just admire the beauty of the architecture) to museums to picnic grounds, there are so many things to see here and many are free! Ride the shuttle to the end of the park and you can walk in the sand and dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean. We saw so many surfers in the water and then headed to lunch right along the ocean afterwards.
2. Alamo Square Park
The famous Painted Ladies, a row of colorful Victorian houses, make for some total Instagram-worthy photos and can be enjoyed from Alamo Square park, a hilly area with benches, sports courts, and a playground. If it’s not too windy, this would be a fantastic place to picnic and also enjoy the view of downtown San Francisco. A few blocks away there are some small coffee shops and a great little ice cream place that I’ll share in a future post.
3. Golden Gate Bridge: Fort Point, Chrissy Field
The best way to view the Golden Gate bridge from up close, in my opinion, is to go to Fort Point. I’m surprised there weren’t more people here as it’s a free exhibit. It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk here from the main view point where the visitor center is located. Not only can you walk inside the old quarters of the fort, you get to view the bridge from right below it. On the path to the fort, there are some interesting little tunnels (one that you have to duck and walk through). If you are unable to walk up many flights of stairs, you won’t be able to see much of the fort and go to the very top so I would recommend Chrissy Field for a good view. This view is from much further away but it’s just as beautiful! We went to Chrissy Field on our way to the Palace of Fine Arts and by this time the fog had rolled away – perfect.
4. Palace of Fine Arts
If you’re at Fort Point and walk further along the water to visit Chrissy Field, it’s a nice (but a bit lengthy) walk to the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District. You’ll walk through some residential areas and finally stand underneath the amazing architecture. The rotunda and the paths along the water are a popular location for wedding pictures – in fact, both times I’ve been there there were photoshoots going on. Snag a bench and bring a snack or a light lunch to enjoy here, it’s a really peaceful area to enjoy. (As you can see from some of these photos, one minute it’s foggy and the next it’s sunny. That’s SF weather for you.)
5. Pier 39
Another tourist-laden spot but still a fun place to visit and cross of your list as it’s where you can see the bridge from another view and see the sunbathing sea lions. There are plenty of odd little shops to buy gifts, souvenirs, and all sorts of odds and ends here. If you’re hungry, there is something here for everyone – everything from seafood fine dining to ice cream parlors. I recommend getting clam chowder in the sourdough bread bowls from Boudin’s (there are two locations, one is a few minutes from the pier and is home to the bakery tour). There are many photo spots here and if you’re traveling as a couple, have your selfie stick ready. (Yep, I brought a selfie stick during this trip. Shout out to Casetify for it!)
Less than 10 minutes walking from Pier 39, the cruises to Alcatraz Island board at Pier 33. TIP: If you want to go on a tour, buy your tickets online here at least a few weeks prior to your trip if you want to guarantee that you can board. When we visited, the tours were all sold out for weeks after our tour. Luckily as I was doing research on the tour itself, another blogger wrote that it was crucial to book it in advance. I’m so glad I did! The ferry ride isn’t long and I recommend standing outside to get a nice view but be warned, it is freezing, and you’ll want to avoid sticky lip gloss as your hair will be whipping around your face :) The tour is self-guided but when it’s busy, be prepared to deal with some foot traffic. The tour was not as comprehensive as I expected, but still enjoyable for a history nerd and I think everyone should go at least once. Lots of walking and standing (even just for the boarding part because you have to be lined up 30 minutes before the ferry even arrives) so wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers! I would allot at least 3 hours for the whole thing and that’s on the conservative side. Note you can stay on the island for how long you choose.