15 Must See Places in San Francisco – An Insider’s Guide

San Francisco is one of the most popular American cities to visit. There are many iconic landmarks and must see places in San Francisco, making this city a great tourist destination.

San Fran, nicknamed “The City” by the locals, was built on money from the gold rush. It expanded quite rapidly and gave this town a rich history, no pun intended.

There are so many things to do and see in this city. I’ve been here for more than two years and still feel I haven’t experienced it all!

So, I narrowed it down and compiled a list of the 15 must see places in San Francisco.

15 Must See Places in San Francisco

1. The Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco Must See Places: Golden Gate Bridge
the Golden Gate Bridge – A San Francisco must see

Could I really start this list anywhere else? When you think of SF, you think of the Golden Gate.

There are many locations to photograph this historical beauty from, but the best is across the bridge from the lookout. That way you can get the city in the photo too.

Tip: for an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge consider going on a Golden Gate Bay cruise.

For more information about the Golden Gate Bridge visit Goldengatebridge.org

2. The Bay Bridge

a San Francisco must see: Bay Bridge

The Bay Bridge is the bridge that leads from San Fran to Oakland and Berkeley.

The Golden Gate Bridge was made famous for being the largest suspension bridge of its time, but the Bay Bridge well surpasses that accomplishment.

There are actually two sections of this bridge, both connecting on Treasure Island. This is a great place to stop to photograph the city skyline and the bridges, and definitely a San Francisco must see!

Tip: if you want to admire both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge from the water then check out this bridge to bridge cruise.

For more information about the Bay Bridge: Baybridgeinfo.org

3. Fisherman’s Wharf

San Francisco Must See: Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is where you can get the freshest clam chowder.

There are also lots of fun activities to do here, like amusement rides and souvenir shopping. And you can find an In-n-Out here, which is a very famous chain of fast-food restaurants!

For more information: Fishermanswharf.org

4. Pier 39

Pier39: one of the must see places in San Francisco

Pier 39 is another must see place in San Francisco, and it’s within walking distance from Fisherman’s Wharf.

It’s where you’ll find the resident sea lions!

There are numerous shops and restaurants here, fun street performances and the area has a lively vibe. San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay can be found here and the popular 7D Experience, which is a virtual roller coaster and video game combined.

Tip: you can buy skip-the-line tickets online for Aquarium of the Bay.

For more information about Pier 39: Pier39.com

5. Alcatraz

San Francisco must see: Alcatraz

Alcatraz is the most famous prison and an absolute must visit when in San Francisco.

The saying used to go “If you were bad you went to prison, if you were bad in prison, you went to Alcatraz”. Some of America’s worst criminals lived here on ‘the rock’.

Today it is a national park and open for tours. Make sure to book your tickets far in advance, I’m talking weeks or even months. They sell out fast!

Tip: you can buy several combo tickets with a discount, combining an Alcatraz ticket with another fun activity. For example:

For more information about Alcatraz: NPS.gov

6. Presidio Park

San Francisco must visit: Presidio Park
source: nps.gov – San Francisco must see

This park is an old naval base.

There are still many bunkers and buildings here today and there are a few nice trails that lead through the eucalyptus forests.

If I have any Disney Fans out there, this is home to the permanent Walt Disney museum. Today many of the buildings are rented out to local businesses and as housing.

Tip: you can buy skip-the-line tickets online for the Walt Disney museum.

For more information about Presidio Park: NPS.gov

7. Twin Peaks

San Francisco must see: Twin Peaks

Trying to catch the best view of San Francisco?

Twin Peaks is a top contender. Head up here just before sunset to see the city lights come alive.

For more information about Twin Peaks: sfrecpark.org

8. The Full House House

must see places in San Francisco: Full House house

This row of houses was made world famous by the popular TV show Full House and is now a much visited tourist attraction.

“What ever happened to the predictability?” I knew you were waiting for this one. All of the landmarks will work in your map by using its name, except this one. Alamo Square or the Painted Ladies is what you want to use.

Take a relaxing break on the field of Alamo Square with the locals. The higher you climb, the better the view you’ll get.

9. The Sutro Baths

San Francisco must see places: Sutro Baths

The Sutro Baths was once an old bathhouse, which Thomas Edison used to frequent.

The building no longer stands, but the ruins do. It is a gorgeous place to see the Pacific Ocean and to get in a little exercise. On the lower left of the sea wall is a small cave- check it out!

For more information: NPS.gov

10. Coit Tower

Must visit in San Francisco, CA: Coit Tower

Once an old lookout tower, now a small museum.

You are able to take a small elevator ride to the top for 360° views of San Francisco. I know I’ve listed a few viewpoints, but its because they’re all amazing in their own way. Don’t pass this one up.

For more information: sfrecpark.org

11. Haight-Ashbury

San Francisco must visit: Height Ashbury

Many famous rock and roll artists made it big singing on the streets of Haight-Ashbury, a district of San Francisco, in the 60s and 70s.

A lot of those bars are still open today and this area is definitely one of the must see places in San Francisco.

There is a lot of great local shopping on Haight as well.

12. Chinatown

San Francisco, CA must visit: Chinatown
source: KatVitulano Photos – San Francisco must see places

This is my favorite Chinatown in the USA.

There are a lot of cool stores with Chinese goodies, Chinese architecture, and great Dim Sum- yum!

My favorite part about Chinatown is their local produce stands. They have an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables that I didn’t even know existed.

13. Transamerica Pyramid

San Francisco must see: Transamerica Pyramid
source: Mariordo – an insider’s guide to San Francisco

Probably the most iconic building in the city’s skyline is the Transamerica Pyramid.

It’s pretty cool to see up close, but unfortunately they don’t offer any tours inside the building.

14. Lombard Street

San Francisco must see: Lombard street

Lombard Street is the self-proclaimed “Most Zigzagged Street in the World”.

The street is so steep that developers had to make it curvy in order to drive down it safely. During the summer weekends they close it off to through traffic so go on a weekday and drive it yourself!

15. Golden Gate Park

San Francisco must visit: Golden Gate Park
source: Two+two=4 – a San Francisco must see

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is comparable to Central Park in NYC – except, a little smaller.

There are great trails, open fields, sports centers, museums, gardens, lakes, Dutch windmills, and even a waterfall. Oh, and a herd of bison!

There is so much to do in this park, you could spend 5 days straight exploring this incredible place and still have plenty to do. But a simple drive through will bring you back to peace in the center of this large metropolis.

For more information: sfrecpark.org

How to Explore San Francisco & See All the Must See Places

In order to see all of these amazing landmarks and must see places in San Francisco, I highly suggest renting a car. 

Alternatively, you can use the Hop-On Hop-Off bus to see all the main sights or book a private city tour for the highest level of comfort.

Tip: if you plan to buy tickets for several tours or attractions in San Francisco, check out the San Francisco Explorer Pass. It can save you a lot of money on many of the main tours and attractions.

While there is plenty more to do and see in the city, you gotta make sure to check these 15 out! Safe travels and enjoy San Francisco!

And if you want to see more than just the city, have you considered a San Francisco RV rental?

Also Read:

And if you need a break from San Francisco, then I highly recommend visiting South Lake Tahoe for a few days!

 

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Featured image source: Getty Photography
With special thanks for letting me use this incredible picture of a San Francisco must see!

This post about the must see places in San Francisco contains affiliate links. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you.

Nicole Travels

Author: Nicole Travels
Nicole is a travel lover from San Francisco who enjoys exploring America on a 3-day weekend. Her passion is photography, studying wildlife behavior, and promoting conservation initiatives.

26 thoughts on “15 Must See Places in San Francisco – An Insider’s Guide”

  1. I love that you explained how Chinatown has a variety of produce stands that offer exotic fruits and vegetables. My family and I would like to visit San Francisco during our family vacation and want to buy groceries so that we can cook dinner in our hotel. We’ll be sure to visit Chinatown to purchase fresh vegetables for our meals.

    Reply
  2. That’s quite a comprehensive guide to Frisco. And the pictures are equally great. China town. Pier 39 and Lombard street are high on my list when I get a chance to visit San Fran.

    Reply
  3. Great tips. San Francisco is on my bucket list and this post is very useful. Another place I’ve heard is a must is the Japanese Garden.

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  4. Really enjoyed that thanks Nicole 🙂 I’ve yet to explore San Francisco but would love to visit the Sutro Baths, Twin Peaks and Golden Bridge! The traveller and photographer in me screams to those views!

    Thanks for your recommendations a nice read

    Reply
  5. I love the Pier 39. Looks like the seals are really enjoying themselves. Alcatraz would be also an interesting visit. I heard you can also sleep there like a prisoner. After having lived there for two years, what have you liked the most in SF?

    Reply
    • Hi Agnes,
      I haven’t heard of sleeping overnight- it may be a once a year type thing if so. But I do know they have night tours. They are only good in the winter when the sun sets early. Otherwise, it’s not even dark out during the “night tour”.

      My favorite thing to do in SF is eat! haha I was never a foodie until I moved here. The food is incredible. My favorite places to go with guests however are Sutro Baths, Lombard Street, and Twin Peaks. I love watching my friend’s excitement over these landmarks. I also never get sick of photographing them! And of course- the sea lions. They’re my favorite animal! 🙂

      Reply
  6. I was hoping the Full House house was on this list…and there it was! I really would love to visit San Fran someday! Great list of things to do!!

    Reply
  7. These are definitely all must see places. And if you want to get away from the tourists – San Francisco has so much to offer! There are so many great neighborhoods to explore. We just took our daughter for the first time and even she loved the places that are off the beaten path.

    Reply
  8. This is a great guide with amazing photos! I love that the ‘Full House’ house is included! Well I guess now it’s the ‘Fuller House’ house. I LOVE that show and I just finished binge watching season 2 of the Netflix revival 🙂

    Reply
  9. I’ve always wanted to go here. I’ve been all over California but never to San Fran. Thanks for the alkatraz tip! I’m surprised they are booked for so far in advance. Also the Full House house! That’s awesome. Something someone in my generation has to see atleast once. Cheers!

    Reply
  10. San Francisco is one of the cities in the U.S. that I would love to visit especially to see the sea lions at Pier 39 and to hang out in the Haight-Ashbury district. The Painted Ladies are just so pretty and photogenic!

    Reply
  11. I went to San Fran a couple of years ago for the first time and had a wonderful stay although I didn’t even cover half of what’s on your list! I totally missed out on Pier 39 which is a shame and the twin peaks but I really loved visiting Alcatraz…you have a really great list!

    Reply
  12. San Francisco is one of the few US cities I still want to see. This list is a perfect guide of the important highlights to visit! How is the public transportation in this area? Are all these things relatively easy to get to? How long would you suggest for a visit?

    Reply
    • Thanks Brianna! San Francisco really is worth visiting. Compared to most other cities in the US public transport here is really good. And especially when you are visiting as a tourist and have the time to yourself it works fine to explore anything in the city center. Just use Google, enter your destination, choose public transport and Google will show you exactly what to use and where.
      But, if you want to see anything outside of the city center, such as Twin Peaks, I highly recommend renting a car or using Uber. Uber is very affordable and will be a better option if you stay in the center since parking your rental car at your hotel will cost quite a bit extra.

      I would recommend at least 3 full days in San Francisco to explore these must sees without feeling rushed.

      Reply
    • Hi Brianna,
      You could spend as little as 3 days here and see it all. If you have more time, you’ll be able to see more outside the city, like Napa, Yosemite, Monterey, Lake Tahoe etc…
      Public transportation is good. The BART (subway) doesn’t go too deep into the city but our bus system (The Muni) is wonderful. You can get to all of these locations with public transportation easily, except Twin peaks. It’s a bit of a hike without a car.

      Reply
  13. San Fran! if it were not so expensive, I might actually want to live there. Lombard street and Twin peaks are places I want to visit.

    Reply
  14. I’ve only been to SF once, but really enjoyed it. This post brings so many memories – Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Chinatown… Really hope to have a chance this great place again one day!

    Reply
  15. Very nice this post. I´ve never been in San Francisco but i really want to visit, especially to see alcatraz, the golden gate bridge and that amazing street, lombard. I imagine it must be a special place, with a good culture life.

    Reply
  16. China town in San Fran is a must. I also love watching the kiteboarders battle the wind and do tricks in the bay.
    I have never been to Alcatraz but that is now on my list for when I return. I love checking out the coast in Pacifica too…a bit quieter and less crowded, though that water is FREEZING!

    Reply
  17. first i saw Golden Gate in a Bollywood movie since than i want to visit the place and here you have given me some more reason to visit San Francisco. Thanks

    Reply
  18. Cool blog post. I’ve never been interested in visiting San Francisco, but you’ve provided some inspiration. It seems like there’s a lot to do and see.

    Reply
  19. I haven’t been to San Francisco in years. I’ve done many of the things you listed (and they are great), but I’ve not heard of the Sutro Baths. That sounds like something right up my alley! Glad to know there are some new things to explore when I go back!

    Reply
  20. This is such an information packed guide for anyone planning to visit San Fran! I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. Thanks for writing this!

    Reply

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