Tourist Attractions

Tourist Attractions

1. Alcatraz Island

To visit “The Rock,” take Alcatraz Cruises to the former federal island penitentiary in San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz is now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is operated by the National Park Service. The tour is fascinating and you’ll never forget the experience of being locked into the black stillness of solitary confinement. The audio tour is exceptionally informative. The tour leaves from Pier 33. The attraction is very popular so call ahead for reservations or print tickets online.

2. Cable Cars

Even at $5.00 each way, cable car transportation is still a good deal for a thrill ride through the streets of San Francisco. The rolling maroon cars are national historic landmarks, originally put into service in 1873, to solve the problem of transportation over San Francisco’s steep hills. There are three lines and they all meet at California and Powell Streets: the California Street line (Market to Van Ness through Chinatown and Nob Hill,) the Powell-Mason Street line (Powell to Nob Hill to Bay Street, 3 blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf) and the Powell-Hyde Street line (Powell and Market through Nob and Russian Hills to Victorian Park at Beach and Hyde Streets.) Tip: There is usually a 45 minute wait at Powell and Market but if you buy your tickets there and walk up Powell to the next stop, there is less of a wait. Boarding is allowed at the beginning and end of each line at specifically designated brown and white “Cable Car Stop” signs posted along the way. Buy tickets from turnarounds or jump on and pay the conductor. For stops and times go to The Cable Car website ( has useful info on destinations, fares, etiquette, interactive demos, and cable car maps. Tip: Passports can be purchased for one ($13) three ($20) and seven days ($26.) They can be used on streetcars and city buses, as well, the only caveat being that transfers can’t be used on Muni buses and Metro lines. Check the SFMTA website for locations where passports may be purchased.

Important Note: The cable car lines will be going on a period of renovation and there may be only two lines running at any time over the next few years. Please check the SFMTA website.

3. Coit Tower

Most people think Coit Tower was built in the shape of a fire hose nozzle. Although it was created in 1934 as a memorial to firemen, it was actually designed as an art deco tower. The pillar shaped tower was a $125,000 bequest from the French-born Lillie Hitchcock Coit, “for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved.” Coit Tower perches on Telegraph Hill, towering over the east side of North Beach. There is an $8 charge to ascend to the observation deck by elevator for panoramic views of both the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay Bridges, Alcatraz, Lombard Street, Nob Hill, and many other San Francisco landmarks. There is no charge for the first floor which features Depression-era fresco murals, inspired by Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s social realism style, and a gift shop. Tip: similar views are available for free from Pioneer Park or from the Coit Tower free parking lot.

4. Ferry Building Marketplace

The Embarcadero is a great blending of old and new San Francisco. There are historic buildings in Jackson Square, which were built with supports made from ships’ masts. Over one hundred years ago, this was San Francisco’s primary seaport and the Ferry Building survived the 1906 earthquake.

Now it’s primarily a tourist and shopping area with the Ferry Building filled with shoppers looking for the finest cheeses, flowers, olive oil, and food items to take home to cook with or for gifts. Three times a week on the outside of building, farmers bring their freshest fruits and vegetables for sale.

5. Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands

Walk, drive or bike across the 1.7 mile Golden Gate Bridge, the graceful, soaring expanse is always a thrilling sight but seeing it from the Marin Headlands is incredible. The vantage point above the bridge from the hills north of the bridge is a sight you’ll never forget. The Vista Point Parking Lot on the northeast side of the bridge attracts more people to the views of the city itself but the bird’s eye view from the Marin Headlands shows the bridge at an unusual and extreme angle. The Golden Gate Bridge is painted by 43 people working all year to apply its distinctive color, named “International Orange.” (The color was chosen because it makes the bridge more visible through San Francisco Bay’s heavy fog and complements its natural surroundings.) Over nine million people visit the Golden Gate Bridge every year and a few even try to jump off. Over 1200 people have made the four- second leap, making it the most popular place in the world to commit suicide.

The website, has a live webcam making it possible to view conditions on the bridge 24 hours a day. The Marin Headlands’ open spaces are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area containing hiking and biking trails and beaches, but the main attraction is the view. The panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Oakland Bay Bridge, Farallon Islands, Alcatraz, Angel Island, the city of San Francisco, and the East Bay, make this a prime visitor attraction.

6. Fisherman’s Wharf

It’s nearly always crowded at Fisherman’s Wharf. Over 12 million visitors trek to this most popular of San Francisco destinations and 80% of all San Francisco tourists end up here. The area has a carnival-like atmosphere but the best thing about the wharf is strolling from vendor to vendor sampling the freshest seafood around. Down from Fisherman’s Wharf proper is Pier 33, home to Alcatraz Cruises, the only way to get to Alcatraz. Alcatraz, the former federal penitentiary, is the number one tourist attraction in San Francisco. Lesser attractions are Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum and the Wax Museum, only worth your time if you have seen everything else.

7. Ghiradelli Square

The chocolate factory started by Domenico Ghiradelli in 1852 is now filled with boutique shops and restaurants. It has been revitalized in the last few years and has some great shopping now. The shops feature upscale items like wine, organic cupcakes, a day spa, and a new Gary Danko restaurant. Stick around until dark. The square’s famous “Ghiradelli” sign, outlined in lights, is a wonder to see at night.

8. Lombard Street

San Francisco’s “crookedest” street (actually second most crooked after ) is a popular Russian Hill curiosity. Located between Leavenworth and Hyde Streets, the best way to get here, if you’re not driving, is to take the Powell-Hyde cable car, which stops conveniently at the top of Hyde, directly above Lombard’s eight hairpin turns. To try it by car, take Hyde not Leavenworth, since Lombard is one-way. D0 drive its hairpin turns but be respectful of the neighbors. The street, at 1000 Lombard, can get crowded and be aware that squeaky brakes can be embarrassing.

9. California Palace of the Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor contains a wide expanse of art representing ancient and European art up through the 20th century. This is where you’ll find Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso, and the largest collection of Rodin sculpture in the U.S.. The building itself is a replica of the Legion of Honor in Paris and includes the same inscription over the entry: “Honneur et Patrie.” Hours are Tues-Sun 9:30-5 p.m. Free on Tues. Admission for Adults is $11.75, Senior 65+ $8.75, Youth 13-17 and College w/ I.D. $7.75.

Lincoln Park, 100 34th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94121


The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is nothing short of spectacular. The second biggest modern art museum in the country, SFMOMA houses over 15,000 pieces of art in its stunning building. The collection focuses on the period of the early 20th century to present, Post-Impressionist to current art pieces. For over 75 years MOMA has been the repository of some of the most important pieces of modern art in the world. Renowned artists represented are Jackson Pollock, Diego Rivera, Georgia O’Keefe, Andy Warhol, Picasso, Mondrian, and Jasper Johns. Hours are Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Tues. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Wed. Admission is Adults, $15, Seniors (62 and older) and Students with I.D. $9.00, Active Military and children 12 and under are free (with an adult.) Thursday evenings, from 6 p.m.-8:45 p.m. are half-price. The first Tuesdays of the month are free. Note: There is an excellent café at MOMA. Try the delicious foccacia.

151 3rd Street. Open Tues-Sun (closed Wed.)

11. California Academy of Sciences

This museum in Golden Gate Park is a great place for families to explore together. The academy was founded in 1853 and underwent a renovation in 2008. The building itself sits under a 2 ½ acre roof planted with over 1.7 million native plants. A celebration of the natural world, the academy includes an aquarium, all-digital planetarium, a natural history museum, and more than 38,000 live animals.

Admissions are: Adult, $24.95. Youth 12-17, Student 18+, Senior 65+ are $19.95. Children 4-11 are $14.95. Free for 3 and under. The third Wednesday of every month is free. Hours are Mon-Sat 9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Sun. 11 a.m.-5:00 p.m. 415/379-8000

55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park

12. DeYoung Museum

Every museum has its niche. The DeYoung in Golden Gate Park focuses on American 17th century through 21st century art, textiles, costumes, and art from the Americas, the Pacific and Africa. Ascend the tower for fantastic views of San Francisco. Admission is: Adult, $11.75, Senior 65+, $8.75, College w/ I.D. and Youth 13-17, $7.75. Hours are Tues-Sun, 9:30-5:15 p.m. Friday until 8:45 p.m. Free on Tuesday.
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park

13. The Exploratorium

A truly interactive museum, the Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts, is a unique way to experience the world of science. There are hundreds of exhibits to stimulate all the senses. This is the place to take kids in San Francisco. Open year-round Tuesday through Sunday, select Monday holidays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission - Adults 18-64: $14, Seniors (65+) or students with ID: $11, Youth (13-17)

14. Maritime National Historic Park

Don’t miss this fantastic museum and collection of historic ships at the north western end of Fisherman’s Wharf. The museum is free and filled with sailing and whaling exhibits, photos of shipwrecks, and carved figureheads. The real excitement comes, two blocks east at the Hyde Street Pier, where seven historic vessels are moored. The ships include the spectacular Balclutha, a 16-ton, 1886 three-beamed, square rigged ship, measuring 256.5 feet from stem to stern and sailed around Cape Horn (South America) 17 times. This beautiful vessel, now totally restored, could make an amazing 300 miles per day. Admission to the ships is $5.00 per person (children under 16, with adult are free) and tickets purchased are good for 7 days. There is a ticket booth located on the Hyde Street Pier. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. with last entry at 5 p.m. (June, July, August) 9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. last entry 4:30 p.m. (September-May). 415/447-5000. The Visitor Center is open the same hours as the pier. 415/561-7169

15. San Francisco Zoo and Children’s Zoo

The San Francisco Zoo is Northern California’s largest zoological park. It’s a little remote, being in the southern- most corner of the city and it can get windy and cold since it’s next to the Pacific Ocean. There are 260 species represented (nearly 1000 animals) on the zoo’s 125 acres. The zoo has been criticized in the past for being run-down and having cramped enclosures but added a new entry (on the ocean side),village, outdoor café, and more natural habitats are replacing the outdated, fenced enclosures. Highlights include Gorilla World, Lemur Forest, Penguin World, Lion House, and Koala Crossing, among many others.

The Children’s Zoo is on 6 acres and has hands-on animal encounters along the Nature Trail. Kids will enjoy the Meerkat and Prairie Dog Exhibit. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 365 days/year. Admission: Adults 17-64, $15. Seniors 65+ and Youth 12-17, $12. Children 3-11, $9. Free for 2 and under. Free first Wednesday of the month.

Note: The main zoo outdoor snack area has been dive-bombing seagull central. Protect your fries and hotdogs from seagull thievery or you too will see your lunch disappear before you can finish it!

1 Zoo Road, San Francisco, CA 94132

16. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts/Yerba Buena Gardens

A block from SFMOMA is a lovely tranquil oasis in the big city. Between Third and Fourth Streets and Mission and Folsom, is green open space, pedestrian walkways, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and waterfall, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the city’s art and cultural center. Besides a bowling center, ice rink, and Carousel, you’ll find an art and technology museum called Zeum.

Note: The Go San Francisco Card is available with savings on almost 50 of the city’s attractions, shopping, dining, and services. Depending on the length of your stay, the card ranges in price for Adults, 1-day/ $49, 2-day/ $79, 3-day /$99, 5-day/$119, and 7-day/$139. Kids 3-12 prices are about half of the adult rates. Cards are sold at the Red and White Fleet Ticket Sales Office at Pier 43 ½ at Fisherman’s Wharf , 415/673-2900 and at the San Francisco Visitor Information Center at 900 Market Street, next to the cable car turnaround at Powell and Market Street.

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