Things to do in San Francisco: Attractions and places to visit

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco Public Domain 
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With about 890,000 inhabitants in 10 city districts, the fourth largest city in the US state of California inspires almost 25 million tourists every year with its fantastic location on the Pacific coast, many well-known buildings and a liberal, cosmopolitan and multicultural atmosphere. Known in North America as well as in Europe under the nickname “Golden Gate City”, San Francisco is a world-famous place for the art of living, free love and tolerance.

“But “Frisco” is also a stronghold for further technical development and progress, with neighbouring Silicon Valley in particular being the most important IT location in the USA. The city is perceived by many visitors as particularly European, which is mainly due to the typical architecture with many Victorian buildings. Unlike many sun-drenched Californian regions, San Francisco’s climate is usually cooler and dominated by frequent fog.

Below we present you the most exciting tours, the most beautiful attractions and the best sights in San Francisco.

Fishermans Wharf San Francisco (Public Domain | Pixabay)  Public Domain 
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Golden Gate Bruecke (Public Domain | Pixabay)  Public Domain 
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In the Streets of San Francisco (Public Domain | Pixabay)  Public Domain 
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1. Golden Gate Bridge

Built between 1933 and 1937, over 2.7 kilometers long, 227 meters high and 27 meters wide, the suspension bridge over the Golden Gate (Golden Gate) is without a doubt the most famous among the sights in San Francisco. The impressive landmark of the city, visible from afar, is used daily by more than 120,000 vehicles. Impressive in form, size and appearance, and architecturally unique, the bridge has served as a backdrop for films since the early 1940s

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Access is best via the car park in the Presidio district. Pedestrians have a fantastic view over downtown San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean, as long as there is no fog over the bay. A flight by helicopter or seaplane over the bridge is more exclusive. Or take a boat trip through San Francisco Bay and experience the Golden Gate Bridge from the water? You’re spoilt for choice!

2. Fisherman’s Wharf

The dock area in downtown San Francisco between Ghirardelli Square, Van Ness Avenue and Kearny Street, built around 1900, has developed since the 1950s into the most tourism-oriented area in the city today. The main attractions in the picturesque area are the calm sea lions dozing in the sun on Pier 39, the Musée Mécanique slot machine museum and the Madame Tussauds San Francisco wax museum.

The district is also well visited because of the numerous restaurants where you can enjoy freshly caught fish and delicious seafood. The many historic ships in the Maritime National Historical Park are a popular photo motif on site. Enjoy the turbulent but always positive atmosphere with street musicians and a great view of Alcatraz. Many boat trips also depart from Fisherman’s Wharf.

3. Alcatraz Island

The 8.5-hectare island of Alcatraz is one of San Francisco’s most important landmarks and served as the site of a high-security prison between 1934 and 1963. Here infamous gangsters such as Al Capone and George F. Barnes (Machine Gun Kelly) served their long prison sentences. However, none of the nearly 1,600 inmates succeeded in escaping from “The Rock”, as Alcatraz is respectfully called, during the 29 years of the film.

The rock island gained international fame at the latest with the 1979 cinema film “Flucht von Alcatraz” with Clint Eastwood. Several occupations of the island by indigenous people in the 1960s and 1970s after the closure of the prison made repeated headlines. Today Alcatraz attracts more than one million visitors per year. You should book your tour and tickets well in advance, especially during the holiday season and on weekends.

4. Lombard Street

The only 145 metre long section of Lombard Street between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street in the centrally located district of Russian Hill is considered the street with the most steep bends (in terms of length) in the world. Eight tight bends wind their way over a short distance as serpentines over a 27 percent gradient. Every year, more than two million tourists, preferably by car, visit the famous street and important landmark of San Francisco.

For pedestrians there is also a narrow staircase at the side. Lombard Street has often been the backdrop for feature films such as “Leih mir Deinen Mann” (1964) and “Is’ was, Doc?”. (1972). In many video and computer games, the characteristic street is also part of tasks and challenges. Due to its uniqueness, Lombard Street has become an integral part of San Francisco’s cityscape.

5. San Francisco Cable Cars

The city’s cable tram network, which has been in operation since 1873, now has a length of 17 kilometres. Until the extensive destruction caused by the great earthquake of 1906, the route network was considerably larger. At the end of the 1970s, the remaining lines were initially discontinued for safety reasons and then extensively renovated from 1982 to 1984.

The three lines The Powell-Hyde, The Powell-Mason and The California Street have been protected as national monuments of the USA since 1964. They are also part of the city’s 49-Mile Scenic Drive with numerous attractions in and around San Francisco. The rush at the stations is mostly quite big, tourists should be careful when getting in and out on the steep routes.

6. Chinatown

The district around Kearny Street, Bush Street, Stockton Street as well as Grant Avenue and Portsmouth Square, which was built in 1846 for Chinese and other Asian immigrants, is the oldest Chinatown district in North America. The extremely densely populated area comprises 24 blocks of houses and, with almost 35,000 inhabitants, is considered the world’s largest Chinese enclave outside Asia. For tourists an extensive exploration tour through the exciting quarter is worthwhile.

Here you will find countless traditional Chinese pharmacies, shops and restaurants as well as the Chinese Culture Center, which opened in 1965 and frequently hosts changing exhibitions of Asian art. Some of the most famous attractions include the Dragon Gate on Bush Street and Grant Avenue, the Tin How Temple on Waverly Place and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company in Ross Alley.

7. Market Street

The almost 5 km long Market Street runs from the harbour at Rincon Park and the Ferry Building in the district The Embarcadero through the district Castro, known as the residence of many homosexuals, to the Twin Peaks district. The street, which was unusually wide in the mid-1840s for that time, has been an important traffic artery of the city ever since.

Market Street is lined by several buildings worth seeing. At the intersection with Montgomery Street is the Admission Day Monument, erected in 1897 to commemorate California’s admission to the United States on September 9, 1850. Every year on Veterans Day on November 11, large military parades take place here.

8. Haight-Ashbury

Since the “Summer of Love” in 1967, the district around the intersection of Haight Street and Ashbury Street in the northern District 5 Central has been synonymous with the culture of dropouts and hippies. World famous musicians like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix lived and celebrated wild parties here, the legend of free love drew thousands of teenagers into the surrounding streets in the following years.

In the 1970s, the area suffered from drug crime for a long time. In the 1980s, comedians and actors like Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg began their careers with appearances at “The Other Café” on Carl Street. Many small shops still characterise the quarter today.

9. Mission District

The almost four square kilometre district between Central Freeway, Highway 101, Precita Park and Dolores Street has been a traditional residential area for Mexican and South American immigrants since the 1940s. The microclimate is warmer and sunnier than in the rest of the city, a fact that has also led to a steady influx of higher earners since the beginning of the 2000s.

But the district is still characterized by Mexican flair with numerous relevant shops and restaurants. Places of interest in the area include the former Catholic Mission on Dolores Street from 1776, the city’s oldest preserved building, the neighbouring Dolores Park, which covers 6.5 hectares, and the colourful murals in Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley.

10. Telegraph Hill

The up to 83 meter high hill in District 8 Northeast is also the name of the approx. 0.5 km² large Telegraph Hill district. From the elevation and the 64 metre high Coit Tower, built in 1934, you have a great view of the bay and large parts of the city.

The rather quiet residential area is also known for the beautiful gardens between Filbert Street and Levi Plaza and the parrots and parakeets that live there in the wild and in large numbers. There is a lot of gastronomy and nightlife in the neighboring, strongly Italian-influenced district of North Beach.

More things to do and activities for your San Francisco holiday

Best time to visit San Francisco

We recommend the following months as best time to travel for exploring the attractions and acivities of San Francisco:

March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and October

You can find more information about the weather, including all climate data, on our climate page for San Francisco.

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