Although San Francisco is only seven by seven square miles, there is plenty to do in the Bay Area metropolis. From its unparalleled restaurants and lively bars to its world-class museums and iconic attractions, the city has something for everyone.
Here are 10 reasons to visit the welcoming heart of the golden west.
San Francisco is practically synonymous with its most famous monument. Known for its rusty red color, the suspension bridge extends across the Pacific Ocean and connects the city to Marin County.
The bridge is accessible by foot or bike and, at 1.7 miles, it’s a 40-minute walk one way. Make the trek to the other side for fantastic views of the city or take in the majestic bridge from its underside by walking along the beachfront at Crissy Field.
Also known as “The Rock,” this small island 1.25 miles off the city’s shore formerly housed one of the country’s most notorious federal prisons. From 1934 to 1963, Alcatraz held infamous criminals like mobsters Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.
Today, the national park is an exciting destination steeped in history. Be sure to purchase your ferry ticket well in advance and partake in the audio tour of the island — it’s a fascinating guide narrated by former inmates and guards.
In 2016, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reopened after a massive three-year expansion. Today, with six times the public space, the contemporary art museum is bigger and better than ever.
The entire third floor is devoted to photography, while permanent exhibitions include 1960s pop art, modern abstract works and French artist JR’s soaring digital mural The Chronicles of San Francisco, featuring portraits of nearly 1,200 locals.
Located in the center of the city, this regal district is a cultural highlight. City Hall itself is a stunning 1915 beaux-arts building modeled after the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Across the street is the San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center, home to the city’s ballet and opera troupes and the 2,700-seat Davies Symphony Hall. Catch any show and you won’t be disappointed — San Francisco’s professional performing artists are world-renowned.
If you’re in town during spring or summer, a game with the San Francisco Giants baseball team — who won the World Series three times in five years (2010, 2012 and 2014) — should be on the agenda.
No matter who the Giants are playing or what the score says, you’ll have a great time because the beautiful park boasts winning bay views and delicious local cuisine, including the stadium’s signature garlic fries, Pier 44 clam chowder and slices from NorCal’s own 13-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani.
With its lovely lagoon and amazing architecture, this Marina District masterpiece is one of San Francisco’s most picturesque spots.
Inspired by ancient Roman and Greek ruins, the structure was designed by California architect Bernard Maybeck for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, a world’s fair commemorating the completion of the Panama Canal. Although it was supposed to be demolished after the showcase, a preservation league ensured that the attraction exists today.
The Palace of Fine Arts is within walking distance of the trendy Cow Hollow neighborhood, so head to Chestnut Street after looking around for food, drink, shopping and revelry.
San Francisco is a city of foodies, and their mecca is this historic clock tower. While the building does function as a commuter ferry hub, it’s also a marketplace with outposts from some of the city’s most beloved artisans.
Dine at Charles Phan’s Vietnamese eatery The Slanted Door, shop Heath Ceramics’ handcrafted serving ware or sip Blue Bottle’s strong coffee. Oysters and olive oil, cheese and chocolate, sourdough and soft serve — you name it, it’s at the Ferry Building.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the farmers market sets up shop, so you may encounter local chefs searching for hyper-seasonal produce.
Although it’s incredibly touristy (see: a wax museum and trinket shops), this ultra-popular district is worth the trek for two uniquely San Franciscan experiences: eating a clam chowder bread bowl and witnessing sea lions sunbathing.
Enjoy the hearty and creamy soup at Bistro Boudin, a waterfront restaurant that’s been making sourdough with the same recipe since 1849. After lunch, walk a few blocks to Pier 39. Depending on the time of year, you’ll find anywhere from dozens to hundreds of sea lions chilling on the docks.
Mission and Castro Districts
Get a taste of real Bay Area life with a visit to these two adjacent and equally legendary neighborhoods.
In the Mission, discover vibrant murals, Mission Dolores Park (which is packed with picnickers on a warm day) and flourishing local restaurants and bars. Some favorites include pizza joint Flour + Water, Mexican eatery Lolo, cocktail lounge Wildhawk and popular brunch spot Foreign Cinema.
Spanning more than 1,000 acres, Golden Gate Park is one of the largest urban parks in the nation — it’s 20 percent bigger than Central Park.
Its rolling hills, grassy knolls and eucalyptus groves are great for walking and picnicking, but the park is also home to plenty of amusements. Highlights include the Conservatory of Flowers, California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, Stow Lake and de Young Museum.
The park ends at Ocean Beach, an excellent spot for a stunning Pacific sunset.