The best things to do in San Francisco

San Francisco is seven square miles of fog-shrouded magic. Travelers come for cable-car rides and the Golden Gate Bridge—and stay for edgy neighborhoods, cultural diversity, and beautiful open-air spaces.

Top attractions in San Francisco

1. Alcatraz

Alcatraz is only accessible by tour and tickets often sell out well in advance. Lock in those high-demand tickets by booking a San Francisco tour that includes admission to the infamous federal penitentiary and a day of city sightseeing by bike, bus, boat, or Segway. Popular stops include Chinatown, North Beach, and the Ferry Building. Other options combine Alcatraz with cable car rides, bay cruises to Sausalito, or Marin headland adventures.

On the island, explore at your own pace with the self-guided cellhouse audio tour. You’ll also find National Park Service exhibits, video presentations, docent- and ranger-led guided tours, and special programs that vary by season.

2. Golden Gate Bridge

Walk, bike, or bus across the Golden Gate Bridge; sail or cruise the waters below it; or fly high above the attraction aboard a seaplane. Alternatively, combine your visit with sightseeing in the city; admission to Alcatraz; a half-day tour in Sonoma and Napa Valley; or hikes in Marin or on Angel Island.

Or, learn about the bridge’s history at the San Francisco terminus Welcome Center and explore other Marin County highlights such as seaside Sausalito, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Muir Woods National Monument, home to Northern California redwood trees.

3. San Francisco Bay

The area abounds with ways to enjoy the bay. Options range from sunset sails and brunch cruises to helicopter excursions—some tours provide overnight accommodation. Take a ferry to Angel Island State Park, Alcatraz Island, or the pretty town of Tiburon. Or, zip around San Francisco on a Segway, bike, or e-bike, stopping for bay photo ops. If you have time to spare, consider a regional tour to the redwoods, wine country, or Yosemite National Park.

4. Jackson Square

Jackson Square, originally known as Place d’Armes, is one of New Orleans’ most storied spots. Built in 1721, it is lined with historic buildings that have played an essential part in the development of the city. On one side, you’ll find the Cabildo, where the Louisiana Purchase (when the US bought the state of Louisiana from the French) was signed back in 1803. Next door is St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in North America, while in the center of the square, you’ll find a statue of the seventh US President Andrew Jackson, for whom the square is named.

5. Golden Gate Park

Sitting between the Richmond and Sunset districts, Golden Gate Park stretches about 50 blocks across San Francisco. Stop by the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences at the Music Concourse, or pay a visit to the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco Botanical Garden, Shakespeare Garden, National AIDS Memorial Grove, and Stow Lake.

Farther west, the park spreads out with more trails, a 9-hole golf course, meadows that host annual music festivals, windmills, and even a bison paddock. Park Segway tours and bike rentals are the top ways to explore.


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