Have you got a trip planned to San Francisco? Is it your first time visiting?? Well then you're in for a treat! Because this small city (yes, I say small because San Francisco is only 50 square miles, tiny in comparison to sprawling L.A.) packs a big punch! Which is a good thing for you because it means you can see a lot on your first visit to San Francisco.
San Francisco can be an unforgettable experience for the first time tourist and if you visit the top 9 places we recommend seeing on your first trip we guarantee it!
Our list of places you must see can easily be done in one day allowing you to take your time at each place or to spend extra time exploring the many eateries on offer. Most of the attractions below are located very close to each other so walking is an option! Otherwise you could purchase a ticket for the Hop On-Hop Off Bus which will take you directly to the places mentioned below along with some other destinations such as China Town and the Financial District.
9 Places You Must See On Your First Visit to San Francisco
1. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous suspension bridge in the world spanning the Golden Gate strait, a channel between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The bridge is one mile wide and three miles long and was the longest suspension bridge in the world but has been surpassed by ten other bridges since 1964. Pedestrians including bicyclists can go on the sidewalks of the bridge during daylight hours but roller blades, skateboards and roller skates are not permitted. Obviously this ranks as number one on the list of places you must see on your first visit to San Francisco. Whether you walk it or rent a bicycle, do not miss this!
2. Painted Ladies
The "Painted Ladies" (also known as Postcard Row) is a row of Victorian houses at 710-720 Steiner Street and were built between 1892 and 1896 by developer Matthew Kavanaugh who lived in the mansion next door. Painted Ladies is a term in American architecture used for Victorian and Edwardian homes in three or more colors that embellish their architectural details. These particular houses were made popular in the opening credits of the TV sitcom Full House. They are situated across the road from Alamo Park and have a spectacular view of the city skyline behind. Pack a picnic and enjoy the view!
3. Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is located in the Marina District of San Francisco and was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It was rebuilt in 1965 and features a classical Roman rotunda with curved colonnades. Situated on an idyllic park setting and visitors may picnic or stroll by the lake. Don't miss this Instagram opportunity!
4. Vista Point
Vista Point is located on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. It is accessible via car only on northbound US 101 or by foot over the bridge and a short hike up the mountain. It is truly worth the effort as you will be rewarded by an amazing view over this iconic engineering achievement. There is free parking and public restrooms.
5. Pier 39
Pier 39 is a shopping center and popular tourist attraction built on a pier in San Francisco. There are restaurants, a video arcade, virtual 3D rides, an aquarium and street performances. The highlight would have to be the resident California sea lions that haul themselves on to the floating docks at dusk. The family orientated entertainment and cute critters make this a popular tourist attraction for families with young children.
6. Fort Point
Fort Point is located at the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge and was completed just before the American Civil War to defend against hostile warships. The fort is now a national historic site preserved for its outstanding military architecture. Its beautifully arched casemates display the art of 3rd system brick masonry. The fort is open daily and is free to explore.
7. Muse Mecanique
Musee Mecanique is one of the world's largest privately owned collection of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and vintage arcade machines in their original working condition. It is located on Pier 45 at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf and is a great place to have some old-fashioned fun. Entry is free!
8. The Crookedest Street in the World
The Crookedest Street in the World is a street in San Francisco that is famous for a steep one block section with eight hairpin turns. Built in 1922, the design was intended to reduce the hill's natural 27% grade which was too steep for most vehicles. It is located on Lombard street on Russian Hill but be prepared to wait in traffic to drive down. Alternatively catch a tram to the top or bottom for photo opportunities.
9. Fisherman's Wharf
Fisherman's Wharf is a neighborhood and popular tourist attraction in San Francisco. It is best known for being the location of Pier 39, the Cannery Shopping Center, Ghirardelli Square, Ripley's Believe It Or Not and the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. This area is re-known for its delicious seafood restaurants serving up clam chowder bowls and Dungeness crab. Some of the restaurants include Joe's crab shack, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Fisherman's Grotto. Save your appetite!
Start Planning Your Trip!
Have you booked accommodation yet? If not then take a look at bookings.com who have a huge selection of hotels, bed & breakfasts, lodges, hostels and even campgrounds. They have daily deals and discounts so its a good idea to keep an eye on rates. The best thing about this website is there is no booking fee and no charge for cancellations.
A good alternative to traditional accommodation is Airbnb. This site connects you with homeowners who rent out their homes/cabins/apartments to you for a fraction of what it would cost for a hotel room (which is especially neccessary in an expensive city like San Francisco). What we like about Airbnb is you get the chance to stay in the local or non-touristy parts of wherever you are going... and if you're new to Airbnb you can get $40 of your first night!
Book Car Hire!
We prefer Avis for car hire. If you book in advance online you save big time! I mean even if its only a day in advance you will save 30%. Also if you are planning to drive down to Los Angeles there is NO ONE WAY DROP OFF FEE! Check their rates here now.
Book a San Francisco Sightseeing Tour!
Take the hassle out of travel and see the city on a guided tour! No need to worry about getting lost and wasting precious time. See below for some of the affordable city tours on offer or click the button below to see all available options.
If you feel you want visit more attractions and think you will have the time, then consider purchasing a Go San Francisco Card. It will save you money! In a nutshell, you can customize your pass from 28 attractions OR choose how many days you want and do as much as you can fit in those days. Attractions include the hop on hop off bus, Aquarium of the Bay, Bridge to Bridge Cruise, Six Flags and more.
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