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 these top 9 places we recommend seeing on your first trip we guarantee it! These iconic San Francisco destinations can easily be visited in one day with enough time to spend at each location at a leisurely pace.
Yes, some of them are very touristy... for example the Golden Gate Bridge or Fisherman's Wharf, but you can not come to this city for the first time and miss seeing these top attractions at least once! It would be like going to NYC and not seeing the Empire State Building or going to Sydney, Australia and not seeing the Opera House.
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9 Iconic Destinations in San Francisco You Must See!
1. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is probably the world's most famous suspension bridge and a California icon. It is also San Francisco's biggest attraction and the most photographed structure in this city. It doesn't matter if this is your first time visiting or your fifth, the Golden Gate Bridge is always a beautiful sight to see!
Pedestrians can walk over the bridge or you can rent a bicycle and ride along the sidewalk during daylight hours. There are stunning views of the city and coastline from the bridge and especially from the Marin County side. The bridge itself is 3 miles long and if you plan to walk across, you should allow yourself an hour to see it at a leisurely pace.
2. Painted Ladies
The "Painted Ladies" (also known as Postcard Row) is a row of Victorian houses at 710-720 Steiner Street. They were built between 1892-1896 by developer Matthew Kavanaugh who lived in the mansion next door. These particular houses became a well-known San Francisco icon and attraction since appearing in the opening credits of the popular TV sitcom Full House.
These pretty houses are situated across the road from Alamo Park from which you can see a spectacular view of the San Francisco city skyline behind. You can briefly stop by for photo opportunities but we recommend packing a picnic lunch and spending some time in the park with the locals. Be aware, finding parking here is very difficult.
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. Rebuilt in 1965 the building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building features a classical Roman rotunda with curved colonnades and is a fantastic location for photography lovers.
It is situated in an idyllic park where you can see the beautiful architecture reflected in the waters of the lagoon.
4. Vista Point
Vista Point should be high on your list of must see places in San Francisco because the views from up there are spectacular and unforgettable. It is located on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County and can either be accessed via car heading northbound on US 101 or by taking a short but steep hike up the mountain side. It is truly worth the effort to get there and marvel over the Golden Gate Bridge from this high up vantage point.
5. Pier 39
Pier 39 is a shopping center and popular San Francisco destination in the Fishermen's Wharf area. Besides shopping, you can find restaurants here, a video arcade, virtual 3D rides, and the Aquarium of the Bay. However 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 found here at Pier 39 along with the cute critters make this the perfect place to visit for families who are traveling with young children.
6. Fort Point
Fort Point was built at the height of the Gold Rush period in California between 1853 and 1861 to deter naval attacks in the Bay area. The fort is now a National Historic Site preserved for its outstanding military architecture and it's beautifully arched casemates displaying the art of 3rd system brick masonry.
The fort is located at the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge and besides it being an incredibly interesting historical site to spend some time wandering, it also offers a unique vantage point for viewing the Golden Gate Bridge from different angles. It is open daily and free to explore.
Alcatraz is one of the world's most notorious prisons and housed some of America's most ruthless criminals including Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. It is now a museum where visitors can hop on a short ferry ride over to the island and take a tour of this once infamous maximum penitentiary.
8. Lombard Street
Lombard Street, also known as 'The Crookedest Street in the World' is a street in San Francisco that is famous for it's 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.
Many tourists like to drive down this popular street and if you would also like to do the same, then be prepared to sit in traffic! Especially on weekends when it gets crazily crowded. Alternatively, if you will not be renting a car for your trip to San Francisco you can still visit Lombard Street by catching a cable car (the tram) to the top or bottom of Lombard Street for sightseeing and 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. But the best thing about Fisherman’s Wharf is the selections of seafood restaurants to choose from that serve delicious clam chowder bowls and fresh Dungeness crab. Save your appetite!
Start Planning Your Trip
Flights - Looking for the best airfare? You can search for the best flight deals using Airfare Watchdog who compare different airline deals and can send you an alert when prices to your chosen destination drop.
Getting Around - San Francisco has a good public transport system so it is quite easy to get around without a vehicle but if you would prefer to drive yourself we recommend using RentalCars.com to find a great deal rental vehicles.
Your other option is to purchase a ticket for the Hop on Hop Off Bus which allows you to get on and off as you please (as the name suggests) at any of their 24 stops. Your ticket for the bus includes a guided walking tour of Chinatown.
Hotels - If you’re on a budget check out the Utah Inn or the Winsor Hotel. For much nicer lodging that won’t break the bank see the Embassy Suites by Hilton for water views, The Chateau Tivoli Bed & Breakfast for a charming and unique stay or the Argonaut Hotel for a luxury stay in the heart of the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood.