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Best Things to Do in San Francisco

All That is Golden: 10 Best Attractions in San Francisco


Tony Bennett would hate to reduce his beloved San Francisco to ten heart-stealing attractions. From iconic attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and the country's first official Chinatown, San Francisco is a tourist's dreamscape. And with the new Salesforce Park downtown,  San Francisco seems to be adding new features almost by the hour.

On top of world-class opera, symphony and museums, visitors can come any time of year and enjoy world-class hiking and outdoor activities. The only thing that stands in your way is usually a little chilly fog - which is actually free-air conditioning and excellent for the skin, by the way.

The only bad news about a trip to San Francisco is that there's no way you can cover everything in one visit. On the bright side, you'll discover endless reasons to come back.

But if you only have time for ten things in Mr. Bennett's city by the bay, here are our top suggestions.


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Ocean Beach
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

During the summer months, when the inland area of California heats up, it pulls cold fog right over Ocean Beach. So those who are traveling to San francisco during the summer months need to bundle up for a true Northern California beach experience. This expansive shoreline extends from the Cliff House to Fort Funston along the glistening Pacific Ocean, making it a great spot to stroll, jog or surf. Anglers often fish the surf, and occasionally it's warm enough for sunbathing - but this is rare. The water is cold, and the rapid currents make it dangerous for swimming or even wading.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Ocean Beach, the extreme Western edge of San Francisco, offers fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean.

Tom's expert tip: Don't let the fog scare you - a walk along Ocean Beach will complete your Northern California experience.

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Lands End Visitors Center
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

This new visitor's center is worth the drive or bus fare to the end of Geary Boulevard. Besides framing unforgettable views of the Pacific Ocean, the center offers great gifts and mementos, as well as a small but impressive cafe stocked by local produce. If the wind, fog and rain happen to be working against you on your trip, head to Lands End Visitor's Center for all the beautiful glory of the Pacific and no take-home sniffles or flu. If you work up an appetite after your walk, Louis' Restaurant just down the street offers a comfort-food menu with seating that will have your perched right over the Pacific.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Lands End Visitors Center offers not only stunning views of the Pacific but a unique and engaging history of San Francisco.

Tom's expert tip: Leave time for one of the best hikes in San Francisco proper, right along the coast on the Lands End trails.

Read more about Lands End Visitors Center →


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Golden Gate Park
SkyStar Wheel
Photo courtesy of SkyStar Wheel

Installed as part of Golden Gate Park's 150th anniversary celebration in 2020, SkyStar Wheel spins and towers 150 feet tall over Golden Gate Park's Music Concourse, offering breathtaking views from downtown San Francisco all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The rides last between 9-12 minutes, and tickets range from General Admission ($18); Seniors & children ($12); and children age 2 and under ride free. Due to its central location in Golden Gate Park, the SkyStar Wheel offers a unique vantage of all of San Francisco. And with all of Golden Gate Park spread underneath your feet, it's easy to plan a complete San Francisco day starting with a whirl around the SkyStar Wheel.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: As one of the newest San Francisco attractions - and with a limited window to experience it - the SkyStar Wheel is worth a spin.

Tom's expert tip: SkyStar will remain in San Francisco until March 2025.

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The Ferry Building
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy


We're starting off this list with the Ferry Building because, whether by boat, car, bus, trolley or foot, all points lead from the San Francisco Ferry Building. Whether you want to hike the hills of North Beach, push through the bustle of Chinatown, peruse gift shops on Nob Hill, or walk the Embarcadero all the way to Fisherman's Wharf, it's hard to find a better place to start than the Ferry Building. And it's not just a starting point - the Ferry Building has been redesigned to include some wonderful artisan shops, perfect spots for grabbing that something special to bring back home.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Ferry Building should be considered "Point A" for anyone starting a San Francisco adventure.

Tom's expert tip: If you happen to be downtown on a Saturday morning, don't miss the Ferry Building Farmer's Market. It offers a taste of the incredible variety of fruits and vegetables that only California can offer.

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Fisherman's Wharf
Photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association

Like the cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf is quintessential San Francisco. It's often the first destination for tourists, and its particular brand of energy mixes newcomer excitement, retail kitsch, strong maritime heritage and a vibrant West Coast welcome. Fisherman's Wharf invites passers-by to sample Dungeness crab and clam chowder, to cruise the Bay, to pick up requisite souvenir t-shirts, and - best of all - to soak in the temperate sunshine or marvel at the fog as it rolls in across the water. If you happen to be in town on July Fourth, it's a popular place to view the annual fireworks show.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Fisherman's Wharf has the best concentration of traditional tourist activities of any area of San Francisco.

Tom's expert tip: If you really want to earn that big seafood platter and San Francisco brewed Anchor Steam beer for dinner, walk the two miles from the Ferry Building down the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf.

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Chinatown
Photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association

It's hard to imagine a trip to San Francisco without a Chinatown visit. Whether you make the grand entrance into Chinatown beneath the dramatic portal at Grant Avenue and Bush Street, or perhaps just happen upon the district while making your way about San Francisco, you can't help but be impressed by this city-within-a-city. Along its streets, exotic ingredients are hawked, silks and jade are proffered, and colorful mementos are sold to tourists. If you happen to be planning a visit in February, do your best to catch the Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown, one of the largest of its kind in the world outside of China itself.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Chinatown is like visiting a whole other country within one city.

Tom's expert tip: San Francisco offers amazing cultural diversity, including Northbeach and the Mission District.

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Salesforce Park
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

If you need a break from concrete during your walk downtown, head to the lush gardens of the Salesforce Park, a true urban oasis. Seventy feet above the Grand Hall, the Park runs the entire length of the Transit Center's nearly four-block stretch. Home to 600 trees and 16,000 plants arranged in 13 different botanical feature areas, the newest public park in the San Francisco Bay Area is for the benefit and enjoyment of all. Whether it's for a leisurely lap around the grounds to enjoy outstanding views of the City, or to grab a bench and enjoy lunch, Salesforce Park is a top San Francisco attraction.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Although it's new and doesn't have the cache of the older San Francisco attractions, the Salesforce Park is growing towards iconic status by the day.

Tom's expert tip: Check the website for free events like poetry readings, Swing Dance lessons and Tai Chi lessons.

Read more about Salesforce Park →


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Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

Considered the largest cultivated urban park in the country, this incredible haven boasts more than 1000 acres of gardens, meadows and woodlands. The park stretches three miles inland from the Bay, and within its bounds are the de Young Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, Strybing Arboretum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Conservatory of Flowers and 27 miles of footpaths. Despite the beauty of its seemingly natural surroundings, the park is entirely man-made. Visitors can spend several days just exploring this rich and diverse park, as well as the Ninth and Irving neighborhood shops and eateries that are very close by.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Golden Gate Park is as important to San Franciscans as Central Park is to New Yorkers.

Tom's expert tip: The park is almost entirely on a slight decline all the way to the Pacific, so it's a gentle walk from its east entrance to its western end.

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Alcatraz
Photo courtesy of iStock / MBPROJEKT_Maciej_Bledowski

Once just an old prison, Alcatraz is enjoying a makeover as a native plant conservatory and historical "must-see." During Alcatraz's 34 years as a prison, most of its inmates were simply high-risk escapees and troublemakers. Still, the prison plays strongly in national memory thanks to infamous residents like Al "Scarface" Capone and Robert "Birdman" Stroud. Tours of the island focus largely on the desolate prison itself, including cell blocks, the cafeteria and the prison yard. If you plan well in advance, you might get a spot on the super popular night tour of Alcatraz. Even if you're not planning on the night tour, get your tickets to this popular tourist destination well ahead of time.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Alcatraz is not only an exciting trip but also offers a fascinating history of San Francisco Bay.

Tom's expert tip: If you enjoy the ferry trip to Alcatraz, consider these other ferry rides: Sausalito, Tiburon, and Angel Island.

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Golden Gate Bridge
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy


One of the world's most famous bridges, the Golden Gate spans 6450 feet and links San Francisco to Marin County. Completed in 1937 at a cost of $35 million, the "Bridge That Could Not Be Built" is now a landmark visible from many points around the Bay. Besides the new visitor's center on the south side of the bridge, the bike lanes on the west side of the bridge have been widened. The best way to see the bridge is on foot, so put some time aside to walk across the 1.7-mile span. Even if you only make it half-way, the views will be well worth it.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Visiting San Francisco and not seeing the Golden Gate Bridge is like visiting New York City and not visiting the Empire State Building.

Tom's expert tip: The new visitor's center at the Golden Gate Bridge offers gifts, snacks and some fascinating history of the iconic bridge.

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Meet Tom Molanphy

The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.

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