There is little wonder that San Francisco holidays are near the top of the list when it comes to American city breaks. From tasting your way around the artisan market stalls in the Ferry Building and learning about some of America’s most notorious inmates at Alcatraz to catching sunset views in the Marin Headlands and cycling in charming Sausalito, this vibrant waterfront city has something to offer every traveller. Read on for the best things to see and do in San Francisco.
Explore the notorious Alcatraz Island, a maximum-security federal penitentiary from 1934 to 1963. Situated in the treacherous waters of the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz holds a fascinating past as one of the world's most infamous prisons housing some of America's notable inmates including Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly. Take a short ferry ride to the island, tour the inside of the Alcatraz prison cell house, learn about the daring escape attempts and take in the views of San Francisco Bay.
Explore Chinatown and North Beach
Experience the vibrant sights, sounds, and flavours of the oldest Chinatown in the United States. Discover traditional tea shops, explore art galleries and watch fortune cookies being made by hand in the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
North Beach, known as the city's Little Italy, is a great neighbourhood to experience San Francisco's Italian-American heritage. From trattorias to rock’n’roll bars and boutique stores to comedy clubs, this vibrant district has plenty to offer!
This Chinatown and North Beach Walking Tour is a great way to discover these enchanting neighbourhoods whilst enjoying plenty of delicious treats, from dim sum to fresh cannoli!
Known as the "Ellis Island of the West", Angel Island was an immigration station from 1910 to 1940. During this time, it processed and detained immigrants arriving from Asia, primarily from China. The Immigration Station on Angel Island preserves the poignant stories and experiences of these individuals through its preserved barracks, where Chinese poetry can still be seen carved into the walls by detainees. In addition to its historical significance, Angel Island is also renowned for its natural beauty, with scenic hiking trails and breathtaking views of the Bay Area.
Golden Gate Bridge
Spanning the entrance to San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic symbol of San Francisco and an engineering marvel of its time. A trip to San Francisco wouldn't be complete without marvelling at this magnificent suspension bridge. Walk or bike across this iconic landmark, or simply enjoy the breathtaking views!
Golden Gate Park
Spend an afternoon exploring the vast Golden Gate Park, home to beautiful gardens, museums, and recreational activities. The Japanese Tea Garden is worth a trip in its own right. Immerse yourself in the manicured gardens, marvel at the pagodas and for those visiting in March and April, enjoy the Cherry blossom trees bloom. Sipping a cup of Japanese green tea in the Tea House overlooking the serene koi pond is the perfect end to your visit.
Known locally as NoPa, explore the trendy 'North of the Panhandle' neighbourhood. NoPa boasts an eclectic mix of trendy boutiques, cool cafes like The Mill, and top bars. Walk a block east to Alamo Square, a picturesque green oasis known for its postcard-perfect view of the row of multi-coloured Victorian-style homes, "the Painted Ladies". From Alamo Square Park, you can capture stunning panoramic views of these iconic homes set against the backdrop of the city skyline.
San Francisco Cable Cars
Hop on one of San Francisco's iconic cable cars and enjoy a nostalgic ride through the city's hilly streets. San Francisco's cable car system was established in 1873 to solve the city's hilly terrain. These historic vehicles, with their charming wooden exteriors and signature bells, continue to traverse the city's steep streets, preserving its unique heritage.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
SFMOMA is the go-to destination for lovers of modern and contemporary art. From painting and sculpture to photography and architecture, the museum is home to exciting exhibits in a cutting-edge building. Be sure to make a stop at the gift shop!
Opening in 1898, the Ferry Building became the transportation focal point for anyone arriving by train. From the Gold Rush until the 1930s, arrival by ferryboat became the only way to reach the city. By the 1950s the Ferry Building was barely used and was converted to office space. Fast forward to 2003 when the landmark San Francisco Ferry Building reopened to the public after an extensive restoration. The Ferry Building Marketplace is now a celebration of local food culture featuring local food artisans, gourmet eateries, and a bustling farmers' market.
The farmers market is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. On Saturdays, the larger market is held both in front of the Ferry Building and on the rear plaza overlooking the Bay. In 2020, the Ferry Building debuted an expanded outdoor seating area.
If you fancy joining a guided food tour, check out the Ferry Building and Ferry Plaza Farmers Market food tour.
Explore Mission District art and Dolores Park
Explore one of San Francisco's trendiest neighbourhoods with a day of dining, shopping and local culture. The Mission District is known for its vibrant murals showcasing a variety of artistic styles and depicting a range of themes, from political statements to cultural heritage and environmental issues to economic injustice. Take a stroll or join a guided tour for an up-close experience.
Dolores Park is still widely seen as the main landmark in the Mission. Picnic on a sunny day and take in the outstanding views of downtown San Francisco. The southwest corner is a great spot for panoramic photos!
Catch a scenic ferry ride from San Francisco to Sausalito. This waterfront town offers picturesque views and a relaxed atmosphere. Sausalito's vibrant arts community is showcased in its galleries and boutiques. The town's waterfront promenade is perfect for leisurely strolls while admiring the stunning views of the San Francisco skyline and the Bay.
Dining in Sausalito is also a treat, with excellent options ranging from seafood restaurants to charming cafes and wine bars. With its artistic charm and serene ambience, Sausalito is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking a peaceful getaway.
The Marin Headlands, immediately over the Golden Gate Bridge, are a vast stretch of protected land with unobstructed views of the Pacific, the city, and the Golden Gate. A winding 10-mile drive takes you through one of the most stunning stretches of road in California. Feeling active? There are numerous hiking trails and beaches to enjoy.
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