San Francisco sightseeing is a cornucopia of diverse attractions, ranging from the natural beauty of Muir Woods and San Francisco Bay to the man-made wonders of Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Make sure to include these top San Francisco sights in your next trip to the "City on the Bay."
Union Square is an ideal starting point for any San Francisco sightseeing tour. The square, a one-block park in central San Francisco, is the heart of the city's theater and shopping as well as home to several of the city's most elegant and historic hotels. It's the site of the St. Francis and the Grand Hyatt Hotel as well as Macy's, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores. Chinatown, the theater district, and Nob Hill are just a short stroll away, and the famous cable cars travel up and down Powell Street on the west end of the square.
San Francisco Sightseeing: Fisherman's Wharf
San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf sits on the northernmost edge of the city's waterfront, extending from Ghiradelli Square to Pier 35. Today, mostly a tourist area, the wharf was once a thriving base for San Francisco's intrepid fishing industry. The promenade along the waterfront features fresh crab stands and a smattering of seafood restaurants. Highlights of the area include Ghiradelli Square, a former chocolate factory, now a shopping, dining, and nightclub complex; Pier 39, a long pier built up with shops and restaurants and featuring live music, street performers, and lots of special activities; and the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, a fascinating interactive site that includes a fleet of historic vessels, an aquatic park, and a maritime musuem.
Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, between Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, is a 210-foot Art Deco tower, built in 1933 with funds donated by wealthy San Francisco widow, Lillie Hitchcock Coit. The tower is worth visiting for its spectacular view of the bay and the city as well as its restored murals, painted by 26 artists, depicting socialist themes and scenes from the Great Depression.
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge has become a symbol of the city. The 1.7 mile suspension bridge connects the city to Marin County and beyond. The bridge, completed in 1937 was the largest suspension bridge in the world at that time. The bridge's two towers stand 4,200 feet in the air and the bridge hovers 220 feet above the water at high tide. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic across the bridge is free; the toll for cars is $5.00.
San Francisco Sightseeing: Chinatown
San Francisco's Chinatown, established in the 1850s, is one of the largest Chinatowns in North America. Located between Union Square and North Beach, Chinatown is a dense, bustling urban area, filled with Asian restaurants, imported Chinese goods emporiums, and a plethora of sights, sounds, and smells of the old country. One of the highlights of Chinatown is the Dragon Gate at Grant Avenue and Bush Street, a gift from the Republic of China (Taiwan).
No San Francisco sightseeing tour is complete without a trip to Alcatraz. This former maximum security prison, dubbed "The Rock", sits in the middle of San Francisco Bay, reachable only by ferry boat from Fisherman's Wharf. Visitors to this ruined prison can tour the cell blocks, the solitary cells, and the prison yard. There's only a visitors' center with information and a film about the history of Alcatraz. Closed in 1962, Alcatraz once held such notable prisoners as Al Capone and Robert Franklin Stroud, the "Birdman of Alcatraz".