Whether you’re visiting for the first time or the third, San Francisco always surprises in the best ways.
San Francisco, the sprawling gateway to Northern California is packed with famous attractions and colorful neighborhoods. Naturally, the city is never short on fabulous experiences. You only have to know where to look. Check out these lesser-known activities at the most traveled landmarks, as well as off-the-beaten-path attractions that are bound to enhance your San Francisco travel story.
A Closer Look at Must-see San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge – There are many places to bridge gaze, but why not walk or bike the 2.7-kilometer span across the bay. Rent a bike from a local vendor, and savor the spectacular views as you cross one of the world’s most recognizable bridges.
Golden Gate Park – Stroll this urban escape that’s complete with museums, flora and redwood trees. Explore the Japanese Tea Garden, and dine at the tea house for a variety of hot teas, light fare and mini-desserts. Later, browse the world-class de Young Museum, an art museum which also blends architecture and outdoor beauty in its Harmon Observation Tower.
Chinatown – Take the Golden Gate Factory fortune cookie tour, where you can see cookies being made, write your own fortune if you buy a cookie or even splurge on a giant fortune cookie. For authentic dim sum, stop by the Great Eastern Restaurant, and order the lobster sashimi and the mushrooms stuffed with fish paste.
Union Square – This hub for shopping and entertainment is also a major dining mecca. Insider recommendations include Del Popolo, for some of the city’s best Neapolitan-style pizza, and Ryoko’s Japanese Restaurant & Bar, an unassuming but well-loved eatery for its sushi and drinks.
Cable Cars – No visit to San Francisco is complete without riding a cable car. Take the Powell-Hyde line at Union Square to the top of Lombard Street, then walk down this famously steep, crooked street. The abundant beds of multi-colored hydrangeas are a bonus for flower lovers and Instagrammers alike.
Fisherman’s Wharf – After you’ve indulged your chocolate craving at Ghirardelli Square, swing into the Musee Mecanique at Pier 45, a museum filled with coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines still in working order.
Exploring the city via cable car
San Francisco Attractions Waiting to Be Discovered
Lover’s Lane – Take a tranquil stroll on Lover’s Lane, one of the oldest foot trails in pristine coastal park Lands End. As you wander through the beautiful tree-lined path, walk the Wood Line, a serpentine-shaped art installation in the midst of a eucalyptus grove.
Sutro Baths – Also in Lands End, the Sutro Baths are an architectural ruin of what was once the largest indoor swimming area in the world set upon rocky cliffs. For a view from above, head to the Point Lobos Lookout, but also be sure to explore trails closer to the Sutro Baths, which feature vistas of the Cliff House and Seal Point.
Mission District – Seek out San Francisco’s famed street art in the neighborhood with the highest concentration of murals in the city. Two stand-outs: Balmy Alley is known for its murals depicting various Central American political themes, while Clarion Alley features art on the themes of social and environmental justice.
Camera Obscura – In the Outer Richmond neighborhood, step inside the Camera Obscura, a waterfront optical device which produces live imagery of the scenery just offshore. You won’t believe the live 3D images of coastal landmarks including the Cliff House, Ocean Beach, Point Lobos Lookout and Seal Rock.
16th Avenue Tiled Steps – Head to Moraga Street between 15th and 16th Avenue to climb the 163 tiled steps designed by local artists to depict a sea-to-sky progression. As you climb, take breaks to study the steps and the adjacent California native flora and succulent garden. Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous city and Pacific Ocean views.