Known for being laid-back and liberal, San Francisco also stands out for being the most scenic of all major American cities. Located by a bay and with one of the world's best known icons as a backdrop, this cool, welcoming city is the home of counterculture, cable cars, and a cosmopolitan population spread through a number of panoramic hills.
Victorian houses, old-money mansions, and a few landmark skyscrapers make up its urban landscape, while great restaurants, an eclectic nightlife, and major cultural attractions are part of everyday life. Join the dot-com yuppies, hippies, gays, and an overall youthful social scene for one of the most carefree and pleasant city experiences in the American continent.
What to See and Do in San Francisco
Decide what you really want to see in San Francisco based on your interests -- whether that's art, architecture, street life or simply snapping a few photos by the main landmarks. We highlight the best attractions in different categories and, to help you plan, link you to their location on Google Maps () or to their official website or tour options ().
- The Landmarks, Icons, and Instagram Spots
- Modern and Contemporary Art
- Classic Art and Top Museums
- Striking Architecture and Major Monuments
- Ancient Site
- City Life and Main Streets
- Eating and Drinking
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco - ©UCityGuides.com
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world's great icons, with two gigantic towers rising from the water. It was once the longest suspension bridge in the world, and you can see the famous Alcatraz prison from there. It's perhaps San Francisco's second best-known sight, a legendary prison complex that was home to some notorious names such as Al Capone. You may visit by taking a ferry or by going on a tour.
In the center of the city, the most monumental landmark is the City Hall, with its huge gilded dome and a main hall with a grand staircase which you may visit on a guided tour. Also pass by Grace Cathedral, built in the early 20th century in French Gothic style.
The San Francisco Modern Art Museum is housed in a modern building built in 1995 and presents a world-class collection of modern art. It's especially strong on American abstract expressionism, but you'll also see works from all of the major European and American modern artists.
The Fine Arts Museums' collections include European decorative arts and crafts, American paintings, and non-Western art. They are two museums in two locations, in the exquisite Beaux-Arts Legion of Honor building, and in the state-of-the-art De Young Museum.
The Transamerica Pyramid is the standout skyscraper in the city. Completed in 1972, it's located in the Financial District, and remains San Francisco's tallest building.
More recently, the California Academy of Sciences Museum became a new architectural landmark due to its environmentally-friendly design and green-covered roof. It's the home of a natural history museum, as well as an aquarium and planetarium.
Mission Dolores is San Francisco's oldest construction. It's an 18th-century mission with an adjoining basilica featuring some exceptional tilework and stained glass. It's located in the Mission, the city's Latino district.
Fisherman's Wharf is an obligatory stop for most tourists, and as a result it's the city's main tourist trap, but still worth a visit to get a sense of San Francisco's nautical history and for its seafood restaurants.
Back in the center of the city, Market Street is one of the main routes for the iconic cable cars, while Lombard Street is known as "the crookedest street in the world." It snakes down a hill in a 27-degree slope, with many tourists enjoying driving it down, and others simply admiring it from the bottom of Leavenworth Street.
Many visitors also go for a stroll down the Castro district, the famous gay center, for its shops and restaurants. Chinatown is another popular destination, home to the largest Chinese community in the United States and retaining a vibrant and authentic ethnic ambience.
Finally, walk by the waterfront in the attractive Marina district, admiring the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
Start in Union Square for the city's major department stores and designer shops, then move on to the funkier boutiques in the Castro district. You can window-shop anywhere in the city, with a few bargains and thrift stores in the Mission District.
San Francisco is a great city for foodies, offering local Californian and ethnic cuisines, and a huge number of organic and vegetarian restaurants. The verdant surroundings and the ocean just around the corner provide many of the fresh ingredients, while the wine lists are often filled with top-quality California and international wines. You'll need to book a table at the best restaurants, but if you don't, there's always a good bar for a drink while you wait to be seated.
Where to go depends on what you're craving: Mission District for Latin food, Chinatown for Asian, and North Beach for Italian.