San Francisco, the “Golden Gate City” and “Fog City.” If you’re traveling to the West Coast, especially to California, you’re most likely visiting either Los Angeles or San Francisco. For decades, ever since the rise of Beatniks and 1970s subcultures, this city has been a popular travel destination for young and old people alike. Whether you’re a vacationer, a temporary resident, or a business traveler, there is always an abundance of things to do and see here. To save everyone the trouble of falling into the trap of being a “typical tourist,” I’m going to guide you on how to ideally explore this West Coast treasure.
Sightseeing refers to visiting, exploring, or checking out a place that is popular amongst other tourists. If a place is a “must-see” for tourists, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a must-see for a resident. It’s even a possibility that some residents have never been to that spot in their entire life. Sightseeing is personal, whether you want to learn about what’s popular, navigate the heart of the city, or study what is preferred amongst locals. I advise you to research all of the popular sights and attractions, read about the history and general description of those places, and then decide which locations you’d like to visit.
When traveling, it’s good to learn new things and to have fun. Keep in mind that it’s okay to not plan everything ahead; maintain some spontaneity and an adventurous approach so that you won’t miss out on a potential good time!
☆ Golden Gate Bridge
This is San Francisco’s most popular tourist attraction. Personally, I’ve been here 2-3 times and I’ve enjoyed it. I do think that, although it is the most touristy place on this list, it’s very worth seeing! When you’re there, I recommend reading about the history and process of building the bridge—it’s a fascinating piece of artistic architecture. The city is known for its bridge! The Golden Gate is mostly surrounded by grassland and the sea, so it’s a great chance to get a breath of fresh air, too!
☆ Lombard Street
Lombard Street is yet another highly popular attraction. And it has earned that reputation for a reason! At some bus stops in the city, there’s a poster advertising Love, Simon, and its caption reads “I’m straight—like Lombard Street.” Lombard Street is a steep street with about eight hairpin turns. It’s been deemed “San Francisco’s crookedest street” and would easily cause any inexperienced driver to panic while driving down it. I just thought it was a really cool monument. So, again, this is a must-see! (It’s a good opportunity for some bomb photos, too.)
☆ Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf
Let me warn you beforehand: these places can be very crowded! However, they are must-visits in my opinion. I like them even more than the Golden Gate and Lombard Street.
From the days of the Gold Rush until the turn of the century, the San Francisco fishing fleet was composed of lateen-rigged sailboats, copies of the boats the Italian fishermen knew in their native land. Today, it is still the fishing fleet, operated by the grandsons and great-grandsons of these past generations, all of whom make Fisherman’s Wharf a place of activity; it’s the center of an ocean-oriented industry beloved by native San Franciscans and visitors alike.
Pier 39 is part of the Fisherman’s Wharf. The Historic Fisherman's Wharf District of San Francisco is home to PIER 39, Ghirardelli Square, Anchorage Square, the National Maritime Museum, Historic Hyde Street Pier, and breathtaking views of the city. Along "Fish Alley," you can still see fishermen at work, which is always a fun and unique San Francisco experience. The Wharf area is also the launching point for Bay cruises and charters. Strolling along the Fisherman’s Wharf, you can peer down at the fishing crafts riding in the calm water or pause to watch fishermen mending a net.
☆ Baker Beach
There are a few beaches in this coastal city, and Baker Beach has to be one of my favorites. At sunset, you can see the sky turning peachy purple over the backdrop of the blue sky and the red iconic bridge. There’s also free parking right by the beach, so it’s very convenient for families renting cars on vacation.
☆ Golden Gate Park
The Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s largest park, and it’s also where the music festival Outside Lands is held in the summer. There are a few great attractions situated here, including the Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, the Fine Arts Museums of SF, and the Academy of Sciences. All of these places are worth checking out. I suggest checking out their websites and Yelp to know what these places have to offer!
SFMOMA is closer to downtown compared to the Golden Gate Park. I really suggest that everyone visits the SFMOMA if they have the chance! (It’s free for people under 18.) It probably has some of the best contemporary art pieces, including works by Andy Warhol, Edvard Munch, Roy Lichtenstein, and Stephen Frykholm. The artworks range from fine art to installation to multimedia experimentalism, so I’m sure you’ll find something that peaks your interest!
☆ Mission Dolores Park
If you want the opportunity to have a picnic during your trip here, consider Mission Dolores Park. This place often has an amazing community of people. The park is large, and it has some hilly spots so you can catch the cool wind. There’s also a playground with swings and slides big enough for adults. So asides from picnics, it’s a great place for stress-relieving activities and for just chilling out with your friends and family.
Like other big cities, San Francisco has its own Chinatown near its central downtown area. In my opinion, it’s often not the best place to hangout—but nevertheless, strolling around these streets can be very fun! You can window shop or take pictures at the stores. If you’re craving Chinese or Japanese food, this is also a great place to find good, affordable meals!
☆ Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks offers one of the best views you can possibly get of this city. At sunset, because you’re so high up you can see specks of sunlight spearing through the foggy clouds covering the city. This spot makes for some great hiking, so even if you’re on vacation, you can still get in that extra bit of fitness!
This city’s fashion scene is quite incredible; everybody is different, confident and proud of their styles and personalities. Asides from the typical retail stores, San Francisco’s Mission District and Haight Street offer an amazing selection of thrift and vintage stores. These stores range from super low prices such as Goodwill to designer vintage prices at Wasteland. So if you’re in the city, go thrift shopping!
If you’re under 21, obviously you can’t go to a lot of the bars and nightclubs. However, luckily, this city always has a lot of art to offer. Other options include going to an improv show, a play, a concert, a stand-up comedy show, or a movie! You can check on this site for daily lists of activities and things you can do for free (or at a very low price). Sometimes you can even go to a really cool outdoor movie screening for free, or go to a groovy rock concert at the Rickshaw Stop for $10-$15!
Cover photo by Francis Delapena