Most people know San Francisco for its iconic Golden Gate Bridge, but this is just one of many landmarks to see. Throughout the city, you'll find niche shops, gorgeous parks, amazing local restaurants and other places worth exploring. Check out these attractions and landmarks you must visit in the Bay Area.
Golden Gate Bridge
You'll find the Golden Gate Bridge spanning the waters between San Francisco and Marin Peninsula. Though the bridge is often covered in a blanket of fog, on a clear day you'll have no problem seeing the waters of the Pacific Ocean connecting with the San Francisco Bay underneath this impressive structure. Driving into the city via Oakland and Interstate 80 will take you across The Bay Bridge, but if you come southbound into the city from Highway 101, you'll get to drive down the Golden Gate.
If you missed the landmark on your trip into the city, don't worry. There are plenty of excellent spots to view the Golden Gate Bridge. Many of the photographs you see of the bridge are taken from Fort Point — a Civil War-era brick structure. Other popular spots include Crissy Field, Baker Beach and China Beach.
You can also drive across the bridge to visit the Bay Area Discovery Museum and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. For an up-close-and-personal look at the landmark, take a walk across the bridge or rent a bike for a ride across and back. The bridge is 1.7 miles long, making for a moderate walk or bike ride.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is located between Lincoln Way and Fulton Street. When the hustle and bustle of San Francisco is leaving you feeling claustrophobic, you'll find relief at Golden Gate Park. This is a large public park that spans over 1,000 acres and is open 24/7. Construction of Golden Gate Park began in 1871, and today, over 13 million visitors come to the area every year. Regular visits to the park are pretty much necessary for both visitors and locals.
With miles of paved trails, Golden Gate Park is an excellent spot for hiking, biking, skating and jogging. You'll find many attractions in the park, as well. The Golden Gate Park Disc Golf Course, for example, is open to anyone interested in this sport. If you prefer traditional golf, visit the Golden Gate Park Golf Course. You can pack a lunch to enjoy at the Elk Glen Picnic Area or meet some of the members of The Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club. There are several meadows, picnic areas, an archery range and even an equestrian facility in Golden Gate Park.
The expansiveness of Golden Gate Park makes it a fantastic spot to unwind and feel like you're miles from a metropolitan area such as San Francisco. But the park's size also makes it a fantastic venue for several events throughout the year. Outside Lands, for example, is an annual three-day music festival that attracts thousands of visitors to the city and some of the best musicians from around the world.
San Francisco's Chinatown sits near Jackson Square and the Financial District, west of Montgomery Street and south of Columbus Avenue. It's one of the oldest Chinatown neighborhoods in the United States. Spanning a few blocks between Bush Street and Broadway, the area is known for its many excellent bars, restaurants, retailers, temples and other iconic landmarks.
If you're sightseeing, start with Dragon's Gate. This is a tourist attraction that marks the entrance to the neighborhood. Dragon's Gate is easy to spot — just look for the green gateway roofs and the dragon statue. After snapping a few photos, you can shop at many souvenir shops nearby. Then visit St. Mary's Square, which is just a block north of the Dragon's Gate entryway.
Old St. Mary's Cathedral — California's first cathedral — is another landmark worth seeing. You'll find the WWII Pacific War Memorial Hall across the street, and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall of San Francisco and the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum are just a block away.
For a casual dining experience, Delicious Dim Sum is one of the highest rated restaurants in Chinatown. This is a take-out restaurant where, as the name suggests, you can get some delicious dim sum. If you prefer to sit and socialize over a fine meal, try Mister Jiu's for an upscale dining experience.
Find Fisherman's Wharf, a neighborhood in San Francisco, by North Beach at the end of Columbus Avenue. This small neighborhood spans just a few blocks between Van Ness Avenue and The Embarcadero. Despite its size, however, the area is a cultural hub known for landmark attractions, museums, aquariums and fresh seafood markets.
Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market is a must-see in Fisherman's Wharf. This is one of several farmers markets in the area, along with Jack London Square Farmers Market and Mission Community Market, where you can get wonderfully fresh food from local vendors. If you're craving seafood, visit H & H Fresh Fish Co. The owner of the company, along with his fishermen and a few other local boats, personally catch the fare you'll find for sale here. Imported goods from Alaska and Hawaii fisheries are also available.
Other attractions that draw crowds to this neighborhood include Pier 39, a famous shopping center, Aquarium of the Bay, where you can learn more about sea life local to the Bay Area, and 7D Experience, which is an arcade known for 3D games and motion-simulated rides. If you're hungry after exploring, dine at The Codmother Fish and Chips. This is a food truck where you can pick up some comfort seafood and dine outside in the pleasant San Francisco weather.
The famous crooked roads of Lombard Street run east to west between Leavenworth Street and Hyde Street. Lombard Street is a fun landmark featuring some interesting geography. The roadway features a 27-degree grade with eight hairpin turns. If you've seen the car chase from the movie Bullitt (1968), you'll remember Steve McQueen racing his way along this street.
This spot is a fantastic photo opportunity and a wonderful place for people-watching. Take a walk up and down the iconic road, but wear good shoes — the uphill portion is quite steep. You can also take the Powell/Hyde cable car line, which ends near Ghirardelli Square, up or down Lombard Street.
If you explore the area a bit, you'll find plenty of parks and businesses offering tours or rentals. Fay Park is nearby, and Basically Free Bike Rentals and Bay City Bike Rentals and Tours are off Lombard. You'll find a couple of enterprises offering Segway tours, and Vantigo Tours will take you on a guided journey through the city in a vintage Volkswagen van.
Lombard Street also cuts through the Russian Hill neighborhood. If you're curious about where you can see stunning views of San Francisco from one of the city's hilly concrete peaks, climb Russian Hill.
Alamo Square is between the Fillmore District and Lower Haight; it sits southeast of the intersection of Divisadero and Turk. Alamo Square is another tiny slice of San Francisco that encompasses just a few blocks. The main attraction in the area is Alamo Square Park, which is a cozy green space with a few walking trails. But people really come to this area to see and photograph San Francisco's “Painted Ladies.”
The Painted Ladies aren't people but rather a row of Victorian houses. If you've seen the TV show “Full House,” you'll recognize the exteriors of these gorgeous buildings. Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies can also be seen in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978) and “Junior” (1994). “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993) was also filmed in this area.
Alamo Square isn't just for cinephiles. Anyone can appreciate the view and the Painted Ladies' unique architecture. Plus, the William Westerfeld House is worth a visit for anyone interested in history. If you want to stand shoulder to shoulder with music lovers, catch a show at The Independent. This intimate venue hosts touring acts, and you can stand feet away from the stage and see fantastic musicians perform.
Muir Woods National Monument
Find Muir Woods National Monument at 1 Muir Woods Road in Mill Valley. It's part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. You can hike trails that lead to Muir Beach and the Pacific Ocean or take in a hillside view of the sea from Mount Tamalpais. The park is excellent for day trips, but the extensive trails and breathtaking views may tempt you to spend a night or two camping just beyond the San Francisco city limits. For an even more remote experience, hike out to Cataract Falls for some peace and quiet surrounded by forests and nature.
San Francisco is a beautiful city with lots to see and explore. Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see for all visitors, but the Bay Area has so much more to offer. Dive into these neighborhoods, landmarks and attractions to make the most of your time adventuring along the California coast.
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