San Francisco is a stirring city with beautiful architecture and impressive nature all around. A city break in San Francisco allows you to combine chilling out by the ocean with relaxed sightseeing and a diverse cultural program. Besides famous sights like the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco offers you the right mixture of small-town flair and big-city life, good music and evergreen vegetation against the backdrop of the wide ocean.
If you would like to know more about the districts of San Francisco, this article might interest you.
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Viewpoints in San Francisco
The Art Deco style tower is a great starting point for your San Francisco explorations as it gives you a panoramic view: You can see San Francisco sights such as the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge, Lombard Street, Alcatraz, the Transamerica Pyramid and the Ferry Building.
In short, you get a first glimpse of a lot of the sights you will encounter later on. So the Tower is the perfect starting point to spark your anticipation.
Another great viewpoint and big highlight are the Twin Peaks. As the name suggests, these are two hills located about 280 m above sea level and in the middle of San Francisco. A hike up to the peaks gives you a fantastic panoramic view. Unfortunately, public transportation is not easy here, but with a rental car or Uber you can get to the top quickly and enjoy the view of the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, Oakland and downtown San Francisco. That is, if the famous fog of San Francisco doesn’t bother you!
Our tip: While the Coit Tower is a great starting point, the view from the Twin Peaks is also overwhelming at sunset or at night!
Places of interest in San Francisco
From Coit Tower you can walk downhill to Lombard Street, which is about fifteen minutes away. This street runs right through the Marina District to Pioneer Park near the piers in San Francisco. The road winds down a narrow slope over several 180 degree curves.
In the middle of downtown San Francisco is Chinatown. The center is Portsmouth Square, around which the first houses of the city of San Francisco were built. San Francisco’s Chinatown was founded in 1850 and is actually visited by more tourists than the Golden Gate Bridge! All buildings, really all of them, are in Chinese style and about 100,000 people live in Chinatown. This forms the largest Chinese community outside of Asia and is not only for eating out and souvenir shopping, but also for getting a taste of real Chinese life.
On your journey you will find it hard to avoid Union Square, pretty much the most famous square in San Francisco. The square is in the center of the shopping and theater district and from here you can quickly get to the intersection of Market and Powell Street to watch the cable cars turning around.
Golden Gate Bridge
You can explore San Francisco’s most famous landmarks – if not the entire West Coast of America – by bike, car, bus or even on foot. From here you have a great view of the city and the bay. At sunset we recommend you visit one of the beaches Baker Beach or Marshall’s Beach.
Our tip: A tour with a rental bike is a great option to visit the Golden Gate Bridge and you can add several other San Francisco sights. Rent a bike in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, e.g. by simply reserving a bike and maps online in advance for 24 hours at Get Your Guide. If you want to pedal less, you can also rent an e-bike.
Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39
Before you reach the legendary bridge, you can use your bike to explore the area of Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. Even though it is very touristy here, a visit to San Francisco is a must on a trip to the city. Pier 39 is where San Francisco’s famous sea lions gather, and the waterfront is full of restaurants where you can enjoy many fish and seafood specialties.
More stops for your bike tour through San Francisco
Combine your visit to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 with a short walk along the promenade starting from Ghirardelli Square. This building of a former chocolate factory is filled with restaurants and shops on three floors.
On your further way towards the Golden Gate Bridge you will pass the Palace of Fine Arts.
The riverside path ends below the southern end of the bridge at Fort Point. To cross the Golden Gate Bridge, turn left just after Crissy Field.
After visiting the Golden Gate Bridge you have further options. For example, you could continue on to Sausalito and from there you could even drive to the Muir Woods National Monument to see the coastal redwoods. Of course, there are also many other viewpoints on this side of the Golden Gate Bridge with views of the bridge and the bay.
Golden Gate Park
Also the Golden Gate Park could be explored very well by bike due to its enormous size. The park extends over five kilometres from east to west and over 800 metres from north to south. In it you can walk around lakes, admire waterfalls and pagodas (Japanese Tea Garden), be amazed by an extensive art collection (De Young Museum) and much more.
Alcatraz is the infamous prison island in the Bay of San Francisco, which was home to such famous prisoners as Al Capone. Boats that will take you to Alcatraz depart from Pier 33 about every half hour (between 8:45 and 15:50).
Our tip: Make sure to buy your tickets early before your trip, as they are almost always sold out in advance.
Pro-Tip: There is also an Early Bird Tour offered, thanks to which you will be ferried to Alcatraz with the first tourist load. This way you share the prison island with your group for the time being. The more ferries dock at the island, the more people are spat out on the small island. So you can only explore the island in peace and quiet in the early morning.
Haight-Ashbury was the epicenter of the hippie movement in the 60’s and many come here to see what is left of the vibe of that time. The alternative neighborhood that stretches around Haight Street was the adopted home of pop stars like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead and attracted many hippies, artists and alternative people.
Even though the vibe is still there today, parts of the hippie past are commercialized in such a way that the old hippies are likely to get sick. You will find many cafes and restaurants as well as shops selling vintage clothes, records or funny curiosities like Sex Pistols lunch boxes. Nevertheless – or maybe because of that – Haight-Ashbury still exerts an incomparable charm. It’s fun to just let yourself drift here, browse through quirky shops and let the many bright colors work their magic on you.
If you would like to know more about the different districts of San Francisco, we also recommend this article.
Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies
The view from Alamo Square past the row of typically colorful Victorian houses – the Painted Ladies – onto the skyline is also one of the most famous sights of San Francisco. If you are a child of the 90s like us, you probably know the sitcom „Full House“. This one takes place in San Francisco and in the intro you can see among other things these fancy Victorian houses, which also served as a backdrop in many other movies or series. Actually you can find these houses all over San Francisco, but nowhere else you can have a picnic while admiring the impressive houses.
Beside the described sights you can expect many more highlights like the Mission Disctrict, the North Beach, the Ferry Building and many many more!
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