San Francisco Attractions
Places with great views
Get an AAA map
Without a car
Downtown, North Beach, Wharf areas
1. Coit tower – views west & toward financial district. Early in the morning.
2. Jack Early Park – East of Grant between Chestnut & Francisco. Perhaps smallest park in SF.
3. Top floor of the parking garage above the Police station on Vallejo between Stockton & Powell
4. Where Vallejo ends (temporarily) just east of Jones. There is a lookout & small park for a picnic. If you arrive from Vallejo & Jones (vs. the stairs from Taylor), there is an unusual street entrance to this area. This is a public street so don’t feel like it is a private residential area & avoid it. You can also walk there from the prior view spot #3 – go up Vallejo stairs west of Mason. This is one of my favorite lookout spots. It is included on Attraction #5 (stairway Walk #4) – see “Attractions” section of this guide)
Farther out – take Muni
5. Twin Peaks in the afternoon
6. Randall Museum – go up to top of hill. Best in the late afternoon.
7. Bernal Heights hill
8. Billy Goat Hill (off Beacon St or walk up hill from south end of Castro). Best in late afternoon
9. Kite Hill – Yukon & 19th St. Best in late afternoon.
10. Anywhere along Broadway between Webster & Lyon. Best spot is at Lyon. Two of the richest men in the U.S. live close buy on Broadway. Lots of luxurious mansions. Walk down the stairs at Lyon.
11. El Camino Del Mar & then Lincoln Blvd going East through GGNRA & Presidio – killer views of the Golden Gate and the bridge. I always take guests on this route. Stop at China Beach. No Muni available on El Camino Del Mar. Take #18 to Palace of Legion of Honor & walk El Camino Del Mar to Lincoln & then take #29, or walk entire route. Lots of places to stop. Great for biking. A perfect ½ day tour would be a visit to the Palace of Legion of Honor (great Rodin statues) and then a beautiful walk down El Camino Del Mar (It’s downhill), through Seacliff (more Mansions – Robin Williams lives there), and then up Lincoln until your legs start to holler, then get on the #29 bus. This is a spectacular area. Try to do this on a clear day. DO NOT MISS. See Attraction #14 also.
12. Golden Gate Bridge – late in the day.
13. South West corner of Mission Dolores Park (20th & Church). Take the J-Church there & sit on left side going outbound & right side inbound. Get out & enjoy the park & view. J-Church stops there
With a car
14. From Treasure Island early in the morning. (left lane exit off Bay Bridge)
15. Lookout at north end of GG Bridge (late in the day) – but continue on to next viewpoint (#16)
16. GGNRA north of GG bridge. This is probably the BEST view of SF. You can look through the bridge & then above the bridge to SF and all the way south down the San Mateo County Coast on a clear day. Do this late in the day. Take the first exit past the lookout (#15) off the GG Bridge going North (marked Alexander Ave). Turn left the first chance you have, & go under 101. Follow the sign back to SF, but just before getting on 101, make a right turn up the road & follow this road. It’s easier to find than this description might indicate (get a AAA map & take a road called Conzelman). Old WWII bunkers & gun turrets along the way. DON’T MISS.
17. From Sausalito – late in the day
18. From Tiburon – late in the day (or take the Tiburon ferry from Pier 1)
19. Alcatraz - late in the day or in late June/early July
My favorites - 16, 5, 11, 14, plus Attraction # 11 & 14 below.
Places to shop, browse, & people watch
When my wife & I want to shop and enjoy the “ambiance” that makes SF unique, here is where we go.
1. Fillmore St, between Jackson & Sutter. Also walk down Cottage Row (off Bush). Do this in conjunction with City Guides Walk “Pacific Heights Mansions” Sat & Tuesdays at 11:00 (see later description of City Guides). Lots of restaurants & coffee shops (Starbucks, Peets, etc)
2. Union St (between Gough & Steiner), Fillmore (between Union & Chestnut), Chestnut St (between Fillmore & Broderick). If you do this on a sunny Sat or Sunday morning, Chestnut will be loaded with young professionals (yuppies? – is that term still used) going to/from their exercise classes or having breakfast/lunch at one of the many cafes on the street. There are many restaurants in the area (my favorite is Isa on Steiner, North of Chestnut).
3. Polk between California & Green. South end can be a little ruddy, but north of Washington gets better. My favorite restaurant (if someone else is buying) is La Folie near Green. One of my wife's favorite stores is Brown Dirt Cowboy near Union. Good specialty food store at Leonard’s on Polk & Pacific.
4. Hayes St between Franklin & Fillmore, and Gough a few blocks south of Hayes. Lots of unique shops on Hayes. The area around Hayes is a little ruddy, so don’t venture too far west or north. Citizen Cake (Gough & Grove) is a great spot to indulge yourself with cookies & desserts etc, and Absinthe on Hayes is a restaurant that we frequent – both are especially good for lunch/brunch.
5. Sacramento St between Baker & Maple. Many “high class” shops & antique stores. This is located in a residential area with lots of Victorian houses. Many stores will be closed on Sunday.
6. 24th Street between Chattanooga & Douglass, and Church between 24th St & 30th St. This is the Noe Valley. Lots of unique shops along 24th St. Our favorite coffee shop is at Churc & 30th St
7. Union Square area. This, of course, is the downtown shopping center. It’s quite different from the other “neighborhood” shopping areas which we prefer, but we always manage a few trips - especially around Christmas. Shops a few blocks west of Powell on Sutter & Post have some unique stuff. We enjoy this area early in the morning, before all the “street people” wake up. When I worked in The City, I enjoyed walking in this area during lunch time on week days.
When we travel through cities in the US & Europe, we love to wander through neighborhoods where people live. We do the same in San Francisco.
I recommend that you obtain two resources for the “Neighborhoods” and “Attractions” section of this guide.
Stairway Walks in San Francisco by Adah Bakalinsky. 27 walks through The City. I’ve taken most of them and they are fantastic. You will wander through areas that tourists seldom see and you will discover why we pay over 1 million dollars to live in SF in an OK 1 bedroom 1,000 sq. ft. house, or pay $1,500 per month for a studio.
San Francisco City Guides – free walks. www.sfcityguides.org . Sponsored by the SF Public Library. Over 28 unique walks given by volunteers who all share one common thing – they are passionate about San Francisco and the subjects that they cover. You will notice that I “push” City Guides quite a bit. When my wife & I retired (early) in ’99, I wanted to spend more time learning about the city where I was born & where I have lived (or close by) most of my life. I went on a few City Guides walks & thought that they were exceptional (and free) My wife liked them so much that she is now a volunteer with City Guides and conducts a few walks herself. The “Haight-Ashbury” walk is given by someone who lived there through “the summer of love” and still remembers it. The “Pacific Heights Mansions” by a person who has lived there all her life. Many of the guides are retired history teachers. Tours are usually 2 hours or less. They sometimes change tour days, so check the internet schedule for the time you will be visiting. Twenty additional tours are conducted in October & May.
1. Noe Valley. 22nd St to 30th St & Dolores to Douglass. Centered around 24th & Noe. There are a lot of small Victorian houses in this area and it has always been known as a “working class” neighborhood. If you go in the morning, you will see a lot of moms pushing around baby buggies. Lots of young people, but not the same type as you might see around Chestnut St. Take the J-Church from downtown (sit on the left side) & get off at 22nd St. Continue walking south on Church & admire the Victorian houses on the east side of Church. At 24th St, turn right & walk to Diamond & then back to Church on the other side of 24th (lots of unique shops on 24th). Walk south on Church (perhaps stopping for lunch at Chloe’s near 25th). Turn right at 30th & walk down to Sanchez & then right/north back to 24th.. Eric’s on Church (Chinese) and le Zinc (French) are two restaurants that I enjoy. Allow a couple of hours for this walk once you get to the Noe Valley.
2. Haight-Ashbury. I don’t ever recall walking down Haight St (I was born a couple of blocks away over 50 years ago), but my wife & I have spent a lot of time walking the streets north & south of Haight. The Haight neighborhood is less “kooky” than the Haight Street, although the street is certainly interesting.. There are a lot of lovely Victorian houses in this area (on Masonic, south of Haight), and pretty streets (Delmar). I recommend that you take the SF City Guides “Haight-Ashbury” tour – Sundays at 11, meet at the library at 1833 Page. You will see where Janis Joplin & The Grateful Dead lived, and where Danny Glover lives. Allow 3 hours for the tour plus a walk down Haight (not included on the City Guides tour). A Perfect Sunday would be a visit to the Haight in the morning (all the weekend Hippies are there on Sunday), followed by an afternoon bicycling in Golden Gate Park.
3. North Beach. Believe it or not – this is really a residential neighborhood. Again, I recommend that you take the City Guides tour “North Beach” Sat & Tues at 10 am - meet at 666 Filbert St on steps of St Peters & Paul Church, and also “North Beach at Night” 3rd Monday at 7:00pm meet at Spec’s café 12 Soroyan Pl.
4. Dolores Heights/edge of The Castro. If I wanted to move back to The City, the area around 20th & Sanchez is where I might want to live. Many Victorian homes on Liberty between Castro & Noe. Do walk # 19 in the Stairway Walks book to see this neighborhood. This area has great views of downtown. Allow a little over an hour for this walk. The J-Church will get you close to the start. Get off at 20th St. & enjoy View #13 of Downtown. Perhaps continue on to the Noe Valley after this walk.
5. Pacific Heights. Take the City Guides tour “Pacific Heights Mansions” Sat, and 1st & 3rd Tues at 11am. Meet in Alta Plaza Park at top of stairs, Pierce & Clay. You will see Danielle Steel’s house (old Spreckels mansion) and the last time I took this tour I saw Robin Williams picking up his son at school. The Fillmore Shopping area is close by. If you can’t make the City Guides tour, follow walk #7 in the Stairway Walks book. Allow 2 hours plus an additional hour for shopping on Fillmore.
6. Presidio Heights. Wander the streets north of Sacramento (Washington, Clay, Jackson) between Divisadero & Maple. Sacramento St Shopping too.
I have to limit my list to a dozen or so. Therefore, I’ll tell you where I will take my aunt from Denmark when she visits. Again, get the Stairway Walks book and the City Guides schedule, or this list will not make a lot of sense.
2. Financial District at lunchtime on a sunny day. Stop at the Wells Fargo main office on Montgomery & visit the free museum. Have lunch at Justin Herman Plaza. Explore Embarcadero #1,2,3 & 4. Walk in Yerba Buena Gardens. Walk along the Embarcadero (next to the bay) from about pier 15 (walk out on the fishing pier #7) to Pacific Bell Park. Visit the park on non-game days. Enhance this with a City Guides tour of “City Scapes & Public Places” Fridays at 10 – meet at the Native Sons monument at Montgomery/Post & Market St (I have not taken this tour, but my wife has) Allow 3-4 hours plus the tour (2 hrs).
3. Cable Cars – I still get a kick out of taking the cable cars. Get on the car at the Hyde/Beach turn-around (Ghirardelli Sq), sit/stand on the left side (facing east) and get off just before Union Square (don’t go all the way to Market St – too many pan-handlers). About mid-route, get off the car & visit the Cable Car Museum at the corner of Washington & Mason. It’s very interesting & free. Allow 1 ½ hrs.
4. Walk #1 in the Stairway Walks book – Yerba Buena & Telegraph Hill (Coit Tower) followed by Walk #2 in the same area. You might do this walk in conjunction with the City Guides walk of “Coit Tower Murals” Sundays at 11AM. Walk #1 is one of my favorites. Allow 3-4 hours. You will walk the famous Filbert St Steps. A perfect Saturday morning would be a visit to the Farmers Market first thing in the AM, followed by this walk
5. Lombard St - squiggly portion. Do walk #5 in the Stairway Walks and if you still have the energy, add on walk #4. Both are in the Russian Hill area. Start on Polk (shopping street) & do this early in the day. I like walk #4 (one of my favorites) better than #5 – but both are great.
6. Victorian Houses. There are thousands of Victorians scattered throughout the city. The most photographed ones are “postcard row” on Alamo square. City Guides does two Victorian walking tours. “Landmark Victorian of Alamo Square” 1st & 3rd Wednesdays and 1st & 3rd Saturdays at 11. The tour starts at 824 Grove. If the owner is at home, you may be able to visit the interior of 824 Grove (one of only 2 Victorian interiors that you can visit in The City, to my knowledge). It is one of the most outrageous interiors I have ever seen. It was featured on HGTV recently. City Guides also offers “Victorian San Francisco” Sundays at 2:00 starting at 1801 Bush (& Octavia). This tour goes into a little more detail & you see more houses. The other Victorian interior that you can visit is the Haas-Lilienthal House at 1735 Franklin. Open Wed 12-3 and Sun 11-4. This is not a City Guides tour, so there is an admission.
7. Golden Gate Park - Great on a sunny Sunday when they block off traffic on a section of the park. Great for biking. There are a couple of bike rental places on Stanyan near the Park.
8. Farmer’s Market – every Saturday morning at the Ferry building at the foot of Market St. (you’ll see it) from 8:30 or so till 1pm. More active in Summer months. Many restaurants have booths serving food, which would be much more fun than a hotel breakfast. Even tourists will find some souvenirs. Great place to people watch.
9. Beach Blanket Babylon at the Club Fugazi on 678 Green St. Zany show – real fun. Teatro ZinZanni at about Pier 33 is one of the best shows I’ve seen in recent years. More expensive than BBB, same zaniness, some very good “European Style” acts, and you get dinner served.
10. Walk across Golden Gate Bridge in the afternoon on a fogless day. Do this if you are not doing Views # 15 & #16
11. Fort Point under the SF side of the GG Bridge. Old pre-Civil War fort (explore the inside of the fort) with excellent views. Kinda fun to watch the waves pound the shore on a stormy day. If the surf is good, there are generally a dozen or so surfers catching the waves in front of Ft Point – we’ve spent hours watching them. To make this an even better experience, get to Ft Point by walking along the Bay shore in Crissy field starting from the St Francis Yacht Club. The views are spectacular. The walk along Crissy field is pedestrian & bike only – no cars (there are car parking lots, however). This is one of my favorite areas in The City. You can take a bus to & from Ft Point.
12. Chinatown. Walk along Stockton between Sacramento & Broadway. Do not tour the Grant St section – it’s full of tacky shops. City Guides offers a tour, but I have not taken it.
13. North Beach at night – mainly Columbus Ave., north of Broadway. Probably the most active section of The City in the evening – lots of outdoor café’s that seem to be open all year round.
14. Coastal trail from where the Lincoln Park Golf course meets Seacliff (close to the corner of El Camino Del Mar & 32nd st) all the way to the Cliff House (luunch?). This is a very nice path to walk with perhaps the best views of the Golden Gate anywhere. Take the side trip to 1 mile beach (or something named like that), and admire the even better views from there and also the stone labyrinth. You see lots of WWII battlements there also. Spectacular views.
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San Francisco Attractions