Things to do in San Francisco, CALIFORNIA

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With beauty, brains, and imagination, San Francisco is America’s golden child.

Decorated with hills that roll out fog across rows of colorful Victorian houses, it’s hard to not fall for San Francisco as soon as you see it. Known for its diversity, social revolutions, and love affair with technology, it is a city that constantly thrills and surprises you.

Drive along the Pacific Ocean, see the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, and enjoy the avant-garde culinary scene (it’s not every day that you find yourself in the city with the most restaurants per capita in North America). While doing all this, remember to stop, smell the breeze, and take in the beauty that surrounds you.

Here are the top 5 things to do in San Francisco. 

1. Golden Gate Bridge

San Fransisco's Golden Gate Bridge at night The twin towers of the Golden Gate Bridge The Golden Gate bridge bathed in sunlight

The One of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge is an unequivocal symbol of San Francisco and the United States.

With numerous appearances in everything from books to movies to music videos to blogs, chances are you’ve seen the Golden Gate Bridge many times in your life. Of course, no reference can ever fully convey the magic of seeing it with your own eyes. With a sleek design and an orange color that perfectly contrasts its surroundings, it is quite a sight.

The bridge was designed by a team that includes Joseph Strauss, Charles Ellis, and Irving Man, and was first opened in 1937. Measuring 8,981 feet, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was constructed, a title it held for 27 years. Crossing the Golden Gate Strait, it connects San Francisco to Marin County.

where?   The Golden Gate Bridge is located on the Golden Gate strait in the San Francisco Bay Area. The easiest way to see it is by car. You can park at the Welcome Center and enjoy picture opportunities, and/or drive through it for the full experience. You can also take a local bus to the Golden Gate Bridge stop. If you don’t have a car but wish to cross the bridge, you can do so by foot or on bike.

when? Of course, the bridge itself does not have hours of operation, and visitors can see it and cross it at whatever time of the day suits them. However, keep in mind that the Welcome Center is open from 9:00am to 6:00pm.

£$€¥ There is no cost associated with seeing the bridge, though depending on your mode of transportation, you may need to pay a parking fee or a bus ticket. Cars that wish to cross the bridge will need to pay a hefty toll that costs between $4.50 and $7.75 depending on your vehicle. Please be aware that toll prices increase yearly.

2. Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz, San Fransisco (© Emily Matthews, CC-BY-3.0) Alcatraz panorama (© Pavel Spindler, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Take a ferry through the San Francisco Bay and visit the most infamous prison in the continent.

Imprisoning the likes of Al Capone, AKA Scarface— its most famous inmate— Alcatraz is the perfect archetype of a secluded, high-security prison. Built on a small rocky island on the San Francisco Bay, it has the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast.

Its stint as a Federal Penitentiary lasted from 1934 to 1963 and has inspired numerous tales of fiction and nonfiction, including the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz, starring Clint Eastwood.

The island is located only 1.25 miles offshore from San Francisco and can be only reached by ferry. Visitors can enjoy tours through parts of the prison, as well as beautiful views of the Bay Area and the Golden Gate Bridge.

where? Alcatraz Island is located on the San Francisco Bay. To reach it, you have to take a ferry from Pier 33. The ferry is operated by Alcatraz Cruises.

when?  Times for the ferry departure and arrival vary by season and type of tour. Ferries usually operate from 8:30am to 9:30pm, but departure times vary depending on the tour you are taking. Some tours operate daily, some Monday through Thursday, and others are seasonal. To see the schedule for tour departure and arrival times for March 13, 2017-November 5, 2017, head to the tour operator’s official website.

£$€¥ As with the schedules, admission ticket prices vary depending on the tour, and can go from $37.25 for a single adult to $112.75 for a family. Juniors, children, and seniors receive reduced prices, and toddlers are admitted for free.

3. Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf at sunrise (© Roberto Coquis, CC-BY-ASA-2.0)

Enjoy views, food, and entertainment in one of San Francisco’s most popular sites.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a gregarious location where the whole city seems to meet. Sprawling along the bay, it offers some gorgeous views, as well as a seemingly endless array of restaurants, shops, and attractions to fit every want and need. You can ride the famed cable cars, pose with the stars at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, be amazed at Ripley’s Believe it or Not, or dip your toes into some history at the Maritime Museum.

Of course, the area is very touristy, but this does not retract from its fun carnivalesque atmosphere. Variety is the name of the game here and you are sure to find something that will suit your style. Fisherman’s Wharf is a joy ride, so strap on and take it all in.

where? Fisherman’s Wharf is located on the waterfront of the San Francisco Bay, close to the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. To arrive, take the local bus to Jeff Street & Powell Street. If you want to arrive in style, take a cable car on the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason lines.

when? The area itself is open all day every day, and there is no restriction on what time you can visit. However, keep in mind that attractions, restaurants, and shops all follow their own schedule. To learn more about the places of commerce and museums that are located here, visit the official site.

£$€¥ Given that this is one of the most frequented areas in the city, prices tend to be steep. Expect souvenir shops and restaurants to have inflated prices. If you’re traveling on a budget, don’t despair! Walking about the area is free, and there are some smaller shops and food stands that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.

4. Twin Peaks

The view of San Francisco from Twin Peaks One of San Fran's Twin Peaks

Get the best views of San Francisco at the top of these peaks, 925 ft above sea level.

Eureka and Noe are the twin peaks that dominate part of the San Francisco landscape. They are the second tallest points in the area, right after Mount Davidson, which beats them by 3 feet. Their geography has ensured their importance to all the populations that have inhabited the area, and several endangered and diverse species of flora and fauna live here.

Hiking up to the top of the hills is one of the preferred activities for both locals and visitors. The hike itself is pleasant, but it is the 360° view from the top that truly makes this landmark shine. 

where? The two hills are located south of Bay Ridge. The easiest way to arrive is by car, and there is free parking at Twin Peaks Boulevard (though spots are limited). If you don’t have access to a car, take bus No. 37 to the Crestline Drive stop, or the metro to the Castro St. station.

when?  The peaks are open from 5:00 am to midnight. Sunrise is particularly breathtaking, but the view of the city lit up at night is also something to behold. If you are taking public transportation, check the departure times for buses before deciding when to go.

£$€¥  Entrance to the peaks is free, as is parking. There are no places of commerce at the top, so bring all the necessary water and snacks that you will need for the hike.

5. Union Square

Union Square, San Fran (© CarolinaCABoy64, CC-BY-SA-3.0) The Dewey Monument on Union Square, San Fran

With incessant energy that infects everyone who passes through, Union Square is the heart of San Francisco.

Surrounded by high rise buildings that house everything from offices to studios to the latest vegan bakery, Union Square inspires you to do. There is no relaxing here when there are so many department stores to check out, restaurants to try, and off-Broadway shows to catch.

Sure, there is always traffic and noise around, but that only adds to the pleasant buzz that fills the air with excitement and possibility. See some of the city’s most iconic sculptures, enjoy some fast-paced people watching, and give into the delicious rush of the city.

where?  Union Square is located in Downtown San Francisco, southwest of the Financial District. Even if you have a car, the perpetually congested streets mean that it is always better to access it on public transit or by foot. There are several public transportation lines that service it.

when? There is no bad time to visit Union Square, and there are few times a day in which it is not busy. Each business follows its own schedule so plan accordingly.

£$€¥ Though there is no charge associated with visiting the square itself, prices tend to be reflective of a city’s Downtown.