Whether this is your first time to the City by the Bay or you’ve been here before, there’s so much to do and see that it can be overwhelming. We picked our top five spots for first-timers and seasoned visitors, so start here to begin your urban adventure.
Never been here before? No problem. We think every trip should start with a ride on cable car, San Francisco’s own urban roller coaster, and the only “moving” National Historic Landmark in the country (Cars run 6 am-12:30 am daily. 415.673.6864, www.sfmuni.com).
Next up is a stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. The 1.7-mile-long suspension bridge is San Francisco, and makes for a good walk with stunning views of the city—if you can withstand the wind! (Lincoln Boulevard near Doyle Drive and Fort Point, Presidio, 415.921.5858). Fisherman’s Wharf draws a lively mix of tourists, performers and street peddlers to its bustling bay-front blocks. Staying true to its heritage, the Wharf continues to be the epicenter of San Francisco’s fishing community—so don’t leave here without trying a cracked whole crab or sourdough bread bowl brimming with clam chowder (at Embarcadero and Taylor streets, 415.674.7503).
Eight hairpin switchbacks and the downward pitch of Lombard Street, the self-proclaimed “Crookedest Street in the World,” beckons a trip down its quarter-mile stretch, or walk to the top of the hill for sweeping views of Coit Tower (Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth streets). Once a prison for the most dangerous of criminals, Alcatraz now sits sleepily in the San Francisco Bay. Unlock the island’s secrets as you scour empty jail cells, mess halls and more (415.981.7625, www.alcatrazcruises.com).
You’ve walked the Golden Gate Bridge, ridden a cable car, cracked a crab down at Fisherman’s Wharf. Now see another side of the city.
For a real taste of San Francisco, you have to take a real taste of San Francisco—and there’s no better place to do that than at the Ferry Building. Once the transportation hub, a 2003 renovation shifted the space’s focus from ferries to fine food. The shops and restaurants inside now offer some of the area’s most prized artisanal treats: rich Cowgirl Creamery cheese, out-of-the-oven Acme bread, buttery Miette Patisserie madelines, Blue Bottle Coffee and more (Market Street at the Embarcadero, 415.693.0996, www. ferrybuildingmarketplace.com). Piping-hot coffee, strong Irish whiskey, a spoonful of sugar and thick cream equal a San Francisco original: an Irish Coffee. Try one while you’re here—at the place they were invented. The Buena Vista Café is an institution, lining up mugs a mile long down the bar and serving more than 2,000 Irish Coffees a day! (2765 Hyde St., 415.474.5044, www.thebuenavista.com).
The Northwest side of the city is often forgotten, but it shouldn’t be. Here find one of the most picturesque museums in the world, the Legion of Honor, housed in Lincoln Park, which is also home to the Sutro District, including the Sutro Baths, the Cliff House and a scenic hiking trail with gorgeous views of the Pacific coast and Golden Gate Bridge (48th Ave at Point Lobos Ave, 415.561.4323). Golden Gate Park boasts countless attractions, including the de Young Museum, Japanese Tea Garden, Botanical Gardens, Conservatory of Flowers, a windmill and even live buffalo. (Pick up a park map at McLaren Lodge at the east park entrance at Stanyan St. and JFK Dr., 415.831.2700). Watch the sunset behind a row of seven perfectly pastel Victorian homes that line the eastern side of Alamo Square, downtown sparkling in the background. Victorians are among San Francisco’s most recognizable architectural features. It's no wonder this stretch is often called Postcard Row (712 Steiner St.).