San Francisco

Information about San Francisco, including what to see, where to stay, where to eat, and links to sources of information including the official visitor website.

Whether you take Highway-1 or Highway-101 south along the Pacific Coast, they both meet just north of the Golden Gate Bridge to take you over that iconic landmark and into San Francisco. If you're heading north instead of south, then a look back at the Golden Gate will be your abiding memory of that city by the bay.

San Francisco is the 4th biggest city in California but often doesn't seem it as it still has an old-fashioned feel about it, with many areas looking much like they did a century ago.

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The Pacific Coast Highway will take you right through the city and out the other side, but if you've never visited then it would be a crying shame not to take a few days out and explore some of the sights.

Best Things to Do in San Francisco

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz

A visit to the island which held one of America's most noted and feared prisons is a must in San Francisco. Everyone wants to see the prison which inspired such movies as Escape from Alcatraz and of course The Birdman of Alcatraz, and the visit will not disappoint.

Put in a plea for good weather as the ferry ride to Alcatraz gives great views of the bay and the city in the all-too-brief 15-minute crossing. For more information see our full page on Touring Alcatraz.

Did You Know?
The Birdman of Alcatraz never kept birds at Alcatraz. He kept them at his previous prison, Leavenworth, where he got his nickname of the Birdman. When he was transferred to Alcatraz he kept the nickname but lost the birds as no pets of any kind were allowed.

Allow a half-day to take full advantage of the visit, as you can join a tour of the island led by a park ranger to learn all about the plants and the wildlife. Check on the schedule when you arrive, as there are also talks and demonstrations at set times, and you should take in as much as you can.

The main tour of the prison is a self-guided audio tour, which is included with the admission price and includes powerful accounts by former inmates and guards about life – and death – in Alcatraz. Evening tours are especially good, with the bonus of terrific night-time city views on the return ferry.

Booking Tickets

Booking in advance is recommended, even during quiet times of the year, as this is one of San Francisco's most popular attractions. Tickets for the ferry and admission to the island can be booked online in advance at the Alcatraz Cruises website.

Cable Cars

Visit San Francisco and not take a cable car? Oh, come on. You can get your ticket on board so just jump on, especially if you're heading up one of the steep San Francisco streets. It's not laziness. It's culture! San Francisco's cable cars are the only things that move that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences instantly became one of the city's must-see attractions when it opened in its new premises in Golden Gate Park in 2008. Since re-opening it has won awards from all over the world for its innovative design and displays.

It includes a 'living roof' with over 1 million native plants growing on it, an aquarium, planetarium, a rain forest zone, almost 40,000 animals – it is one of the largest natural history museums in the world, and you could easily spend an entire day here and still not see everything.

Chinatown

One of the most enjoyable and fascinating Chinatowns in the whole of the United States (sorry, New York!), a visit here can take you at least a day. You'll want to eat lunch and dinner here, of course, and allow time to see the various museums and cultural centers, temples and shops, not to mention the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory for a free tour. Check our recommendations for the best Chinatown restaurants here.

Cycling in San Francisco

Read Rich Grant's account of Cycling Round San Francisco Bay.

Fisherman's Wharf

San Francisco's Number One visitor attraction, and OK, it is touristy, but it mixes that with still being a genuine fishing wharf. Don't listen to what other people say about it, go and find out for yourself. You may love it, you may hate it, but it's an essential part of any visit to San Francisco. You can dine in fancy seafood restaurants or just eat street food and watch the buskers, then go buy a tacky t-shirt.

Free San Francisco

This isn't a political slogan, but read our review of the Kindle guidebook, 101 Free Things to Do in San Francisco.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Drive it, walk it, cycle it, or even take the local bus (which stops at the Toll Plaza), but whatever you do, don't miss it – as if you could. Your first view of the Golden Gate Bridge is like seeing the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower for the first time – unforgettable.

This beautiful structure took four years to build, and it was opened in 1937. Try to get over to the Marin County side for the great view back towards San Francisco, the city by the bay. Don't miss these Photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, or our page devoted to Visiting the Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Park

The Golden Gate Park isn't by the Golden Gate Bridge but is west of Haight-Ashbury and covers a massive 1017 acres. Within that there are several separate attractions, including the Japanese Tea Gardens, the Conservatory of Flowers, The Beach Chalet, Buffalo Paddock, de Young Museum, Shakespeare Garden, Stow Lake, a golf course, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden. See our page on Visiting Golden Gate Park.

Sightseeing Tours

See our San Francisco Sightseeing Tours Page

Whale Watching

See the Whale Watching in California page. 

More Information on San Francisco

Only in San Francisco
Official website of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau 

Other San Francisco pages

  • San Francisco sightseeing tours can be by helicopter, bike, walking, eating in Chinatown, touring the gay area or trips to the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

    San Francisco Sightseeing Tours

    San Francisco sightseeing tours can be by helicopter, bike, walking, eating in Chinatown, touring the gay area or trips to the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

  • A selection of the best Photos of the Golden Gate Bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway Travel website, for travel and photographic inspiration.

    Photos of the Golden Gate Bridge

    A selection of the best Photos of the Golden Gate Bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway Travel website, for travel and photographic inspiration.

  • A perfect day in San Francisco would include Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight-Ashbury, and the California Academy of Sciences.

    Perfect Day in San Francisco

    A perfect day in San Francisco would include Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight-Ashbury, and the California Academy of Sciences.

  • San Francisco Airport hotels include a Grand Hyatt, La Quinta, Westin, Marriott, Super 8 and bayfront hotels ranging from budget to 5-star luxury.

    San Francisco Airport Hotels

    San Francisco Airport hotels include a Grand Hyatt, La Quinta, Westin, Marriott, Super 8 and bayfront hotels ranging from budget to 5-star luxury.

  • San Francisco has some of the best Chinatown restaurants in the USA, and its Chinese restaurants provide superb dining. Here are our top eating places.

    San Francisco Best Chinatown Restaurants

    San Francisco has some of the best Chinatown restaurants in the USA, and its Chinese restaurants provide superb dining. Here are our top eating places.

  • The best museums in San Francisco include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum and Exploratorium.

    Best Museums in San Francisco

    The best museums in San Francisco include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum and Exploratorium.

  • Take a San Francisco Music Tour with Magic Bus, a trip through the musical past to Haight-Ashbury, the City Lights Bookstore and the Summer of Love.

    San Francisco Music Tour on the Magic Bus to Haight-Ashbury

    Take a San Francisco Music Tour with Magic Bus, a trip through the musical past to Haight-Ashbury, the City Lights Bookstore and the Summer of Love.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel's book review of Insider's Guide to San Francisco guidebook by Jill Loeffler, publisher of the San Francisco Tourism Tips website.

    Your Insider's Guide to San Francisco

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's book review of Insider's Guide to San Francisco guidebook by Jill Loeffler, publisher of the San Francisco Tourism Tips website.

  • Pacific Coast Highway dishes the dirt on Alcatraz's famous inmates, like the infamous Al Capone and the well-known Birdman, who never kept birds at Alcatraz!

    Alcatraz Famous Inmates

    Pacific Coast Highway dishes the dirt on Alcatraz's famous inmates, like the infamous Al Capone and the well-known Birdman, who never kept birds at Alcatraz!

  • 101 free San Francisco attractions and things to do are in the Kindle guide, 101 Free Things to Do in San Francisco, in the Travel Free eGuidebooks series.

    Free San Francisco Kindle Guide to Free Attractions

    101 free San Francisco attractions and things to do are in the Kindle guide, 101 Free Things to Do in San Francisco, in the Travel Free eGuidebooks series.

  • Cheap flights to San Francisco with Southwest Airlines, Virgin America, SkyWest, JetBlue and other airlines from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle.

    Cheap Flights to San Francisco

    Cheap flights to San Francisco with Southwest Airlines, Virgin America, SkyWest, JetBlue and other airlines from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle.

  • The Pacific Coast Highway Travel guide to the best golf courses in San Francisco for all budgets and skill levels, including courses close to the city center.

    Best Golf Courses in San Francisco

    The Pacific Coast Highway Travel guide to the best golf courses in San Francisco for all budgets and skill levels, including courses close to the city center.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel lists the ten best things to do in San Francisco, including Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, and Fisherman's Wharf.

    Ten Best Things to Do in San Francisco

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel lists the ten best things to do in San Francisco, including Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, and Fisherman's Wharf.

  • The Best Nightlife in San Francisco could be at the California Academy of Sciences where once a week it becomes a temporary nightclub.

    Best Nightlife in San Francisco at the California Academy of Sciences

    The Best Nightlife in San Francisco could be at the California Academy of Sciences where once a week it becomes a temporary nightclub.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel picks ten reasons to visit San Francisco's Chinatown ranging from food and fortune cookies to historic landmarks and shopping.

    Ten Reasons to Visit San Francisco's Chinatown

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel picks ten reasons to visit San Francisco's Chinatown ranging from food and fortune cookies to historic landmarks and shopping.

  • Touring Alcatraz, the former island prison, is one of the best things to do in San Francisco and attracts over 1.5 million visitors a year.

    Touring Alcatraz

    Touring Alcatraz, the former island prison, is one of the best things to do in San Francisco and attracts over 1.5 million visitors a year.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel brings you the best romantic hotels in San Francisco, many with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and in the heart of the city.

    Best Romantic Hotels in San Francisco

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel brings you the best romantic hotels in San Francisco, many with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and in the heart of the city.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel's guide to visiting the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco including how to get there and free walking tours of the bridge.

    Visiting the Golden Gate Bridge

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's guide to visiting the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco including how to get there and free walking tours of the bridge.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel’s advice on the best time to visit San Francisco, covering the weather and climate from month to month and season by season.

    Best Time to Visit San Francisco

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel’s advice on the best time to visit San Francisco, covering the weather and climate from month to month and season by season.

  • Before you go it helps to know what to eat in San Francisco and so here's our list of ten San Francisco dishes and drinks that you have to try.

    Ten San Francisco Dishes and Drinks

    Before you go it helps to know what to eat in San Francisco and so here's our list of ten San Francisco dishes and drinks that you have to try.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on visiting Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and seeing its museums, gardens, lakes, buildings, and even bison!

    Visiting Golden Gate Park

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on visiting Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and seeing its museums, gardens, lakes, buildings, and even bison!



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