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San Francisco

San Francisco is a major city in California, the centerpiece of the Bay Area, well-known for its liberal community, hilly terrain, Victorian architecture, scenic beauty, summer fog, and extreme ethnic and cultural diversity. These are only a few of the aspects of the city that make San Francisco one of the most visited cities in the world.

San Francisco is located on a small seven-by-seven mile (11x11km) square of land at the tip of a peninsula between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast. It has a population of almost 800,000, but is the center of a metropolitan area of millions. San Francisco is just one of the cities which makes-up the entire San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco's neighbors, cities and towns to the east of the Bay Bridge, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and south of it are all in separate counties, each with their own city government and local public transportation systems.


Each district of San Francisco carries its own unique and district culture. This map is predominantly based on the 11 official governmental districts of San Francisco, but it has been adapted to suit the purposes of this guide. Some districts have been merged together and others have been broken up into popular neighborhood groupings.

  • Golden Gate— Fashionable neighborhoods with expensive views, historical landmarks - The Presidio and Fort Mason, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Fisherman's Wharf— A waterfront neighborhood which encompasses Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square and the ferry launch to Alcatraz Island, as well as a plethora of seafood restaurants and souvenir stores.
  • Nob Hill-Russian Hill— Two ritzy neighborhoods with upscale hotels, cable cars, panoramic views and steep inclines.
  • Chinatown-North Beach— Two vibrant immigrant communities, stylish laid back 'Little Italy' next to the crowded and largest Chinatown outside of Asia.
  • Union Square-Financial District— The center of shopping, theater and art in the city, next to the many skyscrapers of downtown.
  • Civic Center-Tenderloin— While the 'loin is somewhat grittier compared to its ritzier neighbors downtown, there's still plenty of interesting architecture and attractions to see here.
  • SoMa (South of Market)— A rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of downtown that is the center of a lot of new construction, including AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
  • Western Addition— A historic neighborhood with many Victorian homes that was once a hotbed of African-American culture. Within the area is also Japantown, the center of San Francisco's Japanese population.
  • Haight— Famous for being the home of the Hippie movement, this once bohemian area, although gentrified, is still an eclectic treasure.
  • The Avenues— Including both the foggy Sunset and Richmond Districts, the area is also home to the Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach.
  • Twin Peaks-Lake Merced— Covering most of southwestern San Francisco, this area is home to many of the taller hills of San Francisco and the large Lake Merced park which contains the San Francisco Zoo.
  • Castro-Noe Valley— Colorful and cohesive, the Castro is historically known for being the cultural center of the city's LGBTQ community.
  • Mission-Bernal Heights— This colorful area is home to a large Hispanic community as well as new urban artisans.
  • Southeast San Francisco— A mostly residential area, this district contains several bay-side neighborhoods, many nice parks, and Monster Park, home of the 49ers NFL team.


San Francisco has much to see - these are just the most significant sights. For more detail see the individual district sections, often linked from this entry.

A couple of passes are available which offer discounts to many interesting attractions.

  • CityPass. A relatively cheap and easy way to cover many attractions of the city is the CityPass. For a fare of $54 (adults) and $44 (children 17 and under) you get admission to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum (both must be visited on the same day), the Aquarium of the Bay, a Blue and Gold Fleet bay cruise, and the Asian Art Museum OR the Exploratorium. A City Pass works for 9 consecutive days starting with the use of your first ticket (each ticket only accounts for one visit to each attraction). The pass also includes seven consecutive days of Cable Car and MUNI fares.
  • Go San Francisco Card. Another easy way to cover many attractions and tours is the Go San Francisco Card. This card allows you to take some tours for free (Wine Country tour, San Francisco Sightseeing , City Tour), Bay Cruises, museums, aquariums, The Conservatory of Flowers, and many other activities. Other tours and activities are also discounted from $5.00 to 40%. The cost of the card is $45 for 1 day, $65 for 2 days, $89 for 3 days. $119 for 5 days, and $139 for 7 days.


  • The Golden Gate Bridge, located at the Golden Gate, is perhaps the most recognizable landmark in San Francisco and one of the most famous bridges in the United States, and has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The bridge spans the Golden Gate, a strait between San Francisco and Marin County to the north, and is one of the major road routes into and out of the city.
  • The famous cable cars run up and down the hills of San Francisco between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf and offer quite a ride. See above under Get around for more info.
  • The Presidio, located in the Golden Gate district, was founded in 1776 and was the longest-running military post in the U.S. before closing as a base in 1994. It is now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and contains the Fort Point National Historic Site. From its vantage point overlooking the spectacular Golden Gate, Fort Point protected San Francisco harbor from Confederate & foreign attack during & after the U.S. Civil War. Its beautifully arched casemates display the art of the master brick mason from the Civil War period. The Palace of Fine Arts is a beautiful building, built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and reminiscent of Roman and Greek architecture.
  • Coit Tower, atop Telegraph Hill in North Beach, is dedicated to the San Francisco firefighters (who fought a massive blaze in 1906 after the earthquake that destroyed much of the city center), and the tower is rumored to be designed to resemble the nozzle of a fire hose. At 250' high, it is a healthy hike from the nearby neighborhoods just below the hill.
  • The Transamerica Pyramid is the tallest and most recognizable building in San Francisco, located among the skyscrapers and highrises of the Financial District.
  • Alamo Square Park in the Western Addition district is home to the famous Painted Ladies row of Victorian houses on its east side along Steiner Street, with many other pretty Victorians encircling the lovely park.
  • Lombard Street. The (nearly) twistiest street in America, between Hyde & Leavenworth on Russian Hill. The city has a twistier but less scenic hill-climb along Vermont Street, south of McKinley Square on Potrero Hill. You can get a view of Lombard from the Powell & Hyde cable car line.
  • 22nd Street between Vicksburg and Church in Noe Valley and Filbert Street between Leavenworth and Hyde on Russian Hill - At a 31.5% grade, these streets share the honor of steepest streets in San Francisco.
  • The Mission Dolores Church in the Mission District is one of the oldest structures in the city with superb city views from Dolores Park. The walls of many nearby buildings, especially on alleys between Market and Valencia are painted with a fantastic collection of murals of all sorts.


When the morning is foggy, you may want to spend a few hours in one of the city's many world-class museums. Golden Gate Park is home to the copper-clad M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary and indigenous art. The de Young Museum's former Asian collection is now permanently housed in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, located in the Civic Center. Across from the de Young Museum stands the California Academy of Sciences, which re-opened in September 2008 after extensive renovations.

The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is in Lincoln Park in the northwest corner of the Richmond district. In Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum offers exhibits on the famous moving landmarks of San Francisco. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Moscone Center, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Zeum, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art are all located in SoMa, south of Union Square. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, which was designed by Daniel Liebeskind and opened in June 2008, is the latest major addition to San Francisco's museum scene.

At the Hyde Street Pier in Fisherman's Wharf you can go on board several historical ships, including the 1886 Balclutha clipper ship, a walking-beam ferry, a steam tug, and a coastal schooner. At Pier 45 just to the east, the World War II submarine USS Pampanito and the World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien can be visited. Nearby on Pier 39 is the excellent Aquarium of the Bay.

The Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina will keep you busy for an entire day with their science and perception exhibits. Also in the Marina district is Fort Mason, home to a few cultural museums.






Harbor tours

One of the best ways to see San Francisco is from the waters of San Francisco Bay. There are many companies offering San Francisco harbor tours of varying durations and prices but they all provide marvelous views of the bay, the bridges, the island of Alcatraz and the city.

Only specific island tours are allowed to land at Alcatraz, but the typical harbor tour will circle the island at a slow crawl, giving you plenty of opportunity to photograph the now-inactive prison from the water.

Also consider taking a ferry from San Francisco across the bay to Tiburon, Sausalito, or Alameda. Same views for a fraction of the price.

Most tours leave from docks between Fisherman's Wharf and adjacent Pier 39. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks along the waterfront walk. Buy tickets a day or two in advance during the summer high season.

Boats usually leave roughly hourly starting around 10AM and ending around 5PM. Multi-lingual guides are available on some tours. Prices range from $20-$40, more for sunset, dinner, or whale watching tours.

  • Even on a sunny day the bay can be chilly, so be sure to bring a sweater as well as sun screen.
  • Some boats have snack bars on board, but bring your own water and treats to avoid paying high costs or going without. There are now limited refreshments and a souvenirs shop on Alcatraz.

Companies offering harbor tours include:

  • Red & White Fleet,
  • Blue & Gold Fleet,
  • Adventure Cat Sailing Charters,
  • Hornblowers,

Walking/Biking tours

  • All About Chinatown,
  • American Running Guides, +1 415 864-2103,. Offers guided running tours for active travelers wanting to maintain a workout routine without being relegated to the hotel treadmill. Experienced runners take clients on classic routes throughout the city and on the Marin trails, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a great way to see the city and get a workout before breakfast. Reservations required.
  • Bike and Roll,
  • Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals and Tours, with multiple locations in Fisherman's Wharf,. In addition to bike rentals, this company offers guided bicycling tours over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County, where you can return by ferry.  
  • Geogad Mobile Tours, . Geogad has free MP3 walking tours for Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf that can be downloaded directly from the Geogad website. These tours can be uploaded to any MP3 device and work best on MP3 players that can display the tour photos and maps. The tours are a great introductions to San Francisco as they explore the most popular destinations for travelers to San Francisco in a fun, relaxed way. Tours include Fisherman's Wharf, the Ferry Building, Market Street, and Union Square. The tours are designed to make your sightseeing easy by linking San Francisco's best sightseeing together with your favorite mobile device.
  • San Francisco City Guides,. Founded in 1978, City Guides is a non-profit organization with more than 200 trained volunteers who lead free history and architectural walking tours in San Francisco. They are sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library.

Bus/Driving tours

  • A Friend in Town, +1 800 960-8099, Offers personalized sightseeing tours conducted by a trained historian. Solo travelers or groups up to 30 are picked up and dropped off at their home, hotel, or anywhere within 100 miles of downtown San Francisco.  
  • Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel, +1 415 337-1874,. Private, custom tours for groups of six or fewer persons in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit boutique wineries in Napa and Sonoma, San Francisco's vibrant neighborhoods, the giant redwoods of Muir Woods, the hillside village of Sausalito, the magnificent California coast, and the beautiful Monterey Peninsula.  
  • GoCar, . These little yellow cars show you the way as they lead you on their tour of San Francisco.  
  • Mr. Toads Tours, +1 877 467-8623, . Semi-private environmentally friendly tours are provided in 10-passenger, propane powered pre-1930s touring cars. Highlights include Chinatown's fortune cookie factory, Victorian homes, Lombard Street, Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, Presidio National Park, Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, and Ghirardelli Square. Frequent daily departures from Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square. Reservations recommended and can be made online.  
  • Gray Line Motorized Cable Car Tour.  
  • Isolda Anilovich - Russian-Speaking Tour Guide, +1 415 351-2232. (in English) (in Russian). Private, custom tours of San Francisco, Bay Area and Napa Valley are provided in native Russian language. Flexible accommodations to suit your interests, taste, and budget.
All List of San Francisco Hotels


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