Have dinner in Chinatown or take a cable car ride on Nob Hill. Take in the breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Get fresh seafood, watch street performers or go shopping at Fisherman’s Wharf where you can check out the legendary sea lion colony. San Francisco, CA is filled to the brim with exciting and unique experiences for any visitor. Consider a visit to the Asian Art Museum, where nearly 15,000 works of Asian Art are on display. Another of the cities finest museums is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. You can save 42% off 4 combined attraction prices with the San Francisco CityPASS.
San Francisco is located in a great spot for road trips across America’s fine West. It’s just a 6 hour drive from LA (380 miles), an 8 hour drive from San Diego (500 miles), a 9 hour drive from Las Vegas (570 miles), 15½ hours to Yellowstone National Park (970 miles), 4 hours to Yosemite National Park (190 miles), a 10 hour drive to Portland, OR, and a 13 hour drive to Seattle (800 miles).
Top 13 Attractions
1. Golden Gate Bridge– The iconic, 1.7-mile-long Golden Gate Bridge is a reason to visit ‘Frisco within itself. Walk, drive or cycle across this timeless modern marvel, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
After seeing Joseph B. Strauss‘s architectural masterpiece, be sure to stop by the 1,017 acre Golden Gate Park, a place where bison roam, a number of museums are left to discover, and a number of gorgeous gardens reside, including the San Francisco Botanical Garden, a 55-acre urban retreat that hosts 50,000 plants from regions all across the world. From mid-January through March, nearly 100 rare magnolias come to life in radiant pink and white flowers to form “the world’s fourth most significant collection of Magnolia for conservation purposes, and the most important collection outside of China.” It’s considered to be one of the 12 Best Botanical Gardens In The USA. Admission is $7 for adults and $2-$5 for children.
2. Alcatraz Island– Once the most feared prison in America, now a popular tourist spot. Catch the ferry at Pier 41 for transportation to this historical prison. General admission is $30 for adults and $18.25 for children.
3. Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39– Mouthwatering Seafood dives come hand in hand with incredible attractions such as the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum (new for 2014) and the Aquarium Marine Museum. Take in the sea lions at play or get a closer look at the latest fresh catch from aboard one of the active fishing boats.
4. Lombard Street– Take a drive down one of the world’s windiest roads, while admiring the beautiful homes that surround you. Stop at the picturesque Alamo Square to take in this incredible sight.
5. Chinatown– Step through the “Dragon’s Gate” to enter the world renowned Chinatown of San Francisco. Inside you will find 24 blocks of non stop hustle and bustle, as you get the impression of arriving in Beijing. Dubbed “the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America.” Most of the action is located on Grant Avenue, the oldest street in the city. Not only will you find notable restaurants when walking this city within a city, you’ll also come across exotic shops, food markets, temples and small museums. Chinatown is an absolute must for visitors to this city, where else can you watch fortune cookies made?
6. War Memorial Opera House– Get dressed up and prepare yourself to be awed by the San Francisco Ballet in one of the world’s most beautiful theaters. You will feel like royalty as you walk into the 1932 Beaux-Arts structure and spend the evening in the highly technologically advanced, yet old world auditorium.
7. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom– While I am not a huge fan of the Six flags theme park due to their lack of extensive theming and mid-sized rides, they can still be a lot of fun, especially for thrill seekers! General admission is $61.99 for adults and $42.99 for children.
8. The Exploratorium – This isn’t just any old ordinary boring science museum, it’s actually actually a lot of fun for the learner in all of us. Scientific American magazine rated it “the best science museum in the world” and it’s easy to see why. Exhibits include everything from giant-bubble blowing to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Touch a tornado, shape a glowing electrical current, or take a sensory journey in total darkness in the Tactile Dome. It’s located in the Marina District at the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts, the only building left standing from the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children. Free for all on the 1st Wednesday of the month.
9. de Young Museum – San Francisco’s oldest museum, founded in 1895, was reopened in late 2005 in its state-of-the-art Golden Gate Park facility. It features American paintings in the United States from Colonial times through the 20th century, as well as decorative arts and crafts; Western and non-Western textiles; and arts from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. The exterior is made up of 950,000 pounds of textured and perforated copper that’s intended to patinate with age, while the northeast corner of the building featuring a 144-foot tower that slowly spirals from the ground floor and culminates with an observation floor offering panoramic views of the entire city. Admission tickets to the de Young may be used on the same day for free entrance to the Legion of Honor. Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for children. Free 1st Tuesday of the month.
10. The Walt Disney Family Museum – Disney fanatics who are in town craving a slice of the house of mouse will especially want to stop by this incredible museum, which is dedicated to the life, career, and art of Walt Disney. It opened in 2009 by the Walt Disney Family Foundation and this museum is housed in a re-purposed structure made out of an old army barracks and gymnasium. The deceptively large space blends seamlessly into its historic surroundings. It features an interactive gallery documenting Disney’s innovations in sound synchronization where kids can add sound effects to a Steamboat Willie cartoon; absorbing audio narratives about Disney’s run-ins and ultimate triumphs over swindlers; an original multiplane camera that shows you how Disney developed dimensional animation; and the tale of how the Disney brothers financed Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They have old-fashioned cartoons along the way to help keep the children entertained, in a museum that is mostly geared towards adults. Admission is $20 for adults and $12 for children.
11. Haunted Haight Walking Tour – This tour provides a fine look into the city’s macabre secrets on a two hour tour that takes you along the streets to some of the creepiest areas in town where infamous murders and cult leaders alike once lived along the Haight-Ashbury district. Hear the well-documented tales of San Francisco’s past and step inside a haunted pub for a drink at the end. We feature it on our list of 13 Bone-Chilling Haunted Tours in the US. Each tour gives you the chance to win spooky prizes, and the cost is $20 per person. Tours meet at Coffee To The People at 1206 Masonic Avenue on Saturdays at 7 pm. It is not recommended for children 13 and under.
12. The California Academy of Sciences – Located in Golden Gate Park, animal lovers will especially enjoy the Behind the Scenes tour at California Academy of Arts and Sciences. With this tour, you get to explore the facilities where research, education and scientific discovery takes place, or check out the marine biology areas with over 38,000 animals on-site. The Behind-the-Scenes Academy tour takes you throughout the facilities for a glimpse at the place where scientists conduct research. The Behind-the-Scenes Aquarium tour gives you a look inside the animal centers where biologist care for penguins, fish, butterflies and even an albino alligator! You even get VIP entrance into the Rainforests of the World Exhibit and seats reserved at the Planetarium. Visit where the animals’ food is prepared, learn about the water filtration system and see the animals with a tour inside. We feature it on our list of the Top 10 Behind the Scenes Tours in America. Each tour lasts about an hour and take place daily at three specified times. Tours are $24.95 per non-members and $19.95 for Academy Members. Don’t forget to take advantage of 10% at restaurant and gift shop with your admission ticket.
13.Steinhart Aquarium – The Steinhart Aquarium is a fun and educational experience with over 38,000 animals from across the globe. You can watch the sharks and stingrays swim the waters beneath your shoes and come face to face with African penguins all in one day. With over 900 species, don’t be surprised if you come across a creature you’ve never seen before! Not only will you learn from the abundance of animals onsite, but the exhibits offer an eye-opening look at the water as a major life-sustaining substance here on Earth. We rank it at #7 on our list of the 25 Best Aquariums In America. Steinhart Aquarium costs $34.95 for adults, $29.95 for senior, student and youth, and $24.95 for children.
Crown & Crumpet – The charming little Pop-Victorian tea room has become well known for it’s cute decor and delectable soups, sandwiches, salads, scones and crumpets. It recently moved from Fisherman’s Wharf to Japantown.
Opaque – Dine in complete darkness! Many of the servers are blind (well, even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t do them much good!). The experience is designed to allow you to ignore the atmosphere and solely take in the sounds, feelings, and of course the tastes. It is quite pricey, in fact a three-course meal can cost over $100. But where else can you get such an experience (turn the lights off at home and eat?!). They also have locations in LA, San Diego, Dallas, and New York.
Pho Garden – This family owned and operated Vietnamese restaurant features Beef noodle soup, Bun Bo Hue (Beef and Pork with lemon grass) noodle spicy soup, and Filet Mignon with garlic noodle. Try to beat the Pho Garden Challenge, where anyone who can eat four pounds of beef noodle soup in one hour receives a free meal!
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. – Owned by the people who own Rainforest Cafe. Since 1996, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. has been entertaining guests with a charming down-home style that’s a hit with eaters around the globe. Their menu offers a number of items for the shrimp lover in all of us. Boasting creative seafood dishes inspired straight from the movie Forrest Gump and a fun family atmosphere, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. will have you running to the nearest location you can find! Although that movie came out around 20 years ago, this popular restaurant never fails to delight.
Hard Rock Cafe – Classic American grub, memorabilia along the walls, and a fun atmosphere come together for a delicious meal. Located at Pier 39 they’ve got fab views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, the San Francisco Bay, and the City skyline, not to mention more than 110 stores, 11 full-service restaurants, and numerous fun-filled attractions. You can find the 45-acre, Pier 39 complex two blocks east of Fisherman’s Wharf at Beach Street and The Embarcadero.
Forbes Island – Those looking for a truly unique experience will have to dine here, aboard the world’s only floating island! It is in Sea Lion Harbor and offers views of sun bathing sea lions and Alcatraz. They serve American fine dining and offer an underwater dining room and bar. It was originally built in 1975 by millionaire captain Forbes Thor Kiddoo as a private floating home, Forbes is constructed from concrete, rocks, sand, and topsoil and has a 45-foot lighthouse.
Dynamo Donut & Coffee – As seen in Saveur, Travel + Leisure, The Food Network, Zagat, Food & Wine, and The Huffington Post, this famous donut house is well known for its handmade cake-like donuts in its conveniently located spot in the Mission District. They use organic and local ingredients to produce distinctive flavors like vanilla bean, banana de leche, chocolate rose geranium hazelnut, and caramel de sel, all of which have Dynamo’s characteristic “cakiness.” They are especially well known for their yummy bacon donuts, as well as their “Molasses Guinness Pear,” a molasses doughnut with golden raisins, bits of crystallized ginger and Guinness-poached pears and topped with sticky Guinness glaze. Or try their Monte Cristo doughnut with ham, Gruyere, powdered sugar and homemade plum jelly.
Cavallo Point – Catharine Hamm, who I featured in this post on budget travel (she is an editor of the L.A. Times), said in a recent interview that this was her favorite restaurant…so I had to include it to the list. They feature Northern California cuisine anchored to its Marin roots. Give it a try and let us know how you like it!
The Tonga Room – Located below the Fairmont Hotel, the circa-1945 tropical lounge the Tonga Room is a remarkably intact vision of mid-century Tiki culture. The Island Groove Band performs on the lagoon on a moving Gilligan’s Island-esque raft platform, and every half hour there’s an indoor thundershower. The Tonga room serves Pacific Rim cuisine and tropical cocktails served in tiki vessels.
Teatro ZinZanni – As featured on The Food Network’s “World’s Weirdest Restaurants” TV show, this place brings you back to the 1962 World’s Fair for a colorful collection of circus performances, comedy and classic cuisine of the era. Their original location opened in Seattle in 1998. These dinner shows typically range from $108 to $143 per person.
Straw – Since opening in 2011, this Carnival-themed restaurant has been a huge hit, with Carnival favorites like cotton candy and funnel cake. Menus are made from old children’s books and ping-pong paddles, drinks are served in Mason jars, and goldfish crackers are dished out instead of bread. Vintage dessert molds are turned upside down and into lampshades, and bulb-filled canning jars form the central light fixture. The bathroom is all decked out with carnival images, 1990s troll dolls and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. The Tilt-a-Whirl seat is the crowning glory of Straw’s novelty, seating two people.
Their most famous entree options are the fried chicken-and-waffle sandwich and the glazed doughnut burger. Finish it off with the award-winning Flying Saucer, a peanut butter mousse with chocolate fudge, candied bacon and caramel.
Rainforest Cafe – Step into this indoor jungle and discover one of the most realistic indoor rain forests ever created, complete with cascading waterfalls, lush vegetation, tropical rainstorms, beautiful aquariums, trumpeting elephants and wild animatronic gorillas, jaguars, and elephants. A “thunderstorm” goes off every now and then, where the ”animals” go wild and thunder and lightning appear to sound off in a dramatic yet exciting experience. The menu includes a wide variety of options, including pastas, seafood, salads, sandwiches and pizzas. Order their “volcano” sundae and they start yelling “volcano” and make quite a spectacle! Pick up a souvenir on the way out at their large, iconic gift shop.
Millennium Restaurant – No matter which millennium it happens to be, we hope this place stays around for quite a few more! Located just west of Union Square, Millennium is a frequent winner of VegNews’ annual readers’ choice award for Favorite Fancy Vegetarian Restaurant. Its seasonal menu crosses culinary boundaries: Korean-spiced smoked tempeh; a tamale with sesame mole; a house-made sunchoke ravioli. The wine list features more than 50 bottles, all of which are organic or sustainably grown. The menu rotates around the season so it’s always fun to come back time and time again to see what their culinary masters’ latest creations. Those on a budget may want to try their “Frugal Foodie Menu” that’s available Sunday through Wednesday only, offering an appetizer, entree, and dessert for $42 per person. It’s featured on our list of America’s Best Vegetarian Restaurants.
Can you guess where this picture was taken? Tweet me! Hint: It wasn’t in San Francisco.
Those with kids will want to head to Ambassador Toys, which we consider to be one of the 9 Coolest Toy Stores in America! It is an award winning shop in San Francisco with high quality and specialty toys alike. You will find some of the most unique classic and educational products that come from all around the globe and make learning fun! Each toy is picked for safety and durability—so you can rest easy knowing you are getting top quality products and fantastic brands that your kids will really enjoy. Toys can be found for all ages and the store itself makes for a unique place to look around with a cool dark full of science kits in the back. Ambassador Toys is located at 186 W Portal Avenue in San Francisco. It is open Monday through Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm.
Don’t expect the weather here to be as warm as it is in Los Angeles and San Diego. The weather here is often mild and can often be very chilly because of the foggy air and cool winds. Spring and autumn are the best time to come Low crowds and warmer weather make it ideal. No matter what time of year you come, the marine climate is likely to be pleasant, but bring a jacket just in case.
San Francisco offers a wide variety of options for public transportation around the city. From cable cars to ferries, you will have the opportunity to get a lift to any location you need. The Bay Area Rapid Transit system offers buses and trains to many corners of the city. Simply find your nearest station and purchase BART tickets at the kiosks, or you can find them at some retail stores. For fun travel downtown, hop on a cable car and coast to your next destination.
3 Star- The Chancellor Hotel on Union Square (Avg. price $138-$244) is affordable yet well liked by many. Rooms may be small but they are surprisingly modern and clean. Location, great price, and amenities make it an overall great choice. TripAdvisor considers it to be one of the top 10 hotels in the city and it’s easy to see why.
4 Star- Hyatt Regency (Avg. price $323) recently won a Guinness World Record for having the largest hotel lobby in the world, at 15-stories-high. It also offers breathtaking views of the bay and the admiration from a beautiful metallic ‘pan-scourer’ sculpture.
4 Star- The Westin St. Francis (Avg. price $216-$414) is a historic, luxury hotel in a great location. Envisioned to be the “Paris of the West”, this hotel opened over a century ago in 1904. By 1908 it had been dubbed as the largest hotel on the east coast. It remains as one of the largest hotels in the city, currently with 1200 rooms and suites. Celebrities, including Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford (who was almost shot when leaving the hotel in 1975), and Queen Elizabeth II, have stayed at this hotel.
4 Star- Hotel Zetta (Prices start at $200 a night) – Ranked by CNN as one of the 10 highest-tech hotels in America, each guestroom features integrated technology that allows music, movies, emails and more to stream wirelessly from your mobile device to an Internet-enabled, 46-inch flatscreen TV. The Playroom is a 1,500-square-foot adult space equipped with the latest gaming consoles, as well as old school classics like Atari and Nintendo. An antique red telephone booth is rigged so you can video chat, snap a profile pic or order drinks and food from the bar. Décor includes old floppy-disks-turned-artwork, interactive wall hangings and an art installation made from obsolete hardware like cell phones, computer chips and game cartridges. It’s conveniently located in the heart of the hip SoMa Distict, offering116 fashionable rooms and suites.
5 Star- The Ritz Carlton (Avg. price $450-$716) is one of the finest resorts in town, living up to it’s glorious namesake. It recently completed an opulent, $12.5 million renovation, providing modern amenities as well as traditional charm. Excellent fine dining options, amenities and location give this hotel its magnificent display of “ritz”.
Hearst Castle – Those taking the drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles will want to consider stopping along the way at Hearst Castle, which is about a 4 hour and 10 minute drive from Los Angeles. CNN calls it one of the “World’s 15 Most Spectacular Swimming Pools” (though swimming is not permitted). This mansion was built in 1919 by William Randolph Hearst and this castle includes two spectacular Roman-inspired pools. Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and other legendary figures have splashed in the outdoor Neptune Pool, where a special ramp was installed to allow easy access for the pet dachshund of Hearst’s lover. It receives over 1 million visitors each year, despite it’s distant location. Admission is $25 for adults and $12 for children.
3 Star- Madonna Inn (Rates start at $175) – For anyone who is traveling between LA and San Francisco (or for locals simply looking to get away for the night), I highly recommend stopping at the Madonna Inn, which is in the town of San Luis Obispo, which is about half way between LA and San Francisco. This quirky little 109 room Swiss Alp-inspired hotel and restaurant is beyond extraordinarily awesome in more ways than one. Each room has a different theme, such as “Floral Fantasy, Jungle Rock, Sir Walter Raleigh, Whispering Hills…” The Gold Rush Steakhouse (which I highly encourage you to dine at even if you do not care to stay here) is one of my favorite rooms because of it’s extravagant pink decor. They even have pink sugar on the restaurant tables and a waterfall urinal in the lobby restroom! Not to mention a pink basketball court! If I was going to build a hotel, I would want it to be just as cool as this place! It currently has 4 star average reviews on TripAdvisor, with one of the reviews saying “it’s like staying on a movie set.”