By: Alexandra Cave
49 Mile Scenic Drive
The 49 Mile Scenic drive was created in 1938 by the Downtown Association to highlight the city’s beauty and to promote it as a tourist destination. The route was also created as a way for visitors to see San Francisco while they were here for the Golden Gate International Exposition from 1939-1940.
Over the years, the route has changed many times. Today, the route starts at City Hall and takes you along many of San Francisco’s historic and iconic landmarks. We’ve called out some of the highlights from the beginning of the drive which starts at Civic Center. Printed maps of the drive are available at the Visitor Information Center, 900 Market St.
Some notes and tips: Driving in the congested downtown area is not recommended during commute hours. Portions of the route may be affected by construction projects. If you are planning a walking tour, check with the Visitor Information Center or your hotel or motel regarding distances and other factors. In some cases public or vehicular transportation is recommended.
To download a PDF map of the 49 Mile Scenic Drive, click here
Points of Interest
1. Civic Center includes City Hall, Federal and State Office Buildings, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, Asian Art Museum, Main Library and the Performing Arts Center’s handsome components: Davies Symphony Hall, War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building/Herbst Theatre, where the U.N. charter was signed. A permanent memorial commemorating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations is located in United Nations Plaza.
2. Cathedral Hill is dominated by the strikingly contemporary St. Mary’s Cathedral.
3. Once called the “Harlem of the West,” the Fillmore is a hip entertainment district with restaurants, clubs and galleries.
4. Japan Center and Japantown have many shops, restaurants, several theaters and two hotels. The Peace Plaza of the Japan Center is the focal point for many festivals.
5. Union Square is the heart of the downtown shopping and hotel district. Many civic events are held in the square.
6. Chinatown, beginning at the Chinatown Gate, Grant Avenue at Bush Street, offers Chinese Historical Society of America museum and intriguing shops along Grant Avenue and Stockton Street.
7. Nob Hill is the elegant hilltop area of hotels and apartments with Gothic Grace Cathedral, Huntington Park and the Nob Hill Masonic Center at its crest.
8. Cable Car Barn, Mason and Washington Streets, has a visitors gallery and a museum with 19th century photos of cable car operations and scale models.
9. Portsmouth Square, a small historic park in Chinatown where the U.S. flag was raised in July 1846, is a gathering place for the community.
10. Jackson Square has preserved handsome 19th century buildings occupied by antique dealers, art galleries, gift and apparel shops. Enter the square on Jackson Street at Montgomery.
11. North Beach is a neon-studded nightlife area clustered around Broadway and Columbus. Three blocks north is Washington Square, the piazza of the city’s Italian sector.
12. Telegraph Hill has Coit Tower, a 210-foot (64 m) landmark, plus one of the city’s best views. (Congested area best visited on foot or via public transportation; may be closed to private vehicles.)
13. PIER 39 is a waterfront festival marketplace. Built on a 1,000-foot-long pier and flanked by small boat marinas, it offers sweeping views of the bay and city and is home to Aquarium of the Bay and a boisterous colony of sea lions.
14. Fisherman's Wharf is the center for seafood restaurants, fishing boats, harbor cruise boats, gift shops and numerous attractions including historic ships. Ferry service is offered from this area.
15. Alcatraz, infamous former Federal prison, is an island off Fisherman’s Wharf. Alcatraz tours leave from Pier 33. (Advance reservations are strongly recommended.)
16. San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, three blocks west of Fisherman's Wharf, has Hyde Street Pier with old-time exhibition ships and ship-shaped Maritime Museum. Municipal Pier is a popular spot for fishing.
17. The Cannery at Del Monte Square, an inviting three-level restoration that was once a canning factory, is now filled with a spectrum of shops, galleries and restaurants. Nearby, the nautically-inspired Anchorage Square offers shopping, dining and lodging.
18. Ghirardelli Square, a collection of red brick buildings that served as a chocolate factory, now is a charming restaurant and shopping center with open-air plazas and waterfront views. Across the street is landscaped Victorian Park.
19. Russian Hill has country-like lanes and terraces and panoramic bay views. Lombard Street descends the hill from Hyde—with nine hairpin turns in a single block.
20. Union Street's Victorian buildings, from Van Ness to Steiner, now house art galleries, antique shops, specialty stores, restaurants, coffee houses and pubs.
21. Fort Mason Center, hub of the world’s largest urban park—the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, anchors a number of museums, theaters and galleries and is a staging area for special events.
22. Marina Green, a grassy waterfront recreational area, is a good place to watch yachting activities. Crissy Field also offers bayside vantage points.
23. Palace of Fine Arts, built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, has been restored to its original glory. Contains the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre.
24. Presidio of San Francisco, a unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, offers 1,500-acres (16 sq. km) of park like hills, ocean vistas and The Walt Disney Family Museum.
25. Fort Point National Historic Site lies beneath the structure of the Golden Gate Bridge and offers an unusual view of the bridge and the bay’s shifting tides.
26. Golden Gate Bridge, the world’s most beautiful suspension bridge, links San Francisco with Marin County and the area to the north. Auto toll collected southbound.
27. China Beach at 28th and Sea Cliff Avenue has 600 feet (183 m) of sandy beach frontage for swimming, sunbathing and picnicking.
28. Legion of Honor, a replica of its Paris namesake, has masterpieces of European art from Medieval times into the 20th century, many Rodin bronzes, period rooms, prints and drawings.
29. Ocean Beach has plenty of sand and surf—and a view of the small, stony islands called Seal Rocks. Swimming and wading at this beach are strongly discouraged; immediately offshore are unpredictable currents which can take even the strongest swimmer by surprise.
30. San Francisco Zoo contains Grizzly Gulch, Lemur Forest, Penguin Island, Gorilla Preserve, Children’s Zoo and a thousand fascinating animals and birds from all over the world.
31. Lake Merced’s fresh waters offer boating and trout fishing within the city limits.
32. Sigmund Stern Grove rings with the sounds of musical entertainment, free for all on summer Sundays.
33. Golden Gate Park, originally 1,017 acres (4 sq. km) of sand dunes, has several museums, National AIDS Memorial Grove, miles of drives, green lawns, playfields, bridle paths, lakes and flowers.
34. Japanese Tea Garden, an authentic Japanese garden dating back to 1894, has a tea house, pagoda ponds, bridges and bonsai. In the spring the cherry blossoms and flowering shrubs create a rare floral spectacle. San Francisco Botanical Garden, a "living library," nurtures 26 unique gardens.
35. Museums in Golden Gate Park include the California Academy of Sciences, “the greenest museum in the world,” encompassing many halls devoted to the natural sciences; and the e Young Museum, a landmark art museum showcasing collections of American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries.
36. Conservatory of Flowers, a landmark in Golden Gate Park since 1879, houses rare tropical plants and flowers from around the world.
37. Twin Peaks has a scenic drive to its 910-foot (227 m) summit, and offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the city.
38. Mission Dolores, Dolores and 16th Streets. Father Serra established this Spanish Mission in 1776; the historic church was completed in 1791.
39. San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is one of the world’s longest (8 1/4 miles/13.3 km) steel bridges. Toll collected westbound.
40. Ferry Building, a terminal for commuters before the bridges were built, is one of the city's landmarks and houses a vibrant marketplace and frequent farmers markets.
41. Embarcadero Center, an eight-building complex, embraces shops and restaurants. Justin Herman Plaza is framed by Vaillancourt Fountain.
42. Montgomery Street is the center of an expanding Financial District. Major buildings are often distinguished by landscaped plazas and art works.
43. San Francisco Visitor Information Center is operated by the San Francisco Travel Association. Multilingual personnel are there to assist with brochures and information. The Center is located at Hallidie Plaza (lower level), Powell and Market Streets. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Closed Sundays November – April and major holidays.
44. Yerba Buena Gardens district includes Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Metreon, Children’s Creativity Museum and a playground. Dozens of museums nearby include California Historical Society, Contemporary Jewish Museum and Museum of the African Diaspora. Westfield San Francisco Centre is nearby.
45. Moscone Center, offers more than 1 million square feet of space, and one of the biggest column-free exhibit halls in the United Sates.
46. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, known for its innovative exhibitions, is one of the most important museums of contemporary and modern art in the U.S.
47. AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, evokes the intimate feeling of classic ball parks across the land.
48. Sports Arenas: Candlestick Park is the home of the San Francisco 49ers (football). Cow Palace, an indoor arena, hosts sports contests, trade shows and entertainment events.
49. San Francisco International Airport, 14 miles (24 km) south via the freeway, is San Francisco’s gateway to the Pacific and to the world.
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