San Francisco for Beginners – What to See
There is enough to experience and explore in San Francisco to fill a hundred itineraries but most visitors want to see the more famous sites right away. Here is a basic list of the “must see” attractions and areas of San Francisco, separated into weekend-length groups. For more information on any of these attractions and activities, visit www.sanfrancisco.travel
Items marked with a star (*) are included in the San Francisco CityPass, www.citypass.com.
The First Visit
- Ride the Cable Cars* – There are three lines for this famous transportation system, Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason and the California Street Line. For more information contact the San Francisco Municipal Railway at 415-673-MUNI (6864) or visit www.sfmta.com.
- Cross the Golden Gate Bridge – Explore on foot or by car, bicycle, tour bus or fire engine tour. Travel under the bridge on a bay cruise or soar over it by helicopter or seaplane. For more information about the bridge call 415-921-5858 or visit www.goldengate.org.
- Visit Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf – Fisherman’s Wharf is the most visited section of San Francisco. Enjoy street performers, fresh seafood , unique shops and visit the Boudin Museum & Bakery Tour* to see loaf after loaf of San Francisco’s famous sourdough French bread baked. Take in the fresh sea air as you watch fishermen coming and going from their daily journeys. Visit the sea lion colony on the west side of Pier 39 home of the Blue & Gold Fleet* and Aquarium by the Bay*. Alcatraz, the former federal prison, once housed some of the most notorious criminals. Today it’s a national park, reachable by a brief boat ride. For more information call 415-981-ROCK (7625) or visit www.alcatrazcruises.com.
- Visit Chinatown – The entrance to Chinatown at Grant Avenue and Bush Street is called the "Dragon’s Gate." Inside are 24 blocks of hustle and bustle, most of it taking place along Grant Avenue, the oldest street in San Francisco. This city within a city is best explored on foot; exotic shops, renowned restaurants, food markets, temples and small museums comprise its boundaries. Visitors can buy ancient potions from herb shops, relax and enjoy a "dim sum" lunch or witness the making of fortune cookies. For a more “local” scene, walk one block over to Stockton St.
- Visit Union Square – The landmark park is the heart of the city and is known for fantastic shopping. Sporting new granite plazas, a new terraced stage on Post Street, light sculptures designed by artist R.M. Fischer, a café, the TIX half-price ticket center, and four grand entrance corner plazas bordered by the park’s signature palms, the remodeled square pays tribute to the Square’s distinctive history and captures the unique flavor and beauty of San Francisco. For more information visit www.unionsquareshop.com.
The Second Visit
- Visit the Asian Art Museum* – Located across from City Hall, this is one of the largest museums in the world devoted exclusively to Asian art with a collection comprising of nearly 15,000 works spanning 6,000 years of history. For more information call 415-581-3500 or visit www.asianart.org.
- Visit the Civic Center - Be inspired by the architectural beauty of San Francisco’s City Hall and attend a performance by the San Francisco Symphony, Opera or Ballet.
- Visit the Ferry Building Marketplace – Remodeled and repurposed in 2003, this gourmet galleria celebrates regional purveyors and cuisine. The Saturday morning Farmers Market is a spirited gathering of local farmers, high quality artisan producers and independent food businesses, catering to food connoisseurs alike. For more information call 415-591-0950 or visit www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com.
- Visit Mission San Francisco de Asis and the Mission District – The heart of San Francisco’s predominantly Hispanic neighborhood is 24th Street, a colorful collection of restaurants, taquerias, Mexican bakeries, fresh produce markets and specialty shops. Mission Dolores at 16th and Dolores streets is the oldest structure in San Francisco. The largest collection of murals in the city, each reflecting the pleasures, passions and pitfalls of their respective creators, adorns buildings, fences and garage walls throughout the neighborhood.
- Visit North Beach – Rich in Italian heritage, San Francisco’s version of “Little Italy” compresses cabarets, jazz clubs, galleries, inns, family style restaurants and gelato parlors into less than a square mile. Bakeries and delicatessens serve up traditional Italian delicacies. A perfect spot for cappuccino and espresso, North Beach is transformed into one of San Francisco’s most electric playgrounds by night; live music and dancing keep the streets swinging.
- Visit Haight Ashbury – The "Summer of Love" lives on mainly in stores throughout this charming Victorian sector; vintage clothing, books and records are abundant along Haight Street, the neighborhood’s busiest stretch.
The Third Visit
- Visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art* – One of the world’s most innovative museums of modern and contemporary art is the anchor of the Yerba Buena Gardens district where almost a dozen museums are located including the Museum of the African Diaspora. For more information call 357-4000 or visit www.sfmoma.org.
- Visit Castro St. – Steep streets and brightly painted Victorian houses give a distinct San Francisco look to this upper Market St. neighborhood, famous as the “Gay Mecca.” The Castro is a series of imaginative boutiques, bookstores and bars. Novelty items abound in shops at the end of Market St. between 16th and 17th streets.
- Visit Japantown – The heart of Japantown is Japan Center, a five-acre complex of shops, sushi bars, restaurants, hotels and theaters at Post and Buchanan Streets. A five-tiered pagoda, a symbol of eternal peace, crowns it. Locals call this sector "J-Town." More than 12,000 residents of Japanese descent call it home. There is much to learn from this small slice of Japanese life.
- Visit Union St. – The first neighborhood in San Francisco to convert its gingerbread Victorians into popular boutiques, art galleries and restaurants, Union Street’s distinct turn-of-the-century atmosphere makes a walk along its streets a delightful journey back in time, at least from an architectural perspective. The attitude along modern day Union Street, however, is anything but old-fashioned. This is where some of the city’s most fashionable and upscale citizens live and play.
- Visit the Exploratorium* and the Marina District – Experience exciting and interactive exhibits that make learning fun, regardless of your age or familiarity with science at the original hands-on science museum, the Exploratorium. Off Marina Boulevard, grand stucco houses and flats dominate streets. Chestnut Street brims with inviting stores, restaurants and watering holes. For more information contact 415-561-0356 or visit www.exploratorium.edu.
The Fourth Visit
- Visit Golden Gate Park– Take a picnic, try fly fishing, see the buffalo, rent a bike or skates, play golf. Visit the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco Botanical Garden and pedal a boat on Stow Lake, or the new California Academy of Sciences.* For Golden Gate Park information call 415-831-2700 or visit www.sfgov.org/site/recpark_page.asp For San Francisco Botanical Garden Arboretum information, visit www.sfbotanicalgarden.org. For Conservatory of Flowers information, visit www.conservatoryofflowers.org For the California Academy of Sciences, visit www.calacademy.org.
- Explore the striking de Young Museum* --The de Young Museum building is hard to miss, with dramatic architecture by Herzog & de Meuron and Fong & Chan Architects, a unique copper façade and an observation tower that rises 144 feet above the treetops of Golden Gate Park. For more information, telephone 415-863-3330 or visit www.deyoungmuseum.org.
- See a Giants baseball game at AT&T Park – The crowning jewel of San Francisco sports, AT&T Park boasts sweeping views of the city and bay, with many modern amenities. For AT&T Park information contact 415-972-1800 or visit sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/sf/ballpark/giantsenterprises/index.html For San Francisco Giants information contact 415-972-2000 or visit www.sfgaints.com. To join one of the daily ballpark tours*, contact Alexis Arbizu at 415-972-1852.
- Visit the Legion of Honor museum* in Lincoln Park – One of San Francisco’s most beautiful museums displays an impressive collection of 4,000 years of ancient and European art in an unforgettable setting overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. See the nearby Holocaust Memorial. Play Lincoln Park Golf Course with its lush grounds and spectacular views. For more information contact 415-863-3330 or visit www.legionofhonor.org.
- See the city from Twin Peaks – Clear days reveal a breathtaking view from one of the tallest points in San Francisco. See sweeping skylines that reach from the Pacific Ocean to Alameda.
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