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San Francisco (4 days)

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

Key Points:

  1. San Francisco is one of the top cities to visit in the USA, and is also an important part of travelling around the world.

  2. WikiVoyage has the original version of travelling in San Francisco. But we have rewritten and integrated several articles together to create a better version.

According to Wikipedia, "San Francisco, officially the City and County of San Francisco, is a commercial and cultural center in Northern California."

Here we quote the best way to travel in San Francisco provided by wikiVoyage, a multilingual, web-based project to create a free, complete, up-to-date, and reliable worldwide travel guide. Wikivoyage is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization that also hosts a range of other project such as Wikipedia. Please edit the articles and find author credits at the original wikiVoyage articles on Star articles - San Francisco, Chinatown and North Beach, Civic Center and Tenderloin, Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate. Content on wikiVoyage can be shared under a Creative Commons License.

Part 1: Understand.

San Francisco is known for its Victorian architecture, particularly in the central and northern neighborhoods (e.g., Haight-Ashbury, Alamo Square, Noe Valley, Castro, Nob Hill, and Pacific Heights). The city has one of the most restrictive building and planning codes in the world, which helps preserve the historical architecture in certain areas and create a severe shortage of housing stock, which drives up the price of housing. The exorbitant price of housing, both buying and renting, is a favorite topic of San Francisco locals. It helps to explain why there are so few families in San Francisco (another favorite topic).

San Francisco has also undergone high-rise construction boom centered in SoMa, just south of what was historically the center of downtown. This was one of the few areas of the city left for development (i.e. without entrenched anti-development policies). Unlike other major cities like New York and Chicago, San Francisco is not known for having buildings built by star architects. This may be due to the difficulty of getting projects approved in the city.

Part 2: Tourist information

San Francisco's visitor information centers offer maps, brochures and other information for tourists.

  • San Francisco Visitor Information Center, 900 Market St (next to the cable car turnaround at Market & Powell, near Union Square), ☏ +1-415-391-2000, fax: +1-415-362-7323. May through October: M-F 9AM-5PM, Sa-Su and holidays 9AM-3PM. November through April: M-F 9AM-5PM, Sa and holidays 9AM-3PM. Closed Easter, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. Visitor Center run by the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau.

  • California Welcome Center, Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, Building P, Second Level, ☏ +1-415-981-1280, One of several California Welcome Centers across the state.

Part 3: Get Around


  • Cross streets. San Francisco streets are numbered (100 per block) from the beginning of the street, and even and odd numbers are always on opposite sides. In the absence of GPS navigation, it is best when getting an address to also ask for a cross street or neighborhood name. Most of the time, if a street touches Market Street (San Francisco's main street), that's the zero block. Addresses change by 100 each block, so a building at 1275 Foo street is often 12 to 13 blocks away from where Foo St. hits Market St.

  • Numbered streets and avenues. San Francisco has both numbered streets, in the Mission, the Castro, and SoMa, and numbered avenues in the largely residential Sunset and Richmond districts. Mixing numbered streets and avenues when asking directions may leave you miles from your destination. This can be confusing, as San Franciscans will not say "Street" or "Avenue" unless it is required to avoid ambiguity. Thus, they won't say "I live on Fifth Avenue," but will say "I live near Fifth and Geary." Street signs generally don't have "Street" or "Avenue" either; they just say "GEARY" or "MASONIC", although numbered streets and avenues do.

  • Multiple street grids. One of the most confusing aspects of driving in San Francisco is the presence of multiple street grids, particularly in the downtown area where two grids intersect at an angle along Market Street. Even more confusing are streets in the middle of the standard blocks, like New Montgomery Street.

  • No left turns. Several key San Francisco arterial streets, including 19th Avenue and Market Street, do not have space for dedicated left turn lanes and therefore bear No left turn signs at most intersections. As a result, you will be frustrated when you drive for miles on these streets with no opportunity to turn left. The trick, of course, is to go around the block with multiple right turns after passing one's desired street, which requires you to stay in the right lane, not the left lane.

On foot

Walking can be an enticing option to get from one neighborhood to another, as the city is compact and most of the tourist sites are in its northeastern portion. San Francisco is a city of friendly neighborhoods, but it is also a big city so be aware of your surroundings and keep in mind the dangers that commonly accompany a city of San Francisco's size.

By public transit

San Francisco has one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the United States—arguably the most comprehensive system west of Chicago—and is expanding its network with a regional transportation hub in SoMa and a new subway line going under downtown.

Transport services within San Francisco are provided by several agencies, but transferring between them is easy now with a Clipper Card. Clipper is accepted on essentially every transit system you'll encounter:

  • Muni — Metro, streetcars, buses, and cable cars within San Francisco proper. This is the main public transit system you'll use for getting around in San Francisco.

  • BART — Regional train services in the San Francisco Bay Area. You'll mainly use this to get in and out of San Francisco, but you may use it, for example, to get between Downtown and the Mission. It overlaps with Muni along Market Street in Downtown. When you enter one of the stations on Market Street, be sure you get on the right system—either Muni or BART—for where you're trying to go. If not, you'll need to exit and beg the toll operators in the booths to refund your fare. Note that while BART fares are distance based, it charges an "Excursion Fare" if you enter and leave the system at the same station, so don't assume if you enter BART by mistake you can just put your ticket in the exit gate and not be charged because you didn't go anywhere.

  • Caltrain — Commuter rail services to San Jose and cities in between, like Palo Alto (where Stanford University is located).

  • Ferry services — Golden Gate Ferries to the North Bay and San Francisco Bay Ferry to the East Bay (Blue & Gold Fleet ferries do not accept Clipper Card).

  • Many other regional bus systems in the Bay Area — Golden Gate Transit/Marin Transit (Marin County) and samTrans (Peninsula), among others.

By bike

If you have strong legs and can tolerate traffic with intermittent bike lanes, bicycles can be a convenient form of transportation in San Francisco. Although it's dense, San Francisco is fairly small in land area—just 7x7 miles from north to south and east to west—so it's fairly quick to get from one end to the other. But much of the terrain is hilly and hard to pedal up. Do not be misled by maps depicting the city's strict, regular street grid, as even the straightest of San Francisco's streets might include steep hills or even staircases instead of a roadway. San Franciscans who bike frequently find ways to "wiggle" — taking winding routes to avoid hills — around the steepest hills in the city. You might try using this flat route finder. You can also put your bike on the front of the Muni buses if you get desperate. Some maps compress the horizontal scale of the western half of the city.

By taxi

For a large city, San Francisco taxis are surprisingly inefficient and expensive, starting at $3.10 just for getting in the door. You can get an idea of how much particular taxi trips cost in San Francisco using the SFMTA's webpage.

By Uber or Lyft

Lyft and Uber are the two major players in San Francisco that provide a ride-hailing platform for taxi-like services. Uber is vastly larger, and Lyft is originally known for a whimsical, homespun feel. These two companies are very price-competitive, with prices often differing by only a few cents, although it's sometimes useful to compare prices for some rides, like going to the airport, which may differ by several dollars.

By car

Perpetually-clogged traffic, steep hills, a confusing system of one-way streets downtown, expensive parking, and a fleet of parking control officers who zealously enforce parking laws can make driving in San Francisco extremely frustrating. Visitors to the city should seriously consider alternatives to driving when possible. A car is only useful for visiting destinations outside of the city, and even then you may be better off using public transit (especially crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County), a taxi, or another car sharing service.

Car rental is expensive, registration fees are the highest in any U.S. state, and because collisions are common, rates for liability insurance (legally required) are high as well. In addition, traffic from the Golden Gate Bridge uses surface streets either along CA-1, 19th Avenue or US-101 on Lombard and Van Ness.

The most difficult problem with a car in San Francisco is parking. It is scarce throughout the city. Garages, where they are available, are expensive ($20–30/day downtown). The city has a variable-pricing scheme which makes parking on the most popular streets parking even more expensive. San Francisco has some of the strictest parking laws and enforcement in the country.

Part 4: Itinerary:

Day 1: Chinatown and North Beach

Chinatown-North Beach in San Francisco combines two adjoining neighbors, both of which are among the city's most popular immigrant neighborhoods. Culturally and aesthetically, they could not be more different yet their streets mesh seamlessly together. Chinatown is the oldest and largest Chinese community outside of Asia. More than just a tourist destination, it is a functioning, living, and breathing Chinese community that can offer intriguing cultural experiences even to the most jaded old China hand. Its tiny and crowded streets bustle with activity and energy. North Beach, on the other hand, is much more laid back. This "Little Italy," with its cafes and alfresco dining, has a real European charm and flavor reminiscent of the romance of Europe and Italy. The area runs from roughly Bay Street to the north, Powell Street south of Filbert Street and Columbus Avenue north of Filbert on the west, the Embarcadero on the east, and Washington Street on the south with an extension to Bush Street between Kearny and Powell Streets to encompass the rest of Chinatown.


With pagoda-tiled roofs, Cantonese conversations, busy live-produce markets, mahjong players, and little old Chinese ladies confidently spitting on the pavement — Chinatown is a unique part of San Francisco. Established in 1850, in the area around Portsmouth Plaza, San Francisco's Chinatown is reputed to be the oldest and one of the largest and most famous of all Chinatowns outside of Asia. Many of the Chinese who settled here were merchants or immigrant workers, working on either the transcontinental railroad or as mine workers during the Gold Rush. Today, it is home for more than 100,000 Chinese and Chinese-Americans, many of whom are low-income, elderly, and foreign born, living in dense tenements. It is also a cultural link for the hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area. Chinatown holds a prominent position in the history of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in the United States, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the present day. The residual "bachelor" society one finds in San Francisco's Chinatown today cannot be understood without some knowledge of these hostile decades. The tourist section of Chinatown is mainly along Grant Avenue, from Bush to Broadway. Grant Avenue was made famous by Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song. The Chinatown market area is mainly along Stockton Street, one block above (west of) Grant Avenue, and the east-west streets crossing Stockton. Other San Francisco concentrations of Chinese shops and restaurants are located in the Inner Richmond District, mainly along Clement Street, and the Outer Sunset District, mainly along Irving Street.

North Beach

Forming part of the old Barbary Coast (an extinct neighborhood infamous for its crime, prostitution, and general unruliness), and popular with both locals and tourists alike, North Beach remains one of the most popular and beloved neighborhoods in San Francisco. Nestled between Chinatown to the south and Fisherman's Wharf to the north, North Beach is the Italian part of town and is known by the moniker "Little Italy." Telegraph poles, painted in the colors of the Italian flag (green, white, and red), delineate the boundaries between these two neighbors. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and is rich in both history and culture. The neighborhood derived its name as the bay shoreline originally reached as far as Taylor and Francisco streets, and the area was indeed a real beach until the city subsequently filled it in. The portion of Grant Avenue that runs straight through North Beach is the oldest street in San Francisco. Authentic old-world Italian cafes, restaurants, delicatessens and bakeries line the steep streets. North Beach was also the West Coast's capital for the Beatnik movement in the 1950s — you can still see many of the places where Jack Kerouac and the "Dharma Bums" hung out and wrote their dark poetry. Other literati celebrities that hung out there were; Alan Ginsberg, Neal Cassidy (Dean Moriarity in Kerouac's On The Road), and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Alan Ginsberg wrote his most famous poem 'Howl' while living at 1010 Montgomery Street. Today, the neighborhood is also very well known for its happening nightlife scene. Nightclubs and bars abound — particularly at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Grant Avenue. At its base, Broadway is a mini red-light district, made famous in the 1960s by Carol Doda with her "twin 44s." The area is still full of adult bookstores and strip clubs; despite this, strangely, like everything in San Francisco, it retains a certain charm. Washington Square (another old Beat hangout), in front of the Saints Peter and Paul Church, is a very popular hangout with locals, and a great place to relax. North Beach has also some famous residents past and present, like baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and movie director Francis Ford Coppola.

  • Stockton Street Produce Markets, Stockton St (runs parallel to Grant Ave, one block west — between Sacramento St and Vallejo St). The fruit, vegetable, and live produce markets on Stockton Street are a must for any adventurous traveler. The greatest concentration of Chinese shops and Chinese shoppers can be found in the three blocks from Washington to Broadway. They are notoriously busy, and not for the faint of heart as locals deftly paw over each and every piece of fruit... you have to be quick! Tangerines are important during Chinese New Year. You may need a gut check as well in the live produce markets — there are all kinds of live fauna flapping about from frogs and turtles to chickens and ducks. The best time to explore Stockton Street is on weekdays; weekends are even more crowded, when Chinese families that have moved to the suburbs return for shopping on Stockton Street. To avoid the crowds, explore the area in the morning or late afternoon. Many of the shops close around 6PM, but the eateries will remain open into the evening hours.

  • Chinatown Alleys. Though Grant Avenue has a lot to offer, it is quite touristy; thus, it is essential that you examine the more authentic areas in the alleys, such as Waverly Place, Pagoda Place, Spofford Lane, and Ross Alley, between Grant and Stockton. Ross Alley is the oldest alley in the city and many movies have had scenes shot here including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. These alleys have a real old-world feel and you will hear Cantonese conversations and the clicking sound of mahjong tiles being shuffled.

  • Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, 56 Ross Alley (between Jackson St, Washington St, Stockton St and Grant Ave), ☏ +1-415-781-3956. 7AM-8:30PM daily. Opened in 1962, this tiny factory produces more than 20,000 fortune cookies a day. The factory is in a small alley and it is tiny with only 3 people making fortune cookies. Tourists are welcome to walk in off the street — you get a flat (un-bended) fortune cookie sample but photos cost 50 cents and the moment you walk in they are asking you in their broken English what cookies you want to buy. It is a must see though! Free entry, $10 for a huge bag of cookies.

  • City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave (at Broadway St), ☏ +1-415-362-8193, fax: +1-415-362-4921. 10AM-midnight daily. Co-founded by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlenghetti, City Lights was one of the centers of the Beat community in the 1950s. It's iconic and has become synonymous with the literati Beat movement. Oh, don't forget to check out the books: they have a huge collection of Beat prose and poetry. Why not buy a copy of On the Road while you're there — you won't find a better place to get it!

  • Jack Kerouac Alley, Jack Kerouac Alley (at Columbus Ave and Broadway St). This tiny paved pedestrian alley was named after the famous Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac who used to hang out in the alley a lot. It was intended to form a literary (and actual) connection between the communities of Chinatown and North Beach. There are plaques embedded into the street which are engraved with Chinese and Western poems from Kerouac, Confucius and John Steinbeck among others.

  • Telegraph Hill. Telegraph Hill earned its name in the days of the Gold Rush when it was used as a signaling post to relay messages about incoming ships to the bay. Coit Tower was erected at its peak in 1933 and rewards a weary traveler with some wonderful views over the city. Over time a quiet residential neighborhood built up along the hillside, and their magnificent flowing gardens have always been something to admire on your way up or down. Other neighbors include a colony of colorful feral parrots, predominantly red-masked parakeets, which grew up as descendants of escaped domesticated pets. One can drive to the top, but it's better to take one of the narrow steps leading up and down the sides of the hill (including the Greenwich and Filbert Steps), as they offer better views over the Bay.

  • Filbert Steps. The Filbert Steps are the part of Filbert Street that runs between Battery Street and Telegraph Hill Boulevard in North Beach. The steps end next to Coit Tower, and offer a scenic — though somewhat strenuous — route for visitors of the tower. In fact, following the steps is at times faster than driving to Coit Tower due to the high demand for relatively few parking spots near the site. Visitors of the steps will see public gardens, stylish homes and views of North Beach and the bay; if a path is not gated or specifically signed with "No Trespassing," then it is most likely public. Also, it pays to be adventurous: some of the best gardens and views are off the stairs. Finally, there is more than one way up and down; if you make a round trip you should find a new route for the return leg. Just avoid private property.

Day 2: Civic Center and Tenderloin

As the name implies, the Civic Center is the primary center of government within San Francisco, housing many important civic institutions. Aside from its official duties, it also moonlights as a cultural center with many fine museums, theaters, opera houses, and symphony halls located here. Over the years however, it has developed a reputation for attracting many of the city's drug-addicted and homeless to its open plazas. Next door is the Tenderloin, one of San Francisco's lowest income neighborhoods with an unfortunate reputation for poverty, drugs, and crime, particularly violent street crime. However, it also has a rich history and an eclectic community, with treasures for those who know where to look. The Civic Center-Tenderloin area is bounded roughly by Market St to the southeast, Taylor St to the east, Franklin St to the west, and Sutter St to the north.

Civic Center

The Civic Center is on Van Ness Ave, north of its intersection with Market St. The city began developing the area in 1913, and most of the buildings there are of a "Classical Style", with their development being heavily influenced by the "City Beautiful Movement". Most of the city's integral governmental institutions are located here; like City Hall which dominates the Civic Center with its impressive "Beaux-Arts" style dome. There are two main plazas in the area; Civic Center Plaza and United Nations Plaza. The Civic Center Plaza (in front of City Hall) has been a popular place for holding rallies, protests, and festivals. As well as being a hub for city government, the area is also a serious cultural center. "Culture vultures" flock here at night to see performances of the San Francsico opera, symphony, and ballet, as well as to attend theater, galas, concerts, plays, and special events. During the day you can get your "culture fix" by visiting one of the many excellent museums and galleries such as the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, and the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. There are also several other smaller private galleries in the area.

Architecture aficionados will be happy to know that some of the most beautiful buildings in the city are cloistered within a few square blocks here. Examples include the War Memorial Opera House, the Asian Art Museum, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, and the War Memorial Veterans building with the Herbst Theater (where the United Nations charter was signed in 1945).

There is also a popular farmers market held twice weekly in United Nations Plaza.


Many guidebooks will tell you to avoid a large part of downtown — the Tenderloin. It's true that this "bad neighborhood" is rife with panhandlers, adult bookstores, and massage parlors, but it's also full of good, cheap ethnic restaurants and colorful dive bars. The 'Loin is probably the last area of downtown to experience real gentrification, a process that seems to be taking its time, but the early signs are already here. Culture vultures will find several cutting edge, alternative/experimental theaters and high-culture galleries, which are attracted by the neighborhood's low rents and proximity to downtown. Sleek lounges and trendy clubs are also increasingly making a home in this eclectic neighborhood, side by side with the traditional dive bars it has always been known for. The name "Tenderloin" comes from the overall shape of the area's boundaries: triangular, like the cross-section of a tenderloin steak. According to a different explanation the area was originally called "The Tenderloin" by the police officers, since they were paid more to work there — the most notorious part of the town. There are many different ways to define its boundaries; the official and original three corners (making a Tenderloin shape) may be delineated by Market St and Larkin St to the south, Geary St and Larkin St to the northwest, and Market St by Geary St to the northeast. Today the area would be more better defined between Polk St, Sutter St, Mason St, Market St, and Golden Gate Ave.

Although it has a reputation as one of the tougher parts of town, in reality the Tenderloin is quite variegated and can change drastically from block to block. There are many different sub-neighborhoods within the 'Loin. Much of the area on the east side of Mason St (above O'Farrell St) is high-rent and more properly considered part of downtown Union Square. The western area around Hyde and Larkin Sts, from Turk St to O'Farrell St, is a colorful Vietnamese neighborhood known as "Little Saigon".

Geary St, Post St, and Sutter St, especially the blocks west of Jones St, are part of the so-called "Tendernob", "Lower Nob Hill", or "Tenderloin Heights" bordering Nob Hill; sometimes this definition also includes southern Nob Hill as far north as California St or Sacramento St (especially the western blocks around Polk St). The Tendernob (at least on the 'Loin side) is considered a nightlife hotspot by some folks who like their drinking milieu a bit rough around the edges. It connects with Polk St on the western edge of the Tenderloin. Known variously as "Polk Gulch", "Polk Village", or the "Outer Tenderloin", this very lively area of Polk St, from Geary St to Union St, is populated with all types of restaurants, cafes, bars, venues, bookstores, and other shops. Finally, an area bordered by O'Farrell, Geary, Leavenworth, and Taylor Sts, is sometimes called the "Tandoor-loin" because of the high concentration of excellent and affordable Indian restaurants.

Dashiell Hammett's novel, "The Maltese Falcon," was set in the Tenderloin, and the 1941 movie adaptation for the Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, was also set in the Tenderloin.

  • Little Saigon (Sài Gòn Nhỏ) (Larkin St between Eddy St and O'Farrell St). A tiny two-block strip of Larkin St houses an active Vietnamese American community where the vast majority of shops and restaurants are Vietnamese-owned and -operated. Little Saigon functions as a both a Vietnamese commercial and cultural center, and there are some excellent restaurants and stores here.

  • John Pence Gallery, 750 Post St (between Jones St and Leavenworth St), ☏ +1-415-441-1138, fax: +1-415-441-1178, M-F 10AM-6PM, Sa 10AM-5PM. This 8,000 ft² (740 m2) gallery exhibits art of the realism movement (particularly academic realism) as well as "Beat Generation" art works. Free.

  • San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, War Memorial Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave (at McAllister St), ☏ +1-415-252-2217, fax: +1-415-554-6093, The Gallery at 401 Van Ness: W-Sa noon-5PM, Cafe Valor: M-F 7:30AM-4PM, Art at City Hall: M-F 8AM-8PM. The San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery supports a diverse range of Bay Area "Visual Art" culture by supporting artists projects through collaboration with community organizations, commissioning contemporary art, and curated exhibitions. They also have display art in Cafe Valor in the Veterans Building lobby, as well as in City Hall. Free.

  • Civic Center Plaza (between Polk St and McAllister St). This grassy plaza is at the heart of the Civic Center and its tree-lined central avenue visually draws the eye to the imposing structure of City Hall. Protests and demonstrations of all political persuasions are frequently staged here. There is a parking lot underneath the plaza.

  • James Lick (Pioneer) Monument (behind the Main Library branch, next to the Asian Art Museum). The monument is a tribute to California and its early pioneers like Sir Francis Drake. Atop sits a bear and a man carrying both spear and shied — all three objects are imagery that represent California.

  • Large Four Piece Reclining Figure, 201 Van Ness Ave. This bronze sculpture was created by English artist Henry Moore in 1973. It poses happily outside Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall.

  • Sgt. John Macaulay Park (Larkin St and O'Farrell St). Named in honor of a police sergeant who died on duty, this vibrantly colored park and playground only allows adults in if they are accompanied by kids. It has become a bit of an urban oasis set amidst the grittiness of the Tenderloin.

  • United Nations Plaza (at Market St and Hyde St). The UN Charter was signed in the Civic Center in 1945, and this plaza was constructed in honor of its ideology and is ironically over the site of the original San Francisco City Cemetery. Designed by architect Lawrence Halprin, and completed in 1975, this is a three acre red-bricked pedestrian plaza. Brick columns inscribed with UN members country names line the plaza, and the UN Fountain sits at its center. Intended to be a visual gateway to the Civic Center, it is often habituated by the city's homeless, but has a compact and diverse Farmers' Market on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Day 3: Fisherman's Wharf

San Francisco's most popular destination among travelers, Fisherman's Wharf is the tourist center of the city. Its historic waterfront, once the hub of the city's fishing fleet, is still famous for the depth and variety of its harvest and for having some of the best seafood restaurants in the city, with scenic vistas over San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island. Here you will also find numerous tourist attractions such as museums, souvenir stores, historical buildings and piers, all competing for attention with the many restaurants, tour operators, peddlers and street entertainers along the docks between Pier 39 and the Municipal Pier of Aquatic Park. The Wharf is located at the northeastern tip of San Francisco, with the main Wharf district bordered roughly by the bay to the north, Van Ness Ave to the east, and Bay St to the south, although this guide also includes attractions along the Embarcadero stretching south.

Three generations of fishermen have worked on the Wharf since the 19th century and the days of the Gold Rush. Once boasting an impressive flotilla of nearly 500 fishing vessels, the fleet's numbers have dwindled over time. Today, the boats moored at the Wharf are only equipped to supply San Francisco's restaurants with a small portion of their seafood appetites. Most of the remaining vessels are moored at Fish Alley, close to Pier 47.

Every year the Wharf attracts millions of visitors to its numerous and eclectic attractions including; the sea lions at Pier 39, the Maritime Museum, the chocolate factory at Ghirardelli Square, Hyde St Pier, and of course the infamous Alcatraz. There are also some great vistas overlooking the Bay, and a plethora of restaurants to enjoy them from. Additionally, many people visit the Wharf to either take a ferry or a cruise around the Bay. The Wharf is also home to many events such as the Fourth of July celebrations, Crab Season, and Fleet Week. Being a tourist haven, expect to see large crowds, an abundance of t-shirt stores, novelty museums, and street performers all vying for your attention. Many locals are put off by the crowds on the Wharf, and the seemingly "tacky" nature of many of the tourist stores and attractions. However, all things considered, there is probably enough here to keep everyone happy.

Fisherman's Wharf is best seen on foot, but there are also pedicabs, horse-drawn carriages, and of course the F-Line streetcar, all of which will take you up and down the Wharf. There are also several companies in the district that rent bikes out to tourists by the hour or for the day, including Wheel Fun Rentals, Bay City Bike, Bike and Roll, and Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals. Any of these bike services is highly recommended as you get the opportunity to see a lot of the city in a relatively short-amount of time. One of Blazing Saddle's stations is located near the Ben and Jerry's stand and the trail leads you over the Golden Gate Bridge and to Sausalito where you can catch a ferry back to the piers or continue to the redwoods on an "extended" ride. Regardless of what company you choose, just prepare for leg soreness the following day. The California Welcome Center is located on the second level of Pier 39, and they offer visitor maps and information on Fisherman's Wharf which will help you navigate your way around.

The Wharf is a very compact area and attractions are centered mainly along the half-mile stretch of Jefferson Street. So, ambling from east to west you'll discover:

  • Exploratorium, Pier 15, 698 The Embarcadero (at Green St. E and F streetcars stop out front, and the BART Embarcadero station is 15 minutes away by foot), ☏ +1-415-528-4444, Tu-Su 10AM-5PM; open Th 6-10PM for ages 18+ only, closed M. Along the Embarcadero on the way to the Wharf, this is a great kid-friendly place with lots of interactive exhibits teaching about science, with intriguing displays about the mind, natural systems, sound, and sight . If you're lucky, they'll conduct one of their most famous (and fascinating to most children) demonstrations: the dissection of a cow eyeball. $29.95 adults, $24.95 students/teachers/disabled/seniors/youth 13-17, $19.95 youth 4-12, children 3 and under free.

  • Pier 39, the Embarcadero at Beach St (located on the eastern fringe of Fisherman's Wharf), ☏ +1-415-705-5500, A 45-acre pier-complex featuring 100 specialty stores, 12 full-service restaurants, theater, cruises, live entertainment, and more. Free.

    • Aquarium of the Bay, Pier 39 (at the foot of Pier 39, on the eastern side), ☏ +1-415-623-5300, fax: +1-415-623-5324, Open daily except Dec 25. Summer hours: 9AM-8PM daily. Most other times M-Th 10AM-6PM, F-Su 10AM-7PM. A nice place and the right size for kids, with an underwater tunnel, where the fish swim above you as you gaze at them, and ponds where you can touch various live marine animals. It's a perfectly decent aquarium, but many locals would recommend you save your money for the fantastic California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. $24.95 adults; $14.95 seniors (age 65+) and children (ages 4-12); $70 family (2 adults, 2 children). children 3 and under free.

    • Marina, West and East Marinas (on both sides of Pier 39), Don't get lost among all the tourist stores, and forget that Pier 39 is a pier after all — so why not check out the impressive flotilla of vessels moored at its 11 docks on either side of the pier. Free.

    • Sea lions, Pier 39's West Marina. A short time after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake struck, these sea lions moved bag-and-baggage into the west marina at Pier 39. There can be as many as 900 sea lions there during the winter months. In the summertime many of them migrate but there is always a steady population at Pier 39's K-Dock all year round. Free.

      • Sea Lion Center, Second Level, West Marina, Pier 39, ☏ +1-415-262-4734. 10AM-5PM daily. A small free center with limited information and sea lion merchandise. Naturalists from the Aquarium of the Bay are on hand at the center as well as on the dock overlooking the sea lions to answer questions and give presentations about the sea lions. Free.

    • Street performers, the Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water Center Stage (at the end of Pier 39). Daily show times: noon, 1:20PM, 2:40PM, 4PM, 5:20PM, 6:30PM, 7:40PM & 8:50PM. Colorful jugglers, magicians, clowns, mimes, and comedians of all descriptions entertain Pier 39 visitors throughout the day. Free.

  • 7 USS Pampanito Submarine, Pier 45 (at Taylor St and the Embarcadero), ☏ +1-415-775-1943, Opens at 9AM daily. Call for closing time. This is a National Historic Landmark — an authentic World War II submarine with many original artifacts on display. Up to 80 personnel ran this submarine and it could be at sea for up to several weeks at a time. $20 adults, $12 seniors/students, $10 children, $9 active military (free for those in uniform), free for children 5 and under

  • SS Jeremiah O'Brien, Pier 45 (at Taylor St and the Embarcadero), ☏ +1-415-544-0100, fax: +1-415-544-9890, 9AM-4PM daily. Located behind the Pampanito submarine is this World War II Liberty Ship open for tours. The SS Jeremiah O'Brien is the sole survivor of the armada of Allied ships which was involved in D-Day, and one of only two remaining World War II Liberty Ships surviving today (the other being the SS Lane Victory in San Pedro). $20 adults, $10 seniors/military/youth 5-16, free for children 4 and under, family (2 adults, 2 children) $40.

  • Amusing America Exhibit, Pier 45 (at the foot of Taylor St). 10AM-8PM daily. An fun exhibit that traces the history of amusement attractions in American cities, with a focus on San Francisco. Free.

  • Musee Mecanique, Pier 45, Shed A (behind Fisherman's Grotto No. 9), ☏ +1-415-346-2000. M-F 10AM-7PM, Sa Su and holidays 10AM-8PM. Has quite an interesting collection of about 300 coin-operated musical instruments and antique arcade machines, that date from the turn of the century. Free.

  • Fishermen's and Seamen's Chapel, Pier 45 (Taylor St and Embarcadero). This tiny chapel is a memorial to the "Lost Fishermen"... those that have lost their lives on the seas. Every year they hold a special service to commemorate these fishermen. The annual "Blessing of the Fleet" also starts from here every October. Free.

  • Madame Tussauds San Francisco, 145 Jefferson St, ☏ +1-855-753-9999. Su-Th 10AM-8PM, F Sa 10AM-9PM. The San Francisco location of the popular wax figure museum. Photograph and pose with your favourite A-listers, sports legends, and pop icons. $26 adults ($18 if you book online), $20 children 4-12 ($16 if you book online), children under 4 free.

  • Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Museum, 175 Jefferson St (between Mason St and Taylor St), ☏ +1-415-202-9850, fax: +1-415-771-1246, Su-Th 10AM-10PM, F Sa 10AM-11PM. Set over 2 floors it has over 10,000 square feet of galleries, exhibits, illusions, and interactive displays. $25.99 (ages 13 and older), $17.99 children (ages 5-12).

  • Fish Alley (turn right off Jefferson at Leavenworth). Don't forget to go and see the real fishing boats at what's known as Fish Alley — after all it is "Fisherman's Wharf". If you want to see them actually hauling in their catch, you'll have to be there around 6AM to 7AM. Free.

  • The Cannery, Del Monte Square (at the foot of Columbus St), ☏ +1-415-771-3112, fax: +1-415-771-2424, Built in 1907 with its award-winning architecture, the Cannery overlooks San Francisco Bay and once upon a time was the largest peach cannery in the world. Today it's a bustling marketplace featuring three levels of restaurants, shops, offices, and live entertainment. In the middle it has a secluded courtyard with outdoor bars and cafes.

  • San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (begins at the Hyde St pier), ☏ +1-415-447-5000, fax: +1-415-556-1624. The park consists of a visitor center, Hyde St Pier and the fleet of historic ships moored there, the Maritime Museum, Aquatic Park, and the Municipal Pier.

    • Visitor Center, The Cannery, Del Monte Square (at Hyde and Jefferson, across the street from the bridge), ☏ +1-415-447-5000. 9:30AM-5PM daily. The Visitor Center has an information desk and a bunch of small craft and hands-on exhibits that depict San Francisco's rich maritime heritage. It provides some information about the boats that line Hyde St Pier. Free.

    • Hyde Street Pier (San Francisco Maritime NHP), 2905 Hyde Street (at the foot of Hyde St). 10:00 AM-5PM (last entry 4:30PM). Prior to the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, this historic ferry-pier was the primary automobile ferry terminal that connected San Francisco with both Marin County and the East Bay. A fleet of six historic vessels are on display on the pier. Some are available for a self-guided tour, others by docent-led tours. Accessing the pier and boarding ships requires an admission fee. If seeing the ships is your main interest, be sure to ask which ships are open before you buy your ticket as maintenance issues frequently make ships inaccessible. Tides can also prevent access to some of the ships. Among the ships you can see are the Balclutha, an 1886 steel-hulled square rigged sailing ship, the Eureka, an 1890 steam ferryboat (which also has an exhibit of antique cars on board) as of 2022 the Eureka is in accessible because a winter storm in 2020 damaged the gangway, the C.A. Thayer, an 1895 lumber schooner, and the Hercules, a 1907 steam tug (though access is limited to mid-range tides as the gangway is short and steep).

    • Maritime Museum (in Aquatic Park at the western end of Fisherman's Wharf), ☏ +1-415-561-7100. 10AM-4PM daily. Shaped like a ship, this historic building was built by the WPA as a bathhouse and served as the Maritime Museum for many years before a renovation. Inside you'll find maritime exhibits and beautiful underwater-themed murals. Free.

    • Aquatic Park and Municipal Pier (at the western end of Fisherman's Wharf). A great place to take a break from the bustle of Fisherman's Wharf. There is a small beach at the foot of the park where you'll see kayakers, kite fliers, and swimmers from the nearby swim clubs. At the end of the park is Municipal Pier — the closest you can get to Alcatraz on foot or bike, though the views from Muni Pier are unmatched, the pier itself is rapidly decaying and falling into the bay. Free.

  • Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point St (at the corner of Beach St and Larkin St), ☏ +1-415-775-5500, fax: +1-415-775-0912, It was declared a city landmark in 1965, and today it's still possible to view the remnants of the old chocolate-making machinery there (though chocolate production stopped years ago). Be sure to pop into the chocolate shop; they often hand out free samples at the front door, though the sample may not make up for the long wait in line. The square has a few boutiques, restaurants, specialty stores, and galleries catering mostly to tourists. Be sure to visit the San Francisco Brewing Company for some great west coast IPAs and other freshly brewed beers, but be prepared to pay tourist prices for them. It also has great views over the Bay. Free.

Day 4: Golden Gate

With some of the most beautiful scenery and intact natural environments in the city, the Golden Gate area is the spectacular northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula. The city's most famous landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge, connects this district with Marin County across the Bay. The area is made up of two National Historic Landmarks — The Presidio and Fort Mason — as well as several upscale neighborhoods famed for their Victorian architecture and views of the city, including Pacific Heights, Cow Hollow, and the Marina District. The district is roughly bounded by the San Francisco Bay to the north and west, Lake St and California St to the south, and Van Ness Ave to the east.

There are lots of things to see in this district ranging from the pristine natural landscapes of the Presidio, to man-made marinas, Victorian architecture, and the Golden Gate Bridge. In places like the Presidio and Fort Mason you'll find an interesting blend of both, with modern offices, historical buildings, and museums making their home alongside sandpipers, coyotes, and fox squirrel. "City slickers" should be more at home further inland where they'll find galleries and museums, architecture, and urban parks. Naturalists will be more at home along the coast line, from Fort Mason all the way along into the Presidio.

  • The Six Gallery, 3119 Fillmore St (between Pixley St and Filbert St). On Friday, October 7, 1955, the "Six Gallery reading" took place here. It was a seminal moment in the Beat Generation movement and attracted such poets and writers as Alan Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, and Jack Kerouac. The gallery has since closed but you can still visit the site where this watershed event took place. Free.

  • Wave Organ, at the end of Yacht Rd (after the Golden Gate Yacht Club). It's best at high-tide — 5:30AM. Designed by George Gonzales and Peter Richards in 1986, the Wave Organ is a system of PVC pipes that harness the power of the ocean to create music... or at least what can be interpreted as music! There is a unique space at the end of a spit of land where you can sit and enjoy the sounds, and even if it's not your kind of music, there are some excellent views and it's also a great place to relax and have a picnic. Free.

  • Yacht Clubs. You can't come to the Marina district without actually seeing, well... the marina! Here where you will find an impressive flotilla of vessels — both sail and power. There are various "small craft" harbors located at either end of Marina Green, but the two main yacht clubs are:

    • Golden Gate Yacht Club, 1 Yacht Rd (at the end of Yacht Rd), ☏ +1-415-346-2628, Founded in 1939, this club is both a popular destination for pleasure cruises and for competitive regatta racing. It's plainer than its neighbor the SFYC, however it got a major boost of late when Larry Ellison and the Oracle guys signed up and the club became the challenge club of record for the America's Cup.

    • St Francis Yacht Club, 700 Marina Blvd (at the end of Baker St), ☏ +1-415-563-6363, fax: +1-415-563-8670, Founded in 1927, this club has over 2,400 members and is also popular as both a cruise and regatta venue. It is reputedly the most exclusive yacht club in San Francisco and there are some serious vessels docked here.

Architecture buffs will definitely enjoy taking a stroll through the Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow neighborhoods, where ornate (and huge!) Edwardian and Victorian mansions are on display. Many are privately owned so be respectful, but some are open to the public.

  • Atherton House, 1990 California St (at Octavia St). An 1881 Victorian mansion that was built for Mrs. Doming de Goni Atherton by an unknown architect. It was one of the first Queen Anne residences in San Francisco. It is reported to be haunted, and is a stop on the haunted tour of San Francisco. Free.

  • Haas Lilienthal House, 2007 Franklin St (at Washington St), ☏ +1-415-441-3004, fax: +1-415-441-3015, Tours: Su 11AM-4PM, W and Sa noon-3PM. Tours leave every 20 to 30 minutes and last about 1 hour. This is an 11,500 ft² (1,070 m2) Queen Anne Victorian, built solely out of redwood in 1886 for William Haas. It has been fully preserved to its original design. It houses the San Francisco Architectural Heritage which offer tours inside the house and around the grounds. General admission $8, seniors and children 12 and under $5.

  • The Leale House, 2475 Pacific Ave (between Steiner St and Fillmore St). This house was built in 1853 and as such it is one of the city's oldest residences. A ferry-boat captain known as Captain Leale bought the house three decades later and remodeled it in the popular "Italianate" style.

  • The Octagon House, 2645 Gough St (at Union St), ☏ +1-415-441-7512. Open to the public on the second Sunday of every month, and the second and fourth Thursday of every month, from noon-3PM. Dating from 1861, this eight-sided house with its cupola top, dormer windows, and roof lanterns was built in the belief that such octagonally shaped houses promote healthier living. Today, the building is an American Colonial museum. It has many artifacts on display including antique furniture and historical documents. It is run by the National Society of the Colonial Dames. Free.

  • San Francisco Public Library — Golden Gate Valley Branch, 1801 Green St (at Octavia St), ☏ +1 415-355-5666, M-F 10AM-5:30PM. Built in 1917 by architect Ernest Coxhead, this unique "Beaux-Arts" library was modeled on a Roman basilica. It has free internet facilities.

  • Spreckles Mansion, 2080 Washington St (at Octavia St). This white "Beaux-Arts" limestone mansion was built in 1913 by sugar baron Adolph Spreckles. It has 55 rooms including a Louis XVI Ballroom. The mansion is a private residence which is owned by the famous romance-novelist, Danielle Steele.

  • Vedanta Temple, 2963 Webster St (at Filbert St), ☏ +1-415-922-2323, This temple was built in 1905 by architect Joseph Leonard. Architecturally the building reflects the Vedantic philosophy that all roads lead to one God; hence the building has a mix of architectural styles like Edwardian, Moorish, Queen Anne, Colonial, and Oriental among others. It has five different towers on the top including a Russian-style onion dome and a European-style castle turret. The extraordinary temple was the first Hindu temple built in the West. Free.

Golden Gate Bridge

  • Golden Gate Bridge, US 101 (from Park-Presidio or Lombard St entrance), ☏+1 415-921-5858 (general info), toll-free: +1-877-229-8655 (toll payment inquiries), Open 24 hours, occasionally closed Sunday morning for events. Welcome Center: daily, 9AM-6PM. $8.00 Pay-By-Plate, $7 w/ FasTrak account (toll driving south into San Francisco; free on foot or bike).

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