Among the many reasons why San Francisco gets so many tourists every year is its famous landmarks. People come from all over the world to see sites they can’t see anywhere else.
From buildings to structures, to islands and attractions, San Francisco has something to offer even the most finicky traveler. Here are the city’s top landmarks.
Famous Landmarks in San Francisco
1. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is much more than just a way to help get people from point A to point B. The bridge boasts various exhibits, some of which are interactive.
One of its most significant exhibits is the test tower bridge, which dates back to 1933. You can also learn about its history by taking the complimentary walking tour.
Located close to the bridge, you’ll be able to access an overlook that lets you explore the area on foot. Surrounding both sides of the bridge is the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where you can take hikes on beautiful trails.
2. Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz is a 22-acre island that housed California’s first lighthouse. Abandoned in 1963, Alcatraz Island is located within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The island’s main attraction is The Big Lockup Exhibit. This exhibit gives you a glimpse into what life was like for prisoners on the island.
Through photographs of the prisoners, you’ll learn their stories and find out what they faced while serving their sentences.
The areas of this exhibit you’ll want to visit include the World’s Largest Prison System. It also includes information on two policies relevant to many of the prisoners; “War on Drugs,” and “Tough on Crime.”
The exhibit delves into subjects like the link between slavery and the 13th Amendment.
3. Coit Tower
One way to get a great view of San Francisco is to visit the Coit Tower. Located at the peak of Telegraph Hill, it is considered a significant part of San Francisco’s skyline.
From the observation deck, you’ll be able to look out over both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Step into the tower to see the murals painted on its base. In 1934, California artists came together as part of the Public Works of Art Project to paint those murals. They represent what life was like in the state during the Great Depression.
At the time, some of the contents of the murals were thought to be controversial. This led to the closing of the tower for a few months in 1934. Since then, the controversial content has been painted over.
To experience Coit Tower to the fullest, you can take a guided group tour, with one stop being the famous murals.
The tour is led by docents and includes information on the artists that painted the murals, along with the story of the tower’s inception. You’ll also find out how the Public Works of Art Project influenced the creation of the murals.
4. Palace of Fine Arts
Locals know that one of the hottest venues to rent for an event is the Palace of Fine Arts. But if you are visiting San Francisco, you’ll want to make it a point to stop by.
The Palace dates back to 1915 when it was built for use in the Panama-Pacific Exhibition. Its purpose was to display various pieces of artwork. While the palace’s property consists of many buildings, the largest and most noteworthy is the 162-foot-tall rotunda.
The rotunda is surrounded by a lagoon and is located next to the exhibition center. Between that and the rotunda are colonnades that beautifully separate them.
5. PIER 39
Pier 39 is among the most interactive landmarks in San Francisco. The attractions at the pier include escape rooms, a mirror maze, musical stairs, a marina, whale tours, a sea lion center, wine tastings and the Aquarium of the Bay, among others.
You may also catch street performances. Pier 39 also includes the Alcatraz Book Store, and Gift Shop, the Aquarium of the Bay Gift Shop, Build-A-Bear Workshop, the Carmel Honey Company, and Houdini’s Magic Shop.
And if you get hungry, the pier has restaurants like Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Shop, Eagle Cafe, Fog Harbor Fish House, and the Players Sports Grill & Arcade.
6. Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience
Anyone with a sweet tooth will want to make it a point to visit the Ghiradelli Chocolate Experience. When you get there, head to the chocolatier station, where you can purchase freshly made fudge, ice cream and more.
There is also the Pick and Mix station, where you can customize a gift for yourself or a loved one. While you’re there, be sure to try the shop’s World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae. The fudge used in the sundae is made fresh on a daily basis.
7. Ferry Building
Some would say the most famous landmark in San Francisco is its Ferry Building. Dating back to 1898, it was the original station for every commuter train that entered and left San Francisco. Before trains, ferries would pass through.
Once the Bay and Golden Gate bridges opened, there was no longer a need for the Ferry Building. After serving as an office building for an extended period of time, it officially became a landmark in 2003. Not only does it have operating terminals, it also has the Ferry Building Marketplace.
The marketplace features restaurants, bars, stores, and coffee shops. This includes Donut Farm, the Fort Point Root Beer Company, Heath Ceramics, the Hog Island Oyster Company, the Imperial Tea Court, and Red Bay Coffee. It also has the Village Market, and the Foodwise Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
8. The Painted Ladies
Considered a historical monument, The Painted Ladies is the site of many Victorian-style homes, each boasting their own pastel colors.The neighborhood also includes Queen Anne Style homes, with each house having large porches and balconies.
For those who grew up in the 80’s, The Painted Ladies houses are instantly recognizable. They were shown during the credits of each episode of the TV sitcom Full House, which was set in San Francisco.
While you’re admiring The Painted Ladies, don’t forget to make your way to the adjacent Alamo Square Park. This is a public park that boasts sprawling open lawns, and even a dog park. It’s the ideal place for a picnic, a walk or even a jog.
9. Oracle Park
If you’re a fan of baseball, a visit to San Francisco isn’t complete without a trip to Oracle Park. This is where the Giants play all of their home games. With advanced reservations, you can even take a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium.
Stops on the tour include the Press Box, the Field, the Luxury Suite, and the team’s dugout. When you are there for a game, you’ll find that the stadium hosts quite a few vendors.
This includes Tony G’s Pizza, the Mission Street Taqueria, the Lumpia Company, Pier 44 Chowder House, The Garden, and The Bullpen Boardwalk.
10. Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks is the name of San Francisco’s two most prominent hills. They are almost in the geographical center of the city, and stand 1000 feet above ground.
Its viewing area provides views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Market Street, and numerous skyscrapers. Visit after dark to experience this landmark’s light shows.
Many visitors pick one peak and climb to the top. The peaks’ pathways are easy to navigate, with wooden stairs that can easily be climbed safely. And if you visit during April or May, you might get to see the rare Mission Blue Butterfly.
Since this butterfly is endangered, seeing one can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience you may want to capture on film.
There are several trails you can choose to hike in order to reach the top of the peaks. Truly outdoorsy visitors will often extend their hike to reach the Creek to Peaks Trail.
For the best way to explore the Twin Peaks with other visitors, you can book a day or night tour. The day tour lasts four hours and is run by a local guide.
You can even lump this in with a tour of the Painted Ladies neighborhood. When it comes to the night tour, grab your significant other and book the San Francisco Love Night Tour.
Not only do you arrive at Twin Peaks on a VW Bus, you’ll be treated to 60s music the whole way up. The night tour includes views of the Golden Gate Bridge and other nearby attractions.