San Francisco is packed with iconic spots: here’s what to see and what to skip!
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San Francisco is my husband’s favorite city in the US, so after his deployment, we decided to visit! I can see why he loves it so much. Between the restaurants, architecture, and rugged West Coast beauty, what’s not to love?
Writing one post on how to see San Francisco would be
Today, I’m sharing a few highlights of the city: what you should see and what you can skip!
Must See San Francisco
Is it touristy? Yes. But Alcatraz is also iconic for a reason. And if tourists drive you crazy, do what we did and book the first ticket of the day. You’ll be on the first boat and beat everyone else through the prison tour, leaving you to explore the rest of the island just as the crowds are starting to arrive.
When you first arrive, head into the door marked “theater and
My main takeaway from Alcatraz was that the island is way more than a prison. First built as a Civil War-era fort, it protected San Francisco Bay and only after decades did it become the prison it’s so renowned as. Plus, it later became a landmark (literally and figuratively) in the fight for Native American rights in the late
Buying tickets to the island include an audio tour which was well done. It scissors back and forth through the prison building, so don’t worry if it seems to skip things – it comes back to everything except the exercise yard, which you can explore on your own later.
Also: make sure you buy your tickets through Alcatraz Cruises. There are tons of other companies to offer Alcatraz cruises, but these don’t land on the island itself, just give a verbal history as you pass by.
“Crookedest street in the US.” Except technically, there’s another San Francisco street that’s just as curvy, but Lombard Street is prettier, so it gets all the credit.
I honestly don’t know what the architect/designer was thinking here, other than the curves helping to slow drivers down on such a steep incline?
The street itself cool to see: beautiful architecturally if nothing else. It’ll be choked with tourists and selfie sticks, making me wonder if it would be worth living there. But it’s so picturesque and gorgeous that I’m sure I could get used to it, given the chance. 😉
Palace of Fine Arts
Built originally for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo, in celebration of the Panama Canal’s completion, the Palace of Fine Arts is one massive work of art that feels like it belongs in Greece rather than California. Topping the columns are weeping women turned in, signifying what the world would be like without the arts.
The whole thing is massive and feels like you’ve somehow been shrunk as you walk through the collonade. We enjoyed walking around it, goofing off a bit and taking cheesy photos. It’s bigger than it looks from a distance, and it’s a fun spot to explore if you want to walk but not hike.
Another iconic San Francisco image: the painted ladies are a row of beautiful row houses next to Alamo Square Park. They’re just as Victorian and cute as they look on Full House, but I don’t know that those particular houses offer anything different than many of the houses in that neighborhood. In a city with ornate row houses throughout, I don’t know that these are a must-see. But if you’re nearby, go ahead and swing by! Plus, they’re only a few blocks away from the Mrs. Doubtfire house if you want to find that!
Golden Gate Bridge
Can you say you went to San Francisco if you didn’t cross the Golden Gate Bridge? There’s a toll to drive across, but free to walk or bike. I’d recommend renting bikes for a day trip across to Sausalito, then take a ferry back to mix up. You can get great views of the Golden Gate Bridge for that perfect Insta from the Presidio and Lands End.
Take a day trip to Napa Valley & Sonoma
You could plan an entire trip exploring Napa Valley and Sonoma County. We didn’t want to miss out on the fun so we compromised and did a day trip, which I highly recommend! I’ll be sharing more on this soon in another post.
What we didn’t see: Muir Woods
Unfortunately, we arrived in San Francisco just as the northern California wildfires got bad last November. You may notice that I don’t have that iconic shot of the Golden Gate Bridge: that because outside of driving over it, we didn’t actually see much of it. The air quality was bad enough that local schools were closed and many outdoor activities shut down, including the cable cars. But the saddest thing to miss was Muir Woods.
The National Parks Service closed Muir Woods due to the terrible air quality. The smoke was bad enough that no federal employees were asked to work outside. Completely understandable.
That being said, Muir Woods is iconic and I’m bummed that we missed it. Redwoods and old growth forest everywhere. Muir Woods is 100% worth a visit. Our Lyft driver gave us a tip for visiting: take a Lyft out there and schedule the return pickup before leaving. It’s only about 20 minutes outside the city and saves you the hassle of renting a car or paying a tour company for a hike, especially if you’ve got more than one person in your group. Just keep in mind that you have to buy entry tickets for the park itself as well.
Eat great food
Let’s be honest, this was 70% a food vacation. We love eating well when we travel, and in San
These will get you started on any first-time visit to see San Francisco. There’s so much more to see, so come back for the next installment: neighborhoods of San Francisco!