San Francisco: Your Must-Experience Guide of Iconic Landmarks!
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San Francisco is loved for its cable cars, hilly streets, and the breathtaking Golden Gate Bridge! As a solo traveller and seasoned flight attendant, I’ve had the privilege of exploring this vibrant city from the bay to the bridges multiple times. I’m here to share my personal guide to the must-see destinations and San Francisco landmarks that will make your solo trip unforgettable. Visiting any new city for the first time can be overwhelming I know, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want a jam-packed itinerary for your trip to tick off as many bucket list items as possible! With my guide, you’ll get to experience the very best of San Francisco landmarks and won’t miss out on anything worth seeing (and yes, please do visit the tourist hotspots as well as the hidden gems!) So, get ready to explore the city like a pro and have an unforgettable trip!
Golden Gate Bridge: The Iconic San Francisco landmark
Arguably one of the most famous and most photographed bridges in the world. The orange-red hues of the Golden Gate Bridge are unforgettable landmarks of San Francisco. It’s that postcard-perfect view. The first image that comes to mind when you think of San Francisco. Of course, you want to see the famous bridge with your own eyes, so head to one of the fantastic viewpoints of the Bridge! Or tick off something extra on that San Francisco landmarks bucket list by hiring a bike and cycling across the bridge!
Best View Points
Fort Point National Park
Witness the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge from a unique perspective at Fort Point National Park, a Civil War-era brick fortress. You can take stunning close-up shots of the bridge and enjoy a stroll from Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. Fort Point is easily accessible by various modes of transportation, offering an inspiring and unforgettable view
Location: Fort Point is located at the south anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge, at the end of Marine Drive on the Presidio of San Francisco.
The former military airfield is a beloved spot for residents and tourists. Walk or bike along the flat boardwalk and admire the wonderful panorama of the magnificent San Francisco Bay and of course the legendary Golden Gate Bridge. Before you leave, be sure to visit the Warming Hut at the western edge of the park to grab a bite, a cup of coffee, or even a memento of your visit.
Location: Crissy Field, San Francisco, CA
Golden Gate View Vista Point
For a breathtaking view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cross the bridge from San Francisco and head to the Golden Gate View Vista Point, located on the north side of the bridge! This spot is one of my absolute favourites for capturing stunning photos of the bridge, and trust me, the view is truly unique. Get ready to snap some incredible Insta pics and create unforgettable memories at this iconic San Francisco landmark!
Location: Highway 101 Northbound near Alexander Ave. off-ramp, Sausalito CA 94965. The Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point has no official address other than Highway 101 in Sausalito. On most GPS systems it is listed as a point of interest!
Golden Gate Bridge Overlook
The Golden Gate Overlook is a gorgeous curved plaza that overlooks the coast and is designed to look like the historic military fortifications and artillery platforms that surround it. There’s a lot of history surrounding the Bridge for sure! The view of the Golden Gate Bridge from this spot is breathtaking. The beautiful historic cypress trees surrounding it perfectly frame both towers of the iconic bridge.
Location: Langdon Ct, San Francisco, CA 94129
To find that signature view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the one that you’ve seen hundreds of times before, you have to head over to Battery Spencer immediately. The view from this spot will leave you mesmerised. You’re bound to see Photographers and Instagrammers up at this spot, but don’t worry there’s more than enough space for everyone to take in the panoramic view of both the Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. If seeing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is at the top of your bucket list, you cannot miss Battery Spencer!
Location: Conzelman Road, Sausalito, CA 94965. As the road leading up to Battery Spencer is now a one-way road, once you reach Conzelman Road, keep driving! Battery Spencer is the viewpoint closest to the bridge.
Obviously, there are more Golden Gate Bridge viewpoints! These are just a few of my faves with the ultimate best views of the Bridge!
Alcatraz: San Francisco’s Dark History Landmarks
No trip to San Francisco is complete without a visit to one of the most famous prisons in the world. This historic island in SF Bay, also known as “The Rock” was home to some of America’s most famous criminals when it was a notorious federal prison. It’s a fascinating insight into some of America’s dark history and a must-visit San Francisco landmark.
A visit to the island includes a tour of the cell house where visitors can see how the prisoners lived. Although the last inmates were transferred off the island in 1963, the main prison block—with its steel bars, claustrophobic (9 x 5-foot) cells, mess hall, library and “dark holes,” is still structurally intact and fascinating to explore!
Top Tip: Alcatraz often sells out. It’s best to book in advance, especially for the night tours or in the peak summer season.
Location and Getting There:
Alcatraz Island is located in San Francisco Bay, approx 1.25 miles from the northern shore of San Francisco. The only way to get to the island is to take a ferry with Alcatraz Cruises. Alcatraz City Cruises is the official ferry provider to Alcatraz.
Prices (Correct as of January 2024)
For the day tour:
- Adult – $45.25
- Child (5-11 years) – $27.55
- Junior (12-17 years) – $45.25
- Senior (62+ years) – $42.65
- Family Pack (2 Adults + 2 Kids 5-11 years) – $131.85
For the night tour:
- Adult $56.30
- Child (5-11 years) – $33.00
- Junior (12-17 years) – $55.10
- Senior (62+ years) – $52.25
Top Tip: The weather on Alcatraz can be unpredictable, and subject to unexpected change, so dress in layers. Bring along a light jacket or jumper, no matter how nice the day begins!
Fisherman’s Wharf: Tourist Hotspot of San Fransico Landmarks
I’ll start by saying Fisherman’s Wharf IS a tourist trap, but don’t let that put you off! If you’re looking for spectacular views of San Francisco Bay, Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to be. It should be on your San Francisco landmarks bucket list for sure. Expect the busy bustling crowds but both tourists and locals alike tend to be friendly so the crowds aren’t unbearable. Some people would say skip it but honestly, it’s worth the visit!
Some notable attractions to visit at Fisherman’s Wharf are:
- Madame Tussauds – world-famous wax museum.
- Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum – two floors full of weird stuff, oddities and the truly unbelievable.
- Boudin Bakery – Bakery that sells loaves of the famous bread and has a full-service restaurant upstairs, however, I can’t comment on the vegan options available here!
- Bay Cruise Terminal – where you can pick up San Francisco Bay Cruises.
- SS Jeremiah O’Brien and USS Pampanito – two World War II icons, docked at Pier 45.
- Musee Mechanique – full of old-fashioned arcade games and curiosities, get some change and have some fun!
- San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park – a collection of historic ships, also known as Hyde Street Pier.
- Hyde and Beach Streets – especially the cable car turnaround!
FOR FANTASTIC DEALS ON FISHERMAN’S WHARF ATTRACTIONS AND SAN FRANCISCO HOP ON HOP OFF BUS TOURS
Sadly, there aren’t any exclusively vegan places in Fisherman’s Wharf. However multiple restaurants offer vegan options, these include:
Cafe De Casa – A Brazilian restaurant offering vegan items such as savoury tapiocas and acai bowls. Also has plant milk available for coffee.
Surisan – A Korean restaurant serving a blend of traditional and modern cuisine. Offers several vegan dishes on the noodle/rice menu. The online menu doesn’t clearly label vegan items, so ask your server for items that are vegan or can be modified to be vegan.
Scoma’s – A Seafood restaurant with labelled vegan options including salads and risotto. As usual, ask your server for vegan options! This is a great place to visit if you’re travelling with omni friends or family who love seafood.
Grandeho Kamekyo – A Japanese fusion sushi restaurant. This restaurant can provide a separate veggie/ vegan menu on request which consists of veggie sushi, ramen and more. Friendly staff who are knowledgeable about a vegan diet!
Location: Fisherman’s Wharf roughly encompasses the northern waterfront area of San Francisco from Ghirardelli Square to Pier 35.
Fisherman’s Wharf is also home to Pier 39, which leads me to my next point.
Pier 39: Home to the famous San Francisco Sea Lions
Located in the lively Fisherman’s Wharf (as mentioned above!) Pier 39 is a vibrant and unique gem amidst the tourist scene. Despite its tourist trap label, don’t hesitate to explore the charm that sets Pier 39 apart. Pier 39 is home to attractions, countless bars and restaurants, shops and fun for everyone! Plus Pier 39 is where the iconic San Francisco sea lions come to bask in the sun and they always gather a crowd. They add an unexpected element to the experience and should be on your list of San Francisco landmarks! (They’re defo my favourite part about Pier 39!)
Again, nowhere on Pier 39 is exclusively vegan but there are still options available if you insist on eating on the pier. Like above, I would personally find somewhere else to eat yummy vegan cuisine.
Players Sports Bar: American restaurant and sports bar that offers a vegan veggie burger and fries. As usual, it’s best to check with your server to request to make additional dishes vegan.
Biscoff Coffee Corner: Every vegan knows that Biscoff biscuits (cookies for my American friends!) are accidentally vegan. This little coffee shop on Pier 39 not only sells Biscoff biscuits, spread and other delicious goodies, but they can also modify their speciality Biscoff latte to be vegan! I highly recommend this if you’re a Biscoff lover! If you’re not craving a sugar rush, they also have a menu of your typical coffees, as well as teas and smoothies.
Double-check with your server upon arrival at restaurants on the pier, such as Eagle Cafe and Wipeout Bar and Grill, to determine if they can accommodate vegans and to inquire about vegan menu items or dishes that can be modified.
Coit Tower: 360-degree views of San Francisco’s famous landmarks
Coit Tower is a tall, white concrete column that stands proudly atop Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Whilst it doesn’t sound like much, it’s been a beloved symbol of the city’s skyline since its construction in 1933. Countless visitors have come from all over the world to climb the tower. You can reach the observation deck at the top of the tower by taking a quick elevator ride or by making a heart-pumping climb up the 13 flights of stairs. Trust me, the climb is worth it, and the stunning views from the top are truly inspiring! Purchase tickets at the gift shop, and once you reach the observation deck, breathtaking 360-degree views of all the San Francisco landmarks, including the iconic Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, will treat you. It’s an iconic spot that will leave you with unforgettable memories.
Location: 1 Telegraph Hill Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94133.
Prices (Correct as of January 2024)
|Child (4 & under)
Lombard Street: World’s Most Crooked Street
Known as the “world’s most crooked street,” Lombard Street is iconic in the list of San Francisco landmarks. The street is lined with stunning Russian Hill mansions. Its beautifully manicured landscaping and flowers make it one of San Francisco’s prettiest streets and is picture-postcard-perfect.
Location: The crooked portion of the street of Lombard Street is located between Leavenworth and Hyde Streets.
Fun Fact: Lombard Street might be known as the world’s most crooked street, but it’s not actually the most crooked street in San Francisco. The title technically belongs to Vermont St between 20th and 22nd Street. Saying that Lombard Street is still worth the visit!
Cable Cars: Historic San Francisco Icon.
San Francisco is undoubtedly famous for its historic cable cars. The entire city was once served by cable cars, but today only three lines remain operational. The San Francisco Cable Car is the last manually operated cable car system in the world. It was also the first, they were invented right here in San Francisco. One of the most interesting things about SF’s Cable Cars is the turnaround station located at Powell St. (The turnaround stations are San Francisco landmarks in their own right!) Since cable cars cannot travel in reverse, they have to be manually turned around at the end of the Powell St lines. It should be noted that the queue is usually busy with people who want to ride the famous cable car, but it is worth taking a look to witness the operators jumping out, grabbing the chassis of each trolley, and slowly rotating the car on a revolving wooden platform.
If you want to learn more about the Cable Cars of San Francisco, you can visit the fascinating Cable Car Museum at 1201 Mason Street, the museum deck overlooks the huge engines and winding wheels that pull the cables. Admission to the museum is FREE but please note that the museum is closed on Monday.
Riding the cable cars:
Out of the three lines, two start at Powell and Market and continue to the Fisherman’s Wharf area; one starts at California and Market and continues to Van Ness Avenue. Board at the cable car turntables (the beginning or end of each route) or look for the brown-and-white cable car signpost along the route.
The cost for a one-way fare on the cable cars is $8. If you’re thinking of transferring lines or making multiple stops on the cable car, it’s better to buy an all-day visitor passport which includes unlimited rides on Muni, Muni Metro, historic streetcars, and cable cars. These start at $13 for a 1 day pass. All tickets can be purchased through MuniMobile, Clipper® Card or by cash (exact change ONLY) at several locations.
Ghirardelli Square: The home of Chocolate.
Ghirardelli Square is without a doubt, famous in its own right. However whether it’s the best chocolate in San Francisco is up for debate… but this post isn’t here to tell you about the best chocolate available in SF, it’s a guide to San Francisco landmarks so therefore Ghirardelli Square makes the cut! Ghiradelli Square, on the western side of Fisherman’s Wharf, is a great spot for cute souvenir shopping and is full of little independent shops selling beautiful and unique decorative items! I love the chilled-out vibe of Ghiradelli Square. For a quick chocolate fix on the go, visit Ghiradelli’s factory shop or their in-house cafe. The non-dairy (accidentally vegan) hot fudge sundae is absolutely delicious, just make sure you have a sweet tooth for it!
Location: 900 North Point Street at the corner of Beach & Larkin Streets.
What is your favourite landmark in San Francisco? Leave your reply in the comments! Know a friend visiting San Franciso soon? Share this post with them!