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Best Tourist Attractions In San Francisco Worth The Hype

(credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Think of San Francisco, and what images come to mind? Surely these five are in your mind's eye, and the good news is that they are definitely worthwhile. The peninsula that we call home is only seven miles by seven miles, so from the downtown bay to the breakers of the Pacific Ocean, you can cover a good-sized do-to list without too much trouble. But, bring your walking shoes and remember to tote a jacket along even when the morning fog lifts to reveal cloudless, blue skies.

golden gate bridge toll booths
Cars exit Golden Gate Bridge toll booths. (AP)

Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco, CA 94129
(415) 921-5858

It's absolutely, positively picture postcard perfect on a clear day. It's shrouded in mystery accompanied by mournful horns on the notoriously foggy ones. The Golden Gate Bridge deserves its iconic status as a symbol of San Francisco, California, the West Coast and America. Take a car, a bicycle or a walk and be sure to take a camera. To learn more about why it is painted International Orange and how they built the bridge that couldn't be built, join a free guided San Francisco City Guides walking tour to the mid-point and back.

America's Cup - Finals Races 5 & 6
San Francisco Bay (Getty Images)

Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Cruises LLC
Pier 33
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 981-7625

A visit to the former federal penitentiary Alcatraz comes with a 1.5-mile picturesque boat ride as a bonus. If you haven't been to the Rock in recent years, the self-guided audio tour is a major upgrade to the visitor experience. "Doing Time: The Alcatraz Cellhouse Tour" features descriptions by actual correctional officers and prisoners. And, if your timing is good, you'll run into one of the free themed tours offered by park service rangers. The more adventurous can opt for Alcatraz at night, when extra layers of clothing should be piled on to ward off inhospitable damp, wind and cold. The good news, of course, is that you get to leave.

Cable Car

Cable Cars
1201 Mason St.
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 474-1887 

San Francisco's hills are truly challenging, and cable cars are built for the task. Without the invention of the cable car mechanism in 1873, this post-Gold Rush town would not have expanded from its bawdy, noisy Barbary Coast waterfront to the rarefied Nob Hill mansions built by The Big Four. Just as much fun as taking a $6 cable car ride is seeing the guts of the cable car system at work. Start at the depot at Washington and Mason Streets where the Cable Car Museum is the best free museum in San Francisco.

Related:  The Perfect Long Weekend In The Bay Area


Golden Gate Park
Recreation and Parks Department
McLaren Lodge
501 Stanyan St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 831-2700

You may leave your heart in San Francisco, but Golden Gate Park is the lungs of the city. More than 1,000 acres extend from the shores of the Pacific Ocean at its western end to world-famous museums further east. This is the largest urban park in the nation, with a startling diversity of activities contained within. See fine art and exotic floral displays, come to grips with an earthquake simulation, rent a rowboat, see the resident bison roam or ride an authentic 1914 carousel. You can picnic under a Dutch windmill, contemplate in a Japanese garden, try your hand at English lawn bowling or perfect your French pétanque. All this and you will have only touched the surface.


Coit Tower 
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 362-0808

The 378 steps up Telegraph Hill are steep and rugged, but so worth the hike to enjoy superb 360-degree views from Coit Tower. As you climb, spot sweet cottages lining the path and marvel at how hardy residents manage with their groceries. Fragrant and lush foliage perfumes the air punctuated by squawks from the signature flocks of talkative wild parrots above. Inside the fluted concrete tower's lobby, many visitors plunk down $7 and head for the tiny elevator to go higher still. However, the lobby walls are lined with colorful, fabulous Depression-era 1930 frescoes which deserve even more hype than they get.

Related: Spend The Day At Fisherman's Wharf

Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things in her adopted San Francisco. A dedicated urbanite, she's a transplanted New Yorker by way of a couple of decades in London as a hotel sales and marketing manager. Follow her work on @ReferencePlease, USA Today, Yahoo! and on

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