An Insider’s Guide to San Francisco Attractions

San Francisco boasts the last manually operated cable car system in the world.

San Francisco boasts the last manually operated cable car system in the world.


Above photo: San Francisco boasts the last manually operated cable car system in the world.

Story and photos by Patricia Corrigan

Patricia worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for 23 years and has written 19 books. She is based in San Francisco.

Tips on what to see, do, eat and drink on your next visit.

Every year, some 18 million people journey to San Francisco, a city with world-class attractions perched among wild places, a destination that inspires contemplation and exhilaration at the same time.

Before you hit the road, keep in mind that San Francisco has a mild Mediterranean climate, and temperatures may vary as much as 15 degrees from neighborhood to neighborhood. Stash a light jacket in the back of the car so you’ll be ready for any weather.

Now, here are places enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

View the Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge commands attention from all angles. At Fort Point, you’re almost under the remarkable structure. At Crissy Field, grab a beverage at the Warming Hut, sit on the sea wall and watch cargo ships steam under the bridge and into San Francisco Bay. At Land’s End, look back at it. To check it out from 920 feet above the city, drive to the top of Twin Peaks.

Go on an Eating Adventure

Mexican food aficionados recommend Little Chihuahua in the Lower Haight, the Mission and Noe Valley, La Taqueria in the Mission, the Taco Shop at Underdogs in the Sunset and La Corneta in Glen Park. For upscale Mexican, I like Colibri off Union Square, Padrecito in Cole Valley or Nopalito in the Inner Sunset.

Cheese mavens make pilgrimages to the iconic Ferry Building for the Farmhouse Grilled Cheese at Cowgirl Creamery’s Sidekick Café. Order rib tips at Memphis Minnie’s, in the Lower Haight, for a snack or a complete meal. All five Wise Sons’ locations serve flavorful deli fare, and don't say “no” to the rugelach.

For the best bread in town, try Marla Bakery (whole wheat) in the Outer Richmond, Jane the Bakery (fig walnut) in the Western Addition and Boudin Bakery (sourdough) at three locations. And if you reserve a table at Lovejoy’s for affordable high tea in an eclectic setting, eat the warm scone first.

Explore the Parks

Golden Gate Park, which covers 1,017 acres, is the largest of some 220 city parks. Check out the botanical garden (don’t miss the redwood grove), the bison paddock, a Japanese tea garden, the renowned California Academy of Sciences (tour the rainforest), an archery range, two windmills, a Victorian-era greenhouse, 10 lakes and plenty of picnic spots — all in one park.

At the de Young Museum in the park, take the elevator to the glass-walled top floor of the Hamon Observation Tower, where you can enjoy 360-degree views of San Francisco and beyond — for free. The museum has an admission fee if you want to view the galleries.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which encompasses 82,000 acres across 37 park sites, includes our expansive Ocean Beach, the smaller China and Baker beaches and Sutro Heights Park. The Presidio, founded in 1776, boasts the Disney Family Museum, a fountain featuring a life-size Yoda and great hiking trails with astonishing views of the Bay.

Experiment with Modes of Transit

For a fresh perspective, board an excursion boat at Fisherman’s Wharf, hop on a cable car or book a tour on a bike, bus, Segway or helicopter.

Historical walking tours abound, and many of them are free. Some visitors seek out the city’s mosaic tiled stairways in the Inner Sunset, the Inner Richmond and the Bayview. A walk in almost any neighborhood reveals lovely sidewalk gardens.

Expect the Unusual

At Pier 39, head around back for a look at hundreds of sea lions sunning themselves on docks. At Pier 45, pop in at the Musée Mécanique, which houses more than 200 coin-operated antique arcade machines. A few blocks west is the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, where you can board historic vessels docked at the Hyde Street Pier.

In the Mission, experience chocolate from bean to bar at Dandelion Chocolate, which offers handmade candy bars, classes and factory tours. Sip a nicely spiced Mission hot chocolate and try a brownie bite flight. For the quintessential San Francisco souvenir — tie-dye socks — head for the Sock Shop in Haight-Ashbury.

Whatever you choose to do when you’re in town, you’ll quickly catch on that San Francisco is a one-of-a-kind city.

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