The Essential Places to Explore in San Francisco, California - Go Wandering

The Essential Places to Explore in San Francisco, California

By Shannon Alfes |
The Essential Places to Explore in San Francisco, California
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San Francisco may just be 7 miles long, but it's jam-packed with adventures that will appeal to outdoor enthusiasts, foodies, and adventurous travelers of all kinds. The Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see, and an excursion of the infamous and now-closed federal prison on Alcatraz Island should also be on your itinerary. Rather than devoting all of your time to the touristy Fisherman's Wharf, have a bite to eat in the Ferry Building Marketplace or take a walking tour through the colorful Castro.

Energetic personalities and explorers will find enough to enjoy about San Francisco, whether it's climbing to the summit of Twin Peaks or strolling around Golden Gate Park. On a guided tour of the city, you'll most likely see all of these highlights and much more.

California Academy of Sciences

Alert to all traveling families: according to recent tourists, this is the best site in San Francisco to bring your little ones. There is plenty to see at the California Academy of Sciences, as it has an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and even a rainforest for everyone to let their imaginations run wild in.

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge's leaping orange arches set against the rugged San Francisco Bay landscape have made it one of the West Coast's most memorable emblems and the city's most famous tourist destination. The bridge's name, "Golden Gate," relates to the body of water it spans (the Golden Gate Strait, which joins the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay) and was constructed to make the trip between San Francisco and Marin County easier.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park, assuming California had a Central Park, would certainly be it. However, it receives a portion of the tourists that its New York equivalent does! Central Park receives upwards of 25 million visitors each year, whereas Golden Gate receives closer to 13 million, and it is even about 174 acres larger than Central Park, which is 843 acres. The park has so much to see and do that experiencing everything it has to offer may take a full day. Within its lush confines are trails, scenic picnic areas, parks, play areas, nurseries, galleries, and more.

Yerba Buena Gardens

The Yerba Buena Gardens offer guests an opportunity to relax and appreciate San Francisco's atmosphere and distinct culture after a day of hurried touring. The gardens themselves are 5 acres of beautifully designed lawns with flowers, trees, water, and art. The Cho-En Butterfly Garden features plants that stimulate butterfly growth from eggs to adults, attracting native San Francisco butterflies. Similarly, the Ohlone Indians are honored in the Reflection Garden, which also serves as a performing arts center for diverse traditions.

Tourists will discover the area's eateries and much of its seating in the Upper Terrace Garden and the Sister City Gardens, which feature flora from San Francisco's 18 Sister Cities from around the world. The East Garden also has several monuments and water elements. Finally, three of the Yerba Buena Gardens' lawns have been designed with children in mind.


While taking a cable car ride and snapping a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge is a must-do while visiting San Francisco, taking time to visit the infamous Alcatraz is just as important. This is due to the fact that Alcatraz is steeped in history. Alcatraz, a small rocky island in the center of San Francisco Bay, is widely known as a former federal prison that imprisoned a few of society's most notorious criminals, including Prohibition-era crime boss Al Capone. It was previously a military jail that housed convicts from the Spanish-American War and the Civil War, as well as the first working lighthouse on the West Coast.

Due to exorbitant operating expenses, the prison was decommissioned both times and given over to the National Park Service in 1972, after the island was briefly occupied by Native American activists. Approximately one million people visit the site each year.

Cable Cars

You've most likely seen a television show, movie, or postcard of San Francisco featuring the city's famed cable car or trolley. Therefore, you should of course go out to appreciate this fun aspect of San Francisco's allure. The cable car system in San Francisco is the last of its kind in the United States, having been designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964. After seeing an accident that comprised of a horse-drawn buggy trying to ascend a high San Francisco hill and failing, Andrew Smith Hallidie, an immigrant from England, came up with the idea for the cable car. His father possessed a patent in England for wire rope, which he utilized to devise a transportation system based on it.

Twin Peaks

Take a trek to Twin Peaks for the spectacular perspectives of San Francisco. These well-known grassy hills climb 922 feet above sea level, marking them the city's second-highest point (after Mount Davidson). Several San Francisco sights, such as the Bay Bridge and downtown skyscrapers, can be seen from the summit. You can either go during the day or at night - some say you should even do both. The sights are beyond breathtaking and well worth the trip. However, pack a jacket because it can get windier and chillier up at the top than it is at sea level!

Baker Beach

While San Francisco isn't famed for its beaches, Baker Beach is often regarded as one of the greatest in the state. Baker Beach, positioned in the Presidio of San Francisco, is well-renowned for its panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the nearby Marin Headlands. The mile-long beach has picnic sites and access to surrounding Presidio trails, giving visitors plenty of opportunities to stretch their legs.

Travelers flock here to take shots of the bridge, but if you want to get some sunshine or get your feet wet, you should head somewhere else; large waves, undertow, and rip currents make swimming at Baker Beach quite risky, and the city's unpredictable weather implies it's not always sunny enough for sunbathing.

Ferry Building Marketplace

All food aficionados, take note: this scrumptious destination should be at the top of your San Francisco bucket list. The Ferry Building Marketplace is a popular food market with a diversity of food stalls that serve as small restaurants, snack shops, and supermarkets. Ferry Building Marketplace has the whole enchilada from Mexican food, burgers, seafood, delicious cappuccinos, Japanese fare, empanadas, a nut shop, and a cheese and dairy bar. It’s safe to say you will quickly find what you have a hankering for when you pay a visit here.

San Francisco's Chinatown

While some may say New York City's Chinatown is the most well-known in the United States, San Francisco's Chinatown is equally as well-known. Among other prevalent Asian communities which reside outside of Asia, San Francisco's Chinatown is also one of the oldest in North America. During the Gold Rush, Chinese immigrants began arriving in California in search of prosperity. Following their expulsion from the gold mines, the Chinese established their own companies in what is now Chinatown, one of the city's most popular neighborhoods. No trip to San Francisco is complete without immersing yourself in this region of the city.

Union Square

Union Square, located a few blocks north of Market Street and southwest of the city's Financial District, is the epicenter of San Francisco's hustle and bustle. Tourists and locals alike adore this region because of its fantastic location and vibrant energy. Union Square Park is surrounded by large buildings and busy streets, providing visitors with a distinctive opportunity to engage in the center of a bustling metropolis and enjoy the ambiance without the worry of being run over. The square also functions as a park, having grassy areas and palm trees. Throughout the square, there are numerous seating options and artistic works.

There is no doubt about it that San Francisco is positively booming with so many different cultures and vibrant experiences that seize the heart of each traveler that finds their way here. Whether you only have a weekend, a full week, you’re traveling alone, or with the whole family, San Francisco is for absolutely anyone and everyone, and there is truly never a shortage of adventure and marvelous things to see in this Golden City.

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