California’s beloved, sparkling city of San Francisco offers a myriad of attractions, entertainment, and sightseeing opportunities for travelers. But with so much to see in so little time, how do you determine which activities make the cut? We’ve attempted to make this tough decision a little easier for your with our San Francisco vacation guide.
Check into your suite, head back out to the city streets, and jump right onto an iconic San Francisco cable car. These historic cars are a part of the last manually operated cable car system in the world, and provide the perfect transportation to take you sightseeing through the famous downtown areas on your first day in the city. Take the three remaining routes to Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, and California Street to discover endless shopping and dining opportunities. Visit Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39, and Union Square attractions. To explore the entirety of the San Francisco on your first day, also opt to take a 49-mile scenic drive around this charming city to get a little taste for everything it has to offer.
One of the most famous San Francisco tours for travelers is on Alcatraz Island. Nestled right in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was once a federal prison, home to some of the most notable criminals in the country. Today, the island is a beautiful tourist destination, only a short ferry ride away from the California shores. Tour the abandoned prison, visit the lighthouse, and admire the lovely flora and fauna. Tours are self-guided during the day, with numerous free programs throughout the day to educate visitors on the island’s past. Tours are guided by night, accompanied by a ferry ride around the island with narration on Alcatraz’s historical significance.
San Francisco is a sensational destination for art enthusiasts. Whether its paintings, theatre, or architecture you admire, you will find inspiration in this California city. In the Marina District, find the famous Palace of Fine Art, a structure originally created for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Gaze at the incredible symbolic Greek architecture with its soft arches and detailed columns, surrounded by beautiful walkways and a lagoon. Catch a show at one of the handful of theatres in Union Square, or take a trip to the Civic Center-Tenderloin area for endless options of opera houses, fine art museums, and theatres, including the San Francisco Symphony, Orpheum Theatre, and War Memorial Opera House. When you stay at the Inn at the Opera or The Donatello, you will be within walking distance of all the best live entertainment in the Theatre District.
This city is also known for its delicious cuisine and high-end wine selection. In fact, San Francisco has more restaurants per capita than any other major city in North America! This means you will have the greatest selection of dining options on your vacation. Dine in ultimate sophistication and seclusion at the Cliff House—a historic landmark overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific. Enjoy delicious Asian cuisine in Chinatown, get fresh seafood right off the boat in Fisherman’s Wharf, and amazing Italian food in North Beach. If you would prefer to cook in, find a great variety of local, fresh produce at the renowned Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
While San Francisco is a bustling city, it also offers picturesque shorelines for ocean views and aquatic attractions. Its waterfront neighborhoods boast both a scenic waterfront and plenty of entertainment to keep you busy all day long. Enjoy front row access to the beautiful waterfront when you stay at the Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf. Fashionable waterfront restaurants, The Ferry Building, Exploratorium, and many, many more attractions keep visitors returning to The Embarcadero every year. See various marine animals swim above your head in Aquarium of the Bay’s underwater tunnel, visit Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum, or check out the exquisite Cannery, flaunting award-winning architecture and a lively marketplace.
Beyond the glitzy and glamorous downtown lies the incredible Golden Gate Park. Free of towering buildings and bustling crowds, this national park is a San Francisco treasure, welcoming over 13 million visitors every year. Find peace, natural beauty, and hidden gems throughout this 1,017-acre park. From lakes and walking trails to gardens and monuments, you are sure to have a fun-filled day of outdoor exploration. Take a Segway tour around the park, visit the immaculate Japanese Tea Garden, and discover the Conservatory of Flowers. Of course, photographing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is a must for every visitor.
Hopefully you’ve saved a little room in your budget on this last day in San Francisco, since this city is famous for its incredible shopping. Find fancy boutiques and popular national department stores in Union Square— the favorite destination for shoppers. Pick up some classic travel souvenirs at Fisherman’s Wharf, or stop at Nob Hill for specialty shops when you stay at the Nob Hill Inn. Chinatown and Japantown also offer plenty of great shopping options for authentic souvenirs and memorabilia.
While it may seem overwhelming to try to tackle every sight and attraction this famous California city has to offer, we hope this San Francisco travel itinerary can help you jumpstart how to plan your next California vacation so you can soak up all the favorite hot spots.
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