Print our free San Francisco sightseeing map that shaves 22 miles off
the usual route with better stops, easy parking, walking streets and
much more. San Francisco sight-seeing is so rich and diverse, you
could expand the experience to several days and still wish for more
time. Ask any San Francisco resident and they will tell you
sightseeing in this town means hitting the hills by foot, cable car or
automobile. The best views are at the shorelines and atop the many
peaks throughout the city.
The 27-Mile Drive
SCENIC DRIVES: Try our Horizon Guides’ San Francisco sightseeing alternative to the
49-Mile Drive. In just over half the miles of the original drive,
you’ll enjoy more sightseeing and spend much less time in traffic.
San Francisco is one of the world’s most charming and diverse cities –
renowned for its unique bridges, steep hills, famous neighborhoods,
colorful Victorian houses, historic cable cars and fine
restaurants. The 49-Mile Drive around the city is signed and
includes many of the top attractions but who wants to do all that
driving in a city that begs for you to get out and put your feet on the
ground? Not to mention the lack of street parking, the price of
tickets/towing and heavy local traffic.
We’ve created a tour combining walkable neighborhoods, public
parking garages, easy public transport and driving where it makes
sense. If you have several days in the city, spend more time at each
area – you won’t be sorry. You can do the center of town/Fisherman’s
Wharf in two days but three or four is better. Spend another two or
three days exploring the rest of the city. Of course, you can’t see it
all in that time so you’ll have to return another time.
We have included a number of side trips along the route for those with
more time. The city is so rich in places to visit, you might wish
to linger along the way.
Tip: No matter when you visit, take a windproof jacket and/or
sweatshirt – weather changes fast here depending upon the neighborhood,
time of day, season or presence of fog. There is a good reason
for the rows of street vendors selling warm clothing at Fisherman’s
START: In San Francisco, park your car at the Sutter/Stockton
city parking garage. From this spot, you can walk to Union
Square, Chinatown, cable cars, the TransAmerica Pyramid and North
Beach, San Francisco’s "Little Italy". From Union Square, walk
south, crossing Market Street into "SOMA" (South of Market). There you’ll find SFMOMA (the art museum), Yerba Buena Gardens,
California Academy of Sciences, SF Shopping Centre, the Cartoon Art
Museum and Sony Metreon.
SIDE TRIPS: Cable cars are crowded at Union Square so consider
hopping on the less-crowded California Line while you are in Chinatown.
Ride west up to Nob Hill and enjoy the lovely park, the fancy hotels
and stately Grace Cathedral.
Now it is time to enjoy the waterfront by heading back downhill towards
the Bay Bridge (visible from many peaks). Walk down Market to the
Ferry Building or take BART (a subway at this point) one stop from
Montgomery to Embarcadero where you will see the giant Embarcadero
Center (shopping). On weekends, the Farmer’s Market is a big
draw; weekdays, Justin Herman Plaza is busy too. Watch the
ferries (or take one) and then jump on the Muni streetcar F line to
ride by all the piers towards Fisherman’s Wharf.
SIDE TRIP: The energetic should hop off at Levi Plaza and head
up Greenwich or Filbert to walk up the steep stairs to Coit Tower. On
the way, you’ll see tiny lanes and cottages with gardens, a flock of
wild parrots and superb views. Plus, you are avoiding the endless
traffic waiting to find parking at Coit Tower.
At Fisherman’s Wharf, you can’t miss Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square, a
colony of sea lions, The Cannery, historic ships, street vendors, the
wax museum, clam chowder vendors and great views. You might spot
some of the hardy locals who swim in the Bay.
SIDE TRIP: This is also where you can jump on a ferry to see the Bay,
visit Alcatraz Island (reservations needed) or head to Sausalito and
Angel Island for a few hours.
Catch the Powell-Hyde cable car line to handle the hills on the
return. On the way, stop off at Lombard Street to see "the
Crookedest Street" – more great views, charming houses and pretty
gardens, as well as walkways on both sides for pedestrians. Further on, the line passes the popular Cable Car Museum. Exit
near Sutter to find the parking garage.
Now, it is time for the drive, although the local Muni and bus systems
are a good option as well. Head south on Mason to Market and go
right, just after you pass UN Plaza, turn right on Hayes and head to
Alamo Square, the little park across from "the Painted Ladies,"
Victorian homes so often photographed.
Drive south on Steiner, then right on Market towards the Castro. This famous gay and lesbian neighborhood has interesting shops,
restaurants and bars – park at a lot if you have time to explore on
SIDE TRIP: Visit Mission Dolores, the oldest building in San Francisco. Turn left on 16th Street.
Next, head up to Twin Peaks, following the 49-mile Drive signs. The
view is unbeatable. Head downhill for a daytime visit to "The
Haight," a neighborhood made famous in the 1960’s and ‘70’s as the
center of the counterculture. Parking is limited so be patient if you
want to do some window-shopping or gawk at the restored Victorians on
the side streets.
Turn on Haight Street to Masonic to head to Fell Street and into Golden
Gate Park. Some roads are closed in the park on weekends but
you’ll enjoy its many sights more on foot or bicycle anyway. Don’t miss the Conservatory of Flowers, the Japanese Tea Garden and
Stow Lake. If you have time, go to Steinhart Aquarium or the De
Young Museum (art) or Morrison Planetarium. On your way out, stop
at the Buffalo Paddock and watch for the Dutch Windmill.
Ah...the Pacific Ocean...and Ocean Beach. Not for swimming but enjoy watching the surfers or bring a kite.
SIDE TRIP: Finding the San Francisco Zoo it is easy - head south about two miles to Sloat Blvd.
If not, head north to the landmark refurbished Cliff House and Sutro
Bath ruins where a cliff-side trail (walking only) offers stunning
views of the coast. Next stop is Lincoln Park and the Palace of
the Legion of Honor (wonderful art museum actually). Again, park
and head to the bluff paths to take in the ocean and GG Bridge
views. Next, it is the Presidio Park, a former military post with
huge trees, golf courses, a parade ground and many historic sites.
SIDE TRIP: Watch for signs to Fort Point to experience the enormity of
the Golden Gate Bridge and its footings while exploring the fort’s
SIDE TRIP: You can also watch for Crissy Field signs. It is a
great place to people-watch, enjoy the sailboats, fly a kite and walk
along the shoreline.
Back on Lincoln, head east on Lombard.
SIDE TRIP: Head north on Baker to visit the Exploratorium (kid’s
"museum" adults will also enjoy) and the Palace of Fine Arts.
Turn south (right turn) at Divisadero and turn left on Union
Street. Between Filmore and Octavia, the street is a popular
shopping and restaurant district (not too tourist-y) surrounded by
interesting residential neighborhoods.
FINISH: You are done, assuming you can pull yourself away from this
wonderful city. 101 (Van Ness) will take you north across the
Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County and beyond or south to Silicon
Valley or east to 80 and the Bay Bridge and Oakland.