Top 30 Places to see in San Francisco Bay Area & What makes them Photograph Worthy - California Travel Hacks

We have done various posts about main places to explore in San Francisco City of California and places around it. This is a attempt to collate most of the details under one post, as that's something which is asked multiple times on this blog through comments or contact forms. Let's go through these details and share your inputs/comments through comments section at the bottom of this blogpost. 

If you have time to see only one thing in San Francisco Bay Area, it has to be this famous suspension bridge - Golden Gate Bridge. And not only seeing it from various sight-seeing points but also walk on it to experience vibrations because of heavy traffic on the bridge. Above photograph is clicked from Golden Gate North Vista Point. After parking your car here, you can walk over the bridge. Check out the link below to know more and plan your visit in a better way. 

Related Blogpost - Golden Gate North Vista Point - for brilliant views of San Francisco Skyline in California

2. Alcatraz

Alcatraz is an island close to San Francisco city. Alcatraz Island is located in San Francisco Bay, which is comparatively small island. This Island was developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison, and a federal prison. The water currents around the island were high at all times, which presumably decreased the chance of an inmate escaping. This is one of the popular tourist place around San Francisco. One can take a ferry to this place and easily spend half a day around this island. It can be boring for some people, so do read about it before planning a trip there. 

3. Ferry Building

The San Francisco Ferry Building is a terminal for ferries that travel across the San Francisco Bay, a food hall and an office building. This beautiful Ferry Building is located on The Embarcadero in San Francisco, California. There is a clock tower on top of Ferry building. It's a lovely place around the bay and has some interesting food options. Since it's connected well through Market street and very close to famous Fishermen Warf & Pier-39. 

Related Blogpost - The Second Oyster

4. Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf is a neighborhood and popular tourist attraction in San Francisco, California. Spread wide over the waterfront, Fisherman's Warf offers great view of the Bay and Golden gate through some super awesome food joints. The cable car station is pretty close to the Fisherman's Warf. This is the area full of hustle bustle in the city. 

Related Blogpost - Walk from Union Square to Ghirardelli square through Ferry Building, Pier 39 & Fishermen Warf || California Diaries

5. Pier 39

If you are in San Francisco Bay area, it doesn't make sense that you don't visit Pier-39 and doesn't matter if it's your 1st visit to bay area or 10th. In last 10 years, I got to visit different cities in San Francisco Bay area and I think almost every time I came to the city and walked around. Most of the times, the walks are concluded at Pier-39 to relax, have some food and roam around to experience some of the shows happening on the streets. There is much more than that and the post below would take you through some of the main things to do or explore around Pier-39 in San Francisco. 

Related Blogpost - San Francisco visit is incomplete without a walk around Pier-39

6. Chinatown

China Town is an awesome place located in between Union Square and Ghirardelli Square. It has some awesome food options, parks, shops to buy souvenirs. And not only souvenirs but lot of other stuff can be found around China Town. Negotiations happen in this market, so if you are good at it you can find some good deals in this market. Even if you don't want to buy anything, it's a nice place to walk around and experience colorful ambience of China Town in San Francisco City.  

Related Blogpost - A walk to China Town of San Francisco from Union Square || California Diaries

7. Lombard Street

If you have heard of the crookedest street in the world, I am also talking about the same. Last time I had visited this place in a car and didn't stop by. Early morning or evenings are good times to visit this place for photography. Lombard Street is an east–west street in San Francisco with various ups and downs which is very common in San Francisco city. The particular portion of the street, we are talking is a steep, one-block section with eight sharp turns and green patches between each turn. In fact, in right season it looks pretty colorful. The famous one-block section, claimed to be "the crookedest street in the world", is located along the eastern segment in the Russian Hill neighborhood.

Related Blogpost - Lombard Street - One of the must visit places in San Francisco (USA)

8. Cable Cars

Cable cars express heritage of San Francisco city and is worth a ride. It's relatively expensive but it's lot of fun to ride Cable car in San Francisco city. I find it more interesting when it crosses through inclines and descends of the city. It starts from Cable car station close to Ghirardeli Square and goes till Market street, while crossing through places like Lombard street and Union Square. 

Related Blogpost - Main places to visit around San Francisco Downtown

9. Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is one of the most beautiful architectures in San Francisco and located quite close to Golden Gate Bridge. Last time when I visited San Francisco, we crossed through this building during the Photo Walk, but couldn't stop due to lack of time. This is located around a very nice neighborhood and there are some interesting walks. We walked around the streets for some time and then headed back to Union Square by taking bus. Bus is easily available for this place and the one which connects Union Square area, drops you at mission street.

10. Coit Tower 

11. Ghirardelli Square

A waterfront area close to Fisherman's warf where you can visit Ghirardelli factory to experience how these famous chocolates are made. They also sell chocolates in this stores and I highly recommend to not miss the opportunity & get few of your favourites packed from this place. You can get best deals here. Apart from Chocolates, you can also try some interesting shakes and drinks in same building. As you move out of the Ghirardelli store, there is a huge green patch for you to relax and enjoy the views of the Bay & Golden Gate bridge. 

Related Blogpost - Walk from Union Square to Ghirardelli square through Ferry Building, Pier 39 & Fishermen Warf || California Diaries

12. Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks is an amazing place close to San Francisco city from where you can enjoy amazing view of San Francisco. The place looks magical when it's dark and whole city is glittering with colorful lights. The straight road you see in this photograph is Market street which connects to Ferry building on the other end. If you are carrying a binocular, you can see Ferry building on a clear day through these highrise buildings, while following the straight line created by market street. While walking around the city, you can take an uber and reach Twin peaks in few minutes. Check out the link below for more details on Twin peaks, how to reach there, what to expect and how to fit it in your itinerary while exploring San Francisco city & surrounding areas.  

13. Monterey

Monterey Bay is a bay of the Pacific Ocean in California state of USA. The bay is south of the major cities of San Francisco and San Jose, which is quite a drive around coast-line. Santa Cruz is located at the north end of the bay. The city of Monterey is on the Monterey Peninsula at the south end. Monterey Bay has many species of marine mammals, including sea otters, harbor seals and bottlenose dolphins, as well as being on the migratory path of gray and humpback whales and a breeding site for elephant seals. There is also a huge conservation effort in this part of the ocean and there is a very impressive museum in Santa Cruz, which is worth exploring if you are interested in knowing sea life & how vast these conservation efforts are. Don't miss to visit one of the biggest Aquariums of the world in Monterey.

Related Blogpost - Monterey Bay, California - A place for Whale Watching & Grand Aquarium

14. Golden Gate Park

If you are around San Francisco, or planning a trip to Bay area, Golden Gate Park is one of the main attractions. And it's highly recommended for families with kids. There is lot for kids to experience and enjoy. Golden Gate Park area is spread over 1000+ acres of land. Some of the main places to be explored in Golden Gate Park  are - Music Concourse Area, De Young Museum, Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum, National AIDS Memorial Grove, Stow Lake / Strawberry Hill, Spreckels Lake / Model Boat Facility, Chain of Lakes, Kezar Stadium, Polo Fields, Windmills, Bison paddock, Beach Chalet and Roadways.

This whole place is brilliantly planned and very well maintained. You can spend the whole day in Golden Gate park and it won't be enough to explore everything. Many of the travellers recommend it as a must-go while in San Francisco.

Related Blogpost - Golden Gate Park - One of the main places to explore in San Francisco

San Francisco Photo-Walk - Time for Lunch at restaurant of 'De Young Museum'

15. Muir Woods

If you are interested in seeing those huge sequoia trees, Muir Woods can be a great place to visit when in San Francisco, but keep in mind that it would take one day from your schedule. You can certainly cover places like Sausalito, Golden Gate when you are coming back from Muir Woods to City. Muir Woods National Monument is located on Mount Tamalpais near the Pacific coast, in southwestern Marin County, California. It is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and is 19 km north of San Francisco. It protects 554 acres , with 240 acres are old growth coast redwood forests.

You may want to check out the link below to plan better in terms of when, how to go to Muir Woods, what to do etc. 

Related Blogpost - Muir Woods National Monument, California (USA)

16. Big Sur 

Big Sur is a beautiful section where mountains meet the ocean around Central Coast of California between Carmel Highlands and San Simeon. At this place the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean and hence offer great views of the ocean against colorful mountains. The place looks even more beautiful around sunset & sunrise time. It's quite far, so driving a car is only option you have. Check out the link below to know more about Big Sur and how can you plan a day trip to Big Sur and may be other places which come on your way - Halfmoon Bay, Santa Cruz, Monterey etc. 

Related Blogpost - Drive to Big Bur from San Francisco in California, USA

17. Mount Tamalpais

Mount Tamalpais is a brilliant place to enjoy panoramic views of San Francisco Bay area and from here you also see Berkeley very clearly. Golden Gate bridge is hidden behind one of the mountains but city is clearly visible from here. On a clear day, the view of the bay and city is amazing. Above photographs tell a lot about the place and for more, do check out the link below. 

18. San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall is managed by government of City and County of San Francisco, California. The structure's dome is taller than that of the United States Capitol by 40+ feets. The present building replaced an earlier City Hall that was destroyed during the 1906 earthquake, which was two blocks from the present one. It was bounded by Larkin Street, McAllister Street, and City Hall Avenue , largely where the current Public Library and U.N. Plaza stand today.

There are few symmetrical groups of trees in front of San Francisco City Palace. There were no leaves in the month of feb but I was trying to imagine how beautiful they would look with hairs on top of their heads. There was some sort of lighting around these trees and probably the place looks even better in evening. There is always next time, but I will certainly not walk to this place in dark. San Francisco downtown is not very safe when it's dark, especially when you are not familiar with the place and walking alone or in smaller groups. 

City Hall was closed on Sunday and that's why it was relatively peaceful. Last time I visited it during the weekday and it was very crowded. 

Related Blogpost - San Francisco City Hall - A beautiful piece of Architecture

19. Art Institute of California 

Art Institute is just opposite to City Hall of San Francisco and this is a great place to explore art. Most of the times, there is a big show going on which takes you to interesting artistic journey. I have been here multiple times and quality of exhibitions is exceptional. One can spend whole day exploring art at Art Institute of California. 

Related Blogpost - South Asian History through Art at 'The Art Institute of California' in San Fraancisco city

20. Hikes around San Francisco Bay Area :

Hiking on a sunny day around San Francisco Bay area can be very refreshing. There are many hikes around the Bay wherein you enjoy the hike as well as beautiful views of the ocean or Bay. There are other hikes as well which may not expose you to the ocean but will take more closer to the nature. Chose the one which sounds interesting to you. 

Related Blogposts :

Hiking the trails of Sunol Regional Wilderness Park in San Francisco Bay Area

21. Beaches around San Francisco Bay Area 

Some beaches are more popular than others and it depends if you like more crowded or isolated beaches. All options are available across the coastline. Halfmoon Bay beaches and the ones close to San Francisco would be more crowded. Some specific beaches are more crowded by surfers or folks interested in fishing. 

Marshall's Beach

Gray Whale Cove Beach around Half Moon Bay in California, USA

22. Surfing around San Francisco Bay Area :

Surfing is quite popular in San Francisco Bay area, so if you are interested in watching these surfers playing with waves, Santa Cruz can be a great place but not only that you find various beaches around highway-1 and even under Golden Gate bridge on a good day. 

Surfing around Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California (USA)

23. Half moon Bay & Drive around the coast

Half Moon Bay is a small city on the California coast, south of San Francisco. There are series of beaches along the bay includes Half Moon Bay State Beach. The Coastside Trail leads north to Pillar Point, near the huge waves of the Mavericks surf spot. Drive around Half Mood Bay and picnic around State beach can be great ways to spend time around this part of San Francisco Bay Area. Please keep in mind that weekends are busy around Half Moon Bay so parking becomes an issue if you are late in reaching there. Most of the folks aim for evening party around the beach.  

Related Blogpost - Half Moon Bay Brewing Company - Great Sea Food with Average Beers

Barbecue party around States beach in Half Moon Bay, California

24. Santa Cruz 

A beach town close to San Francisco which is popular picnic destination for lot of folks in Bay area as well as visitors from other parts of the world. It's pretty crowded during the weekends and there are lot of things to do around this down. You get lot of good sea food options at Santa Cruz. Do check out the links below to know more and find out if it's worth planning a day out in Santa Cruz. The walks around the coastline from Santa Cruz are awesome and I loved those the most during my visits to Santa Cruz in the past. 

Photo Walk at Davenport Landing Beach Cave, Santa Cruz, CA

25. Napa Valley in California

I don't think I need to say a lot about Napa Valley especially people interested in wines would know about Napa Valley for sure. It would be one day tour from San Francisco and you can plan to visit wineries. Be mindful of the season as grapes vineyards may not look as good as they look when they are full of those special grapes used for making famous wines from this valley. 

26. 17 Mile Drive 

Part of 17 Mile Drive serves as the main road through the gated community of Pebble Beach. Inside this community, nonresidents have to pay a toll to use the road, which is $10 and it can be redeemed at Pebble Beach restaurant. Like the community, the majority of 17-Mile Drive is owned and operated by the Pebble Beach Corporation. The 17-Mile Drive is a 17-mile long scenic loop having five entrances, including one at California State Route 1 and one at Pacific Grove off Sunset Drive. 

Chief among the scenic attractions is the 'Lone Cypress Tree', a salt-pruned Monterey cypress (macrocarpa) tree which is the official symbol of Pebble Beach and a frequent fixture of television broadcasts from this area. In 1990 the Monterey Journal reported that Pebble Beach's lawyer, Kerry C. Smith, said 'The image of the tree has been trademarked by us,' and that it intended to control any display of the cypress for commercial purposes. The company had warned photographers that 'they cannot even use existing pictures of the tree for commercial purposes.' Other legal commentators have questioned the Pebble Beach Company's ability to invoke intellectual property laws to restrict others' use of such images.

18. Wave Organ

The Wave Organ is a sculpture constructed on the shore of San Francisco Bay. Through a series of pipes, the Wave Organ interacts with the waves of the bay and conveys their sound to listeners at several different stations. The effects produced vary depending on the level of the tide but include rumbles, gurgles, sloshes, hisses and other more typical wave sounds. The structure incorporates stone platforms and benches where visitors may sit near the mouths of pipes, listening.

The Wave Organ is located at the end of a spit of land extending from the Golden Gate Yacht Club. The stone pieces used in its construction were salvaged from the demolition of the Laurel Hill Cemetery in San Francisco.

19. Point Reyes Lighthouse 

Point Reyes Lighthouse is located around Marin County, California and the park adjacent Lighthouse Visitor Centre features exhibits about the lighthouse and the park's marine life and natural history. Visitors can climb about 300 steps down to the lighthouse itself if weather is fine. Not only Lighthouse, but the drive to this place was awesome and the surroundings of this Lighthouse are worth exploring. For more, I highly recommend to check the link below. It would help you understand more about the whole drive, what to expect and how to plan. Be mindful that it would take whole day. 

Related Blogpost - Road Trip from San Jose Airport to Point Reyes Lighthouse in California, USA

20. Presidio

It's a 1500-acre park on a former military post, which is a major outdoor recreation hub. It has forested areas, miles of trails, a golf course and scenic overlooks. Other highlights include grassy Crissy Field with Golden Gate Bridge views, Civil War–era Fort Point and sandy Baker Beach. Historic buildings house the Walt Disney Family Museum, eateries, homes and businesses like Lucasfilm, with its Yoda Fountain.

21. Painted Ladies

In American architecture, painted ladies are Victorian and Edwardian houses and buildings repainted, starting in the 1960s, in three or more colors that embellish or enhance their architectural details. The term was first used for San Francisco Victorian houses by writers Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in their 1978 book Painted Ladies: San Francisco's Resplendent Victorians.[1] Although polychrome decoration was common in the Victorian era, the colors used on these houses are not based on historical precedent:[2]

Since then, the term has also been used to describe groups of colorfully repainted Victorian houses in other American cities, such as the Charles Village neighborhood in Baltimore; Lafayette Square in St. Louis; the greater San Francisco and New Orleans areas, in general; Columbia-Tusculum in Cincinnati; the Old West End in Toledo, Ohio; the neighborhoods of McKnight and Forest Park in Springfield, Massachusetts; and the city of Cape May, New Jersey.[3][4][5]

22. Maritime National Historic Park 

The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is located in San Francisco. The park includes a fleet of historic vessels, a visitor center, a maritime museum and a library/research facility. The park used to be referred to as the San Francisco Maritime Museum. Today's San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is among the park's many cultural resources. The park also incorporates the Aquatic Park Historic District, bounded by Van Ness Avenue, Polk Street and Hyde Street.

23. California Academy of Sciences

24. Lands End

Lands End is a park in San Francisco within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is a rocky and windswept shoreline at the mouth of the Golden Gate, situated between the Sutro District and Lincoln Park and abutting Fort Miley Military Reservation. A memorial to USS San Francisco stands in the park. Numerous hiking trails follow the former railbeds of the Ferries and Cliff House Railway along the cliffs and also down to the shore.

The most-traveled trail in Lands End is the Coastal Trail, a section of the California Coastal Trail that follows the railbed of the old Cliff House Railway. This trail is handicap-accessible until the Mile Rock Overlook, and bike accessible until the Eagles Point steps. A spur trail takes users to Mile Rock Point and Mile Rock Beach, which offer views of the Golden Gate.

Additionally, Lands End contains the ruins of the Sutro Baths. Other historic sites include numerous shipwrecks, which are visible at low tides from the Coastal Trail and Mile Rock.

25. Sutro Baths

The Sutro Baths was a large, privately owned public saltwater swimming pool complex in the Lands End area of the Outer Richmond District in western San Francisco, California. The facility burned down in June 1966 and is now in ruins within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Sutro Historic District.

28. Fort Point

Fort Point is a masonry seacoast fortification located on the southern side of the Golden Gate at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. It is also the geographic name of the promontory upon which the fort and the southern approach of the Golden Gate Bridge were constructed.

The fort was completed just before the American Civil War by the United States Army, to defend San Francisco Bay against hostile warships. The fort is now protected as Fort Point National Historic Site, a United States National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service as a unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

29. Ano Nuevo State Park

Ano Nuevo State Park is a state park of California, USA, encompassing Ano Nuevo Island and Ano Nuevo Point, which are known for their pinniped rookeries. Ano Neuvo State Park is located in San Mateo County and is about 55 miles (89 km) south of San Francisco and the Golden Gate.

The Ano Neuvo reserve contains a diversity of plants, including old growth forest, freshwater marsh, red alder riparian forest and pine forest. Its four perennial streams support steelhead and coho salmon, and its wetlands are habitat to the rare San Francisco garter snake and California red-legged frog. 

Cultural resources of Ano Neuvo include the remnants of a pre-historic Native American village site and a number of structures from the 19th century Cascade Ranch. In conjunction with adjacent and nearby public lands, the unit permits the protection of important regional ecological corridors.

Related Blogpost - An evening & some hiking around Ano Nuevo State Park, California (USA)

30. Point Bonita Lighthouse

Point Bonita Lighthouse is a lighthouse located at Point Bonita at the San Francisco Bay entrance in the Marin Headlands near Sausalito, California. Point Bonita was the last manned lighthouse on the California coast. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

The lighthouse is accessible to the public during limited hours (12:30 PM–3:30 PM) on Sundays and Mondays, as well as on ranger-led interpretive sunset hikes, which requires a sign-up. Access to the bridge is barred at other times by a metal door on the shore end of the tunnel.

31. California's Great America (Especially when you are exploring San Francisco Bay area with kids) 

California's Great America is approximately 100 acres amusement park located in Santa Clara, California. There are more that 40 rides and attractions in California's Great America. One of its most important attractions is Gold Striker. There are plenty of water-sport activities California's Great America and kids enjoy these the most. Most of the water activities have appropriate arrangements to sit around and relax after water activities, which can be tiring. 

It's a popular weekend destination. Ticket for one person is more than $40, but if you visit with some member the ticket price is $20. Lot of folks which live in San Francisco Area, opt for the cards which give year long membership and then per day cost for families are pretty reasonable. 

32. Watch a Baseball Match 

AT&T stadium of San Francisco is located very well in the downtown as well as facing the bay. If there is any baseball match going on, it's worth spend an evening on one of the high seats of the stadium from where you can also watch ships moving in the bay along with baseball match. I watched my first baseball match at AT&T and it was an awesome experience even when I couldn't appreciate the game :). 

33. Santana Row 

Santana Row is a residential and commercial district of West San Jose in San Jose, California, in Silicon Valley. Santana Row is intersected by Stevens Creek Boulevard, and nearby to Westfield Valley Fair and the Winchester Mystery House. Santana Row offers a mix of brand name shops, local boutiques, restaurants, 36 establishments serving food, and nine spas and salons, a theater, and a hotel. This is the place where I saw Tesla for first time when it was easly visible on roads, they had a showroom in Santana Row. 

A visit to Santana Row and Winchester Mystery House, California

34. Standford University 

I find Standford Unversity worth visiting because of various reasons. It's very inspiring campus and vibes are so refreshing. I have been to Standford multiple times and first time I felt like going to college again & joining this beautiful campus. The campus is very beautiful in terms of architecture and landscaping. Campus tour starts from visitor center and usually lead by students of the university. The campus has a beautiful church and I highly recommend to go inside & appreciate it's beauty.  

Memorial Church at Stanford University, California (USA)

35. Rincon Park

Rincon Park in San Francisco is one of those places that would be a huge tourist attraction in virtually any other city but is only a mid level attraction in San Francisco. Rincon Park is a perfect place to relax on a sunny day in the city, with great views of the Bay Bridge and of course the main attraction 'Cupid’s Span.'

One can walk to this place and spend some peaceful time. 

36. Union Square, San Francisco

Union Square is almost in the middle of San Francisco Downtown with lot of hustle bustle around it. The famous apple store of San Francisco is close to it. There is a huge platform built where various shows, exhibitions take places during weekends as well as weekdays. Visiting this place is never dull and it has some interesting restaurants around it. This is relatively expensive part of the city so be mindful about that. Most of the tour buses go through it and vendors can be found in morning to plan your day. 

37. Sausalito 

Sausalito is a city in Marin County, California, across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco. It’s known for its Richardson Bay houseboat enclaves, built by artist squatters after WWII. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Bay Model Visitor Center has a functioning 3D hydraulic model of the Bay Area, plus exhibits about the area's waterways. The Marin Headlands offers Golden Gate Bridge views.

Sausalito evenings are quite interesting. People love walking around the streets of Sausalito during sunset and then enjoy their meal around nature's colors in best form. 

38. Ferry from Pier-39 to Golden Gate Bridge

There are regular ferries running between Pier-39 and Golden Gate Bridge. These ferries take you close to the bridge and come back. Some of the ferries also take a round of Alcatraz. Ferries for Alcatraz are also available from same port. It's quite windy when you on the ferry and in middle of the bay. Please keep caps, gloves etc and go prepared. 

Related Blogpost - Golden Gate Ferry from Pier 39 through Alcatraz || California Diaries

If you wish to plan any weekend or long weekend Trip from San Francisco -

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