Top 10 Worthwhile Tourist Attractions in San Francisco
Every few weeks, one of you sends me a note asking what to do while you’re in San Francisco. I get anxious when I don’t have time to answer in detail. Everything! You must do everything!
I’ve lived here for over a decade, and it is perfect. Perhaps you know someone who doesn’t agree that San Francisco is perfect, which is because they are deeply flawed. Come hang out here, and you’ll realize you don’t have to be friends with people like that.
While you’re in San Francisco, you should:
1. Ride a Cable Car. San Francisco has the oldest and largest running cable car system, and it’s the only place where you can still ride a manually operated cable car in street traffic. All the tourists try to board at Fisherman’s Wharf, where they wait hours for an angry, crowded, twenty-minute ride. You, on the other hand, will wait a few minutes on the corner of California and VanNess. When the car arrives, you’ll stand on the running board near the front and hang from a pole. Go ahead and hum the Rice-a-Roni theme song, we’ll indulge. Get off on the corner of California and Market, but before you do, ask to ring the bell. If you ask very nicely, most operators will let you. Ding-ding!
2. Go fishing at the Academy of Sciences. This is our newly revamped aquarium and nature center, and it’s a great place for science nerds to pass the afternoon. Settle in at the planetarium, squeeze tidal creatures in the touch tank, kiss the glass when a penguin gives you the eye, and sit very still for the Giant Grouper who has been with the Academy since the dawn of time.
3. Get a sweatshirt, and get out on the water. If you want to visit Alcatraz, you’ll need to make reservations, but the prison is fascinating and the boat ride alone is worth the ticket. If you’re a more spontaneous sort, you can take a cruise with the Blue and Gold Fleet at Pier 39, and it takes you right under the Golden Gate Bridge. If you like to hike, take the ferry over to Angel Island and explore the trails. It will be cold on the water, so bring a sweater lest you be forced to buy a San Francisco fleece — the universal signal that homeless people should hassle you until you give them a dollar.
4. Eat at the Ferry Building. The Ferry Building marketplace is open all week, and you should eat everything you see there until you can no longer breathe comfortably. Try the Bluebottle coffee, the cured meats at Boccalone, a burger at Gott’s, chocolate pears at Rechiutti, the Cellophane Noodles with Dungeoness Crab at Slanted Door, anything at Boulette’s Larder — it’s hard to go wrong. If you happen to be here on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, you’ll get to experience the farmer’s market, which is among the best in the U.S.
5. Have tea at the Ritz. Tea at the Ritz Carlton Hotel is slightly cheezy, and an ideal cure for traveler’s fatigue. They have a harpist, bone china, and any number of tiny sandwiches. It’s a soothing way to pass an afternoon. If at all possible, borrow someone’s little girl so you can laugh while she twirls in her fancy dress.
6. Visit Golden Gate Park. There’s so much to do here, but here’s what you should do: Climb the moon bridge at the Japanese Tea Garden. Breathe in the steam at the Conservatory of Flowers. Take in the view from the DeYoung Museum viewing tower. Navigate the paddle boats on Stowe Lake. Brave the cement slide at the Koret Children’s Quarter park. Watch your neck.
7. Take some quarters to Musee Mechanique. This is an extensive collection of antique arcade machines. A few years ago, it moved from a magical, somewhat remote location on a cliff overlooking the sea… and relocated to Fisherman’s Wharf. Sad trombone. Many San Franciscans protested and mourned the move, and I was one of them. But! The vintage arcade machines are still amazing. Go have a look, and we’ll look the other way.
8. See the Golden Gate Bridge. Yeah, it’s gorgeous. Eat a loaf of sourdough bread while you walk across.
9. Hear the organist at the Castro Theater. This registered landmark was built in 1922, and is one of the few ’20s era movie palaces still in operation. The Castro Theater is awe-inspiring, jaw dropping, and when the Wurlitzer organ rises up from the floor, everyone cheers.
10. Have some fresh seafood at the Swan Oyster Depot. I think Rachel Ray featured this on her cheap eats show a while back, thereby guaranteeing that you’ll find a line at this tiny seafood diner. Wait in line. Take a seat on a swivel stool at the counter and enjoy a plate of oysters on ice. Grin at the suckers in line, and order another glass of white wine.
That’s it, except for a few bonus beloveds — The Tiki Room, Coit Tower, and the Exploratorium. On Monday I’ll do a locals guide, and tell you all about the places I drag my guests when they’re in town.
For now, what tourist attractions did I miss? Let us know what you’d recommend in comments.