These are the places you need to see at least once.
San Francisco is one of the most magnetic cities on the West Coast, and should certainly be high on the list for any lover of architecture, food, and — of course — stunning water views. Frustratingly, its reputation as one of the world’s costliest places to live is often a deterrent to tourists. But the City by the Bay's most charming features predate the tech-induced real estate boom by a long shot. Here are just a few worth adding to your itinerary.
16th Ave Tiled Steps
San Francisco is notorious for its hills, but at this landmark (which got its start as a neighborhood beautification project), richly colored mosaic tiles transform an otherwise tedious uphill slog into a highlight of your trip. Inspired by Rio’s famous Escadaria Selaron, the 163 painstakingly tiled steps form a larger artwork that is just as impressive when viewed from a distance.
Looking out at Alcatraz Island across San Francisco Bay, the Wave Organ is a mind-bending conceptual art piece installed by Peter Richards and George Gonzalez in the mid-1980s. While the views from the jetty are spectacular, it’s more about the listening: every time a wave rushes in, it triggers a different auditory response from the organ’s 25 pipes, hence a proto-instrument that is “played” by the ocean.
Conservatory of Flowers
Set in the middle of Golden Gate Park is a gleaming Victorian-style greenhouse dating back to the late 1800s. The massive wood and glass structure is part of an impressive series of indoor and outdoor exhibits highlighting rare and exotic plants, as well as a butterfly exhibit. During the summer, the exterior of the building lights up like a Christmas tree as part of the park’s nightly Illumination series.
Before cars were a thing, you had to travel by water to get to downtown San Francisco. And the Ferry Building — an imposing two-story Beaux Arts terminal topped by a 245-foot high clock tower — was the main entry point. The former ferry station now contains a food hall with everything from fancy grilled cheese to fresh oysters to bee pollen. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, there’s a massive farmers market outside.
The photogenic neighborhood of Telegraph Hill, an easy walk up from Downtown San Francisco and the Embarcadero, is topped by this impressive white concrete column. Visitors can admire the intricate fresco murals — which relied on 27 local artists to complete — or trudge up to the observation deck to admire 360-degree views of the bay.
There’s something perpetually and endearingly festive about this 14-acre city park, which is notable mainly due to the wide cross-section of people that frequent it. Whether you show up to picnic, perform, frolic, toss a frisbee, catch an outdoor movie, or sample the flavors at Bi-Rite Creamery across the street, this is one of the best ways to meet locals and get a real taste for San Francisco’s quintessentially laid-back lifestyle.
Golden Gate Bridge
It’s a well-worn image to most of us, but back in the 1930s, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was a thing of wonder. At 1.2 miles, it was the world’s longest-spanning suspension bridge, and it even defied engineers (who thought the plans were much too risky to ever come to fruition). Today, pedestrians are allowed on the bridge’s east sidewalk from 5am-6pm daily.
This row of brightly colored Victorian townhouses can be found on a characteristically steep hill just west of downtown. Immortalized in the opening credits to Full House, the adorable abodes (one of which was home to Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple) have since become something of an icon for San Francisco.