Photograph by Catherine Karnow
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Headed to Fisherman’s Wharf, a cable car travels through Russian Hill, a residential area with cafés and shops.

Photograph by Catherine Karnow

San Francisco Must-Dos

Our experts recommend the top attractions in and around San Francisco—with advice on how to get the most out of your visit.

Alcatraz Island

Home to infamous federal prison (until 1963), first West Coast lighthouse, and wildlife sanctuary; ferries from Fisherman's Wharf; daytime self-guided audio tours and nighttime guided tours. Tip: Tours sell out, so buy tickets online in advance. Tel. +1 415 981 7625.

Angel Island

"365-degree views of the bay and beautiful meadows."—Ray Riegert, author, Hidden San Francisco and Northern California. Called "the Ellis Island of the West"; immigration station museum; hiking trails, beaches, primitive camping, and Segway tours; ferry service from San Francisco. Fee. Tel. +1 415 435 1915.


One of the largest Chinese communities outside Asia; shops line Grant Ave. selling souvenirs, silk pajamas, and Asian antiques; museums of Chinese culture and history; authentic Chinese food. Tip: "Go to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company down Ross Alley for piping hot cookies."—Tom Downs, author, Walking San Francisco and Lonely Planet San Francisco.

Coit Tower

"The murals on the ground floor are just incredible." —Jennifer Joseph, editor, The Underground Guide to San Francisco. 210-foot monument on Telegraph Hill with striking bay views; built in 1933. Fee for elevator to top. 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd.; tel. +1 415 362 0808.

Ferry Building Marketplace

Foodie's paradise in restored 1898 building on the Embarcadero; restaurants and stores specialize in local seafood, wine, cheese, bread, chocolate, and produce. Tip: City Guides offers free walking tours at noon on Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesdays. One Ferry Building; tel. +1 415 693 0996.

Fisherman's Wharf

Carnival-like tourist mecca surrounding Pier 39; colony of sea lions, souvenir shops, seafood eateries, street performers, aquarium, and maritime museum. Tip: Visit nearby "Fish Alley" on Jefferson St., "the wharf as it was decades ago."—Ray Riegert. Beach St. & The Embarcadero; tel. +1 415 391 2000.

Golden Gate Bridge

Iconic red suspension bridge spanning "Golden Gate" of San Francisco Bay; outstanding views from Fort Point overlook on south side and Vista Point on north; fee if going south. Tip: "The way to see it is to walk or bike across."—Tom Downs. U.S. Hwy. 101; tel. +1 415 921 5858.

Golden Gate Park

More than 1,000 acres encompassing a conservatory of flowers, botanical garden, redwood grove, Japanese tea garden, fine arts museum, bison paddock, and multiple lakes. Tip: "Go to Stow Lake and rent a paddleboat, especially if you have kids."—Jennifer Joseph. Tel. +1 415 831 2700.

De Young Museum

Fine arts museum in Golden Gate Park; reopened in 2005 with controversial architectural design; extensive collections include American, African, and Pacific Islander art. Tip: Use your ticket for free same-day admission to Legion of Honor, another of city's top museums. Fee. 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr.; tel. +1 415 863 3330.

The Mission District

Heart of San Francisco's Latino community; known for its sunny weather, taquerìas, trendy boutiques, and hip restaurants; tour Mission Dolores, San Francisco's oldest building. Tip: Don't miss the murals along 24th St. and Balmy Alley.

Ocean Beach

"Nice beach for walking; awesome shorebirds."—Jennifer Joseph. San Francisco's widest and longest stretch of sandy shoreline; extends from historic Cliff House to Fort Funston; not safe for swimming. Tip: At base of Ortega St. during low tide, ribs of an 1878 shipwreck stick out from sand. Tel. +1 415 561 4700.