8 bucket list attractions for first-time visitors to San Francisco

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When it comes to California, Los Angeles tends to get a lot of the tourist attention, but San Francisco has long been hot on its heels as the cultural center of Northern California. “San Fran” is nowhere near as vast as its LA neighbour, measuring just 50 square miles. Nevertheless, it packs a punch in terms of its stunning scenery, plentiful history and abundance of entertainment opportunities. If you are planning a trip to San Fran soon, we’ve put together a hit-list of eight key experiences that should be front and center of your Frisco bucket list.

Take a ferry to Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island is one of the most talked about prisons in US history. Located a little over a mile offshore from San Fran, the island of Alcatraz was a military and federal prison until the early 1960s. Today, it is open to the public for tours, with the National Park Service providing a fascinating insight into life on the island. It’s only a 15-minute ride to the island by ferry. Alcatraz was home to some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone, George Kelly and Alvin Karpis.

Explore The Presidio

The perfect spot for that knock-out canvas photo, The Presidio of San Francisco has become one of the city’s most popular national parks. A stone’s throw from the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, you can get some truly spectacular snapshots here while the Pacific Ocean laps against the shores. The area was formerly an outpost for the Spanish military, but is now a tourist destination in its own right. There’s even hotels and lodges within the park available for visitors to enjoy as a base.

Hop aboard an iconic cable car

It wouldn’t be a trip to San Francisco without travelling around the city like a local. Make sure you ride on one of the city’s iconic cable cars which remain the world’s only cable car system to be operated manually by driver. They operate between 6.30am and just after midnight, giving you ample opportunity to take a journey on one of the three lines – California, Powell/Hyde and Powell/Mason.

Get a ticket for Levi’s Stadium

Nestled in the heart of San Francisco Bay, the Levi’s Stadium is the new home of the San Francisco 49ers football team, having departed its long-time base of Candlestick Park in 2014. The 49ers are certainly one of the most iconic brands in the world of NFL and experiencing the atmosphere of a football game has to be seen to be believed. The 49ers have won the Super Bowl on five separate occasions through the years and came agonizingly close to winning it in February 2020, narrowly losing in the final to Kansas City Chiefs. The 49ers still have a strong roster and are therefore still considered third favourites in the latest Superbowl bets for the upcoming 2020/21 season.

Sample the many James Beard award-winning restaurants

If you are a fanatical foodie, San Fran will certainly tempt your taste buds. In 2019, the San Francisco Bay Area boasted 57 restaurants with Michelin stars. Eight of which had the full three Michelin stars, which is more than you’ll find in the likes of New York City. Several of the city’s eateries have also been acclaimed by James Beard, with plenty of stand-out seafood restaurants to be sampled. Take a walk along Fisherman’s Wharf and sample some fresh Dungeness crab or a heart-warming bowl of clam chowder to really feel like one of the locals.

Enjoy an urban hike to the Twin Peaks

The hike towards the Twin Peaks of San Fran is anything but in the wilderness. In fact, as you make your way 900 feet up, you will meander in and around urban areas such as Castro Street. Don’t worry, it’s well worth the walk once you reach the summit. You can rest your weary legs and savour the panoramic view of San Francisco’s skyline, which is romantic and magnificent in equal measure.

Cycle along the Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most recognizable bridges on the planet. Although it can’t compete with New York City’s iconic attraction, Brooklyn Bridge, in terms of age, it more than makes up for that in visual appeal. Even if you don’t have a hire car, you can still walk or, better still, cycle along it to sample the views from this unique vantage point. The Golden Gate Bridge is also the gateway between San Fran and Marin County, which is also home to some of the most quintessential waterfront communities elsewhere in Northern California.

Taste America’s oldest Chinatown district

If you are fascinated by Chinese food and culture, you should make sure that you venture to San Fran in February or September. First and foremost, the city is home to the oldest and most impressive Chinatown community in the US. In February, it’s the hub of Chinese New Year Festival celebrations and in September it also comes alive for the Autumn Moon Festival. The area is awash with long-standing Buddhist temples, souvenir shops, herbal tea stores and eateries aplenty to suit your appetite.

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