Other cities may surprise you, but in San Francisco you will surprise yourself.
Good times and social revolutions tend to start here, from manic gold rushes to blissful hippie 'be-ins'. If there's a skateboard move yet to be busted, a technology still unimagined, a poem left unspoken or a green scheme untested, chances are it's about to happen here. Yes, right now. This town has lost almost everything in earthquakes and dot-com gambles, but never its nerve.
Food & Drink
Every available Bay Area–invented technology is needed to make dinner decisions in this city, with the most restaurants and farmers markets per capita in North America – all supplied by pioneering local organic farms. San Francisco set the gold standard for Wild West saloons, until drinking was driven underground in the 1920s with Prohibition. Today San Francisco celebrates its historic saloons and speakeasies – and with Wine Country and local distillers providing a steady supply of America's finest hooch, the West still gets wild nightly.
San Francisco is a 7-by-7-mile peninsula that looks like California's thumb, pointed optimistically upwards. Take this as a hint to look up: you'll notice San Francisco's crooked Victorian rooflines, wind-sculpted treetops, and fog tumbling over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Heads are perpetually in the clouds atop San Francisco's 48 hills. Cable cars provide easy access to Russian and Nob Hills, and splendid panoramas reward the slog up to Coit Tower. Earn exhilarating highs on Telegraph Hill's garden-lined stairway walks, and windswept hikes around Lands End. If there's another kind of high you're seeking in San Francisco, that can also be arranged: marijuana is legal here for adults 18 and over with ID, and dispensaries and delivery are at your service.
Microclimates add magic realism to San Francisco days: when it's drizzling in the outer reaches of Golden Gate Park, it might be sunny in the Mission. A difference of a few degrees between neighborhoods grants permission for salted-caramel ice cream in Dolores Park, or a hasty retreat to tropical heat inside the California Academy of Sciences' rainforest dome. This town will give you goose bumps one minute, and warm you to the core the next.
San Francisco's 20 best parks to relax in
11 min read — Published July 8th, 2021
Lonely Planet EditorsWriter
Regularly ranked as the greenest city in North America, San Francisco blooms with parks, gardens and pockets of green space. These are the best.
Discover some of the most unique and fulfilling experiences your next destination has to offer.
Add visiting these must-see local hot spots and culture centers to your next travel itinerary.
Plan a day trip full of local flavor and get back in time with these same-day options.
Browse the various transportation options to make your trip that much easier when you arrive.
Ways to maximize the fun without spending a dime on your next great adventure.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout San Francisco.
ParkGolden Gate Park
When Frederick Law Olmsted, architect of New York's Central Park, gazed in 1865 upon the plot of land San Francisco Mayor Frank McCoppin wanted to turn into a vast city park, he was understandably skeptical. Here was a swath of 1,013 acres of unlovely, dubious sand dunes on the outskirts of town, buffeted by powerful winds blowing in off the dark grey Pacific. The landscape architect turned down the job, despite the opportunity to create a park bigger than New York's before his first masterpiece was even finished. But Olmstead would have to chuckle, and change his tune, a century later to see what Golden Gate Park became – from bonsai, buffalo, and redwoods to Frisbees, free music, and free spirits, when in the 1960s San Francisco's back yard became the epicenter of the Summer of Love. Today it still seems to contain just about everything its denizens love about their city. You could wander the park for a week and still not see it all – but any given visit is a chance to walk through San Francisco history, from the park's oldest corners at its eastern end to where the park's borders give way to surf spots on the Pacific coast. Walk through history in Golden Gate Park The creation of Golden Gate Park Golden Gate Park was the brain child of several local politicians angling to flip a piece of former Mexican territory on the outskirts of San Francisco into a profitable expansion of the growing city. Not the least of these city schemers was then-mayor Frank McCoppin, who saw an opportunity to not only give San Franciscans more elbow room while lining his own pockets on construction grift, but also solve a problem that had lead to lengthy legal battles – namely, the presence of well-to-do and opportunistic squatters trying to lay claim to the Outside Lands now that San Francisco's fortunes looked rosy. Despite Olmsted's assertion a park larger than New York's Central would never succeed on the proposed site, tenacious young civil engineer William Hammond Hall and master gardener John McLaren got to work. They had a unique vision for the time that would banish commercial eyesores like casinos, resorts, racetracks and an igloo village and instead showcase mother nature. It was an unorthodox view in an era when Central Park wasn't even yet complete, ten years before even such majestic and one-of-a-kind landscapes as Yellowstone would be preserved from development as national parks. What to do in Golden Gate Park Ultimately, McCoppin, Hall and McLaren had their ways, producing a green space that "feels wild....shaggy and labyrinthine and confusing," in the words of Gary Kimya, scholar of San Francisco history. Indeed, he wrote in Cool Grey City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco that "The paradox of Golden Gate Park is that its wildness is almost completely man-made. Every inch of the park had to be won. The loss of San Francisco's great sand dunes...is tragic...but [represents an] ultimately triumphant negotiation between man and the world." Several of Golden Gate Park's earliest features give teeth to that assessment. The Conservatory of Flowers, opened in 1879 and filled with rare specimens from South and Central America and aquatic Plants native to the Amazon. Stow Lake was created in 1893 with its picturesque Strawberry Hill, a favorite for families for over a hundred years. The Japanese Tea Garden is another early success – the oldest such public Japanese garden in the United States, it's been here since the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. The carefully tended garden is full of imported plants, birds, and fish that have flourished for over a century in the once-inhospitable Outside Lands far from their native Nippon. In 1906, nearly forty years after the dunes turned into a park larger than Olmstead's masterpiece, the devastating earthquake that shook San Francisco left thousands of refugees camping out in parks around the city, from Dolores Park in the Mission to Golden Gate Park. Some of the shacks built by the US Army to house earthquake victims were later moved to permanent lots, and are still in use today. As the city recovered, several new institutions found a home in Golden Gate Park, including the including the Kezar Stadium (former home to the Oakland Raiders), California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum. The park's beloved Windmills bookended the earthquake, one built in 1903 and the other in 1908. The spiky Dahlia Garden appeared in the mid-1920s, as did the Shakespeare Garden with its collection of 200 plants mentioned in the Bard's writings. The WPA and the Summer of Love During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration was not only busy decorating Coit Tower with controversial murals, they were adding new features to Golden Gate Park, including the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the archery field, Anglers Lodge, and the Model Yacht Club. They also restored the 1926 art deco Horseshoe Pits, and built the Beach Chalet with its gorgeous frescos that tell the story of Golden Gate Park's construction. Most impressive, the Hoover Grove of giant sequoia were planted in 1930 to honor casualties from World War I, on the south edge of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Here you can peep these towering giants without driving out to the Marin Headlands and Muir Woods National Monument. So much for Olmstead's jab that "There is not a full-grown tree of beautiful proportions near San Francisco." The park's features and usages continued to evolve over the decades. Stow Lake's lovely boathouse was added in 1946. Twenty years later, in the Panhandle fringes of the park near Haight-Ashbury, the Human Be-In ushered in the Summer of Love, when thousands of youth were drawn to Hippie Hill by the promise of utopia fueled by free concerts from local bands and plentiful cannabis and LSD. Visit Golden Gate Park on April 20th of any given year (and, let's be honest, in certain pockets any day of the week) and you'll catch a whiff of the Hippie Hill scene from fifty years ago. Golden Gate Park today One of the most recent permanent additions to Golden Gate Park is the National AIDS Memorial Grove. Built in 1991, it's a touching tribute to the millions of lives lost during the plague years, which hit San Francisco's queer community hard and left the city shaken after the dark 1980s. That's not all, however. The park is still constantly evolving year to year. Today Golden Gate Park hosts events like the Bay to Breakers 12K race, as well as the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Outside Lands music festivals which take place every October. In December, the Christmas lights are a draw for families and visitors. In 2020, the city celebrated the park's 150th anniversary with temporary art installations like local artist Charles Gadeken's Entwined light show in Peacock Meadow (240 John F Kennedy Drive). Another new addition to mark the anniversary was the SkyStar Wheel, Golden Gate Park's own ferris wheel that will be in place until March of 2025. That same year, protestors marked Juneteenth by toppling some of the park's historic statues, including those of Francis Scott Key, Padre Junipero Serra, and Ulysses S. Grant. Other changes during the COVID-19 pandemic have included the Golden Gate Park Sunday Roller Disco Party, a free community-led party for roller skaters at " Skatin' Place," a spot near 6th Ave & Kennedy Drive, most Sundays from noon to 5PM that features live DJs. Keep your eyes pealed during the summer months for one of the 12 pianos hidden around the Botanical Garden for anyone to play, part of an event called Flower Piano that includes free piano lessons, community sing-alongs at sunset, and more. Getting to Golden Gate Park At over three miles long and half a mile long, there's a lot of ground to cover in Golden Gate Park, and a lot of entrances. The most popular entrance is in the Panhandle via Fell St, but coming in from 9th Avenue off Lincoln puts you right by some prime attractions. JFK serves as one of the main arteries in the park for cars, along with Transverse Drive, Chain of Lakes Drive, and 25 th Ave/Crossover Drive/19 th Ave/Park Presidio – these later streets are not part of the Slow Streets program the city has implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic to give San Franciscans more room to walk and bike away from crowds. Check the park website to see the latest on road closures for events and other initiatives. Biking, walking, and skating are all popular here. Numerous bus and trolly routes serve Golden Gate Park, too, and you'll find entry points lining the side of the park all the way around its perimeter. The park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are restrooms sprinkled throughout the park, Vehicle parking in Golden Gate Park There are over 4,700 street parking spots throughout the park. Accessible parking is available at the McLaren Lodge, Music Concourse (behind Bandshell), MLK Drive & Music Concourse and on JFK/Transverse Drive. The 800-space Music Concourse garage ($33 for the day) as well as over 4,700 street parking spots throughout the park. Music Concourse garage is the main parking lot for the SkyStar Observation Wheel, as well as the De Young Museum, several gardens, and Cal Academy. It can be reached via Fulton St. at 10th Avenue and is open every day of the week from 7AM to 7PM. The Golden Gate Park shuttle The Golden Gate Park free shuttle runs from 9AM to 6PM on a cadence of every 15 to 20 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on city holidays.
Was it the fall of 1966 or the winter of ’67? As the Haight saying goes, if you can remember the Summer of Love, you probably weren’t here. The fog was laced with pot, sandalwood incense and burning military draft cards, entire days were spent contemplating trippy Grateful Dead posters, and the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets became the turning point for an entire generation. The Haight's counterculture kids called themselves freaks and flower children; San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen dubbed them 'hippies.' The history of the Haight goes back over sixty years before the Summer of Love heated up, however. The neighborhood's beautiful Victorian Painted Ladies were spared by the 1906 earthquake that wrecked and burned so much of San Francisco. Over the decades that followed, however, these once-gleaming single family homes were weathered by the Great Depression, split up into apartments during World War II, and nearly flattened by a proposed freeway in the 1950s. But in the decline, the seeds of counterculture had already been sewn. The '60s in Haight-Ashbury As David Talbot notes in his San Francisco history Season of the Witch, by the time the Golden Gate Park 's Panhandle was threatened by the wheels of progress (and commuter's automobiles), the Haight was full of misfit residents used to providing one another support, and who were open to embracing new, diverse ideas. Here were Black homeowners sick of disenfranchisement, Beat poets priced out of gentrifying North Beach, members of the queer community spilling out of the Castro, and fired up students who had learned the art of activism on Freedom Rides in the southeast. City Hall didn't stand a chance against the Haight. It was a place to find your people, and soon a new generation of young artists started moving in to now-iconic homes that continue to draw rock 'n' roll pilgrims. The Grateful Dead House became a major hub at 710 Ashbury. The legendary Hells Angels bikers were posted up practically next door at 715, while Janis Joplin briefly stowed her feather boas a block down the street at 635. 1090 Page Street was home to Joplin's backing band, Big Brother and the Holding Company (though now it's a block of condos). Cult leader Charles Manson briefly brought his "family" to 636 Cole, while Jefferson Airplane filled up the sprawling mansion at 2400 Fulton with Grace Slick's big voice. Meanwhile, Jimmi Hendrix wrote "Red Door" about his apartment at 1524A Haight Street. Drugs poured in, including LSD, speed, and cannabis. So did plenty of youth from around the country eager to get away from mainstream America and experience the burgeoning counterculture first hand. The neighborhood's growing transient population would crash at rooming houses like the Red Victorian – a former hotel that was best known at the time as Jeffrey Haight – or at the apartments of acquaintances, or in Golden Gate Park. The Diggers, a radical anarchist and performance art collective, helped support the Haight's down-and-out with a network of free housing flops, health clinics, soup kitchens, clothing swaps, and artistic "happenings" thrown in collaboration with a carousel of hippie bands, dancers, and creatives, and especially the Grateful Dead. It was a creative, open scene many feel nostalgia for – though not without its dark side. Writer Joan Didion arrived in 1967 to report on the Haight-Ashbury scene for The Saturday Evening Post and observed not the hippie utopia so many young people were searching for, but a crumbling jumble of lost drug-users who included, harrowingly, a five year old under the influence of LSD. In many ways Didion's essay predicted the rough decline into hard drugs and dilapidation that even the well-intentioned social network of Diggers and community activists couldn't hold back. Haight-Ashbury today The neighborhood gentrified throughout the 1980s, and many of the stately homes were restored. Today, the Haight is a mix of businesses old and new that reflect both its hippie legacy and the changing flavor of tech-era San Francisco. Still, flashbacks of all sorts remain a given in the Haight, which still has its swinging-’60s tendencies. Spots like the indie Booksmith, Amoeba Music, and Magnolia Brewery, not to mention hazy outdoor hideaways like Hippie Hill, and Buena Vista Park, still hold a torch for the neighborhood's countercultural vibes. So do annual events like the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair. But you can also get a taste of how time has marched on at restaurants like Alembic, home to inventive fare like jerk-spiced duck hearts that you'd never find on The Diggers' menus. Or you can go even further back in time at Aub Zam Zam, a cash-only joint with jazz on the juke that's been pleasing the Haight since 1941. Visit Haight-Ashbury today and you'll find the fog remains fragrant downwind of neighborhood cannabis dispensaries, and that tie-dye and ideals have never entirely gone out of fashion here – hence the prized vintage rock tees on the wall at Wasteland, organic-farming manuals in their umpteenth printing at Bound Together Anarchist Book Collective, and judgment-free treatment for bad trips and unfortunate itches at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. At the corner of Haight and Cole, see you how far humanity has come in Joana Zegri's 1967 Evolution Rainbow mural, showing life forms evolving from the Pleistocene era to the Age of Aquarius. Who knows what the Haight will get into next.
If you look close today at the clinker-brick buildings lining these narrow backstreets, past the temple balconies jutting out over bakeries, acupuncture clinics, barbershops, and travel agencies, you'll see a microcosm of the the American dream. San Francisco's storied Chinatown is the oldest in North America, and the largest off the Asian continent. For almost two hundred years, the 41 historic alleyways packed into Chinatown's 22 blocks have welcomed newcomers from every province, and been the stage for sometimes improbable stories of tenacity and resilience. San Francisco's Chinatown history The first Chinese immigrants arrived in San Francisco in 1848, drawn largely from the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong by the promise of good jobs. In just five years, almost 5,000 Chinese immigrants arrived in San Francisco – a lot of names for the switchboard operators at the Chinese Telephone Exchange to keep track of as the largely male population called home to their families on the other side of the Pacific. By the 1880s, the city's Chinatown had begun to coalesce near Portsmouth Square, and was already drawing not only immigrants craving the familiar sights, sounds, and scents of home but also curious tourists. Still, the backlash was swift when the city's demographics and economic fortunes shifted at the end of the 19th century and San Francisco blamed its woes on its newest citizens. As editor and historian Gary Kimya explains in Cool Grey City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, "The movement to get rid of Chinatown began as soon as there was a Chinatown." A 1900 outbreak of bubonic plague followed up by the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco very nearly did the job. Not only did Chinatown literally rise from the ashes, however, it returned more Chinese than ever as residents collaborated with white architects and landlords to create new architectural styles that reflected the neighborhood's unique heritage. Chinatown may have had to grow up rather than out thanks to the limitations imposed by the Chinese exclusion laws first passed in the 1880s. Nowhere is this more evident than Waverly Place, one of San Francisco's most treasured Chinatown alleys. It's home to the Tin How Temple – the oldest surviving Taoist temple in San Francisco, which has been welcoming worshipers since 1852. Contemporary Chinatown Still, San Franciscans had to admit Chinatown's alleyways offered something special that couldn't be found anywhere else, wether it was booze in Spofford Alley during Prohibition, nightlife at legendary clubs like Forbidden City, or brand-new "Chinese" dishes invented stateside in California kitchens like chop suey and moo goo gai pan. Indeed, some of San Francisco's most beloved haunts have been part of Chinatown for over a hundred years, including Mister Jiu's, which has been serving up mouth-watering banquets sine the 1880s; Hang Ah Tea Room, the oldest dim sum restaurant in the United States; and Sam Wo Restaurant, a late-night mainstay that's been open since 1912 and charmed Beat generation luminaries from neighboring North Beach like Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski. Despite the huge cultural impact the Chinese community has made on San Francisco, there continue to be battles to fight. Activists and politicians like Rose Pak, Ed Lee, and Gordon Chin have fought hard since the 1970s against the steady tide of gentrification to keep the Chinatown district affordable. Indeed, Chin founded the Chinatown Community Development Center that's continued to build affordable housing and keep long-time residents in the neighborhood. Now many of those elders are experiencing a fresh wave of anti-Asian sentiment and violence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, painfully recalling the last century's scapegoating of Chinese immigrants for the Barbary Plague. San Francisco Chinatown parking and what to do If you've got a yen to experience San Francisco's vibrant Chinatown for yourself, leave you vehicle at the Good Luck Parking Garage and be sure to snap a photo by the Dragon's Gate, which was gifted by Taiwan in 1970. One of the best ways to get oriented is setting off on one of the Chinatown Alleyway Tours and Chinatown Heritage Walking Tours that offer community-supporting, time-traveling strolls through defining moments in American history. The later are hosted by the Chinese Culture Center, which also offers everything from art classes to Mandarin lessons and genealogy services. Visitors can also take in the rotating exhibits at the Chinese Historical Society of America, which was founded in the 1960s as a new wave of Chinese immigrants arrived largely from Hong Kong. Don't miss the magical mosaic mural at Wentworth Place, either – it's one of the Chinatown alleyways most dazzling sights. For the full Chinatown experience, time your visit for the Lunar New Year, when the neighborhood's winding alleys are lit up by lanterns and firecrackers as crowds pack in to see the lion dances and parade floats go by. For a real treat, duck into the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory at 56 Ross Alley to see how the classic treats are made by hand – and even crunch into some hot off the cast iron griddle.
Cultural CenterCity Lights Books
No one could have predicted the cultural force City Lights would become when it first opened in 1953. Sure, it had a proletarian ethos suggested by its founders decision to name the shop for a Charlie Chaplin film and sell only paperback books. And its initial owner, professor Peter Martin, certainly had an impeccable pedigree for the blend of publishing and progressive politics that would establish City Lights as an opponent of censorship and bastion of free speech. Martin was the son of Carlo Tresca, an Italian anarchist and publisher of socialist newspapers who married the sister of American Civil Liberties Union founder Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. But even after Martin was joined as co-owner by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and book-clerk-cum-manager Shigeyoshi Murao, the shop easily could have remained a quiet mainstay of the North Beach beat scene. City Lights and Allen Ginsberg That changed in 1955 when Martin sold his shares and moved back to New York City, where his father had been assassinated ten years earlier. Left to his own devices, Ferlinghetti decided to start a small press called City Lights Publishing that would produce the Pocket Poets Series, featuring some of Ferlinghetti's own work and that of other beatnicks who read at open mic nights hosted by venues like the now-defunct Six Gallery. One of those new voices was a twenty eight year old poet named Allen Ginsberg, whose epic poem Howl got both Ferlinghetti and Murao arrested for printing and selling obscene materials. The ensuing trial and landmark 1957 ruling in favor of free speech put the beats, and City Lights, on the national map – quite literally. Soon tourists began popping by, eager to experience San Francisco's burgeoning new counterculture movement for themselves. Over time, City Lights continued to published writers who pushed the envelope of political and philosophic thought and literary form, including titles by Angela Davis, Diane di Prima, Frank O'Hara, and Noam Chomsky, proving the point on one of Ferlinghetti's hand-lettered signs: 'Printer's Ink Is the Greater Explosive.' The North Beach beats City Lights also steadily took over space in its funny triangular building as neighboring businesses moved out, expanding into a cellar that was once the lair of the paper dragon used in Chinatown 's Lunar New Year celebrations, and where enigmatic slogans on the walls like 'I am the door' were left behind by a cult that worshipped here in the 1930s. That cellar became one of City Lights' themed rooms, and home to nonfiction tomes unconventionally organized by book buyer Paul Yamazaki according to counter-cultural themes like Stolen Continents, Muckraking, and Commodity Aesthetics. Feel free to enjoy some idle browsing, a past time highly encouraged at City Lights – indeed, another of Ferlinghetti's signs describes City Lights as 'A Kind of Library Where Books Are Sold.' Visitors from around the world recognize the truth of this statement: City Lights remains a door to new ideas and continuing revelations. Though Ferlinghetti passed away in late February of 2021 at the age of 101, the publishing arm of the business he built continues to give paper and platform to writers often shut out of traditional publishing, including Latinx and Chicanx voices, LGBTQIA+ authors, and death row inmates. So come by, load up on zines on the mezzanine, entertain radical ideas downstairs in the new Pedagogies of Resistance section, and curl up in the designated Poet’s Chair upstairs overlooking Vesuvio Cafe, where Ferlinghetti and Murao once held court with contemporaries like Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, and Bob Dylan. For almost seventy years now, this San Francisco treasure has truly been a place where, as Ferlinghetti put it, the public is "invited, in person and in books, to participate in that 'great conversation' between authors of all ages, ancient and modern." How to visit City Lights Booksellers City Lights is open seven days a week from 10 AM to midnight. It can be reached on the 8X or the 41 Union buses to Columbus & Broadway, or via the 30 Stockton or 45 Union/Stockton buses to Stockton & Broadway. The nearest Muni stop is Montgomery Station. Metered street parking is available nearby, while there are parking garages near Portsmouth Square and at 735 Valejo. Further across the border into Chinatown, Good Luck Parking Garage is a fun option to try. The bookshop also hosts weekly author readings – though the rotation has been taken online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. check City Light's social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for regular updates as to what digital readings are happening and when in-person events are back on.
MuseumSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art
When the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art expanded in 2016, it was a mind-boggling feat that nearly tripled the institution's size to accommodate a sprawling collection of modern and contemporary masterworks over seven floors of galleries – but then, SFMOMA has defied limits ever since its 1935 founding. A Sorbonne-educated California native, founding museum director Grace McCann Morley was determined to shake up the San Francisco art scene, which she felt was a decade or more behind the times. Morley stood out not only for her avant guard taste, but also as a woman running the first modern art museum on the west coast. Under her leadership, the museum was a visionary early investor in then-emerging art forms including photography, installations, video, performance art, digital art and industrial design. Even during the Depression, SFMOMA envisioned a world of vivid possibilities, starting in San Francisco. The SFMOMA championed works by artists San Franciscans already had an affinity for, such as Diego Rivera, as well as cutting edge abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Arshile Gorky who had never previously had a museum show. The museum also expanded the notions of what could be considered fine art, collecting and exhibiting works of photography, film, and architecture, as well as trying new methods of reaching art lovers like the successful Art in Your Life television program that ran in the 1950s. The collection has outgrown its home twice since, starting with its initial location within the War Memorial Building and again with the Mario Botta designed SoMa location that opened in 1995. Most recently the SFMOMA expanded in 2016, with the new portions of the museum designed by Norway's Snøhetta architectural firm. Visiting SFMOMA If you're wondering where to start exploring the sprawling museum, perhaps the place is SFMOMA's art-filled ground-floor galleries. There are 45,000 square feet of public spaces that are free to visit and full of art, including work's staged in the museum's outdoor grounds. Buy a ticket and you might start to delve deeper on the 3rd floor with SFMOMA’s standout photography collection and special exhibitions. Meditate amid serene paintings in the Agnes Martin room surrounded by 4th-floor abstract art, then get an eyeful of Warhol's Pop Art on the 5th. Head to the 6th floor for an exhibition of German art after 1960, and then hit the 7th floor for a showcase of cutting-edge contemporary works and intriguing media arts installations. Head downstairs via the atrium to see how SFMOMA began, with colorful local characters admiring equally colorful characters by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Henri Matisse on the 2nd floor. Start your own collection of original designs and art catalogs at the SFMOMA shop and make a meal of contemporary culinary masterpieces re-created by chef Corey Lee at the museum's Michelin-starred In Situ restaurant. SFMOMA is open Friday-Monday from 10AM – 5PM and Thursday from 1PM – 8PM. The museum is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Tickets for adults are $25, while seniors over 65 are $22, young adults between 19-24 are $19, and anyone under 18 is free. It can be a good idea to buy a ticket in advance as the museum does have capacity limits. Certain popular exhibitions such as Future Histories, Contemporary Optics, and Nam June Paik have a waiting list. Memberships for individuals are $120 and allow unlimited visits. Because the SFMOMA is located downtown in the SoMa district, it's easy to access on public transportation. Powell Street and Montgomery Street BART and SF Muni Light Rail stations are close by, as are bus stops at Mission Street, Howard Street, Third Street, and Second Street. A bike rack is available for visitors at the museum’s Howard Street entrance. Parking is available in the museum's own garage on Minna Street, and runs the gamut from $4 for 30 minutes to $35 for a full day. SFMOMA Accessibility The museum is designed to be accessible for visitors with mobility limitations and other disabilities. Portable gallery stools and manual wheelchairs can be borrowed from the coat check clerk. Free audio content, including foreign language translations and audio descriptions of artwork for the blind and visually impaired, can be accessed through the SFMOMA's smartphone app. ASL interpreters are also available for guided group tours. The museum has even created a thoughtful Sensory Guide to assist neuro-atypical visitors and those with sensory sensitivities in finding quiet, safe spaces within the SFMOMA galleries and public areas.
Public ArtCoit Tower
If you want to really see San Francisco, head to Coit Tower, a 1933 art deco beaut designed by Arthur Brown, Jr. and Henry Howard that sits high up on Telegraph Hill. San Fran scribe Gary Kamiya once described Coit Tower as "the best 60-second walk I know," noting that in the minute it takes to circumnavigate Coit's base from the southwest you will see "Chinatown, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the Embarcadero, Berkeley, the Bay Bridge and Oakland, Mount Diablo, the South Bay, the Ferry Building, and the entire Financial District, with a piece of Mount San Bruno and Bernal Heights in the Distance." Phew. Of course, that depends on San Francisco's signature fog not obscuring the view. Coit Tower may look sleek and graceful from afar, but the truth is it's just as quirky as the rest of San Francisco. The tower was funded by, and named for, philanthropist Lillie Hitchcock Coit. A rich eccentric nicknamed 'Firebelle Lil', Coit had a deep fascination with and appreciation for firefighters ever since she was a teenager. In her will, she set aside funds to beautify San Francisco, which the city used to build a memorial to firefighters in Washington Square Park as well as Coit Tower. The Coit Towers mural controversy A year after the tower was completed, the Public Works of Art Project (part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal) added a series of murals celebrating California workers. 25 local artists were selected, including Bernard Zakheim, Clifford Wight, Victor Arnautoff and John Langley Howard. The later four shared an admiration of Diego Rivera, whose Allegory of California Fresco in San Francisco was a point of hometown pride. Indeed, Rivera himself had trained Arnautoff – an intellectual and artistic affinity that perhaps makes what happened next less of a surprise. In a mixup that has since taken on a life of its own in local legend, several of the completed murals became lightening rods of controversy when the public noticed that communist party symbols, Marxist slogans, and IWW mottos appeared in their backgrounds. Throw in a strike of longshoresmen and Teamsters that coincidentally occurred around the same time, and a hefty dose of moral panic, the public became convinced that Coit Tower was awash in anti-capitalist propaganda. It caused such a stir that Coit Tower was closed down for several months and two of the murals were amended. The Tower's reputation did bounce back eventually and today it's one of best-beloved San Francisco landmarks. It's appeared in numerous movies and TV shows, including Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 love letter to San Francisco, Vertigo; 1971 Clint Eastwood film Dirty Harry; and Amazon Prime's prestige series The Man in the High Castle. Indeed, there's a bit of an urban legends that asserts Hitchcock insisted including the Coit Tower in Vertigo because he was a distant relation of Firebelle Lil – though it's ultimately just a myth. How to visit Coit Tower To reach Coit Tower take Muni bus 39 from Fisherman’s Wharf. Alternately, you can hike up the famous Filbert Street Steps and say hello to Telegraph Hill's resident parrots along the way. It's free to take Kamiya's advice and stroll around the tower's base, but to ride the elevator to the top will cost you a small fee. There are different rates for locals and visitors, with adult tickets varying between $7 and $9, respectively. Seniors over 62 and teens ages 12-17 are $4 and $6 depending on residency. Children from 5-11 are $2 and $3. Visitors may also book a docent-led mural tour which costs $8 and lasts thirty to forty minutes. You'll have a chance to learn more about the murals, as well as the Public Works of Art Project and the 25 local artists themselves.
BridgeGolden Gate Bridge
Few cities boast a structure so iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge, commemorated in everything from films like The Maltese Falcon to not one but two emojis. Still, it's become so much a part of San Francisco's fabric and the popular imagination that it's easy to forget what an uphill battle it was to even break ground on the bridge. The decades long battle for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge included nay-saying over logistical challenges presented by the depth of the bay, the hard winds that come in off the Pacific, and even protected sites like Fort Point. The project also had such fierce opponents as the Southern Pacific Railroad Company's ferry subsidiaries, the United States Navy, and even teamsters advocating for local labor, all who had a vested interest in prevent a bridge from ever crossing the San Francisco Bay. Golden Gate Bridge design Despite plenty of opposition, construction commenced early in 1933 and four years later the Golden Gate Bridge took its place amongst the foremost architectural wonders of the world. Still, San Franciscans have passionate perspectives on every subject, especially their signature landmark – though everyone agrees that it's a good thing that the Navy didn't get its way over the bridge's design. Naval officials preferred a hulking concrete span, painted with caution-yellow stripes, over the soaring art-deco design of architects Gertrude and Irving Murrow and engineer Joseph B Strauss, which, luckily, won the day. The iconic International Orange hue, however, is a concession to the military's concerns over visibility – it's the same color used in the aerospace industry, shared by NASA's flight suits and a few other major structures including the 25 de Abril Bridge in Lisbon and Tokyo Tower in Japan. Where to see the Golden Gate Bridge As far as best views go, cinema buffs believe Hitchcock had it right: seen from below at Fort Point, the 1937 bridge induces a thrilling case of Vertigo. Fog aficionados prefer the north-end lookout at Marin’s Vista Point, to watch gusts billow through bridge cables like dry ice at a Kiss concert. Other popular places for bridge photographers include Baker Beach, Crissy Field, and Lands End. You may notice while crossing or simply admiring the span from a nearby vantage point that the Golden Gate Bridge now "sings" – noises that result from very recent retrofits designed to help the bridge withstand intense winds off the ocean. Locals have been less than thrilled about the humming, which has been compared to everything from sound effects common to director David Lynch's eerie ouvre to "a giant wheezing kazoo." To see both sides of the Golden Gate debate, hike or bike the 1.7-mile span. Muni bus 28 runs to the parking lot, and pedestrians and cyclists can cross the bridge on protected sidewalks. For drivers, bridge tolls are billed electronically to your vehicle's license plate. Tolls are collected only when you are driving southbound into San Francisco. Toll fees are $7.70 for those with a FasTrak account, $8.40 for one time payments by license plate, or $8.70 for a toll invoice. Bike, bus, boat and foot tours are available through various companies if you want to learn more about the bridge's history up close. Another popular option that kids love are San Francisco Fire Engine Tours in an open-air Big Red Shiny Mack Fire Engine, which not only crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, but also visits other popular sites like Fisherman's Wharf.
Welcome to San Francisco's sunny side, the land of street ball and Mayan-pyramid playgrounds, semiprofessional tanning and taco picnics. Although the grassy expanses are mostly populated by relaxing hipsters, political protests and other favorite local sports do happen from time to time, and there are free movie nights and mime troupe performances in summer. Dolores Park certainly has a storied history that demonstrates the diversity and rapidly shifting fortunes, that have defined San Francisco since it was founded. Once the site of an Indigenous Yelamu village called Chutchui, these parcels later were used as a cemetery by two of the oldest Jewish congregations in the United States. The graves were eventually moved elsewhere as the city grew, after which Dolores Park was briefly used as a staging ground by Barnum & Bailey Circus before the land was sold to the city in 1905. Just a year later, San Francisco's 1906 earthquake and fire violently interrupted park planning, and it remained bumpy, squishy and poorly drained until its 2015 regrading. At the corner of 20th and Church Streets, note the golden fire hydrant : this little fireplug was the Mission's main water source during the 1906 earthquake and fire, and stopped the fire from spreading south of 20th Street. That's not the only role Mission Dolores Park played in San Francisco's most famous natural disaster. This is where thousands of displaced families lives in temporary shacks and tents while the city was rebuilt. Until the 1920s, what is now a children's playground was a public swimming pool. It was initially built in 1909 in hopes that new amenities might help neighborhood residents forget Dolores Park's years as a refugee camp and reconsider it as a green space for recreation. Some of the park's other features, however, have had more staying power. There's a statue of Miguel Hildago, a hero of Mexican history who delivered a speech called "The Cry of Dolores" calling for the end of Spanish Colonial rule. The park also features the Mexico Liberty Bell, a gift from the Mexican government in 1966 and a replica of the bell rung in the town of Dolores to rally freedom fighters at the dawn of the Mexican war for independence. Climb to the upper southwestern corner for superb views of downtown, framed by palm trees. Flat patches further down are generally reserved for soccer games, cultural festivals, candlelight vigils and ultimate Frisbee. Fair warning: secondhand highs copped near the refurbished bathroom may have you chasing the helados (ice-cream) cart, which are nearly as plentiful as the Mission District's dispensaries. Grab a beer at Woods Cervecería at the northwest corner of the park or a bite at the Dolores Park Cafe at the northeast corner before you settle in to enjoy enjoy the people watching. Dolores Park lies between Dolores Street, Church Street, and 18th & 20th Streets. It's officially open from 6AM to 10PM, and can be accessed via public transit using the 14, 33, and 49 busses, the BL, GN, RD, and YL BART routes, and the J streetcar.
Public ArtClarion Alley
The Mission District has a long history of street art and muralismo – an oft-political school of public art prevalent throughout South and Central America and US cities with a robust Latino community – and Clarion Alley is one colorful place to check out the scene(ry) for yourself. Clarion Alley, which sits at between Mission Street and Valencia Street for one block between 17th and 18th Street, has been a destination since the early 1990s. That's when the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) was founded by artists Aaron Noble, Michael O'Connor, Sebastiana Pastor, Rigo 92, Mary Gail Snyder, and Aracely Soriano. CAMP wanted to pick up what art collectives like Mujeres Muralistas and the PLACA project jumpstarted in nearby Balmy Alley in the 1980s, continuing to explore Chicano identity and the political struggles in Central America during the Reagan years, though also bringing even more local flavor into their work. CAMP aren't the only artists operating in Clarion Alley. Local creatives routinely update the walls of the structures that back up to the alley, ranging from a former IWW meeting hall and blocks of newly constructed condos. Their work reflects concerns about that kind of gentrification, as well as contemporary political and social justice movements with regular turnover. Though there was crossover between the two corners of the Mission District that involved influential figures like Precita Eyes co-founder Susan Cervantes, these new artists diverted from the early Balmy Alley style. They took on less of the social realist style influenced by Diego Rivera's 1931 Allegory of California and instead continued to delve into subjects and imagery inspired by comic books, hip hop, and personal observations from around the barrio, truly giving the neighborhood a voice as part of an egalitarian art movement. Some of the first works in Clarion Alley have survived for decades, however, respected by the artists presently working the walls. Those including paintings by Chuy Campusano (who was mentored in the 9170s by Rivera's assistant Emmy Lou Packard), Scott Williams, and Julie Murray, as well as Megan Wilson's daisy-covered "Tax the Rich" or Jet Martinez' glimpse of Clarion Alley inside a forest spirit. If you haven't been coming here for years, it can be hard to distinguish what's new and what's a Gen X original – but that's the beauty of Clarion Alley. It's a living text, a library of Mission District experiences, telling this community's story palimpsest.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in San Francisco.