Travel

Places where you can fully appreciate San Francisco’s unique beauty

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San Francisco, a.k.a “The Paris of the West,” is a city of incredible natural beauty, cultural attractions, diverse communities and first class cuisine. Here are some great places where you can fully appreciate San Francisco’s unique beauty, from the steel span of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset to the pastel-hued, Victorian charm of the Painted Ladies.

Coit Tower

Landmark with a View: Coit Tower

The Art Deco Coit Tower is designed as a fire hose nozzle, in honor of the firefighters who served in the earthquake of 1906. The interior of this special landmark is enriched with frescoes while the viewpoint atop provides one of the finest views of the city.

What You’ll See: The entire city and bay spread out just below you. Coit Tower is a great place to look at birds as it offers a 360 degree view. The beautiful green-red parrots fly freely in the middle of the city, where you would not expect them.

How To Enjoy It: Visit just before sunset when the Transamerica Pyramid, framed by the tower’s arches, is bathed in a golden glow.

For more free activities, read Top 25 Free Things to Do in San Francisco.

Alamo Square

Park with a View: Alamo Square

Alamo Square Park with a renowned series of houses named The Painted Ladies is home to one of the city’s most iconic images, featured on everything from postcards to the opening credits of the 1980s TV series Full House.

What You’ll See: Painted houses in San Francisco are part of a colouristic movement that by the 1970s changed the look of many streets and neighborhoods in the city. About 48,000 houses were built in Victorian and Edwardian style and between 1849 and 1915, all of them were painted in vivid colors.

One of the most famous legacy is Painted Ladies, a series of Victorian houses on Steiner Street opposite the Alamo Square Park. Built between 1892 and 1896, houses with house numbers 710-720, are also known as a “series of postcards” because of their exceptional visual appeal, conflict and harmony with backdrop skyscrapers.

How To Enjoy It: Walk up the hill in the park across the street for the best angle of both the houses and the skyline.

PHOTO: (c) Tugboat98 | Dreamstime.com

Headlands with a View: Hawk Hill

Hawk Hill is one of favorite spot to get a sweeping panorama of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco

What You’ll See: The entire 8,980-foot-long span of the Golden Gate Bridge backed by the San Francisco skyline far below you as you gaze down from 2,032 feet. During the peak of hawk migration season, from about September 10th to October 10th, you can see hundreds of hawks crossing the Golden Gate channel starting from the top of this hill.

How To Enjoy It: Try to come Monday through Thursday, preferably outside the summer months when it is not so packed.

Twin Peaks

If you are in San Francisco, do not miss the excursion to the Twin Peaks Hill, which gives you the best view of the whole city. In fact, they are two connected hills, and their peaks can be reached by car or hike. This peak is the second highest peak in San Francisco, but is much more popular than the first highest peak in Davidson Mountain..

What You’ll See: From the viewing area next to the parking lot at the top, you can see many of San Francisco’s landmarks: the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Transamerica Building, downtown skyscrapers and Market Street.

In addition to having many native plants covering the slopes of Twin Peaks, these hills are the habitat for a pretty little butterfly. The butterfly is endangered and lives on the Silver Lupine ground cover that does well on the peaks. The butterflies come out of their cocoons in April and May, and can be seen on the hills.

How To Enjoy It: Twin Peaks  is a popular place to come, for both locals and visitors. If you come before 10:30 a.m., there’ll be fewer people. But even with more people up there, it’s not that crowded; it just might mean waiting for a parking spot if you’re driving. You can also drive up the Eureka North peak if hiking’s not your thing.

PHOTO: Aubrie Pick

Happy Hour with a View: Waterbar

Located on The Embarcadero waterfront in the Rincon Park area, Waterbar serves spectacular panoramic views of the bay and city skyline. The main floor features two dramatic, floor-to-ceiling circular aquariums filled with an eye-catching array of fish and marine life from the Pacific Ocean. Walls of vividly illuminated fish tanks display a gallery of live Dungeness crab and Maine lobsters featured on the daily-changing menu. The entire Second Floor of Waterbar is dedicated to Private Dining, including a private kitchen, full bar, 60-seat dining room and outdoor terraces.

The North Terrace & Bar, and indoor/outdoor space, overlooks the main bar and boasts a spectacular view of the Bay Bridge. The space is a perfect place for an after-work cocktail gathering. The Bridge Tower Room, on the south side of the building, is nestled directly under the Bay Bridge on the San Francisco Bay. Wall-to-wall windows allow for a Bay and City view simultaneously, and the private terrace provides a theatrical backdrop for the private dining room.

Waterbar features sustainable seafood. The Private Dining Menu offers many options: a large selection of hors d’oeuvres, Oysters Adrift showcasing decadent raw bars, classic fish dishes as well as sustainably raised meat and poultry. Several family-style options, including a Lobster Feat or Clambake, are ideal for creating a festive mood.

What You’ll See: At Waterbar, the massive span of the Bay Bridge practically hovers above you.

How To Enjoy It: Get there early (ideally around 3:30pm) to snag seats in the lively circular Oyster Bar with its large windows, or on the outside terrace with its more open bridge and bay views. Happy Hour runs until 5:30pm daily.

PHOTO: Piyavachara Nacchanandana / Shutterstock

Historic Attraction with a View: Alcatraz

Alcatraz or The Rock is the island located in the San Francisco Bay and today one of the major tourist attractions of San Francisco. To have a look from San Francisco on the island, situated in the middle of the beautiful bay, was more beautiful, around the islands were made the embankments of the land brought from the Angelic islands where the prisoners planted a variety of flowers and shrubs! No one has ever managed to escape from Alcatraz, although for the five remaining missing fugitives it is assumed that they have drowned during the flight.

To see how Al Capone, “Machine Gun” Kelly, Robert Stroud (aka The Birdman of Alcatraz), and 1,573 other inmates lived during the 29 years before Alcatraz is closed.

What You’ll See: Alcatraz, nicknamed “the Rock,” is a 22-acre island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, so you’ll pretty much see it all.

How To Enjoy It: Take time to savor a multitude of views: the island itself on your ferry ride over from Pier 33, the Golden Gate Bridge from the dismal recreation yard, and the city skyline from the yards and paths surrounding the Cell House.

PHOTO: Kodiak Greenwood

Resort with a View: Cavallo Point

Cavallo Point is an atmospheric, dog-friendly resort located across the bay in Sausalito on the grounds of historic Fort Baker. Cavallo Point combines adaptable meeting space indoors and out with classic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.

What You’ll See: A photogenic glimpse of the russet-hued suspension towers of the Golden Gate Bridge from several areas on the grounds and from some of the 142 rooms.

How To Enjoy It: Stroll the grounds and refuel with a hearty lunch in the clubby Farley Bar.

Hiking Trail with a View: Tank Hill Park

Tank Hill San Francisco

Photo by: apasciuto

Tank Hill Park is located in San Francisco near the intersection of Clayton Street and Twin Peaks Boulevard, which circumscribes the hill to the south and east. A rocky outcropping defines the north side, which falls in cliffs to houses below.

From the south, and higher side of the hill, along Twin Peaks Boulevard, steps and a path lead to the top of the hill, which offers wonderful views of downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate.

What You’ll See: From the rocky chert outcroppings at the top, you can see the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, downtown, the Bay Bridge and all the varied neighborhoods and hills in between. And you won’t be bumping up against many others – locals or tourists. Tank Hill is also significant because it is home to as many as 60 species of native plants.  The plants also provide habitat for Western meadowlarks, kestrels and hawks, as well as larval food for several species of endangered butterflies.

How To Enjoy It: To get there, drive to Belgrave Avenue and park on the street. Walk to the eastern end of Belgrave and you’ll find a slightly hidden trail on your left that will wind its way up Tank Hill via small path.

Once you get the top, you’ll find some rock outcroppings, plenty of space to lay down your blanket, and an epic view that spans from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge.

PHOTO: S.Borisov / Shutterstock

Street with a View: Lombard Street

One of the most famous streets in the world is the Lombard Street.

Lombard Street is known for the one-way block on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, where eight sharp turns are said to make it the most crooked street in the world. The design, first suggested by property owner Carl Henry and built in 1922, was intended to reduce the hill’s natural 27% grade, which was too steep for most vehicles. The crooked block is perhaps 600 feet (180 m) long (412.5 feet (125.7 m) straightline), is one-way (downhill) and is paved with red bricks. The sign at the top recommends 5 mph (8 km/h).

What You’ll See: At the top of Lombard St., you’ll see the first two hairpin curves being negotiated by cars in front of you with a view of the Coit Tower and the scenic bay before you.

How To Enjoy It: Drive it! Hand your cell phone or camera to your passenger and maneuver the eight tight turns from top to bottom amid the famous manicured hydrangeas. Then look back up: The best photo ops are from the bottom.

For more free activities, read Top 25 Free Things to Do in San Francisco.

Cable cars

A cable car  is a popular means of transport in San Francisco, but mostly among tourists.
There are two main line: Powell / Hyde and Powell / Mason.

Powell / Hyde ends near Ghirardelli Square, a popular place in Fisherman’s Wharf where you can eat and shop. You will also go by the Lombard street. If you do not go out there, prepare the camera because at the top of the hill (crossing Hyde and Lombarda) shoots a beautiful view of the Alcatraz Island. Across the street at the end of this line (crossing Hyde and Beach) is the famous The Buena Vista Cafe, where Irish coffee was created. If you do not want to walk or shopping around Ghirardelli, go down to the docks and enjoy it.

The Powell / Mason line also passes near the Lombard street, but on the underside, leaving you on North Beach, near pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf.

What You’ll See: You can enjoy the beautiful views of the bay and Alcatraz Prison. The cable cars have to turn around at the end of each line. To do that, they drive onto a big turntable. Then the grip and the conductor get out and push – hard.

Corona Heights Park, San Francisco

Corona Heights Park

Corona Heights Park is a park in the Castro and Corona Heights neighborhoods of San Francisco. It is situated immediately to the south of Buena Vista Park
What You’ll See: You’ll see city streets that extend all the way to the bay.
How To Enjoy It: Twin Peaks gets all the glory (and the crowds) but Corona Heights Park is a great alternative. Closer to downtown and just next to the Castro District you are much more likely to have this place to yourself or you’ll share it with a few dog walkers. Views are just as good, if not better than Twin Peaks and you are walking distance to the shops and cafes of both Castro and Haight Ashbury. Short little climb up stairs rather is perfect for kids as the climb is easy and Randall Museum is right below.

Park for plant lovers – Grand View Park

Grand View Park, also referred to as Turtle Hill by local residents, is a small, elevated park in the Sunset District, It is surrounded by 14th and 15th Avenues, as well as Noriega Street.

What You’ll See: The park is important geologically and botanically and provides one of the last remaining habitats within the city for a number of native plants. Also offers views of downtown San Francisco, Golden Gate Park, to the Pacific Ocean, the Marin headlands, and across to the Sutro Tower.

How To Enjoy It: A pretty quiet and relaxing community friendly park. Best times to go is sunrise or sunset. It has a long set of stairs for people who want to work out running up and down from it and then take a rest to enjoy the beautiful scenery. It has a lone bench where people love to take pictures with.

Grandview Park, San Francisco

The View Lounge

On the 39th floor of the Marriott hotel, The View Lounge is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows through which you can see almost the entire city, bay and beyond.
What You’ll See: The View Lounge offers dramatic views of the towers of commerce in downtown San Francisco. The effect is heightened by the soaring architecture of the lounge itself.
How To Enjoy It: Superb 360 degree views. Nice bar food menu and decent cocktail and wine selection.

PHOTO: Rafael Ramirez Lee / Shutterstock

Running Route with a View: Across the Golden Gate Bridge

It is best to rent a bike and drive from Embarcadero to Pier 39, extend to Fort Point where an excellent view of Golden Gate is waiting for you. Be sure to walk through the bridge, and if you are on a bicycle ride to the other side, there is also a lot of interesting sightseeing spots there.

What You’ll See: On the first stretch, away from downtown, gaze out on the rolling hills of the Marin Headlands, while on the return leg you’ll be treated to a wide-angle view of the San Francisco skyline.

How To Enjoy It: Wait for the morning fog to lift, go to the Southeast Visitor Area, and follow signs for the pedestrian walkway—if you can handle a run of seven or eight miles, continue through Crissy Field along the water on the way back.

PHOTO: SvetlanaSF / Shutterstock

Beach with a View: Baker Beach

One of the most beautiful beach in San Francisco is Baker Beach, ideal for families and all who love spending time on the beach, playing beach volleyball, or just lazing with the view of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

What You’ll See: The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands from this beach are amazing. Baker Beach is a popular nude beach. People who are nude stay on the end of the beach closer to the bridge, but it’s hard to visit without seeing a few naked bodies. If public nudity bothers you, this may not be the place for you. Just above the beach is Battery Chamberlin, which holds the last 6-inch “disappearing gun” of its type on the West Coast. This Endicott-era battery was built in 1904 with four six-inch rifled guns mounted on disappearing carriages and was intended to protect underwater minefields laid outside the Golden Gate during the time of war.On the first Saturday and Sunday of each month, you can take part in demonstrations of the gun and visit a small seacoast defense museum at the battery. Demonstrations are typically held between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

How To Enjoy It: Most people go to Baker Beach just to take a walk and enjoy the views, but you’ll also find people fishing in the ocean.

Pacific Overlook, San Francisco

Photo by: Sandip

The Pacific Overlook provides a place for visitors to sit and take in the expansive views of the Pacific Ocean.
What You’ll See: From this vantage point, located above the Presidio’s coastal bluffs, you will experience an unimpeded view of the vast Pacific Ocean all the way from Lands End to the Golden Gate Bridge.

How To Enjoy It: Bikers, hikers, and runners pause here for a meditative moment, as the Pacific Overlook is just off the multi-use Bay Area Ridge Trail, California Coastal Trail, Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail , and the strenuous Batteries to Bluffs Trail . Before heading off on your adventure, inhale the refreshing sea air while resting on the rustic wooden benches.  Or, if you’re craving another fabulous ocean view, travel north to the nearby Golden Gate Overlook where you’ll be greeted by one of the Presidio’s most interesting perspectives of the Golden Gate Bridge.

For more free activities, read Top 25 Free Things to Do in San Francisco.

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