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Leave Your Heart in San Francisco

Leave Your Heart in San Francisco

Here's your guide to the top things to do in San Francisco County, from crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to touring Mission District.


5 min read

September 19, 2022

Disclaimer: is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products or businesses mentioned in this article.

Millions of visitors who head to San Francisco County each year know all too well why Tony Bennett sings about leaving his heart there. It’s hard not to fall for the City by the Bay. As the cultural, commercial, and financial center of Northern California, San Francisco County boasts stunning attractions, an impressive array of cultural offerings, a world-class dining scene, dynamic nightlife, luxe shopping destinations, and a welcoming ambiance that beckons to free spirits.

So whether you dream of crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, heading to Fisherman’s Wharf to savor a sourdough bread bowl brimming with clam chowder, exploring the diverse Mission District, or traversing the hills in a cable car there’s plenty to delight (and surprise) you in the city.

Aside from its iconic attractions, San Francisco County also has a reputation for its welcoming culture and tolerant attitude. This is largely due to the aftermath of World War II. The confluence of returning servicemen, increased immigration, the “hippie” counterculture, the Sexual Revolution, and the gay rights movement all cemented San Francisco as a liberal bastion. To enjoy the county to the maximum you have a long list of places to visit and things to do, so you better get on it real quick.

Ghiradelli Square is you can find Ghiradelli Chocolate, arguably the best chocolate manufacturer in the Golden State.

Visit the Waterfront

The waterfront of San Francisco often serves as the initial point of exploration for visitors, and among the highlights is the Ferry Building Marketplace. This 65,000-square-foot historical structure, once a bustling ferry terminal, has transformed into a vibrant hub where visitors can indulge in farm-to-table delicacies and discover handcrafted goods. Continuing along the Embarcadero, the journey leads to the Exploratorium, a museum renowned for its engaging interactive exhibits, designed to captivate and educate guests across all age groups.

The Embarcadero is also where you’ll find the world-famous Fisherman’s Wharf. This tourist hot spot is home to such famed attractions as Pier 39, the Aquarium of the Bay, and Ghirardelli Square. Start by warming up with a sourdough bread bowl filled with piping-hot clam chowder and watching fishermen prepare the day’s catch, then start exploring this oceanfront district. Pro tip: Get to Fisherman’s Wharf on the Powell-Hyde Street cable car if you’re looking for a full California tourism experience.

Pier 39 offers two levels of souvenir shops, a variety of eateries, and family-friendly entertainment all surrounded by sweeping views of the Bay and city skyline. (It’s one of the best sea lion-watching spots on the West Coast, too.) For little ones, the Aquarium of the Bay features two immense tunnels, holding roughly 700,000 gallons of water that sustain 20,000-plus animal species. 

The aquarium also offers up-close-and-personal encounters with marine life, behind-the-scenes tours, and interactive exhibits. More family entertainment can be found at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum which is full of lifelike figures of actors, athletes, politicians, singers, and more. Finally, satisfy your sweet tooth with a decadent ice cream sundae or a rich chocolate bar at Ghirardelli Square, the site of a former chocolate factory.

The absolute first thing to do as soon as you set foot in San Francisco is to take photos of the most photographed bridge in the world.

Check Out the Famous SF Attractions

The original neighborhoods of San Francisco, California are also located along the waterfront. The city was founded on June 29, 1776, when Spanish colonists established The Presidio of San Francisco which served as a military fort for 218 years. The Presidio is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, but visitors can still get a glimpse of this piece of history at the museum and cultural center.

The 1,500-acre San Francisco park also features numerous trails, expansive lawn areas, scenic overlooks, a golf course, beaches, and even restaurants and hotels. But many people flock to The Presidio for one main reason: its close proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco’s most iconic landmark. At first, considered ugly and called “the bridge that couldn’t be built”, the Golden Gate proved all the naysayers wrong after it opened in 1937. It’s one of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ seven wonders of the world, and taking a walking tour across its magnificent span is a must for any visitor.

Alcatraz prison, where Al Capone was incarcerated, closed as a prison in 1963, and soon after became a popular tourist attraction.

Go on an Excursion to the San Francisco Islands

No trip to the San Francisco Bay Area would be complete without an excursion to Alcatraz and Angel Islands. On Alcatraz Island, visitors can take a tour of the first lighthouse and U.S.-built fort on the West Coast as well as the infamous prison that operated until 1963. (The brave at heart can even take a night tour.) Angel Island, meanwhile, features a vast network of trails offering breathtaking views of the city. Both islands are easily accessible by ferry.

The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, all called Haight Ashbury home at some point in the 1960s.

Get Lost in the San Francisco Neighborhoods

Further inland, you can discover the diverse neighborhoods of San Francisco, starting with North Beach, where you should savor Italian cuisine before catching a bus to Coit Tower. From there move on to the best San Francisco neighborhoods, including Chinatown, where you should peruse the souvenir shops and nibble on dim sum, and Haight-Ashbury, where buying vinyl records and vintage clothing is a must. Two other must-visit San Francisco areas are the Mission District, with its colorful murals, ethnic eateries, and Downtown San Francisco, where shopping for the latest fashion in Union Square is a given. Don’t forget to meander through Golden Gate Park and enjoy its breathtaking gardens and amazing museums.

The exterior of the De Young Museum has around 7,000 copper panels, which allow it to be the shiniest structure in Golden Gate Park.

Enjoy the Art and Culture of the City 

Another great part of San Francisco’s appeal is its well-established image as a cultural hub. Drama, music, and dance have flourished in the city, which is home to such prestigious institutions as the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet, and Alonzo King Lines Ballet. The city is also where several esteemed writers got their start, including Mark Twain, Jack London, and Gertrude Atherton. San Francisco County visitors have their pick of awesome museums, too—from the Asian Art Museum to the Legion of Honor, to the de Young Museum, to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.

With so many attractions to choose from, it can be difficult to decide what to see in the City by the Bay. But San Francisco County visitors can be sure of one thing: They’ll find plenty to keep them entertained, and they may even leave their hearts there.

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