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Like its east coast counterpart New York, San Francisco is a city that lends itself to exploration. Put too many tourist attractions on your to-do list and you might miss out on experiencing the real San Fran – and making a few city discoveries of your own. So when visiting, be sure to take your time, explore the areas and edit your list to these top things to do in San Francisco.

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The Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise

See the Golden Gate Bridge

No trip to San Francisco should be without seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. The iconic suspension bridge was once known as ‘the bridge that couldn’t be built,’ until in 1937 when it was built, and opened to the public. The bright orange bridge crosses the Golden Gate strait, connecting San Francisco to the Marin headlands, covering a distance of 1.7 miles.

How to do it: There are a number of ways to see it; car, bicycle, walking (roller blades are although, not permitted). For the ultimate vantage point though, we recommend witnessing the bridge via a cruise of the bay, where you’ll get to see the bridge from multiple angles, including underneath it. This experience can be added to any of our San Francisco holidays.

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Alcatraz Island

Visit Alcatraz

From notorious landmark to beloved tourist attraction, the island of Alcatraz has a uniquely varied history. It began as the first lighthouse on the west coast of the USA before transforming into a federal penitentiary from 1934 to 1963 where it housed some of the country’s most legendary criminals such as Al Capone and George ‘Machine Guy’ Kelly. Today the main prison block still remains intact where you can see the small cells, library and main hall.

How to do it: Alcatraz is located a mile and a half from Fisherman’s Wharf and can only be visited by tour. We highly recommend booking your tour to Alcatraz in advance as they are known to sell out quickly. Many of our San Francisco holidays already include this experience such as our California & Canyons itinerary.

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A winery in the Napa Valley

Tour the surrounding wine regions

An hour’s drive north from San Francisco lays two of the USA’s best wine regions; the Napa Valley, and Sonoma Valley. Within the regions some of the most popular wineries to visit include Beaulieu Vineyard and Black Stallion in Napa, and Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, which is also the oldest commercial winery in California. The areas are also home to a range of breweries and distilleries, as well as an impressive number of Michelin star restaurants.

How to do it: So you can enjoy the full fruits (specifically grapes), of the wine regions, we recommend visiting with a day tour (complete with designated driver), as included in our National Parks & Canyons itinerary. For something unique, we can also arrange for you to see the region via the Napa Valley Wine Train, where you’ll enjoy a multi-course fine dining meal complete with beautiful passing scenery.

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Cable car on the street in San Francisco

Ride a cable car

When you’re legs have grown tired (or you can’t face walking up one of the city’s many hills), you can always see San Francisco by cable car. Both iconic and functional, San Francisco’s cable cars date back to 1890, making them the world’s last manually operated system.

How to do it: San Francisco has three different cable car routes which run regularly (around every 10 minutes) from approximately 6:00am to 12:30am. Each ride on the cable cars costs US$7. To get the best value for money we recommend buying an all-day pass which can be purchased from the operator on the cable car. 

For more inspiration, see our San Francisco holidays for ideas, all of which can be tailor-made to suit you.