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If you’ve never been to Alcatraz, the notorious prison in operation from 1934 to 1963 that housed infamous criminals like Al Capone and “Machine-Gun” Kelley, now is a good time to go. A multi-million renovation includes a new entrance that allows visitors to enter the same way convicts once did and to visit the gardens that inmates and guards once tended, their cell houses and showers, and a new museum store. The audio tour narrated by former inmates and prison guards will give you an eerie perspective on life in this grim high-security prison. To steer clear of crowds, take the first tour of the day or opt for an early-evening tour (great views of the city skyline and sunset are a bonus). If you think the place is spooky by day, wait till you see it after dark. Reserve one week in advance during peak season, from April through October.

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Old Statues at display in Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, California - Courtesy of Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum boasts one of the largest collections of Asian art outside of Asia. Housed in a 1917 Beaux Arts building (the city’s former Main Library), the Asian Art Museum was designed by Gae Aulenti, an Italian architect specializing in the adaptive reuse of historic structures. (In the mid-1980s, she converted a defunct 1900 Paris railway station into the acclaimed Musée d’Orsay). The collection spans 6,000 years and contains more than 16,000 artifacts, roughly half of them originally donated to the city by Chicago industrialist Avery Brundage, including a gilt-bronze Buddha dated A.D. 338, the oldest known dated Chinese Buddha. The galleries, organized by geographic region (China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Himalayas and the Tibetan Buddhist World, the Persian World and West Asia), elegantly showcase ceramics, ritual bronzes, jades, calligraphy, painted screens, bamboo baskets, woodblock prints, textiles and jewelry. Closed Monday.

Bay Area Discovery Museum

This is more of a play-oriented outing than a museum per se, but it’s a fabulous facility in a great location right across the bridge in Sausalito. A lot of fun for kids.

California Academy of Sciences

Designed by Pritzker Prize–winning Renzo Piano, this $500 million architectural marvel in Golden Gate Park is a pioneer of environmentally friendly design: its “green” planted roof can be seen from across Golden Gate Park and it received Platinum LEED certification.

Best of all, however, the exhibitions are presented with a lot of imagination; it’s the kind of place that will keep both kids and parents entertained for hours. The main floor is divided into three main spheres: the rainforest, aquarium and planetarium. Each is a massive space that houses everything from interactive displays to live animals, but thanks to the brilliant architecture, the exhibitions are flooded with light. While you can eat at the Moss Room and the more casual Academy Café, we recommend lunching by the sculpture garden of the café in the de Young Museum directly across the way.

Indagare Tip: Especially on the weekends, ticket lines can be long, so consider ordering yours in advance on the Academy’s website. Prices are lofty, but the quality of this educational museum and the amount of time you can spend here make it worth it. Afterwards, you can explore Golden Gate Park, making this museum and environ a perfect escape from city bustle.

Exterior View - Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, California

Contemporary Jewish Museum

This dramatic structure designed by architect Daniel Libeskind hosts a variety of collections that examine the Jewish experience in our contemporary world. Past exhibitions have looked at Jewish life in the Bay Area since the gold rush, Andy Warhol’s portraits of prominent Jews, and such diverse and provocative Jewish figures as Gertrude Stein, Harry Houdini and Allen Ginsberg.

Beach at Crissy Field, San Francisco, California

Crissy Field

This is a wonderful place to take kids for a walk along the water. There are several beaches and spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, East Bay and Marin. There are also two nice casual spots to eat: you can grab a snack at the café on the East Beach. Towards the Golden Gate Bridge, the Warming Hut is a great spot for a coffee or light lunch.

Exterior View - de Young Museum, San Francisco, California

de Young Museum

The stunning all-copper museum building, designed by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, is seamlessly integrated into Golden Gate Park, with plants and sculpture gardens helping to merge the two. Inside is an encyclopedic collection of American art from the 1700s to the present, including paintings by George Caleb Bingham, John Singer Sargent and Edward Hopper and recently commissioned site-specific works by Ed Ruscha, Kiki Smith, Gerhard Richter, and James Turrell. You can enjoy the latter two artist’s exhibits without paying admission. Richter’s mammoth mural that was created for the de Young seizes your attention in the lobby atrium and, in the sculpture garden beyond the café, you’ll find Turrell’s bewitching Three Gems exhibit. Be sure to step inside to contemplate the unusual circle of sky above.

Also on hand are impressive collections of art from the rest of the Americas, Africa and Asia that segue beautifully from room to room. The tower’s top-floor observation deck offers panoramic views, and the ample gift shop sells everything from umbrellas to fine jewelry. This stunning monument to the arts is an absolute must for any visitor. Closed Monday.

Editors' Picks
Aerial View-Embarcadero San Francisco, California


Named for the stretch of road that fronts the bay, the Embarcadero is home to the San Francisco Ferry Building, restaurants like La Mar Cebicheria Peruana and now the Exploratorium. A walk along the promenade, which is inlaid with discreet plaques and holds poles bearing poems and interesting facts, offers stunning views of the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island and back towards the city. Foodies interested in bringing home Bay Area foods should walk straight to the Ferry Building.

Aerial View - Fort Baker, San Francisco, California - Courtesy National Park Service

Fort Baker

San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Park Service is one of the most progressive such agencies in the country, and is among the first park services to offer trails and campsites within an urban national park, as it does in the Presidio. Fort Baker was spearheaded by the service’s nonprofit partner, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. A former military post on 335 acres at the northern entrance to San Francisco Bay, Fort Baker is adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge. Its hotel, the luxe Cavallo Point Lodge, comes from the same team behind the favored Post Ranch Inn and offers sweeping views of the bay environs, including both bridges, Alcatraz, Angel Island and downtown San Francisco. Fort Baker also has recreation facilities open to the public and an environmental think tank, called the Institute at the Golden Gate, at which high-ranking representatives from the worlds of business, non-profits and government can discuss pressing environmental problems and practical solutions to them. The freshly finished facilities have now begun conducting seminars.

colorful pointed houses lined with trees

Hayes Valley

In the heart of San Francisco, Hayes Valley is a neighborhood known for its local shops and amazing restaurants.

Hyde Street Pier

This pier at the end of the Hyde Street Cable Car line is well worth a visit. It houses some fascinating and photogenic historical ships and offers expansive bay views. The gleaming white Eureka, resembling a classic riverboat, was part of the Bay Area’s complex ferry system, one of the busiest in the world. Onboard you can see the antique cars and trucks that once traveled on the ferryboat. Kids will enjoy heading all the way to the top floor to take the helm of the Eureka. The majestic Balclutha is an19th century square-rigger that began its journey in Scotland and rounded South America’s cape horn 17 times. Go below to see the captain’s quarters and a picture of his daughter Inda Frances, who was born on the Indian Ocean en route to San Francisco. Interactive exhibits detail life onboard the sailing ship and the critical cargo it carried around the world.

After you take in the view from the pier and explore all of its intriguing ships, you may notice, in the cove next to the pier, people actually swimming without wetsuits in the frigid bay. They’re part of the Dolphin Club, founded in 1877 by people who think 54-degree water is swimmable. If you still want to know more about San Francisco’s maritime past, cross the street to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Visitor Center at 499 Jefferson Street. (Don’t worry that the Hyde Street Pier is in Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s at the western edge of the wharf, so you can avoid venturing into the rest of the traveler-trampled neighborhood).

Land’s End Trail

This popular cliff-side trail starts above the ruins of the Sutro baths, which at the end of the 19th century comprised the world’s largest indoor swimming pool complex. The buildings burnt down a half-century ago, which is just as well, because the view of the Pacific is more dramatic without them. From there the trail winds through trees and alongside rocks to the northwestern edge of the San Francisco peninsula, in the direction of the Golden Gate strait. You’ll have wonderful views of the Pacific Ocean and the western face of the Golden Gate Bridge along the way.

Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor was built as a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. With the permission of the French government, and at the urging of his wife Alma Spreckles, sugar magnate Adolph Spreckles spearheaded the creation of this fine arts museum on a hilltop on the northwest corner of San Francisco. The building was completed in 1924 and expanded underground in 1995.

Today the Legion of Honor’s houses over 124,000 pieces of art, with several objects from ancient Egypt and the Near East, European paintings and sculpture, and works on paper. Far from the bustle of downtown, the Legion is a pleasant place to spend a couple of hours. Beyond its impressive permanent collection, the museum invariably has a thought-provoking temporary exhibition underway (previous ones have looked at such diverse themes as royal treasures from the Louvre, Victorian era children’s books, and the surrealist photography of Man Ray). Moreover, you are in wooded Lincoln Park and close to Land’s End, a beautiful trail that winds around the wild northwestern cliffs of the San Francisco peninsula. It’s worth walking northwards after you visit the museum to take in the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Legion of Honor also houses the Skinner Organ, with 4,500 pipes running unseen through the building, and hosts organ concerts every Saturday at 4pm.

beach with people at sunset

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach is a great spot to dip your toes in the Pacific and enjoy a beach picnic or a waterside lunch at a restaurant.
Interior View - Pier 24 Photography, San Francisco, California

Pier 24 Photography

On San Francisco’s historic Pier 24 lies the aptly named Pier 24 Photography, an appointment-only exhibition space that allows 60 guests per day. The 28,000-square-foot gallery houses an extensive collection of over 2,000 photographs and is a must for any art or photography enthusiast. Home to The Pilara Foundation Collection and changing exhibitions, Pier 24 showcases such notable artists as Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans and Robert Frank. Admission is free.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

In May 2016, the SFMOMA, founded in 1935, reopened its doors in San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood following a $300 million renovation and massive expansion. Permanent collections include some of the most important European and American artists of the 20th and 21st centuries (from Derain, Braque and Brancusi to Pollock, Rauschenberg and Rothko), and there are equally worthy rotating exhibitions. The museum is particularly renowned for its pioneering and world-class collection of photographs, including Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy, Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothea Lange and other luminaries. Have a coffee or drink at Cafe 5, located in the museum’s fifth-floor Sculpture Garden. Go early in the morning to avoid long lines or pre-book tickets online (the museum is also open late on Thursdays).

Editors' Picks
Exterior View - The Exploratorium, San Francisco, California

The Exploratorium

The Exploratorium on Pier 15 (of the Embarcadero waterfront) should be at the center of the San Francisco visitors’ map. From the glass-walled Observatory Gallery visitors can gaze back to the iconic Transamerica Pyramid building in one direction and out to Treasure Island in the other. Inside, the Exploratorium retains the same irreverent and innovative approach that has defined it since the beginning.

Frank Oppenheimer founded the institution in 1969, at the height of San Francisco’s counter-cultural revolution, to make science fun and accessible to a wider audience. The result was a highly interactive environment that has served as a template for science museums around the world. Most of the staff are serious scientists with an artistic bent and a sense of humor – as was the case with the Cal-Tech PhD physicist wearing a purple hat and suspenders who showed me the Exploratorium’s new Giant Mirror. The metal mirror’s fantastically crisp images are mesmerizing: one moment you see a massive, reflected version of yourself – but move a few inches and you disappear, while everyone else’s image remains!

The Giant Mirror is one among hundreds of captivating exhibits. In galleries dedicated to “Tinkering” or “Living Systems,” exhibits will teach, enchant and beg to be played with. Visitors of all ages come time again to freeze their shadow, hear a friend whisper across a crowded hall, or fiddle with sound waves.

Editors' Picks
Mueseum at The Museum of the African Diaspora , San Francisco, California , Courtesy MoAD

The Museum of the African Diaspora

Attached to the St. Regis hotel in the South of Market neighborhood, MoAD hosts exhibits that explore humanity’s roots in the African continent.

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The San Francisco Ferry Building

No self-professed foodie should leave the City by the Bay without paying a visit to the San Francisco Ferry Building. Once the center of one of the busiest ferry systems in the world, today the building pays homage to San Francisco’s obsession with top quality, local and sustainable food. The best time to visit the Ferry Building is on Saturday morning, when San Franciscans arrive early to do their weekly shopping. Dozens of organic farmers, purveyors of grass-fed meats or free-range fowl, artisan bakers and expert cheese makers come together at the Ferry Building Farmers Market. Top restaurants sell mouth-watering breakfasts from kiosks by the bay, as vendors offer samples of luscious tree-ripe fruit, roasted nuts or freshly baked bread.

If you can’t arrive on a Saturday, not a problem. Inside the Ferry Building on any day of the week you’ll find several excellent eateries, including Gott’s Roadside, offering scrumptious natural burgers, and Boulette's Larder, with its enticing seasonal fare. Specialized food stores sell everything from cured meats at Fatted Calf and trend-setting ice cream at Humphry Slocombe to award-winning cheese at the Cowgirl Creamery and perfect loaves at Acme Bread. Those in need of mushrooms check out Far West Fungi, while others head to the specialized herb, nut or honey shops. Be sure to pick up some Argentine empanadas from El Porteño, chocolates from Recchiutti Confections and unforgettable biscuits at Biscuit Bender (biscuitbender.com)

Editors' Picks

Top Biking San Francisco

San Francisco presents a biker’s dilemma: biking is one of the best ways of getting around (public transportation still leaves something to be desired), yet the steep hills make it nearly impossible to have a smooth ride. Locals know to navigate via The Wiggle, a brilliant zigzagging route that snakes through most of the major neighborhoods (Downtown, SoMa, Mission and Castro, the Haight, Golden Gate Park) without ever hitting any major inclines. Helpful green signs along the route point the way.

Outdoor enthusiasts who are in relatively good shape should consider spending one morning biking across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. It’s a beautiful bike route and gives first-time visitors a great overview of the city. You can rent a bike at Fishermen’s Wharf and start the 3-hour ride that takes you high into the hills of San Francisco as you make the ascent towards the graceful bridge. Once on it, you will encounter lots of other cyclists, from young to old, all of whom have the same goofy smile: there’s something truly wonderful about biking across this landmark. Once across the bridge, it’s another ten-minute ride down to Sausalito, a groovy little town with galleries, shops and restaurants where you can have an al fresco meal with gorgeous views. Best of all, you can take a ferry straight back to Fishermen’s Wharf (be sure to take the right one, as two leave from Sausalito and the other one lets out at the Ferry Building), making for a more gentle conclusion of this half-day tour. For an extra bonus: the ferry takes you straight by Alcatraz.

view from park over hills of san franciso

Twin Peaks

This is the lookout point at the highest spot in the city, so we recommend going up to spot the different neighborhoods.
Stair at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA)  ,San Francisco, California

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA)

It’s always worth checking to see what exhibitions and dance performances are scheduled at this contemporary complex of galleries and performance spaces, which opened in 1993. The surrounding five acres of lovely gardens provide an inner-city oasis and are a favorite spot for a restful stroll. Samovar Tea Lounge, located on an elevated walkway above the garden’s waterfall and with a nice view, is a good place for an afternoon snack and cup of organic tea. The children’s garden, complete with a carousel, giant slide and planted labyrinth, is the closest San Francisco kids get to Paris’ great children-centric jardins.

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