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Mandatory Tourism Must-Dos in San Francisco

Mandatory Tourism Must-Dos in San Francisco

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Getaway Staff

The Bay Area is a mecca of fun and exciting places and makes for a great visit, no matter your interests. Besides being the home of Silicon Valley–the world's innovative capital–it also accommodates an outstanding wine country, the famous Golden Gate Bridge, enormous redwood trees, extraordinary beaches, and adrenaline-filled amusement parks. Navigating through any metropolis is difficult, and the Bay Area is no exception. Unless you're planning on spending the rest of your life there, you'll have to choose carefully what to do, since there's an infinite amount of astonishing sights and attractions.

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01Walk the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, United States Photo by Joonyeop Baek on Unsplash

Perhaps San Francisco's most iconic landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge is a must-visit. A wonder of modern engineering, the red suspension bridge connects San Francisco to Marin County. The bridge stretches 1.7 miles and is best viewed up close, so make sure you at least try to cross it. During the day, the bridge's sidewalks are open for pedestrians, but as a one-way cross usually takes about 30-40 minutes, cycling might be a better option. The picturesque bridge's photos are best taken at Battery Spencer on the Marin County side.

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02Visit Alcatraz island

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, United States Photo by Rodrigo Soares on Unsplash

Alcatraz Island, also known as "the Rock," is a fascinating place with lots of history. From 1934 to 1963, it was a federal prison, housing many world-known criminals such as Al Capone. On the island, you can visit the ruins of the Warden's house and the lighthouse, which was the first lighthouse on the west coast of America. If you're not easily scared, you can also visit the Cellhouse to experience how to be a prisoner on the island. Lastly, don't forget to check out the theater that shows a short film of the island's history.

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03Enjoy Sonoma wine country

Tree and silo watch over winter vineyards with wispy winter clouds above. Asti, California, USA s_gibson / Getty Images

When people think of San Francisco's wine country, Napa usually comes to mind. But if you prefer a place with fewer tourists and a more genuine experience, Sonoma is the way to go. Here you might be able to speak to the winemakers themselves since the wineries are much smaller. There are over 400 wineries in the region, and you'll have no trouble finding some of the world's best wines here. If you love Pinot Noir, the Papapietro Perry winery is a must. Even if wine isn't your thing, you still won't be bored with stunning nature parks and various water activities, such as swimming and kayaking.

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04Visit Golden Gate Park

Conservatory of flowers Golden Gate Park, San Francisco Photo by Hari Nandakumar on Unsplash

One of the biggest struggles of visiting many attractions is the need to hop from one place to another, but that's not the case with Golden Gate Park. This 1017-acre public park is 20% larger than New York's Central Park. Inside you'll find many gardens like the Dahlia Garden and the Shakespeare Garden, all with a wide variety of interesting flowers, which will make any photographer's eyes sparkle. If you're more of a sporty person, there are many fitness possibilities, including a Polo Field and Archery Range.

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05Ride the waves at Half-Moon Bay

Outdoor adventure road trip in California high in the Sierra Mountains. Heath Korvola / Getty Images

If you're a surfer or want to avoid the big city, make a day trip to Half-Moon Bay. About 30 minutes from San Francisco, Half-Moon Bay is home to some of the world's most impressive waves, and it's these waves that put Californian surfing on the map. Even if surfing isn't your thing, you'll still be able to find plenty of other fun things to do. Here you can hike in dramatic nature, shop at interesting stores, eat fantastic food, and play world-class golf.

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06Watch the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Park

Elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Park, with the remains of the Año Nuevo Island Light Station in the background franksvalli / Getty Images

If you're in the Bay Area sometime between December and March, don't skip visiting the Ano Nuevo State Park to see the elephant seals. Between Half-Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, thousands of northern elephant seals gather to mate this time of the year. First, the females arrive and give birth to their babies. Shortly after, the males fight to mate with them. The experience is truly one of a kind, and you'll likely remember it for the rest of your life.

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07Enjoy the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Horizontal slobo / Getty Images

Opened in 1907, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the only remaining oceanfront amusement park on the coast. There are plenty of different rides available, like roller coasters and drop towers. When you're finished with the rides and games, the fisherman's wharf is just around the corner. There you can enjoy an incredible dinner in one of the world-class restaurants while watching the spectacular panoramic ocean view.

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08Hike in the Muir Woods

Muir Woods trails Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

Twelve miles away from the Golden Gate Bridge, you're able to escape the city and stroll among the giants at Muir Woods in Mill Valley. This relaxing place is filled with scenic trails for all levels of hikers. The forest contains some of the oldest and tallest trees in the country, some over 1000 years old. There are many educational exhibits along the paved main trail. Intermediate hikers can follow the signs to longer trails to find black-tailed deer, butterflies, and many other interesting animals.

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09Check out Fisherman's Wharf

Long exposure photography of the Famous sign at Fisherman's wharf. Lorena Huerta / Shutterstock.com

One of San Francisco's most popular tourist attractions, Fisherman's Wharf never disappoints. Besides shopping, there are many other exciting spots, such as the Musee Mecanique and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Seafood lovers will particularly enjoy Fisherman Wharf's wide variety of seafood restaurants.

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10Shop at Union Square

San Francisco Union Square Christmas Tree Photo by Cedric Letsch on Unsplash

In the heart of downtown San Francisco, Union Square is any shopper's dream. From affordable brands to luxury flagship stores, you'll be in a retail lover's heaven. When you're done shopping, enjoy great dining indoor or outdoor.

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11Get some culture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The SFMoMA has an extensive collection of 33,000 works, including paintings, photography, sculptures, architecture, and various designs. SFMoMA is one of the largest modern art museums in the world, and here you'll find the works of artists like Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and Frida Kahlo.

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12Visit Tilden Regional Park

Tilden Regional Park, Grizzly Peak Boulevard, Orinda, California, EE. UU. Photo by Magaly Vasquez Montaño on Unsplash

Spending a day at Tilden Park includes swimming in the lake, taking a ride on the steam train, exploring the botanical garden, and visiting the farm and environmental education center. Then at dark, you can head to Grizzly Peak, where you'll witness the forever stretching city lights.

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13Check out the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

San Jose, California, United States, North America John Elk / Getty Images

Located in San Jose, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum stores the most extensive collection of Egyptian treasures in the West. Besides the Egyptian artifacts, you'll also find a peace garden, planetarium, research garden, and temple. Viewing mummies is definitely a unique experience, and you'll also learn about the culture and lifestyles of these ancient people.

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14Experience California Academy of Sciences

Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California Photo by David Vives on Unsplash

Conde Nast Traveler called the California Academy of Sciences one of the "New Wonders of the World," and it absolutely is. It has the largest planetarium on earth and an aquarium, a four-story rainforest with an entire coral reef, an incredible natural history museum, and world-class education programs. You can see nearly 40,000 animals, ranging from piranhas and snakes to penguins.

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15Take a boat trip to the Farallon Islands

research station at the farallon islands nature preserve LouieBaxter / Getty Images

Twenty-seven miles off the San Francisco coast, are the Farallon Islands. Located in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, you'll find the most amazing mixture of marine life. Because of its food-richness, seals, sea lions, dolphins, whales, and seabirds all go there to breed. Since sunbathing sea lions occupy the beaches, you'll have to settle for a boat trip with experts to help you spot marine life.

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