5 Must Dos on your trip to San Francisco


San Francisco is the city for free-spirited types who have an eye for edgy art, a taste for imaginative cuisine and a zeal for adventure.



Often described as Los Angeles' more refined northern cousin, cool and compact San Francisco takes the big-city buzz exuded by its southern counterpart and melds it with a sense of small-town charm.

1. Golden Gate Bridge


What: Sightseeing

The Golden Gate Bridge's vaulting, orange arches amidst the rocky seascape of the San Francisco Bay have made it one of the West Coast's most enduring symbols and the city's most popular tourist attraction. The bridge's name, "Golden Gate," actually refers to the body of water it spans (the Golden Gate Strait that connects the Pacific Ocean with the San Francisco Bay), and was built to make travel between San Francisco and Marin County an easier feat.

From the bridge, travelers will find some scenic, bayside trails, some of which lead to secluded beaches, including Kirby Cove and Black Sands Beach. If you really want a trek, journey to the Point Bonita Lighthouse for sweeping views of the bay, found at the very tip of the Golden Gate Strait.

The bridge is accessible all day every day by bus, car, bicycle or on foot.

2. The Exploratorium


What: Museums, Sightseeing

This museum features 600 hands-on exhibits that cover a variety of subjects such as engineering, psychology, geography and biology. The museum is divided into six main galleries, each with its own standout interactive offerings. Highlights include the tactile dome, where you'll have to rely only on your sense of touch to navigate through the pitch-black sphere, the colored shadow area, where flashes of colorful lights project your shadowed figure onto a wall, and the 10,000-toothpick sculpture of San Francisco that also acts as a marble run for ping pong balls.

The Exploratorium is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Thursday until 10 p.m. for the 18 and older crowd. Tickets cost $29.95 for adults, $24.95 for seniors and children ages 13 to 17 and $19.95 for youths between the age of 4 and 12.

Pro tip: If you prefer to experience The Exploratorium without having to deal with kiddos running around, a few visitors suggested stopping by on a Thursday evening, when the attraction is open to visitors 18 years and older from 6 p.m. to closing.

3. Mission District


What: Neighborhood/Area

The Mission District has attracted San Francisco's young bohemian crowd in the past decade, but it's still retained its authentic, local Mexican ambiance. This is the place that introduced the burrito to the wider world, so be sure to check out a local hole in the wall for some great eats. the funky neighborhood has a cool vibe and is filled with interesting murals. For an excellent view of the city, walk to the nearby Bernal Heights hill and relax for a bit.

Pro tip: The Mission District, like any other neighborhood can be unsafe at night, so please be extra careful and never walk the neighborhood alone in the evening.

4. Fisherman's Wharf



What: Neighborhood/Area

Fisherman's Wharf is so tourist-laden that some travelers might prefer the quieter, more authentic attractions nearby. This waterfront neighborhood features a laundry list of things to do, as well as a few popular San Francisco sites. The Wharf houses numerous family-friendly attractions and activities, including a Madame Tussauds wax museum, Ripley's Believe It or Not!, the San Francisco Dungeon and the Aquarium of the Bay, the last three of which can be found on Pier 39. Those with an interest in history will want to explore the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park and its Maritime Museum.

The Fisherman's Wharf is accessible 24 hours per day, though the neighborhood's businesses have their own hours of operation.

5. Union Square


What: Shopping, Neighborhood

Union Square Park is flanked by tall buildings (some of which are adorned with Time Square-size ads) and busy streets, offering people the unique opportunity to sit in the middle of a busy city and enjoy the atmosphere without the risk of getting run over. The square also acts as a park, outfitted with small grassy spaces and palm trees. Union Square is loved by travelers and locals alike for its awesome location and incredible energy. The most recognized are the tall Dewey monument, situated in the center of the square, and the regularly photographed Hearts of San Francisco sculpture found at the base of the square.

Union Square is pretty well-known, however, for its shopping. Just blocks away shoppers will find everything from Neiman Marcus to a multi-level Forever 21.

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