San Francisco Travel Guide

USA  #1 in Best Foodie Cities in the USA
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Courtesy of Kodiak Greenwood/Getty Images

3-day Itinerary in San Francisco

Explore the best things to do in Paris in 3 days based on recommendations from local experts.

Day 1

  • 1
    #1
    Golden Gate Bridge
    View all Photos
    #1 in San Francisco
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    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. 

    There are plenty of great spots to capture a snap of the majestic bridge. But if you want a truly postcard-worthy shot, head to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, situated high on a hill overlooking San Francisco. If you have extra time, make sure to explore the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The actual span of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area encompasses multiple places in San Mateo (south of San Francisco), San Francisco and Marin Counties (Alcatraz and Muir Woods included), but notable parts of this recreation area can be found just a stroll away from the Golden Gate. 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.

    Like many travelers who came before them, recent visitors were awestruck by the incredible architecture of the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the incredible views it affords. Some visitors made sure to point out to drivers not to turn right (heading towards the Marin County side) to the first lookout point, as it is crowded with tourists. Instead, venture into the hills for more space and greater photo ops. Travelers also suggested walking across the bridge for a scenic stroll (if it's not too windy or crowded). 

    The bridge is accessible all day every day by bus, car, bicycle or on foot. If you drive, parking is available but very limited and accessible on both the north and south ends of the bridge. The Northeast Side Parking Lot is free up to four hours, while the Southeast Side Visitor Parking Lot costs about $1 an hour. If you drive, you may be subject to a toll. Tolls are only assessed if you're traveling from Marin County into San Francisco. The tolls are taken electronically only and are $7.50 or $6.50 if you have a FasTrak account. For more information on how to pay your toll, and more about visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, visit its website

    ...Read More »
    10 minutes by car
  • 2
    #3
    Golden Gate Park
    View all Photos
    #3 in San Francisco
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Zoos and Aquariums, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Zoos and Aquariums, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If California had a Central Park equivalent, Golden Gate Park would undoubtedly be it. Though Golden Gate Park sees a small fraction of the visitor's it's New York counterpart does (Central Park gets upwards of 25 million, while Golden Gate gets more than 13 million yearly), it's about 174 acres bigger (Central Park is 843 acres). The park offers so much to see and do, it could take an entire day to experience all that it has to offer. Trails, picturesque picnic spaces, playgrounds, sports courts, gardens, museums and more can be found within its evergreen borders. With so many options available, it's best to map out ahead of time what you want to do, though some attractions warrant a visit, regardless of traveler taste.

    The Japanese Tea Garden is one of those standout sites. This attraction is one of a kind, serving as the oldest Japanese Garden in the USA. It features five acres of manicured gardens outfitted with cherry trees, bamboo-lined pathways, koi ponds, a five-story pagoda, Zen Garden and actual tea house, among other features. There's also the Conservatory of Flowers, the oldest existing public conservatory in the Western Hemisphere. The conservatory offers visitors a look at a plethora of vibrantly colored blooms and a chance to learn more about the nearly 2,000 species of plants that call the conservatory home. 

    Another big standout in the park is the California Academy of Sciences, a unique attraction that features an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and the Osher Rainforest, a 90-foot-tall dome-shaped facility that houses 1,600 live animals. Animal lovers will also take to Golden Gate Park's bison paddock located near Spreckels Lake. Those interested in art will take to the De Young Museum, which houses 20th century and contemporary art as well as a sculpture garden, and others wanting a good hike will enjoy exploring Strawberry Hill.

    Recent visitors agree there are tons of things to do at Golden Gate Park. So much so that most admit they wouldn't be able to see everything in a day, and recommended travelers pick what they want to do before they go. Even if you have limited time though, visitors suggest making a trek to the park for a short stroll, the scenery is worth it. Some suggested to make sure your journey ends right at the ocean, which borders the park on the west side.

    You'll find Golden Gate Park on the northwestern edge of San Francisco. Muni Metro light rails and several bus lines service the park. While entrance to the area is free, some attractions within the park (like the Conservatory of Flowers, the California Academy of the Sciences and the Japanese Tea Garden) cost a fee. For more information on attractions, ticket prices, upcoming events and more, visit Golden Gate Park's website.

    ...Read More »
    5 minute walk
  • 3
    #2
    California Academy of Sciences
    View all Photos
    #2 in San Francisco
    Museums, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Attention all traveling families: recent visitors said this is the perfect place to bring kids in San Francisco. The California Academy of Sciences brims with plenty of things to see, including an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum and even a rainforest. 

    The Steinhart Aquarium is home to about 40,000 animals representing more than 900 different species, including a penguin colony from Africa, a swamp with an albino alligator, a shark lagoon and a separate 100,000-gallon tank that mirrors the ecosystem of the California coast. Meanwhile, the Osher Rainforest houses 1,600 animals, including 250 free-flying birds and about 100 reptiles and amphibians in its four-story complex. The Morrison Planetarium is known for its 75-foot-diameter screen, which screens "Tour of the Universe" shows daily. And the Kimball Natural History Museum boasts dinosaur fossils, an interactive science exhibit and a unique earthquake simulator. 

    On top of all of the permanent exhibits, each attraction features its own program of presentations and activities. Travelers suggest sticking around for the coral reef dive at the aquarium or venturing into the Shake House, the earthquake simulator found at the Kimball Natural History Museum. Admission may be pricey to some (adult tickets start at $35.95; entrance for children costs between $25.95 and $30.95, depending on age), but travelers say their experience was worth the cost. Visitors were impressed with not only the quantity of things to do, but the quality, with those young and old saying they left amazed at what they were able to see and do in a day. And a day is what you'll need to see everything, so make sure to pick and choose ahead of time if you're on a tight schedule. 

    You can find the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, along Nancy Pelosi Drive. There are multiple public transportation links around the park, but the closest to the California Academy of Sciences is the Irving St. & 9th Ave. Muni metro stop. The academy is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. For more information on the California Academy of Sciences, consult its website.   

    ...Read More »
    10-15 minutes by car
  • 4
    #5
    Twin Peaks
    View all Photos
    #5 in San Francisco
    Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you want the best views of San Francisco, take a hike to Twin Peaks. These famous grassy pounds rise 922 feet from the ground, making them the second highest point in the city (after Mount Davidson). From the top, travelers can view multiple San Francisco landmarks, including the Bay Bridge and the downtown skyscrapers. Whether you decide to go during the day or night (some say you should do both), numerous visitors agree that the views are stunning and worth the trek. But make sure to bring a jacket: many recent visitors said it can get windier (and subsequently chillier) up top than at sea level.

    The Twin Peaks are open 5 a.m. to midnight and there is free (albeit limited) parking at the top of Twin Peaks Boulevard. The Castro Street station is the nearest Muni Metro stop and the Crestline Drive stop on the No. 37 is the best bus route (picks up from Market Street). Be sure to stay on marked trails, as poison ivy can be found in the area. For more information, visit the San Francisco Recreation and Parks website.

    ...Read More »
    15-20 minutes by car
  • 5
    #15
    Mission District
    View all Photos
    #15 in San Francisco
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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 Mission is also a great neighborhood for getting away from the heavily visited tourist attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf. Recent travelers said 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. Also try the nearby Dolores Park, the most popular spot for sunbathers on a fogless day.

    While the Mission District is one of San Francisco's more popular neighborhoods, it can be unsafe at night, so take precautions and never walk the neighborhood alone in the evening.

    ...Read More »

Day 2

  • 1
    #8
    Ferry Building Marketplace
    View all Photos
    #8 in San Francisco
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Attention all foodies: this delectable attraction needs to be at the top of your San Francisco to-do list. The Ferry Building Marketplace is a public food market that features a variety of food stalls that act as small restaurants, snack stops and grocery stores. Here you can find everything from staples, such as seafood, burgers, Mexican food and plenty of coffee, to a Japanese delicatessen, empanada stand, nut shop and a cheese and dairy bar.

    Many travelers who stopped by the Ferry Building Marketplace visited multiple times during their San Francisco trip. Visitors were impressed with the amount, variety and overall quality of eats available on-site. Though there are formal restaurants available, some visitors say the best strategy is to pick up a to-go meal and enjoy it along the scenic waterfront. And if you're not one for lines, don't come on the weekends. 

    You can reach the marketplace via the Embarcadero BART/Muni Station and several public buses lines. Parking is also available near the marketplace. The marketplace is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m with slightly different hours on the weekends. Restaurants and stores, however, maintain varied hours. The farmers market welcomes shoppers from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. For further details, consult the Ferry Marketplace website.

    ...Read More »
    10 minute walk
  • 2
    #13
    The Exploratorium
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    #13 in San Francisco
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    This museum, or as it refers to itself, "a learning laboratory," features 600 hands-on exhibits that cover a plethora of subject matter, such as engineering, psychology, geography and biology. The museum spreads its knowledge over 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.

    Though the Exploratorium appears as if it's designed for kids, travelers say it's a great attraction for all ages. Adults report feeling just as excited and amazed at the galleries and exhibits as young ones. Though 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. Regardless of the time you arrive, travelers say there is so much to see and do, you could easily spend a whole day there. And though the high price of admission might turn some off, many agree that the experience is worth the price.

    You can find The Exploratorium on Pier 15 along The Embarcadero at Green Street. The attraction 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. The F Market street car, the BART train and several Muni Metro light rails and bus lines stop within walking distance of The Exploratorium. There are also parking garages nearby. For more information, visit The Exploratorium's website.

    ...Read More »
    15 minutes by car; 30 minute walk
  • 3
    #9
    Union Square
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    #9 in San Francisco
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Situated a couple blocks north of Market Street and southwest of the city's Financial District, Union Square sits at the heart of downtown San Francisco's hustle and bustle. This area is loved by travelers and locals alike for its awesome location and incredible energy. 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. There are also multiple seating areas and works of art dotted across the square. 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

    Travelers appreciated the abundance of amenities that surround Union Square. There are plenty of hotels as well as dining options left and right. 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. Recent visitors agreed this is a great place to shop but warn against driving through the area. While there is parking underneath the square, some drivers find the roads around Union Square to be so congested that braving the traffic is not worth the convenient parking. Getting to Union Square via public transportation is much easier. The attraction sits just blocks from Market Street, a hub for all types of public transportation including the bus, Muni Metro and BART. Union Square is only two blocks southeast from the Market St. & 3rd St. Muni Station and about four blocks south of the Powel Street BART Station. Union Square can be visited all hours of the day and night for free. For more information on Union Square, visit the attraction's website.

    ...Read More »
    5 minute walk
  • 4
    #4
    Cable Cars
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    #4 in San Francisco
    Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Chances are you've seen a television show, movie, postcard or some type of San Francisco memorabilia emblazoned with the city's iconic cable car or trolley. So of course, to fully experience San Francisco's charm, you should hop on board. San Francisco's cable car system is the last of its kind in the United States, given the title of a National Historic Landmark in 1964. The cable car was conceived after Andrew Smith Hallidie, an immigrant from England, witnessed an accident involving a horse-drawn buggy trying to climb a steep San Francisco hill and failing. His father had a patent for wire rope in England and he used that to design a transportation system that relied on just that. Thus, cable cars were born in the late 1800s. 

    Though cable cars are seldom used by locals (due in part to their small travel network and high fare), tourists flock to them in droves. More than nine million visitors ride the cable cars each year, and according to recent travelers, it's easy to see why. Tourists had a blast riding the cable cars up and down San Francisco's vibrant streets. Many say the way to get the most out of your cable car experience is to ride hanging out of the vehicle. Even though some said they encountered long lines to board, the majority of visitors believe the wait to be worth the experience. Though if you're not one for long lines, some say to board at one of the stops along the line instead at the beginning. 

    You can catch the cable cars from a few spots around town, including the famous Powell-Hyde Line at Powell and Market streets, which passes the twisty Lombard Street and the equally popular Russian Hill neighborhood. Relative to other forms of transportation, the cable cars are a bit expensive at $7 for a one-way ride, so some travelers suggest buying a one-day pass for $21 (also good for unlimited rides on Muni, Muni Metro and streetcars). Visitors can also purchase three-day and seven-day passes, which cost $32 and $42, respectively. For more information on routes and stops, visit the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's website.

    ...Read More »
    5 minute walk
  • 5
    #16
    Fisherman's Wharf
    View all Photos
    #16 in San Francisco
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Fisherman's Wharf is so tourist-laden that some travelers might prefer the quieter, more authentic attractions nearby (like the Castro or Golden Gate Park). But if you're looking to explore all of San Francisco – from its alternative underbelly to its mainstream attractions – Fisherman's Wharf really is a must-see. This waterfront neighborhood features a laundry list of things to do, as well as a few popular San Francisco sites. One of these is Pier 39. The Pier features plenty of shopping and restaurant options for tourists and is also famous for offering sweeping views of the bay, as well as the can't-miss attractions that call it home, including Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Though while you're there, don't miss an opportunity to snap a photo of the sea lions who have a habit of sunbathing on buoys near the docks.

    The Wharf also houses plenty of 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. When you start to feel peckish, head over to Ghirardelli Square, which is home to the original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate shop. There's also Boudin's, another San Francisco institution. Boudin's is the original creator of sourdough French bread as well as the oldest bakery in the city of San Francisco. 

    Recent visitors agreed that Fisherman's Wharf is very touristy, but enjoyed the area's fun atmosphere regardless. Many visitors were impressed with the sheer amount of options available at the Wharf, appreciating that they had plenty of choices for dining and shopping. Though some were put off by the crowds and overpriced food. 

    Fisherman's Wharf is accessible 24 hours per day, though the neighborhood's businesses have their own hours of operation. To reach Fisherman's Wharf, get off at the Jefferson Street & Powell Street or Stockton & Beach Muni Metro Stop. You can also get to the area via cable car on either the Powell-Hyde line or Powell-Mason Line, both of which stop at Union Square. For more information on Fisherman's Wharf, visit the area's website

    ...Read More »

Day 3

  • 1
    #12
    Alcatraz
    View all Photos
    #12 in San Francisco
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    While riding a cable car and getting a snap of the Golden Gate is a must when visiting San Francisco, both visitors and travel experts tend to argue the same for Alcatraz. This is because Alcatraz is rich with history. Sitting on a small, rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz is most known as being a former federal prison that housed some of society's biggest offenders, the most famous of which was Prohibition-era mob boss Al Capone. Before that, it was a military prison that housed prisoners from the Spanish-American War and Civil War, as well as the site of the West Coast's first operating lighthouse. The prison closed down both times due to high operating costs and was handed over to the National Park Service in 1972 after the island experienced a short occupation from Native American activists. Today, the attraction sees about one million visitors per year. 

    Recent visitors said Alcatraz is truly a can't-miss attraction. Travelers enjoyed being able to get up close to cells and said the audio tour (complimentary with ferry tickets) voiced by inmates and prison guards made the visit that much more fun and informative. What's more, travelers say the view of the bay from The Rock (the nickname given to Alcatraz) is breathtaking. 

    Entrance to Alcatraz is free; however, you will need to purchase a ferry ticket to get to the island. Tickets are not cheap (starting at $37.25 for adults), but most travelers say the price offers great value. Tickets include a scenic boat trip to the island and the audio guide. Night tours, which cost $44.25, include onboard narration and a guided site tour. Tours depart starting at 8:45 a.m. and return throughout the day until 6:40 p.m. Due to the popularity of the attraction, the park service strongly suggests booking tickets in advance to avoid waiting in long lines. You can book up to 90 days in advance for your trip via Alcatraz Cruises.

    ...Read More »
    20 minutes by car
  • 2
    #7
    Baker Beach
    View all Photos
    #7 in San Francisco
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    While San Francisco isn't known for being a beach town, the city's Baker Beach is often considered one of the best in California. Located in the northwestern area of San Francisco in the Presidio, Baker Beach is primarily known for its sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the neighboring Marin Headlands. The mile-long beach offers travelers plenty of room to spread their legs and features picnic areas and access to nearby Presidio trails. Travelers flock here to snap photos of the bridge, however, if you're looking to catch some rays or get your feet wet, you should go elsewhere: Swimming at Baker Beach is dangerous thanks to large waves, undertow and rip currents, and the city's fickle weather means it's not always warm enough for sunbathing.

    Travelers strongly recommend bringing an extra layer, no matter what time of year you visit. Reviewers also stress that those traveling with families should stick to the south side of the beach: North Baker Beach is clothing optional, and it's definitely practiced. 

    Baker Beach is free to visit and can be reached via public transportation, but it's not as easy as hopping on and off the Muni Metro. The 38-Geary bus leaves from Market Street and can take you close to Baker Beach. Hop off at the Geary Boulevard & 25th Avenue stop then walk about a mile north. If you choose to drive, you'll find parking lots available. The beach is open all hours of the day, though considering the dangerous tide, it's not recommended to visit at night. For more information about Baker Beach, visit the National Park Service's website

    ...Read More »
    20-25 minutes by car
  • 3
    #6
    The Castro
    View all Photos
    #6 in San Francisco
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you want to explore San Francisco's rich gay and lesbian culture, the Castro neighborhood is its beating heart. Not only is the Castro the center of the city's LGBTQ community, but it's considered by many to be the gay capital of the world. And once you learn the Castro's history, it's easy to see why. In the 1970s, the Castro was home to Harvey Milk, California's first openly gay public official and one of the first in the USA. His steadfast efforts in the gay rights movement not only earned him the title the "Mayor of Castro Street," but his political efforts helped put San Francisco at the forefront of the gay rights movement. His former camera shop, Castro Camera, that also served as his campaign headquarters, still stands on Castro Street and now serves as a Human Rights Campaign retail shop.

    Visitors found the Castro laid-back, fun and above all colorful, citing its friendly residents, plentiful amenities and striking aesthetics as its best assets.The neighborhood is lined with picturesque Victorian homes, previously built by immigrants who moved to the Castro in the 19th century seeking cheap land (the area was once a dairy farm). Travelers say a stop at Harvey Milk's old camera shop is a must, even if there is only a plaque commemorating his presence there now. Those wanting to delve further into the neighborhood's history should head on over to the GLBT Museum on 18th street. The unmissable Castro Theatre, situated along the neighborhood's main drag, is another neighborhood gem and a registered city landmark.

    The neighborhood is also lauded for its lively dining and nightlife scene. Visitors recommended a visit to the delectable Hot Cookie, located on the same street as the Castro Theatre. There are also multiple 24-hour eateries available and as expected, loads of gay bars, including the Twin Peaks Tavern, considered a classic in the neighborhood. However, there are no bars in the Castro dedicated to lesbians. While the Castro is consistently praised for its overall safety, those traveling with kids might want to be mindful of the number of sex shops present in the neighborhood. 

    Getting to the Castro is easy: You can take the F-Market & Wharves street car line, which picks up at many points of interest including Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf and Market Street near Union Square. Adult fares for a streetcar ride are $2.25 and $1 for youths and seniors. For more information about how to get to the Castro, consult the SFMTA

    ...Read More »

Explore More of San Francisco

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