15 Famous Landmarks in San Francisco, CA You Must See


7 min read
A cable car on a busy street with cars, trees, and buildings around
Catching a cable car in San Francisco is an excellent way to explore the city

Since the Gold Rush of 1849, San Francisco has become a big vibrant city, known for its various neighborhoods and attractions. The city is home to many world-renowned landmarks and cultural hubs, from Chinatown to Ghirardelli Square and the infamous Pier 39.

If you are planning a visit to San Francisco city, make sure to explore Fisherman's Wharf, take a cable car up to one of the many vistas, and walk along the famous Golden Gate Bridge.

To learn what other attractions to see when in town, continue reading for more famous landmarks in San Francisco, CA.

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15 Famous San Francisco Landmarks

San Francisco Landmarks Map

Using the map of San Francisco landmarks, you can explore all the landmarks.

The red Golden Gate Bridge, one of the famous landmarks in San Francisco, CA
Golden Gate Bridge was built in 1917 and is the world's tallest and longest bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

This bridge is probably one of the most iconic San Francisco landmarks. It's a suspension bridge that spans the one-mile-wide strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, also known as the Golden Gate. Hence, the name.

Designed by Joseph Strauss in 1917 and opened in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was once the longest and tallest bridge in the world. Currently, it is acknowledged as one of the Wonders of the Modern World.

In fact, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most internationally recognized symbols of San Francisco and California, and as such, is a must on any San Francisco itinerary.

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Beach houses facing a small island with a massive fortress on top
Alcatraz Island is one of the famous landmarks in San Francisco, CA

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is one of the famous historic sites in San Francisco, known for its operation as a prison from the 1930s to the 1960s. The island's location and its secure military fortification led to its use as a penitentiary.

Today, it is a significant tourist attraction and a famous landmark in North America, being featured in several films since its closing. Contrastly, the island also houses several different species of flora, including roses and geraniums. Additionally, this natural landscape is a habitat for numerous animals and birds.

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Small buildings with a long bridge in the background on a sunny day
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is the world's widest bridge, as of 2014

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, known locally as the Bay Bridge, is one of the longest bridges in the world. Opening just half a year earlier than the Golden Gate Bridge, this spectacular structure links downtown San Francisco with the city of Oakland.

After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, reconstruction of a portion of the upper section made it a single deck carrying all lanes. The new construction makes it the world's widest bridge as of 2014.

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Up-close shot of Chinese red lanterns hanging over a street
SF Chinatown is the world's largest and oldest Chinatown outside of Asia

Chinatown

Established with the Gold Rush of 1848, San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside Asia and the oldest in the United States. Behind stone-carved dragon gates, this historic and unique neighborhood offers colorful shops, antique street lights, lanterns, and pagoda roofs.

Spanning from Stockton to Montgomery Street, here, you can try dim sum, watch locals play mahjong, or practice Taichi. There are various restaurants, markets, shops, art, fortune tellers, and temples to explore in this big neighborhood!

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A busy public square with people and cars parked nearby under a clear blue sky
Pier 39 is one of the most well-known tourist sites in Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf

A classic San Francisco experience, Fisherman's Wharf offers many hotels, restaurants, famous attractions, specialty shops, coastal scenery, and entertainment. Pier 39 is one of the most famous places in San Francisco to visit within this area.

San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf originally housed the Italian immigrant fishermen who came to the city during the gold rush. They settled in the North Beach area close to the wharf and fished for the local delicacies and Dungeness crab. Despite its redevelopment into a tourist attraction, the site still has many active fishermen.

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A tall white building with a clock near a pier and with buildings behind
The Ferry Building is a terminal for ferries and was constructed in 1898

Ferry Building Marketplace

At the foot of Market Street stands this historic landmark in San Francisco turned gourmet food emporium and farmer's market. For more than 100 years, the clock tower of the Ferry Building has been the icon of the San Francisco waterfront.

Opened in 1898, the Ferry Building was a transportation hub for those arriving, marking it in history as the primary portal of San Francisco. After the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge opened, the Ferry Building lost its use and converted to mostly an office space.

After four years of reconstruction, the Ferry Building opened in 2003 as the Ferry Building Marketplace, a world-class public food market.

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Pagodas facing a pond with trees and plants around
Golden Gate Park is a huge park, larger than NY's Central Park

Golden Gate Park

Larger than New York's Central Park, Golden Gate Park is a massive urban park and one of the famous landmarks in California.

This natural landmark of San Francisco is embellished with several sites of interest, ranging from statues, windmills, museums, and natural features such as gardens, lakes, and a waterfall.

Golden Gate Park is a virtual green space and an integral part of the city's urban area. The Music Concourse and the De Young Museum of Fine Arts offer exciting exhibitions and events.

The Park has other terrific sites to explore, such as the botanical gardens, the Japanese Tea Garden, the once Alemany Emergency Hospital, and an ornate carousel.

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Looking up a white concrete column with trees around under a blue sky
Coit Tower stands on Telegraph Hill and has a platform that offers a 360-degree view

Coit Tower

You can take the wooden stairway, also known as the Filbert Steps, up to the top of Telegraph Hill to admire the splendid views of the bay as well as Coit Tower. Telegraph Hill itself is also an incredible place to watch the sunrise and sunset with great vantage points in all directions.

However, located in Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower overlooks the city. The tower has a viewing platform that offers a 360-degree view. Moreover, the tower contains murals from 1934 that exhibit the period's business, agriculture, and life.

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A dome with columns facing a lagoon with green trees nearby
The Palace of Fine Arts was built in 1915 and is now a popular wedding venue

Palace of Fine Arts

Built during the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition, the Palace of Fine Arts is one of the few buildings from the exhibition that survive today, along with the French Pavilion of the Legion of Honor.

Although it continued to host exhibits years after, the original structure was demolished in 1964 because of its inadequate structural integrity.

However, in 2010, the palace and the lagoon were restored, becoming a favorite place among locals and popular for weddings. The Palace of Fine Arts Theater, located within, also offers many shows throughout the year.

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The Swedish American Hall

Established in 1907, The Swedish American Hall is one of the lesser-known historical landmarks in San Francisco. The Stockholm architect August Nordin designed this grand music venue where musicians worldwide are hosted.

This building is most famous for Cafe Du Nord, located at its basement level, and has its own dedicated entrance. As an important historical site in San Francisco, it was a speakeasy with a history as one of the best venues to see a live show.

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Looking across mountain peaks covered with fog
Twin Peaks is a popular area that offers a spectacular view of the city

Twin Peaks Tavern

Known as the gateway to the Castro, the Twin Peaks Tavern is an iconic landmark of San Francisco. This place, located in the historic corner of Market and Castro, was the first gay bar in San Francisco. Its big picture windows allow you to see what's happening outside the bar.

It's is also located near the two prominent hills, known as the Twin Peaks. Hence its name! The top of these peaks offers the best views of the cities. It's also the best place to catch the sunrise after a night out around the area!

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Looking down on vehicles crossing the ocean over a long big bridge
San Francisco Bay Area consists of San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland

San Francisco Bay

Designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 2012, San Francisco Bay is a shallow estuary in California. The region surrounding it is known as the San Francisco Bay Area, or simply the Bay Area. In this area are the large cities of San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland.

Here, you can take a boat tour around the bay, paddle, or sail on its waters, go on a hike, or cycle on the newly built paths. There are also opportunities to bird-watch and explore its wetlands.

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San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Located on Third Street is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts (SFMOMA). Initially started in 1935 in the War Memorial Building, the museum opened in the SoMa district in 1995.

In 2016, SFMOMA reopened after an expansion project that doubled its gallery rooms and greatly expanded the public space.

SFMOMA offers seven floors of art and world exhibitions to explore. Some notable features in the museum include the largest living wall in the country and breathtaking city views from the outdoor gardens and terraces.

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San Francisco Opera

Right across from City Hall on Van Ness Avenue, the San Francisco Opera is one of the historical places in San Francisco. Gaetano Merola established this opera company in 1923.

He eventually helped establish the War Memorial Opera House, which became the first opera house in the U.S. to be funded entirely through donations.

With his newly built relationships and funding from local businesses, Merola established the San Francisco Opera Association, the oldest surviving opera company on the West Coast. Make sure you catch a show at this opera if you get the chance!

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Lit up buildings facing a bay with boats during sunset
Ghirardelli Square is named after the Ghiradelli Chocolate Company built in 1893

Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square is a famous place in San Francisco, comprised of a public square filled with specialty shops, restaurants, and hotels. This site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 to preserve it.

The place got its namesake from the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, which made it the headquarters of its company in 1893. In the early 1960s, another company acquired the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company and moved its headquarters off-site.

To save the square from being demolished, William M. Roth and his mother purchased the land in 1962. Opening in 1964, Ghirardelli Square became a retail complex with restaurants and hotels. Moreover, the lower floors of the Clock Tower are now home to Ghirardelli Square's primary chocolate shop.

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Conclusion

Nothing is more representative of the Golden State than San Francisco. It's the perfect place to visit for those looking for natural scenery, culture, and history.

These famous landmarks of San Francisco are just some of the few things to do in this major US city.

This article was edited by Loredana Elena.

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Written by Ann Chang

wanderfulchange WRITER Currently based in the US, I'm a nomad who has lived and worked in Chile, Taiwan, and the UK, exploring North and South America, Asia, and Europe. I love the outdoors, museums, and chilling in cafes!