What Is San Francisco Known For?

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What do you think of when you picture San Francisco? Most likely, it’s the dramatic red Golden Gate Bridge, or perhaps the dizzying twists and turns of Lombard Street, or maybe even tech giants like Twitter and Google. San Francisco is packed with so many famous landmarks, neighbourhoods, foods and people that it’s tough to know where to begin. Aside from the iconic bridge, San Francisco is also known for iconic sights like Alcatraz, the notorious prison on a rock, Fisherman’s Wharf, the lively waterfront neighbourhood filled with shops and restaurants, and Chinatown, which is on the best and most authentic in the USA.

Other famous neighbourhoods include Haight Ashbury, a hippie district famous for being home to music legends like Jimi Hendrix, and the Castro District, San Francisco’s friendly LGBT area, which is full of history. The Californian city has put out lots of famous foods too, such as delicious clam chowder, which can be found in eateries along the water’s edge, and tasty Ghiradelli’s chocolate, one of the most well-known chocolatiers in America. This is not to mention the likes of Silicon Valley and Pacific Heights and the famous faces who hail from the city, like entrepreneur Steve Jobs and movie star Tom Hanks. San Francisco is quite literally overflowing with famous things to see, do and learn about for those lucky enough to visit.

What Is San Francisco Known For?

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1- Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge And Downtown San Francisco In USA
Golden Gate Bridge is what San Francisco is known for.

You can’t have a list of famous things in San Francisco without including one of the world’s most iconic bridges, the Golden Gate Bridge.

The bridge was built more than 80 years ago, and visitors to the city can cross the bridge on foot, car or bicycle, but the best views of the bridge are from cruises that sail across the bay.

The bright red bridge, which was originally intended to be painted black and yellow, was designed by Joseph Strauss and now connects the city with the north of California over the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The bridge is the most unmissable attraction in San Francisco, and its famous outline can be found on everything from t-shirts to keyrings in all of the city’s souvenir shops.


2- Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island In San Francisco In USA
Alcatraz is what San Francisco is known for.

Also out on the water in San Francisco Bay is Alcatraz Island, also known as The Rock, an infamous prison once home to gangsters like Al Capone and a long list of other criminals.

The prison was eventually shut down, but now tourists can visit via a ferry ride from the city.

It’s a short boat ride, and once on the island, you can tour inside the cell blocks, see everything from the yard to the governor’s house, and learn about the incredible escape attempts that prisoners tried out while here.

The tour comes with a helpful audio guide and now counts as a national park, so it is home to a few rare seabirds; plus, you can get great views of the city skyline and Golden Gate Bridge from here on clear days.

3- Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is what San Francisco is famous for.

Fisherman’s Wharf is the area you should make a beeline for to get a real taste of San Francisco life.

On the city’s waterfront on the bay, there are multiple piers where boats and ferries depart from.

One of the most famous is Pier 39, which is a pretty wooden pier now lined with arcades, souvenir shops and great local restaurants.

The Rest of Fisherman’s Wharf is equally exciting, with some of the best seafood restaurants in the city, as well as bars, shops and entertainment.

Specialities like crab and clam chowder are particularly famous, so make sure to grab some to take away.

You can also jump on a city cruise from here, visit the Aquarium of the Bay, and visit the famous sea lions, which love to lounge in the sunshine at the end of Pier 39.

4- Historic Cable Cars

Cable Cars Riding On Famous Street California San Francisco
Its historic cable cars is what San Francisco is known for around the world.

Something everyone knows about San Francisco is that it has a lot of hills, and not just any hills – very, very steep hills!

This crazy topography quickly led to the development of historic cable cars, which are like street trams, to get around the city.

The cable car system in San Francisco dates back almost 150 years, and although just 23 out of the original lines are still in operation, it makes for a fun way to travel across the city.

The most famous lines head up to some of the highest parts of the city and pass famous areas like Fisherman’s Wharf and Lombard Street, so they’re easy to combine with sightseeing.

In the old days, passengers used to literally jump onto the moving trams and hang off, holding onto the handrails, but now they’re a little more safety conscious, so seats are available.

5- San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants is what San Francisco is best known for in the sporting area.

Every major city in America has their treasured home sports team, and while San Francisco has a couple, the major league baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, is by far the most famous.

Getting tickets to a game while in the city is a must-do activity, as you’ll be surrounded by locals, and the atmosphere is electric.

You can also do a behind-the-scenes tour of Oracle Park Stadium to learn more about the game and the history of the team.

Despite being one of the most well-known and best-performing teams, with eight World Series titles, the team don’t originate from San Francisco but actually started out on the other side of the country as the New York Gothams before moving in 1958.

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6- Painted Ladies

Painted Ladies San Francisco
The Painted Ladies is another thing San Francisco is known for.

If you’re not familiar with the Painted Ladies, you might think they’re literally painted women, when in fact, they’re beautiful, brightly painted houses in San Francisco’s Alamo Square.

The row of houses in the square are undoubtedly the most famous, perfectly preserved with Victorian architecture and backdropped by the city skyline.

However, the surrounding neighbourhood also has many similar homes that are equally photogenic.

This style of home is known as Queen Anne, made with slatted wood, balconies, and porches and painted in cute pastel colours.

On any given day in summer, Alamo Square is not only the best place to see them but is usually packed with locals enjoying a picnic or drink on the grass and watching golden hour over the rooftops. The hop-on hop-off bus will get you there.

7- Lombard Street

The Lombard Street In San Francisco
Lombard Street is a street San Francisco is best known for.

Often cited as the ‘crookedest street in the world’, although this prize actually goes to nearby Vermont Street, Lombard Street is a steep road that is made up of eight switchbacks, giving it a unique, twisting and turning look that has become famous.

The reason for having so many hairpin turns is that the street is on a 27% gradient, so the people living here need to be extremely careful when driving their cars down the road for safety reasons.

Most days, Lombard Street is visited by more than 10,000 tourists who come to take photos at the top or bottom of the street, particularly in summer when hundreds of bright hydrangeas bloom.

Although the crowds can make it tricky to get a good photo, you’ll find Lombard Street on postcards all around the city.

8- Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder
Clam Chowder is what food San Francisco is best known for.

Take a stroll along the water, Fisherman’s Wharf or Pier 39, and you’ll see tonnes of seafood restaurants selling delicious meals.

One of the most popular is San Francisco’s clam chowder, which is a creamy seafood soup made with potatoes, salt pork, onions, spices and clams.

In San Francisco, the best chowder is served inside a huge, hollowed-out, round loaf of bread, meaning when you’re finished, you can enjoy even more deliciousness.

Many places are in competition for San Francisco’s best chowder, but Boudin’s near Fisherman’s Wharf is widely considered one of the best, as is Chowder’s on Pier 39, but you can find excellent local spots all over the city.

9- Ghirardelli

Ghirardelli Square I San Francisco
Ghirardelli is a place San Francisco is known for.

America isn’t normally celebrated for its chocolate, but Ghirardelli is an exception to the rule.

It’s the third-oldest chocolate company in the United States and one of the most-loved by locals, having originated in San Francisco and now owned by chocolate experts Lindt.

The original factory is no longer based in the city but has been converted into a giant store and shopping complex at Ghirardelli Square.

Here, you can try all kinds of milk, dark, white and flavoured chocolates and pick up amazing chocolate souvenirs to bring home.

Plus, there are dozens of great shops, restaurants, cafes and ice cream parlours here to explore and each year, the square hosts its own chocolate festival.

If you’re visiting, arrive early because queues for the chocolate shop and ice cream store can stretch around the block!

10- Chinatown

San Francisco Chinatown Gate At Night
Chinatown is another famous place San Francisco is known for.

Chinatown in San Francisco is far from just a street of Chinese restaurants.

In fact, it’s the oldest Chinatown in North America and one of the largest outside of Asia, making it one of the most fascinating (and tasty) neighbourhoods to explore while in the city.

Most of Chinatown is focused around Stockton Street and Grant Avenue, which are filled with local restaurants, Asian supermarkets and all manner of shops selling traditional products.

The streets are all lined with pretty red lanterns, and you can learn more about the area’s history at the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum or the Chinese Culture Center.

While here, you can sample dim sum and other traditional dishes, but the best time to visit is during Lunar New Year when there’s a big celebration and street party with dancers and live music.

11- Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley Aerial View
Silicon Valley is what San Francisco is known for.

You might be aware that San Fransisco is one of the most expensive cities to live in in the USA, but you might not know why.

Towards the south of the city is the famous Silicon Valley, home to tech titans such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Meta and Amazon, making it the technology capital of the world.

This has driven prices up in the city, but the companies aren’t going anywhere.

They started building here thanks to Stanford University’s Palo Alto campus location nearby, which is one of the best American universities that produces top talent perfect for working at these companies.

Although you can’t visit the companies themselves, you can still visit Silicon Valley and head to spots like San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation, and the area is also home to the San Francisco 49ers football team.

12- Union Square

Union Square Park In San Francisco With Hart On Display
Union Square is what San Francisco is known for.

There’s great dining and shopping to be found all around San Francisco, but undoubtedly, one of the best places for some retail therapy is Union Square.

Located in downtown San Francisco, it has all of the bars, restaurants, shops and cafes you could dream of, making it perfect for a day out.

Union Square is most well-known for its luxury shopping, with the likes of Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue having department stores in the area, but almost every brand has a shop here too.

One of the best parts about Union Square is that it’s very central and has great transport connections, so lots of hotels can be found here – many with amazing city views, and it’s the ideal base for exploring all of San Francisco’s attractions.

13- Steve Jobs

It isn’t just technology companies that are born in San Francisco, but tech entrepreneurs too.

The most famous person to have come from the city is Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, who was born in San Francisco, where he stayed through his childhood, eventually ending up at Stanford University and being one of the founding creators of Silicon Valley.

Pretty much every product people use today, including iPhones and Macs, was created from his original ideas, meaning he didn’t just leave a major impact on San Francisco, but his tech legacy can be seen around the world.

14- Tom Hanks

Another famous face you might not realise is from San Francisco is actor Tom Hanks.

He is one of the most famous actors and comedians in the world, and although he was born in Concord, he soon moved to and grew up in the Bay area.

The actor is instantly recognisable for being in iconic movies such as Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, The Da Vinci Code and Sleepless in Seattle.

Despite later moving to New York City to make a big name for himself in many of these films, he often cites the Bay as one of his favourite places, and the city is proud to have produced such an incredible actor.

15- Cool Neighbourhoods

Chinatown, Pacific Heights and Fisherman’s Wharf aren’t the only amazing neighbourhoods in San Francisco, which is bursting with unique streets and locales.

One of the most famous neighbourhoods in the city is called Haight Ashbury, which is considered the birthplace of the hippies in the 1960s, when anti-war movements, music and psychedelics peaked during the Summer of Love.

You can still see its history in the many vintage shops, dive bars and record stores in the area.

It was also home to famous artists, including Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, so any music lover should make a stop here while in the city.

Another neighbourhood not to miss is the Castro District, as San Francisco is well known for being super LGBTQ+ friendly, and this area has become a symbol of pride.

There are a few museums, monuments and historic stores where you can learn about the area’s past, as well as great bars and restaurants.

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India-Jayne Trainor
India-Jayne Trainor is a British/Australian freelance writer, photographer and contributor to various online blogs and travel websites. She has travelled to almost 30 countries, most recently Cuba and Sri Lanka. Her work focuses on solo female travel, having spent two months backpacking alone through South East Asia as well as living in Germany for a year. Her favourite country to date has been Hong Kong, but she is happy in any country by the ocean. Her next destinations are Uzbekistan and a road trip through the American Mid-West. India is currently based in London, UK.