Things to do in Bay Area

Bay Area Landmarks

These famous Bay Area landmarks are must-sees.

In San Francisco, creativity and innovation are hallmarks of the culture, and you find them in the city's distinctive landmarks. Visiting landmarks is one of our favorite things to do in the Bay Area. From monuments and museums to parks and piers, area markers have a story to tell.

In a city with so many things to see, it takes time to figure out where to start. We've curated a list of the top Bay Area landmarks so you can add them to your itinerary.

Natural Landmarks

The Bay Area may be known for technology and innovation, but it tops the charts in natural beauty.

1. Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument invites exploration through an awe-inspiring primeval forest. Old-growth trees tower overhead, shading numerous trails. As you wander through, you're treated to some of the best views in the Bay Area.

Start at the Visitor Center, where park staff and partners provide expert trip-planning advice and information about the natural areas. Several trails loop through Muir Woods, with the shortest taking about 30 minutes to complete.

If you're bringing children along, check out the Junior Ranger program. It provides kids with an engaging booklet, including activities and challenges that teach them about the wilderness.

Cell phone service is spotty in and around the forest, so download your parking reservation and digital tour maps in advance.

Photographer: Jonathan Saleh

2. Mount Tamalpais State Park

The Bay Area's diverse biomes come alive within Mount Tamalpais State Park—venture through redwood and oak forests, sweeping grasslands, and deep canyons. Here, you can enjoy various outdoor adventures, including hiking, camping, picnicking, and wildlife viewing.

The East Peak Visitor Center offers a reprieve from hiking. It's open most weekends and offers merchandise and snacks. Stop by the Gravity Car Barn, where volunteers share stories about the Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway to learn about the park's history.

If you want to add a live show to your visit, stop by the nearby Mountain Theater to enjoy outdoor shows by Mountain Play. If fiction isn't your thing, the theater's regular astronomy programs provide a new perspective on the sky.

Many hiking trails here connect with footpaths in Muir Woods National Monument. Visit both landmarks and make a day of it. A day trip here is certain to create memories that last a lifetime, with some of the most breathtaking views you’ll ever see.

3. Point Reyes National Seashore

Explore miles of protected coastline, where iconic landmarks like Chimney Rock and the Point Reyes Lighthouse await.

Stunning seaside vistas invite photography and wildlife viewing. Point Reyes National Seashore is a well-known destination for whale-watching from the shores. The best time of year to visit depends on which whales you want to see.

Gray whales migrate past in the winter and spring, while humpbacks, blue whales, and fin whales typically visit in summer or fall. Orcas and minke whales call this stretch of sea home all year, so you can see them no matter when you visit.

The Inverness Park Market offers deli sandwiches and salads for a quick picnic. Behind it, you'll find an old shipwreck. While the wood is weathered and the paint is peeling off the ship's hull, it's a popular landmark that's definitely worth seeing.

Nearby, Drakes Beach attracts elephant seals annually. During their mating and birthing season, parts of the beach close, but Elephant Seal Outlook remains open. From there, listen to their vocalizations and bring binoculars to better look at their natural behaviors.

4. Angel Island State Park

During the height of immigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Angel Island served as a processing center for new immigrants entering San Francisco. It's since been transformed into a state park with museums and hiking opportunities.

As the largest natural island in San Francisco Bay and with extensive hiking trails, it promises incredible views. Take a self-guided tour of the Detention Barracks Museum and the Angel Island Immigration Museum to learn about the area's history.

Angel Island State Park is only accessible via boat. Regular ferry services depart from San Francisco and Tiburon.

5. Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park spans 1,017 ac. of lakes, meadows, and activities, making it the largest park in the city. It's also the third most visited park in the United States, attracting millions of visitors annually. From playgrounds and sports fields to archery and model yacht sailing, people of all ages and interests find plenty of things to do here.

On the western end of the park, bison roam a dedicated paddock. Before San Francisco's first zoo opened, Golden Gate Park housed several species beyond the bison, including bears, deer, and elk.

The Conservatory of Flowers showcases rare tropical and aquatic plants. Children love the miniature garden railroad and the Butterfly Zone. We love to visit the Japanese Tea Garden. Built in 1894, it's the oldest garden of its kind in the United States. Its carefully landscaped grounds evoke a sense of harmony with cherry trees and Japanese maples.

Historical and Cultural Landmarks

Commemorate the Bay Area's rich history at these historical and cultural landmarks.

6. Alcatraz Island

Some of the best Bay Area tours take you to Alcatraz Island. While no formal tours happen during the day, an audio tour is available in several languages. Nighttime guided tours introduce a new side of the island.

Formerly home to a prison, it now serves as a national park. Its silhouette is one of the most recognizable landmarks on San Francisco Bay, located just 1.25 miles from the shore. Visiting the island grants access to the cell house where prisoners once lived.

A permanent exhibit on the island tells the story of the U.S. prison system through the words of those who experienced it.

Photographer: josepons28

7. PIER 39

Dine, shop, and play like the locals at PIER 39. People aren't the only ones drawn to the area. Sea lions frequently climb atop the docks.

PIER 39 houses fun activities like the classic San Francisco Carousel, the Aquarium of the Bay, and The Flyer Thrill Zone. Attempt to navigate through a whimsical labyrinth at Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze. If you prefer thrills, fly through the air like the best of our performers at Frequent Flyers.

Entertainment comes in all forms at the Bay End of The PIER, where performers command the stage. Magicians dazzle with impossible tricks. Musicians weave melodies you can't help but move to. Talented circus performances amaze and delight. You'll find it here no matter what kind of show you want to see.

8. Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point once protected the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Instead of being a point of military defense, it's transformed into an engaging exhibit with up-close views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Explore Fort Point's entryway, which was designed to limit unauthorized access. In the Guard Room, exhibits explore Fort Point's role in the military and its rise to fame as a Bay Area landmark.

Give yourself plenty of time to explore the site inside and out. If you're in town on the first Saturday in October, stop by for Fort Point Living History Weekend. At this annual event, you can watch Civil War reenactments.

Fort Point National Historic Site is free to visit. Although the fort is open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., you can access the exterior areas seven days a week. For a new perspective, book a Candlelight Tour. A park ranger will guide you through all four levels of the fort.

9. USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum

It's hard to miss the massive aircraft carrier permanently moored as a National Historic Landmark in Alameda. The USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum preserves the aircraft carrier while providing insight into life aboard.

Many areas have been restored to look as original as possible. While you can access most areas through a self-guided tour, many scheduled docent-led tours embark throughout the museum's exhibits.

Explore the Hangar Deck, where over 15 historic aircraft remain. Most would have taken off from the USS Hornet when the ship was in service.

10. Peralta Hacienda Historical Park

During the Gold Rush of the 1870s, many people flocked to the Bay Area. The Peralta family traveled from Mexico to California and settled in an area now known as Oakland. With a 45,000-acre Spanish land grant, they erected adobes, forming Rancho San Antonio, the first Spanish-speaking settlement in the area.

Unfortunately, an earthquake decimated the adobes, and an Italianate Victorian farmhouse took their place. Today, it's known as the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, housing interactive exhibits about California's formation. Frequent heritage classes and performances help visitors engage with the culture.

Outside, six ac. invite cultural exploration and play. Regular Aztec dances and programs for local youth encourage hands-on learning.

11. Oracle Park

Oracle Park is the go-to location for major league baseball games. This landmark is home to the San Francisco Giants, so come and cheer on the city's home team. While watching a live game is an unforgettable experience, there are so many other attractions to take in around the ballpark.

Climb the Promenade Level above the bleachers and enter the Fan Lot, where children can slide, play, and see the world's largest baseball glove. The Toyota Fan Zone is a miniature replica of Oracle Park, introducing younger children to a love for the sport with wiffle balls and bases.

You can enjoy breathtaking views of the city skyline and San Francisco Bay from the Fan Lot. For a traditional souvenir, explore the Hall of Bobbleheads.

12. Fisherman's Wharf

You can't miss the sign for Fisherman's Wharf, featuring a crab set on a nautical steering wheel. You'll know you're in for a good time as soon as you see it. If you don't feel like driving, it's easily accessed by local cable cars.

Here, cultural and recreational activities are around every turn. PIER 39 is within the wharf, along with countless other attractions. The Cartoon Art Museum brings children into the fantastical world of comics and their history. Frequent exhibits showcase local and international creators.

Head to GoCar Rentals to sit in a GPS-guided storytelling car for an unforgettable tour of San Francisco. The escape rooms at Escapology challenge you to think on your feet to locate clues and solve puzzles.

13. The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is a quintessential landmark in the Bay Area, and it's believed to be the most widely photographed bridge in the world. It’s almost two miles long from one side to the other with a 4,200-ft. stretch suspended between its towers.

When it was constructed in 1937, it was the tallest and longest suspension bridge in existence. The bridge stretches from San Francisco to Marin County over the Golden Gate, the strait connecting San Francisco Bay to the ocean.

Photographer: Pexels

Architectural Landmarks

San Francisco's architectural landmarks are as weird and wondrous as the city's spirit.

14. Transamerica Pyramid

Architect William Pereira had a penchant for defying conformity, much like we do, and it shows in virtually every building he designed. He completed over 400 projects and is responsible for one of the most distinctive designs on the San Francisco skyline: the Transamerica Pyramid.

Built in 1972, it embodies the city's spirit of artistry. While the observation deck has been closed since 9/11, it still houses Point of Interest. This historical visitor's center details the building's creation and shows live camera feeds from the top.

Photographer: Chris Leipelt

15. Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption

Blending tradition with modernity, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption is the mother church of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Its innovative design makes for a unique landmark.

The building sits atop a hill between the Japantown and Tenderloin areas, and its massive, distinct concrete dome is visible from surrounding areas. Regular docent tours welcome visitors. However, out of respect for those who wish to worship, sightseers are asked not to visit around Mass.

16. San Francisco City Hall

The city's rich history and culture warrant the imposing elegance of San Francisco City Hall. Its illuminated columns change colors periodically, and it has an ornate dome, an architectural sight to behold.

The structure occupies two full city blocks and spans 550,000 sq. ft. Its dome, finished in 23.5 karat gold leaf, is the highest in the nation, standing 307 ft. six in. tall. The interior is just as magnificent as the outside, and docent tours occur on Fridays from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Tours begin in the Goodlett Place elevator lobby before exploring the luxuriously decorated rooms. Docents can answer questions and provide history and insights into the various works of art and design choices.

17. Coit Tower

Atop Telegraph Hill, a slender, white concrete column stretches into the sky. Coit Tower, located in Pioneer Park, is equipped with colored lights. The lobby features a collection of fresco murals depicting city life in the 1930s.

Those interested in breathtaking views buy tickets at the gift shop and take the elevator to the observation deck. We love to stand on the deck and enjoy the 360-degree view of San Francisco's skyline and the bay.

Coit Tower Café offers drinks, pizza, pastries, paninis, and frozen yogurt outside. However, food isn't permitted in the tower.

Photographer: Manya Krishnaswamy

Discovering the Unique Landmarks of the Bay Area

After exploring the city's landmarks, take some time for a live performance. Come to one of our shows in the Bay Area. Immerse yourself in our compelling storylines as our dancers spin and twirl across the stage and acrobats soar overhead. Our dazzling choreography will inspire you.

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