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Top 10 Attractions in San Francisco
By: Sara Toth Stub | Aug 20 2017

From the fog rolling into the city off the bay to the tales of Alcatraz Island, San Francisco brims with mystery and surprises.  A few days spent exploring this city will enrich your understanding of many of America’s social movements and trends, from immigration to the free-love hippies of the 1960s, to the innovation of the high tech industry.  It is also a mix of the wild and the tamed, of rugged landscapes and urban development, all packed into less than 50 square miles reached by travelling across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.


San Francisco at night | San Francisco Travel Association

1. Alcatraz Island
Ferry Departure: Pier 33, San Francisco, CA 94133
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Alcatraz Island | San Francisco Travel Association

There was only one successful escape from the prison on Alcatraz Island, but it remains unknown whether the three men who climbed out of the ventilation shafts here back in 1962 made it safely to the mainland, or drowned in the cold and shark-infested waters.  A tour of this island gives visitors a peek into this story, and many other tales and legends. The island’s other legacies include plenty of ghost tales and the role it played in the enduring struggle for the rights and recognition of American Indians.

The ferry to Alcatraz and the main parts of the prison are wheelchair accessible, but some of the prison complex and surrounding area contains hilly and other difficult terrain.

To reach the prison from the dock, one must walk about a quarter of a mile up a steep hill, or you can take a wheelchair-accessible tram to the top.  The tram reaches the main cell house, which contains an elevator so visitors can easily reach the second floor.  There are braille transcripts and audio descriptions available.  A sign-language tour is available on a mobile device, and assistive listening devices are also provided.

There is an accessible restroom near the cell house and also on the dock where ferries arrive.  The other buildings in the prison complex can only be reached via rough terrain and steep hills.  For any questions about accessibility, contact the Alcatraz Island National Park office at  (415) 561-4700 or (415) 561-4900.

Ferries to the island depart from Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33 in San Francisco, which has accessible parking.  There is accessible public transportation to Pier 33 via the F Line streetcar, and MUNI buses #10, #8X and #82X.  The ferry boats are wheelchair accessible.

Top Tip:  The tram up to the prison only runs twice each hour so make sure to check the times posted at the dock and on the cell house.

2. Land’s End
680 Point Lobos Avenue San Francisco, CA 94121

Land's End | San Francisco Travel Association/Scott Chernis

This park sits at the northern edge of San Francisco and features trails winding through the tree-covered hillsides and historic ruins, providing some of the best views of the city’s famous Golden Gate Bridge.  The sites and ruins of historic shipwrecks can also be seen from here out at sea during times of low tide.  This is a place to experience the majestic natural beauty of this thriving city.

Recent improvements have made one of the main trails here wheelchair accessible. There are also two wheelchair accessible outlooks offering stunning views. The new visitors center is wheelchair accessible, and offers tactile models of the surrounding landscape, complete with braille labels.  Audio devices for guided tours of the area can be checked out at the visitor center.  The visitor center has a wheelchair accessible restroom.  For more information, call (415) 426-5240.

The accessible trail, one outlook and visitors centers are best reached from the Merrie Way Parking lot, which offers accessible parking.  The site’s other parking lot, El Camino Del Mar, also offers accessible parking as well as another accessible outlook at its north end.  The park is also reached by accessible public transportation, including MUNI bus #38, but this option does requires walking some distance.

3. Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94122
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Conservatory of Flowers | San Francisco Travel Association/Scott Chernis

At Golden Gate Park is the name of a recording of a concert given here in 1969 by psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane while the country’s Hippie and free love movement was at its height.  Today’s rich and diverse tradition of music and public gatherings, made famous in the 1960s, can still be felt through the numerous concerts and other attractions here, including a Japanese Tea Garden, the National AIDS Memorial, and sports facilities. 

Many of the buildings in the park are wheelchair accessible; see this list for details.  For any questions about accessibility in the park, there is an ADA coordinator, Paulina Araica, that visitors can contact at 415-581-2558 or email at paulina.araica@sfgov.org. For more information about programs in the park catering to people with disabilities, contact the Therapeutic Recreation and Inclusion Services Division, at 415-206-1546 or by email at RPDTR@sfgov.org.

There is wheelchair accessible parking in the park, but the number of spaces is limited.  There are numerous MUNI public transportation options as well, from various points in the park and in the city.

4. The Palace of Fine Arts
3301 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123
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The Palace of Fine Arts

This is one of the few sites that survives from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a fair that celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and San Francisco’s survival after a massive earthquake in 1906.  The renovated complex with its Roman rotunda and decorative lagoons, along with a theater and art gallery, draws many tourists as well as couples taking wedding pictures.

The building is wheelchair accessible, with wheelchair accessible restrooms.  The complex’s theater has some seating for wheelchair users.  The grounds have paved paths. For more information, call 415-831-5500.

The palace has some accessible parking places in its lot, and can be reached by public transportation, including MUNI buses 30, 43, 28 and 29.

5. Twin Peaks
501 Twin Peaks Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94114
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San Francisco from Twin Peaks | San Francisco Travel Association

These mountains in the middle of the city give sweeping views of San Francisco and a look into its past, with it their grassy terrain and wildlife demonstrating what much of the area looked like before it was taken over and transformed by urban development.  Early Spanish settlers called this place O “Los Pechos de la Choca”  or Breasts of the Maiden.  The these two adjacent peaks offer views, as well as an up-close look at animal and plant life.  Visitors can drive or ride a bus up to the top of the North Peak with an elevation of 922 feet, to experience the best views.  But prepared for wind and cold temperatures.

While the trails contain many steps and uneven terrain, the parking lot at the top of the north peak offers stunning views, and is worth a visit, even for those who cannot or do not want to access the hiking trails.  The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s ADA facility coordinator can answer more questions about access for those with disabilities and can be reached at 415-581-2558 or by email at paulina.araica@sfgov.org.

You can only reach the top of the site by car.  There is a parking lot with accessible spaces.  Public transportation via MUNI bus lines 33 and 37 brings you to a place that is about a 15 or 20 minute walk from the top.  You can still get a good view from the bus stop.

6. Coit Tower
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94133
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Coit Tower | San Francisco Travel Association/Scott Chernis

This landmark, built in 1933 with money donated by wealthy socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit to beautify the city, rises up 210 feet in the city’s Telegraph Hill neighborhood.  The walls of the ground floor of the tower are covered in once-controversial murals, created during the Great Depression and portraying images of joblessness and poverty. The area around the tower is a residential neighborhood known for its cafes and a flock of wild parrots that roams the space. 

There is an elevator that goes to the upper floors of the building.  But the observation deck can only be reached by stairs after the elevator.  While it is unfortunate that the observation deck is not fully accessible, this iconic landmark is still worth a visit and great views can also be enjoyed from the upper floors, which can be reached by elevator.

There is accessible parking near the tower but it fills up quickly.  The site is most easily reached by MUNI public bus #39, part of the wheelchair accessible San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

7. The Exploratorium
Pier 15, The Embarcadero & Green St., San Francisco, CA 94111
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Exploratorium | Photography ©Exploratorium

This museum is trying to change the way science is taught.  It describes itself as a “public learning laboratory,” and contains hundreds of exhibits, ranging from stepping inside a tornado to building your own electrical circuit.   One of its goals is to combine art and science, and it often features projects developed by scientists and artists working alongside each other in an attempt to create new forms and explore ideas.

The Exploratorium is fully wheelchair accessible, and also loans out wheelchairs to those needing them.  There are tactile maps available for those who are blind or have low vision. Some areas of the museum are equipped with assistive listening technology. 

The museum can be reached by car, and there is a loading zone just south of the entrance for dropping off and collecting visitors with disabilities. There are accessible parking spaces available on the streets around the museum and in some nearby lots.  The museum can also be reached by public transportation, including several accessible MUNI bus lines.  For directions, parking and transit information, see this page on the museum’s website.

Top Tip: The museum offers discounted entrance fees to those visitors with disabilities.

Afterwards stroll down the flat, paved Embarcadero to the Ferry Building where you can indulge in artisanal food from local merchants and experience why San Francisco is considered a “foodie” mecca. 

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Cable Car - California Street | San Francisco Travel Association/Scott Chernis

San Francisco’s century-old cable cars that careen up and down the hilly city with the smell of burning wood wafting from their wooden brakes, make up the world’s only remaining manually-operated transportation system.  Of the 23 lines established in the 19th century, only three remain today.   While some commuters do rely on them, more riders are tourists.

Unfortunately, the cable cars old-fashioned nature means that cable cars are not generally wheelchair accessible.  But the city’s Cable Car Museum is a good way to experience the city’s iconic transportation system.  The Washington Street side of the museum is equipped with a ramp and elevator.

Spending any amount of time in San Francisco will let you view the cable cars at some point. They can be seen arriving at Fisherman’s Wharf and at the corner of Powell and Market streets where you can view the turntable for two lines. The cable car museum is best reached by public transportation, as street parking is very limited.  Two cable car lines, the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines, stop at the museum.

9. Ocean Beach
Sloat Blvd and Great Hwy San Francisco, CA 94132
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Cliff House at Ocean Beach | San Francisco Travel Association/Scott Chernis

This beach and its promenade let you experience more than three miles of San Francisco’s white sandy shore.  The beach and surrounding park area is adjacent to Golden Gate Park.  It was once known as a resort area, and today it offers a quiet respite from the city.

The promenade is built to be accessible for wheelchairs, but a wall running along it often blocks the view of the ocean, and during severe weather parts of it may become covered in sand.  Beach wheelchairs, which can navigate sand and other rough terrain with their oversized wheels, cannot be rented on site, but can be picked up from a nearby office.  To arrange to borrow a beach wheelchair, call (415) 561-4958 at least five days before your planned visit, or email goga_accessibility@nps.gov.

There is accessible parking, with accessible routes to the promenade.  The easiest way to get here from downtown is to take bus 38 which you can pick up at Union Square. Several other MUNI buses, which are generally accessible, arrive here. Bus 18. Which runs along 46th avenue, takes you from the north end of the beach to the south.  

10. Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA
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Fisherman's Wharf | San Francisco Travel Association

This area was built atop the rubble from the 1906 earthquake.  It blends the old and the new of San Francisco, allowing visitors to catch a glimpse of the fishing culture that once defined the city, indulge in the signature Ghirardelli’s chocolate and shop at some of the trendiest stores and experience other adventures.  It is also home to a handful of new chef restaurants.

Be sure to visit the free Musée Mécanique located at pier 45 at the foot of Taylor St. Here you’ll find one of the largest privately owned collections of antique coin-operated 20th-century penny arcade games and artifacts.

The wharf area is generally flat and paved.  Many of its venues, including the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and San Francisco Bay Aquarium, are wheelchair accessible.  It is best to contact a restaurant or site ahead of time for specific needs.

Several parking lots in the area offer accessible parking options; see this list of lots and garages. But due to high fees and limited spaces, the area is best reached by public transportation, including the F-line streetcars, which have been updated to accommodate wheelchairs via ramps.  These streetcars also provide transportation within the wharf area.

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