Perched next to the Pacific Ocean and hugging the rolling hills of San Francisco Bay, San Francisco is a city made to be marveled at.
Whether it’s steep streets lined with pastel-hued Victorian-style homes or sweeping vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge with the soaring hills of the Marin Headlands in the background, there’s an incredible view everywhere you turn. Out of all the lovely overlooks around the city and surrounding Bay Area, these 15 are bound to take your breath away.
Where to find the best views in San Francisco
Looking for the perfect photo op? Want a special view to share with a special someone? Be sure to add these top spots to your San Francisco itinerary.
1. Sail out to Alcatraz Island
Situated in the middle of San Francisco Bay, the historic island prison of Alcatraz has amazing views looking back at the city skyline, especially the spectacular skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco.
But the panoramic views are far from the only reason to visit. A former military prison, Alcatraz once held the likes of Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and both solo and guided tours are available to help you dive further into the island’s rich history. The island is accessible by boat via Alcatraz City Cruises.
2. Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge
With designated walkways on both sides of the bridge, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge gives you an elevated vantage point from which to appreciate the views of the city, Alcatraz, and the Pacific Ocean.
3. Take a sightseeing cruise of San Francisco Bay
With expansive, constantly changing views of the downtown skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and the surrounding landscapes, a sightseeing or dining cruise with San Francisco City Cruises offers a unique, one-of-a-kind look at the city.
4. Head up to the Golden Gate Observation Deck
Looking south over Golden Gate Strait toward the bridge and downtown, this accessible viewpoint in Marin Headlands is an amazing place for that classic-postcard view of San Francisco. Other incredible viewpoints like Battery Spencer and Battery Wagner are also close by.
5. Take the elevator to the top of Coit Tower
Rising majestically above the city center on top of Telegraph Hill, the 212-foot-tall Coit Tower not only has breathtaking views of the city and bay, but it’s also a San Francisco icon. There’s an elevator to whisk you up to the observation deck at the top, and guided group tours are available.
Built in 1933, the base of the tower features WPA murals. This is also a great spot to try and see the resident flock of cherry-headed conure parrots that live in the area.
6. Climb up Telegraph Hill
Even if you don’t want to go to the top of Coit Tower, elevated Telegraph Hill still offers a not-to-be-missed perspective of the city and bay. To get there, you can either join the queue and drive up the hill or make the trek up the Filbert or Greenwich Street stairs.
7. Wander the gardens at Golden Gate Park
Boasting 1,017 acres of grassy lawns, recreation facilities like tennis courts, and manicured gardens, what Golden Gate Park lacks in top-of-the-world vistas it more than makes up for in idyllic views.
The Botanical Gardens, Japanese Tea Gardens, and Stowe Lake are all lovely places to rest and contemplate nature.
8. Gaze out the windows at the de Young Museum
A hidden gem, the Hamon Observation Deck can be found on the grounds of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows provide a breathtaking panoramic view of the park below with the city in the background. Best of all, admission to the observation deck is free!
9. Snap scenic pics at Golden Gate Overlook
Framed by two cypress trees, this viewpoint toward the Golden Gate near Fort Point Rock in the Presidio is an extremely popular photo op.
10. Dip a toe in the Pacific at Baker Beach
Located on the western edge of the Presidio on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, sandy Baker Beach looks northeast toward the Golden Gate, with the Marin Headlands rising dramatically in the background.
11. See San Francisco icons at Alamo Square
With the downtown skyline in the background, the view of the Painted Ladies Victorian houses is one of the most iconic and best-known vistas in the city. While popular and sometimes crowded, it’s worth the trip.
12. Watch the sunset from Twin Peaks
If you’re looking for one of the best sunset views in San Francisco, head to this popular overlook—the lofty, north-facing views of the city center and the bay are pretty unbeatable. Part of a 64-acre park, with hiking trails and the winding Twin Peaks Boulevard, it’s the second-highest natural point within city limits.
13. Drive across the Bay Bridge
Connecting San Francisco to Oakland, the San Francisco Bay Bridge gives viewers a unique west-facing view of the central part of the city, with up-close looks at the historic ferry building.
If you don’t want to drive across, the Bay Bridge Trail allows cyclists and pedestrians to appreciate the view on foot. However, the walkable portion only extends from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island.
14. Get full-circle views at Corona Heights Park
Another incredible spot for sunset views, this rugged little park in the Corona and Castro districts has hilltop summits for complete 360-degree views.
15. Navigate the hairpin turns of Lombard Street
Although Lombard Street runs from the Embarcadero to the Presidio, its most famous and must-see section is the switchback-filled stretch in Russian Hill.
From the bottom of the hill, you can truly appreciate the unique layout of the zigzagging road, while from the top, it’s a clear view down Lombard toward Telegraph Hill and the North Beach neighborhood.
Experience the best of the City by the Bay
Just as there’s no shortage of epic vistas in San Francisco, you’ll find no shortage of fun things to do. From Alcatraz adventures to foodie tours, City Experiences has you covered for can’t-miss San Fran experiences.