A compact city of steep rolling hills surrounded on three sides by water, San Francisco is renowned for its summer fogs, Victorian architecture, cable cars and beautiful vistas. The famous quote “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” isn’t from Mark Twain but it is a pretty accurate statement of San Francisco’s weather.

An overview of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco:

Golden Gate Bridge

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Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: Touropia

The Golden Gate Bridge is a California icon gracing San Francisco Bay. It is the most photographed site in the city, with the orange structure backed by blue water, or in many cases, peaking through low lying cloud. At night, the flood-lit structure is equally striking.

Connecting San Francisco with Marin County and other districts further north, the Golden Gate Bridge was, at one time, designated the greatest man-made sight in the United States by the U.S. Travel Service. Opened on May 28th, 1937, the bridge took four years to build and at the time of its completion, was the longest suspension bridge in the world, measuring approximately two miles in length.

For a great view of the bridge, or for anyone interested in photographing the bridge, there are a number of ideal vantage points. From the San Francisco side, Nob Hill, an area known for its posh old mansions, offers some beautiful views over the bridge. On the opposite side of the bridge, in Marin County, Golden Gate National Recreation Area is another good spot. Also, if you are planning on taking a tour to Alcatraz, there are completely open views from the boat and island.

Palace of Fine Arts

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Palace of Fine Art. Photo: Touropia

According to Touropia, the only structure remaining from the 1915 World’s Fair, the Palace of Fine Arts features a classical Roman rotunda with curved colonnades situated in an idyllic park setting with a classical European-Style lagoon. It’s a great place to unwind, have a picnic, and watch the swans float elegantly by. It also has a theater offering a variety of shows, musical and cultural events.

Chinatown

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China town. Photo: Planetware

You may have been to Chinatown in other cities, but San Francisco's Chinatown is a whole other realm. It is both the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest of its kind in North America. Almost completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, Chinatown was rebuilt entirely in the Chinese style and was soon even more attractive than before the disaster.

According to Planetware, now with its temples, theaters, workshops, small businesses, stores, antique and souvenir shops, teahouses, and traditional pharmacies, Chinatown has become one of the major sites of San Francisco. If you are traveling through San Francisco during an important Chinese holiday or event, you can expect to see an elaborate celebration. Chinese New Year celebrations are often considered the best in North America. The main street in Chinatown for tourists is Grant Avenue, with the Chinatown Gateway at Grant Avenue and Bush Street.

Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks at sunrise. Photo: Planetware

These two unique and uninhabited hills, more than 900 feet high, are not in fact the highest of San Francisco's 43 hills, a distinction belonging to Mount Davidson, which is 33 feet higher. They do have one of the finest views out over the city and bay, they're undeveloped, and they're easy to access. You can drive to the north peak parking area for fine views and hike along trails over the north and south peaks.

The Twin Peaks are the only hills in San Francisco not to have been built over and remain in their original state. The Spaniards called them "Los pechos de la Chola" or the Breasts of the Indian Maiden. Even on warm days, strong, cool breezes blow in from the Pacific, especially in the late afternoon.

Angel Island State Park

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Angel Island. Photo: Planetware

If you are looking for a non-touristy thing to do in San Francisco, take a 25-minute ferry ride from Pier 41 to Angel Island State Park for a wonderful escape to nature. The largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island has astounding views of the surrounding bay.

You can enjoy the lovely scenery while hiking or biking on the well-groomed trails. It's possible to hike up to the island's summit, Mount Caroline Livermore, at 788 feet, where the views are sensational. The island also has five picnic areas, eleven campsites, and several sandy beaches that are pleasant for walking and sunbathing.

Well designed for visitors, the island has a café that is open all week long during most of the year (except winter) and a casual restaurant that's open on the weekends from June to October and features live music performances.

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