A lot has happened since Don Gaspar de Portolá, a Spanish explorer, became the first European to visit the San Francisco Bay area in 1769. Just 7 years later on June 29, 1776, Spanish colonists established the Presidio of San Francisco at the Golden Gate.
Today, San Francisco is a bustling city and the most important city in Northern California on the west coast of the United States. Its metropolitan area is home to over 4.7 million inhabitants making it the 12th most populous metro in the U.S.
It’s also one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, so in this post, we have compiled a list of famous landmarks in San Francisco that you simply must see when visiting this amazing place!
Related: Check out these famous landmarks in New York City!
1. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge isn’t just one of the most famous landmarks in San Francisco, it’s an icon of the entire United States. It’s arguably one of the most famous bridges in the world and has been ever since its opening in the year 1937.
It was the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world upon completion with a main span of 4,200 feet (1,280 meters) and a maximum height of 746 feet (227 meters) above the water below.
2. Transamerica Pyramid
The Transamerica Pyramid is the most iconic skyscraper that dominates the San Francisco skyline, mainly because it has the shape of a four-sided pyramid. The building is located on 600 Montgomery Street in the Financial District of San Francisco.
It was the tallest building in the city upon completion with a height of 853 feet (260 meters), a record it held until 2018. It still remains the second-tallest skyscraper in the city today.
3. Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island is a small island located in San Francisco Bay that is infamously known for its federal prison which was home to some of the most notorious criminals in the United States. It served its purpose as a prison from 1934 until March 21, 1963.
The island is now part of the National Park Service and a popular tourist attraction in San Francisco. It welcomes visitors who want to get a glimpse of how life in Alcatraz prison was. Other famous landmarks on the island include the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States and military fortifications.
4. Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is located in the Marina District of San Francisco and was originally constructed to exhibit art during the “1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.” The current buildings on the site were completely renovated and partially rebuilt between 1964 and 1974.
The centerpiece of the complex is an enormous open rotunda which is flanked by rows of colonnades and a lagoon. It stands 162 feet (49 meters) high and is one of the biggest single-story buildings in the city. The structure has been used as an exhibition center and for special events such as weddings and trade fairs.
5. Coit Tower
Coit Tower is a fascinating tower located in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood of the city. It’s situated in an elevated position which means that even though it only stands 210 feet (64 meters) tall, it provides amazing views of the city and surrounding of San Francisco.
The tower is the centerpiece of a park on top of the hill called “Pioneer Park” and was built between 1932 and 1933. It was built using the bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, the patroness of the volunteer firefighters of the city. It was built in honor of the firefighters who lost their lives during 5 major fires in the city and is therefore also known as the “Coit Memorial Tower.”
6. Ferry Building
The San Francisco Ferry Building is a huge terminal for ferries that travel across the San Francisco Bay. It’s located on the eastern waterfront of the port of San Francisco referred to as the “Embarcadero.” The building was designed in the Beaux-Arts architectural style in 1892 and completed in 1898.
It was the largest construction project in the city up until that time and is world-famous for its 245-foot-tall (75 meters) clock tower which features 4 clock dials of 22 feet (6.7 meters) in diameter. This clock tower was modeled on the Giralda bell tower, the tower of the Seville Cathedral in southern Spain.
7. The Palace Hotel
The Palace Hotel is a historic hotel in the city located on the southwest corner of Market and New Montgomery streets. The current building is sometimes referred to as the “New Palace Hotel” because the original building, which was completed in 1875, was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire and completely demolished shortly after.
The construction of the new building started shortly after and was completed in the year 1909. It has been the venue for some of the city’s most important events and the “Garden Court” is considered to be one of the most exclusive dining areas in the city. The hotel is also a member of Historic Hotels of America.
8. Columbus Tower
The Columbus Tower is also known as the “Sentinel Building” and is another historic building in the center of San Francisco. Even though it only consists of 8 floors, it resembles another famous landmark in New York called the “Flatiron Building,” one of the most iconic buildings in the city.
It’s situated right on the border of the North Beach, Chinatown, and Financial District neighborhoods of the city. It’s currently used by the film studio “American Zoetrope” and there’s a cafe on the ground floor of the building, one of the most amazing spots to drink a coffee in the city!
9. San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge
The San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge is another bridge spanning the San Francisco Bay, and even though it’s not as famous as the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s definitely equally impressive. It was built in just 3 years between 1933 and 1936 and has become one of the busiest bridges in the United States, carrying on average 260,000 vehicles a day.
The bridge is also referred to as the “Bay Bridge” and originally carried road traffic on its upper deck and rail traffic on its lower deck. This has been modified and now both decks carry road traffic. A serious renovation project was completed between 2002 and 2013 at a cost of over $6.5 billion USD!
10. Conservatory of Flowers
The Conservatory of Flowers is a greenhouse and botanical garden located in the immense Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The park covers a total area of 1,017 acres (412 hectares) and the building was completed in 1879, making it the oldest structure located within the park.
It houses a large collection of rare and exotic plants and is the oldest remaining municipal wooden conservatory in the country. Because of its remarkable history, it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated as both a California and San Francisco Historical Landmark.
11. Ghirardelli Square
The Ghirardelli Square is one of the most fascinating squares in San Francisco. It’s located in the Marina District of the city and features multiple cafes, restaurants, and a 5-star hotel, as well as a wide variety of shops.
The square was named after Domenico Ghirardelli, a man who purchased the entire city block in 1893 in order to establish the headquarters of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Part of the square has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places in order to save it from being occupied by apartment buildings.
12. San Francisco City Hall
The San Francisco City Hall is the seat of government of the city and the building was constructed between 1913 and 1916. It was designed in the magnificent Beaux-Arts style and can easily be described as the epitome of the “City Beautiful movement” or “American Renaissance” in San Francisco.
One of the most remarkable features of the structure is its magnificent dome, which is exactly 42 feet (12.8 meters) taller than perhaps the most famous dome in the United States, that of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. The current building replaced the original City Hall that was destroyed by the 1906 Earthquake.
13. Grace Cathedral
Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal cathedral and the main church of the Episcopal Diocese of California. It’s located in the Nob Hill neighborhood of the city, an area known for its numerous luxury hotels and historic buildings.
This famous church is another building that replaced a building that was destroyed during the large earthquake in the early 20th century. Funds were raised for the construction of a new building and after multiple decades it was finally built, a project that took 30 years to complete between 1934 and 1964.
14. War Memorial Opera House
The War Memorial Opera House is a magnificent opera house located at the back of the San Francisco City Hall. It’s a main component of the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center and has been the main venue for opera in the city since its opening in 1932.
The opera house has a capacity of 3,126 seats and was partially rebuilt in the year 1993. The original building was designed by Arthur Brown Jr., the man who also designed the new City Hall building.
15. Salesforce Tower
The Salesforce Tower was originally known as the “Transbay Tower” and overtook the Transamerica Pyramid as the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco in 2018. It stands 1,070 feet (326 meters) tall and is located in the South of Market district of downtown San Francisco.
The skyscraper is the centerpiece of the San Francisco Transbay redevelopment plan. It was constructed between 2013 and 2018 at a total cost of $1.1 billion USD. This fascinating skyscraper is an amazing new addition to the city’s skyline and one of the amazing new Landmarks in San Francisco!