9. Alcatraz Island
Number 9, top tourist attractions in San Francisco is Alcatraz Island. Often referred to as The Rock, the small island of Alcatraz served as a lighthouse, a military fortification, and as a prison. It was home to some of the most notorious criminals of the time including Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. Surrounded by the freezing water of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was believed to be inescapable. The most famous attempt was carried out by Frank Morris, and brothers John and Clarence Anglin using an inflatable raft made from several stolen raincoats. Today, the island is a popular San Francisco tourist attraction and a historic site. It is operated by the National Park Service and is open to tours.
The historic and notorious Alcatraz penitentiary, located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, is one of America’s most infamous prisons. It operated for almost thirty years, closing in 1963 and re-opening as a tourist attraction in 1973. While it operated it was known for housing some of America’s most well known prisoners, including Al Capone and the “Birdman”, who would later form the basis for the fictional movie The Birdman of Alcatraz.
Visitors take a ferry over to the island where they can tour the site while listening to a very well done audio recording. It offers a glimpse into life in the prison, rather than just an historical run through of the facts. The narration is even done by former inmates and guards of Alcatraz.
In the course of its 30 year existence the penitentiary received a total of 1,576 convicts. There were never more than 250 at any one time, even though there were 450 cells measuring about 10ft x 4ft. At times the number of guards and staff was greater than that of the convicts.
While most people come for the history or the novelty of seeing a former prison, the island is now a prominent area for nesting sea birds. Alcatraz Island is one of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco.
10. Fisherman’s Wharf
Number 10, top tourist attractions in San Francisco is Fisherman’s Wharf. This old section, once the Little Italy of San Francisco, is an area known for its shops, restaurants, and beautiful setting along the waterfront. As the name suggests, there are fisherman who still operate out of here and visitors can arrange fishing charters. For something a little more relaxing there are also cruises that will take visitors on tours of the area, including sunset and evening cruises with spectacular views of the city.
Some of the main attractions in the area are the Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. Restored 19th and 20th C ships line the waterfront at the Hyde Street Pier, which is now the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. The USS Pampanito is a WWII submarine that is today a National Historic Landmark and part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Pier 39, located in this general area, is home to over 130 stores and many unique places to eat. There is always something going on here and a variety of entertainment options. In addition there are great views from the pier looking back onto the city.
This is usually the first place visitors head if they are new to the city. It’s a fun place to stroll around and get a flavor for the city. For those with only a day or two to spend in San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf is a good place to start.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco and even the US, Fisherman’s Wharf runs all the way from Pier 39 through to Municipal Pier at the end of Aquatic Park. For over a century its historic waterfront was the hub of San Francisco’s fishing fleet and is still famous for having some of the best seafood restaurants in the city. Other tourist attractions at the wharf include museums, souvenir stores, historical buildings, scenic vistas over the Bay and the famous sea lions at Pier 39.