7 of San Francisco’s Best Views

7 of San Francisco’s Best Views

A great day in San Francisco is uncomplicated — good food, a sunny afternoon in the park and a meandering walk are all it takes to fall in love with the city. With stunning natural surroundings, an eclectic mix of architecture and a rich culinary culture, this dynamic city is a feast for all five senses. Its many steep hills mean impressive views are not hard to come by — and they’re easier to reach when you’ve got a rental car to help you make the climb.

After picking up your vehicle at the airport, or any of the convenient San Francisco car rental locations, drive to these favorite local spots to soak up the best views in San Francisco.

1. Twin Peaks

See the city from the bay to the ocean at Twin Peaks, two neighboring hills in the geographic center of San Francisco. You can either clamber up some very steep streets through the quiet neighborhood or drive up the winding Twin Peaks Boulevard and park for free at the top. Because of its elevation, Twin Peaks offers one of the most majestic views of San Francisco, including the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown, the architectural Sutro Tower — a three-pronged radio tower and common landmark for residents — and boats on the bay. In the summertime, Twin Peaks often forms the dividing line between the foggy ocean side of the city to the west and the sunny side to the east.

Twin Peaks Twin Peaks stands 922 feet tall in the center of the city and offers 360-degree views that literally rise above the rest. Photo by Allie McCarthy.

2. Market Street/Ferry Building

Glancing down Market Street toward the Ferry Building is one of the few views in San Francisco that doesn’t require climbing a hill. Walk toward the Ferry Building for a superb view of the Bay Bridge and incoming ferries arriving from the East Bay. The iconic Ferry Building warrants a trip on its own. Sample treats from iconic California eateries, like Cowgirl Creamery and Hog Island Oyster Co., which have booths there. A robust farmers market on Saturday mornings offers a wide variety of produce, prepared foods and street performances.

View from Market Street As you walk toward the Ferry Building, keep an eye out for Pier 14, where you’ll discover welcoming chairs and public artwork on this inviting walkway. Photo by Allie McCarthy.

3. Mission Dolores Park

If you want to explore what locals do in San Francisco, then drive to Dolores Park — the go-to picnic spot for San Franciscans on sunny weekends. Kids love the Helen Diller Playground, with its shipwrecked boat, super slide and sand garden, while locals of all ages come to enjoy the view of downtown from the park’s grassy slopes. Located in the heart of the neighborhood, Dolores Park is an excellent spot to rest (and digest!) after eating at one of the nearby hole-in-the-wall taquerias, like Taqueria El Buen Sabor at Valencia and 18th streets. And both kids and adults love the homemade ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery, right next to the park.

View from Dolores Park Home to frequent festivals throughout the year, 16-acre Mission Dolores Park is equipped with plenty of palm trees for shade, off-leash dog areas as well as six tennis courts, one basketball court and a soccer field for sports enthusiasts. Photo by Allie McCarthy.

4. 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

A hidden gem in the Sunset District, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps feature a vibrant mosaic that started as a neighborhood art project depicting scenes from the earth to the sea. Park on the street and climb the 163 colorful stairs. At the top, follow a set of wooden stairs to Grandview Park for the ideal perch to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. Don’t forget to turn around at the top for spectacular, expansive views of San Francisco and the bay that surround you; spot Golden Gate Park, Lake Merced and Sutro Heights. In spring, this 820-foot hill is painted yellow and white thanks to wildflowers like beach strawberry, monkey flower and coyote bush.

View from/of Tiled Steps For views as spectacular as the 163 mosaic stairs that brought you there, head to the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps. Tip: Nighttime visitors are in for a lovely surprise as the mirrorlike tiles glow in the moonlight. Photo by Allie McCarthy.

5. Art Institute

Another secluded spot where you’ll find a stunning San Francisco viewpoint is the San Francisco Art Institute in the Russian Hill district. With its Spanish-style buildings and open courtyards, the institute rests high above town and offers a sweet respite from the busy city, with an impressive outlook over town. The institute also houses an original mural by Mexican artist Diego Rivera and several galleries showcasing works by students and featured artists. Afterward, drive just a half-mile east to North Beach, San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood and the birthplace of cioppino — a delightful mix of seafood in a tomato-based broth. Give it a try at Alioto’s Restaurant, credited with bringing the stew to the restaurant scene more than 90 years ago.

6. Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach, at the westernmost edge of the Sunset District, has a distinctly laid-back vibe. You’ll see surfboards atop Jeeps and people peeling out of wetsuits after catching waves in the frigid ocean water. This is a great spot to end a bike ride through Golden Gate Park, the beach’s neighbor to the north (you can rent bikes at the park’s entrance). Alternatively, enjoy an ocean view with a brew and a bite, like lobster mac and cheese, at the local Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant. For families with kids, Ocean Beach is an uncrowded spot to unwind after a trip to the nearby San Francisco Zoo.

View from Ocean Beach From spring to mid-fall, families can enjoy the view while keeping warm around one of many bonfire circles at Ocean Beach. Photo by Allie McCarthy.

7. Baker Beach

There is something magical about watching a sunset at Baker Beach, a public beach along the Pacific Ocean on the northwest side of the city. Find ample parking in the beach’s north and south lots, and then enjoy the last rays of light like a local by taking a picnic down to the stretch of sand for a casual meal with a view. Though the water is cold, kids love dipping their toes in the waves that lap the shore. Watching the sun sink toward the horizon and gleam off the Golden Gate Bridge is the perfect way to end a day of San Francisco sightseeing.

View from Baker Beach A perfect destination for a long stroll, Baker Beach’s rocky coastline boasts panoramic views of the city’s most iconic landmark: the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Allie McCarthy.

About the Author

Allie McCarthy was born in Boston, spent 10 years in Washington, D.C., and now lives in San Francisco, where she’s always on the hunt for the best croissant. Follow her on Instagram @HeyAllieMac.