Built on a peninsula that is surrounded by stunning water views, San Francisco has many excellent vantage points of the city and the bay to enjoy. Whether you want to take it all in from high on a hill or prefer a bustling city park, here are the best views in San Francisco (plus some from the other side in the Marin Headlands) that will not disappoint.
For amazing views of the city, these landmarks and neighborhoods are a solid choice.
Providing 360-degree views of the city skyline, this vantage point is a great place to see how expansive San Francisco really is. It is the second tallest natural point in the city, after Mount Davidson. Drive up the windy road, park in the lot, and head over to the nearby North Peak Parking Lot viewpoint or hike up the 0.7-mile trail to the top that allows for even more spectacular city views, including nearby Sutro Tower.
Make sure to bring a warm jacket, since it can get quite windy up there!
At 928 feet, this mountain is the highest natural point in the city and is often overlooked by its more famous neighbor Twin Peaks. A distinguishing feature is the giant cross that sits at the top of the hill. Every year the Annual Sunrise Easter Service has been held here since 1923.
A 1-mile hike to the base of the cross and Mount Davidson Vista Point rewards visitors with great views of the city, including nearby Glen Canyon Park.
Located in the scenic neighborhood of Telegraph Hill, this iconic local 250-foot landmark is worth visiting for the beautiful views at the top of the tower that look out all the way to the bay. Once you enter the base of the tower, you can see a vibrant mural that was commissioned in 1934 and reflects California during the Depression.
Coit Tower is open daily from 10 am – 6 pm (April through October) and 10 am – 5 pm (November through March). The entrance fee is $7 for adults who are non-SF residents.
After visiting the tower, walk around Telegraph Hill and keep your eyes (and ears) open for the wild parrots who call this neighborhood home. The Filbert Steps and Greenwich Steps (the easier of the two) are two beautiful hidden staircases that led up to the tower and provide beautiful views of the Bay Bridge and Embarcadero.
Head to Macy’s, which takes up an entire city block and is a great place to get a view of Union Square from above from one of its many oversized windows on the higher floors. During the holiday season, the square is especially festive with a giant Christmas tree that is decorated with shiny ornaments and there is ice skating daily from 10 am – 11 pm from early November to mid-January.
For another spectacular viewpoint, the Top of the Mark is a cocktail lounge located at the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel and has some of the best views of downtown.
This historic Italian neighborhood is filled with stunning architecture and cozy trattorias with checkered tablecloths. City Lights Bookstore is an important first stop, where Allen Ginsberg’s controversial Howl was first published and is open until 8 pm Monday – Thursday and 9 pm Friday – Sunday. Head up to the second floor to get street views of Columbus Avenue.
Grab a scoop of salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery and then cross the street to Dolores Park where you’ll be treated to excellent views of the downtown skyline (including two of the city’s most distinct buildings: Salesforce tower in SoMa and Transamerica Pyramid located in the Financial District) framed by the park’s lush palm trees.
This park always has something going on whether it’s a festival or cultural event and is a popular place to have a picnic, as well as offers plenty of outdoor activities including a soccer field, basketball court, six tennis courts, a playground, and two off-leash dog areas.
Located high above the Sunset District, this scenic park (also referred to as Turtle Hill) offers views all the way to Ocean Beach on a clear day (though being in the Sunset foggy days are more likely than not). Park at the bottom of the 16th Avenue Titled Steps, where there is a stunning mosaic of the sea and sky. To ascend to the top of the hill (.0.2 miles), taking the wooden stairs all the way to the top.
Alamo Square Park
Home to the famed Painted Ladies (the colorful historical Victorian homes), this park also offers spectacular views of the city since it is located on a hill. Directly behind the Victorian houses is downtown San Francisco, making for a great photo opportunity. If you go to the end of the row of homes and look down the street, you can see San Francisco City Hall in the distance.
Often referred to as the “most crooked street in the city,” this landmark has eight hairpin turns along with views of North Beach, Coit Tower, and the Bay Bridge. You can either walk or drive down the street, amid lush flowerbeds and historic homes. To make it a quintessential San Francisco adventure, take the Powell-Hyde cable car there, which stops at the top of the street.
Golden Gate Park
One of the city’s largest park’s best-kept secrets is the Hamon Observation Deck located in the de Young Museum. Go through the main entrance of the museum, then stay to your right and take an elevator ride up to the tower. You will be treated with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out all the way to the bay and Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day.
Entrance is free to the tower and it’s open Tuesdays – Sundays, 9:30 am–5:15 pm.
Bernal Heights Park
Head to this city park with incredible views, where you’ll spot plenty of happy pups and people having picnics. Visitors will be treated to views of downtown, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Bruno Mountain, and the rolling hills of the East Bay. One of the best parts about the location in Bernal Heights is that when the western half of the city is foggy, it’s often still sunny on the eastern side.
Bernal Heights Park Trail is an easy 1-mile loop that offers more stunning views of the city.
Ina Coolbrith Park
This unassuming tiny park offers panoramic views of San Francisco, including downtown and the Bay Bridge from the heights of Russian Hill. One way to access the park is by taking the Powell-Mason Cable Car to Mason and Vallejo Street, walking east along Vallejo, and then climbing the stairs to the park.
This is a great place to go after picking up some food from nearby Chinatown or North Beach and having a picnic with a view.
San Francisco Bay Views
If you want unobstructed views of the bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific Ocean, head to the following local spots that are the best places to experience waterfront vistas.
Golden Gate Outlook
Built in 2012 to honor the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, this viewpoint provides an excellent straight-on view of the bridge between two Cypress trees. Though many people reach this spot from one of the nearby trails (California Coastal Trail, the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail), there are parking lots nearby on Merchant Road or on Lincoln Boulevard.
Battery East Vista
Recently remodeled, this newly built overlook just east of the Golden Gate Bridge is located along the Presidio Promenade. Historically, it was used as a gun battery to guard the area from invaders coming over the Pacific Ocean. There’s a picnic area, a new parking lot, and bike parking.
The Batteries to Bluffs Trail
This 2.2-loop trail boasts some of the best views of the San Francisco coastline. It’s a relatively easy hike since the steep parts have wooden stairs to make the trek easier. The trail goes through the Presidio, winding past old artillery. There is a side trail that goes down to Marshall’s beach if you’re in the mood for a scenic detour.
Located right at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, and at the far end of Crissy Field, this former military fortification is a great spot to see the bridge from below and truly understand how massive it is. Climb to the top of the fort to get excellent views of the bridge and the water below.
Join a guided tour run by a park ranger at the entrance of the fort to learn more about the history and architecture.
For up-close views of the Golden Gate Bridge, this beach is hard to beat. There is plenty of parking, but on sunny days it can be difficult to find a spot since everyone in the city seems to flock here. There are plenty of picnic tables, as well as restroom facilities available. A friendly SF PSA: North Baker Beach is a clothing-optional area of the beach.
A neighboring beach to Baker, this is a more secluded, rugged beach that is located right next to the Golden Gate Bridge, and has its fair share of nude sunbathers as well. There is a bit of a climb down to the beach, and the way up gives you quite a workout. Make sure to bring warm layers since it can get quite windy and cold.
Less crowded than the nearby Baker Beach, this beach promises equally stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The beach is named after the Chinese fisherman who would often camp out in this area and who helped contribute to building the city in its early days. Keep an eye out for the surfers braving the chilly waters.
Sutro Baths/Lands End
One of my favorite spots in the city is Lands End, where you admire the historic Cliff House, the Sutro Baths ruins, and behind it a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean and Ocean Beach. Afterward, walk along the Lands End trail, where you get a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the ocean side from numerous lookout points. If you’re feeling adventurous, the trail goes all the way to Baker’s Beach (and beyond), where you’ll have a close-up of the bridge.
Make sure to bring a warm jacket, since it can get chilly at this windswept shoreline that is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
One of my all-time favorite viewpoints is this transformed recreational area (it was a former U.S. Army airfield). There is a marsh that attracts birds like the Great Egret, beaches where dogs frolic in the surf, and expansive green fields filled with people having picnics and playing frisbee next to the bay. My favorite spot is Crissy Field East Beach, which has a decent-sized parking lot (free of charge) and an unparalleled view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
This grassy area located between Fort Mason and the Presidio, right on the water is perfect for a picnic, as kites soar high overhead. On a clear day you can get views of the sailboats in the marina and beyond that the bay, Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
For brave souls, hop on a boat at dusk and head out to Alcatraz Island for one of their famous night tours. Watching the sunset against the shrinking backdrop of the city is one of the highlights of the trip. The tour is around 2.5 hours long and covers a roundtrip ferry ride, a 45-minute cell house audio tour, and an orientation video. E-mobile ticket options are available. Adults are $59, children $38.00, and seniors $55.40.
Used as an immigration station that processed thousands of immigrants (mostly from China), this State Park now provides overnight camping and hiking trails that offer stunning views of the city and the bay. During the winter, spend the day on the island and then hop on the last ferry at sunset and be treated to a picturesque view of the city at dusk. Golden Gate Ferry brings visitors to Angel Island from SF Ferry Terminal Gate B.
For beautiful views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island during golden hour, head to this historic building where there are plentiful dining options to choose from. If you are looking for waterfront views and fresh seafood, Hog Island Oyster Company is a solid choice with a seat at their oyster bar that looks out onto the Bay through floor-to-ceiling windows or their outdoor seating.
Afterward grabs some Secret Breakfast (Bourbon and Cornflakes) ice cream from Humphry Slocombe and savor it on the pier right outside.
Head over to Aquatic Park, where you can wade in the bay or have lunch on the steps nearby with a view of the cove. Walk along the Aquatic Park Pier (Muni Pier) which rewards with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. The nearby Maritime Museum which is housed in a 1939 bathhouse is also a worthwhile place to stop by and learn more about the local maritime history of the area.
Marin Headlands Views
Directly after you cross over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, this beautiful peninsula with lush rolling hills offers some of the best views of the city skyline and the surrounding Pacific Ocean. Here are some popular places to enjoy the stunning scenery, especially at sunset. Conzelman Road will lead you to all the following spots.
Make sure to come here at least an hour before sunset (even more) to get a parking spot. Make sure to take all valuables with you from your car.
Another popular viewpoint that gives a more areal view of the bridge since it sits at almost 500 feet above the bay. The hike to the lookout point is easy and you get to pass abandoned military buildings (the old battery) that once served as a prime coastal defense point. Park along Cozelman Road or in the North Tower Golden Gate Parking lot and hike up to the top.
Right as you enter Marin, this vantage point provides some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Parking is especially painful here and it’s best to get there as early as possible to avoid fighting the tangle of tour buses and cars. The fog can roll in at any time, especially during the summer, and can obstruct your view of the bridge, so keep that in mind.
Named for the hawks that frequent this spot, there are also other majestic birds like raptors, falcons, ospreys, vultures, and eagles to name a few. If you are visiting between September through November, between the hours of 10 am – 2 pm, this is the best opportunity to spot the raptor migration.
If you prefer to drive directly to the hill, there is limited parking. The .20-mile round-trip hike is moderately strenuous. Make sure to bring extra layers, since it can get chilly up there.
Photo sources: North Beach, Ina Coolbrith Park, Bernal Heights Park, Municipal Pier,
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