The Best Views of the Bay Area

Climb high to find the best views of the San Francisco Bay at one of these great vistas.

I discovered this Marin Headlands view of the Golden Gate Bridge on one of my very first trips to San Francisco. In my three-plus years living in the Bay Area, I still haven’t found a view to top it. My favorite time to visit is just after sunset, when most tourists are fleeing from the evening breeze and the lights from the Golden Gate are just beginning to glow. If you’re lucky, you might witness an illuminated container ship as it exits the Bay on its way to Asia. This vantage point is on the North side of the Golden Gate—for the active traveler it’s a lovely green hike after a stroll across the bridge but alternately you can dive up. There’s also a closer view at the base of the hill.
Steiner Street
An estimated 48,000 houses were constructed in San Francisco from 1848 to 1915 in the style typical of the day, with ornate woodwork characteristic of so-called Queen Anne design. Earthquakes and fires, most notably those of 1906, destroyed many—as did shortsighted development—but those that survived are now cherished. When these historic houses are restored and painted in a variety of bright colors to bring out their details, they are often referred to as “painted ladies.” One of the most-photographed rows of painted ladies can be found on Steiner Street, overlooking Alamo Square Park. (Yes, these are the same houses that appear in the Full House opening credits.)

Lands End Trail, San Francisco, CA 94121, USA
Land’s End in San Francisco is an easy hike with huge payoff. This labyrinth sits just below the Legion of Honor parking lot and the Lincoln Park golf course. You can then scramble down to a beautiful rocky beach.
Twin Peaks, San Francisco, CA, USA
The best views of San Francisco are from the top of Twin Peaks, the two hills that are located in the geographic center of the city. Only from Twin Peaks can you get a 360-degree view of the entire city. If you are lucky, on a clear day you can see all four Bay Area bridges—from the Golden Gate to the Richmond-San Rafael and the Bay Bridge all the way south to the San Mateo. Standing on North Peak, you can look down the tree line of Market all the way to the Ferry Building. All the city neighborhoods, scattered over up and down the hills, from Mission to Bernal Heights to Russian Hill to the Presidio are in your vista. If it’s clear, you’ll be able to see the Marin Headlands, Alcatraz, Sausalito, and even Mt. Tam. From the North Peak, you can walk over to the South Peak and take in the city views from the Sunset District down to San Francisco International Airport. Tips: 1. Bring a jacket with you. Even on a warm summer’s day, it can be chilly at Twin Peaks. 2. Wear sturdy shoes, especially if you want to walk up to the Peaks and or around them. 3. Bring binoculars, if you have them. There are telescopes that you can pay to use if you don’t have binoculars.
Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA, USA
Treasure Island is still technically located in the city of San Francisco, but you probably wouldn’t venture to the island unless you’re making a trip over to Oakland and the east bay. I have often noticed the great views of SF from the bay bridge, but I had never thought about stopping over on Treasure Island to take in the views. When I finally did go out of the way to take a walk on the shores of Treasure Island I was taken aback by the panoramic views of San Francisco offered by the island. You can see the skyline of the entire city (assuming its a clear day which can be quite uncommon in San Francisco). There is a raised walkway that goes around the island and a lot of sea lions have made their home on the shore of the island. The island is definitely worth the stop if your traveling between Oakland and San Francisco on a clear day!
Long Ave & Marine Dr, San Francisco, CA 94129, USA
The Golden Gate Bridge is probably the most photographed site in California, but this vantage point never gets old. Explore the hollowed out fort, learn some history, and marvel at the view from the top floor.
Pier 7, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA
Pier 7 is a secret. I have found myself there many times and never understand why there are rarely any crowds. At sunrise or sunset with your back to the city you can get gorgeous photos of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. The beautiful wooden pier, ornamented handrails, and antique-styled lamps makes this spot totally romantic. Turn to face the city and you have Coit Tower, the TransAmerica building and much more. A beautiful spot that the crowds don’t know about. Ssshhh...
3400-3416 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA
Bernal Heights is one of my favorite neighborhoods in San Francisco. It’s a little off the beaten path, but on a clear day the park at the top of the hill offers an amazing view of the city and the bay. On a foggy day, the park feels like the setting of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Did I mention dogs are allowed off-leash?
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
The de Young Museum, with its perforated copper facade and spiraling tower in the center of Golden Gate Park, is as dramatic outside as it is inside. Follow the widening crack in the sidewalk into the atrium. It’s an Andy Goldsworthy–created nod to the tectonic plates that carved out California, and emblematic of the museum, too: The previous building was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and rebuilt by Herzog & de Meuron, opening in 2005. Inside, Gerhard Richter’s wall-size mural, made from digitally manipulated photographs, greets visitors. The museum specializes in American art, international textile arts and costumes, and art of the ancient Americas, Oceania, and Africa. Visiting exhibitions often focus on modern works and draw massive crowds. Recent blockbusters include Georgia O’Keeffe, Richard Diebenkorn, and David Hockney. Make sure to visit the observation deck at the top of the tower. (It closes one hour before the museum.) It’s a unique view over the low-lying western end of the city.
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA
Since it was constructed at the top of Telegraph Hill in 1933, Coit Tower has been an integral part of San Francisco’s downtown skyline. Named after a 1920s patron to the city’s firefighters—but not designed to resemble a firehose, as the urban legend goes—Coit Tower’s observation deck will give you 360-degree views out over San Francisco, including the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Entrance fees range from free (children four and under) to $7 (adult non-residents); visit the website for all prices. Coit Tower is open from 10 am to 6 pm May through October and 10 am to 5 pm from November through April.
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