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Home Tourist Attraction 10 Tourist Traps In San Francisco To Skip, Plus Alternatives Instead

10 Tourist Traps In San Francisco To Skip, Plus Alternatives Instead

by Staff

Summary

  • There are lots of tourist traps in San Francisco with alternatives instead; avoid Fisherman’s Wharf and opt for The Embarcadero for a more local experience by the waterfront. Plus, there’s free admission!
  • Visit the Bay Bridge instead of the crowded Golden Gate Bridge for a San Franciscan experience with great views.
  • Also among the top tourist traps in San Francisco and alternatives instead is the iconic twisting Lombard Street, which gets crowded. Visit Castro Street instead for a vibrant LGBTQIA-friendly experience.



Of all the things California is famous for, the iconic city of San Francisco is one of them. In fact, it’s among California’s most exciting cities, with plenty of options for all types of travelers.


From exploring many of the iconic landmarks in California based in this city to enjoying the myriad of free things to do in San Francisco, every tourist of every age and budget will find adventure in this famous West Coast metropolis.


Unfortunately, though, many of the most famous landmarks in San Francisco are expensive and rammed with crowds. Instead of checking off the usual boxes, tourists can save money and time, avoid the crowds, and enjoy a better experience by opting for alternative attractions that see fewer visitors (and are often cheaper, more fun, and more scenic in many cases!).


Here are several San Francisco tourist traps to avoid their alternatives instead!

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10 Fisherman’s Wharf

Alternative: Check out the waterfront delights on The Embarcadero

Fisherman's Wharf sign next to a trolly in San Francisco
https://www.shutterstock.com/g/dailytravelphotos

Fisherman’s Wharf sign next to a trolly in San Francisco


Although Fisherman’s Wharf is one of San Francisco’s most famous spots, it’s also highly congested and very touristy.


To get a more local experience where visitors can still check out the waterfront and enjoy the best of San Francisco, hop over to The Embarcadero.


Dwntown San Francisco and the Transamerica Pyramid seen from the famous wooden Pier 7 by The Embarcadero
Shutterstock

Dwntown San Francisco and the Transamerica Pyramid seen from the famous wooden Pier 7 by The Embarcadero


At The Embarcadero, visitors can enjoy spectacular bay views and find some of the city’s best dining. The Ferry Terminal is a great place to sample local cuisine and check out a local farmer’s market.


Also, The Exploratorium is an excellent, family-friendly spot here to learn about science.


9 Golden Gate Bridge

Alternative: The Bay Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco


While the Golden Gate Bridge might be one of the most iconic spots in San Francisco and full of fun facts and lore, it can get very jammed with foot and bike traffic.


The stunning Bay Bridge is an excellent alternative to the Golden Gate Bridge, with very interesting construction, great views, and plenty of space for both bikes and walkers.


The Bay Bridge in San Francisco at Sunset
Photo by Ilja Mašík on Dreamstime
 

Spectacular View of San Francisco Showing the Illuminated Bay Bridge at Sunset


If you’re looking for a truly San Francisco experience where you can relax and enjoy the silhouette of the city without bumping elbows with hundreds of tourists, check it out.


While this bridge is certainly well-renowned for its spectacular city views and is a great place to enjoy being outdoors, it’s a good idea to keep in mind the fact that it’s predominately a vehicular bridge. Keep your wits about you and avoid daydreaming or tuning into podcasts or music while you enjoy the Bay Bridge.

8 Lombard Street

Alternative: The colorful and inclusive vibe of Castro Street

Famous Lombard Street in San Francisco at sunrise
Shutterstock 

Famous Lombard Street in San Francisco at sunrise


The winding Lombard Street is justifiably famous; however, it’s easily one of the many tourist traps in San Francisco to skip because it tends to get jammed up with cars and people.


Not to worry, though; there are plenty of other excellent spots in the city to enjoy the vibe without the crowds!


The famous Castro District (Castro Street) in San Francisco, California, CA, USA
Shutterstock

The famous Castro District (Castro Street) in San Francisco, California, CA, USA


Instead of Lombard Street, head to the LGBTQIA-friendly Castro Street. Visitors will find plenty of fantastic restaurants for every style and taste, great bars where they can meet locals and tourists, and excellent street art.


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7 Cable Cars

Alternative: Ride San Francisco’s historic streetcars instead

Cable cars on the corner of Powell St and Bush St, San Francisco, United States
Photo by Ragnar Vorel on Unsplash

Cable cars on the corner of Powell St and Bush St, Downtown San Francisco, United States


While riding the historic vintage cable cars in San Francisco may be extremely alluring and offer what seems to be the complete SanFran experience, there’s another alternative that gives a more authentic feel: street cars.


San Francisco streetcar, tram or muni trolley traveling on the Embarcadero in Downtown San Francisco, CA, California, USA
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San Francisco streetcar, tram or muni trolley traveling on the Embarcadero in Downtown San Francisco, CA, California, USA


Although cable cars and street cars might seem synonymous at first blush, there are differences. San Francisco’s old iron horses tend to be kinder to the budget and give a unique experience and a low-cost sightseeing tour.


6 Ghirardelli Square

Alternative: Head to Bi-Rite Creamery for a tasty treat

Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, California


Gorgeous Ghirardelli Square is certainly Instagrammable and famed for its sweet treats and chocolate, but those looking for a sugar fix might want to check elsewhere.


This place tends to get pretty crowded, and satisfying one’s sweet tooth could get expensive since it’s so famous.


Bi-Rite Creamery, a popular ice cream shop in San Francisco, CA, California, USA
Shutterstock

Bi-Rite Creamery, a popular ice cream shop in San Francisco, CA, California, USA


Instead, check out Bi-Rite Creamery, which has multiple locations all over the city. This San Francisco staple offers a selection of seasonal flavors and traditional favorites.


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5 Big Sur

Alternative: The natural beauty and wildlife of Point Lobos

Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) at southern end of Big Sur, California

While there is something uniquely compelling about Big Sur, it is one of the most famous spots in California. If you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path and cool, check out Point Lobos.


Point Lobos at Land's End with views of the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco, California, CA, United States of America
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Point Lobos at Land’s End with views of the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco, California, CA, United States of America


At Point Lobos, found at Lands End Lookout, visitors can enjoy sprawling natural landscapes, plenty of wildlife, and fewer tourists than in Big Sur.


4 Top Of The Mark

Alternative: Enjoy delicious drinks and a luxe lifestyle at 620 Jones instead

Top of the Mark Sign
Shutterstock

Closeup of the Top of the Mark Sign


While Top of the Mark is one of San Francisco’s most idyllic restaurants with excellent views and a great brunch menu, it can get pretty pricey and packed.


Instead, visit the Tenderloin District and savor a tasty cocktail while surrounded by plants and greenery at 620 Jones. Visitors will get epic views and a tasty menu full of shareable treats like charcuterie boards and delicious pizzas.


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3 Twin Peaks

Alternative: Lace up some hiking boots and head to Corona Heights Park instead

View of one of two hills at Twin Peaks and parked cars, San Francisco, California

The Twin Peaks are one of San Francisco’s most epic hiking destinations and also the site of one of the most influential and still talked about television shows by David Lynch, Twin Peaks.


However, due to its fame, it’s no wonder this spot is among the top tourist traps in San Francisco to avoid.


Corona Heights Park in San Francisco, California, USA
Shutterstock

Corona Heights Park in San Francisco, California, USA


While television and outdoor enthusiasts might be tempted to take on the peaks, they are highly popular, so if you’re looking for peace, a rigorous hike, and a place to play with your dog, Corona Heights Park, with fabulous views of the Pacific Ocean, is an excellent bet.


2 Union Square

Alternative: Visit Haight Street instead for great people-watching and shopping

View of Union Square in Downtown San Francisco, California, CA, USA
Shutterstock / V_E

View of Union Square in Downtown San Francisco, California, CA, USA


Union Square is one of the most popular places in San Francisco, and while visitors can find lots of shops and restaurants there, they’ll also rub elbows with plenty of fellow tourists.


Haight Street, the main street of the Haight-Ashbury District, San Francisco, California, USA
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Haight Street, the main street of the Haight-Ashbury District, San Francisco, California, USA


To enjoy the buzz of the crowds and some incredible shopping combined with Bohemian vibes, head to Haight Street in the legendary Haight-Ashbury district, home of San Francisco’s first flower children and plenty of Victorian architecture.


Today, there are tons of eclectic shopping opportunities and fantastic people-watching here.


1 Alcatraz

Alternative: Learn about San Francisco history at Four Point National Historic Site

Alcatraz, San Francisco
Image by Jose Aitor Pons Buigues from Pixabay

Alcatraz, San Francisco


Alcatraz is arguably the most famous prison in the United States and one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist destinations.


Although Alcatraz stopped functioning as a prison in the early 1960s, people still flock to this island to wander through the old cells and learn about history.


The Golden Gate Bridge seen at sunrise from Fort Point National Historic Site, San Francisco, CA, California, USA
Shutterstock

The Golden Gate Bridge seen at sunrise from Fort Point National Historic Site, San Francisco, CA, California, USA


While fascinating, Alcatraz can get crowded, and a fun alternative is Fort Point National Historic Site, a historic fort with lots of history and excellent views thanks to its vantage point overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.


Historically, Fort Point defended San Francisco Bay after California’s Gold Rush through World War II.


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