Bites and Sights Along San Francisco’s 49 Miles Scenic Drive
If you’ve ever been to San Francisco then you definitely know about the historic 49 Mile Scenic Drive. For first-time visitors, discovering this gem is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
The drive was established for the benefit of visitors to San Francisco’s 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition and originally terminated at the fairgrounds on Treasure Island. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was one of the first motorists to sample it in July of 1938. Today, the scenic drive is the perfect way to get acquainted (and lost) with the city.
In 1955, after more than 100 drawings were entered, the iconic seagull was chosen. The winning logo is recognized all over the world, and in fact, many visitors refer to the “seagull route.”
Today, this endearing scenic drive is clearly marked by the well-known white seagull with a baby blue background and orange lettering. This half-day drive bring you all over San Francisco. Beginning at City Hall, twisting and turning through historic neighborhoods such as our Civic Center, Fisherman’s Wharf, Presidio, Japantown, Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach, Telegraph Hill, and the Marina. The drive also goes to and through Golden Gate Park, The Sunset, Twin Peaks, Mission Dolores, Embarcadero, Dog Patch, and Yerba Buena Gardens.
Some of the most famous attractions (excluding the two bridges) include, Great Highway, City Hall, Transamerica Pyramid, Lombard Street, AT&T Park, Golden Gate Park, Ferry Building and Chinatown.
Though the drive was meant for anyone to do in just one sitting, our guide may take up the entire day, especially if you stop to eat or drink.
This scenic drive truly omits San Francisco’s beauty and it also promotes it as a business and tourist destination.
1. City Hall
The original City Hall San Francisco first experienced was located two blocks away from the current location, 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Plaza. It was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire. The historic, stately and beaux-arts city building started its construction in 1913 and was completed in 1915. City Hall is home to the mayor, supervisors, dramatic events, inaugurations, and many weddings. In 2015, City Hall celebrated its centennial.
2. Saigon Sandwich
This hole-in-the-wall, Tenderloin Vietnamese sandwich shop is famous for their delicious meat & tofu banh mi sandwiches. Expect to wait in line, it’s cash only and open from 7am-5:30pm everyday.
3. Great American Music Hall
This historic concert hall opened in 1907 and was renovated in 1972. It’s had many names, owners, and acts pass through and has closed and reopened during prohibition and war times. It is well-known for its ornate balconies and details, columns and frescoes. The music venue was once host to the Grateful Dead and today many modern mainstream acts are booked.
4. Tommy’s Joynt
Tommy’s Joynt is one of San Francisco’s longest living institutions. Since 1947 the same family has owned and operated this establishment. The building sits right on US 101 on Van Ness & Geary. Well known for their excellent bar and beer selection, Tommy’s Joynt is quite popular for their array of meats. You’re going to have to go check it out yourself to see what all the fuss is about. You won’t be disappointed.
5. Japantown/Nijiya Market
After the 1906 earthquake, many Japanese Americans relocated to the area where you see SF Japantown today. When WWII broke out about 120,000 Japanese Americas were ordered to pack up and leave. After the war, the neighborhood dramatically changed to reflect the more dispersed character of the postwar community. The 1960’s brought the Japan Culture and Trade Center which is now called Japan Center mall. SF Japantown is one of only THREE Japantowns remaining in the U.S. today. Nijiya Market is a Japanese supermarket that has everything you could ever need Japanese-cuisine; meat, fish, sushi, dry & baked goods as well as vegetables, fruits, drinks, and even home supplies.
6. Union Square/ Maiden Lane
This 2.6-acre, one-block public plaza is boarded by Geary, Powell, Post, and Stockton Streets. Union Square is a central shopping destination in San Francisco. Today, the surrounding area is one of the largest collections of department stores, upscale boutiques, gift shops, art galleries, and beauty salons in the United States, making Union Square a major tourist destination. Directly east off the square is Maiden Lane. A short, narrow alley of exclusive boutiques and cafes that leads to the Financial District. Some stores featured on the historic street include: Gucci, Diptyque, Hermes, Christian Louboutin and Tory Burch. Frank Lloyd Wright’s only San Francisco building also lies among this street.
7. Chinatown Dragon Gate (Grant Avenue & Bush Street)
San Francisco’s Chinatown is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America. It is one of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco and stretches for 20 square blocks.
8. Top of the Mark
This iconic, high-end cocktail bar sits on the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel in Nob Hill. Originally opened in 1939, the Top of the Mark is an ideal setting for sunset cocktail or nightcaps. Enjoy panoramic views of the city while sipping on your favorite cocktail alone, or with friends.
9. Comstock Saloon
Comstock Saloon dates back to 1907 and offers turn-of-the-century saloon fare and classic cocktails. If you’re looking for a fresh cocktail in very, very old building in North Beach, then this is the place to go. Visit Comstock on the corner of Columbus and Kearny.
10. Café Jacqueline
Café Jacqueline offers sweet and savory soufflés at this longtime French eatery. Enjoy entrée soufflés, which include fresh ingredients like vegetables, fruits, fungi, crab, lobster, fish and meats.
11. Cobb’s Comedy Club
Cobb’s Comedy Club has been around since 1982 and is famously known for stand-up comedy. The venue is located in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood on Columbus Avenue.
12. Fisherman’s Wharf & Aquatic Park
Aquatic Park can be found within Fisherman’s Wharf. The popular tourist attraction and neighborhood of Fisherman’s Wharf is located on the northern waterfront area of San Francisco. You’ll find a wealth of knowledge on how a historic era still influences present-day culture, events, sights, sound, and of course, food in San Francisco’s most famous waterfront community.
13. The Buena Vista Café
This American staple opened it’s doors in 1916 and has been serving one drink with the same recipe: Irish Coffee. Ding! Ding! Ding! The Buena Vista Café is located just left to the Fell-Hyde Cable Car’s last stop in Fisherman’s Wharf.
14. Fort Mason/Marina Green
Fort Mason was once home to the US Army. It was formerly known as the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, US Army. Fort Mason served as an army post for more than 100 years, initially as a coastal defense site and military port facility. Today many people know of the Festival Pavilion (the pier closest to the Fire House). Marina Green sits to the left of Fort Mason and is a 74-acre expanse of grass. Both sites provide stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island and is surrounded by historic homes and buildings.
15. Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts sits on its original site where it was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in order to exhibit works of art presented there. On opening day in 1915, 255,149 people walked through the entry gates to experience the first world event of the 20th century. By the time the exposition closed (nine months later), more than 18 million people – about 20 times the population of San Francisco at the time – would visit the exposition. Today it has gone through retrofitting and renovations and is currently up for grabs. It might turn into a museum and restaurant or a hotel or even a space for the Bay Club.
16. Yoda Fountain
The Yoda Fountain is a delight to Star Wars fans of all ages. This 26’’ life-size Yoda statue sits on top of a fountain in the Presidio outside of Lucasfilm offices.
17. Lovers Lane
Lovers Lane is one of the oldest foot trials in the Presidio. The trail begins at Funston Avenue and Presidio Boulevard, crosses a tiny brick footbridge over the creek running down Tennessee Hollow from El Polin Spring, passes enlisted men’s and officer’s houses from the 1930s and ends at the Presidio Boulevard Gate. This easy, one-mile walk is filled with rich history. U.S. soldiers used Lovers Lane to access the trolley line to visit their lovers and family in San Francisco starting in the late 1800s.
18. Presidio Bowling/San Francisco National Cemetery
This 12-lane bowling alley is a Presidio gem. There is a bar and grill on site and the bowling alley is open every day of the year. Just a few blocks away from the bowling alley is the San Francisco National Cemetery. In 1776 roughly 40 families traveled here from northern Mexico and built the first settlement, a small quadrangle, only a few hundred feet west of what is now Funston Avenue. In 1884, the War Department designated nine acre, including the site of the old post cemetery, as San Francisco National Cemetery. It was the first national cemetery established on the West Coast and, as such, marks the growth and development of a system of national cemeteries extending beyond the battlefields of the Civil War. Today, this cemetery is closed to new interments.
19. Golden Gate Bridge
This world-famous suspension bridge spans the Golden Gate Strait. Construction started in 1933 and the bridge opened in 1937. The bridge is one of the most internationally recognized symbols of San Francisco, California and the United States. The Golden Gate Bridge has been declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
20. Marshall Beach
This small, remote beach is found adjacent to Baker Beach, in the Presidio, on the northwest side of San Francisco. It’s the perfect atmosphere for a mini hike. Enjoy sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands and entrance to the bay at this remote beach.
21. Lands End & Trails
Located at the mouth of the Golden Gate, the best entrance to Lands End lies at the intersection of Lincoln Highway and 32nd Avenue. Enjoy hikes through a section of the California Coastal Trail that follows the railbed of the old Cliff House Railway. Lands End does have numerous trails that are all along the high shoreline situated between the Sutro District and Lincoln Park. Lands End contains the ruins of Sutro Baths and above the baths is the new visitor center which opened in 2012.
22. Legion of Honor
The Legion of Honor is a part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It was the gift of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, wife of the sugar magnate and thoroughbred racehorse owner/breeder Adolph B. Spreckels. The building is a full-scale replica, by George Applegarth and H. Guillaume, of the French Pavilion at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, which in turn was a three-quarter-scale version of the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur also known as the Hotel de Salm in Paris by Pierre Rousseau. WWI delayed the groundbreaking until 1921. Today the museum displays a collection spanning more than 6,000 years of ancient and European art.
23. Louis’ Restaurant
Louis’ Restaurant has been around since 1937 and is owned and operated by the original family. Enjoy breakfast, burgers, soups and salads with a jaw-dropping view of Sutro Baths, Cliff House and Pacific Ocean.
24. Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach runs along the west coast of San Francisco and continues towards the end of the city limits. It is adjacent to Golden Gate Park, the Richmond District and the Sunset District. The Great Highway runs alongside the beach. The beach is a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is administered by the National Park Service. The water at Ocean Beach is noteworthy for its strong currents and waves, which makes it popular among serious surfers. The rapid rip currents and cold water make the ocean dangerous for casual swimmers.
25. Dutch Windmill/ Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden
The Dutch Windmill sits north of the Beach Chalet on John F. Kennedy Drive. It soars roughly 75 feet into the air. The windmill used to pump water but after restoration, water no longers pumps through. Instead, there is a beautiful tulip garden surrounding the popular windmill.
26. Java Beach Cafe
Java Beach Cafe first opened their doors in 1993 for the sole purpose of providing their community with superb coffee. Today the neighboring community and visitors line up outside to enjoy organic coffee, tea, bagels, pastries, sandwiches, and salads.
27. San Francisco Zoo
This 100-acre zoo is located in the southwestern corner of San Francisco on Sloat and Great Highway. The zoo houses 250 species and includes a children’s zoo, miniature train and carousel.
28. Fort Funston
Fort Funston is a former harbor defense installation located at the southwestern tip of San Francisco. The fort is now a protected area within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Today, the fort is home to hang gliders and dog walkers.
29. Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park
The Polo Fields served and serves many purposes in San Francisco. The original name for the Polo Fields was Golden Gate Park Stadium which opened in 1906 as a velodrome. Cyclists from all over the West Coast have used the track for over a century. Today, the large stadium and sporting field has six regulation soccer fields and a .76-mile cycle track surrounding the field. Wooden bleachers overlook the field and track. Above the bleachers is a 0.75-mile dirt track used for running the horse riding. Every year it the home to the Main Stage at Outside Lands Music Festival.
30. San Francisco Botanical Garden
This 55 acre of serene gardens showcases over 8,000 different kinds of plants from around the world. The Bay Area’s mild temperatures, wet winters and dry summers, coupled with the famous coastal fog, provide a range of climatic conditions that exist in few other botanical gardens in the world. San Francisco conditions recreate high elevation tropical cloud forests of Central and South American and Southeast Asia. This is why the Botanical Garden is known for its unique, diverse and significant collections of plant species. The most famous attraction to this garden is the extensive Magnolia collection.
Amoeba Music opened its doors in 1997 in the free expression neighborhood, The Haight. Record lovers go bananas for this Indie music lover’s hangout. Amoeba was once a bowling alley and today is home to many records and cds. Enjoy free, live shows at this must-see part of San Francisco.
32. Kezar Pub
The Kezar Pub is the place to go if you want to have a boisterous good time. San Francisco locals gather at the pub which offers traditional American eats and beer. The pub is located right across the street from the former home of the San Francisco 49ers, Kezar Stadium, on Stanyan Street.
33. Twin Peaks
The monumental Twin Peaks are two giant hills with an elevation of 925 feet. The peaks comes in as the second highest point in San Francisco, the first being Mount Davidson. The peaks are located geographically in the center of San Francisco and draw thousands of visitors a day. History notes that the native Ohlone people may have used Twin Peaks as a lookout or hunting ground. Get lost in the dramatic 360 degree views of San Francisco, Pacific Ocean and as far as the eye can see.
34. Tank Hill Park
This hidden 650-foot mini-park is located near the intersection of Clayton and Twin Peaks Boulevard. At the top of this natural, rocky hill was once a water tank that pumped water from Laguna Honda. Today is has been demolished and abandoned, and visitors can enjoy sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, University of San Francisco, downtown, Castro, Mission, Bayview, the East Bay and more! Tank hill is home to more than 60 native species. Note: the steps are very steep to the top of the hill.
35. Mission Dolores & Park
Mission Dolores is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco and the seventh religious settlement established as part of the California chain of missions. The newly renovated Mission Dolores Park is located just a few short blocks away. It’s one of San Francisco’s most popular parks and features a soccer field, six tennis courts, one basketball court, a playground, dog play area, and clubhouse. At the top of the park is one of the most famous views of downtown SF.
36. El Rio
This Mission staple has been around since 1978. El Rio features an expansive outdoor patio in the back of the bar and draws a diverse crowd. Do your research, enjoy free oysters on Friday’s!
37. Magnolia Brewing Company
Magnolia Brewing Company is a gastropub and brewery located in the Dogpatch serving seasonal and artisanals American fare, plus draught and cask beer.
38. Triple Voodoo Brewing Company
This San Francisco taproom offers pints and tasting flights plus food. This brewery too, is located in the Dogpatch.
39. Mission Creek Park
Mission Creek Park is a newly developed area of the Mission Bay Parks system. It’s the perfect place to experience open spaces right on the edge of the SF bay. Play tennis, volleyball, basketball or simply just take a stroll along the paths and picnic areas.
40. AT&T Park
Since 2000, AT&T Park has been the home for the San Francisco Giants. This baseball park is located in the South Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. It’s been noted as the best stadium in Major League baseball.
41. Alchemist Bar & Lounge
Blocks away from AT&T Park is this dim, trendy cocktail bar. Alchemist Bar & Lounge offers beer but is well-known for their signature, handcrafted cocktails. This speakeasy felt bar is the perfect place for anyone to gather whether it be after work, pre baseball game or simply on a friday night out with your friends.
42. Hi Dive
This waterfront watering hole is made for locals only. Enjoy seafood, bar bites and brew before, during or after baseball season.
43. Pier 14
Pier 14 is located adjacent to the Ferry Building and arguably is one of the best views of the city. This long pier juts out to the bay, with great views of the Bay Bridge (day or night) and Embarcadero/Financial District.
44. The Ferry Building
This three acre building is home to a ferry terminal and numerous shops and restaurants. It’s the perfect place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
45. Tadich Grill
Known for being the oldest San Francisco restaurant, this classic institution serves fresh fish and meats along with traditional cocktails in an old-school setting in bustling Financial District.
46. Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens is the name for the two blocks of public parks located downtown between Third and Fourth, Mission and Folsom Streets. Several gardens share space with dramatic outdoor public art pieces. Enjoy the great outdoors right in the heart of downtown San Francisco.
Tempest is well-known for its rustic interior of exposed brick and long bar. Sip on beer while supporting your local sports teams or watching a friend in a game of pool. This old-school dive bar fits in perfectly with the surrounding neighborhood.
48. AQ Restaurant and Bar
The elegant SOMA restaurant features seasonal cuisine provided by their amazing chef, and owner, Mark Liberman. The restaurant showcases Northern California’s local produce; meats, fish and dairy. The term “AQ” stands for “As Quoted.”
49. The Market
The Market is a bustling new marketplace on the ground level of Twitter’s headquarters. The Market features two restaurant and bars (Dirty Water and Bon Marché), tapas and oyster bars, a high-end grocery store, gym and Blue Bottle Coffee. Read our full guide to The Market.