A capturing view
A trip to the famous bridge may be the highlight of your San Francisco itinerary, but that’s not the only local landmark worth checking out. Several other classic tourism activities never fail to please visiting groups.
Among the most popular attractions is Alcatraz Island, the infamous former prison now under the control of the National Park Service. Visitors get great views of Alcatraz on sightseeing cruises in San Francisco Bay, but a dedicated trip to the island gives groups uncanny experiences.
“Alcatraz is one of those quintessential, evergreen things to do in San Francisco,” Funke said. “The experience on the island is very impressive. The audio tour of the cellblock was redone a few years ago, so it really gives a very haunting glimpse into what life looked like on the island a few decades ago. You also get a beautiful view of the city that you don’t get from any other place.”
At Fisherman’s Wharf, groups can learn about historic fishing operations in San Francisco, as well as enjoy a walkable area filled with recreation and dining opportunities. Nearby Ghirardelli Square is home to the famous chocolatier, and visitors can sample some of the company’s best candies during a visit to the flagship store.
While you’re out getting the lay of the land, make a stop in Chinatown, which offers a number of hands-on opportunities for groups.
“You can do behind-the-scenes tours in Chinatown,” Funke said. “There’s a tour of the fortune cookie factory that’s available. Chinatown has a lot of food focus also, and it’s one of those neighborhoods that you can just immerse yourself into.”
No matter what neighborhoods you visit while in town, chances are that great food will be a recurring theme. With hundreds of highly rated restaurants and a cosmopolitan blend of ethnicities and flavors, San Francisco has earned a reputation as one of America’s best cities for foodies.
Build some free time into your itinerary to allow your visitors to strike out on their own and discover a restaurant that’s just their style. Some might wish to visit the high-end restaurants run by celebrity chefs, which may not accommodate large groups. If you have a whole group of gourmands, though, consider booking a culinary tour of the city.
“There’s a range of food tours being offered,” Funke said. “There are dedicated tours that focus on certain neighborhoods or tours that give you the highlights of the San Francisco dining scene.
“You can focus on new restaurants or do a chocolate focus. It gives you a general idea of what’s available and where you can go to eat.”
Many groups enjoy visits to food markets around town, whether as part of a culinary tour or a standalone itinerary component. The Ferry Building Marketplace, located in the historic Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street, has dozens of vendors selling artisanal breads, cheeses, chocolates and other gourmet foods.
A number of culinary institutions offer cooking workshops for groups ranging from introductions to cookery to specialty baking classes.
Round out your San Francisco itinerary with visits to some of the city’s arts and cultural institutions. The California Academy of Sciences fascinates visitors with its range of exhibitions and environmentally safe design.
“It’s a planetarium, natural science museum and aquarium all under one roof, and it’s considered one of the top attractions in San Francisco,” Funke said. “When it reopened in 2008, it won platinum certification from LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design]. They’re hugely popular with groups, and they offer private docent-led tours.”
The museum’s Steinhart Aquarium has some 38,000 live animals from around the world, among them African penguins, piranhas, sharks and stingrays. The “Rainforests of the World” exhibit is a four-story, indoor re-creation of a rain forest, with dripping water, Costa Rican tree frogs, Madagascar chameleons, and free-flying tropical birds and butterflies.
Arts take center stage at numerous museums around town. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art features a collection of more than 27,000 artworks, photographs and design objects from contemporary artists.
The Asian Art Museum has 18,000 pieces of art from the Far East, spanning more than 6,000 years of art history. The de Young Museum features a wide-ranging collection of fine art, including American master paintings and American decorative art.
Along with the top-billed attractions and world-class culinary scene, these museums help to make San Francisco a much-loved domestic travel destination.