September 14, 1938 the San Francisco Down Town Association created 49 Mile Scenic Drive to showcase the city's major attractions and natural beauty during the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.
Today, visitors and locals can still enjoy this designated scenic road tour highlighting much of San Francisco's hotspots. So if you are wondering what to do with out of town guests? The 49 Mile Scenic Drive is a great way to see many of San Francisco’s historic and iconic landmarks in one day.
Click here to open a Google Map of the 49 Mile Scenic Drive. Direct links are provided below to give you more information about each stop.
30 Key Points of Interest:
1. Golden Gate Bridge, since you are coming from Marin, your first stop will be the world’s most beautiful suspension bridge. Connecting Marin to San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is an amazing piece of engineering. There is a small museum on the San Francisco side that provides a history of the bridge. Free Bridge walks are offered by City Guides twice-weekly, a non-profit organization associated with the San Francisco Public Library.
2. Fort Point National Historic Site, a masonry seacoast fortification at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge and one of my favorite spots to take pictures. Hitchcock fans will recognize this spot from the film Vertigo. Stay in right toll lane of the Golden Gate Bridge and exit immediately past the bridge toll plaza. Turn right at end of exit ramp and loop under toll plaza. At end of road, turn left onto Lincoln Boulevard. Take the first left onto Long Avenue and follow onto Marine Drive and Fort Point at its end. The Warming Hut is nearby and a great place to stop for a hot drink. Ask them for the Crissy Field Mystery Trail Challenge, a self guided treasure hunt of the area. During the winter months, the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy has Candlelight Tours but you need to make reservations. Contact the Presidio Visitor Center at (415) 561-4323 to make reservations.
3. The Presidio is a pretty large area with ocean vistas at Crissy Field, The Walt Disney Family Museum, and the outdoor artwork of Andrew Goldsworthy. Visit the newly restored Officer's Club, a great start to learn about the rich history of the area. Star Wars fans will love the chance to stop in the lobby of the Letterman Building where they can take pose for pictures with Darth Vader, Boba Fett and the Yoda Fountain in front. Take the free Shuttle Through Time tour on the PresidiGo shuttle and travel through time as you hear stories spanning the centuries. Meet park rangers at the Presidio Transit Center, corner of Graham Street and Lincoln Blvd. Reservations required and dates vary; call (415) 561-4323.
4. Palace of Fine Arts, built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, is a lovely place to walk around and stretch your legs. Kids will love watching the ducks.
5. Marina Green, a grassy waterfront offers stunning views of the bay, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and is a great place to watch yachting activities and have a picnic.
6. Fort Mason Center, hosts a number of museums, restaurants, theaters, galleries and holds many great special events.
7. Ghirardelli Square, is a landmark public square with shops, restaurants, and the headquarters to the famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Treat yourself to an ice cream sundae here.
8. Aquatic Historic Park, offering the sights, sounds, smells and stories of Pacific Coast maritime history. Pay a visit to the Maritime National Historic Park. On the first Saturday of the month, there is a free public Chantey Sing-along aboard a historic ship. From here, detour off 49 Mile route to the Russian Hill area and head up Hyde Street and turn left onto Lombard Street, famous for having a steep, one-block section that consists of eight tight hairpin turns. It's also a great place to catch a cable car ride. The Cable Car Museum is on this line at the corner of Mason and Washington and is free.
9. Fisherman's Wharf, a very popular tourist section with beautiful views of the bay and fresh seafood. Bring quarters for the antique penny arcade, Musée Mécanique, admission is free. PIER 39 resides on the outer edge along with Aquarium of the Bay and a boisterous rookery of sea lions. Expect heavy traffic here.
10. Alcatraz, infamous former Federal prison, is an island off Fisherman’s Wharf. Alcatraz tours leave from Pier 33. Advance reservations required. I highly recommend the head set tour.
11. Coit Tower, a long white building rising from the top of Telegraph Hill. Parking is limited. Beautiful murals adorn the interior walls and the top offers a fantastic view of San Francisco.
12. Chinatown, the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America. Delicious authentic food and interesting shops. My favorite places to eat are New Asia Restaurant (772 Pacific), R&G Lounge (631 Kearny), and House of Nanking (919 Kearny) and yummy Moon Cake at the Eastern Bakery (720 Grant.) Expect traffic here. This is a great place to get out of the car and explore.
14. Union Square is the heart of downtown shopping, restaurants and theaters.
15. Japantown is one of the most unique and fascinating areas in San Francisco with a rich cultural history and delicious, authentic Japanese cuisine. This is my favorite place to go when it rains. There are two huge indoor malls that are so much fun to walk around. Recommended diversion off 49 Mile Drive is Almo Square, where the famous Painted Ladies reside. It's a nice park and great place to take that classic San Francisco picture. To get there from Japantown head down Webster St. and turn right on Grove St. Another diversion from here is The Fillmore, known as a fun, hip entertainment district with restaurants, jazz clubs and galleries.
16. Civic Center includes City Hall, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, Asian Art Museum, and the Performing Arts Center’s including Davies Symphony Hall, War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building/Herbst Theatre (closed through the Summer 2015). This is the official start/end of 49 Mile Drive.
17. Yerba Buena Gardens district includes Metreon, Children’s Creativity Museum (they have a great playground and carousel), California Historical Society, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora, Moscone Center and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (currently closed for renovation.)
18. Ferry Building and Marketplace a terminal for commuters taking the ferry and houses a vibrant marketplace, farmers markets and restaurants.
19. AT&T Park home of the 5 time World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants! There is a great tour for baseball enthusiast too. My dad, a Giants fan since the time they were the New York Giants, was thrilled.
20. Mission District is a culturally rich Latino area with delicious taquerias, outdoor murals, and colorful festivals. Mission Dolores is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco and the seventh religious settlement established as part of the California chain of missions.
21. The Castro one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States and has been one of the most lively for several decades with great shops and restaurants.
22. Twin Peaks has a scenic drive offering a sweeping panoramic view of the city.
23. Haight-Ashbury is an area still trapped in it's Summer of Love heyday. It maintains it's bright, colorful funky flavor full of fun vintage shops and cafes.
24. Golden Gate Park, has the Koret Playground & Carousel, lots of open space, and museums include Japanese Tea Garden, California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum, Conservatory of Flowers, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden. It is also hosts a bison paddock, Stow Lake, and all sorts of other great activities.
25. Lake Merced is a 614-acre park that is popular with boaters, hikers, bicyclists, and birdwatchers.
26. San Francisco Zoo is a beautiful zoo with thousand fascinating animals and birds from all over the world, a steam train, carousel and special exhibits.
27. Great Highway, runs along the coast. Along this part of the route is the west end of Golden Gate Park and a great place to see the Dutch windmills and Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden which bloom in March and April, stop and have a bite to eat at the Beach Chalet; gaze out to Ocean Beach and view of the small islands called Seal Rocks. Swimming and wading at this beach are strongly discouraged; there are very strong and unpredictable currents. Explore the the ruins of Sutro Baths, hike the trails of Land's End, dine at The Cliff House and enjoy the view of the Pacific Ocean from the scenic overlook and the best sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
28. Legion of Honor displays a collection spanning more than 6,000 years of ancient and European art and houses the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in a neoclassical building overlooking Lincoln Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.
29. China Beach at 28th and Sea Cliff Avenue has 600 feet (183 m) of sandy beach frontage for swimming, sunbathing and picnicking.
30. Baker Beach Keep your eye out for harbor porpoises frolicking in the surf and for California’s State Rock (serpentine). Learn about an early 20th-century “disappearing gun”. Picnic and restroom facilities available. There is a nude beach at the north side.