In San Francisco, the most iconic, sweeping vistas of the city come with a side of adventure: a ride on the cable cars up precipitous hills, a heart-pumping hike, a ferry ride, and even an Elizabethan-glam bar that floats high above the city. These classic San Francisco views aren’t just a checkbox to tick off; attaining each of them is a unique experience all its own.
1. Lizzie’s Starlight
Towering over Union Square, Lizzie’s Starlight is home to stunning 360-degree views of San Francisco from the heart of the city. Formerly the Starlight Room, the name change reflects a just-completed renovation resulting in a luxurious, modern interior with playful nods to the Elizabethan Renaissance, as well as an imaginative menu of mouth-watering food and cocktails. The indoor scene is paralleled only by the city lights just beyond the window glass.
2. The Powell/Hyde and Powell/Mason Cable Car Lines
Some of the most iconic views of San Francisco are simply best experienced while hanging off the side of the historic cable cars as they climb the city’s extreme hills. Along the Powell/Hyde line are the waterfront and Alcatraz Island, while the nearby Powell/Mason line passes by the end of Lombard Street’s crooked section, for a postcard-perfect vantage point. To avoid long lines, consider catching the cable cars a few stops from their ends; just search for the brown-and-white signs along the routes.
3. Twin Peaks
For soaring, panoramic vistas of San Francisco, head to Twin Peaks, which comprise two of the three highest summits in the city. While many visitors simply drive to the North Peak, try hiking the short, though partly steep, 0.2-mile distance to the less crowded South Peak for a taste of the local coastal scrub and grassland vegetation. Come just before sunrise or sunset for the full exhilarating experience, but dress in layers; nine hundred feet above sea level, the chill and wind can be severe.
4. Coit Tower
Another famed urban hike in San Francisco is the climb up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower, a 210-foot concrete beacon. Parking is scant at the tower, and the best way to access the 360-degree views is by foot; take the Filbert Street or Greenwich Street stairs. Your reward for climbing the roughly 400 steps? At the top, any breath you have left will be whisked away by views of the city sprawled below. Try a different path down for new scenery and another chance to run into the famed wild parrots that reside on the hill.
5. Scoma’s Sausalito
Across the bay, floating at the end of a short pier, Scoma’s Sausalito offers a seascape and skyline view as the backdrop to a meal of fresh, seasonal seafood. Prolong your ocean views by hopping on the ferry to Sausalito for lunch, or drive across the Golden Gate Bridge for dinner at sunset. (The last ferry leaves during dinnertime).