Think of yourself as a culture vulture? Then San Francisco is definitely a city you’ll love to explore. The birthplace of literary movements, global lifestyle phenomena and political activism, the city packs a huge cultural punch. Check out the sites of huge historic importance, the underground spots where ideas were born, the San Francisco museums and world leading institutions where new ways of thinking are being developed.

1) California Academy of Sciences

Want to see an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and world-leading research institution all at the same time? Then the California Academy of Sciences is about the only place in the world where it’s all possible. Discover a four-story living rainforest, a living coral reef system and interactive displays that will delight and inspire the whole family. There’s even a chance to feed penguins. What more could you want from a cultural day out?

2) The de Young Museum

Indulge your creative streak at the de Young Museum, located in the heart of the city’s colossal Golden Gate Park. Browse galleries of American art – dating from the 17th century right up to contemporary installations. There’s photography, global textiles and a 9th floor observation deck with 360˚ views across the whole city too.

3) Alcatraz

Despite only serving as a penitentiary for 29 years and closing back in 1963, few prisons have had the global impact of Alcatraz. Located on an island in the middle of a freezing and swirling bay, it was said to be impossible to escape. But rumors persist that three inmates once got away. Visit ‘the Rock’ – as it came to be known – and just imagine what it must have been like to be locked up here with some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone.

4) Haight-Ashbury

One of the most culturally significant places in the city is not a museum or gallery, but a street corner. In the 1960s, and thanks largely to a single photo of the Grateful Dead, a whole counterculture movement gravitated to this once run down neighborhood. The Hippie Dream called this neighborhood home, and grew into a global phenomenon. Huge festivals were held in Golden Gate Park and some of the biggest names in music moved in – including Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. These days, Haight-Ashbury still proudly displays its alternative roots – with vintage stores, psychedelic artwork and health food shops in abundance. Definitely one of the San Francisco must sees.

5) The Beat Museum

Before the hippies arrived there was the Beat Generation. Driven by a new breed of writers and poets, the Beats laid the blueprint for counterculture rebellion way before long hair and flares became the norm. North Beach’s Beat Museum houses memorabilia from some of the movement’s most famous names, many of whom lived here – including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Explore another fascinating era of the city’s cultural history.


The first West Coast museum dedicated to modern art opened back in 1935. Peruse more than 30,000 artworks including a whole floor dedicated to photography. It’s enough to inspire you to take plenty more holiday snaps during the rest of your visit. View works by modern masters, including Matisse, Koons, Braque and many more.

7) Exploratorium

With a name like this, you just know it’s going to be fun. Kids especially will love it. Check out optical illusions, create a tornado or discover how sound waves work. A welcome addition to any San Francisco museum hit list!

8) Chinatown

America’s oldest and biggest Chinatown and the largest single Chinese community outside of Asia, this is a cultural must see in San Francisco. Pass under the Pagoda Gates on Grant Avenue and you’re suddenly transported to another world. The sights, sounds and smells of this densely populate district in the city center is a real stimulus for the senses. With the first migrants arriving here in 1850, there’s almost 170 years of history to discover.