Things To Do In San Francisco
San Francisco may only be around 47 square miles, but it packs a big punch with things to do and see. From expansive parks and rugged beaches to its many hills, there’s a lot of outdoors to enjoy in the City by the Bay.
There’s also an eclectic mix of neighborhoods, a rich arts, culture and culinary scene and plenty of history to discover. The choices are so vast that they can be overwhelming. To help you get the most out of your trip, here’s our guide to the 15 best things to do in San Francisco.
Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco. And for good reason, as the historic area offers a festive atmosphere, amazing views and plenty of attractions, shopping and dining options.
One of the highlights is Pier 39, and the colony of sea lions that live there. Other attractions include the Aquarium of the Bay, Ghirardelli Square, Musée Mécanique, Madame Tussauds, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, the Maritime Museum and much more. You can also board San Francisco Bay harbour cruises from here. Grab some fresh seafood from an outdoor stand, or one of the many waterfront restaurants.
Other food highlights here include sourdough from Boudin Bakery or some Irish coffee from Buena Vista Cafe.
2.Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the defining landmarks of San Francisco, and no visit to the city is complete with getting a glimpse of this icon. The bridge spans 1.7 miles and connects San Francisco to Marin and Sausalito. You can easily drive across the bridge. But it’s also possible to ride a bike or walk across it. Guided bike tours make it easy to explore.
There are two main vista points: the South Vista Point on the San Francisco side and the North Vista Point in the Marin Headlands. But there are many other spots in the city where you can get a great view (and photo) of the bridge, such as from Baker Beach, Fort Baker, Crissy Field and Battery Spencer.
A visit to Alcatraz is one of the best things to do in San Francisco for visitors. Located in San Francisco Bay, just 1.25 miles offshore, the former maximum security prison, also known as “The Rock,” is one of the most iconic sights in the Bay Area.
The only way to visit is to take a ferry from Pier 33. Book your tickets well in advance as they are very popular and sell out. Once on the island, there’s an excellent self-guided audio tour narrated by former guards and prisoners.
Ranger and docent led tours are available at certain times. A night tour option is available and includes extra activities. For the best value, book a combo tour that includes Alcatraz and sightseeing in San Francisco.
4.Sample The Food
San Francisco is one of the top foodie and restaurant cities in the United States. With more than 4,500 restaurants in the city, you can spend your entire trip eating and barely make a dent. Iconic dishes that you shouldn’t miss include sourdough bread at Boudin Bakery, fresh oysters, Dungeness crab and a classic Cioppino by the waterfront, a taco or burrito from a taqueria in the Mission, some dim sum in Chinatown, and pizza and pasta in North Beach.
Don’t miss Tartine and their excellent bread and pastries. Chocolate lovers have great options like Ghirardelli, Dandelion and Michael Recchiuti. Guided food tours are a great way to taste some of the best the city has to offer. Options include food tours of Chinatown, North Beach, the Mission and more.
Riding the cable cars is an iconic San Francisco experience and one of the best things to do in the city. It’s the last manually operated cable car system in the world. There are three different lines you can ride: Powell/Hyde, Powell/Mason and California.
The most popular one is the Powell/Hyde Line. During the trip, you’ll have great views of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and Coit Tower, and pass by Lombard Street, Nob Hill and Union Square. Board the cable cars at the main turnarounds or at designated stops along the route.
For a truly memorable experience, ride the cars while hanging off the running boards on the side. To learn more about cable cars and their history, stop at the Cable Car Museum. A number of guided tours will also include a cable car ride.
6.Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park offers so many things to see and do. It stretches for around 50 blocks from Ocean Beach to Haight Ashbury, and covers more than 1,000 acres. Besides plenty of lovely green and open spaces and trails, the park is home to museums, gardens, lakes, a disc golf course, windmills and even a bison paddock.
Highlights include the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden and San Francisco Botanical Garden. Many live events, including concerts, are held at the park. You can easily explore on your own. Guided tours are also possible, including bike tours and Segway tours.
A visit to the “crookedest street in the world” is one of the best things to do in San Francisco. The stretch of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth is not even the most crooked street in San Francisco (that would be Vermont Street in Potrero Hill), but it does feature eight sharp, hairpin turns along a red brick paved road.
The street also features beautiful million-dollar homes and lush flowers and gardens. The best spot for photos of the street itself are from the bottom. But don’t miss the great city views from up top. If you want to drive the street, you must start at the top (west) and head down (east). Expect a wait.
You can also walk up or down the 600-foot long street. There is a staircase on either side of the road. And to avoid the steep walk up, the Hyde Street Cable Car drops you off at the top of Lombard Street. Many city sightseeing tours include a stop here.
Located in the heart of San Francisco, bustling Union Square boasts the largest concentration of department stores, shops, galleries and hotels in the city. It’s the third largest shopping area in the country, and you’ll find everything from Old Navy and H&M to Louis Vuitton and Hermes here. Browse for art at galleries such as Martin Lawrence Galleries.
Several notable theaters are also located here, including the Curran Theatre and Golden Gate Theatre. There are plenty of dining and nightlife options to round out your day, from casual and fine dining to speakeasy bars. If you visit in the winter, be sure to take advantage of the skating rink. You can find two cable car turnarounds here.
WIth a history dating back to the 18th century, the Mission is the oldest neighborhood in the city. With a rich Latino heritage, a vibrant art scene and excellent dining options, it’s also one of the best things to do in San Francisco. For the best in street art, check out the murals along Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley.
The Mission is home to some of the hippest restaurants and bars in the city, but you can’t go wrong with a taco or burrito from a local taqueria such as La Taqueria or Taqueria Cancun, or anything from Tartine. For sunshine, people watching and great city views, spend some time at Mission Dolores Park. Join a guided food and art tour to easily experience the best of this vibrant neighborhood.
10.California Academy Of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences is one of the best things to do in San Francisco for families and anyone with an interest in science. This world-class institution features an aquarium, a natural history museum, a planetarium and a 4-story living rainforest, all under one roof. The academy is home to more than 40,000 animals, including Claude, the resident albino alligator.
Explore dinosaur fossils, interactive exhibits and an earthquake simulator at the Kimball Natural History Museum. The Morrison Planetarium is the largest all digital planetarium dome in the world, and offers daily shows on the stars and the universe. Enjoy science with adult beverages at weekly adult-only evenings. Book a skip-the-line ticket to save time. Or a behind-the-scenes VIP tour for extra insights
11.Ferry Terminal Building
Head to the Ferry Terminal Building for ferry transport, wonderful bay views and tasty food. You can still catch ferries from this historic building with its iconic clock tower, including to Alameda, Harbor Bay, Oakland, Richmond and Vallejo. Walk along the esplanade for great views of the Bay Bridge. But the reason most people visit the building is for the food from some of the area’s favorite artisan producers and chefs.
Top options here include Cowgirl Creamery, Hog Island Oyster Company, Dandelion Chocolate, Slanted Door, Fort Point Beer Co. and local coffee favorites Blue Bottle. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, find an excellent farmers market in the plaza surrounding the building.
12.San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
SFMOMA is one of the best things to do in San Francisco for art lovers. Newly re-designed, this impressive museum features 170,000 square feet of gallery space over five floors. The museum is home to a world-class collection of modern and contemporary art. See works by the likes of Calder, Kahlo, Matisse, Pollock, Rothko and Warhol. Don’t miss the Pritzker Center for Photography, the outdoor sculpture garden, or the 30-foot living wall, featuring more than 19,000 plants.
There’s an excellent gift shop and three eateries, including the Michelin-rated In Situ restaurant. There are special interactive and other programs for kids, and visitors under 18 can enter for free.
Head to Twin Peaks for one of the best views of San Francisco. Located at the geographic center of San Francisco, the two peaks are adjacent to each other. At 922 feet above sea level, they are the second highest peaks in the city and offer clear unobstructed views. On a clear day, you can see the Ocean Beach, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, downtown SF and more. Enjoy 180-degree views facing north from the main parking lot.
Follow the trails to the top of the two peaks for stunning 360-degree panoramic views. Bring quarters to use the telescopes for close-up views of SF landmarks. Bring a light jacket for the wind. And keep your eyes open for wildlife, especially the endangered Mission butterfly. It’s easiest to drive up to Twin Peaks, but you can also hike it.
Located within the Golden Gate Recreation Area, Lands End offers great hiking, stunning views and historic sites. The Lands End Lookout Visitor Center offers informative exhibits and guided tours. The Lands End Trail is a popular and easy hike. Highlights include the ruins of Sutro Bath, the Lands End Rock Labyrinth, the remains of the Mile Rock Lighthouse, Mile Rock Beach and the USS San Francisco Memorial.
Enjoy great views of the Golden Gate Bridge throughout, and in particular from Eagle Point Overlook and Lands End Point. Keep your eyes out for migrating whales in the water. Afterwards, treat yourself to a meal and drinks at Cliff House, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Ocean Beach.
Sausalito is located just across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco, making this charming seaside town easy to visit. You can drive, bike or walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, or take a scenic ferry. There are many excellent hiking, running and biking trails here.
Kayaking, rowing and sailing are also popular activities. Be sure to walk around the historic downtown area, with its quaint shops, boutiques and galleries. Don’t miss the banks of the Bridgeway Promenade. There are also many great waterfront dining options where you can grab a bite to eat while enjoying incredible views of the bay and the San Francisco skyline. For an easy way to explore, join a guided tour.
When you’re ready to venture outside the city, check out our guide on the 15 best day trips from San Francisco.