29 Best Things to Do in San Francisco — From Famous Sites to Can't-miss Attractions
San Francisco, California constantly ranks among the 10 most visited cities in the United States. And really, it rises to the top for good reason. San Francisco is a city filled with history, attractions, delicious restaurants, and outdoor sights that have to be experienced first-hand. Ready to take your next trip to the Golden City? Here are 29 of the best things to do in San Francisco.
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Walk or Bike Over the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge may just be one of the most recognizable sights in the world. The brick-red bridge crosses 1.7 miles over the water, allowing both cars and pedestrians to cross over. Walking or biking over the bridge is almost mandatory during a visit to the city. For those who like to meander, try walking across on a weekend, when it's pedestrian-only so you won't have to fight for space with the bikers.
Explore the Castro
The Castro is as iconic as neighborhoods get. As one of the first predominantly gay neighborhoods in the nation, it became a symbol of hope for the LGBTQIA community. The neighborhood remains a vibrant place to visit and is still home to the famed Castro Theatre and GLBT History Museum, both of which are well worth a visit, along with Pink Triangle Memorial Park, a site dedicated to remembering the persecution faced by gay men in Europe during WWII.
Ride a Cable Car
Let us remind you, San Francisco is a rather hilly city. Unless you're looking to get a major leg workout, it may be good to hop on public transportation to take you around. Luckily, San Francisco's public transit is an attraction in itself. The city's famed cable cars have been transporting people around the city since the late 1800s. The cable cars remain both an excellent mode of transit and now are a super Instagrammable experience you must try. Tickets can be purchased at the end of each route and cost $8 for a one-way ride.
Visiting a prison on vacation may not seem like a vacation thing to do, but Alcatraz isn't a regular prison. As one of the most famous (or infamous) prisons in America, the island prison located in the middle of the bay housed notorious criminals who would sometimes try to escape by swimming across the treacherous waters. The prison is so famous it even made its way to the big screen with movies like "The Rock." Guests can now visit the prison for guided tours and learn more about the building's fascinating history. See more about how to get there (and how to get out) here.
Walk Through the Oldest Chinatown
Chinatown, which begins at Grant Avenue and Bush Street, is the oldest Chinatown in the United States. Made up of 24 city blocks, the neighborhood is its own little bustling metropolis. Come to peruse the shops, dine in the world-class restaurants, seek out the temples, and even grab a fortune cookie before you head out.
Watch the Giants at Oracle Park
It's time to root for the home team, and in San Francisco, that means cheering on the Giants at Oracle Park. The World Series Champions play their games at the waterfront stadium, which offers stunning views of the water right from the stands. Seriously, this is where sitting in the nose bleeds can really pay off. Just be ready to catch a foul ball if you need to.
Walk Down Lover's Lane
Ready for another outdoor treat? Take a quiet stroll down Lover's Lane, the oldest footpath through the Presidio. The .6-mile trail is the perfect place to find a moment of solitude amid the trees, and the perfect place to stroll hand-in-hand with the one you love while vacationing in San Francisco.
Stand in Awe at the Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts was originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition but remains a stunning landmark for all visitors to see. The free attraction features a gorgeous dome structure and Roman-style architecture all set in the Marina District surrounded by park land, making it a great place for a walk, a meeting place, or just for a spot to find a great view.
Picnic at Alamo Square Park
Alamo Square Park is one of the most photographed places in the city, and for good reason. It's the place to be to snap a pic of the city's famed "Painted Ladies" of homes (AKA the "Full House" exterior), as well as to get a spectacular view of the entire city on all sides. Pack a blanket and a snack so you can sit out all day and people watch to your heart's content.
Flip Through a Few Page-turners at City Lights Bookstore
As far as famous bookstores go, City Lights Bookstore is at the top of the list. The store opened its doors in 1953 and instantly became a favorite of people like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Come find your new favorite poetry, fiction, historical, or philosophical book to bring home with you.
Find a Hidden Gem at Treasure Island Flea
San Francisco is home to some seriously stellar vintage shopping, but there is perhaps no better spot to find a few unique items than at Treasure Island Flea, a market offering clothing, antiques, handmade products, and more. There are also plenty of food trucks on hand to feed the hungry masses as well. Just plan accordingly as the market is only open on the last weekend of every month.
Cruise on the Bay
Get a different perspective of the city by hitting the water for a bay cruise. This will allow you to get up close to several attractions including both the famed bridge and Alcatraz. Keep an eye out while on the water for seals and other sea life, too. Snag tickets for a cruise here.
Build Something New at the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is a public learning laboratory that allows anyone to become a mad scientist. Their mission is to "create inquiry-based experiences that transform learning worldwide." At the Exploratorium, guests can use the tools on hand to become active explorers and create whatever they can pull from their imaginations. Guests can also learn through exhibits, a hearty speaker series, and more.
Get Cultured at the SFMOMA
To say the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is huge would be an understatement. The museum takes up more than 45,000 square feet of space that is filled to the brim with special exhibition galleries, contemporary pieces, photography exhibits, sculpture centers, and so much more. Plan for an entire day, and then maybe another, so you can see and do it all.
Get a Snack at the Ferry Building
Looking to get a tasty treat? Head to the historic Ferry Building, a marketplace offering local delights from sweet snacks at the Donut Farm to frothy beers offered by Fort Point Beer Co. If you're lucky, you'll even visit on a market day, when local purveyors descend on the space to sell their goods straight from the farms (or straight from the studio).
Visit the San Francisco Botanical Garden
It's time to stop and smell the magnolias with a visit to the San Francisco Botanical Garden. The garden stretches across 55 acres of beautiful land and showcases some of the most magical flora and fauna on earth. It's particularly well known for its magnolia collection, so make sure to walk by and get a whiff.
Get a Tiki Drink at Tonga Room
The city is filled with excellent bars and restaurants that will happily serve you a drink, but none as iconic as the Tonga Room. The Tiki-style bar has long been a favorite of travelers because it just feels so out of place in the Bay, yet somehow, it works. Get a fruity cocktail, and a few island-inspired bites, and feel transported to somewhere where the sun is always shining.
Explore the Presidio
Another excellent outdoor space to roam is the Presidio, a one-time military outpost now transformed into a 1,500-acre public park. It's the place to go for a hike or bike ride as well as epic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and to just find a moment of peace in the bustling city.
See the Mission Murals
Get out and see some fabulous San Francisco art for free with a tour of the Mission Murals. The best way to view them is taking a stroll down Caledonia Alley, Clarion Alley, Balmy Alley, and Horace Alley, though really, you can just walk around the area and find your own favorite mural out of the more than 1,000 that line the streets.
Have Afternoon Tea at the Palace Hotel
Want to feel a little more regal? Head to The Palace Hotel for afternoon tea. The hotel plays host to an afternoon ceremony in its Grand Court Tearoom, alongside a menu of English classic bites like scones and finger sandwiches for the perfect pick-me-up.
Pay a Visit to a Dispensary
Ready to have a very San Francisco experience? Pay a visit to one of the city's many dispensaries. Even if you don't partake, it's still fun to go check out the thriving marijuana businesses leading the country. Since 2018, adult-use cannabis has been legal in the state, and now it's become a full-service lifestyle. Think of it like going to a wine shop, and ask a friendly "budtender" if you need any help. Check out Weedmaps to see all the options available.
Walk the Filbert Street Steps
Take in more of the sights and get a great glute workout at the same time with a walk up the famed Filbert Street Steps. The set of stairways start at the waterfront and take you up to Coit Tower. Along the way, you can marvel at the stunning gardens on either side and use the foliage as a great excuse to stop and catch your breath if you need to.
Find the Beat at the San Francisco Symphony
Get a feast for your eyes and ears while visiting the city by checking out a show at the San Francisco Symphony. Come check out a concert, or visit for one of the San Francisco Symphony's film nights, which play a blockbuster movie on a big screen with a full orchestra performance at the same time. See the symphony's complete calendar listings here.
Get an Irish Coffee at Buena Vista
Come for a cup of coffee with a twist at Buena Vista. The cafe claims to be the spot where the Irish Coffee was perfected in America in 1952. Sit at the bar and warm yourself up with one and see if it lives up to your standards. If not, that's OK, the restaurant has a full menu of items to choose from, too.
Indulge at Ghirardelli Square
If the name Ghirardelli Square rings a bell, odds are you have a sweet tooth. The square, located at Fisherman's Wharf, is home to the famed chocolate company of the same name, which still produces some of its sweet treats here. Head in for a taste and visit its neighboring restaurants and bars for a larger bite.
Stroll the Japanese Tea Garden
The Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco are an absolute treat for anyone who considers themself to have a bit of a green thumb. The sprawling garden, which is part of Golden Gate Park, is filled with stunning plant life, koi ponds, and an authentic tea house so you can sip and savor for as long as you'd like.
Drive Down the "Crookedest Street"
As we mentioned before, the city is well known for its hilly and winding landscape, but the best place to see this is Lombard Street, otherwise known as the "Crookedest Street in San Francisco." The street takes eight sharp turns up and down the hill in zig-zag fashion, making it a fun place to take a slow drive. Feeling queasy? You can walk the street and check out the houses along the way instead.
Spot the Sea Lions at Pier 39
Again, this is a city surrounded by water, meaning the "locals" include some hilarious sea critters, too. Namely, the laughably adorable sea lions that live on Pier 39. Some years ago, hundreds of them descended on the pier and quickly ousted the boaters. Now, you can go down and wave from a distance, or just sit and listen to them bark all day long.
Visit the Walt Disney Museum
The Walt Disney Museum is a must-see for any Disney fan making their way through San Francisco. The museum showcases the personal side of the man behind the brand with interactive exhibits and plenty of insider knowledge. You'll surely leave feeling inspired, at the very least, you'll want to pop in your favorite animated classic.