Whether you’re looking for sights, food and drink, or beautiful hiking trails you’ll find them all and a whole lot more in the City by the Bay. There are so many fun things to do in San Francisco it was hard to include just 21 but we focused on showcasing the very best things to do in San Francisco.
Visit the Golden Gate Bridge
Iconic San Francisco. There is a reason this is the most photographed bridge in the world. If you visit San Francisco you have to go and see the Golden Gate Bridge. The distinctive orange towers have dominated the city’s skyline since 1937.
Whether shrouded in fog or bathed in sunshine the Golden Gate Bridge is the most photogenic spot in San Francisco. From the visitors centre, you can find various different spots to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge.
Head to the visitors centre to find out more about the history of the bridge, from how the money was raised to the incredible conditions the builders had to endure to finish the bridge.
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
While you’re there you might as well take a trip across the bridge. When finished the total length of 1.7 miles made it the longest suspension bridge ever created. You have plenty of options for taking that trip across the bridge, with many preferring to cycle or walk across.
Walking across the bridge takes 35 minutes on average and offers a wonderful view of San Francisco Bay. Keep an eye out for cyclists, the bridge is a popular cycling spot. Tours across the bridge are available with guided and self-guided options.
As you cross the bridge spare a thought for the Golden Gate Ferry Company, it was once the biggest ferry company in the world it ran ferries across the bay until the Golden Gate Bridge opened.
Escape from Alcatraz Island
Between 1933 and 1963 Alcatraz Island had a fearsome reputation as the most notorious prison in America. Today Alcatraz Island is a popular tourist location full of visitors keen to hear the gruesome stories of the Island’s past.
Take the audio tour as you wander through the well-kept remains of the prison. Hear the stories of infamous prisoners Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud and Machine Gun Kelly (to name a few).
Alcatraz Island also offers some of the best views of San Francisco. From one side of the Island, you can see the entire city skyline and on another, you get a glorious view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Enjoy the view from Twin Peaks
The view atop of Twin peaks is easily one of the best photo spots in San Francisco. The whole city stretches out from beneath showing off the unique beauty of San Francisco. The views spread out beyond the city and include large parts of the Bay Area as well as a new perspective on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Originally known as “Los Pechos de la Choca” meaning Breasts of the Maiden, Twin Peaks has become a famous tourist spot within the city. You can drive right up to the top but you’ll earn bonus points for making the steep climb on foot (and if you’re really brave by bike).
If you don’t drive to the top you’ll feel every one of the 922 feet that make up the Twin Peaks. That height is what makes it such a spectacular viewpoint of the city as well as a fun thing to do in San Francisco.
Ride a San Francisco cable car
When you think of San Francisco your thoughts quickly go to the iconic cable cars that travel the streets. The people of San Francisco are rightfully proud of their cable car system, the last manually operated of it’s kind in the world.
The first cable cars started running in 1873 and their instant popularity meant that more lines were quickly added. At its peak, 23 cable car lines were running but that number is down to 3 today. The queues are long (tip – arrive for the first run of the day) but they are well worth it to witness a piece of San Francisco history.
As well as riding the cable cars make time to visit the Cable Car Museum at Mason and Washington. You’ll learn all about the cars work, which will surprise many, as well as the history of the San Francisco icon.
Take in the Waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39
Over the years the waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 has transformed into one of the biggest tourist areas in the city. From here you can enjoy a range of shopping and also some of the best food San Francisco has to offer.
Gourmet restaurants mix delightfully with outdoor stands selling fresh seafood such as Dungeness crab or fresh fish from the Bay. This area is also great for finding exciting tours of the city, like the Segway tour. You will also find plenty of boat tours that will take you out into the Bay.
One of the most popular parts of this area is the Sea Lions that congregate on K dock. This is a recent phenomenon coming after the 1989 earthquake. Suddenly the K dock became the spot in the city to see Sea Lions.
Stroll around Golden Gate Park
One of the most visited areas of San Francisco is the Golden Gate Park. Shaped in a rectangle it’s often compared to Central Park but is 20 per cent larger. It is over three miles (4.8 km) long east to west, and about half a mile wide.
As many as 13 million visitors come to Golden Gate Park making it one of the most popular fun things to do in San Francisco. A whole range of activities run through the year and it even acts as a wedding venue.
Golden Gate Park is home to the de Young Fine Arts Museum and the Academy of Sciences two extremely beloved institutes in San Francisco. The park also includes other popular and diverse attractions like Shakespeare’s Garden, Japanese Tea Garden, Bison Paddock and two windmills.
Chinatowns are common in most major cities but how many of them have four? Not only does San Francisco have four but on Grant Avenue, they have the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia. It also happens to be the oldest in America.
If you are looking for authentic Chinese then head to one of the four Chinatown’s in San Francisco. I can assure you that not only is the food delicious but the portion sizes are massive. If you arrive in San Francisco during the Autumn Moon Festival you can visit this Chinese festival for free.
Thanks to the large Chinese influence San Francisco is credited as the origin of American Chinese food such as Chop Suey and Fortune Cookies. Want to see fortune cookies get made? Then head to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where 20,000 are hand-folded every day.
Explore The Presidio of San Francisco
Formerly a military base the Presidio of San Francisco is now a popular park. Once in the hands of the Spanish and then the Mexicans the park is situated on the North tip of San Francisco close by to the Golden Gate Bridge.
The park is a fantastic place to sit and watch the Golden Gate Bridge and out further into the Pacific Ocean. The park is more than just picturesque views, it has the odd surprise or two. Within the park, you can visit the Disney Museum and also admire a monument of Jedi Master Yoda.
Whether hiking or cycling the park has lots to explore. As it makes up part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the whole area is bigger than Golden Gate Park. That’s why there is also a free shuttle, the PresidiGo, that can take you around the park.
Fill up at the Ferry Building
You’ll notice there is plenty of walking that can be done in San Francisco and you’ll likely work up a big appetite. So treat yourself to a trip to the famous Ferry Building at The Embarcadero.
As you’re in the Bay Area there is, of course, plenty of fresh and delicious seafood available. However, the Ferry Building caters to all sorts of tastes. You’ll find artisan cheeses next to indulgent chocolates with a choice of food stalls or renowned restaurants like the Slanted Door.
Inside or outside of the Ferry Building the choice of food will satisfy any palette. Once the feasting is over, take the weight off and sit on one of the benches outside that offers a wonderful view of the Bay Bridge.
Watch the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park
The recently renamed Oracle Park is home to the San Francisco Giants baseball team. Their 3 World Series titles in 5 years at the start of the 2010s solidified their reputation as one of the most famous baseball teams in America.
Sitting on the edge of San Francisco Bay, Oracle Park is one of the most scenic ballparks in the country. The stadium is so close to the water that canoes wait in the water for the odd home run ball, known as splash hits, that make it into the water.
Completed in April 2000 the stadium cost $357 million to make. Money well spent after the success Oracle Park has seen. Through the summer months, games are played throughout the week meaning you have no excuse not to cheer on the Giants at least once.
Take in the view from Coit Tower
Coit Tower has sat atop Telegraph Hill since 1933. The tower gets its name from Lillie Hitchcock Coit who left some of her fortune to the city. Coit Tower offers 360-degree views of the city and the bay.
The tower is open all year round and you can take an elevator up to the top for panoramic views of the city. At 64 metres it’s smaller than most of the large buildings in the city but its location on top of Telegraph Hill means it towers over the city.
The base of Coit Tower is a rotunda and is filled with Depression-era WPA murals depicting socialist images that were painted by more than two dozen artists.
Wonder at the Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is not only on the US National Register of Historic Place it is also a San Francisco Designated Landmark. Constructed in 1915 to exhibit works of art the Palace of Fine Arts is one of the most beautiful buildings in San Francisco.
Over the years the buildings have had various different uses including military storage, tennis courts and its current use of displaying artworks. The water surrounding the Palace is full of wildlife like swans, geese and actual racoons.
The Greco-Roman rotunda is one of the only surviving structures from the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. The structure became so loved they were preserved and then rebuilt in the 1960s.
Enjoy some delicious burritos
Modern style burritos are widely accepted as an American invention and no Burrito has become as famous as the Mission-style burrito. First created in the 1960s is still up for debate as to who created the first Mission-style burrito.
Most credit is given to Taqueria La Cumbre as they created a tortilla wrapped combo of beans, cheese, meat and rice back in 1969. El Faro nearby also have laid claim saying they were serving burritos to local firefighters in 1961.
Either way, you are spoilt for choice nowadays. Some of the best spots for Mission-style burritos are Papalote Mexican Grill, Taqueria Los Coyotes and Pancho Villa Taqueria as they all regularly appear on top ten lists.
Then indulge your sweet tooth
I hope you left room for dessert because while you’re down in Mission you need to try one of the best bakeries in the city. Tartine Manufactory is a 5,000 square foot restaurant cum bakery cum ice cream shop cum coffee bar.
The Tartine Bakery was so popular it was almost impossible to visit without seeing 1 hour-long queues. So owners Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt appropriated the Heath Ceramics factory nearby and Tartine Manufactory was born.
Robertson and Prueitt’s approach to pastry and bread has won many local and national awards. The toughest part of your visit is deciding whether to indulge in the croque monsieurs, fresh crusty bread, delicious tarts and bread puddings
Visit trendy Dogpatch
Formerly a shipbuilding hub with a history dating back to the 1800s, the dockside area still has an industrial feel with large warehouses, many of which now serve as renovated residential lofts.
Dogpatch is an area reinvigorated now full of wine bars and craft breweries. It’s those breweries that are a big reason for visiting the Dogpatch. Triple Voodoo Brewery and Tap Room are must-visit spots.
If wine is more of your drink than Dogpatch has you covered. Ungrafted is one of the newest wine bars to appear in the neighbourhood. Described as “industrial-cool” the menu is full of comfort food and is very family-friendly.
Have a slice (or 5) of Pizza
A few years ago San Francisco was disparaged for it’s Pizza but now the city is growing quite the reputation. San Francisco is home to Tony Gemignani, the first American to win the World Champion Pizza Maker (yes it’s a thing).
Gemignani’s namesake pizzeria is based up in North Beach. Don’t expect the typical American style pizza like you might find in New York. Tony’s Pizzas are a homage to how Pizza is done in Napoli, Italy.
Go Whale Spotting
There are plenty of reasons to get out onto the water in San Francisco. One of the most exciting is the chance to go Whale spotting. Between April and November, Humpback and Blue Whales inhabit the waters nearby to San Francisco Bay.
The tours run by San Francisco Whale Tours and Oceanic Society are both led by expert naturalists.
For more marine life you can take full-day expeditions out to the Farallon Islands, out in the Gulf of the Farallones to the west of San Francisco. The islands are breeding grounds to Common Murres and Tufted Puffins and on the way there you have a chance to see seals, dolphins, whales and the distinctive Mola Mola.
See TreasureFest for yourself
On the last full weekend of every month, Treasure Island gets filled up with over 400 vendors, more than 40 food trucks as well as bars and live music. It’s known as TreasureFest and it’s quite the experience.
The vendors are made up of arts and crafts, independent designers, emerging brands, home goods, vintage curators, artisanal goods and antiques meaning the place is full of unique buys you can’t get anywhere else.
Save some money so you can enjoy an authentic taste of San Francisco at the food trucks and bars. The organisers hand-picked a diverse lineup of local eats to satisfy any appetite. By the end of it, you’ll be wishing it was the end of the month every weekend.
Have some fun (and learn something) at California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences is a fantastic showcase of all things science. There is something for every science fan and lots on offer even if you’re not! The museum is one of the highlights of the Golden Gate Park.
It is one of the largest museums in America and it needs to be to fit everything in. There is the state-of-the-art Morrison Planetarium great for stargazers. The Steinhart Aquarium which takes up the museum’s entire lower floor including the world’s deepest living coral reef display.
Oh, and did I mention the rainforest? Yes, that’s right the museum has it’s very own four-story high living rainforest complete with butterflies, birds and a range of tropical plants. Then there is the living roof that is home to nearly 2 million plant species. Set aside most of the day to be able to see it all.
See San Francisco on foot
If you can handle the hills, San Francisco is very accessible on foot. A lot of the city is compacted into a small space so you can easily move from neighbourhood to neighbourhood by foot.
On top of that San Francisco has plenty of hiking trails spread across the city. The Bay Ridge Trail is a pleasant stroll through the Presidio whereas the Creek to Peaks trail at Glen Canyon Park is much more strenuous tackling steep uneven terrain.
There are lots of trails for whatever type of hiker you are or whatever scenery you want to enjoy. The hike up Mount Davidson rewards you with a wonderful view of the city skyline and with a climb of 927 feet and a route of just over a mile it’s manageable for most hikers.