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San Francisco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. With fantastic year-round weather, beautiful views, delicious food, and plenty of activities, it’s easy to see why people visit San Francisco from all over the world. Here are 49 great things to do in San Francisco, from a local who has lived in the city for years.
Many of these San Francisco activities are part of San Francisco city passes and/or can easily be accessed via hop-on, hop-off buses or public transportation. For those who are looking for a guided experience, check out these great San Francisco city tours.
The Best Things to Do in San Francisco
Okay, okay. Fisherman’s Wharf is the most touristy area of San Francisco. But that’s the case for a reason. While it’s easy to look down on it, most visitors end up there at least once. Take a quick walk through Pier 39 to see the sea lions, then make your escape. Eat some fresh seafood at one of the stalls or restaurants (be sure to have Dungeness crab if it’s in season or the San Francisco specialty cioppino), or get some clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl from Boudin.
While much of Fisherman’s Wharf is crowded with unoriginal shops & tourist traps, there are a few gems if you know where to look. For something a bit different, be sure to check out Musée Mécanique for lovingly restored penny arcade games & family fun. Military & nautical history lovers will enjoy the USS Pampanito, SS Jeremiah O’Brien, Hyde Street Pier, and the Maritime Museum.
While Ghirardelli Square is no longer the home of the Ghirardelli chocolate factory, it’s still the place to go for chocolate lovers. Or cheese lovers, thanks to The Cheese School of San Francisco. Or beer lovers, thanks to San Francisco Brewing Company. Go there hungry.
Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista
The Buena Vista is famous for its Irish Coffee. While not invented in San Francisco, the Buena Vista just might be where the cocktail was perfected. A nice hot coffee with Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey & cream will warm you right up on a chilly winter day (or a chilly summer day, this is San Francisco after all).
Fort Mason has open green spaces, along with sweeping views of San Francisco Bay, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Fisherman’s Wharf. There are also events held here, along with food trucks from Off the Grid.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is another San Francisco attraction that is on every visitor’s list. You can rent a bike & ride across it, walk across it, or just take in the views from Vista Point.
But for one of San Francisco’s best views, you have to go down to the shoreline. Head to Crissy Field to see the wetlands & green spaces, then continue along the promenade to Fort Point, one of San Francisco’s most overlooked spots. From here, the engineering marvel that is Golden Gate Bridge towers above you. If the Fort Point National Historic Site is open, head to the upper level for an even closer look.
While you’re at the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s a good time to explore The Presidio, a former military base that now functions as a huge park. With Crissy Field, The Walt Disney Family Museum, miles of hiking trails, historic buildings & military batteries, and Baker Beach, there’s plenty to see & do.
Chinatown is San Francisco’s bustling heart. It’s a fun place for wandering & shopping, as long as you can tolerate the crowds. With so many restaurant options, it can be hard to choose where to go.
Tip: Avoid the places that are pushing menus toward tourists and pick a spot where locals are eating. Bakeries are always fantastic places for a snack. My personal recommendations: the salt & pepper wings at Capital are delicious, as is the crab at R & G Lounge. Hon’s Wun-Tun House has excellent soups. And the Chinese Mai Tais at Li Po Cocktail Lounge will lead to a night you’ll never forget (or never remember, depending on how many you have).
Right next to Chinatown is North Beach, another historic neighborhood that’s still high on the list of must-visit places in San Francisco. Home to the Beat Generation, spots like City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, Vesuvio, & Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum preserve connections to that era.
As you might expect from an Italian neighborhood, go hungry. Pastry shops such as Stella Pastry serve classic items such as cannoli, while Liguria Bakery makes homemade focaccia. Tony’s Coal Fired Pizza & Slice House is my favorite place to go for pizza. For a throwback, try Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe, or any of the delicatessens such as Molinari’s. Take your sandwiches or slices to Washington Square & people watch.
North Beach’s Coit Tower has some of the best views in San Francisco. But don’t forget to pay close attention to the building itself, as the interior has historic WPA murals.
Famed former prison Alcatraz is another popular San Francisco destination. While the Alcatraz tours are interesting, the ferry ride over to the island has great views that are part of the ticket value. But if you don’t want to pay that full price (or can’t get a reservation), take a ferry between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building for a quick view of the San Francisco skyline from the water. Click here for options for visiting Alcatraz.
The Embarcadero stretches all the way around San Francisco’s northeastern shore. It’s a popular place for cycling & walking, connecting Fisherman’s Wharf, the Financial District, and SoMa. There is also a streetcar that runs from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Castro. At night, check out the Bay Bridge light installation from the waterfront.
Located on Pier 15 along the Embarcadero, the Exploratorium is one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids. The science museum has hundreds of interactive activities that are bound to entertain all ages. It’s also a great San Francisco rainy-day activity.
The Ferry Building
The Ferry Building is a foodie delight, with a variety of food shops and restaurants. There’s also a Farmers Market a few days a week. Plus, the tower is an iconic San Francisco view down Market Street.
Salesforce Park is an elevated park above the new Transbay Transit Center. Along with 600 trees and 16,000 plants, the park has great views of San Francisco’s ever-changing skyline.
SF MoMa (and the other museums of SoMa)
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reopened in 2016 after undergoing a huge expansion. Other nearby museums include the Museum of the African Diaspora, The Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Children’s Creativity Museum.
Union Square is one of the premier spots for shopping in San Francisco. With several huge department stores, including the Macy’s that overlooks the square, as well as flagship stores for dozens of high-end retailers, this is the place to go if you want to spend a ton of money on material goods.
No trip to San Francisco is complete without riding the famous cable cars. The queues to ride are longest at the turnarounds at Powell & Market and Fisherman’s Wharf. If you just want to ride a cable car & don’t care about having the absolute best view, the California Street cable car line typically has much less of a wait. For even more cable car fun, the San Francisco Cable Car Museum tells the history of the transport while showing how they work. Just don’t call them trolleys or streetcars, unless you want to be laughed at.
Also known as the “Crookedest Street in the World” (it’s not, a section of Vermont Street is actually more crooked), Lombard Street between Hyde & Leavenworth has 8 hairpin turns. If you’ve rented a car (not recommended or at all necessary for getting around San Francisco – though you could rent a GoCar), you can wait your turn to drive down it. But the best views are from the top & bottom on foot.
Nob Hill & Grace Cathedral
Up on Nob Hill, you’ll find Grace Cathedral & Huntington Park. The Fairmont & Intercontinental Mark Hopkins are also legendary San Francisco hotels with some of the best views in the city.
San Francisco’s Japantown is the largest in the United States. The area is filled with great Japanese restaurants including sushi, ramen, bakeries, and more. There are also stores selling Japanese items, with everything from traditional arts & home goods to books & media.
Starting in January & as late as April, you can spot plum & cherry blossoms in Japantown, culminating with the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Be sure to also check out the informational signs around the neighborhood that detail the history of Japantown and San Francisco’s Japanese community.
Alamo Square will look familiar to anyone who has seen a postcard of San Francisco, or even more likely, the opening credits of “Full House”. Across the street from Alamo Square are The Painted Ladies, a set of exquisitely maintained Victorian homes.
While some people refer to the Painted Ladies as “The Full House house”, this is not correct. The actual exterior of the Tanner household is located at 1709 Broderick St. If you go visit the Full House house, please be respectful of the neighborhood (well, you should be respectful of ALL neighborhoods, no matter where you are traveling).
After hanging out in Alamo Square, nearby Divisadero Street also has great restaurants and bars.
The Asian Art Museum & Civic Center
San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum has one of the largest collections of Asian art in the world. While you’re in the area, check out nearby City Hall & the Civic Center, which often has farmer’s markets.
Named for the Mission San Francisco, which opened in the 1700s, the Mission’s culture has been shaped by Mexican & Central American immigrants who brought their food, music, and art to the neighborhood. While hipsters moving into the area led to streets being filled with trendy restaurants & shops, the area still retains its roots, with street art covering alleyways & an array of fantastic food options from nearly every country in the Americas.
This is the birthplace of the Mission burrito, and if you want to start an argument, ask San Franciscans which restaurant is their favorite. El Farolito, La Taqueria, and Taqueria Cancun are good places to start your own research.
Bernal Heights Park
After you’ve had a burrito, work it off by heading up to the top of Bernal Heights Park, which provides great views toward downtown & out toward San Francisco Bay.
Or, if a nap is more your style, head to Dolores Park to relax. On sunny days, the park is packed, with it sometimes seeming like the entire city is there. Bring a picnic and some (discreet) drinks, set up a blanket, and join the fun.
The Castro is famously the home of San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ community. It was here that gay rights activism grew in influence, with leaders such as Harvey Milk, Cleve Jones, Ken Jones, and many others becoming prominent figures in the fight for equality. Throughout the Castro, you’ll find historical markers denoting important moments. Take note of them as you visit the neighborhood’s great restaurants, bars, & shops. The Castro Theater hosts film screenings, including popular sing-a-longs.
The central hills of San Francisco are the highest points in the city. Although Twin Peaks isn’t quite the tallest spot (that would be Mount Davidson, just a few feet taller), its barren summit provides spectacular 360-degree views around San Francisco, including a perfectly lined view down Market Street while Sutro Tower hovers above you.
The hike to the 925-ft summit does take some effort, but the views are worth it. You can take your time with the climb by stopping to admire the staircases along the way, many of which have art.
Haight-Ashbury was famously the epicenter of the counterculture & hippie movements of the 1960s. While the days of the Summer of Love, the Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and Jefferson Airplane may be long gone, the neighborhood still tries to keep the feeling going, with plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants.
Golden Gate Park
You could easily spend an entire day in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, which stretches across nearly half the city, from the Haight to Ocean Beach. It’s filled with museums, gardens, monuments, sports facilities, and quiet green areas, along with miles of paths for cyclists, joggers, and walkers.
Be sure to visit the Japanese Tea Garden (especially if the cherry blossoms are in bloom), as well as the San Francisco Botanical Garden and Conservatory of Flowers.
Further west, check out the bison paddock, windmills, and Beach Chalet.
The California Academy of Sciences
Golden Gate Park’s California Academy of Sciences is one of the most popular attractions in San Francisco. It’s another great activity to do with kids, hosting a variety of interactive displays, an aquarium, a planetarium, a rainforest, and more. On Thursday nights, check out NightLife, an evening event for grown-ups where you can have drinks while learning about science.
The de Young Museum
The de Young Museum is located right across from the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Its collections include art from all over the world, across all time periods.
Tip: Even if you’re not interested in the museum, entry to the attached Hamon Observation Tower is free, and provides great views across the park.
One of the highlights of San Francisco is how easy it is to go from the city to nature. One of my favorite places to do this is at Lands End. The easiest way to get there is to take the 5 or 38 bus all the way out to the end of the line. Here you’ll find cliffside hiking & spectacular views of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, including the Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Bridge, and the Presidio. On clear days, it’s possible to see the Farallon Islands to the west of the city. Some of the best views are from the Lands End Labyrinth, while Mile Rock Beach is a cozy spot by the water that’s accessed via a steep trail.
In addition to the hiking trails, you’ll find the remains of the Sutro Baths, as well as the Cliff House, Camera Obscura, and the Legion of Honor, a museum focusing on ancient & European art. Given its location, this area can easily be combined with a visit to the Presidio and/or Golden Gate Park for a long day out.
Ocean Beach & The Great Highway
Heading south from Lands End all the way to the southern end of San Francisco is Ocean Beach & The Great Highway. While most beaches conjure up images of warm sunny days, those are rare in San Francisco, especially out in this neighborhood (the Sunset was named more for the theoretical sunset views – it’s often as accurate of a name as Greenland). But if you do get warm weather in San Francisco, head for the coast. There are plenty of paths for biking & walking, along with Pacific Ocean views. Bolder adventurers can go surfing. Even if you’re just walking at the edge of the water, be careful – the ocean here doesn’t mess around, and people are frequently rescued from the strong currents & waves.
San Francisco Zoo
The San Francisco Zoo is located at the end of the Great Highway, out in the southwest corner of San Francisco. As such, it’s not the easiest spot to get to for most visitors, but the L Muni line does go there. The zoo has thousands of animals, including lions, gorillas, and penguins. It’s one of the best things to do in San Francisco with kids.
Even further out is Fort Funston, another cliffside area with fantastic views. It’s a popular place for hiking & dog walking. Just remember that if you hike down to the beach, you’re going to have to get back up.
San Francisco Boat Tours
San Francisco is surrounded by water on three sides. Take advantage of that by spending some time on it. There are several ways you can enjoy San Francisco Bay. Take a relaxing boat cruise, a ferry ride, a trip to Alcatraz, or for the more adventurous, a speedboat.
San Francisco Hop-on, Hop-off Buses
As I’ve mentioned, renting a car in San Francisco is a hassle. It’s expensive (and so is parking), plus rental car break-ins are common. Public transportation is one way to get around, but another option depending on where you want to go is to take a hop-on, hop-off bus.
San Francisco Bicycle Rentals
Yes, San Francisco is covered in hills that you’d never want to try to ride a bicycle up. But there are plenty of other flat areas & bicycle paths that make for a great day out if you rent a bike, including the Embarcadero, Golden Gate Park, Great Highway, & Crissy Field. Or rent a bike & ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. San Francisco is working on improving its bicycle infrastructure, so even the streets are not as scary as they used to be. There are also scooter & bike rack rentals across the city, if you want a pay-as-you-go option for shorter rides. Check out all the various transportation rentals available in San Francisco here.
49 Mile Scenic Drive
San Francisco’s 49 Mile Scenic Drive hits up many of the best places to visit in San Francisco. That said, it was created in 1938, and the word “drive” is in the name, so it’s not always the easiest path to take around the city, nor has it evolved much to account for an ever-changing city. While you can certainly follow the drive if you’ve rented a car, it’s best used as a guide to seeing San Francisco hotspots.
49 Mile Scenic Route
In 2019, writers at the San Francisco Chronicle constructed the 49 Mile Scenic Route, an updated trail around the city that not only is better suited for those without a car, it also does a better job of hitting all of the best spots in San Francisco these days.
San Francisco Crosstown Trail
Another recent creation is the Crosstown Trail, which as you might have guessed by the name, is a hiking & cycling trail that crosses all of San Francisco. Starting all the way at Bayview’s Candlestick Point & going to Lands End, the 17-mile trail follows some of San Francisco’s greenest spaces & less visited neighborhoods.
Barbary Coast Trail
The Barbary Coast Trail is a 3.8-mile path that connects some of San Francisco’s oldest historic sites, from Gold Rush-era locations to spots from the time of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Fire. The trail is denoted by sidewalk markers while winding its way through San Francisco historic sites from the Financial District to Chinatown to North Beach to Fisherman’s Wharf.
San Francisco Craft Beer
San Francisco has some of the best craft beer in the country. Stop in for a pint at any one of the dozens of excellent craft beer breweries & beer bars, including Toronado, Cellarmaker, City Beer Store, Black Hammer, Fort Point, Seven Stills, Barebottle, Public House, & Liquid Gold.
San Francisco Cocktail Bars
San Francisco’s history often involves drinking. I’ve mentioned a couple of cool spots already, but there are plenty of other great bars in San Francisco with everything ranging from historic spots to modern innovators. Check out the Tonga Room for an old-school, 1950s tiki experience, or Smuggler’s Cove for a modern rum-focused update. Bourbon & Branch harkens back to the Prohibition speakeasies, while Pacific Cocktail Haven is an award-winning cocktail bar with one of my favorite drinks in the city (the Back in Black).
San Francisco Concerts
San Francisco is home to some of the most famous music venues in the world. Check the local concert venues to see if any of your favorite acts will be in town during your visit. The Fillmore, Bottom of the Hill, Rickshaw Stop, Masonic Auditorium, Boom Boom Room, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, and SFJAZZ are just some of the great places to see live music. San Francisco’s parks also hold great concert events, ranging from the intimate Stern Grove to the massive annual multi-day Outside Lands & Hardly Strictly Bluegrass shows in Golden Gate Park.
San Francisco Live Performances
In addition to the music above, San Francisco also has a rich arts & nightlife scene, with the opera, ballet, and symphony all near the Civic Center, along with theater including popular Broadway tour productions. For comedy, head to Cobb’s Comedy Club or the Punch Line.
San Francisco Sporting Events
San Francisco’s hometown sports teams have won several championships in recent years. Golden State Warriors tickets at the new Chase Center can be expensive & tough to get, but it’s now easier to get to Oracle Park to see a San Francisco Giants game than it once was. There’s not a bad seat in the house, but the views from the upper deck look out across San Francisco Bay & downtown.
Neighborhood Street Fairs
Nearly every San Francisco neighborhood hosts a street fair at some point during the year. Check this calendar to see what’s going on in San Francisco during your visit.
Other San Francisco Neighborhoods
There are a few more neighborhoods I haven’t yet mentioned that are also great places to go in San Francisco. Hayes Valley is a trendy neighborhood with nice shops, restaurants, and bars, as are Pacific Heights along Fillmore and the Marina. The Dogpatch is an evolving industrial area that has great restaurants, craft beer, and stores. The Richmond has some of the best Asian restaurants & shops in the city, as well as the excellent Green Apple Books.
San Francisco Shopping
Scattered throughout this list of the best things to do in San Francisco, I’ve highlighted some great places to eat. In addition to those spots, there’s even more to try. San Francisco’s diverse population means that there are restaurants featuring cuisines from all over the world. I’ve always found Eater to be a good place to start my food research. This is of course in addition to the San Francisco classics such as Swan Oyster Depot, House of Prime Rib, & Red’s Java House, as well as a plethora of Michelin-star restaurants. There are also tons of food tours throughout San Francisco, which are a good way to try lots of different things.
Day Trips From SF
Yes, there are plenty of great things to see & do in San Francisco. But there’s also so much going on nearby. It’s easy to take a day trip to Oakland, Berkeley, or Alameda in the East Bay by public transportation. Just across the Golden Gate Bridge, you can take a day trip to Sausalito or Muir Woods. And just a little bit further away, Napa & Sonoma are also great places for day trips. Here are more San Francisco day trip ideas.
San Francisco Guided Tours
There’s a ton to do on this list, so you should now have plenty of ideas for what to do in San Francisco. If you don’t want to deal with figuring out the logistics or if you only have a short amount of time in the city, check out these San Francisco guided tours & other ideas for things to do.
San Francisco Hotels
If you’re looking for places to stay, Tripadvisor has reviews & price comparisons for San Francisco hotels.
I hope this comprehensive list of things to see & do in San Francisco has been helpful. If you’ve been counting, there are far more than 49 on this list! What are your favorite places to visit in San Francisco?
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