South San Francisco is a city of about 64,000 people in the San Francisco Bay area of San Mateo County. Despite its name, the city isn’t part of nearby San Francisco.
South San Francisco is known as the Biotech Capital of the World. It’s also known for its great weather, the pleasant scenery of the San Bruno Mountains and San Francisco Bay, and an abundance of things to see and do in and around the city.
There are many parks, restaurants, cafes, cultural attractions, and shopping areas in South San Francisco, such as Westborough Square and Southwood Shopping Center. The city’s central location provides easy access to nearby major cities, including San Francisco, which is 20 minutes away.
Many festivals and events take place throughout the year in South San Francisco, such as the Festival of Lights.
Below are 15 of the best things to do in and around South San Francisco, California.
1. Learn About Local History at the South San Francisco Historical Society
Encompassing two locations, The South San Francisco Historical Society is the place to visit if you’re interested in learning about the vibrant history of the area.
The first location is the Historical Society Museum. At this site, you’ll see a variety of exhibits showcasing many artefacts, school yearbooks from years gone by, old newspapers, maps, period clothes, and photographs.
The second location is the Plymire-Schwartz Center. The exhibits at this site are situated in a restored 1905 colonial-style house. Inside, you’ll see period furnishings and other antiques. You’ll also get a feel for what it was like to live in those times.
2. Go Hiking at San Bruno Mountain State Park
The most prominent feature of the San Bruno Mountain State Park is San Bruno Mountain, and the most popular activity in this park is hiking.
The trails that lead to the feature some of the best views around. At the top, you’ll have views of the four-mile ridge and San Francisco Bay. You can visit the remnants of a Nike Missile early warning system once used to spot approaching enemy planes.
You’ll also have the chance to see rare plants and butterflies, and you may even spot some of the wildlife living in this unique habitat.
While hiking is the most popular activity in this 2,326-acre park, there are many other things to do, such as picnicking and playing volleyball or Frisbee in the meadow. Some of the on-site facilities include picnic areas with barbecue pits and restrooms.
3. Enjoy Good ‘Ol American Comfort Food at Cafe 382
Cafe 382 is a great place to grab a bite to eat at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This casual, family-owned eatery specializes in traditional American cuisine with a modern twist. Locally-sourced ingredients are used, and everything is fresh.
On the menu, you’ll find a wide variety of items, including salads, sandwiches, burgers, pasta dishes and entrees such as fried chicken, fish & chips, grilled New York Steak and salmon. Patio dining is available, and happy hour is held on certain days throughout the week.
4. Visit the Wind Harp and Hear Music Made by the Wind
Built in 1967 and standing 92 feet high, The Wind Harp is an eye-catching structure standing on a hilltop above South San Francisco.
This tower is more than just a tower: it’s precisely what the name implies – a giant wind harp. In fact, it’s one of the biggest wind harps in the world.
The movement of the wind causes the sounds that come from it, so it’s best to visit on a windy day to get the best and loudest sound. While you’re there, enjoy the stunning views of the city and San Francisco Bay.
5. Slip into a Peaceful Oasis at the San Mateo Japanese Garden
Designed by Nagao Sakurai from the Imperial Palace of Tokyo, the San Mateo Japanese Garden is a quiet place to spend time away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
This beautiful Japanese tea garden has blossoming cherry trees, bonsai, and Japanese Maples. Also on-site are a koi pond with wooden bridges, a gazebo, a teahouse with garden views, and a meditation area featuring a pagoda and waterfall.
6. Hike or Bike the San Francisco Bay Trail
As of this writing, only 356 miles of this planned trail are complete. When finished, it will run 500 miles along the shores of San Francisco Bay, but you can still use the part of the trail that’s completed.
Whether you choose to walk or bike along this trail, along the way, you’ll see stunning views and catch a glimpse of native wildlife.
The trail features paved and gravel pathways and leads you past neighbouring cities, parks, museums, and cultural attractions.
7. Browse the South San Francisco Farmers’ Market
There’s just something nostalgic about browsing a market on a sunny morning. The South San Francisco Farmers’ Market is the perfect place to spend time looking for quality, local items or just feeling like you are part of the local scene.
At this market, you’ll find a wide range of fresh, locally-grown produce, including berries, vegetables, and fruit.
Honey, eggs, artisan cheese, homemade baked items, seafood, and handcrafted soap are among the other things you’ll find as you make your way past the many vendors.
8. Sample Local Craft Beer at 47 Hills Brewing Co.
When you enter 47 Hills Brewing Co., you walk into a cosy, inviting atmosphere where locals and visitors come together over good times and good beer.
Since 2012, master brewers have been using inventive brewing methods influenced by traditional techniques to create a unique assortment of beers.
Pink Boots, Marzen Amber Lager, Farmhouse Ale, Yelling at Cars, and Industrial Slime are just some of the beers you can sample in the on-site taproom.
A kitchen is also on-site and features a wide variety of snacks and dishes made with locally-sourced ingredients.
9. Learn About Local Wildlife at the CuriOdyssey
Looking out over beautiful San Francisco Bay is the CuriOdyssey in nearby San Mateo. This science museum and native animal zoo has 25 recreated natural habitats that house rescued wild animals.
Also on-site is a large aviary featuring more than a dozen rescued native California birds. The Invertebrate Corner features a live beehive and various invertebrates.
The on-site science and wildlife centre has a variety of interactive exhibits where you can learn more about the centre, the animals, and their habitats.
The adjacent Coyote Point Recreation Area is where you can participate in a wide range of outdoor activities, including boating, fishing, windsurfing, cycling, and picnicking.
10. Take a Trip up Sign Hill
If you didn’t know that South San Francisco is renowned as an industrial city, the writing on the side of Sign Hill will surely convince you. Plainly visible on the side of San Bruno Mountain are the words “SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO THE INDUSTRIAL CITY,” made with painted concrete.
Since the 1920s, those words have been piquing the interest of visitors, whose curiosity lures them up the side of that mountain to where those words are.
Sign Hill is on the list of Historic Places. It’s also a city park with more than 30 acres of green space and about two miles of hiking trails.
11. Go Paragliding with Bay Area Soaring
Paragliding is a popular outdoor activity in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Go Paragliding provides paragliding adventures in nearby Daly City.
You don’t need any experience to go on one of these adventures; an experienced tandem instructor will show you the ropes and be beside you the whole time. After a brief lesson on safety and the basics of paragliding, you’ll be soaring high above the bay.
As you glide through the sky, you’ll likely spot sea lions sunbathing along the coast and possibly see other wildlife roaming the open spaces.
12. Learn to Shoot Arrows at Pacifica Archery
Whether you’re an old pro looking to hone your skills and purchase some upgraded equipment or a novice seeking to learn the basics of archery, Pacifica Archery has what you’re looking for.
This family-run business has been selling archery-related equipment and providing lessons and classes to beginners since the late 90s. The pro shop has everything you need to upgrade your equipment.
There’s an indoor archery range on-site, and equipment rentals and instructional classes are available.
13. Kick Back in Orange Memorial Park
Orange Memorial Park in South San Francisco is a lovely green space with many amenities. Visitors have the opportunity to participate in a range of activities.
On-site are various sporting fields, an indoor swimming pool, picnic areas, a sculpture park, a playground, tennis and basketball courts, and a skate park.
Throughout the year, a variety of events take place in this park, including the Concert in the Park.
14. Escape Into the Wilderness at Skyline Ridge Preserve and Horseshoe Lake
Skyline Ridge Preserve is a pristine nature area featuring more than 2,100 acres of wilderness atop a ridge.
Within this nature area are 11 miles of hiking and cycling trails, with scenic views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and opportunities to spot wildlife, including many species of birds.
As you explore the area, you’ll also come across beautiful Horseshoe Lake, Alpine Pond, and a nature centre.