25 Best Things to Do in San Francisco

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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San Francisco is a hub of excitement, and the cultural, commercial and financial heart of Northern California. The city is the 13th most populated in the U.S. but has the second highest population density in the county, with only New York being busier. The city shot to fame in 1849 as the home of the Californian Gold Rush which at the time made it the largest city on the West Coast.

The city is famous for it’s restaurants and some of the best chef’s in the country are lucky enough to call this home. With so much to do in this amazing city let us take a look at the best things to do in San Francisco.

1. Go Across The Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate BridgeSource: Lucky-photographer / shutterstock
Golden Gate Bridge

Between San Francisco Bay and Marin County is the world famous Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge has been declared one of the modern wonders of the world. It was opened in 1937 and at that time it was the longest suspension bridge ever created.

Made from steel and with a total length of 1.7 miles it is the most photographed bridge anywhere is the world. There are six lanes of traffic on the bridge carrying millions of passengers every year. Before the bridge was built people used to have to get a ferry between the two places, the ferry company was called Golden State Ferry Company and at one point it was the largest ferry company on the planet.

Suggested tour: Golden Gate Bridge from the Air! Seaplane Tour

2. Head Down To The Waterfront At Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman's WharfSource: Benny Marty / shutterstock
Fisherman’s Wharf

San Francisco’s most famous waterfront community is at Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you can experience some fantastic food and enjoy some of the best dining the world has to offer.

There are outdoor stands selling fresh Dungeness crab or various gourmet restaurants selling the freshest of fish from that days catch.

From here you can also arrange to go on many different tours of the area including Segway, walking, boat and many more.

3. Relax At Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate ParkSource: Andrew Zarivny / shutterstock
Golden Gate Park

Each year 13 million visitors visit Golden Gate Park and explore one of San Francisco’s most amazing places. This picturesque space spans 1,017 acres and has many places to explore and relax. You can discover the lakes, picnic areas, monuments, playgrounds and gardens.

Throughout the calendar there are a plethora of events and activities that take place in the park. You can even hold your own wedding or special event in the beautiful gardens and take photographs with the stunning scenery as a back drop.

Explore the park by Segway: Golden Gate Park Segway Tour

4. Could You Escape From Alcatraz Island?

AlcatrazSource: f11photo / shutterstock

1.5 miles off the shore of San Francisco is Alcatraz Island, This tiny island was developed as a military fortification, a military prison as well as a federal prison. The most famous being the federal prison. This was between 1933 and 1963.

The thinking behind the federal prison was that the prisoners who caused continual trouble at other prisons would be locked up here. Many infamous prisoners have stayed here including Al Capone and Robert Franklin Stroud. The island now is a tourist attraction and many people flock here each year to explore the depths of the prison.

5. Spend Time At Union Square

Union SquareSource: Oscity / shutterstock
Union Square

Union Square is the most visited neighborhood in San Francisco. Here you will find a large collection of high end retail outlets, fancy hotels, cafes, art galleries and a very active nightlife.

The area has many live events to attend and there is always something happening to keep you entertained. To really get an experience of partying with the locals this is a must stop on any tour of the city.

6. Embrace The Chinese Culture in Chinatown

Chinatown San FranciscoSource: Michael Urmann / shutterstock
Chinatown San Francisco

Most major cities have a Chinatown, but San Francisco has four and the one on Grant Avenue is the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as being the oldest in North America. The town is so big that is encompasses two hospitals, various parks and draws more visitors each year than the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you are looking for authentic Chinese cuisine in San Francisco there is no point looking anywhere outside of the four Chinatowns to find real traditional Chinese food. If you are in the city during the Autumn Moon Festival you can visit this Chinese festival for free.

Available tour: San Francisco’s Chinatown Walking Tour

7. Ride The San Francisco Cable Car System

San Francisco Cable CarSource: Tono Balaguer / shutterstock
San Francisco Cable Car

San Francisco is very proud of their cable car system. It is the last manually operated system in the world today. At its peak you would find 23 cable car lines in the city, but today we have just three left. Nearly all of the people that ride the cars today are tourists looking to try that something different when in town.

The first of the cable cars was opened in in 1873 and due to their popularity and the money that the owners were making more lines were added. In 1892 the first electric streetcars were made and so the decline of the manual car began.

8. Watch The San Francisco Giants

Source: Joseph Sohm / shutterstock
San Francisco Giants – AT&T Park Stadium

AT&T Park is home to the San Francisco Giants. One of the most famous teams in the league and a genuine household name. The stadium is on the San Francisco Bay and every time the Giants step into the park the stadium and city unites. The current stadium was completed in April 2000 at a cost of $357 million dollars.

The San Francisco Giants were originally the New York Gotham’s before moving to San Francisco in 1958. They have won the World Series 8 times, the most recent being in 2014.

9. Explore The World Around You

San Francisco ExploratoriumSource: Iv-olga / shutterstock
San Francisco Exploratorium

Step into Exploratorium and discover life in a different way. See what things would be like if we lived in a colorless world or take part in a video game that has social consequences.

Exploratorium is one of the most interactive places to take your children, the setup is so fun that you do not even realize you are learning whilst you are there.

There are six galleries, each one focuses on a different area and rewards you depending on your concentration.

Tip: The Exploratorium is included in the San Francisco Mega Pass

10. Enjoy A Day At The Presidio Of San Francisco

Presidio Of San FranciscoSource: Chris LaBasco / shutterstock
Presidio Of San Francisco

The Presidio of San Francisco is a former military base that is now a park. The park is situated on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsular and falls under the Golden Gate Recreation Area. The ownership of the area initially was held by the Spanish, it then moved to the Mexicans before the United States took ownership in 1948.

There are many places in the park where you can stand and overlook the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the Pacific Ocean. The site is also a recognized California Historical Landmark.

Included in: San Francisco, Sausalito and Muir Woods Small Group Tour

11. Come Face To Face With Jellyfish

Aquarium of the BaySource: Ethan Daniels / shutterstock
Aquarium of the Bay

Aquarium of the Bay is situated on the waterfront of San Francisco. Here you can enjoy an unforgettable experience as you come face to face with the local marine life. The aquarium has a mission to protect the bay and the animals that live in the bay.

When you are inside you will see 300 feet of clear tunnels that are full of 700,000 gallons of water. This water sustains 20,000 animals from the bay and surrounding areas. You can come face to face with a leopard shark and be mesmerized by the walls of jellyfish.

Tip: The Aquarium is included in the San Francisco Mega Pass

12. Spend Time In Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli SquareSource: f11photo / shutterstock
Ghirardelli Square

The history of this square is one of the things that make it interesting. It was initially a chocolate factory that was owned and established by Domenico Ghirardelli. Ghirardelli was born in Italy in 1817; he worked as a young confectioner before leaving for Uruguay at the age of 20.

As time went by Ghirardelli became a coffee and chocolate merchant, eventually ending up in San Francisco where the chocolate factory was set up. The square is now home to many upmarket shops, restaurants and hotels.

13. Sample Delicious Food At The Ferry Building

Ferry Building MarketplaceSource: cdrin / shutterstock
Ferry Building Marketplace

Offering everything from freshly caught fish to artisan cheeses, the Ferry Building Marketplace is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. The marketplace is located within the Ferry Building that sits at the bottom of Market Street.

There is a mixture of shops both large as well as small. You can eat at some of the city’s finest restaurants that house some of San Francisco’s best chefs. Before it was a market the building was used as a Ferry House for anyone arriving from the East.

14. Take In The View From Twin Peaks

Source: ESB Professional / shutterstock
San Francisco – View From Twin Peaks

The Twin Peaks in San Francisco are a world famous tourist attraction and offer spectacular views of the Bay Area. The Peaks were initially called “Los Pechos de la Choca” meaning Breasts of the Maiden. The two peaks are adjacent to each other and stand at 922 feet.

There are animals and plants in abundance and as you make your way to the top you are sure to see plenty. Apart from the peaks there is a 64 acre park that gives you an idea of how San Francisco looked before the development we see today.

Included in: San Francisco City Tour and Alcatraz Entrance Ticket

15. Explore Modern Art In The City

San Francisco Museum of Modern ArtSource: EQRoy / shutterstock
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was the first museum in this part of the country to show only modern art. There are currently more than 29,000 pieces of work on display including paintings, sculptures, photographs and architecture.

The museum is more than 80 years old and was initially housed at the War Memorial Veterans Building before moving to the location that is stands in today.

Book online: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Tickets

16. Admire The View From Coit Tower

Coit TowerSource: Matt Boyle / shutterstock
Coit Tower

Coit Tower has been standing at the top of Telegraph Hill since 1933. At the top of the tower is a viewing deck that gives 360 degree views of the city and the surrounding bay. The tower was named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, she was a little eccentric and very wealthy.

When she passed aways he left a substantial sum of money to the city and so this tower was built to honor her. You can go up the tower by elevator all year round and tickets can be bought from the nearby ticket shop.

17. The Palace of Fine Arts

San Francisco Palace of Fine ArtsSource: Vadim 777 / shutterstock
San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco is an astonishing building that is on the U.S National Register of Historic Places and also a San Francisco Designated Landmark. The structure was constructed in 1915 with the purpose of exhibiting works of art.

The buildings have had various uses over the years including tennis courts, military storage and now an art gallery. The water surrounding the Palace has many types of wildlife including ducks, swans, geese and raccoons.

18. Learn All About Asian Art

Asian Art Museum in San FranciscoSource: Anne Czichos / shutterstock
Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco has one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of art from Asia in the world today. There are more than 18,000 pieces of art in the museum, including some pieces that are more than 6,000 years old. The museum was founded when Avery Brundage donated a large sum of money to the city to found the museum.

Avery Brundage was a millionaire and a collector of Asian art himself. The pieces of art focus on all major Asian countries, the museum also attracts many traveling exhibitions. In 1991 the Dalai Lama opened an exhibition on the subject of wisdom and compassion.

Included in: Go City All-Inclusive Pass 25+ Attractions

19. Wander Amongst The Redwood Trees

Muir Woods National MonumentSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Muir Woods National Monument

On Mount Tamalpais is the Muir Woods National Monument. An area of  land covering 554 acres which forms part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Center. 240 acres of this park is full of redwood trees.

At one point there were approximately 2 million acres of redwood trees in California, when the logging industry arrived many of these were cut down and this is one of the few remaining forests in the area. The park is a dog and picnic free area but there are many trails of varying difficulty to enjoy on a day out.

Top rated guided tour: Muir Woods National Monument Guided Tour

20. Visit The Oldest Japanese Tea Garden In The U.S

San Francisco's Japanese Tea GardenSource: I and S Walker / shutterstock
San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden

San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the country. The garden was created for an exhibition in 1894, when the exhibition closed a gentleman’s agreement was reached and the garden remained. As time went by the garden expanded to the size it is today, approximately 5 acres.

Today the gardens are hugely popular with tourists who come to see the pagodas, stepping stones, arched bridges and native Japanese plants. There is also a koi pond and Zen garden. If you are hungry or thirsty on your visit you can stop for some traditional Japanese refreshments.

21. Go To Angel Island

Angel IslandSource: TierneyMJ / shutterstock
Angel Island

Angel Island is the second largest island in the bay. There is a small population of about 60 people that live permanently on the island. You can travel here by ferry from San Francisco and once you arrive you can take an open air tram or a Segway tour of the island.

There are some fantastic cafes and bars serving up delicious food. The views of the Bay from the island are spectacular and worth the cost of the ferry alone. There are often events on the island that feature live music, so it is worth checking out what is happening in advance to make sure you go on a day when lots is happening.

22. Take A Trip Across the Bay Bridge

San Francisco Bay BridgeSource: yhelfman / shutterstock
San Francisco Bay Bridge

The Bay Bridge is officially known as the San Francisco -Oakland Bay Bridge. The bridge connects San Francisco Bay and Oakland, 240,000 vehicles a day pass over the bridge on one of the ten lanes designated for vehicles. There is also a cycle and pedestrian lane.

The bridge initially carried trains on the lower deck but once the Key System Transit line was closed it was converted to vehicles, thus doubling the capacity for cars and lorries. In 2002 one part of the bridge collapsed and the entire bridge had to be closed for one month, the repair cost an estimated $6.5 billion.

23. Take A Stroll Along Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach, San FranciscoSource: Lynn Watson / shutterstock
Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Ocean Beach is a beautiful quiet beach with gorgeous white sand and very few tourists. The beach stretches out in front of you for 3.5 miles and is very quiet, quite often it can just be you, the birds and the ocean waves. The water is good for surfing but only if you are experienced as it can become very choppy.

The beach is part of the Golden Gate National Park, because of this you will get no high rises or ugly buildings to look at whilst you explore. Instead you will see beautiful natural views and also the Golden Gate Bridge.

24. Find Culture At Yerba Buena Gardens

Yerba Buena GardensSource: Apostolis Giontzis / shutterstock
Yerba Buena Gardens

At The Heart of the downtown cultural district is Yerba Buena Gardens. Here you can find restaurants, cafes, museums and theaters. There is also a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that is certainly worth taking the time to see.

There is always something happening and every year hundreds of free outdoor events are put on for the locals and visitors. You can go bowling, ice skating or take a ride on the historic carousel. The park has been voted among the top 30 urban parks in the country and once you arrive it is easy to see why.

25. Enjoy The Walt Disney Family Museum

Walt Disney Family MuseumSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Walt Disney Family Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum is a must see for anyone who is a fan of their movies. Here you can learn about the life of Walt Disney. The museum covers an area of 40,000 square foot and features some of the historic items that brought Walt Disney’s imagination to life.

You can take a look at some of the earliest drawings as well as a 12 foot replica of Disneyland. There are 248 awards in the museum which were won by Disney during his glittering career. Part of the museum is a Fantasia inspired theater which shows Disney classics daily.

25 Best Things to Do in San Francisco:

  • Go Across The Golden Gate Bridge
  • Head Down To The Waterfront At Fisherman's Wharf
  • Relax At Golden Gate Park
  • Could You Escape From Alcatraz Island?
  • Spend Time At Union Square
  • Embrace The Chinese Culture in Chinatown
  • Ride The San Francisco Cable Car System
  • Watch The San Francisco Giants
  • Explore The World Around You
  • Enjoy A Day At The Presidio Of San Francisco
  • Come Face To Face With Jellyfish
  • Spend Time In Ghirardelli Square
  • Sample Delicious Food At The Ferry Building
  • Take In The View From Twin Peaks
  • Explore Modern Art In The City
  • Admire The View From Coit Tower
  • The Palace of Fine Arts
  • Learn All About Asian Art
  • Wander Amongst The Redwood Trees
  • Visit The Oldest Japanese Tea Garden In The U.S
  • Go To Angel Island
  • Take A Trip Across the Bay Bridge
  • Take A Stroll Along Ocean Beach
  • Find Culture At Yerba Buena Gardens
  • Enjoy The Walt Disney Family Museum