San Francisco   Travel Guide

best places to visit san francisco

30 Top-Rated Things to Do in San Francisco

San Francisco is only 7 miles square, but it's packed with activities to delight outdoorsy types, art and culture lovers, foodies and curious wanderers of all ages. San Francisco offers so much more than its iconic landmarks. While Coit Tower and

  • All Things To Do
  • 1-Day Itinerary
  • 2-Day Itinerary
  • 3-Day Itinerary

best places to visit san francisco

Crissy Field & The Presidio Tunnel Tops Crissy Field & The Presidio Tunnel Tops free

Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Presidio Tunnel Tops is the nation’s newest national park space and reconnects the city to the bay. The 14-acre park, which was designed by James Corner Field Operations (the same team behind NYC ’s High Line ) bridges over the newly tunneled Presidio Parkway. The parkway (formerly Doyle Drive) separated the historic Main Post from the waterfront. Connecting pathways, bluff landscapes and overlooks have made the park a gathering place for locals and visitors alike. 

One of the park’s largest areas, the Golden Gate Meadow, is a popular spot for families for picnics, kite-flying and other outdoor activities. Gardens and accessible cliff walks border the meadow, which also offers views of the Golden Gate Bridge , the bay and the Marin Headlands. A 2-acre play space called the Outpost features huge play structures built from fallen tree trunks, boulders and other things inspired by nature, allowing children to swing, crawl and climb. 

best places to visit san francisco

Golden Gate Park Golden Gate Park free

If California had a Central Park equivalent, Golden Gate Park would undoubtedly be it. Though Golden Gate Park sees a small fraction of the visitors its New York counterpart does (Central Park welcomes more than 42 million, while Golden Gate sees more than 24 million yearly), it's about 174 acres bigger (Central Park is 843 acres). The park offers so much to see and do, it could take an entire day to experience all that it has to offer. Trails, picturesque picnic spaces, playgrounds, sports courts, gardens, museums and more can be found within its evergreen borders. With so many options available, it's best to map out what you want to do ahead of time, though some attractions warrant a visit, regardless of traveler taste.

The Japanese Tea Garden is one of those standout sites. This attraction is one of a kind, serving as the oldest Japanese garden in the U.S. It features 5 acres of manicured gardens outfitted with cherry trees, bamboo-lined pathways, koi ponds, a five-story pagoda, a Zen garden and a tea house, among other features. There's also the Conservatory of Flowers, the oldest existing public conservatory in the Western Hemisphere. The conservatory offers visitors a look at a plethora of vibrantly colored blooms and a chance to learn more about the nearly 2,000 species of plants that call the conservatory home. 

best places to visit san francisco

Coit Tower Coit Tower

Rising from its position on the peak of Telegraph Hill in Pioneer Park, Coit Tower serves as a vantage point to take in the northwest corner of San Francisco. Visitors might think the 210-foot-tall tower was designed to resemble a fire hose nozzle. While Lillie Hitchcock Coit commissioned the tower as a monument to volunteer firefighters, the concrete pillar's nozzle-like appearance is coincidental. The tower was completed in 1933, while artists painted the murals around its base (and repainted them due to some illustrations containing communist imagery) in 1934. The Coit Tower currently resides on the list of San Francisco Designated Landmarks and the National Register of Historic Places.

Recent travelers enjoyed the murals and 360-degree views of San Francisco from the top of the tower, but have complained about paying to climb stairs. The easiest way to access the Coit Tower is via the N line of the Muni. From downtown, you can take either the No. 30 or No. 45 line to Washington Square, located at the corners of Union & Columbus and transfer to the No. 39 Coit Tower bus.

best places to visit san francisco

Popular Tours

San Francisco: Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoia Day Tour

San Francisco: Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoia Day Tour

(2932 reviews)

from $ 209.00

Napa and Sonoma Wine Country Full-Day Tour from San Francisco

Napa and Sonoma Wine Country Full-Day Tour from San Francisco

(3925 reviews)

from $ 169.00

Small-Group Tour: SF, Muir Woods, Sausalito w/ Optional Alcatraz

Small-Group Tour: SF, Muir Woods, Sausalito w/ Optional Alcatraz

(1036 reviews)

from $ 129.00

best places to visit san francisco

Lands End Lands End free

One of the top places in San Francisco to catch the sunset, Lands End offers whimsical, winding trails through rocky cliffs. Located in the northwestern corner of San Francisco, the park sits inside of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The park encompasses multiple historic sites, monuments, multiple trails and a shoreline labyrinth with excellent views of the Golden Gate Bridge .

Visitors often rave about the park’s trails and the views of the Golden Gate Bridge and other San Francisco landmarks. Many have appreciated the historic ruins of the Sutro Baths, which San Franciscans used as a recreational swimming facility from 1898 to 1964. The baths were demolished in 1964, then further destroyed by a fire in 1966, leaving the structure that travelers can visit today. Similarly, the park's iconic Cliff House was destroyed twice by fire, but it was rebuilt each time.

best places to visit san francisco

Golden Gate Bridge Golden Gate Bridge free

The Golden Gate Bridge's vaulting, orange arches amidst the rocky seascape of the San Francisco Bay have made it one of the West Coast's most enduring symbols and the city's most popular tourist attraction. The bridge's name, "Golden Gate," actually refers to the body of water it spans (the Golden Gate Strait that connects the Pacific Ocean with the San Francisco Bay), and was built to make travel between San Francisco and Marin County an easier feat. 

There are plenty of great spots to capture a snap of the majestic bridge. But if you want a truly postcard-worthy shot, head to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, situated high on a hill overlooking San Francisco. If you have extra time, make sure to explore the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The actual span of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area encompasses multiple places in San Mateo (south of San Francisco), San Francisco and Marin counties ( Alcatraz and Muir Woods included), but notable parts of this recreation area can be found just a stroll away from the Golden Gate. From the bridge, travelers will find some scenic, bayside trails, some of which lead to secluded beaches, including Kirby Cove and Black Sands Beach. If you really want a trek, journey to the Point Bonita Lighthouse for sweeping views of the bay, found at the very tip of the Golden Gate Strait.

best places to visit san francisco

Ferry Building Marketplace Ferry Building Marketplace free

Attention all foodies: this delectable attraction needs to be at the top of your San Francisco to-do list. The Ferry Building Marketplace is a public food market that features a variety of food stalls that act as small restaurants, snack stops and grocery stores. Here you can find everything from staples, such as seafood, burgers, Mexican food and plenty of coffee, to a Japanese delicatessen, empanada stand, a honey shop and an organic bagel shop.

Many travelers who stopped by the Ferry Building Marketplace enjoyed the lively atmosphere and were impressed with the amount, variety and overall quality of eats available on-site. The Saturday farmers market was a standout for many. Though there are formal restaurants available, some visitors say the best strategy is to pick up a to-go meal and enjoy it along the scenic waterfront. And if you're not one for lines, don't come on the weekends. For a different perspective of the marketplace, view it from the water on a narrated boat tour . Some of the best San Francisco food tours also make stops here.

best places to visit san francisco

Alcatraz Alcatraz

U.S. News Insider Tip: Depending on what time of year you visit, tours to Alcatraz can sell out months in advance. Play it safe by not waiting until the last minute to reserve your spot. – Alissa Grisler, Associate Editor

While riding a cable car and getting a snap of the Golden Gate Bridge is a must when visiting San Francisco, both visitors and travel experts tend to argue the same for Alcatraz. This is because Alcatraz is rich with history. Sitting on a small, rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz is best known as being a former federal prison that housed some of society's biggest offenders, the most famous of which was Prohibition-era mob boss Al Capone. Before that, it was a military prison that housed prisoners from the Spanish-American War and Civil War, as well as the site of the West Coast's first operating lighthouse. The prison closed down both times due to high operating costs and was handed over to the National Park Service in 1972 after the island experienced a short occupation from Native American activists. Today, the attraction welcomes more than one million visitors per year. 

best places to visit san francisco

California Academy of Sciences California Academy of Sciences

Attention, families: recent visitors said this is the perfect place to bring kids in San Francisco. The California Academy of Sciences brims with plenty of things to see, including an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum and even a rainforest. 

The Steinhart Aquarium is home to about 40,000 animals representing more than 900 different species, including a penguin colony from Africa, a swamp with an albino alligator, a shark lagoon and a separate 100,000-gallon tank that mirrors the ecosystem of the California coast. Meanwhile, the Osher Rainforest houses more than 1,600 animals, including 250 free-flying birds and butterflies, and about 100 reptiles and amphibians in its four-story complex. The Morrison Planetarium is known for its 75-foot-diameter screen, which plays "Tour of the Universe" shows daily. And the Kimball Natural History Museum boasts dinosaur fossils, an interactive science exhibit and a unique earthquake simulator. 

best places to visit san francisco

Small Group Yosemite and Giant Sequoias Day Trip from San Francisco

(2255 reviews)

from $ 229.00

Muir Woods & Sausalito Half-Day Tour (Return by Bus or Ferry from Sausalito)

Muir Woods & Sausalito Half-Day Tour (Return by Bus or Ferry from Sausalito)

(4454 reviews)

from $ 86.40

Big Bus SF: Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Tour by Open-top Bus

Big Bus SF: Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Tour by Open-top Bus

(3715 reviews)

from $ 63.00

best places to visit san francisco

Palace of Fine Arts Palace of Fine Arts free

The only remaining structure from an early 20th-century world’s fair that helped put San Francisco on the international map, the Palace of Fine Arts is a faux palace surrounded by a lagoon frequented by snow-white swans. That setting combined with the building’s neoclassical design makes the Palace of Fine Arts one of the most popular spots in the city for wedding photos and Instagram shots. 

Described as a Beaux-Arts wonder, the palace was restored in the early 1960s, duplicating the original with a towering colonnade, bas-relief urns and a domed ceiling with allegorical paintings.

best places to visit san francisco

Hayes Valley Hayes Valley free

One of the best areas for shopping, eating, and people-watching, Hayes Valley is a cool, revitalized neighborhood located in the heart of the city. The main commercial strip, along Hayes Street between Laguna and Franklin, teems with stylish and unique home decor shops and clothing boutiques interspersed with charming outdoor cafes, dessert spots and a wide array of well-established restaurants and trendy watering holes. The neighborhood also features beautifully restored Victorians, a community garden and an art park.

Past visitors enjoyed the eclectic, European feel of the neighborhood and the quintessentially San Francisco experiences they've had there. These include customizing your own bag at the original Timbuk2 store , grabbing a coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee 's first brick-and-mortar tucked into a garage or enjoying a made-to-order ice cream at Smitten's kiosk overlooking the lively urban park, Patricia's Green .

best places to visit san francisco

Dolores Park Dolores Park free

On the western edge of The Mission , this 16-acre park is billed as one of the city’s most popular – because of its views of the San Francisco skyline and beyond, as well its ample green space. On sunny days, the park is a favorite among families who flock here to picnic on the grassy lawns that are shaded by palm trees. There’s also a playground and two off-leash dog play areas, as well as several sports courts. If you’re hoping to bring a picnic to enjoy at the park, experts suggest stopping by Tartine Bakery, Rhea’s Market & Deli and Nopalito.

Interestingly, the park is situated on land that was once a Jewish cemetery. In 1905, the city purchased the land and created the park. A year later, it became a refugee camp for hundreds of residents who became homeless after the historic 1906 earthquake and fire. 

best places to visit san francisco

The Mission The Mission free

U.S. News Insider Tip: Walk along Valencia Street between 20th and 22nd streets for unique and creative shops and affordable restaurants. Check out local favorites like sustainable bag brand Baggu, Dog Eared Books and Paxton Gate. – Lili Weigert

The Mission has attracted San Francisco's young bohemian crowd in the past decade, but its history is rooted in Hispanic heritage. After all, its namesake is the city’s oldest building, Mission Dolores. This is the place that introduced the burrito to the wider world, so be sure to check out Latinx-owned businesses like La Taqueria, Taqueria La Cumbre and El Farolito for some tasty eats loved by both locals and travelers alike. The Mission is also a great neighborhood for getting away from the heavily visited tourist attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf , plus it's a popular stop on many of the city's best walking tours .

best places to visit san francisco

San Francisco's Chinatown San Francisco's Chinatown free

U.S. News Insider Tip: Did you know that fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco? While in Chinatown, stop by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where you can watch the cookies being made and sample different flavors and toppings. – Lili Weigert

While New York City 's Chinatown tends to take center stage in the U.S., San Francisco's Chinatown is just as much of a star. San Francisco's Chinatown hosts one of the largest Asian communities outside of Asia, and is considered one of the oldest in North America. Chinese immigrants first started coming to California in search of fortune during the Gold Rush. After being driven out of the gold mines due to discrimination and restrictive legislation against Chinese immigrants, the Chinese moved to build businesses of their own in the area that is now Chinatown – one of the city's most visited neighborhoods. 

best places to visit san francisco

Muir Woods, Golden Gate Bridge + Sausalito with Optional Alcatraz

(560 reviews)

from $ 119.00

Official Alcatraz Island Prison Tour and San Francisco Bay Cruise

Official Alcatraz Island Prison Tour and San Francisco Bay Cruise

(75 reviews)

from $ 148.00

Straight to the Gate Access: San Francisco Bay Sunset Cruise

Straight to the Gate Access: San Francisco Bay Sunset Cruise

(1347 reviews)

from $ 58.00

best places to visit san francisco

Haight-Ashbury Haight-Ashbury free

Named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, this neighborhood is best known as the center of the 1960s counterculture movement. Remnants of the long gone hippie culture endure, including the former Grateful Dead house at 710 Ashbury St., and the Jefferson Airplane house at 2400 Fulton St. Both are private residences, but remain perennial attractions. 

These days, trendy has replaced hippy. Colorful Victorian homes line the hillsides and restaurants and boutiques crowd the streets. Along Upper Haight, you’ll find flamboyant clothing shops, piercing and tattoo parlors, and hip restaurants. Downhill on Haight Street, you’ll find dive bars, consignment stores and music shops. 

best places to visit san francisco

Ocean Beach Ocean Beach free

U.S. News Insider Tip: After a walk along the beach, cross the Great Highway for brunch or happy hour at The Beach Chalet. Enjoy the ocean view from the spacious dining room or head around back to the Parc Chalet for outdoor seating and a more relaxed atmosphere. – Lili Weigert

Located in the northwestern corner of San Francisco, Ocean Beach separates attractions like the San Francisco Zoo and Golden Gate Park from the Pacific Ocean. This 3 ½-mile stretch of sand is a welcome respite from the city's bustling downtown. Visitors and locals can walk the beach, while experienced surfers brave the frigid water in search of the perfect wave.

best places to visit san francisco

Muir Woods National Monument Muir Woods National Monument

U.S. News Insider Tip: You won't find great cell service here, so download anything you need before you enter the park. – Leilani Osmundson, Digital Producer

What better exemplifies California's dramatic landscape than sky-high redwood trees? That's what you'll find at Muir Woods, the beautiful and expansive national monument just 16 miles north of San Francisco. This attraction is a must-see for anyone looking to get up close and personal with some of California's most famous topography, not to mention a nice break from the bustle of the city. The largest redwood tree in Muir Woods measures about 258 feet tall. To give you a better visual, imagine 45 six-foot-tall individuals stacked on top of each other. And if that wasn't enough to impress, the average age of redwoods in Muir Woods is 600 to 800 years, and that's not even some of the oldest in the park at the moment.

best places to visit san francisco

Japantown Japantown free

U.S. News Insider Tip: Navigating this part of town can be hectic, so if you drive, the best place to park is the Japan Center Garage. As an added convenience, the garage's website shows the number of spaces available in real time. – Lili Weigert

There are only three Japantowns left in the country, and San Francisco's is both the largest and the oldest, dating back to 1906. It's a vibrant and colorful community where you can immerse yourself in Japanese culture and experiences. The neighborhood offers a huge variety of Japanese items calling out to be purchased or consumed, including plenty of affordable options for the budget traveler.

best places to visit san francisco

Cable Cars Cable Cars

Chances are, you've seen a television show, movie, postcard or some type of San Francisco memorabilia emblazoned with the city's iconic cable car or trolley. So, of course, to fully experience San Francisco's charm, you should hop on board. San Francisco's cable car system is the last of its kind in the United States, given the title of a National Historic Landmark in 1964. The cable car was conceived after Andrew Smith Hallidie, an immigrant from England, witnessed an accident involving a horse-drawn buggy trying to climb a steep San Francisco hill and failing. His father had a patent for wire rope in England and he used that to design a transportation system that relied on just that. Thus, cable cars were born in the late 1800s. 

Though cable cars are seldom used by locals (due in part to their small travel network and high fare), tourists flock to them in droves. More than 9 million visitors ride the cable cars each year, and according to recent travelers, it's easy to see why. Tourists had a blast riding the cable cars up and down San Francisco's vibrant streets. Even though some said they encountered long lines to board, the majority of visitors believe the wait to be worth the experience and a must-do in San Francisco. Though if you're not one for long lines, some say to board at one of the stops along the line instead at the beginning. 

best places to visit san francisco

San Francisco Super Saver: Muir Woods & Wine Country w/ optional Gourmet Lunch

(3183 reviews)

from $ 175.00

Straight to the Gate Access: Golden Gate Bay Cruise

Straight to the Gate Access: Golden Gate Bay Cruise

(1211 reviews)

from $ 38.00

2-Day Yosemite National Park Tour from San Francisco

2-Day Yosemite National Park Tour from San Francisco

(325 reviews)

from $ 529.00

best places to visit san francisco

Presidio Heights Presidio Heights free

U.S. News Insider Tip: This is a great neighborhood for consignment stores. Sprinkled among the many high-end fashionable boutiques, check out local favorites Goodbyes and The Designer Consigner. – Lili Weigert

Presidio Heights is an elegant and immaculate neighborhood known for its stunning views and beautiful homes. It also includes the Sacramento Street Shopping District, which stretches over seven blocks and is where you'll find some of San Francisco's most established and sophisticated design shops and fashion boutiques. Whether you're looking for gifts, keepsakes, ideas or inspiration, it's a lovely area to explore away from the hustle and bustle of the city's other shopping districts.

best places to visit san francisco

Oracle Park Oracle Park

The San Francisco Giants have been calling this stadium home since 2000, playing host to multiple World Series games. Oracle Park is regarded as one of the most scenic baseball parks in the United States for its picturesque placement along the San Francisco Bay. The majority of attendees are afforded prime views of the glittering water from their seats all the while being able to enjoy one of America's greatest pastimes. 

Although baseball season runs from April to October, the stadium holds tours year-round (except on game days), providing a behind-the-scenes look at the field, dugout, the press box, luxury suites and more. Make sure to catch a glimpse of the World Series trophies and rings, which are on display on the Promenade Level behind home plate. 

best places to visit san francisco

Baker Beach Baker Beach free

While San Francisco isn't known for being a beach town, the city's Baker Beach is often considered one of the best in California . Located in the northwestern area of San Francisco in the Presidio, Baker Beach is primarily known for its sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the neighboring Marin Headlands. The mile-long beach offers travelers plenty of room to spread their legs and features picnic areas and access to nearby Presidio trails. Travelers flock here to snap photos of the bridge, however, if you're looking to catch some rays or get your feet wet, you should go elsewhere: Swimming at Baker Beach is dangerous due to large waves, undertow and rip currents, and the city's fickle weather means it's not always warm enough for sunbathing.

Travelers strongly recommend bringing an extra layer, no matter what time of year you visit. Reviewers also stress that those traveling with families should stick to the south side of the beach: North Baker Beach is clothing optional, and it's definitely practiced. 

best places to visit san francisco

Yerba Buena Gardens Yerba Buena Gardens free

After a day of hasty sightseeing, the Yerba Buena Gardens provide travelers with an opportunity to wind down and enjoy San Francisco's weather and unique culture. The gardens include 5 acres of landscaped lawns complete with flowers, trees, water features and public art. The Cho-En Butterfly Garden attracts native San Francisco butterflies with plants (also native) that encourage butterfly growth from eggs to adults. Meanwhile, the Reflection Garden serves as a tribute to the Ohlone Indians as well as a performance area for various oral traditions. The Upper Terrace Garden and the Sister City Gardens, which include plants from San Francisco's 18 sister cities from around the world, are where visitors will find the area's cafes and most of its seating. Additionally, the East Garden houses a variety of sculptures and water features. There are also three spaces designed specifically for kids, including a children’s garden and two playgrounds. 

What's more, attractions like the Children's Creativity Museum and the Yerba Buena Ice Skating + Bowling Center flank the Yerba Buena Gardens, so travelers could feasibly spend an entire day exploring this area of San Francisco. Due to the number of restaurants that also surround the gardens, many past travelers recommend stopping by the Yerba Buena Gardens after grabbing lunch or snacks nearby. They also find the park a great location to relax and enjoy the landscape.

best places to visit san francisco

Twin Peaks Twin Peaks free

If you want the best views of San Francisco, take a hike to Twin Peaks. These famous grassy peaks rise 922 feet in elevation, making them the second highest point in the city (after Mount Davidson). From the top, travelers can view multiple San Francisco landmarks, including the Bay Bridge and the downtown skyscrapers. Whether you decide to go during the day or night (some say you should do both), numerous visitors agree that the views are stunning and worth the trek. But make sure to bring a jacket: many recent visitors said it can get windier (and subsequently chillier) up top than at sea level.

The Castro Street station is the nearest Muni Metro stop and the Crestline Drive stop on the No. 37 is the best bus route (picks up from Market Street). The most common way that travelers visit the area is by walking or biking to the north peak parking lot. Many guided tours also stop here. If you’re up for a little more exploration, hike the nearly mile-long trail that ascends the two peaks. There are also more trails that meander along the southern and eastern slopes of the 64-acre park. Be sure to stay on marked trails, as poison ivy can be found in the area.

best places to visit san francisco

Monterey, Carmel and 17-Mile Drive: Full Day Tour from SF

(1961 reviews)

from $ 118.11

Small-Group Wine Country Tour from San Francisco with Tastings

Small-Group Wine Country Tour from San Francisco with Tastings

(1185 reviews)

from $ 161.10

Inside Alcatraz and Golden Gate Bridge Bay Cruise

Inside Alcatraz and Golden Gate Bridge Bay Cruise

(149 reviews)

from $ 129.99

best places to visit san francisco

North Beach North Beach free

Don’t let the name of this neighborhood in northeastern San Francisco fool you: There’s no actual beach at North Beach. The name is more of a geographical marker for the neighborhood’s location on the bay. It’s better known as San Francisco’s Little Italy and remains home to a vibrant Italian-American community, with streets lined with restaurants and cafes. Among the neighborhood staples is Original Joe’s , which has been serving San Francisco residents for nearly a century. If you want a little help navigating the neighborhood’s delectable dining scene, consider signing up for one of the best San Francisco tours ; many of the companies featured lead guided food tours throughout North Beach.

In addition to its Italian restaurants, North Beach also gained fame as the preferred neighborhood for the post-World War II Beat Generation, which included authors Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and Gregory Corso, among others. You can still see remnants of the Beat Generation in the City Lights bookstore and Vesuvio Cafe, which draws chess players, artists, poets and literary tourists. 

best places to visit san francisco

Union Square Union Square free

Situated a couple blocks north of Market Street and southwest of the city's Financial District, Union Square sits at the heart of downtown San Francisco's hustle and bustle. This area is loved by travelers and locals alike for its awesome location and incredible energy. Union Square Park is flanked by tall buildings (some of which are adorned with Times Square -size ads) and busy streets, offering people the unique opportunity to sit in the middle of a busy city and enjoy the atmosphere without the risk of getting hit by a car. The square also acts as a park, outfitted with small grassy spaces and palm trees. There are also multiple seating areas and works of art dotted across the square. The most recognized are the tall Dewey monument, situated in the center of the square, and the regularly photographed Hearts in San Francisco sculpture found at the base of the square. From late November to mid-January, an outdoor ice-skating rink is set up in Union Square Plaza.

Travelers appreciated the abundance of amenities that surround Union Square. There are plenty of hotels as well as dining options left and right. Union Square is pretty well-known, however, for its shopping, with many calling the area a "shopper’s paradise." Just blocks away, travelers will find everything from Neiman Marcus to Sephora. Getting to Union Square via public transportation is much easier than driving. The attraction sits just blocks from Market Street, a hub for all types of public transportation including the bus, Muni Metro and BART. Union Square is only two blocks from the Market St. & 3rd St. Muni Station and about four blocks from the Powell Street BART Station. Union Square can be visited all hours of the day and night for free. For more information on Union Square, visit the attraction's website .

best places to visit san francisco

Japanese Tea Garden Japanese Tea Garden

Located in Golden Gate Park , the Japanese Tea Garden offers visitors a slice of tranquility in a busy city. The garden, originally created as a "Japanese Village" for an international exposition in 1894, is the oldest continuously maintained public Japanese garden outside of Japan. 

The 5 - acre site features classic elements of a Japanese garden, including an arched drum bridge, pagodas, stone lanterns, stepping stone paths, native Japanese plants, serene koi ponds, a five-story pagoda and a Zen garden. You’ll want to plan your visit foo March or April when the garden’s cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. The garden is also home to a 9,000-pound Lantern of Peace, a gift given to the United States by Japan after World War II and meant to symbolize friendship between the two countries. 

best places to visit san francisco

Angel Island State Park Angel Island State Park

Angel Island State Park is situated in the San Francisco Bay and provides an abundance of outdoor activities for anyone willing to trek across the water by ferry. Some consider it the less famous (and thus, less crowded) sibling to the bay’s other well-known island, Alcatraz . Before the government converted the storied island into a park, it served as a hunting location, a cattle ranch, an immigration station and even a missile base. You can learn more about the island’s role as the West Coast’s Ellis Island with a visit to the Immigration Station, which tells the important story of the Chinese immigrant experience. 

Recent travelers say visitors should allot extra time to hike the roughly 6-mile perimeter loop, which offers excellent views of the water and is relatively easy. In addition to restroom facilities, bike rentals and tram tours, there is also a cafe on the island (though most recent visitors advised packing a lunch).

best places to visit san francisco

Fisherman's Wharf Fisherman's Wharf free

U.S. News Insider Tip:  For a sweet treat, grab some delicious beignets at Frankie's Pier 43. – Leilani Osmundson, Digital Producer

Fisherman's Wharf is so tourist-laden that some travelers might prefer the quieter, more authentic attractions nearby (like the Castro or Presidio Tunnel Tops ). But if you're looking to explore all of San Francisco – from its alternative underbelly to its mainstream attractions – Fisherman's Wharf really is a must-see. This waterfront neighborhood features a laundry list of things to do, as well as a few popular San Francisco sites. One of these is Pier 39. The Pier features plenty of shopping and restaurant options for tourists and is also famous for offering sweeping views of the bay, as well as the can't-miss attractions that call it home, including Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge . Though while you're there, don't miss an opportunity to snap a photo of the sea lions who have a habit of sunbathing on buoys near the docks.

best places to visit san francisco

Small-Group Yosemite Day Tour from San Francisco

(546 reviews)

San Francisco Love Tour

San Francisco Love Tour

(2038 reviews)

from $ 85.00

Yosemite National Park: Full Day Tour from San Francisco

Yosemite National Park: Full Day Tour from San Francisco

(862 reviews)

from $ 204.25

best places to visit san francisco

Ghirardelli Square Ghirardelli Square free

Named after the famous purveyor of chocolate, Ghirardelli Square sits on the site of the company’s original factory. Framed by stately brick buildings, the square draws lots of tourists, thanks to its proximity to Fisherman’s Wharf and other landmarks. The square is home to shops, galleries, restaurants and, of course, the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. You can even hang your hat here: the Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square  sits within the complex.

Recent travelers were impressed by the views of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge , as well as the variety of shopping, and the chocolate.

best places to visit san francisco

The Exploratorium The Exploratorium

This museum, or as it refers to itself, "a learning laboratory," features 600 hands-on exhibits that cover a plethora of subject matter, such as engineering, psychology, geography and biology. The museum spreads its knowledge over six main galleries, each with its own standout interactive offerings. Here, visitors can feel what it’s like to be inside a tornado, walk on an outdoor fog bridge, gaze at a bacteria terrarium, swim through the air with an anti-gravity mirror and more.

Though the Exploratorium appears as if it's designed for kids, travelers say it's a great attraction for all ages. Adults report feeling just as excited and amazed at the galleries and exhibits as kids. Though if you prefer to experience The Exploratorium without having to deal with kiddos running around, a few visitors suggested stopping by on a Thursday evening, when the attraction is open only to visitors 18 years and older. Regardless, travelers say there is so much to see and do, you could easily spend a whole day there. And though the high price of admission might turn some off, many agree that the experience is worth the price. 

best places to visit san francisco

Things to Do in San Francisco FAQs

Explore more of san francisco.

The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco

Best Hotels

World Map

When To Visit

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.

Recommended

The 28 Best Water Parks in the U.S. for 2024

Holly Johnson|Timothy J. Forster May 8, 2024

best places to visit san francisco

The 18 Best Napa Valley Wineries to Visit in 2024

Lyn Mettler|Sharael Kolberg April 23, 2024

best places to visit san francisco

The 25 Best Beaches on the East Coast for 2024

Timothy J. Forster|Sharael Kolberg April 19, 2024

best places to visit san francisco

The 50 Best Hotels in the USA 2024

Christina Maggitas February 6, 2024

best places to visit san francisco

The 32 Most Famous Landmarks in the World

Gwen Pratesi|Timothy J. Forster February 1, 2024

best places to visit san francisco

9 Top All-Inclusive Resorts in Florida for 2024

Gwen Pratesi|Amanda Norcross January 5, 2024

best places to visit san francisco

24 Top All-Inclusive Resorts in the U.S. for 2024

Erin Evans January 4, 2024

best places to visit san francisco

26 Top Adults-Only All-Inclusive Resorts for 2024

Zach Watson December 28, 2023

best places to visit san francisco

Solo Vacations: The 36 Best Places to Travel Alone in 2024

Lyn Mettler|Erin Vasta December 22, 2023

best places to visit san francisco

26 Cheap Beach Vacations for Travelers on a Budget

Kyle McCarthy|Sharael Kolberg December 4, 2023

best places to visit san francisco

The 16 best things to do in San Francisco

Feb 5, 2024 • 9 min read

best places to visit san francisco

From riding cable cars to exploring the city's food scene, these are the essential things to do on a visit to San Francisco © lechatnoir / Getty Images

Famously beautiful,  San Francisco  is one of the most filmed, photographed (and shared on social networks) cities in the world. It’s even better in real life.

Pictures can never capture the taste of mouthwatering, farm-fresh dishes, the clang of the cable car and the truly joyous celebrations of individuality you’ll find on any visit here. But where do you start your urban exploration? From world-class museums to the best in LGBTIQ+ culture and incredible city vistas, here are the best things to do on any visit to San Francisco.

A couple with bikes pause on a trail to take photos of a large orange-red bridge shrouded in fog

1. Admire the Golden Gate Bridge from these vantage points

Other suspension bridges are impressive feats of engineering, but the Golden Gate Bridge tops them all for its razzle-dazzle. On sunny days, this American icon transfixes crowds with its radiant glow (there are great views from Crissy Field ), made possible by the work of 28 daredevil painters who reapply around 1000 gallons of International Orange paint each week. To inspect their work, duck under the bridge into Fort Point , make your way to the roof and look up: you’ll notice that even on the underbelly of the bridge, not a single rivet is allowed to get rusty.

Planning tip:  Head to the Marin County end of the bridge as the late-afternoon fog rolls in, and you’ll witness the ultimate magic show: now you see the Golden Gate Bridge, now you don’t. Return tomorrow for its dramatic unveiling, just in time for the morning commute.

2. Explore the attractions of Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park seems to contain just about everything San Franciscans love about their city, from bonsai and buffalo to flowers, free music and free spirits. The  de Young Museum  offers superb exhibitions of fine art in a striking contemporary building designed by Herzog & de Meuron, while the nearby  California Academy of Sciences  is a research institute and fabulous natural history museum complete with its own rainforest and aquarium. The park is also home to the  San Francisco Botanical Garden , Japanese Tea Garden , Conservatory of Flowers and Stow Lake . Today, everything SF needs is here: inspiration, nature and murals.

Planning tip:  With its myriad attractions, you could wander the park for a week and still not see them all. Select a few, take your time, and end your day enjoying the sunset over the Pacific with a fresh-brewed beer at the Beach Chalet .

Mural in Mission District neighborhood in San Francisco

3. Photograph the Mission’s 400+ street murals

Love changed the course of art history in the 1930s when modern-art power couple Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo honeymooned in San Francisco. Kahlo completed her first portrait commissions during her time in the city, while Rivera created public masterpieces that inspired generations of San Francisco muralists. Today San Francisco’s Mission District is an urban-art showstopper, featuring more than 400 murals throughout the neighborhood .

Planning tip: Head to  Balmy Alley for some of the oldest murals, while 24th St and the landmark San Francisco Women’s Building are covered with glorious portrayals of community pride and political dissent.

4. Browse the iconic City Lights Books

Free speech and free spirits have rejoiced since 1957, when City Lights founder and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and manager Shigeyoshi Murao won a landmark ruling defending their right to publish Allen Ginsberg's magnificent epic poem Howl . Celebrate your freedom to read freely in the designated Poet’s Chair upstairs, overlooking Jack Kerouac Alley. Then load up on zines on the mezzanine and entertain radical ideas downstairs in the new “Pedagogies of Resistance” section.

People riding on a cable car that's shooting down a hill

5. Jump on a cable car – and hold tight

Carnival rides can’t compare to the time-traveling thrills of the  cable car , San Francisco’s steampunk mode of public transport. As the rickety wagons ascend notoriously steep streets, first-timers slide into strangers’ laps – cable cars were invented in 1873, long before seat belts – as regulars just grip the leather hand straps, leaning back and riding the downhill plunges like pro surfers. Follow their lead, and you’ll soon master the San Francisco stance and find yourself conquering the city’s hills without even breaking a sweat.

6. Be inspired at the Asian Art Museum

Inspiration can be found across three floors spanning 6000 years of Asian art at this inspiring museum. Visitors can take in everything from meditative Tibetan mandalas to palace-intrigue Mughal miniatures, with stops to admire intricate Islamic geometric tile work, giddy arrays of Chinese snuff bottles and an entire Japanese minimalist teahouse. Besides the largest collection of Asian art outside Asia – 18,000-plus works – the Asian Art Museum offers excellent all-ages programs, from shadow-puppet shows to DJ mixers. Expanded ground-floor galleries host groundbreaking contemporary installations, from Jean Shin’s melted cell phone towers to teamLAB’s immersive Tokyo dreamscapes.

Shoppers at the food marketplace in the historic Ferry Building on Embarcadero, San Francisco, California, USA

7. Savor California food culture at the Ferry Building

Global food trends start in San Francisco. To sample tomorrow’s menu today, head to the Ferry Building , the city’s monument to trailblazing local, sustainable food. Don’t miss the Saturday farmers market , where top chefs jostle for the first pick of rare heirloom varietals, and foodie babies blissfully teethe on organic California peaches.

Planning tip: Take a trip to Pier 14, where you can make a picnic from food truck finds as you overlook the sparkling bay – and let lunch and life exceed expectations.

8. Tour Alcatraz, the notorious island prison

From its 19th-century founding as a jail for Civil War deserters and Native American dissidents until its closure by Robert Kennedy in 1963, Alcatraz was America’s most notorious penitentiary. With easy access from the city, a thrilling and unexpected history, daring tales of thwarted escape attempts and stunning views of the San Francisco skyline, “the Rock” garners 1.4 million visitors each year. Freedom will never feel so good as it will on the return ferry to San Francisco, only 1.25 miles across the bay’s riptides.

Planning tip:  For maximum chill factor, book the spooky night tour .

A man bicycles down Grant Ave in Chinatown, San Francisco, California, USA

9. Duck down the backstreets of Chinatown

Enter Dragon’s Gate to saunter down Chinatown’s main tourist drag, Grant Ave. It's hard to believe this pagoda-topped, souvenir-shop-packed strip was once the wildest spot in the West – at least until you see the fascinating displays at the Chinese Historical Society of America . Walk Waverly Place , Chinatown’s soul, lined with flag-festooned, colorful temple balconies and family-run businesses. Then duck into Chinatown’s historic alleyways to glimpse a neighborhood that’s survived against daunting odds, listening for mah-jongg tiles, temple gongs and Chinese orchestras as you wander the backstreets.

Local tip: Finish your tour by refueling with some tantalizing traditional dim sum.

10. Trace the history of the avant-garde at SFMOMA

From the moment of its founding in 1935, the  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art envisioned a world of radical new possibilities. SFMOMA was a forward-thinking early collector in such then-emerging media as photography, murals, film and installation. Today, the institution has tripled in size and ambition, dedicating entire wings to new media, room-size paintings, high-tech design and monumental Richard Serra sculptures.

Planning tip:  If you want to visit all seven floors, it's best to set aside a whole afternoon.

People cross the road on a rainbow-colored crosswalk in a city neighborhood. Rainbow flags fly from buildings

11. Go over the rainbow in the Castro

Somewhere over the rainbow (crosswalk), you’ll realize you’ve officially arrived in the Castro district – the most out-and-proud neighborhood on the planet for more than 50 years. Walk in the footsteps of LGBTIQ+ trailblazers along the  Rainbow Honor Walk , get to know civil-rights champions at America’s first GLBT History Museum and join history perpetually in progress at San Francisco’s month-long, million-strong Pride celebrations in June .

12. Take in the city panorama from Coit Tower

Wild parrots might mock your progress up Telegraph Hill – but then again, they shouldn’t expect to keep scenery like this to themselves. The Filbert St Steps pass cliffside cottage gardens to reach SF’s monument to independent thinking: Coit Tower . Fire-fighting millionaire Lillie Hitchcock Coit commissioned this art deco monument to honor firefighters, while muralists captured 1930s San Francisco in its lobby frescoes. Coit Tower’s paintings and panoramic viewing platform show off the city at its best: all broad perspectives, outlandish and inspiring. 

Detour:  SF has 41 peaks, and as you scale those steep hills, your calf muscles will strain, and gravity will seem unkind – but persevere. All grumbling will end once you reach the summit and feel like you have the world at your feet. For different angles, head to hilltop green spaces like George Sterling Park and Ina Coolbrith Park , San Francisco’s crowning glories. Alternatively, go to  Corona Heights  and  Buena Vista Park  for wind-sculpted trees and Victorian turrets.

Hundreds of brown sea lions lounge in the sun on jetties under a sign that says "Pier 39"

13. Hear the sea lions bark at Pier 39

Sea lions took over Pier 39 , San Francisco’s most coveted waterfront real estate, in 1989 and have been making a public display of themselves ever since. Naturally, these unkempt squatters have become San Francisco’s favorite mascots, and since California law requires boats to make way for marine mammals, yacht owners have had to relinquish valuable slips to accommodate as many as 1000 sea lions. Night and day, they canoodle, belch, scratch and gleefully shove one another off the docks. It’s a joy to watch.

Planning tip:  These giant mammals can be found on the docks between January and July (and whenever else they feel like sunbathing). 

14. Get hands-on with science at the Exploratorium

Can you stop time, sculpt fog or make sand sing? At the  Exploratorium , San Francisco’s hands-on laboratory of science and human perception, you’ll discover superhuman abilities you never knew you had. But the Exploratorium is not just for kids: there are kid-free hours on Thursdays offering mad-scientist cocktails, technology-assisted sing-alongs and themed exhibits for an 18-plus crowd. 

15. Play vintage amusements at Musée Mécanique

A flashback to penny arcades, the Musée Mécanique  in Fisherman’s Wharf houses a mind-blowing collection of vintage mechanical amusements. Sinister, freckle-faced “Laffing Sal” has freaked out kids for over a century, yet don’t let this manic mannequin deter you from the best arcade west of Coney Island. A quarter lets you start brawls in Wild West saloons, peep at belly dancers through a vintage Mutoscope and get hypnotized by a Ferris wheel made from toothpicks.

16. Sip a cocktail at a Barbary Coast bar

Friendly bartenders were once highly suspect in Barbary Coast, San Francisco’s Gold Rush–era red-light district. Circa 1849, a night that began with smiles and a 10-cent whiskey could end two days later, waking from a drugged sleep on a vessel bound for Patagonia. Now that double-crossing barkeep Shanghai Kelly is no longer a danger to drinkers, San Franciscans can relax over historically correct cocktails at North Beach’s revived Barbary Coast saloons, including Comstock Saloon , Devil’s Acre  and  15 Romolo . Today’s saloon scene is a fitting homage to drunken sailors of yore, with iron stools, absinthe fountains, dim lighting and reassuring barkeep banter.

This article was first published Feb 3, 2015 and updated Feb 5, 2024.

Explore related stories

Three friends jumping with happiness next to their car with palm trees in the background

Feb 19, 2024 • 7 min read

After years of hard work, what better way to celebrate than with an amazing adventure? Here are the best places for a graduation trip.

Stocksytxp27712a65QUj300Medium3353319.jpeg

Feb 15, 2024 • 16 min read

Lone Pine, California

Sep 9, 2023 • 7 min read

best places to visit san francisco

Mar 28, 2023 • 7 min read

A Dine boy rides his horse in the Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States

Jun 14, 2022 • 8 min read

Coastline on Highway 1 near Big Sur.

Sep 18, 2021 • 15 min read

Vintage Style Bicycles Teal and Yellow on Ocean City New Jersey Boardwalk with Beautiful Blue Sky with some Clouds Vivid Colors; Shutterstock ID 1117670270

Aug 30, 2021 • 8 min read

R8XH4K A bronze statue of William Faulkner looks out over Courthouse Square, May 31, 2015, in Oxford, Mississippi.

May 27, 2020 • 6 min read

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge at the golden hour from Baker Beach.

Jan 21, 2020 • 4 min read

Banksy_Park_City.jpg

Oct 29, 2019 • 4 min read

North America Chevron

United States Chevron

California Chevron

San Francisco Chevron

The 24 Best Things to Do in San Francisco

By Kimberley Lovato and Carey Jones

This image may contain Outdoors Nature Land Shoreline Water Ocean Sea Coast Promontory Island Human and Person

Don’t let San Francisco’s small seven-mile by seven-mile footprint  (under 10 percent the size of Los Angeles) fool you. This cosmopolitan, mini-metropolis surrounded by the bay and Pacific Ocean is awash with outdoor adventure, Michelin-star restaurants, historic sites, world-class museums, and independent mom-and-pop shops—all tucked into a tapestry of hilly neighborhoods lined with Victorian houses, green parks, and an independent ethos. Invigorating hikes through nature and walks along the city-proper trails and beaches are as much a part of life in San Francisco as Karl the Fog (yes, San Franciscans have named their most famous weather pattern), which can creep in at a moment’s notice in all four seasons. Whether you’re looking for a music- and art-filled visit, diverse food, or you simply can’t wait to fulfill your dream of riding a cable car or crossing the Golden Gate, this guide has you covered. Here are 24 of the best things to do the next time you’re in San Francisco.

Read our complete San Francisco guide here .

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge Arrow

Arching over the Golden Gate Strait, which connects the Pacific Ocean to the San Francisco Bay, the defining landmark of the city links San Francisco to Marin and Sausalito. At just under two miles, it's walkable by foot but also easy to see by car. It's hard to understand the magnitude or beauty of the bridge until you cross it. Stop outside the Welcome Center at the statue of Joseph Strauss, the bridge's designer, and look for the plaques explaining the bridge’s history and, of course, grab the obligatory snapshot. For more insights of the bridge’s backstory, sign up for a free walking tour of the bridge with San Francisco City Guides .

A person behind a counter.

Edible Excursions: Japantown Food Tour Arrow

Edible Excursions is run by a team of expert guides obsessed with San Francisco, food, and showing off Japantown. Small groups walk and nibble, sip and savor, for around two hours while hearing stories about the neighborhood and meeting family-run business owners. This is a neighborhood where you can't be afraid to step through doors because behind them teems friendly people, delicious foods, and a community passionate about their heritage and culture. At first, Japantown appears quiet, but once inside a restaurant, a grocery store, or even a mall, your perception changes. For curious visitors and backyard travelers who want to learn more about San Francisco’s Japantown, its history, and its food, and for anyone who loves trying dishes they might not make or find at home, this is a can't-miss.

A road in a forest

Muir Woods National Monument Arrow

The towering trees of Muir Woods National Monument might be known as Sequoia sempervirens to botanists and naturalists, but to travelers like us, they are California coastal redwoods and are some of the tallest and oldest trees on earth. This 558-acre preserve was named after conservationist John Muir and proclaimed a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. It is home to one of the last remaining ancient redwood forests in the Bay Area. Every step you take here is a do-not-miss wonder. There are around six miles of trails within the park, that wind among the mammoth trees to areas such as Cathedral Grove and Bohemian Grove, and along Redwood Creek. More experienced hikers can extend their treks to the adjacent Mount Tamalpais State Park.

SFMOMA San Francisco museum of art

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Arrow

SFMOMA stands out among other elite museums in the city for its innovative, exciting exhibits in a cutting-edge building. Located by a BART station and right off MUNI bus lines, it's accessible in a busy downtown location. Architecture firm Snøhetta spearheaded an innovative expansion, which includes a two-story-high and half-block-long "living wall" covered in native plants, as well as fiberglass-reinforced panels on the exterior that evoke the waters of the Bay. The collection is full of heavy hitters and the Museum Store is packed with wonders, ranging from Lichtenstein-inspired vases to glowing book-shaped lamps, delicate silver necklaces to a chess set with San Francisco landmarks for pieces. Spending an entire day here is certainly not out of the question.

Legion of Honor San Francisco

The Legion of Honor Museum Arrow

The Legion of Honor museum is not only one of San Francisco's best, but one of its most beautiful buildings, built as a replica of Paris ' Legion d'Honneur. It's home to more than 800 European paintings, including works from Picasso, Monet, and Rembrandt, as well as more than 90 sculptures by Rodin, most notably The Thinker. Save some time for a walk along the grounds, for breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge .

A cable car in the street.

San Francisco Cable Cars Arrow

Horses and carriages long had trouble conquering San Francisco's steep hills, and so in 1873 the cable car system was born—three lines of the original eight remain today. They are a symbol of San Francisco, the world's last manually operated cable car system, and one of the city’s most popular attractions. An estimated 9.7 million people hop aboard each year–the vast majority are tourists, but some residents still use these moving monuments to crisscross the city, just as was intended more than 150 years ago. Riding is a blend of an open-air bus and a slow-moving roller coaster. When you board, you'll either sit on the wooden benches for a more comfortable ride, or seek thrills and stand on the car's exterior, gripping the poles as the car moves up and down the steep streets of San Francisco.

This image may contain Promontory Outdoors Nature Land Shoreline Water Ocean Sea Architecture Building and Tower

Lands End Trail Arrow

You know the well-worn piece of advice, not to spend too long in California, or it’ll ruin you? This hike will ruin you. Snaking along the rocky clifftops at the city’s wild edge, the Coastal Trail at Lands End follows the Golden Gate Strait out to the Pacific Ocean, delivering jaw-dropping views along the way. The 1.7-mile path wends around corners and over hills, through wide-open spaces and cathedral-like groves of trees, tracing the path of a long-gone railway that once ferried pleasure seekers to Sutro Baths and Ocean Beach. You’ll get there, too, but don’t hurry—this is a hike to be savored.

California Academy of Sciences San Francisco

California Academy of Sciences Arrow

An impressive science and natural history museum in Golden Gate Park, the museum was completely rebuilt in 2008, and the new Renzo Piano-designed building features unique architectural elements like a rooftop covered in native plant life. The "living exhibits" are probably the highlights. There is a rainforest populated by plants, frogs, and free-flying birds and butterflies, with a flooded rainforest tunnel filled with Amazonian fish. Other live animal exhibits include a recreated swamp, where you can peer down at Claude, the resident albino alligator with ruby-red eyes, plus a colony of playful African penguins who share a tank with pyjama sharks and sea stars, where they swim and do flips. There's also the Steinhart Aquarium, with jellyfish and a living coral reef. The less “live” exhibits include Shake House, an immersive exhibit that allows visitors to (safely) experience the kinds of tremors that shook the Bay Area during the city’s two biggest quakes—the Loma Prieta Earthquake and the Great Earthquake of 1906.

This image may contain Outdoors Nature Land Shoreline Water Ocean Sea Coast Promontory Island Human and Person

Sutro Baths Arrow

These Instagram-worthy ruins overlooking the Pacific draw hikers and visitors during the day, especially at sunset, when the views are unforgettable. They are all that remains from a complex opened by Mayor Adolph Sutro in 1896, that burned down 70 years later. The spooky beauty makes this place stand out in a city with many outdoor spaces. Where else in San Francisco can you find sprawling ruins on the edge of the sea? It's practically like something out of the ancient world.

Chinatown San Francisco USA

Chinatown Arrow

San Francisco’s Chinatown looms large in our collective imagination, and rightly so. Born during the California Gold Rush years, the neighborhood dates back further than any other Chinese community in North America. With  30 square blocks to explore, it’s also the largest neighborhood of its kind outside Asia. Explore Chinatown’s nooks and crannies on foot and you’ll find something new and wondrous beneath the swaying red lanterns and neon signs. Down one side alley sits Tin How Temple, a quiet, incense-filled space where locals gather to pray; down another sits Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, a small shop where workers rapid-fold fortune cookies beneath a soundtrack of whirring machinery. You’ll see a real cross-section of humanity here—families  eating dim sum , older Chinese men and women playing mahjong in Portsmouth Square, dressed-up foodies making a night of it at Michelin-star Mister Jiu’s, gorgeous Empress by Boon, or the exclusive Eight Tables,  and tourists hunting for souvenirs (prices are cheaper here than in Union Square and Pier 39). 

Alcatraz San Francisco

Alcatraz Island Arrow

You may know it by its real name or you may know it as “The Rock” (thanks Nic Cage!). It is the prison that was open as a federal penitentiary for 29 years and, at one point, housed gangster Al Capone. It became notorious for failed escape attempts—the island is just 1.25 miles offshore and, lured by the glittering lights of the city, 34 prisoners tried their hand at swimming through the frigid, choppy waters to freedom. Today, you can take a 12-minute ferry ride out to the island and take in the infamous prison up close. Audio tours guide visitors through the main cell block, laundry facility, and chow house. Don’t miss the ruins of the 15-room Warden’s mansion, where lavish parties were held. It was burned to the ground during the 19-month-long occupation of Alcatraz Island by Native American activists in 1970. Outdoor spaces to see are Eagle Plaza, the Recreation Yard, and the island’s colorful gardens, maintained by volunteer gardeners of the  Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy .

Ferry Building Marketplace

Ferry Building  Arrow

The Ferry Building becomes San Francisco’s prime food destination during the Saturday Ferry Plaza farmers’ market, which brings more than 80 farmers and purveyors to the plaza surrounding the building, selling everything from rare citrus to small-batch miso to California olive oil. There's much to eat at other times, too, any time of day. Start your day with organic bagels at Daily Driver or vegan donuts from Donut Farm, washed down with Red Bay Coffee.  The ever-popular Hog Island Oyster Company has an outpost here serving briny delights pulled from its  flagship location on Tomales Bay . Also in the building is Grande Creperie, serving sweet and savory Brittany-style crepes in a French café setting. And recently opened  Reem’s  brings Arab street food, such as their popular mana’eesh and sharable mezze, from James Beard-nominated restaurant owner Reem Assil to the space vacated by Cowgirl Creamery. The Ferry Building outdoor seating currently holds 100 chairs and 50 tables on the back plaza, while all indoor dining areas are back to full seating capacity.

Mission Murals San Francisco

Mission District Street Art Arrow

The Mission's famous street art, which spills out of alleys, splashes across the exterior of grocery stores and bodegas, and covers homes, is one of its most pronounced characteristics. Some pieces are commissioned, others more spontaneous, but all of it contributes to the neighborhood’s character.  The spots you should make sure to hit if you’re touring around are Balmy Alley, just off Mission and 24th Streets, and Clarion Alley near the 16th Street BART station. If you have a bit more time, check out the neighborhood’s major mural corridors, 24th Street from Valencia to Portrero Avenue and Mission Street from the corner of 15th Street to Cesar Chavez. For a real deep dive, contact Precita Eyes Muralists, a nonprofit that runs street art tours of the neighborhood.

Angel Island San Francisco

Angel Island Arrow

Once the port of entry for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Asia and the Pacific Rim, Angel Island is a state park in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Hop on the ferry (your ticket includes the cost of admission), to get here from Tiburon or San Francisco. Once you get off, it's a lush scene for the eyes. The island is loaded with native plants and animals, and has views of both San Francisco and Marin. This is a great half-day activity: You can walk or bike the whole island in a few hours. You can also visit the Angel Island Immigration Station as well as the Angel Island Immigration Museum (AIIM), which opened in 2022 inside the former hospital building.

city lights bookstore San Francisco

City Lights Booksellers and Publishers Arrow

Founded in the 1950s by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and college professor Peter D. Martin, City Lights became famous for publishing Howl by Allen Ginsberg (and undergoing an obscenity trial as a result) and developed a reputation as one of the country's most interesting bookshops . Today, City Lights still publishes some of its own books, with a particular focus on poetry and titles that speak to vital political and social issues, and runs a well-stocked bookstore. If you want to supports artists, discover a new writer published by a small press, to imagine yourself in Kerouac's shoes, or to kill an hour before meeting someone for dinner, this is your place. Their selection is great and, for poetry lovers, the Poetry Room upstairs—with its vast, comprehensive collection—is a place of legend. You needn’t look far for signs of fans’ love of the place. During the pandemic, when it was thought the store might close indefinitely—and the store’s CEO posted a heartfelt GoFundMe asking readers for support—City Lights devotees donated $500,000 in four days to help the iconic store survive.

Presidio

The Presidio Arrow

A National Park established in 1994 from a massive converted Army base, the Presidio is a sprawling, scenic, wild-feeling park in San Francisco proper. The grounds have plenty of attractions, but the real appeal is visual, with trails leading to scenic overlooks of the city skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge . It is perfect for folks who want a remote-feeling walk without wanting to invest time or energy in a full out-of-town hike. The Batteries to Bluffs (.7 miles), Bay Area Ridge (2.5 miles), and Lovers' Lane trails (.6 miles) are all tremendously scenic without being strenuous and, a new addition: Hikers on the Tennessee Hollow Trail can walk through a new section of restored wetlands habitat, which stretches from Thompson Reach all the way to Crissy Field.

Default

Tiburon Arrow

 This former railroad and maritime town is picturesque in a classic-New England-meets-laid-back-California kind of way, and an easy day trip for a bite and shopping. Just 30 minutes across the bay on the Golden Gate Ferry, Tiburon is practically another neighborhood of San Francisco and is fast becoming a culinary destination too. Here and you can visit a museum, sample caviar and champagne, sip California wine, pick up some hand-blended spices, and grab brunch on an outdoor deck, all in an afternoon. For budget minded travelers, Tiburon can be spendy, especially if you tack on a restaurant visit to the cost of a ferry ticket. That being said, there is no cost to simply walk around Tiburon and enjoy the atmosphere. There are also places to simply grab a coffee or a sandwich, or BYO picnic if you prefer. The ferry runs on a strict schedule so check ahead for departure and return times.

Default

Park Life Store and Gallery Arrow

Located on Clement Street in the foggy Richmond District, the eclectic Park Life fits right in with the neighborhood's diverse restaurants, cozy coffee shops, unfussy dim sum joints, and other independent stores. Like an indi-mart married an art gallery, Park Life is a champion of emerging global artists and designers who create one-of-a-kind paintings, quirky curios, interesting books, and unconventional home accessories. The inventory is ever-changing, and art and design products collected from around the world are stacked on the tables, shelves, floors, and walls of the 1,400-square-foot space. Here you might page through a book featuring maps from National Parks spanning the last 100 years, spot an oil and acrylic painting of a pink tulip that’s just right for your new office, or pick up an embroidered throw pillow or colored pencils for your studio. 

Asian Art Museum San Francisco

Asian Art Museum Arrow

Housed in an airy 1917 Beaux-Arts Building—the former location of the city’s main library—the Asian Art Museum is home to a massive collection, with works from India, China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Southeast Asia, and more. The museum’s vast holdings include pottery, carvings, calligraphy, and unusual artifacts such as coffins, pipes, weapons, snuff bottles, even an entire reconstructed Zen Japanese tea room. The collection of Chinese bronze sculptures is one of the best outside of Asia. If that sounds like a lot to take in, remain calm: in the fall of 2020, the museum unveiled redesigned collection galleries, structured around 15 strikingly displayed masterpieces. Chosen for their beauty, rarity, and significance, these objects give visitors a useful lens through which to view the other 2,500 works on display. Of special note: On the first Sunday of the month, the museum offers free admission.

Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden Arrow

The oldest continuously operating public Japanese garden in North America, the Japanese Tea Garden, located in Golden Gate Park , is a wonderful spot to relax while exploring the park, but it's also worth a trip in its own right. Sitting among the perfectly pruned trees, small Japanese-style buildings, and gently flowing water features, sipping tea, it’s impossible not to relax, even on those Saturdays when the place gets a bit busier. Locals get a discount on entry ($7 instead of $10), so be sure to bring your ID.

Marrakech Magic Theater Arrow

Step off the busy streets near Union Square and make your way downstairs and into the Oasis Lounge, a former speakeasy with Moroccan tile, velvet banquets, and flickering lanterns adjacent to the 35-seat jewel box theater. This is the exclusive venue of mentalist and magician Jay Alexander, whose show is a little bit Broadway, a little bit Vegas, and a little bit comedy club. It begins in the lounge with close-up magic and sleight-of-hand. The main event moves to the adjacent theater–with Alexander on stage, the interactive performance brings in the audience for mind reading, human lie detector tests, and extraordinary stunts of mind-bending magic. Even skeptics will be convinced that magic is real!

Image may contain Bridge Building Transportation Vehicle Boat Suspension Bridge City Town Urban and Metropolis

Golden Gate Ferry San Francisco-Sausalito Arrow

The Blue & Gold Fleet, San Francisco’s largest ferry company, takes passengers to big-name destinations around the bay: Alcatraz , Tiburon, Angel Island . In 1997, the company launched a San Francisco to Sausalito ride. The journey begins, really, at the departure point: Fisherman’s Wharf. This is the city’s thrumming tourist heart: bicycle taxis fly down the street, aspiring soul-savers hand out pamphlets, the Silver Man poses for photos, and vendors sell T-shirts and knit caps. Once you board the ferry, though, you’ve entered another realm. The engine rumbles to life, and you’re heading out onto the bay. The sounds of the pier fade gradually; then suddenly, all you can hear is the water splashing off the ship, and the low hum of the motor. As the boat cuts through the water, the city starts to shrink and fade, the familiar forms of Coit Tower, Salesforce Tower, and the Transamerica Pyramid growing ever smaller, the rest of the city a sea of matchstick buildings in eggshell and gray and white and dusty rose. Then, perhaps before you even realized it, the boat’s engines decrescendo. Sausalito emerges, a vision in green.

Amoeba Music Los Angeles. night. lights. cars. street

Amoeba Music San Francisco Arrow

Think of Amoeba Music as the mascot of Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco’s famously countercultural neighborhood and the epicenter of the Summer of Love. Born in 1997—the same year as Radiohead’s OK Computer and the Notorious BIG’s Life After Death—Amoeba is colorful and fascinating, a riot of color and sound. An independent music shop thriving in the age of Spotify and Amazon, the whole place has a punky, free-spirited vibe: The walls are papered with band posters, cheeky merch abounds (Iron Maiden bobbleheads, Bob Ross action figures, a Nicolas Cage prayer candle), and the staff deejays, playing ear-catching CDs of their choice from bands you may have never heard before.

San Francisco Crosstown Trail Arrow

Conceived nearly a decade ago by volunteers, neighborhood activists, and outdoor enthusiasts, San Francisco’s Crosstown Trail finally became a reality when it opened in 2019. The epic 17-mile path takes walkers, runners, and bikers diagonally across the city, from the southeast near Candlestick Point Recreation Area to the northwest corner at Sutro Baths. Along the way, you’ll traverse city streets, meander through community gardens and neighborhoods, pass cafes and restaurants (for much-needed food and water breaks), and climb up hillsides and stairways where the city and bay views don’t disappoint. Walking, running, biking the trail is free, but to do the entire thing in a day would take 8-10 hours–break it up into small sections, being sure to pass the south end of sandy Baker Beach, a perfect place for a selfie with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

best places to visit san francisco

Recommended

Hotel Spero

By signing up you agree to our User Agreement (including the class action waiver and arbitration provisions ), our Privacy Policy & Cookie Statement and to receive marketing and account-related emails from Traveller. You can unsubscribe at any time. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

PlanetWare.com

23 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in San Francisco

Written by Lisa Alexander and Lana Law Updated Dec 25, 2023 We may earn a commission from affiliate links ( )

Set along the ocean, with rolling hills and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the United States and the jewel of Northern California. The city is full of history, great neighborhoods, parks , beaches , museums, entertainment options, and an astounding variety of restaurants.

Some of the most famous attractions are Alcatraz Island and Fisherman's Wharf, but the sightseeing possibilities here are extensive. San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest of its kind in North America and definitely worth visiting. For an exciting experience, hop on one of the historic cable cars and tour the city.

Discover more things to do with our list of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco.

1. Golden Gate Bridge

2. alcatraz island, 3. fisherman's wharf, 4. ride the cable cars, 5. golden gate park, 6. chinatown, 7. legion of honor fine arts museum of san francisco, 8. palace of fine arts, 9. california academy of sciences, 10. san francisco museum of modern art, 11. de young fine arts museum of san francisco, 12. twin peaks, 13. asian art museum, 14. exploratorium, 15. golden gate national recreation area, 16. oracle park, 17. day trip to napa valley, 18. hike and picnic on angel island state park, 19. ghirardelli square, 20. high tea at a historic hotel, 21. walt disney family museum, 22. muir woods national monument, 23. coit tower, where to stay in san francisco for sightseeing, tips and tours: how to make the most of your visit to san francisco, san francisco, ca - climate chart.

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge appears even more beautiful and impressive in real life than it looks in photos. It is the most photographed site in the city, with the orange structure backed by blue water, or in many cases, peaking through a dense layer of coastal fog. At night, the flood-lit structure is equally striking.

Connecting San Francisco with Marin County and other districts further north, the Golden Gate Bridge was, at one time, designated the greatest man-made sight in the United States by the U.S. Travel Service. Opened on May 28th, 1937, the bridge took four years to build and at the time of its completion, was the longest suspension bridge in the world, measuring approximately two miles in length.

If you want to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, the road is US Hwy 101 , or SR 1. On the east side of the bridge, a sidewalk is open to pedestrians. Bicycle access is allowed on both sides of the bridge.

The walk across the bridge begins at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center (near the Presidio GO shuttle bus drop-off point) and ends in Marin County with a panoramic viewpoint of San Francisco's cityscape.

Many locals enjoy biking across the bridge to the nearby waterfront town of Sausalito .

For a great view of the bridge, or for anyone interested in photographing the bridge, there are a number of ideal vantage points. From the San Francisco side, Nob Hill , an area known for its posh old mansions, offers some beautiful views over the bridge.

On the opposite side of the bridge, in Marin County, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is another good place to visit. Also, if you take a tour of Alcatraz Island, you will enjoy completely open views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the boat and island.

Alcatraz Island

The former federal penitentiary, located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, was one of America's most infamous prisons. It operated for almost thirty years, closing in 1963 and re-opening as a tourist attraction in 1973.

Some of America's most well-known criminals were incarcerated here, including Al Capone, "Machine-Gun" Kelly, and the "Birdman," who would later form the basis for the fictional movie The Birdman of Alcatraz .

In the course of its 30-year existence, the penitentiary received a total of 1,576 convicts. There were never more than 250 at any one time, even though therewere 450 cells measuring about 10ft by 4ft. At times the number of guards and staff was greater than the number of convicts. Alcatraz Island is also home to migrating birds.

You can visit Alcatraz on a guided tour (which includes round-trip ferry transportation from Pier 33). Choose from a daytime tour or an evening tour.

At the Alcatraz prison site, you are provided with an exceptional audio recording that offers a glimpse into life in the cellhouse, rather than just a historical list of the facts. The narration is even voiced by former inmates and guards of Alcatraz.

If you have just one day to explore San Francisco, try a combined Alcatraz and San Francisco City Tour which covers Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Alcatraz regularly sells out, so booking in advance is strongly advised.

Fisherman's Wharf

Locals call it a tourist trap, but visitors can't seem to resist. Fisherman's Wharf ranks as one of San Francisco's most popular tourist spots. The picturesque waterfront scenery and old-fashioned Italian fishing boats ( feluccas ), not to mention the fresh-caught Dungeness crab, make quite an impression!

Originally the "Little Italy" district of San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf is known for its shops, restaurants, and spectacular setting. Italian immigrants began to arrive in San Francisco in the 1860s and brought the waterfront to life with seafood commerce.

Some of the best seafood is served in the bay-view dining room of Scoma's restaurant. It's a great place for a gourmet dining experience. Or you could sample the local specialty of seafood stew at Cioppino's Restaurant just steps away from the waterfront.

Pier 39 is a hub of activity at Fisherman's Wharf. Be sure to go for a stroll here and check out the dozens of boutiques and eateries. The shops are very touristy (T-shirts, souvenirs, pretzels, chocolate-chip cookies), but the seafood restaurants give you a true taste of the city. You can also find authentic local sourdough bread at Boudin Bakery .

Tourists are not the only crowds you'll encounter at Pier 39. Local sea lions love this waterfront spot and are often found lounging on the Pier 39 docks. There's a viewing area where you can check them out. It's easy to find. You'll hear the sea lions barking from quite a distance!

From Pier 39, you can take a sightseeing cruise for spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay. You might also want to organize a fishing charter boat trip or hop on a whale-watching tour.

Some of the main attractions of Fisherman's Wharf are Madame Tussauds Wax Museum , the Musée Mécanique , Ripley's Believe it or Not! , and Ghirardelli Square . Restored 19th- and 20th-century ships line the waterfront at the Hyde Street Pier , which is now the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park .

San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf - Layout map

  • Fisherman's Wharf
  • Ghirardelli Square
  • The Cannery
  • National Maritme Museum
  • Maritime State Historic Park
  • USS Pampanito
  • Art Institute
  • Telegraph Hill
  • Coit Memorial Tower
  • St Peters and Paul

Cable Cars

Cable cars were introduced in 1873 to spare the horses from the city's grueling hills. Today, the few remaining cable cars are mainly a tourist attraction rather than a mode of transportation for local residents. Since 1964, these tram-like vehicles have had the unique distinction of being the only public transport system to be declared a National Historic Landmark .

Riding a cable car is an unforgettable tourist experience in San Francisco. It's an exhilarating way to take in the scenery. If you're standing on the open-air deck of a cable car, you'll feel the wind on your face. Anywhere you sit on a cable car, the noise of the brakes will surprise you.

Three sets of brakes are required to stop a cable car: A red lever operates the main brakes, a foot pedal controls the front brakes, and a really loud crank puts the rear brakes in action.

The Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde are the most scenic routes. These cable car lines will get you to tourist attractions such as Fisherman's Wharf , Ghirardelli Square , the Ferry Building , Nob Hill , and Lombard Street . The California line runs through the Financial District, Chinatown, and Nob Hill.

You can wait for a Powell-Mason or Powell-Hyde cable car at the cable car turntable (departure point), either at Powell & Market Street near Union Square or on Hyde Street near Aquatic Park, Ghirardelli Square, and Fisherman's Wharf. You can catch the California cable car at the Market & Drumm turntable in the Financial District.

Alternatively, you can hop on a cable car at any of the stops. Tickets can be purchased onboard the cable car.

If you are planning on more than a couple of rides or are going to be sightseeing for a few days, consider buying a pass.

Author's Tip: The Powell & Market and California Street cable car turntables (departure points) are in downtown San Francisco, in areas that could be described as gritty. You should be aware of your surroundings and watch your wallet/purse while in these areas.

You may want to avoid taking public transportation if you are going to the Powell & Market turntable. Some consider the Powell Street BART station to be San Francisco's worst example of a station (in a close tie with the Civic Center station). The Embarcadero BART station, near the Market & Drumm turntable, is cleaner and less gritty.

Official site: http://www.sfcablecar.com/

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park, home to gardens and museums, is a fabulous green space in the heart of San Francisco. Before development began in 1871, this was an area of arid dunes.

Today, the park has a network of walking trails and cycling paths, more than 5,000 different kinds of plants and dozens of species of trees, several lakes, bridle paths, and a buffalo paddock.

The main attractions include the de Young Fine Arts Museum, the California Academy of Sciences which houses a planetarium, rainforest, and the Steinhart Aquarium, the Japanese Tea Garden , and the San Francisco Botanical Garden .

Japanese Tea Garden

Other favorite spots include Stow Lake where you can enjoy boating and picnics, the Conservatory of Flowers which dates to the Victorian era, and the Koret Children's Quarter which has an old-fashioned Herschell-Spillman carousel.

You could easily spend a couple of hours at Golden Gate Park or visit several times over a couple of days. The park is too large to cover it all on foot. If you want to see all of the highlights of Golden Gate Park, you will need a car or a bicycle to get around.

Bike rentals are available, and this can be a good way to explore the park, rather than trying to do everything on foot. Parkwide Bike Rentals offers bicycle rentals at two locations in Golden Gate Park (near the Music Concourse and at the corner of Stanyan & Haight streets); the bicycles are rented out for a full day of use. The company also leads guided bike tours.

Alternatively, try an organized 2.5-hour Segway Tour with a local guide, and hit all the major highlights.

Chinatown

You may have been to Chinatown in other cities, but San Francisco's Chinatown is a whole other realm. It is both the largest and oldest Chinatown in North America. Almost completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, Chinatown was rebuilt entirely in the Chinese style and was soon even more attractive than before the disaster.

Chinatown gives you a glimpse of Chinese immigrant culture in San Francisco, an important part of the local heritage. In this compact area (San Francisco's most densely populated neighborhood), you'll find traditional green tile-roofed buildings filled with small businesses, restaurants, dim sum places, houses of worship, herbal shops, tea houses, and boutiques that sell jade jewels, antiques, and souvenirs.

For delicious and authentic Chinese cuisine, try the award-winning Z & Y Restaurant (655 Jackson Street). This Michelin Bib Gourmand -rated restaurant has served two Chinese presidents and several Foreign Ministers as well as other distinguished guests (such as President Obama).

If you are traveling through San Francisco during an important Chinese holiday or event, you can expect to see an elaborate celebration. Chinese New Year celebrations are often considered the best in North America. The main street in Chinatown for tourists is Grant Avenue , with the Chinatown Gateway at Grant Avenue and Bush Street.

San Francisco City Guides offers guided walking tours of Chinatown led by knowledgeable locals, free of charge (donations recommended). The Chinatown tour takes you beyond the main street into the neighborhood's hidden alleyways, to visit a Taoist temple, a fortune cookie factory, and a park where you'll see Chinatown residents practicing tai chi and playing chess outside.

If you don't mind a little exercise, you can do your own walking tour beginning in Chinatown with the help of our San Francisco Walking Tour .

Legion of Honor

Discover an exquisite fine arts collection, displayed in a beautiful location: a dramatic Neoclassical building surrounded by a woodsy parkland near the ocean. Just outside the museum, you'll find a walking path with perfect outlooks onto the Golden Gate Bridge.

For a scenic hike, continue on the walking path until reaching the Land's End Trail . This winding cliffside trail in a wild, rugged terrain offers sweeping Pacific Ocean views.

The Legion of Honor was the gift of the socialite, philanthropist, and patron of the arts Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. Because of her love for all things Parisian, the museum was designed as a replica of the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur in Paris.

This museum is one of the top cultural attractions in San Francisco. The Legion of Honor 's permanent collection includes European decorative arts, sculptures, and paintings, along with antiquities from the Mediterranean and Near East. Admission to the Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum also gives you same-day admission to the de Young Fine Arts Museum.

Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco is the last remaining structure from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition . Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this Neoclassical building is beautifully situated on a lagoon that reflects the mirror image on the surface of the calm water, while ducks and geese drift by.

The palace has been restored, along with the grounds, and today hosts art exhibitions and cultural events. The Palace of Fine Arts Theatre primarily presents comedy performances.

Address: 3301 Lyon Street, San Francisco

Roof of the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences , in Golden Gate Park , is an architectural marvel as well as a multifaceted museum. The exhibition space is voluminous and bright, thanks to walls that are largely made of glass allowing for natural light.

This state-of-the-art building features an eco-friendly design. The 2.5-acre Living Roof is covered with native plants, grassy fields, and seven "rolling hills" to match the natural surroundings. The roof also has solar panels to generate electricity, and the soil acts as natural insulation.

Inside is an incredible natural history museum, planetarium, aquarium, rainforest, gift shop, café, and restaurant. Both the café and restaurant offer plant-based options and California cuisine specialties prepared from local ingredients.

The Steinhart Aquarium includes some 60,000 live specimens and a 25-foot-deep coral reef. You can descend in a glass elevator to arrive at the aquarium. When you exit the elevator, look up through an acrylic tunnel to see fish swimming overhead in the freshwater mangrove forest.

The four-story-high Osher Rainforest houses tropical flora and fauna (birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects) within a temperature-regulated environment, beneath an enormous glass dome. The temperature is kept at 82 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. With the humidity, heat, and butterflies fluttering about, you might think you're walking through a real tropical rainforest. Look out for the poison-dart frogs and golden-silk orb-weaver spiders!

The Kimball Natural History Museum has skeletons of a T. rex and a blue whale, along with an exhibit of brilliant gems and minerals and exhibits about earthquakes, coastal fog, local marine mammals, and ancient redwood forests.

Little kids love the Natural History Museum's Tusher African Hall because it houses a colony of African penguins , part of a program to protect endangered species. It's fun to watch these small penguins waddle and splash about in their glass-enclosed area (which replicates their natural habitat). From time to time, the penguins jump or slide into a refreshing pool of water.

Address: 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

If you love modern art, be sure to visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in the SoMa District. SoMa is in downtown San Francisco next to Union Square and the Financial District.

The museum focuses on 20th-century art, in all forms, and the innovative and interesting exhibits are constantly changing. You will have plenty to admire during your visit, as the museum displays thousands of artworks within 170,000 square feet of exhibition space spread across 10 floors.

You can visit one section of the museum free of charge . This area includes 45,000 square feet of space. Here you'll find a Diego Riviera mural and an exhibit of paintings and sculptures dating from the early 20th century to the present. Some of the museum's highlights (such as Femme au chapeau by Henri Matisse, Frieda and Diego Rivera by Frida Kahlo, Lake George by Georgia O'Keeffe, and Mark Rothko's No. 14 ) are in the free-of-charge section. The rest of the museum requires a ticket.

The museum is housed in a modern, architecturally stunning building that was extensively renovated and expanded in 2016. The light and airy building is a pleasure to wander about.

Should you work up an appetite, you can stop for a bite to eat. A lunch menu is available at the museum's casual restaurant and at Café 5 in the museum's Sculpture Garden which features fabulous city views. There's also a coffee shop that serves coffee, tea, pastries, and desserts.

About the neighborhood: SoMa is a happening urban area but unfortunately has recently experienced some of San Francisco's urban issues. Still, you should visit the museum and the attractions near the SFMOMA: the Contemporary Jewish Museum , the Yerba Buena Gardens , the Metreon shopping center (which has a movie theater, restaurants, and casual eateries), and the Children's Creativity Museum , but there's no need to explore SoMa much further.

Address: 151 Third Street, San Francisco

de Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

While visiting Golden Gate Park, set aside some time to explore the de Young . This fine arts museum is one of the top cultural attractions in San Francisco. The collection covers a wide variety of exhibits from Mayan antiquities to 19th-century Hudson River landscape paintings.

While art and period interiors from North America feature strongly in the collection, many other exhibits from Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Near East are of note. British art and folk art from Africa, America, and the Pacific Islands, are also well represented.

Admission to the de Young Fine Arts Museum includes free same-day admission to the Legion of Honor .

Address: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

The view from Twin Peaks at sunrise

These two uninhabited hills, more than 900 feet high, have one of the finest views out over the city and bay. Access is easy - you can drive to the north peak parking area, park your car, and soak up the amazing vista.

If you're outdoorsy, take a hike along trails over the north and south peaks. This is some of the best hiking in San Francisco . While up here, you may be forgiven for thinking these are the highest of San Francisco's 43 hills; however, that lofty distinction belongs to Mount Davidson, which is 33 feet higher.

The Twin Peaks are the only hills in San Francisco not to have been built over and remain in their original state. The Spaniards called them " Los pechos de la Chola " or the Breasts of the Indian Maiden. Even on warm days, strong, cool breezes blow in from the Pacific, especially in the late afternoon.

Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum is unquestionably one of the most important museums in San Francisco. The museum opened in 1966, with the basis of the collection coming from art collector Avery Brundage.

Brundage built up a private collection, which in 1959 he offered to the city of San Francisco "to bridge the gap between East and West." The museum building was constructed, and on his death in 1975 at the age of 88, the museum also received the rest of his collection of works of art in the form of a legacy.

Building on this, the museum has continued to amass various pieces and now contains an extensive collection of sculptures, paintings, bronzes, ceramics, jade carvings, and architectural fragments from Japan, Korea, China, India, Iran, and other Asian cultures. The works span more than 6,000 years.

Author's Tip: Try to avoid taking public transportation to the Civic Center BART station or walking around the Civic Center area, as this is a rough neighborhood of San Francisco.

Address: 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco, California

Exploratorium

If you are traveling with children or you are young at heart, you must visit the Exploratorium . This incredibly popular science museum is one of the most popular things to do with kids in San Francisco . It displays fascinating interactive science exhibits. Kids enjoy the hands-on learning experiences, which educate and entertain at the same time.

Children tend to rate this museum very highly because the exhibits are so much fun to check out. Adults also rave about the Exploratorium whether or not they have kids.

For a top-notch dining experience, try the museum's Seaglass Restaurant which serves seasonal cuisine prepared from local organic ingredients. The sleek modern dining room looks out onto the San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge, and Treasure Island. You may also enjoy your meal outside on the bay-view patio.

Address: Pier 15, San Francisco, California

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation Area , not to be confused with Golden Gate Park, is a huge natural area located across the Golden Gate Bridge from downtown San Francisco. This 600-square-mile park in Marin County is a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve and a recreational area. It is also simply a beautiful place to enjoy nature and relax.

The park has walking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, and beautiful beach areas. Some of the beaches have fabulous views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The park is home to the historic Fort Baker , a former US Army post from the early 20th century.

Oracle Park

Home of the San Francisco Giants, Oracle Park is a fun place to take in a baseball game while visiting the city. If you want to gaze out over the ballpark to the sublime view of the ocean, buy tickets along the 1st base or 3rd baselines or behind home plate.

If you don't have time to see a game, consider taking a 90-minute Oracle Park Ballpark Tour for a behind-the-scenes look at places off-limits to most people. You can step onto the field, sit in the dugout, check out the clubhouse, and learn about the historic moments that have taken place at the ballpark.

Address: 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco

Hot air balloons over the Napa Valley

About a 1.5-hour drive from San Francisco are two gorgeous rural destinations: Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. These are the two best-known and largest grape-growing areas in California. Many people day trip to this area to enjoy the scenery and stop in at some of the sites along the way.

Top tourist attractions include the quaint town of Yountville , which has many excellent French restaurants, the historic town of Sonoma , and the spa destination of Calistoga where you can see Old Faithful Geyser. In Sonoma, be sure to visit the Sonoma State Historic Park which is partly in the downtown near the Plaza and also includes the historic Mission that was founded in 1823.

Many people visit Napa or Sonoma as a day trip or for a relaxing weekend getaway. You'll find many lovely resorts in the Napa Valley.

Both Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are renowned for gastronomy. You'll find fine dining establishments as well as casual gourmet restaurants. Napa Valley is home to the Culinary Institute of America where you can take cooking classes and the famous three Michelin-starred restaurant The French Laundry in Yountville.

Napa Valley Map - Tourist Attractions

If you are looking for a non-touristy thing to do in San Francisco, take a 25-minute ferry ride from San Francisco to Angel Island State Park for a refreshing escape to nature. The largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island affords panoramic views of the surrounding bay.

You can enjoy the lovely scenery while hiking or biking on the well-groomed trails. It's possible to hike up to the island's summit, Mount Caroline Livermore , at 788 feet, where the views are sensational.

Relaxation is another reason to visit. The island has picnic areas, campsites, and several sandy beaches ideal for taking a walk or sunbathing. If you enjoy guided sightseeing tours, take a tram tour to see the island from an open-air vehicle. Tram tours include audio guides that share interesting commentary about the island.

Angel Island served as an Immigration Station from 1910 until 1940. You can visit the Angel Island Immigration Museum to learn more about the island's history and to see the barracks where immigrants were detained for weeks or months during an interrogation process.

Well designed for visitors, the island has day-use boat docks, bicycle rentals, and a café that is open daily during the high season and from Wednesday through Sunday during the low season. The café sells snacks, sandwiches, salads, and beverages.

To reach Angel Island , you can take the ferry from San Francisco Ferry Terminal. The Golden Gate Ferry company provides service daily year-round. Keep in mind that it can be expensive to park in this area of San Francisco, so it's best to get a taxi or ride to the San Francisco Ferry Terminal.

Alternatively, you can get to Angel Island from Marin County (north of San Francisco). The Angel Island Tiburon Ferry company runs ferries from Tiburon to Angel Island daily from early March through October; service is limited from November through February.

If you are traveling with a car, you could combine a visit to Angel Island with a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge and a stop in Tiburon. This takes longer if you are based in San Francisco, but it's an incredibly scenic drive and you avoid the hassle and the crowds taking the ferry from the San Francisco Ferry Terminal.

For a full-day outing, add Tiburon to your itinerary. This bayfront town has a charming downtown and an idyllic seaside setting. It's definitely worth visiting, especially if you want to have a meal at a waterfront restaurant with views. The vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco across the bay are spectacular.

Ghirardelli Square

When visiting the Fisherman's Wharf area, you must visit Ghirardelli Square . Overlooking the bay, this quaint shopping and dining complex occupies historic brick buildings: a former chocolate factory, a woolen mill, and a mustard company. The square was inaugurated in 1964 and is listed on the National Historic Register .

Today, Ghirardelli Square appeals to chocolate lovers and anyone with a sweet tooth. The main tourist attraction of the square is the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop . Here, you can indulge in a decadent hot fudge sundae or shop for Ghirardelli chocolate bars and candies.

Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop

Besides chocolate and ice cream, Ghirardelli Square offers an inviting ambiance, with its fountains and flowers, and splendid bay views. Take a stroll around the square as you browse the boutiques. On sunny days, you'll want to spend some time sitting on the outdoor terraces.

The dining options at Ghirardelli Square include an excellent dim sum restaurant, Palette Tea House (which requires advanced reservations), and McCormick & Kuleto's, an old-timey restaurant that specializes in seafood and steaks. If you're looking for stunning bay views, McCormick & Kuleto's does not disappoint. The dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

Steps away from Ghirardelli Square near the Hyde Street cable car turntable, you will find Aquatic Park Cove where there is a small beach. Aquatic Parc Cove is also home to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

High Tea at the Garden Court in the Palace Hotel

Enjoy afternoon tea at one of San Francisco's landmark hotels, and you'll experience the refinement of another era.

Opened in 1907, the Fairmont San Francisco on Nob Hill delights guests with its opulent lobby and elegant ambiance. The Fairmont offers afternoon tea service on Saturday afternoons, in the lovely Neoclassical Laurel Court dining room. You will be treated to a choice of organic tea, house-made scones with clotted cream, gourmet finger sandwiches, macarons, and other desserts.

The Palace Hotel , in the downtown area near Market Street, is famous for its fancy afternoon tea service. This Gilded Age landmark has a magnificent glass-domed reception area, the Garden Court , where you may enjoy the Signature Tea on Saturday afternoons. It's a sophisticated affair, complete with fine china, sterling silver, and haute cuisine afternoon tea specialties.

Walt Disney Family Museum

If you love the original Disney cartoons or you're traveling with kids who love Disney stories, then make a beeline for the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. This unique museum is dedicated to chronicling the life and works of Walt Disney.

Exhibits showcase drawings, cartoons, and films created by Walt Disney and describe his worldwide business empire. Also on display are the numerous awards he won over his career, along with priceless sketches of Mickey Mouse.

The Walt Disney Family Museum is located in the Presidio National Park , which has picnic areas, a children's playground, beaches, hiking trails, and scenic overlooks including views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Giant redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument

Take a 45-minute drive north of San Francisco to marvel over the magnificent ancient redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument . At this serene and shady nature site, meandering paths wind their way alongside a babbling creek and beneath enormous old-growth redwood trees, some of which are nearly 260 feet high.

Until you visit, it's hard to appreciate the incredible sight of these stoic sentinels that have been living quietly in the forest for almost a thousand years.

To get a deeper understanding and to make the most of your visit, check out the Visitor Center , where you'll find fascinating exhibits and displays along with park staff who are happy to answer any questions you may have.

Note that to visit the park, you will need to reserve your parking space or shuttle tickets in advance. Plan ahead to secure a spot in this popular tourist attraction.

View of Coit Tower and downtown San Francisco

As you look up Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, you may notice the cylindrical tower that looks a little like the Leaning Tower of Pisa (without the lean). This is the Coit Tower. Completed in 1933, the tower stands 210 feet high and is one of the best places for panoramic views of the city.

From the top of the tower, the sights that lie before you include Lombard Street, Pier 39, the downtown skyscrapers, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz.

Inside the tower are wonderful murals painted in the early 1930s depicting views of daily life during the Depression. The tower is named after its benefactor, Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who was a wealthy and somewhat eccentric lady.

Nestled within charming gardens in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood, Coit Tower is open daily year-round except for a few holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and January 1st). Groups of four or more people may arrange to take a guided tour, for an additional fee, to learn about the murals.

Address: 1 Telegraph Hill Boulevard, San Francisco

If you'd like to visit the key tourist attractions on foot, the best place to stay is near Union Square or in the Nob Hill neighborhood, a short uphill walk from Union Square. You'll find plenty of upscale shops, restaurants, galleries, theaters, and hotels here. San Francisco's famous Chinatown and North Beach ("Little Italy"), with its bustling Italian restaurants and cafés, are just steps away from Union Square.

Union Square is a major transport hub, so it's easy to venture further afield to other attractions via cable car, bus, BART, or taxi.

Fisherman's Wharf is also a popular place to stay, with lively vacation vibes and picturesque bayfront scenery – especially for families who might prefer being in a safer neighborhood than the Union Square/downtown area. Below are some of the best places to stay in San Francisco for sightseeing.

Luxury Hotels:

  • The five-star Four Season Hotel San Francisco at Embarcadero is a sleek contemporary-style property on the top floors of a 48-story building. The plush guest rooms and suites feature incredible views of San Francisco Bay and the city skyline.
  • A short walk from Union Square, the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco on Market Street in the SoMa neighborhood provides exceptional service and amenities. The hotel has recently renovated guest rooms and a trendy lounge/restaurant that specializes in California cuisine.
  • Consider The Ritz-Carlton for posh accommodation on Nob Hill, the most exclusive neighborhood in San Francisco. Housed in a colonnaded Neoclassical building, this five-star hotel blends old-world elegance with modern amenities including a fitness center, concierge, sun terrace, and an award-winning restaurant.
  • Chic contemporary style defines The St. Regis San Francisco , right in the heart of downtown San Francisco in the vibrant SoMa District. This five-star hotel boasts recently redecorated guest rooms, an up-to-date fitness center, a yoga & meditation room, and a fine-dining restaurant that serves seasonal cuisine. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is steps away, and the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) is next door.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • Chancellor Hotel on Union Square offers excellent value in the heart of Union Square and treats guests to complimentary tea and cookies. This three-star hotel occupies a historic building that has been updated for today's travelers. The cable car runs right past the front of the hotel.
  • The boutique three-star Cornell Hotel de France exudes Parisian style in a convenient location between Union Square and Nob Hill. The hotel dates from 1910 and is on the Register of Historic Places. The hotel has a restaurant on the premises which is renowned for its cozy ambiance and traditional French cuisine.
  • In a salt-tinged setting by the water, the three-star Courtyard by Marriott San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf boasts a fantastic location. This hotel is a good choice for families seeking accommodations near Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman's Wharf.

Budget Hotels:

  • If you're on a budget, try The Herbert Hotel in the heart of downtown. This two-star hotel offers excellent value a short walk from Union Square.
  • Between Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square, the Castle Inn provides good value for the price, along with wonderful views. You can walk to Fisherman's Wharf in about 25 minutes and Union Square in 30 minutes.

Several interesting tours in San Francisco make exploring the city easy and hassle-free. Since San Francisco is a large city built on hills, with many uphill climbs and stairs, tours are an especially good idea for anyone with mobility issues.

Tours are also ideal if you have only a couple of days and want to see as much of the city as possible without the challenges of driving or trying to find parking. The following tours are some excellent options for saving time, seeing the sights, and exploring some of the areas outside the city. These also guarantee the lowest prices.

See the Sights :

  • The best explore-at-your-own-pace sightseeing tour is the Big Bus San Francisco Hop-On Hop-Off Tour. This double-decker bus tour, with guided narration, allows you to get on and off at the major tourist spots and is a great way to get acquainted with the city while learning a little history and seeing the highlights.
  • To add a splash of fun to your sightseeing and save your legs some extra walking, book a San Francisco Waterfront Segway Tour and cruise around Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, and other popular areas.

Cruise the Bay :

  • To get out on the water and enjoy the city skyline in the evening, hop on a San Francisco Bay Sunset Catamaran Cruise . This 1.5-hour cruise sails past Alcatraz Island and under the Golden Gate Bridge while the sun sets and the city lights begin to glow.

Get Out of the City :

  • San Francisco lies within easy striking distance of some fantastic scenery. The Monterey, Carmel, 17-Mile Drive Tour treats you to an action-packed day. You will see the fabulous coastline, shop at Monterey's Cannery Row, see the charming seaside town of Carmel, and drive along the oceanfront 17-Mile Drive.
  • Another very popular trip, offering a chance to see one of America's great national treasures, is a Tour to Yosemite National Park . This is a must for nature lovers who want to see the famous sites of El Capitan and Half Dome and walk among the Giant Sequoias of Sequoia Grove. This tour includes pick-up and drop-off from some San Francisco hotels.
  • For a half-day tour that covers a little of everything, the Muir Woods & Sausalito Half-Day Trip is a good mix of nature, sightseeing, and shopping. This tour is available in the morning or afternoon.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

image

More on San Francisco: Plan out a free walking tour beginning in Chinatown with the help of our San Francisco Walking Tour . For families looking for activities to entertain children, see our article on San Francisco with Kids: Top Things to Do . If you're interested in some healthy dining options, have a read through our list of the best vegan and vegetarian restaurants in San Francisco .

image

Exploring Northern California: San Francisco is the gateway to some of California's most amazing sites. In three or four hours you can be exploring the sites of Yosemite National Park or gazing out at Lake Tahoe . If you don't want to go that far, have a look at our top-rated day trips from San Francisco to see where you can get to in even less time.

San Francisco Map - Tourist Attractions

More on California

California Travel Guide

  • Search Please fill out this field.
  • Manage Your Subscription
  • Give a Gift Subscription
  • Newsletters
  • Sweepstakes
  • Destinations
  • San Francisco

43 Best Things to Do in San Francisco — From Famous Sites to Can't-miss Attractions

Planning a trip to the Golden City? Here are some of the top things to do in San Francisco.

best places to visit san francisco

San Francisco is a city filled with iconic American landmarks, fascinating history, must-try culinary delights from cioppino to Ghirardelli chocolate, diverse cultures, and quintessential California nature. Even the people who live there couldn't get bored with all there is to see and do in the bustling and beautiful West Coast metropolis.

The next time you find yourself planning a trip to the Golden City (soon, we hope), allow this list of things to do in San Francisco to inspire your itinerary.

Walk or bike over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Adrian Rudd/Travel + Leisure

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most recognizable sights in the U.S. The 1.7-mile-long, brick-red structure spans the strait for which it's named, allowing both cars and pedestrians to travel between San Francisco and Marin County. Walking or biking across the bridge is almost mandatory during a first visit to the city. There are two sidewalks on the bridge — east and west — and there are rules about which should be used for walking and cycling depending on what day of the week and time of day you cross it. Check the website before you go.

Find fresh air at the Presidio.

The Presidio , a one-time military post now transformed into a 1,500-acre public park, is an excellent space to roam outdoors. It's the place to go for a hike or bike ride on the 24 miles of trails, as well as to get an epic view of the Golden Gate Bridge from one of the lookout points. San Francisco is surrounded by beautiful nature, and this is one of the best places to escape the bustle and find a moment of peace.

Take in the view from the Presidio Tunnel Tops.

The Presidio Tunnel Tops provide green space above a six-lane highway. The 14 acres of parklands, which opened in 2022, connect the main post of the former military base to the Crissy Field waterfront and offer some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge (you can even reserve one of the picnic tables with the best view for an unforgettable experience). There are also plenty of opportunities for recreation and learning, such as weekend campfire talks led by National Park Service rangers.

Admire art that pushes boundaries.

Sure, you'll find many places to admire art in this intensely creative city, but the  Institute for Contemporary Art San Francisco is different: It's nonprofit, non-collecting, and "dedicated to experimenting." It's the antidote to artistic pretentiousness. The pieces here range from photography to textile to video to mixed media, and you won't pay to see any of it thanks to free admission.

Feel a sense of pride in the Castro.

xavierarnau/Getty Images

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 LGBTQ+ community. The neighborhood remains a vibrant place to visit and is still home to the famed Castro Theatre and GLBT Historical Society Museum , plus Pink Triangle Memorial Park , a site dedicated to remembering the gay men persecuted in Europe during World War II.

Do anything but drive on JFK Promenade.

Before 2022, JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park was car-free only on weekends. Then, San Francisco voters elected to make the road permanently pedestrian-only. Now you can walk it, bike it, skate it, or make your way along it any way you want without having to worry about traffic. On the route, you'll be treated to art installations, chairs set up for kicking back, and public pianos.

Travel by cable car.

San Francisco is a famously hilly city. Unless you're hoping to get a major leg workout, it may be beneficial to get around on public transportation. The city's celebrated cable car system, an attraction in itself, has been transporting people around the city since 1873. Plus, it's very easy to hop onto one within walking distance from some of the city's best hotels . The cable cars remain both an excellent mode of transit and a super Instagrammable experience you must try. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks around the city and cost $8 for a one-way ride.

Ferry over to Alcatraz.

Kelly Griffin/Travel + Leisure

Visiting a jail may not seem like a very vacation-like thing to do, but Alcatraz isn't any old jail. The long-closed penitentiary, located on the namesake island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, housed some of the nation’s most notorious criminals (some of whom tried 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 "Bird Man of Alcatraz" and "The Rock." Anyone can take the ferry over to the island, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area , for a guided tour of the prison to learn more about its fascinating history.

Tour North America's oldest Chinatown.

San Francisco’s Chinatown , whose entrance is marked by the Dragon Gate at Grant Avenue and Bush Street, is the oldest one in North America. Spanning 30 square blocks, the neighborhood is its own little bustling metropolis. Come to peruse the shops, feast on world-class dim sum or traditional congee, sip boba, or grab a green tea-flavored fortune cookie from the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory .

Watch the Giants play at Oracle Park.

Rooting for the home team in San Francisco means cheering on the Giants at Oracle Park . Baseball fanatics will want to sit in the 100s, close to the field, but the upper deck at this waterfront stadium offers stunning views of the bay. Seriously, this is where sitting in the nosebleeds can really pay off. Just bring a glove and be ready to catch a foul ball (or homer) if you need to, and perhaps a stadium seat for added cush for your tush.

Walk down Lovers' Lane.

For an outdoor treat, take a quiet stroll down Lovers' Lane , the oldest footpath through the Presidio. The roughly half-mile trail is the perfect place to find a moment of solitude amid the trees, and it's an ideal spot to stroll hand-in-hand with the one you love while vacationing in San Francisco. The trail is paved and rated easy to moderate. It takes only about 30 minutes to walk it.

Stand in awe at the Palace of Fine Arts.

For the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, architect Bernard Maybeck designed the neoclassical  Palace of Fine Arts as a Roman ruin to be dismantled after the fair ended. Instead, a determined group of citizens saved the beloved structure, which really did become a ruin by the late 1950s. Rebuilt during the following decade in a more permanent fashion, it remains a stunning landmark. The free attraction features a gorgeous open-air rotunda, 162 feet tall, flanked by two Corinthian colonnades and overlooking a tranquil lagoon, all set in a park at the edge of the Presidio. It’s a great place for a walk, a meeting place, or your next Instagram shoot.

Picnic at Alamo Square Park.

Alamo Square Park is one of the most photographed places in San Francisco, mostly because it's the perfect vantage point for capturing the pastel-colored Painted Ladies (aka the Victorian-style homes of Full House fame). But it also offers a spectacular view of the entire city on all sides. Pack a blanket and a snack to sit out and people watch to your heart's content.

Flip through Beat classics at City Lights Bookstore.

As far as bookstores go, City Lights is San Francisco's most famous. Peter D. Martin and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti opened it as America’s first all-paperback shop in 1953, eventually attracting (and sometimes publishing) the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Today, the indie North Beach landmark remains committed to bringing customers the best of Beat literature, though it does have a little bit of everything. Go to sift through poetry, fiction, historical, and philosophical books and possibly find a literary souvenir to take home.

Find a hidden gem at TreasureFest.

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 TreasureFest . Formerly known as Treasure Island Flea, the open-air market includes clothing, antiques, handmade products, and more. There are plenty of food trucks on hand to feed the hungry masses as well. Check the website for a schedule and locations as this flea is open only a few weekends each year.

Cruise the bay.

Get a different perspective of the city by hitting the water on a bay cruise. This will allow you to get up close to several attractions including Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Keep an eye out while on the water for seals and other sea life, too. You can book an hour-long tour with the Blue and Gold Fleet or an adventurous 90-minute excursion by inflatable raft with Bay Voyager . There are many boat tours to choose from.

Build something new at the Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium is a museum and a "public learning laboratory" that allows anyone to become a mad scientist. Visitors can use the tools available to become active explorers and create whatever they pull from their imaginations. Unsurprisingly, the place is a hit among children, but you can attend child-free during the museum's adult-only Thursday evenings. Otherwise, go anytime to learn from regular speakers and interact with the exhibits.

Lose yourself in art at SFMOMA.

To say the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is huge would be an understatement. The museum has seven gallery floors and more than 45,000 square feet filled to the brim with contemporary pieces, photographs, sculptures, and so much more. You could easily spend an entire day (and then some) wandering SFMOMA and experiencing all this vast institution has to offer.

Grab 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 — Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays — when local purveyors descend on the space to sell their goods straight from the farms (or straight from the studio).

Stop and smell the flowers at San Francisco Botanical Garden.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden stretches across 55 acres and showcases the most magical flora in the city. You'll feel like you're in the Andes one minute and the Mediterranean the next as you wander through the different gardens. This place is particularly well known for its magnolia collection, so make sure to walk by and get a whiff if you're visiting during the blooming season, December through March.

Sip a tiki drink in the Tonga Room.

The city is filled with excellent bars and restaurants that will happily serve you a drink, but arguably none are as iconic as the Tonga Room . The tiki-style bar inside the Fairmont San Francisco has long been a favorite of travelers because it just feels so out of place in the Bay Area, yet somehow, it works. Get a fruity cocktail and a few island-inspired bites and feel transported to the tropics.

Tour the Mission Murals.

Get out and see some fabulous street art for free with a self-guided tour of the Mission Murals. The best way to view them is by 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. On Saturdays, the hotel hosts a traditional ceremony in its Garden Court dining room, where stands of classic English bites like scones and finger sandwiches decorate the tables and serve as the perfect pick-me-up for peckish tourists and locals alike.

Peruse a dispensary.

Keen to have a quintessentially San Francisco experience? Pay a visit to one of the city's many dispensaries. Even if you don't partake, it can still be fun to check out the thriving marijuana business up close. Since 2016, 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. If you need any help, just ask a friendly "budtender." Check out Weedmaps to find a location.

Climb the Filbert Street Steps.

Take in more sights and get a great glute workout at the same time with a walk up Telegraph Hill via the famed Filbert Street Steps. This set of stairs starts at Samson Street and takes you up to Coit Tower, a columnar concrete landmark of San Francisco's skyline. Along the way, you can marvel at the stunning gardens on either side and use the displays as a great excuse to stop and catch your breath.

Take in a San Francisco Symphony performance.

A show at Davies Symphony Hall, in the Civic Center neighborhood, is a feast for both the ears and eyes. Go for a traditional concert, or visit during one of the San Francisco Symphony's special film nights, during which a blockbuster movie plays on a big screen while the orchestra provides a live soundtrack. Check the schedule on the  symphony's website .

Get an Irish coffee at Buena Vista.

Come for a cup of coffee with a twist at Buena Vista . The café claims to be the spot where the Irish coffee was perfected in America in 1952. Warm yourself up with one at the bar and see whether it lives up to your standards. If not, that's OK. The restaurant has a full menu of items to choose from, including crab cake eggs Benedict, "scrambled" lobster, and more.

Indulge at Ghirardelli Square.

If the name Ghirardelli Square rings a bell, odds are you have a sweet tooth. The entertainment and retail complex, located between Fort Mason and Fisherman's Wharf, was once home to the famed chocolate company of the same name. Ghirardelli moved its operations to nearby San Leandro in 1966, but its Chocolate Experience — featuring a pick-and-mix bar and a sundae station – pays faithful homage to the property's history. Head in for a taste, or visit its neighboring restaurants and bars for a larger bite.

Stroll the Japanese Tea Garden.

The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco is an absolute treat for any anthophile. The five-acre gem in Golden Gate Park is filled with stunning plant life, traditional pagodas, tranquil koi ponds, and an authentic tea house where you can sip and savor for as long as you'd like. If you visit during the spring — specifically March or April — don't miss the cherry blossoms.

Drive down the "crookedest street in the world."

The place that best represents San Francisco's characteristic hilly and winding landscape is Lombard Street, otherwise known as the "crookedest street in the world." It takes eight sharp turns in zig-zag fashion on the hill between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets. It's a fun little stretch on which to take a slow drive, but if you're prone to motion sickness, you can walk the street and check out the houses along the way instead.

Spot sea lions at Pier 39.

Being right on the water means that San Francisco's "locals" include some sea critters — namely the California sea lions that live on K-Dock at Pier 39 . Some years ago, hundreds of them descended on the pier and quickly ousted the boaters. Now, you can stand at the viewing area near the north end of the pier to wave from a distance, watch them bask in the sun, and hear their adorable barks.

Get nostalgic at the Walt Disney Family Museum.

The Walt Disney Family 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. On display are original storyboards, retro movie posters, some of Walt's own personal belongings, Disney memorabilia, and more. You'll surely leave feeling inspired, or at the very least, you'll want to rewatch your favorite animated classic.

Attend an outdoor music festival.

Avid festivalgoers are likely familiar with Outside Lands , one of the highest grossing music festivals in the world. Every August, dozens of first-rate bands and hundreds of thousands of people descend on Golden Gate Park for the three-day festival. Less famous but still worth attending are the Stern Grove Festival and Yerba Buena Gardens Festival , both of which feature free outdoor concerts throughout the summer, and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival , which closes out the season with sweet folk sounds.

Listen to the ocean at the Wave Organ.

pikappa/Getty Images

Did you ever put your ear next to the opening of a conch shell and "listen to the ocean" inside of it? Well, San Francisco's Wave Organ is sort of like that but on a much larger scale. Designed by architect Peter Richards and built on a jetty in the Marina District by stonemason George Gonzalez, the sculpture contains PVC and concrete pipes laid out alongside the bay in a way that makes the tides literally sing as the waves hit and pass through the tubes. The acoustic sculpture has been part of the city's waterfront since 1986.

Peruse the exhibits at the California Academy of Sciences.

Kids and adults alike can easily lose an afternoon regarding prehistoric fossils, spotting colorful marine life, and learning all things natural history at this Golden Gate Park museum. The California Academy of Sciences is more than just a collection of exhibits — housing 46 million specimens, no less — it's also an interactive lab where children can touch a real condor wing, practice insect collecting, and get their hands wet building a model boat and testing it on the winding Riveropolis.

Get groovy at an old-school roller disco.

A 125-year-old church in the Fillmore District has been transformed into a funky disco skating rink. "Rolligion" is the new foundation of this formerly holy institution. At the aptly named Church of 8 Wheels , you can rent skates, take a lesson, watch performances, or take to the floor during an open skate session to test your coordination.

Eat your way through Little Italy.

North Beach is San Francisco's Little Italy, packed with pasta joints and plenty of cafés to sip an espresso outside like a true Italian. Have a cannoli from Victoria Pastry, try a Neapolitan-style slice from Tony's Pizza Napolitana , dig into the cioppino (seafood stew) at Sotto Mare , or sit and savor a glass of wine at Bodega North Beach .

See masterpieces old and new at the Asian Art Museum.

Thousands of artworks from Asia and by Asian artists live in this museum , one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the world. Here, you'll find a permanent collection with masterpieces dating back to the fourth century, as well as rotating exhibits showcasing anything from kimono couture to Chinese furniture. Arrive after 5 p.m. on any Thursday and you'll get half off the admission price. Or, go on the first Sunday of the month for free.

Experience Sausalito's small-town charm.

123/Getty Images

The picturesque seaside village of Sausalito is just across the Golden Gate in Marin County and best accessed by bike or ferry. On a sunny day, you might feel like you're somewhere in the Mediterranean thanks to the small town's colorful architecture, hilly nature, and relaxed aura. Many liken it to Positano, Italy. Spend some time touring the neighborhood by bike (rental shops abound), making sure to stop at Lappert’s for an ice cream and at Waldo Point Harbor to admire the elaborate houseboats.

Forget you're in the U.S. inside this French Gothic cathedral.

DanHenson1/Getty Images

Grace Cathedral feels like a slice of 12th-century Europe in the heart of San Francisco. Despite the French Gothic style of the structure, it was actually finished in the 1960s (and opened with a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Today, the grand exterior lures many a Nob Hill tourist inside to see intricate murals, medieval-esque labyrinths, and stained glass that drenches the space in color when the sun shines.

Get a bird's-eye view from Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks is a park comprising two near-identical hills offering 360-degree views of the city and surrounding Bay Area. The park is the second-highest point (922 feet) in San Francisco, only 16 feet shy of Mount Davidson's height, and sits conveniently near the center of the sprawling metropolis. A trail just 0.7 miles long scales both peaks and provides incredible photo opportunities.

Shop for vintage in Haight-Ashbury.

Flower children will develop a soft spot for this neighborhood famed for its hippie culture. You'll feel like you've time traveled back to the 1960s as you flip through bins of vintage vinyl and racks of bohemian fashion. Deadheads — or anyone who appreciates the counterculture of said decade — must stop by the Grateful Dead House at 710 Ashbury, where most of the band lived from 1966 until early 1968. You can also walk past Janis Joplin’s former pads (635 Ashbury and 122 Lyon), but the real stars of the neighborhood may be the Four Seasons houses – a stunning quartet of Queen Annes at the corner of Waller and Masonic designed to represent winter, spring, summer, and autumn.

Take your clam chowder in a bread bowl.

Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Clam chowder is a staple of San Francisco's food scene, but to experience it like a local, you need to order it right: with a fluffy, golden bread bowl as the vessel. Some of the best of San Francisco's clam chowder bread bowls hail from Boudin Bakery at Fisherman's Wharf, which serves its creamy New England-style chowder in sourdough. Really, though, you can find this signature dish on just about any seafood menu.

Related Articles

best places to visit san francisco

50 Essential Things To Do In San Francisco At Least Once In Your Life

If you're looking for the best things to do in San Francisco, here's your ultimate guide to SF's famous tourist attractions, restaurants, and citywide events.

Jamie Ferrell

It’s nearly impossible to capture all the best things to do in San Francisco, and there are more than a few activities that stand out. Whether you’re a tourist wanting to see the sights or a local looking for new ideas, we’re sure these recommendations will help point you in the right direction. How many have you tried?

Of course, we have a few other lists that could help expand on this one. Be sure to check out our list of free things to do , things to do on a rainy day , things to do alone , things to do with kids , and things to do this weekend in San Francisco , just to name a few.

1. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge receives over 10 million visits a year and is one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks. The 1.7-mile-long suspension bridge was built in  1937 and has remained a symbol of world-class engineering and local pride ever since. Many visitors like to bike  across the bridge to Sausalito, and then take a ferry back. You could also sail underneath the bridge on a scenic boat ride.

2. Spend a perfect day at Golden Gate Park

Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park

At 1,017 acres, Golden Gate Park is one of the largest public parks in the world. Any trip to the park is different in its own special way, whether you want to bike down JFK Drive or have a picnic in the East Meadow. Some popular stops include the Japanese Tea Garden , SF Botanical Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, bison paddock , Stow Lake, AIDS Memorial Grove, and the Dutch Windmill .

3. Get inspired at the Exploratorium

Groups of people peruse exhibits inside of the Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium isn’t your average museum experience – in fact, they’ve been making their own interactive exhibits since 1969! Explore and play with over 650 fun exhibits including the mysterious Fog Bridge . This is one of the most fun things to do in San Francisco for kids, but be sure to check out their Thursday After Dark events for adults.

4. Go wild at SF Pride

Crowds of people march next to a cable car in rainbow attire toward the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

The world-famous SF Pride parade and celebration takes over the city every June. As the nation’s largest gathering of the LGBTQ+ community and allies , it’s an epic celebration of the city’s vibrant Queer community. The free event generally happens at Civic Center Plaza with performances across 8 different areas and nearly 1 million attendees.

🗓️ Dates : June 29-30, 2024

5. Greet the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf

Sea lions lounge on the dock at Pier 39.

The SF waterfront is a fun and lively place to visit, albeit a little touristy. You could see the sights at Pier 39 , strike a pose at Umbrella Alley , visit sea creatures at Aquarium of the Bay, and play vintage arcade games at Musée Mécanique . Don’t forget to tour the historic boats at Hyde Street Pier for a fun trip back in time. You can also set sail on a boat cruise for a memorable day on the water.

6. Stuff your face at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

A person holds a pizza with red tomatoes and shredded basil.

This San Francisco staple is one of the city’s most famous pizza places, helmed by 13-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani. Order from dozens of pizzas ranging from Sicilian to classic American to coal-fired. Take a culinary tour around the Italian neighborhood of North Beach while you’re at it.

7. Walk through the Eliasson tunnel at SFMOMA

Olafur Eliasson tunnel

SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) is easily one of SF’s most famous museums with a frequent rotation of large- and small-scale art exhibitions from both local and international artists. One of the most-photographed is Olafur Eliasson’s One-Way Colour Tunnel , which feels like stepping into a kaleidoscope. The museum grants free admission to Bay Area residents on the first Thursday of every month from 1-8pm.

8. Catch a free concert at Stern Grove Festival

A crowd of people watches an outdoor concert at Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco.

Stern Grove Festival has hosted free summer concerts for 87 years, making it the oldest outdoor music festival in the Bay Area. Headliners have included everyone from Grammy winners to rising stars, and this year’s lineup is absolutely fantastic with greats including Chaka Khan and Tegan and Sara. You can bet on the series recurring on Sundays between June and August.

🗓️ Dates : Sundays June 23-Aug 18, 2024

9. Explore the CA Academy of Sciences’ indoor rainforest

Interior of CA Academy of Sciences with view of rainforest dome.

With some of the most advanced research facilities in the world, this famous SF museum is capable of putting together some seriously fascinating and creative exhibits including a four-story indoor rainforest aflutter with free-flying birds and butterflies. You’ll want to spare about half a day to catch a show at the state-of-the-art planetarium, step onto the massive living roof, and visit the comprehensive natural history museum.

10. Catch the view from the de Young Museum’s observation deck

de Young Museum exterior

The  de Young Museum  has been one of SF’s most iconic  fine art museums since it was founded in 1895. The building features a  144-foot observation tower offering 360-degree views of Golden Gate Park, and it’s free for the public to visit whether or not they hold a museum ticket. Their collections include African art, arts of the Americas, oceanic art, photography, and textiles. Bay Area residents can enjoy free admission every Saturday, and the general public can get in for free on the first Tuesday of every month.

11. Have an unforgettable time at Outside Lands

View of an Outside Lands stage from the crowd.

Outside Lands is the country’s largest independently-owned music festival, taking place every year in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The festival began in 2008 and is managed by Another Planet Entertainment, Superfly Presents, and Starr Hill Presents. Get ready for headliners The Killers, Sturgill Simpson, Jungle, Tyler, The Creator, and more.

🗓️ Dates : Aug. 9-11, 2024

12. Take a tour of Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is an essential part of San Francisco’s history, most famously serving as a federal prison from 1934-1963 housing the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. It was later the site of a  Native American civil rights movement before becoming part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area in 1972. The audio tour is one of the best things to do in San Francisco for tourists, but even locals will have plenty to learn on a visit to this historic island.

13. Ride a cable car

Two SF cable cars pass each other on a steep street.

SF’s cable cars are the only moving national landmark in the United States, dating back to 1873. There are 2 types of historic cable cars in service in San Francisco today:  12 California cars , which are larger and may be operated from both ends; and  28 Powell cars , which are slightly smaller and operational from one end only. You can learn more about the cable cars at SF’s free Cable Car Museum .

14. Sip on an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista

irish coffee at buena vista

Buena Vista Cafe is credited as the first and arguably the most famous place to serve Irish Coffee in the US starting back in 1952. The famous cafe serves up to 2,000 Irish Coffees per day in an elegant performance, using freshly-brewed coffee, sugar, and Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey topped with freshly whipped cream. If you’re spending time in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood it’s a non-negotiable stop.

15. Discover the Palace of Fine Arts

SF Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts was built as a temporary exhibition space for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition . When the fair ended, prominent philanthropist Phoebe Hearst helped to preserve the beloved Palace structure and saved it from demolition. The structure is designed to depict a decaying Roman ruin, featuring a 162-tall rotunda and large colonnades. Many visitors to the Palace enjoy taking a picnic to eat on the grass surrounding the lagoon.

16. Drink tea and enjoy the view in the Japanese Tea Garden

A cherry tree blooms at the entrance to SF's Japanese Tea Garden.

The  Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States, dating back to 1894 when it debuted as a “Japanese Village” at the California Midwinter International Exposition. Visitors can enjoy a relaxing cup of tea and Japanese refreshments in the tea house, or visit during March and April to catch the cherry blossoms . The  five-tiered wooden pagoda recently underwent a $2M renovation and the garden is looking better than ever.

46. Bring a group of friends to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Crowds gather around a stage at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a completely free and noncommercial music festival that takes place in Golden Gate Park every year at the end of September. With over 50 food vendors and 6 stages, this is a real treat that’s totally iconic to the city. It all started in 2001 when SF venture capitalist Warren Hellman founded it as a “Strictly Bluegrass,” a bluegrass-only event that has since evolved to showcase all sorts of genres.

🗓️ Dates : Oct. 4-6, 2024

17. Attend a candlelight concert in a stunning SF venue

A Candlelight concert inside St Ignatius Church, San Francisco

Candlelight is present in  over 100 major cities worldwide, and we’re lucky to enjoy these captivating classical concerts at the magnificent International Art Museum of America and St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco . Listen to talented musicians perform works by iconic singers and composers including Coldplay, Schubert, and Joe Hisaishi while surrounded by hundreds of flickering candles.

18. Go vintage shopping in Haight-Ashbury

A person on motorcycle rides past four Victorian houses in SF.

Whether you’ve come to admire the historic Victorian houses or grab a drink on your way to Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury has something for everyone. Essential stops include the tie-dye paradise that is Love on Haight , Amoeba Music, and the gorgeous Four Seasons Houses , but it’s also worth simply wandering down the street to take in the eclectic neighborhood as a whole.

40.  Cover your ears during Fleet Week

Blue Angels fly over Alcatraz.

San Francisco Fleet Week has been a fixture on the Bay Area cultural calendar since 1981. The Air Show is Fleet Week’s most highly anticipated event, where the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform a choreographed show between the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. The best viewing is at Pier 39, Crissy Field, and Aquatic Park, but you’ll hear it from just about anywhere in the city.

🗓️ Dates : Oct. 7-14, 2024

19. Check out the floating rooftop paradise that is Salesforce Park

View of Salesforce Park from above.

San Francisco’s  Salesforce Park  is an amazing modern marvel in the Financial District. The verdant oasis rests 70 feet above the street atop the Salesforce Transit Center, and it’s completely  free and open for the public to visit at any time. It also hosts a collection of free events  every week including yoga classes, bootcamps, live music, bird walks, and garden tours.

20. See the view from Coit Tower

Coit Tower in San Francisco

This simple white tower has embellished San Francisco’s iconic skyline since 1933. , when Lille Hitchcock Coit left a bequest upon her death “for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city I have always loved.” Visitors can take an elevator to the top of the 212-foot-high tower and marvel at 360° views of San Francisco including Alcatraz, Angel Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Transamerica Pyramid, and Lombard Street. Don’t forget to tour the Depression-era frescoes inside the base, which were painted by PWAP artists commissioned by the U.S. Government.

21. Take a lap around the Ferry Building

SF's Ferry Building clock tower flanked by palm trees.

SF’s Ferry Building is a center for events, pop-ups, a farmers’ market, and countless excellent merchants who sell their wares daily in the building’s many stalls. Their expansive  outdoor dining area has excellent views of the Bay and it’s a fun spot for grab-and-go food. This is also one of the more famous historic buildings in San Francisco, as it was built in 1898 and survived both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes with minimal damage.

22. Drive down Lombard Street

View of Lombard Street from afar

This famous red-brick street in Russian Hill attracts 2 million tourists per year. The iconic street features 8 sharp turns in a 1-block stretch, surrounded by lush landscaping and always teeming with cars and foot traffic. You can take the Powell/Hyde cable cr to the top of Lombard, but don’t forget to see one of the city’s best views a block away at Hyde and Chestnut.

23. Visit the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square

Painted ladies houses at sunset in San Francisco

This line of Queen Anne Victorian homes is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The houses were built between 1892 and 1896 and have been featured in movies such as  Mrs. Doubtfire  (1993) and television shows like  Full House (1987-1995). You’ll find that the homes are perfectly placed against a dramatic backdrop of the San Francisco skyline, and “postcard row” is now one of the most-photographed views in SF.

24. Check out the new Presidio Tunnel Tops waterfront park

Wood sculptures at Presidio Tunnel Tops Park

The highly-anticipated Presidio Tunnel Tops Park opened in 2022, connecting the Presidio’s Main Post with Crissy Field through a series of bluff landscapes and pathways. Explore nearly 200,000 native and drought-tolerant plants , lounge on the giant grassy amphitheater-style Presidio Steps, or take your kids to the 2-acre Outpost play area. Keep an eye out for NPS ranger talks, public art installations, and weekly events.

25. Take a candlelight tour of Fort Point

A park ranger stands on Fort Point's roof at night with a lantern in hand against the underside of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fort Point National Historic Site was instrumental in protecting California’s coast during the Civil War. It’s worth a visit any time of day, but these candlelight tours are a next-level way to truly immerse yourself in the site’s history. Each guest will get a hand-held lantern for the 90-minute tour led by a park ranger, which takes you through all four levels of the historic fort including the roof.

26. Eat a Mission burrito at Dolores Park

Dolores Park on a sunny day with groups of people sitting on the grass.

This popular 16-acre green space is the city’s favorite spot for people watching, catching up with friends, and enjoying amazing views. Take a walk around the Mission District , grab a burrito from nearby El Faro or La Cumbre , and enjoy an afternoon on the grass.

27. Head to Ocean Beach for NorCal’s biggest sandcastle competition

Drone shot showing thousands of people working on sandcastles at the Leap Sandcastle Classic at Ocean Beach

The  Leap Sandcastle Classic  is a favorite at Ocean Beach every year, drawing thousands of people for the ultimate sandcastle contest. You can watch teams build absolutely enormous sand sculptures while enjoying  live music, performances, and local food trucks. 2024 details are still TBA, but the event usually happens in October.

🗓️ Date : Oct. 26, 2024

28. Order a juicy steak at the House of Prime Rib

Interior dining room at House of Prime Rib in SF.

This old-school English restaurant is one of the top-rated restaurants in the city , and for good reason. Find high-quality prime rib to enjoy alongside excellent wines and cocktails, set against a cozy backdrop of traditional decor and jolly fireplaces.

29. Taste fresh California produce at a weekend farmers market

Farmers market outside of SF City Hall

If you live in the Bay Area, you know that we have access to some of the best produce in the country. That’s why farmers markets are a must for countless SF residents who enjoy getting their food from local sources. Some of our favorites are the Alemany Farmers Market , the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market , and the Heart of the City Farmers Market .

30. Check out the view from Twin Peaks

View of the city from twin peaks.

These 2 adjacent peaks in the city stand 922 feet tall, making them second only to Mt. Davidson. The park itself is 64 acres, and you can see breathtaking panoramic views of the Bay by hiking the 0.7 mile trail network to the top. You can also simply visit via a laidback drive, which makes for a quick and rewarding trip to one of the best sunset spots in the city.

32. Attend a film soundtrack concert by SF Symphony

SF Symphony performs live soundtrack to Fantasia

San Francisco Symphony has an absolutely stellar lineup of concerts all year long, but one of our favorites will always be the Film Series . Watch screenings of classic movies to the music of a live orchestra at these unforgettable performances.

33. Go whale-watching in and around SF

A gray whale tail lifts out of the water in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.

California’s coastline is the perfect spot to catch several whale migration seasons – gray whales from January through April, orcas between February and May, and humpbacks between April and December. While you’re at it, keep an eye out for elephant seals!

34. Take a day trip to Muir Woods

A person wearing a backpack walks down a path in Muir Woods

We’re extremely lucky to live so close to the largest and tallest trees in the world. These old-growth coastal redwoods are breathtaking, and most have been there between 600 and 800 years.

Some of our other favorite day trips from SF include Napa Valley, Filoli Estate & Gardens , and Bolinas .

35. Snag a frangipane croissant at Tartine

A table at Tartine set with sandwiches and juices

Tartine has been a San Francisco staple forever! They’re well-known for their excellent breads , but the pastries themselves receive the same amount of careful attention. Take home a loaf of their classic country levain bread, or opt for the extra soft whole-grain porridge loaf or the Danish-style rye. Whether you stop by for a tasty sit-down meal or picking up a fresh sourdough to go, the iconic SF bakery is a must in the Inner Sunst and the Mission.

36. Walk on the Castro District’s rainbow crosswalk

People cross the street at SF's rainbow crosswalk

SF’s historically gay neighborhood is world-famous with essential stops including the Castro Theater and the Rainbow Honor Walk . Don’t forget to take a pic on the rainbow crosswalk at 18th and Castro Street, and save the date for the Castro Street Fair in October.

37. Get a pic at Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line at the Presidio

Andy Goldsworthy's Woodline at the Presidio

The city of San Francisco began at the Presidio in 1776 when Spain established a military fort there. World-renowned artist Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line is a beautiful sculpture winding through the eucalyptus trees, but there’s no shortage of hidden gems. Leave plenty of time to explore the 1,500-acre park, with plenty of hidden gems including Lobos Valley Overlook, the Pet Cemetery, and Mountain Lake.

38. Hike the Lands End Trail

land's end sf

The Sutro Baths at Lands End are one of San Francisco’s largest historical relics. Make the 3.4-mile hike out there and you’ll find the remnants of an enormous public bathhouse that accommodated up to 10,000 people back in the late 1890s. See more of our favorite local hikes here.

39. Have a bonfire at Ocean Beach

ocean beach in San Francisco

This stunning beach along the west coast of the city is perfect for bonfires (March through October) or for windy sunset beach walks along the coast. Look for the historic Cliff House and Camera Obscura up on the bluffs. Be advised that beaches in San Francisco are unsafe for swimming due to powerful sneaker waves and rip currents.

41. Devour a plate of cioppino at Scoma’s

Diners eat at Scoma's outdoor patio with red checkered tablecloths and a sunset view.

Scoma’s has been serving some of the best seafood in SF at Pier 47 for half a century. It even has its own fishing boat for crabs and salmon, meaning you’re guaranteed the freshest catch from local waters. Try their “Lazy Man’s” Cioppino or the lunchtime Fisherman’s Special.

42. Get lost in SF Botanical Garden

SF Botanical Garden on a foggy day

The San Francisco Botanical Garden is a beautiful, relaxing green space with  7,700 types of plants across 55 acres and i t’s free to visit for all SF residents. Some events to look out for include magnolia season from January-March and Flower Piano in September.

43. Explore SF’s most famous mural collections

Umbrella Alley

Clarion Alley and Balmy Alley each house vibrant, diverse displays of murals by mostly local artists . Some of these masterpieces go back decades into Bay Area history, meaning you can pinpoint certain social movements, artistic styles, and more.  Discover more of our favorite public art pieces here.

44. Take a slippery ride down the Seward Street Slides

Children slide down a pair of concrete slides in SF.

Thrill-seeking adults and children have enjoyed these legendary concrete slides near the Castro since the 1970s. They were designed by a 14-year old girl named Kim Clark, who grew up nearby. The super steep slides will get your heart racing, especially if you bring cardboard for an extra smooth ride. Find them in Seward Mini Park, and heads up that it’s closed on Mondays.

45. Sip on a mai tai at the Tonga Room

Tonga Room

The Fairmont Hotel’s Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is one of the longest continually running tiki bars in the U.S.  They serve a mix of classic and original tiki cocktails, including the “1944 Mai Tai” which is particularly tasty when enjoyed next to the restaurant’s indoor lagoon . Settle into the kitschy tropical paradise for a lively experience that’s one of the most legendary things to do in San Francisco.

31. Watch the Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown

Lion dancers at SF's Chinese New Year Parade

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America. A must-see event is the annual Chinese Lunar New Year Parade  in February which dates back to 1851. Visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and top it off with a Chinese Mai Tai from Li Po Cocktail Lounge .

🗓️ Date : TBA for 2025

47. Satisfy your sweet tooth at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience

ghirardelli square xmas

The enormous and newly renovated  Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience Store reopened even bigger and better in 2022. Customers can enjoy the world’s largest Pick and Mix as well as limitless sundaes, milkshakes, coffees, hot cocoa, and plenty more. Make sure you leave plenty of time to explore Ghirardelli Square, an iconic SF shopping center with all sorts of fun stores and restaurants to try.

48. Join a raucous crowd of runners at Bay to Breakers

Bay To Breakers

This wild, energetic footrace through SF’s most iconic neighborhoods has been a local staple for over 100 years and just keeps getting better. Get ready to run, walk, or dance your way to the finish line while enjoying  live music along the route  and plenty of unforgettable costumes. Save the date for this year’s race on May 19, 2024.

49. Cheer on the Giants at Oracle Park

Crowds watch a baseball game at Oracle Park in SF.

SF’s iconic baseball stadium Oracle Park is located right on the waterfront in SoMa. You can join a year-round tour to see the stadium up close or grab tickets to cheer on the Giants at a home game between March and September. Baseball season brings tens of thousands of people to the neighborhood every year, so if you’re not sure where to grab a bite nearby, be sure to read our Oracle Park dining guide .

50. Experience a yoga session like no other at Grace Cathedral

People do yoga in Grace Cathedral

Hundreds of people flock to  Yoga on the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral for a spiritual experience like no other. The session is a gentle Hatha yoga practice accompanied by live music in one of the most beautiful buildings in SF. For $15 you can join a graceful yoga class open to all ages and abilities led by well-known local yoga teacher Darren Main.

51. Spend Memorial Day weekend at Carnaval SF

Traditional dancers in costume dance on the street in SF.

Carnaval San Francisco is back for its 46th annual festival this Memorial Day weekend on May 25-26, 2024. The free festival showcases 50 local performing artists across 5 stages ; 400+ food and art vendors; and the Jardin de Hierba Buena, a popular permitted cannabis garden.

52. Bike around the perimeter of Angel Island

Angel Island

Take the ferry from Pier 41 and rent a bike on Angel Island for great views of the Bay, Mt. Tamalpais, and more. The Angel Island Perimeter Loop is 5.9 miles long and pretty flat, save for a few inclines. Plan to stop for photo ops and pack a lunch to enjoy on Perles Beach. If you want to take the experience up a notch, you can even camp on Angel Island as long as you reserve about 6 months in advance.

best places to visit san francisco

TYPE IN YOUR SEARCH AND PRESS ENTER

Free Things to Do

Things to Do With Kids

Beaches Near San Francisco

Camping Near San Francisco

San Francisco's Best Parks

Top San Francisco Museums

Live Music in San Francisco

Itinerary: 48 Hours in San Francisco

Day Trips From San Francisco

Fine Dining in San Francisco

San Francisco's Best Bars

Breweries in San Francisco

The Best Time to Visit San Francisco

San Francisco Weather & Climate

San Francisco Airports

Neighborhoods to Know

Getting Around in San Francisco

Top Things to Do

The 20 Best Things to Do in San Francisco

best places to visit san francisco

San Francisco packs an incredible variety of must-see attractions and cultural landmarks into its 49 square miles. Each district has a distinct character and many things to do, whether it’s restaurants, museums, art, music, and pretty much everything in between. Best of all, the small size of the “City by the Bay” allows visitors to catch many different sights on a single trip, even if it’s just a couple of days. Nearby natural parks also offer a chance to plan some enticing day trips around Northern California.

Visit the Palace of Fine Arts

Robert Mackinlay / Getty Images

A shining gem of the city's Marina District, the Palace of Fine Arts was initially built in 1915 to exhibit artworks for the World's Fair. Today, it is one of the most picturesque places in San Francisco and a perfect destination for taking photos or attending a performance in the theatre. The most striking building is the open dome on an artificial lake decorated with 26 large sculptures. Initially designed by Bernard Maybeck, the rotunda has appeared in many films, including Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." Its design takes its inspiration from classical European architecture.

Take a Day Trip to Muir Woods

If it's your first time in Northern California, a short day trip to a nearby Redwood grove is a must-have experience. Redwoods are the tallest trees on the planet, and from San Francisco, it's an hour's drive to Muir Woods National Monument, a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area . The park has 6 miles of hiking trails, and the Main Trail, which starts at the visitor center, is wheelchair accessible for one mile. The park can get particularly crowded on the weekends, so a weekday visit would be best.

Cruise the Bay

Photodisc / Getty Images

One of the easiest ways to see the city from every angle is to hop aboard a sightseeing cruise. You can take many different types of cruises, from Hornblower's dinner cruises to standard sightseeing cruises and excursions to Angel Island , which is home to the city's historic Immigration Station and a few picturesque campsites and hiking trails. For the best views and photographs, try to time your cruise for sunset. Don't forget your jacket and motion sickness medication, as this famously foggy city can produce some rough and cold conditions on bad weather days.

Catch a Game at Oracle Park

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

Home of the San Francisco Giants, Oracle Park is a beloved baseball stadium. Many design aspects of the stadium pay tribute to the team's history, such as the 24-foot high right-field wall, which pays homage to the number of Willie Mays, the most famous Giants player, and outside the park statues are dedicated to some of the team's best players. The stadium sometimes hosts football and soccer games if baseball isn't your thing.

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge

Katrin Engel / EyeEm / Getty Images

One of the most recognizable bridges in the United States—and arguably the rest of the world—the Golden Gate Bridge stretched for nearly 2 miles over the Golden Gate Strait connecting the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco. While most people get their first impressions of this stunning bridge while driving across to enter the city, the Golden Gate is something you’ll want to experience without any distractions. There’s a pedestrian walkway available to cross the bridge by foot, a bike path , or you can head to one of the bridge’s popular vista points to get some incredible views of the famous bay.

Take a Tour of Alcatraz

Caroline Purser / Getty Images

A former federal prison placed on a rocky island about 1.5 miles offshore from the city, Alcatraz has remained one of San Francisco’s top tourist highlights since it opened to the public in the early 1970s. Currently, visitors can reach the island through the ferry from Pier 33 (the trip takes less than 15 minutes) and tour the prison and surrounding grounds. Along with the infamous prison that housed notorious names like Al Capone in its heyday, Alcatraz was also the site of an 18-month long protest that helped spark the Native American civil rights movement.

Explore Chinatown

 TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

Established around 1848 during the California Gold Rush era, San Francisco’s Chinatown is older than any other Chinese community in North America. Take your very own self-guided walking tour starting at the much-photographed Dragon Gate at the intersection of Bush Street and Grant Avenue, and explore the vibrant neighborhood as it takes you past unique souvenirs, local temples, Chinese herbal shops and authentic dim sum restaurants.

Stroll Through Golden Gate Park

Brimming with lush gardens, museums, lakes, and meadows, Golden Gate Park is on the northwest end of San Francisco. It was initially built in 1871, converting a vast stretch of unincorporated dunes known as Outside Lands (a name that later inspired the music and arts festival held annually within the park's boundaries). Horticulture fans will have plenty to see at the San Francisco Botanical Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers, two important landmarks protecting rare tropical plants and flowers from around the world.

Buy Local at the Ferry Building

Some of Northern California’s best culinary delights, such as cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, coffee from Blue Bottle, and oysters from Hog Island Oyster Company, can be found at the edge of the water in the city’s historic Ferry Building. It isn’t just food, but also crafts and souvenirs ranging from books and clothing to candles and ceramics, so one can easily spend several hours perusing the shops and enjoying lunch. Each Saturday, the restored structure opens up to local vendors for the Ferry Plaza farmers market and tons of seasonal, fresh produce.

Visit One of the City’s Many Museums

There’s truly something for everyone when it comes to San Francisco’s great museums. The California Academy of Sciences celebrates the world of natural science. The Exploratorium offers hands-on learning for children and adults alike. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art holds one of the largest collections of modern art in the United States. The city also provides opportunities to learn about San Francisco’s rich history at the San Francisco Railway Museum and the Cable Car Museum , and individual cultures at the Museum of African Diaspora and the Contemporary Jewish Museum .

Walk Along Pier 39

Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf are tourist hotspots for a reason. The area is famous for shopping and souvenir hunting, along with the population of local sea lions who’ve been hanging out on the K dock next to the pier since the 1990s. Take a walk along Pier 39, and you’ll likely find yourself staring at various street performers, a vintage carousel, and a whole host of specialty shops selling unique souvenirs and gag gifts—all surrounded by gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay.

Ride a Cable Car

San Francisco’s cable cars were built in the late 19th century to respond to the city’s notoriously steep hills, and they’re still transporting people today as the only working system of cable cars left in the world. Three separate cable car lines run through the city streets: the Powell-Mason Line, the Powell-Hyde Line, and the California Line. Both Powell lines take off from the same hub at Union Square and continue to the Fisherman’s Wharf area, while the California line starts at California and Market and climbs up to Van Ness Avenue.

Take in the View at Twin Peaks

Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

Named for the pair of towering peaks located near the city's center less than 4 miles from downtown San Francisco, Twin Peaks boasts a stunning 360-degree view of the Bay Area. On clear days, it's even possible to spot the Santa Clara Valley to the south and Mount Diablo to the east. Most visitors drive the winding road to the top and choose from the selection of natural trails to access the best viewpoints from there.

Celebrate the LGBTQ+ Community in the Castro

JasonDoiy / Getty Images

San Francisco’s Castro district isn’t just the heart of the city’s LGBTQ+ community—it is also a thriving neighborhood full of colorful nightlife, restaurants, shops, museums, and landmarks. The Castro Theatre, built in 1922, is one of the only theaters left in the country with an authentic pipe organ player, while the Anchor Oyster Bar has some of the best seafood in the city. The former home of Harvey Milk, internationally recognized human rights leader and the first openly gay elected official in California’s history, the Castro is an invaluable piece of San Francisco’s character and the perfect place to explore the history of the LGBTQ+ movement.

Eat Pasta in North Beach

Gerald French / Getty Images

The city’s own “Little Italy,” North Beach is nestled near Washington Square and Columbus and Grant Avenues. The district is known for its classic Italian restaurants, bakeries, delis, and European-style cafes. Still, it’s also a great neighborhood for simply walking around to people-watch and window shop. Don’t leave without browsing the aisles at City Lights Books, and consider making the trek to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill for a fantastic view of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.

Relax at the Japanese Tea Garden

John Elk III / Getty Images

Located inside Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden is North America’s oldest continuously operating public Japanese garden. With its perfectly manicured trees, soft water features, and classic Japanese structures, it’s difficult not to feel relaxed inside this three-acre garden in the middle of a bustling city. The tea house serves hot tea all year round, but the landscape is breathtaking in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom or the fall when the leaves change .

Have a Picnic at the Presidio

Sundry Photography / Getty Images

Now a national park and historical site, the Presidio was once a thriving military base that officials converted into scenic grounds with a natural vibe in the 1990s. Today, the space spans nearly 1,500 acres, home to miles of hiking trails, restaurants, bars, and museums. Located along the main Presidio promenade is Crissy Field, a sprawling grass field popular for picnics, recreation, and lounging.

Go Thrifting at Haight and Ashbury

Westend61 / Getty Images

The Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco—named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets—was the epicenter of the city’s hippie movement in the 1960s. Venture down upper Haight Street for an incredible selection of vintage clothing shops, bookstores, dive bars, and record shops. Don’t leave without visiting the music lover’s paradise at Amoeba Records , or just explore and marvel at the neighborhood’s Victorian homes, murals, and colorful sights.

Watch the Sunset at Baker Beach

Thomas Dunworth / EyeEm / Getty Images

One of the undisputed best beaches in San Francisco, Baker Beach is as stunning in the evenings as it is during the day. With views that combine a rocky shoreline with rolling hills and the famous Golden Gate Bridge, the beach here puts on an excellent display once the sun begins to set in the early evening, providing some genuinely breathtaking photo opportunities along the way. You'll find Baker Beach on the city's northwest side in the Presidio district.

Admire the Murals in the Mission

Come for the vibrant murals that line the streets of the Mission District, and stay for the trendy boutiques, eclectic stores, and incredible Mexican restaurants. This historic neighborhood is home to Dolores Park, a popular hillside hangout centered around a rich Latino heritage. A walk around Clarion and Balmy alleys will show off the bulk of the Mission’s murals, but there are also plenty of art galleries around the neighborhood to experience as well.

Your Trip to San Francisco: The Complete Guide

Discovering Sausalito: An Easy San Francisco Day Trip

The Best Neighborhoods to Stay in San Francisco

San Francisco Tourist Tips

How to Travel from Sacramento to San Francisco by Train, Bus, Car, and Plane

San Francisco on a Budget: Money-Saving Tips

18 Best Things to Do in San Francisco at Night

Don't Miss These Great San Francisco Attractions

18 Free Things to Do in San Francisco

49-Mile Drive in San Francisco: What You Need to Know

18 Top Things to Do in San Francisco, California With Kids

Best of the West: Top Tourist Destinations

Day Trips and Vacation Side Trips from San Francisco

One Day in San Francisco

The 12 Best Bicycling Paths in California

Golden Gate National Recreation Area: The Complete Guide

The Planet D: Adventure Travel Blog

33 Awesome Things to do in San Francisco for First-Time Visitors

Written By: The Planet D

United States

Updated On: February 9, 2024

San Fransico has countless things to do, from walking across the Golden Gate Bridge to riding its iconic cable cars. Dive into Alcatraz Island’s rich history, feel the Mission Murals’ artistic pulse, and indulge in the legendary Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe.

Whether you’re shopping at Union Square or marveling at the artistic masterpieces in the SFMOMA, the city offers something for every traveler. Join us as we guide you through the top things to do in San Francisco.

Table of Contents

Best Things to Do in San Francisco

Best Things to do in San Francisco Today

There is no doubt that visiting San Francisco will be an American vacation you’ll remember for years to come. I know we did!

San Francisco is one of the best cities in California if not one of the best cities in the US, and planning a trip there is so exciting. Whether you wander through San Francisco’s Chinatown or want to find the best spot to view the iconic skyline at sunset, this guide has all the best things to do in San Francisco.

Getting Around SF

Things to do in San Francisco Getting around

When we first visited San Francisco, we bought a hop-on hop-off bus ticket, and it was a great way to see all the major San Francisco attractions in a short time.

Book private your airport transfer to make landing at the airport easier. Enjoy a private transfer directly to your downtown SF Hotel. The city is straightforward to navigate, especially if you stay somewhere central. For a better idea of where to stay, check out our guide on where to stay in San Francisco .

1. Ride the Cable Cars

best things to do in san francisco ride the cable car

San Francisco’s cable cars are legendary, and no trip would be complete without hopping on one and doing a city tour. This tour is a great way to see the city’s top highlights, including Union Square, Chinatown, Nob Hill, The Italian Quarter, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Details here.

Cable car rides are considered an icon of the city, and you should take a ride just for the experience while visiting. Plus, riding its cable cars is the best way to tackle San Francisco’s steep hills. You’ll find most attractions in the middle of San Francisco.

You don’t need to take a tour to ride the cable cars; they are part of the city’s transportation. The best way to get around San Francisco is on foot or public transport. The city’s public transport system is called Muni. You can pay per individual ride or purchase a Muni Passport, which also gives you unlimited rides on all public transportation for a one-three or seven-day period.

2. Cable Car Museum

best things to do in san francisco cable car museum

Visiting the Cable Car Museum offers an insight into the city’s special transportation system. Location is key, and the museum takes the ‘location, location, location’ motto seriously. The museum overlooks the pulley system, and visitors can wander outside onto the deck to observe the behind-the-scenes action of its famous cable cars.

The exhibit covers everything from old vintage cars from the 1870s to mechanical displays and historical artifacts like black-and-white photographs

3. Walk Lombard Street

best things to do in san francisco lombard street

Lombard Street is known as the “crookedest street in the world” and features eight hairpin turns. It was designed in the 1920s when the cars of that time lacked the power to make it up the steepest of hills.

To visit Lombard Street for yourself, you can walk or drive. If you are walking, consider walking down Lombard Street rather than up – trust us, your legs will thank you. The street weaves through the neighborhood of Russian Hill, which is full of steep hills. Read more: 16 Great Hikes in San Francisco, California

4. Walk The Golden Gate Bridge

best things to do in sf iconic San Francisco Landmarks The golden gate bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks in the entire world. Whether staying for 24 hours,  72 hours , or two weeks, the Golden Gate Bridge will be at the top of your itinerary.

The Golden Gate Bridge was built to connect the city to Marin County across the Golden Gate Strait, and today, walking across is one of the most popular things to do. The walk starts at Vista Point. The best way to go across the Golden Gate Bridge is on a guided tour. This guided bike tour is a 3-hour tour taking you across the bridge and to other top San Francisco attractions.

The iconic bridge is a massive part of the city skyline. The Bay area around the bridge is so popular that it is now considered a national park. The area is called Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is full of different viewpoints and hiking trails.

To experience the Golden Gate Bridge walk across it on the pedestrian footpath and head to viewpoints for a panoramic view. Marin Headlands is the best place to watch the sunset, while Fort Point is the best shot for dawn and sunrise.

5. Baker Beach

best things to do in sf bakers beach

Baker Beach is a quiet, one-mile-long beach that is serene and brilliant for a beach walk or a dip in the sea. It also has one of the city’s best views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, which spans the bay perpendicular to the beach. Even in the harsh midday light, you’ll be blown away by the view. Prepare to be wowed entirely at sunset and stay long enough to watch the bridge and city light up.

The beach gets crowded (you can’t keep good things a secret for long), but don’t let that stop you from visiting. If anything, the crowds make Baker Beach a bit safer to visit – especially at sunset in low-level lighting. To get there, take the 29 Sunset bus or taxi, uber or Lyft. Parking is limited.

6. Alcatraz Island

best things to do in sf alcatraz

Alcatraz Island is a national historic landmark and is over a century old. The notorious island was once one of the world’s most high-security jails. Alcatraz housed famous inmates such as Al Capone and Billy Cook – the Killer.

You can visit the island and tour the prison, including the cell block.

The prison closed in 1963, and since then, it has become one of the US’s best historical and cultural attractions. If you love dark history, it is one of the best places to visit in San Francisco.

There are independent exhibits to discover, audio tours, and a guided walking tour on certain days. The prison is still in excellent condition, and wandering the cell corridors is an eerie glimpse into the island’s pre-1960s life. This highly-rated tour includes a self-guided audio tour of Alcatraz Island. Details here.

7. Fisherman’s Wharf

things to do in sf sea lions

What would a trip to San Francisco be without spotting the famous California sea lions? If you head down to Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ll find Pier 39, the favorite spot of a large colony of sea lions. They first appeared in 1989 and haven’t left since.

This is probably the most touristy area of the city, but it is also the perfect place to visit if it’s your first time in the city. Here, you’ll also find the famous San Francisco clam chowder,  tickets for Alcatraz , and tourist experiences like  Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and The San Francisco Dungeon.

8. Visit San Francisco’s Chinatown

places to visit is san francisco chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is North America’s Oldest Chinatown and is a must-visit. The entrance is easy to find and is marked by a striking Dragon Gate at Grant Avenue and Bush Street.

This neighborhood of activity and flurry covers 30 square blocks where you can immerse in Asian culture, eat dim sum, do some shopping, and take in its bustling atmosphere.

Take a culinary tour for an immersive experience through the neighborhood sampling authentic Chinese food as you stroll the narrow streets indulging in dim sum, tea, fortune cookies, and more.

9. See the Painted Ladies

things to do in san francisco painted ladies

Ready to meet some movie stars? The Painted Ladies are a row of Victorian houses frequently used as film sets in movies and television series – Most Notably Full House. But Full House isn’t the only name you’ll recognize. Mrs. Doubtifre was also the setting of these beautiful ladies.

You can book this San Francisco Movie tour that will take you to iconic locations that have been seen on the big screen. More than 50 famous movies have been filmed in San Francisco, and this 3-hour adventure features the Painted ladies and more!

The pastel-colored houses are located in the neighborhood of Alamo Square Park. And while you cannot enter the Painted Ladies since they are private residences, you can snap plenty of photographs from the outside.

Alamo Square Park is located across the street from the Painted Ladies and has beautiful views of the houses, city and bay. The park is just off the Hayes Street and Scott Street intersect, easily accessible by bus from the city center. The Hop on Hop off Bus also stops in this area.

10. Golden Gate Park – De Young Museum

things to do in sf de young fine arts museum

Golden Gate Park spans 1000 acres with museums, manicured gardens, and tourist attractions. It warrants a full day to see all of its attractions. From horseback riding to bike rentals, it’s easy to spend a day enjoying everything the park has to offer.

A treasure of Golden Gate Park is the De Young Museum, a fine art museum. If you want your art gallery fix, this museum is one of the best things to do.

The museum is packed with modern art and historical treasures. You could view a 13th-century wood sculpture one minute and The Obama Portraits Tour the next. De Young Museum is fast-paced and encourages quick thinking, encompassing American art and art from Africa and Oceania.

11. Spot the bison at Golden Gate Park

things to do in sf bison

Another cool thing to see in Golden Gate Park is its bison herd at Bison Paddock. The animals are cared for by the San Francisco Zoo, and the paddock is open for members of the public to spot the bison over the fence line. If you are visiting Golden Gate Park, why not make a detour?

The first bison was brought to Golden Gate Park in 1891 to recreate the Wild West and aid conservation attempts. Thanks to conservation efforts, bison are no longer under threat of extinction.

12. Japanese Tea Garden – Golden Gate Park

things to do in sf japanese tea garden

Fancy a relaxing walk? Walking through the Japanese Garden is one of the most serene outdoor activities in San Francisco. It is also the oldest public Japanese garden in the US. Make sure to stop at the tea house.

Located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, it is a beautiful place to visit in central San Francisco to enjoy the serenity of a Japanese garden. It is trendy in the springtime when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. But even in winter, the garden has a calming charm.

13. Take a San Francisco Bay boat tour

things to do in sf boat tour

On a boat tour , you’ll pass many attractions, including the SF Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island. You could choose a sunset catamaran tour with dinner or a daytime sightseeing cruise with informative commentary. This Golden Gate Bay Cruise  also includes the hippy enclave of Sausalito. Make sure to keep an eye out for dolphins and whales.

A great way to explore the top San Francisco attractions is to purchase a San Francisco Explorer Pass. Choose 2, 3, 4, or 5 attractions and tours. More details here .

14. California Academy of Sciences

things to do in sf california academy of sciences

Think science museum, and then magnify it by a hundred. The California Academy of Sciences is an incredible museum containing an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum worthy of spending a whole day (if not two). You can book tickets ahead of time , including entry to all in one day at the California Academy of Sciences.

15. Palace of Fine Arts

best things to do in sf palace of fine arts

Don’t miss going to the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District of San Francisco – We captured this beauty at sunset. The Palace is the only remaining structure from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

With its Greek-style colonnades and soaring central rotunda, the Palace of Fine Arts is stunning and has been featured in several movies. The architecture’s grandeur and scale make is a picturesque place to relax and have a picnic.

16. Have breakfast at North Beach

things to do in sf north beach

North Beach is San Francisco’s ‘Little Italy,’ and the hospitality is second to none. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into Europe with the al fresco retro dining. The area has plenty of Italian restaurants, and it is one of the best places in San Francisco for nightlife. The local favorites for breakfast are Nob Hill Café, Caffe Macaroni, and Tosca Café.

Or you can take a stroll as you enjoy authentic Italian Gelato while shopping for books at City Lights Bookstore and Publishing or visiting the Beat Museum.

17. Wander the Mission District

mission murals in san francisco

The Mission District is renowned for its spectacular Mission Murals. The best places to see the Mission murals are along Clarion Alley, Caledonia Alley, Balmy Alley, and Horace Alley

As you wander through the neighborhood, you’ll encounter walls and alleys transformed into dynamic canvases, showcasing stunning murals that tell stories of heritage, struggle, and community.

The main thoroughfares of the Mission District are Mission Street and Valencia Street, known for its diverse array of restaurants and shops. Visitors will find vintage clothing stores second-hand records and bookstores most notably Quarius Records, Dog Eared Books, and Borderlands Books.

Plus, the Mission District is recognized as an emerging hotspot for shopping, dining, and nightlife.

This walking tour is an immersive cultural journey that offers a unique glimpse into the heart and soul of the city. The area is also known for its second-hand records and bookstores it is a treasure trove of nostalgia with stores like A

18. City Lights Bookstore

Speaking of Bookstores, City Lights Bookstore is a San Francisco Institution specializing in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. It was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, who left two years later.

The store gained fame following the obscenity trial of Ferlinghetti for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s influential collection “Howl and Other Poels. In 2001, City Lights was designated an official historic landmark.

19. Go Shopping at Treasurefest

things to do in San Fran Shopping at TreasureFest

TreasureFest, formerly known as Treasure Island Flea Market, is held on the last full weekend of every month. This lively event transforms Treasure Island into an eclectic hub of indie crafts, antiques, and live music.

Launched in 2011 by San Franciscans Angie and Charles Ansanelli, the festival was designed to foster community involvement and highlight local talent.

With over 400 local vendors, shoppers will find vintage goods, handmade crafts, and unique antiques, all set against the scenic backdrop of the San Francisco Bay.

Visitors can also enjoy a variety of food trucks, interactive DIY workshops, and live music, creating an immersive experience that encapsulates the spirit of San Francisco. The event’s pet-friendly atmosphere, themed markets, and variety of culinary options make it a delightful destination for all types of travelers.

20. Hayes Valley

Nestled in the heart of San Francisco, Hayes Valley is a vibrant neighborhood known for its trendy boutiques, exquisite dining, and dynamic art scene. Stroll along Hayes Street to discover a diverse selection of fashion-forward shops and specialty stores, perfect for unique finds.

Food enthusiasts can savor various culinary delights, from cozy cafés to upscale restaurants serving global cuisines. The area is also a cultural hub, home to the San Francisco Jazz Center and a stone’s throw from the renowned SF Symphony and Opera.

Don’t miss the Proxy, an outdoor space hosting film screenings and food trucks, offering a taste of the local community spirit.

21. Shop at Haight Ashbury

haight ashbury sign

Haight-Ashbury became famous primarily due to its role as a central hub of the hippie counterculture in the 1950s and 1960s. By the mid-1960s, it had become a center for the hippie movement.

Today, Haight Ashbury is known for its unique boutiques, distinctive restaurants, vintage and retro-themed shops, like the famous Amoeba Records and Booksmith. The area is also known for its concentration of Victorian homes, colorful murals, galleries, and art spaces.

22. See the Parrotts Coit Tower

things to do in sf coit tower

Coit Tower is a 210-foot building offering panoramic views over the San Francisco skyline, plus a home for an estimated flock of 400-plus parrots. The parrots don’t just live in the tower; they are all over the Telegraph Hill neighborhood.

You can climb to the top of the tower for a reasonable entrance price and see the whole city on a clear day. You’ll be able to spot Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, plus all the skyscrapers and skyline landmarks.

The tower was built in the 1930s yet remains one of the best viewpoints in SF. You may also want to read: The Ultimate San Francisco Photography Guide

23. Ferry Building Marketplace

ferry building market

Ferry Building is an indoor artisan food market. If you want to grab breakfast or lunch on the go, you really can’t find anywhere better. Once a significant public transport building, it is now a place for local vendors and farmers to sell their organic and handmade produce.

The market advocates for regional and traditional production – building a strong sense of community while preserving local history and lifestyles. Grab a cup of Joe at Blue Bottle Coffee and enjoy perusing the shops. The Saturday Farmers Market is the best time to visit.

24. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

things to do in San Fran MOMA

Step into the World of Wonder at SFMOMA: A San Francisco Must-See for Art Aficionados. As one of the city’s premier destinations, SFMOMA is home to a staggering array of over 33,000 artworks, encompassing a diverse range of modern and contemporary pieces.

From awe-inspiring installations to thought-provoking paintings and sculptures, the museum presents works by illustrious artists like Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol.

25. Asian Art Museum

places to visit in sf asaian art museum

For those who love the fine arts, the Asian Art Museum contains over 18,000 Asian artworks and is one of the world’s greatest collections. The exhibitions are dynamic and exciting, using a variety of mediums, including video, classic canvases, and gemstones.

26. San Francisco Botanical Garden

Things to do in San Francisco Botanical Garden

Visiting the San Francisco Botanical Garden is a lovely way to escape the city. The 55-acre garden has 8,000 flower varieties, including native and international plants. Visitors can explore from a succulent garden to a towering Redwood grove, passing by African calla lilies.

You’ll find the Great Meadow & Fountain Plaza and Redwood Grove in the gardens. The botanical garden’s Redwood Grove offers a glimpse of these majestic trees for those who can’t visit the Redwood National Forest or John Muir Woods.

Plus, the garden has the largest collection of Magnolia trees outside of China, with the best viewing time from mid-December through March.

27. Lands End Lookout

things to do in sf lands end

This area is called Lands End because it is located literally at the end of all land to the west, as its cliffs end at the base of the Pacific Ocean. Here, you’ll find Ocean Beach, where advanced surfers show off their skills.

Its waves are notoriously huge and unsuitable for swimmers due to dangerous currents but sunbathers can safely watch the action from the shore. On a clear day, the hikers can see far into the depths of the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Marin Headlands to the north, and the Golden Gate Bridge to the east.

The historic Sutro Baths and Park at the Lands End Main Parking Lot will also be found. The Sutro Baths are one of the best places for photography, where you’ll find San Francisco’s Heart. A rock formation in the shape of a heart.

Besides the Sutro Baths, other viewpoints include the Eastern Coastal Trail Lookout, Lands End Labyrinth, and Dead Man’s Point.

28. Angel Island

best things to do in sf angel island

Angel Island is one of our favorite San Francisco things to do. The island was once an immigration station (not unlike Ellis Island in New York ), and a military base. Visiting here offers a beautiful 360-degree view of the city and the Bay Area.

The island is now a state park bursting with trails, greenery, and San Francisco’s history. It is the second largest island in SF Bay and is conveniently located, making it a fantastic day trip.

It has plenty of natural beauty as well as historical buildings to explore. The island is a perfect option if you want an excursion from the CBD.

To visit, catch a ferry from Fisherman’s Wharf. You can then choose to explore independently or purchase a guided walking tour.

29. Mission Dolores Park

what to do in sf misson dolores park

This 16-acre park is one of the most popular parks in San Francisco. It has everything: a soccer field, tennis courts, a basketball court, and frequent cultural events.

It has amazing views of the bay, and the park has somewhat of a cultural and historical stamp. Mission Dolores Park has multiple monuments, such as the Mexico Liberty Bell and Miguel Hidalgo Statue.

And, with all the cultural events like festivals and music performances, it is worth checking to see if anything of interest coincides with your visit. Who knows? Maybe you’ll strike lucky. Plus, the atmosphere will be second to none, even if you don’t know any performers.

30. Watch a Giants game at Oracle Park

Things to do in San Francisco Watching a Giants game at Oracle Field

What is more American than baseball? The San Francisco Giants are a leading baseball team in the Major League with a fierce following across the US.

Whether or not you are a sports fan, watching a baseball game at Oracle Park is one of the most exciting and atmospheric things to do in SF.

A baseball game is a fantastic way to appreciate the American (and San Franciscan) spirit.

The major league baseball season typically runs from April to October, longer if they make the playoffs. It is worth checking to see if a game coincides with your visit or considering it when booking your trip.

31. Hike Up Twin Peaks

things to do in sf twin peaks

Twin Peaks is one of the best hiking trails in the city for spectacular city views of the bay. It is a heavily trafficked loop trail, and you can drive or cycle up to the lookout.

It is the second-highest peak in San Francisco (922-foot tall ) that overlooks the entire Bay Area and the city’s landmarks.

The hike feels far away from the city, with forest trails, eucalyptus trees, rocky outcrops, wooden walkways and dirt paths taking you up to Eureka Peak and Noe Peak.

32. Visit the Buena Vista Cafe

Visiting the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco

As the birthplace of the American version of Irish Coffee, the Buena Vista Cafe offers a delightful blend of rich coffee, smooth Irish whiskey, and creamy topping, creating an unforgettable taste sensation.

Savoring this famed beverage isn’t just about enjoying a drink; it’s about being part of a timeless San Francisco tradition. The cafe’s cozy, welcoming atmosphere and panoramic city views make for the perfect backdrop to enjoy this classic concoction.

33. Attend the Stern Grove Festival

best places to visit san francisco

The Stern Grove Festival is a series of free performing arts events held each summer. Established in 1938, it takes place in the picturesque Sigmund Stern Grove, a eucalyptus-wooded natural amphitheater about two miles south of Golden Gate Park. The festival spans a 33-acre site from 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard to 34th Avenue.

Since its inaugural concert on July 10, 1938, performed by the Bay Region Symphony of the Federal Music Project, the festival has featured various performances. In 1943, the San Francisco Ballet performed at the festival for the first time, becoming a regular in its summer lineup.

The festival underwent renovations in 2004, reopening its 68th season in June 2005.

How to Get to San Francisco

things to do in sf alamo park

San Francisco sits in Northern California, about a six-hour drive north of Los Angeles. The city is easy to reach via air, rail, road, and sea. We visited San Francisco on a road trip and found driving a great way to get around. You can compare car rental prices here.

The main airport is the San Francisco International Airport, which is located 13 miles from downtown. To get downtown, you can take the airport shuttle busses, taxis, Uber, and Lyft.

Best Time to Visit San Francisco

things to do in sf when to visit

Spring and fall are San Francisco’s two shoulder seasons. However, fall (September to November) has some of the warmest temperatures and fewest crowds – a win-win.

September is San Francisco’s warmest month and is perfect for walking around the city and exploring the best nearby  hiking trails.

San Francisco is a city that suits all seasons, but if you want the best experience we suggest visiting in the fall.

At the beginning of autumn, you’ll also find the most street fairs and markets in San Francisco. This season is full of life and activity and has the weather to match.

Questions People Also Ask About San Francisco

Questions about San Francisco

Is 2 Days Enough for San Francisco?

Two days in San Francisco can be sufficient to see some of its highlights, but it won’t allow for a comprehensive exploration of the city. With a well-planned itinerary, you can visit famous landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Alcatraz Island.

What is the Number One Attraction in San Francisco?

The Golden Gate Bridge is often considered the number one attraction in San Francisco. This iconic suspension bridge is a marvel of modern engineering and offers breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay and the city skyline.

How Can I Spend a Few Days in San Francisco?

A few days in San Francisco can be spent exploring a mix of its famous attractions and local experiences:

  • Day 1: Visit the Golden Gate Bridge, explore the nearby Golden Gate Park, and see the Painted Ladies. Spend the evening in the vibrant neighborhoods of the Haight-Ashbury or the Mission District.
  • Day 2: Take a ferry to Alcatraz Island in the morning. In the afternoon, visit Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. You could also explore Chinatown and Union Square.

What is San Francisco Popular For?

San Francisco is popular for its diverse culture, iconic landmarks, and beautiful natural scenery. It’s known for the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, cable cars, and vibrant neighborhoods like Chinatown and Castro.

Where to Stay in San Francisco

We have an entire article breaking down the best neighborhoods and hotels for every budget and visitor. You can read it here. Where to Stay in San Francisco – A Guide To The Best Neighborhoods

  • Fairmont Heritage Place  – Best Luxury 5-Star Hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf
  • The St. Regis  –  Best Luxury SoMa Hotel
  • JW Marriott Union Square  – Best Luxury Hotel
  • Four Seasons  –  Best Luxury Hotel in San Francisco at Embarcadero

San Francisco is an incredible US holiday destination. The city is one of America’s most popular tourist destinations and has a mythical, legendary allure. With its world-class museums, fantastic shopping, and dining at everything from a sustainable seafood restaurant to enjoying one of the city’s famous festivals, San Francisco easily lives up to its huge reputation.

Plan your trip to California with these travel guides.

  • 33 Best Day Trips From San Francisco
  • 14 Best Boutique Hotels in San Francisco
  • 16 Great Hikes in San Francisco, California
  • 37 Best Things to Do in Los Angeles – By A Local
  • 28 Best Beaches in California
  • 20 Best Things to Do in Carmel by the Sea, California
  • The Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Book Your Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner. We have used them for years and have found that they have the best flight deals.

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use Booking.com and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor.

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO . 

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Safety Wing - Occasional Travelers.
  • Medjet - Global air medical transport and travel security.

Book Your Activities: Looking for walking tours, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more? Then we recommend Get Your Guide.

Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

You May Also Like

15 Fascinating Fun Facts About Hawaii You Will Love

15 Fascinating Fun Facts About Hawaii You Will Love

Where to Stay In And Around Zion National Park: Our Favourite Places

Where to Stay In And Around Zion National Park: Our Favourite Places

Where to Stay in Los Angeles: A First Timers Guide to The Best Places

Where to Stay in Los Angeles: A First Timers Guide to The Best Places

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine , the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Join thousands of others who get our monthly updates!

Leave a comment cancel reply.

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

4 thoughts on “33 Awesome Things to do in San Francisco for First-Time Visitors”

Thanks for sharing this wonderful article.

It’s too bad they are all tourist sports and super crowded. That’s why I always travel out of season

Thank you very much sir for telling us the Great information about the 29 Awesome things to do in summer.

The Crazy Tourist

Home » Travel Guides » United States » California (CA) » 25 Best Things to Do in San Francisco

25 Best Things to Do in San Francisco

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 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 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 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?

Alcatraz

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 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 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 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

best places to visit san francisco

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 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 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 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 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 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

best places to visit san francisco

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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

Travelling is ultimately a tool for growth. If you want to venture further, click this banner and take the leap 😉

  • Meet the Team
  • Work with Us
  • Czech Republic
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland
  • Scandinavia
  • Philippines
  • South Korea
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • Budget Travel
  • Work & Travel
  • The Broke Backpacker Manifesto
  • Travel Resources
  • How to Travel on $10/day

Home » North America » San Francisco

35 BEST Places to Visit in San Francisco (2024)

Often called one of the most beautiful cities in the world, San Francisco should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s also becoming known as one of the best food destinations in the US and has more incredible sites and activities then you could ever see or do on a short trip! So, if you want to spend some time in a beautiful, multicultural city where you can find any type of food at every price point, this is where you should visit.

San Francisco may have everything, but that comes at a price, quite literally. This is one of the most expensive cities in the US, which is why a lot of travelers avoid this area. But if you’re careful and plan your trip with your budget in mind, you’ll find a wealth of things to do and eat in this city without breaking your bank account.

To help you have the trip of your dreams in San Francisco without spending all of your hard-earned cash, here’s a guide to everything you can do at every price point.

NEED A PLACE QUICK? HERE’S THE BEST NEIGHBORHOOD IN SAN FRANCISCO:

These are the best places to visit in san francisco, faq on the best places to visit in san francisco, final thoughts on the coolest places to visit in san francisco.

Union Square, San Francisco

Nob Hill and Union Square

I was deciding between these two neighborhoods in San Francisco for first-time visitors, and just decided to include both. They are right next to each other, and equally great areas in San Francisco for first-timers, but they have completely different atmospheres.

  • Sample gourmet delicacies from around the world at the Ferry Building
  • See free summertime cultural performances at the square
  • Discover quirky museums, like the Museum of Ice Cream and the Kiosk Museum

You may be asking yourself but where is the best place to stay to make the most of my time and see all 35 attractions??? The answer is…well…everywhere. There are just too many colosally characterful neighbourhoods in this city. We have tried to break it down for you, though, based on interests and experiences you can have while staying in each one. Check out where to stay in San Fransciso and then continue on down this list!

best places to visit san francisco

Unlock Our GREATEST Travel Secrets!

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best travel tips delivered right to your inbox.

H #1 – The Golden Gate Bridge – One of the most amazing places in San Francisco!

The Golden Bridge

The Broke Backpacker is supported by you . Clicking through our links may earn us a small affiliate commission, and that's what allows us to keep producing free content 🙂 Learn more .

  • Absolutely iconic, one of the most famous bridges in the world.
  • A great place to take photographs.
  • You can also bike or walk across the bridge and take in the city.

Why it’s so awesome : The Golden Gate Bridge is probably the most famous bridge in the world and top of your San Francisco itinerary for good reason. It’s more than 1.7 miles long and more than 12,000 cars drive across it every day. There’s also a pedestrian path and one for bikes, so no matter how you want to experience this landmark, it’s easy to do.

What to do there : Take photos of course! The view from the Golden Gate Bridge is absolutely amazing and it’s the most popular place for photography shots in the city. Take the pedestrian path if you want to get the whole experience or take a bike across and stop off where the city looks its best.

#2 – Fisherman’s Wharf – Cool place to see in San Francisco with friends!

fishermans-wharf

  • This area has an amazing vibe and community that you absolutely must experience for yourself!
  • Some of the best restaurants in the city are here.
  • You can also take tours throughout the area which will help you discover places known only to the locals.

Why it’s so awesome : Bright and colorful, lively and welcoming, this area is the perfect place to spend an afternoon soaking up the vibes and enjoying the city and its people. It’s one of the most popular spots in San Francisco, so it’s the perfect place to people watch, and there’s no end to photo ops and interesting sights in this area.

What to do there : While you’re on the Waterfront, make sure you eat some fresh seafood. You can find everything here from fresh crab to fish that’s just been pulled from the ocean and the food is absolutely first-rate. And if you don’t like seafood, take a tour through the area on a Segway, on foot, or on a boat, to discover some options that you wouldn’t have found on your own. Or better yet, stay in a VRBO nearby so you can enjoy all the great food options in Fisherman’s wharf for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

#3 – Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

  • If you’ve seen prison movies, chances are that you’ve seen shots of this location!
  • One of the most famous prisons in the US.
  • The site is mostly still intact, which makes for an interesting if slightly creepy tour.

Why it’s so awesome : Alcatraz is located half a mile off the shore of San Francisco and it was a federal prison between 1933 and 1963 and a military prison before that. The inmates at this prison were the worst of the worst, prisoners who had made trouble at other locations and were shipped to Alcatraz as punishment. Because of this, the prison was once home to some of the most notorious criminals in recent history including Al Capone and Robert Franklin Stroud.

What to do there: Alcatraz prison is now a popular tourist attraction and almost everyone who visits the city spends some time exploring the yards and cells. This is a creepy remnant of one of humanity’s more brutal faces and it’s a creepy but fascinating look at an often-ignored part of modern life.

#4 – Union Square – A great place to visit in San Francisco at night

Union Square

  • One of the best shopping areas in San Francisco.
  • You’ll find everything from high-end designer shops to quirky options, so make sure you bring your credit cards!
  • The food and cafes in this area are amazing.

Why it’s so awesome : If you want great food, amazing shopping options and nightlife then this is the area to visit. Union Square has everything, which is why it’s so popular among tourists and locals alike. It also contains a number of art galleries if you get sick of shopping and want to add some culture to your visit, so make sure you check them out.

What to do there : Shop until you drop. Wander in and out of the stores and marvel at the prices. Backpacking in San Francisco won’t be cheap, and the high-end boutiques will confirm that for you yet again, but the high-end variety also makes the window shopping amazing.

Stop off for lunch at one of the many great restaurants and then spend the afternoon at an art gallery looking at the Masters. With this combination, you’ll have the perfect day! And if you’ve still got the energy, hang around to check out Union Square’s amazing nightlife. There are some great hostels located around the area for you to make the most of those late-night bar crawls if that is your thing.

best places to visit san francisco

With a San Francisco City Pass , you can experience the best of San Francisco at the CHEAPEST prices. Discounts, attractions, tickets, and even public transport are all standards in any good city pass – be sure invest now and save them $$$ when you arrive!

#5 – Chinatown

Chinatown

  • There are four Chinatowns in this city, and the one on Grant Avenue is the biggest outside of Asia and the oldest in the US.
  • Draws more visitors each year than the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • If you like Chinese food, then you’ll find the best of the best here.

Why it’s so awesome : In this area, you’ll find an interesting history, great Chinese food and a sprawling Chinatown that includes two hospitals and a variety of parks. This is one of the most popular areas in San Francisco and it’s well worth spending some time there while you’re in the city. The food is incredible, the best you’ll probably find outside of Asia, and the streets are so colorful that people-watching is an absolute pleasure.

What to do there : Try the food! You can’t come to this area and not try as much as possible of the many food options. If you have time, you can even take a walking food tour . So make sure you spend some time wandering from shop to shop and trying everything. The shopping is also amazing, if a little quirky, so check out the shops once you’re full and see if you can find something to take home as a souvenir!

#6 – Golden Gate Park – A beautiful and scenic place to check out in San Francisco

Golden Gate Park

  • Great for photographers.
  • The park includes a lot of varied spaces like monuments, playgrounds and lakes.
  • A beautiful, natural area in the middle of the city.

Why it’s so awesome : The Golden Gate Park stretches across 1017 acres and contains a variety of different landscapes. It’s the perfect place to get in some exercise, have a picnic, or just sit and enjoy the natural landscape and clean air. The park also holds some of the most interesting events in the city, so make sure you check out what’s on while you’re visiting!

What to do there : Make sure you take some time to wander and explore while you’re in the park. Have a picnic, gather some friends together and play games, or just sit and watch the world go by. More than 13 million people visit the park every year, so it’s the perfect place for people watching. It’s also a prime spot for weddings, which just proves how beautiful the park really is!

mockup of a person holding a smartphone in white background with Holafly logo

A new country, a new contract, a new piece of plastic – booooring. Instead, buy an eSIM!

An eSIM works just like an app: you buy it, you download it, and BOOM! You’re connected the minute you land. It’s that easy.

Is your phone eSIM ready? Read about how e-Sims work or click below to see one of the top eSIM providers on the market and  ditch the plastic .

#7 – San Francisco Museum of Art

San Francisco Museum of Art

  • One of the most stylish art galleries in the world.
  • The building was originally designed by Mario Botta.
  • The ground floor is free to the public.

Why it’s so awesome : This building was recently renovated and the renovation added nearly 170, 000 square feet to display art in, which nearly tripled the size of the space. It has a permanent collection as well as 16 special galleries and even there are even some pieces of art that were specially commissioned for the new layout.

What to do there : If you love art, then the SF MOMA should be on your bucket list. You can see the huge ground floor space completely free of charge, but make sure you check out the special exhibitions as well.

#8 – Brown Sugar Kitchen

Brown Sugar Kitchen

  • The best place to enjoy soul food.
  • There are now two convenient locations in the city where you can enjoy this uniquely American cuisine.

Why it’s so awesome : This restaurant is famous in the city and now there’s a new location as well. If you enjoy the sights, tastes and smells of soul food, then this restaurant is a must-visit. Owned by Tanya Holland, the restaurant is the best place to enjoy organic, seasonal and locally produced favorites. And the new location, located in the Ferry Building, offers lighter fare if you’re looking for a great tasting snack.

What to do there: Soul food is unique and the food this restaurant creates changes according to the seasons, so you’ll have to wing it. But if you get the chance, make sure you try some of the favorites such as the cornmeal waffles, buttermilk chicken or shrimp gumbo.

#9 – The Painted Ladies

The Painted Ladies

  • Made famous in movies and TV shows.
  • A great place to take some photographs.
  • There are hundreds of these types of buildings in the area, but the most famous are in NoPa and you’ve probably already seen them on television.

Why it’s so awesome : If you’ve ever seen the picture of a row of brightly colored houses of three or more colors then chances are that you were looking at the painted ladies. These buildings were built in the Victorian and Edwardian styles and they’ve been captured in more than 70 movies and TV shows.

What to do there : Explore the neighborhood! Although there is one particular row of houses that is most famous, the Cole Valley, Lower Haight and Haight-Ashbury neighborhoods boast hundreds of these bright buildings. So if you find yourself with some extra time, make sure you go for a walk and take in as many examples of this old style of architecture as you can!

#10 – Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts

  • An interesting and historic structure.
  • Quite literally looks like it belongs to a long-gone age.
  • You’ll get some of the most amazing photos from this site.

Why it’s so awesome : Designed by architect Bernard Maybeck, this structure is built in a Greco-Roman style that really stands out in the modern world. It’s like being on a movie set, and you can look across the pond at swans gliding lazily in front of the structure like the last two thousand years never happened.

What to do there : This is the type of place where you’ll just want to relax and take in the beauty. The surroundings are gorgeous and perfect for a stroll. They’re also perfect for weddings, so you know that any photo you take will be amazing. But if you want to avoid the weddings and get photos that are a little more unique, try visiting this spot at night, when the spotlights make everything glow.

#11 – The California Academy of Sciences – An awesome place to visit in San Francisco for half a day!

The California Academy of Sciences

  • For science geeks and anyone interested in the world around them.
  • A fantastic place to take the kids!
  • This would make for a good afternoon outing if you want to get out of the sun.

Why it’s so awesome : If you love science then you’ll love this place because it includes so many different areas and types of scientific exhibits. You can spend a whole afternoon here just taking in the exhibits and no matter how restless your friends or kids are, they’ll definitely find something to enthrall them!

What to do there : Well, it depends on what you want to learn about. The Morrison Planetarium is a favorite because it’s state of the art and never fails to inspire. There’s also a four-story living rainforest in the museum, with birds, butterflies and some lush tropical plants for you to explore. The ‘Living roof’ in particular, home to more than 1.7 million plants, is a sight you’ll never forget.

#12 – AT & T Park

AT & T Park

  • See the San Francisco Giants in the flesh!
  • A great weekend activity for the whole family or for people on their own.

Why it’s so awesome : Sitting amongst a huge group of people who are all there for the same reason is amazing. The energy is just electric and when you add in the amazing view of the Bay from the seats, the tasty food treats, and the fact that you’re in one of the world’s best-known stadiums, you’re almost guaranteed to have an afternoon you’ll never forget!

What to do there : If you’re visiting San Francisco in the right season, make sure you catch a game if you can. There’s nothing quite like being in a big crowd all cheering for the same thing. Even if you don’t like sports, that kind of atmosphere is inspiring. And even better is the view of the San Francisco Bay you’ll enjoy from the stadium seats. The food is a big part of the experience too, so make sure you eat some of the city’s famous junk food treats such as chocolate sundaes, Caribbean barbeque or garlic fries.

best places to visit san francisco

Wanna know how to pack like a pro? Well for a start you need the right gear….

These are packing cubes for the globetrotters and compression sacks for the  real adventurers – these babies are a traveller’s best kept secret. They organise yo’ packing and minimise volume too so you can pack MORE.

Or, y’know… you can stick to just chucking it all in your backpack…

#13 – Exploratorium – One of the more unique places to visit in San Francisco!

Exploratorium

  • For kids and for anyone who has kept their sense of adventure.
  • A great place to learn more about the world in new ways.
  • Perfect for families and groups.

Why it’s so awesome : The Exploratorium is a massive museum that will enthrall even the most science-hating visitor. Located on the Embarcadero waterfront, this museum explores science through exhibits that encourage play and experimentation. Everything in this building is a little different than you would expect, from storage lockers that sing to a movie that’s also a clock. So if you enjoy the unexpected, then this is the place for you.

What to do there : Most of the exhibits in this museum change regularly, but some of them stay over the long term. Make sure you check out the ‘fog bridge’ designed by artist Fujiko Jakaya, the toothpick diorama of San Francisco and the Tactile Dome, a sensory deprivation maze. And if you get tired of all the play, go upstairs to the second floor where you can get a great view of the city from the Bay Observatory and have lunch at the Seaglass restaurant, where you’ll enjoy sustainable seafood dishes.

#14 – The Mission Murals

The Mission Murals

  • A good way to learn more about San Francisco’s multicultural population.
  • You’ll see some great examples of modern art.
  • Make sure you take lots of photos!

Why it’s so awesome : The Mission District has lots of alleys and buildings that are decorated with more than 200 murals. These murals mostly reflect the neighborhood’s Latino heritage and delve into deep subjects like social justice. Artists like Susan Cervantes and the Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center have ensured that these art pieces are concentrated in specific areas so they’re easy to see all at once.

What to do there : There are several streets where you can enjoy these outdoor galleries including Caledonia Alley at 15th Street, Osage Alley at 25th Street, Balmy Alley on 24th Street, Horace Alley on 25th Street, Clarion Alley at Valencia Street, and Cypress and Lilac Alleys on 26th Street. So make sure you allocate a whole morning or an afternoon to just walk around and marvel at the expression and the messages.

#15 – The Castro Theater

The Castro Theater

  • An iconic building where you can sing along to your favorite musicals.
  • A chance to get dressed up as your favorite character.

Why it’s so awesome : The Castro Theater has become the best place to watch musicals while dressed up as your favorite characters. And as if that wasn’t enough, the theater shows the best musicals ever made and has singalong sessions during the show! There’s no room for embarrassment here and having a bad voice is no excuse. With all the noise and laughter, nobody will hear your voice anyway!

What to do there : If you have a favorite musical character, or just want to dress up as a Disney princess, then this is the place to do it. Make sure you check out what shows are on at the Castro while you’re in the city and be prepared for singalongs, goodie bags with props, and general hilarity. The theater even holds family-friendly matinees as well as later shows with alcohol, so make sure you choose the right screening!

#16 – Presidio – A must visit place to visit in San Francisco on the weekend!

Presidio San Francisco

  • A former military base that’s recently been put to much better use!
  • Gorgeous natural surroundings.
  • A great place to take pictures in nature.

Why it’s so awesome : This site started out as a military base, but it’s used for much more peaceful activities these days. On Sunday afternoons between March and October, Off the Grid takes over the Main Parade Grounds and packs it with food vendors, games, live music, yoga and everything else fun in the world. And on Thursday nights they go a step further and add cocktails and firepits to the mix.

What to do there : If you’re in San Francisco at the right time of year then make sure you visit the Parade grounds for all the fun and madness. Eat great food, play some games, and stretch out with some yoga. But even if you aren’t there between March and October it’s still a beautiful spot. This site boasts more than 2 square miles of trees and amazing views, so make sure you come ready to walk and take some photos!

best places to visit san francisco

Our GREATEST Travel Secrets…

Pop your email here & get the original Broke Backpacker Bible for FREE.

#17 – Coit Tower

Coit Tower

  • Built in 1933 as a monument to the city itself.
  • The tower’s observation deck has 360-degree views of the city and the Bay.
  • At the base, there’s a rotunda with murals from the depression era.

Why it’s so awesome: This tower is a much-loved part of the San Francisco skyline and welcomes travelers who are moving westbound across the Bay Bridge. It was built in 1933 and stands 180 feet tall on Telegraph Hill. The views that this tower offers are incredible, some of the best you’ll see while you’re in the city so take lots of photos. And if you spend some time with the murals at the base, you’ll get a quick and sobering view into a more serious part of the city’s history.

What to do there: Obviously you need to spend some time on the observation deck taking in the views. They’re spectacular from that vantage point, and you’ll get some amazing photos. But make sure you check out the murals at the base too. They were created by more than two dozen artists during the Depression-era and depict strongly socialist images that are both fascinating and striking.

Visiting only  for a few days? Check out our  perfect itinerary for 3 days in San Francisco !

#18 – Pier 39

Pier 39

  • A highly unusual corner of the city!
  • A chance to see some wildlife inside a huge, modern city.

Why it’s so awesome : Pier 39 is right in the middle of the city and is not the kind of place where you would expect to see wild animals outside of a zoo. And yet they’re here. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, this dock suddenly became home to a large group of Californian sea lions. Nobody really understands why, but they’ve been returning to the Pier for 30 years and appear to enjoy their surroundings. And you’ll enjoy watching their antics too.

What to do there : Don’t disturb the seals or try to touch them. Despite their location, they are wild animals and won’t take kindly to being disturbed. Instead, just watch the group and their interactions as they frolic on the wooden walkway. If you want to learn more about them, a naturalist will be on-site as long as the weather is reasonable between 11 and 4 every day to answer any questions you might have.

#19 – Angel Island – A must visit place to visit in San Francisco on the weekend!

Angel Island

  • A chance to get out of the city and into nature.
  • An important historical spot.
  • The outdoor activities are amazing!

Why it’s so awesome : If you want to take an easy day trip out of San Francisco then Angel Island should be on your list. It has everything from a fascinating and sometimes tragic history to incredible nature spots. Angel Island was once the US Immigration Station where Chinese immigrants were held on their way into the US. During your trip to Angel Island, you can experience this history in sometimes tragic living color. And once you’re ready for something happier, make sure you take advantage of the many opportunities for nature activities on the island.

What to do there : While you’re there, make sure you tour the US Immigration Station. More than a million Chinese immigrants were processed through this station between 1910 and 1940 and some of them were held for years in the barracks, where you can see their poetry carved into the walls. Once you’re done with this slice of history, make sure you take advantage of the outdoor activities. Have a picnic at one of the many sites, bike the Perimeter trail, or hike up Mount Livermore. You’ll get fitter and be able to see some amazing views too!

#20 – The Audium

The Audium

  • An unusual quirk on live theater.
  • Not for the faint hearted or for people with sensitive ears.

Why it’s so awesome : If you’ve been to the theater before then you probably think you’ve seen everything they have to offer. But you haven’t seen this, or not seen it as the case may be. This theater specializes in sound. During the show, you’ll be sitting in the dark while waves and sculptures of sound are emitted from the 176 speakers. The speed and movement of the sounds are incredible, and this is an experience that’s really hard to describe. So you’ll just have to experience it.

What to do there : This theater has only 49 seats so make sure you get a ticket in plenty of time and don’t miss out.  And then, just sit in the darkness and let the sound do its work. It’s truly one of the strangest experiences you’ll ever have, and it will change the way you think about sound and music.

backpacker drinking using grayl geopress filter bottle

Drink water from ANYWHERE. The Grayl Geopress is the worlds leading filtered water bottle protecting you from all manner of waterborne nasties.

Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle. Save money and the environment!

We’ve tested the Geopress  rigorously  from the icy heights of Pakistan to the tropical jungles of Bali, and can confirm: it’s the best water bottle you’ll ever buy!

#21 – The Filbert Street Steps – An unknown (but awesome!) place to see in San Francisco!

The Filbert Street Steps

  • A non-touristy activity that will allow you to see some of the most spectacular views of San Francisco.
  • You’ll get some exercise while you explore.
  • Not for anyone who has trouble with stairs or isn’t reasonably fit.

Why it’s so awesome : Hidden away in San Francisco, there are more than 400 different stairways that connect the 42 hills in the city. Some of them were built more than a hundred years ago and when you explore these stairs, you’ll see some of the most incredible views in the city. Each set of stairs is different, from mosaic tiled stairs between 15th and 16th avenue to a leafy, secret garden set of stairs on Macondray Lane. The Filbert Street steps are one of the best, and traversing this pathway will be well worth the effort.

What to do there : The Filbert Street Steps climb through tropical gardens and end up at the iconic Coit Tower. It’s a tiring climb, but take your time. Drink in the sights along the way, but also a lot of water. We want you to stay safe , hydrated and sprained ankle free while working those quads. When you reach the spectacular gardens and the view of the city at the end, take lots of photos!

#22 – Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze

Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze

  • A dizzying and quirky activity for a slow afternoon.
  • Great for kids and big kids too!

Why it’s so awesome : This mirror maze isn’t like the ones you probably remember from your childhood, instead, it’s more like a psychedelic fever dream. It’s located on Pier 39 and is a huge labyrinth lit with neon colors and filled with rave music and screaming, giggling customers. It’s actually like a piece of changing, glittering art that you can walk through, bump into, and marvel at!

What to do there : You don’t have to be a child to enjoy this maze, in fact, anyone who enjoys a laugh and a challenge will have fun. So, put aside your inhibitions and make your way through the labyrinth. Take some friends with you and be prepared to bump into them, literally, on your way. And once you’ve found your way through, try going through it backwards for an extra challenge!

#23 – The Wave Organ

The Wave Organ San Francisco

  • A musical instrument that is played by the ocean!
  • A marvel of engineering and ingenuity.

Why it’s so awesome : The Wave Organ was built in 1986 by Peter Richards and is designed to amplify the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore. It uses repurposed materials for everything, even to make a trash can, and emits low, gurgling tones that are not unlike what you’ll hear when you put a shell to your ear.

What to do there : This is not a place to do anything. Instead, it’s a detached, oddly beautiful sanctuary close to the city where you can marvel at the sounds of the ocean and the ingenuity of man. There are some great views of iconic sites in San Francisco from parts of this attraction, but mostly you should take the chance to have a break from the noise of the city and listen to the song of the sea for a while.

#24 – Garden of Fragrance – A beautiful and scenic place to check out in San Francisco

Garden of Fragrance

  • Located in the San Francisco Botanical Gardens.
  • A great place to take a relaxing afternoon stroll.
  • Make sure you take lots of photos and maybe even have a nap on the grass!

Why it’s so awesome : Cities don’t always smell the best. Between the pollution, cars, and too many people crammed too closely together they can be overwhelming. If you need a break from these smells, you’ll find the antidote in the Garden of Fragrance. Located in, this is a small garden that’s focused on plants that will delight your nose.

What to do there : This is the kind of area where you need to let go of the outside world and just enjoy. Smell is incredibly evocative, and it can change your mood and even bring back long-forgotten memories. And there are lots of great smells in this garden from lavender to rosemary and mint. And it’s beloved by animals too, so you’ll see lots of birds and small creatures enjoying the lush surroundings.

#25 – Institute of Illegal Images – Quite the quirky place in San Francisco!

  • A museum that explores the seedier side of the city.
  • A history lesson on art you’ll never forget!

Why it’s so awesome : San Francisco was once the biggest supplier of LSD in the world and this museum explores this history through the art that was created at the time. It contains samples of the drug and chemically inactive sheets of it dating from the sixties as well as examples of the artwork this era produced.

What to do there : This is a very specific and slightly controversial genre of art and it has landed the owner in court twice. Both times the judges ruled that the exhibits on display were not for use as drugs, they’re just a slightly unusual type of artwork and he was let go. So make sure you take the time to explore this side of San Francisco’s past and see how LSD influenced and inspired art of every genre from spiritual to whimsical and sometimes even close to demented!

#26 – Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden

  • A serene slice of another culture.
  • Contains the oldest Japanese tea garden in the US.
  • A place to rest and contemplate.

Why its so awesome : The tea house that’s at the center of this garden was built in 1894 as part of a Mid-Winter Fair. It was so popular that the tea house was preserved after the rest of the fair was cleared away and now it’s a popular part of the Golden Gate Park. Some parts of this garden have been the same since the 1800s and were designed by Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara.

What to do there : Japanese gardens are some of the most beautiful, unique and structured in the world. They’re designed for serenity and every plant and strip of grass works towards that aim. This garden is no different. Make sure you check out the Drum Bridge and spend some time exploring this five-acre garden. It’s the ideal place to relax and center your mind before you move on to all of the other activities in San Francisco.

#27 – The Peephole Cinema

  • Quite literally only for the brave.
  • One of the strangest, most interesting places in the city.

Why it’s so awesome : In a small alley, there’s a hole in the wall. This might not seem unusual, but this hole is deliberately made and it reveals something special. It’s actually a theater, and when you look through the hole you will see a constant stream of short silent films and animation. The creator, Laurie O’Brien, wanted a new way to showcase animation and other types of films, and she’s certainly done just that with this theater. She has also set up other locations in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, so make sure you check them out if these cities are part of your trip!

What to do there : This theater is easy to miss. Look for a sign with the name on it and a drawing of an eye. There aren’t any other signposts, either in the alley or outside of it, so most people come across this theater by accident. The films run day and night, so gather up your courage, make sure you have the right hole in the wall and have a look!

#28 – Ferry Building Marketplace – A must-see for foodies!

Ferry Building Marketplace

  • One of the best places in the city for food!
  • A public market where you’ll find everything from seafood to Japanese snacks and Mexican food.

Why it’s so awesome : The food at the Marketplace is absolutely incredible and there’s something for everyone here. No matter what food you enjoy or feel like you will find a stall, restaurant, grocery store or snack stop that has it. And it will all be good.

What to do there : Have a light breakfast and visit this site with an empty and rumbling stomach because you’ll want to have plenty of room to try everything. At this location, you can take groceries home and cook for yourself or eat in one of the stalls that also acts as a restaurant. And if you want a view with your meal, then pick up a to-go meal and eat along the waterfront. There’s nothing better for the appetite then looking out across the Bay.

#29 – The Cable Cars

The Cable Cars

  • An iconic way to travel in San Francisco.
  • Made famous in movies and even in songs!
  • A historic and slightly noisy alternative to buses and trains.

Why it’s so awesome: The cable cars in San Francisco are one of the most iconic images of this city and they’ve been featured in movies and TV shows ever since these things were invented. These cable cars are the last of their kind in the states and were invented as an alternative to the horse and buggy, which were incredibly dangerous on San Francisco’s steep streets!

What to do there : Take a photo, because the cable cars are iconic, and you can’t say that you’ve been to the city if you don’t have a picture of them. And then go for a ride. The cable cars are rarely used by locals because they only traverse a small area. But tourists love them and sometimes you just have to act like a tourist and do what everyone else is doing!

#30 – Muir Woods National Monument – A beautiful outdoor place to visit in San Francisco

Muir Woods National Monument

  • A chance to see redwoods up close.
  • A beautiful natural area that’s a blast from the past.

Why it’s so awesome : Redwoods are an important part of California’s landscape but unfortunately, they’re been cleared so extensively that it’s actually becoming rare to find them. But Muir Woods is a place where you can experience the awe of staring up at these massive trees just a short trip from the city.

What to do there : The largest tree in Muir Woods is around 258 feet tall and the average age of the trees is between 600 and 800 years, though this area contains trees that are far older. You’ll be able to learn more about these ancient giants during your trip to this national monument and have a nice break from the city at the same time. There are six miles of trails through Muir woods and some short hikes that can be completed in around half an hour. There are also a number of beaches on site if you get tired of the shade and the serenity and want to catch some sun. Just be warned that parking isn’t very good at this site, so make sure you get there early or organize alternative transport.

#31 – The Castro

The Castro

  • The heart of San Francisco’s gay culture.
  • A colorful and friendly corner of the city.
  • There is also some great architecture in this area.

Why it’s so awesome : San Francisco is known for its rich gay and lesbian culture and the Castro is the heart of that. In fact, there are some who argue that San Francisco is the gay capital of the world and there are good reasons for that. The first openly gay politician in the US, Harvey Milk, held office in the city in the 1970s and his human rights efforts have left a lasting impact on the city. And apart from the history, this area is bright, cheerful and friendly, with picturesque Victorian homes.

What to do there: This area has lots of things to see and do. You can sing along to a show at the Castro Theater, visit the GLBT Museum on 18th Street to learn more about the city’s history, and wander the streets looking at the buildings. And when you get hungry, the Castro has some of the best restaurants in the city as well as the best nightlife as well. So choose somewhere to eat and soak in the friendly atmosphere!

#32 – The City Lights Bookstore

The City Lights Bookstore

  • A slice of alternative history.
  • The perfect place to pick up a masterpiece in an evocative and atmospheric environment.

Why it’s so awesome : Technology has driven most bookstores out of business but this one is holding strong. It’s a fixture in this neighborhood and the exterior of the store, a replica of a revolutionary mural from Mexico that was destroyed by military forces, reflects that. There are also art banners above the windows and signs telling you that your cell phone needs to be turned off if you’re going to enjoy your time in the shop. All of this creates an atmosphere that reflects its origins as a city landmark and once a hangout for Beat-era writers.

What to do there: This is a bookstore with a difference. You won’t find just best sellers here, instead, you can explore 3 floors of Beat-era writers and works released by independent publishers. You’ll find poetry, politics, fiction, philosophy and history here, all waiting for you atop creaking wooden floors.

#33 – The Filmore

The Fillmore

  • For music lovers of all kinds!
  • The perfect place to explore a new music genre.

Why it’s so awesome : if you know anything about music, then you’ve probably heard the name of this club before. Everyone who’s anyone in the music industry either wants to play at the Filmore or has done so in the past. This most famous music hall showcases big stars as well as local acts. And it features every genre of music, so chances are that you’ll discover a new music love here!

What to do there : Make sure you check out a show at the Filmore while you’re in the city. It can be crowded, so get your tickets early and just enjoy whatever show they have on because it’s bound to be top quality. And make sure you head to the upper level to look at the collection of Rockstar posters on the walls too, you might see some old favorites there! At the end of the night, the staff members hand out collectible posters, so check out what’s available and snag yourself a souvenir while you’re there!

#34 – Long Now Orrey

  • A quirky museum with a 10, 000-year clock!
  • A monument to long term thinking.

Why it’s so awesome : This is a small museum that’s a monument to long-term thinking. It has a number of displays, but the centerpiece is the Orrery, an enormous planetary model that harks back to Renaissance times. Designed by Danny Hills and Alexander Rose, it was made in 2005 out of silver-colored alloys and shows all the planets that are visible to the naked eye from Earth. It moves twice a day, sending the earth around the sun in a visual representation of our solar system.

What to do there : If you enjoy learning more about the solar system then seeing this visual representation is a good way to do expand your knowledge. Most people have never experienced the natural cycles of the earth on this scale, so make sure you take the time to understand what it’s showing and what it represents. There are also smaller prototypes of this type of timepiece in the museum, so make sure you check them out as well.

#35 – The Grove – Possibly one of the most important places to visit in San Francisco

The Grove

  • The National AIDS Memorial located in the Golden Gate Park.
  • A sad reminder of the loss and the fear that was rampant at this time in history.

Why it’s so awesome : This isn’t a site that’s awesome in the strictest sense, but it is incredibly important. The Grove exists so that all the people who died from AIDS aren’t forgotten. Their names are etched in the stone, a reminder of a sad and fearful time in recent history that isn’t often remembered or respected as it should be.

What to do there: Spend some time looking at the names. This seven-acre area of the Golden Gate Park is sobering in the midst of all that beauty. But it’s also a reminder of the pain and loss suffered by minority groups and of the importance of community and treating everyone with kindness and respect.

Get insured for your trip to San Francisco!

Staying safe in San Francisco is easier if you’re insured!

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing .

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

best places to visit san francisco

SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

Find out what people want to know about the best places to visit in San Francisco

Is San Francisco still a good place to visit?

San Francisco might’ve lost the title “most beautiful city in the world” but it’s still an incredible travel destination. There are so many stunning places to visit in San Francisco that you’ll struggle to fit everything in.

What places in San Francisco can you visit today?

To find out the best places to visit in San Antonio today, check out Klook ! Anything that’s on offer today will be listed there. For even more options, have a look at Airbnb experiences too.

What are the best places to visit in San Francisco at night?

Check out these epic places to visit in San Francisco at night: – Union Square – Palace of Fine Arts – The Castro

Are there any free places to visit in San Francisco?

These are some of the best free places to visit in San Francisco: – San Francisco Museum of Art – Fisherman’s Wharf – The Wave Organ

With its strong and varied culture, amazing scenery, and incredible food scene, it’s no wonder that San Francisco has become one of the most popular cities for tourists in the world. This city does have its problems, most of them to do with the skyrocketing cost of living, but it’s also an amazing and vibrant place to visit for a holiday. If you’re looking for things to do and places to eat to suit your budget, our list will help you narrow down your choices so you have the most amazing trip ever!

  • Check out our  backpacking US   guide  for in-depth info for your trip.
  • Use our where to Stay in San Francisco guide to plan your adventure.
  • Check out all the epic things to do in Fremont while you’re visiting.
  • A great way to see the country is by taking epic road trips around the US .

best places to visit san francisco

Art Patterson

Places to Visit in San Francisco Pinterest Image

Share or save this post

photo of a person holding a smartphone with Holafly logo

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.

a logo with a plane, flower and palm tree and the words 'Spend Life Traveling'

15 Must See Places in San Francisco – An Insider’s Guide

Must sees in San Francisco, USA

Are you wondering what the main things to do are in San Francisco and which places you really have to see?

San Francisco is one of the most popular American cities to visit. There are many iconic landmarks and must see places in San Francisco, making this city a great tourist destination.

San Fran, nicknamed “The City” by the locals, was built on money from the gold rush. It expanded quite rapidly and gave this town a rich history, no pun intended.

There are so many things to do and see in this city. I’ve been here for more than two years and still feel I haven’t experienced it all!

So, for this insider’s guide to San Francisco I narrowed it down and compiled a list of the 15 must-see places.

15 Must Visit Places in San Francisco

1. the golden gate bridge.

San Francisco Must See Places: Golden Gate Bridge

Could I really start this list anywhere else? When you think of SF, you think of the Golden Gate.

It’s often called one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, and it really is a place not to miss!

There are many locations to photograph this historical beauty from, but the best is across the bridge from the lookout. That way you can get the city in the photo too.

Tip: for an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge consider going on a Golden Gate Bay cruise .

For more information about the Golden Gate Bridge visit Goldengate.org

2. The Bay Bridge

a San Francisco must see: Bay Bridge

The Bay Bridge is the bridge that leads from San Fran to Oakland and Berkeley.

The Golden Gate Bridge was made famous for being the largest suspension bridge of its time, but the Bay Bridge well surpasses that accomplishment.

There are actually two sections of this bridge, both connecting on Treasure Island. This is a great place to stop to photograph the city skyline and the bridges , and definitely a San Francisco must see!

Tip: if you want to admire both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge from the water then check out this bridge to bridge cruise .

For more information about the Bay Bridge: Baybridgeinfo.org

3. Fisherman’s Wharf

San Francisco Must See: Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is where you can get the freshest clam chowder .

There are also lots of fun activities to do here, like amusement rides and souvenir shopping.

And you can find an In-n-Out here, which is a very famous chain of fast-food restaurants!

For more information: Fishermanswharf.org

Pier39: one of the must see places in San Francisco

Pier 39 is another must visit place in San Francisco, and it’s within walking distance from Fisherman’s Wharf.

It’s where you’ll find the resident sea lions !

There are numerous shops and restaurants here, fun street performances and the area has a lively vibe.

San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay can be found here and the popular 7D Experience, which is a virtual roller coaster and video game combined.

Tip: you can buy skip-the-line tickets online for Aquarium of the Bay.

For more information about Pier 39: Pier39.com

5. Alcatraz

San Francisco must see: Alcatraz

Alcatraz is the most famous prison and an absolute must-visit when in San Francisco.

The saying used to go “ If you were bad you went to prison, if you were bad in prison, you went to Alcatraz ”. Some of America’s worst criminals lived here on ‘the rock’.

Today it is a national park and open for tours.

Make sure to book your tickets far in advance , I’m talking weeks or even months. They sell out fast!

Tip: you can buy several combo tickets with a discount , combining an Alcatraz ticket with another fun activity.

For more information about Alcatraz: NPS.gov

6. Presidio Park

Presidio Park

This park is an old naval base.

There are still many bunkers and buildings here today and there are a few nice trails that lead through the eucalyptus forests.

If I have any Disney fans out there, this is home to the permanent Walt Disney Museum .

Today many of the buildings are rented out to local businesses and as housing.

For more information about Presidio Park: NPS.gov

7. Twin Peaks

San Francisco must see: Twin Peaks

Trying to catch the best view of San Francisco ?

Twin Peaks is a top contender. Head up here just before sunset to see the city lights come alive.

For more information about Twin Peaks: sfrecpark.org

8. The Full House House

must see places in San Francisco: Full House house

This row of houses was made world famous by the popular TV show Full House and is now a much-visited tourist attraction.

“What ever happened to the predictability?” I knew you were waiting for this one. All of the landmarks will work in your map by using its name, except this one. Alamo Square or the Painted Ladies is what you want to use.

Take a relaxing break on the field of Alamo Square with the locals.

The higher you climb, the better the view you’ll get.

9. The Sutro Baths

San Francisco must see places: Sutro Baths

The Sutro Baths was once an old bathhouse, which Thomas Edison used to frequent.

The building no longer stands, but the ruins do. It is a gorgeous place to see the Pacific Ocean and to get in a little exercise. On the lower left of the sea wall is a small cave- check it out!

For more information: NPS.gov

10. Coit Tower

Must visit in San Francisco, CA: Coit Tower

Once an old lookout tower, now a small museum.

You are able to take a small elevator ride to the top for 360° views of San Francisco.

I know I’ve listed a few viewpoints, but its because they’re all amazing in their own way. Don’t pass this one up.

For more information: sfrecpark.org

11. Haight-Ashbury

San Francisco must visit: Height Ashbury

Many famous rock and roll artists made it big singing on the streets of Haight-Ashbury, a district of San Francisco, in the 60s and 70s.

A lot of those bars are still open today and this area is definitely one of the must see places in San Francisco.

There is a lot of great local shopping on Haight as well.

12. Chinatown

San Francisco, CA must visit: Chinatown

This is my favorite Chinatown in the USA .

There are a lot of cool stores with Chinese goodies, Chinese architecture, and great Dim Sum- yum!

My favorite part about Chinatown is its local produce stands. They have an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables that I didn’t even know existed.

13. Transamerica Pyramid

San Francisco must see: Transamerica Pyramid

Probably the most iconic building in the city’s skyline is the Transamerica Pyramid.

It’s pretty cool to see up close, but unfortunately they don’t offer any tours inside the building.

14. Lombard Street

Lombard street

Lombard Street is the self-proclaimed “Most Zigzagged Street in the World”.

The street is so steep that developers had to make it curvy in order to drive down it safely.

During the summer weekends they close it off to through traffic so go on a weekday and drive it yourself!

15. Golden Gate Park

San Francisco must visit: Golden Gate Park

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is comparable to Central Park in NYC – except, a little smaller.

There are great trails, open fields, sports centers, museums, gardens, lakes, Dutch windmills, and even a waterfall. Oh, and a herd of bison!

There is so much to do in this park , you could spend five days straight exploring this incredible place and still have plenty to do. But a simple drive through will bring you back to peace in the center of this large metropolis.

How to Explore San Francisco & See All the Must See Places

To visit all of these amazing landmarks and must see places in San Francisco, I highly suggest renting a car. 

Alternatively, you can use the Hop-On Hop-Off bus to see all the main sights.

Tip: if you plan to buy tickets for several tours or attractions in San Francisco, check out the San Francisco Explorer Pass . It can save you a lot of money on many of the main tours and attractions.

While there is plenty more to do and see in the city, you gotta make sure to check these 15 out.

Safe travels and enjoy San Francisco!

And if you want to see more than just the city, have you considered a San Francisco RV rental ?

  • Interview With an Expat About Life in San Francisco
  • What is California Famous For?
  • An overview of all articles about California

And if you need a break from San Francisco, then I highly recommend visiting South Lake Tahoe for a few days!

Like this article with must see places in San Francisco? Pin it!

15 Must See Places in San Francisco, USA - An Insider's Guide. #SanFrancisco #travelSanFrancisco

Featured image source: Getty Photography With special thanks for letting me use this incredible picture of a San Francisco must see!

This insider’s guide to San Francisco contains affiliate links. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you.

26 thoughts on “15 Must See Places in San Francisco – An Insider’s Guide”

I love that you explained how Chinatown has a variety of produce stands that offer exotic fruits and vegetables. My family and I would like to visit San Francisco during our family vacation and want to buy groceries so that we can cook dinner in our hotel. We’ll be sure to visit Chinatown to purchase fresh vegetables for our meals.

That’s quite a comprehensive guide to Frisco. And the pictures are equally great. China town. Pier 39 and Lombard street are high on my list when I get a chance to visit San Fran.

Great tips. San Francisco is on my bucket list and this post is very useful. Another place I’ve heard is a must is the Japanese Garden.

Really enjoyed that thanks Nicole 🙂 I’ve yet to explore San Francisco but would love to visit the Sutro Baths, Twin Peaks and Golden Bridge! The traveller and photographer in me screams to those views!

Thanks for your recommendations a nice read

Thanks for sharing so much information. I will try to cover all the places mentioned by you when I visit San Francisco.

I love the Pier 39. Looks like the seals are really enjoying themselves. Alcatraz would be also an interesting visit. I heard you can also sleep there like a prisoner. After having lived there for two years, what have you liked the most in SF?

Hi Agnes, I haven’t heard of sleeping overnight- it may be a once a year type thing if so. But I do know they have night tours. They are only good in the winter when the sun sets early. Otherwise, it’s not even dark out during the “night tour”.

My favorite thing to do in SF is eat! haha I was never a foodie until I moved here. The food is incredible. My favorite places to go with guests however are Sutro Baths, Lombard Street, and Twin Peaks. I love watching my friend’s excitement over these landmarks. I also never get sick of photographing them! And of course- the sea lions. They’re my favorite animal! 🙂

The iconic Lombard Street. if you have ever played GTA San Andreas then this street is something you are going to find. 😀

I was hoping the Full House house was on this list…and there it was! I really would love to visit San Fran someday! Great list of things to do!!

These are definitely all must see places. And if you want to get away from the tourists – San Francisco has so much to offer! There are so many great neighborhoods to explore. We just took our daughter for the first time and even she loved the places that are off the beaten path.

This is a great guide with amazing photos! I love that the ‘Full House’ house is included! Well I guess now it’s the ‘Fuller House’ house. I LOVE that show and I just finished binge watching season 2 of the Netflix revival 🙂

I’ve always wanted to go here. I’ve been all over California but never to San Fran. Thanks for the alkatraz tip! I’m surprised they are booked for so far in advance. Also the Full House house! That’s awesome. Something someone in my generation has to see atleast once. Cheers!

San Francisco is one of the cities in the U.S. that I would love to visit especially to see the sea lions at Pier 39 and to hang out in the Haight-Ashbury district. The Painted Ladies are just so pretty and photogenic!

I went to San Fran a couple of years ago for the first time and had a wonderful stay although I didn’t even cover half of what’s on your list! I totally missed out on Pier 39 which is a shame and the twin peaks but I really loved visiting Alcatraz…you have a really great list!

San Francisco is one of the few US cities I still want to see. This list is a perfect guide of the important highlights to visit! How is the public transportation in this area? Are all these things relatively easy to get to? How long would you suggest for a visit?

Thanks Brianna! San Francisco really is worth visiting. Compared to most other cities in the US public transport here is really good. And especially when you are visiting as a tourist and have the time to yourself it works fine to explore anything in the city center. Just use Google, enter your destination, choose public transport and Google will show you exactly what to use and where. But, if you want to see anything outside of the city center, such as Twin Peaks, I highly recommend renting a car or using Uber. Uber is very affordable and will be a better option if you stay in the center since parking your rental car at your hotel will cost quite a bit extra.

I would recommend at least 3 full days in San Francisco to explore these must sees without feeling rushed.

Hi Brianna, You could spend as little as 3 days here and see it all. If you have more time, you’ll be able to see more outside the city, like Napa, Yosemite, Monterey, Lake Tahoe etc… Public transportation is good. The BART (subway) doesn’t go too deep into the city but our bus system (The Muni) is wonderful. You can get to all of these locations with public transportation easily, except Twin peaks. It’s a bit of a hike without a car.

San Fran! if it were not so expensive, I might actually want to live there. Lombard street and Twin peaks are places I want to visit.

I’ve only been to SF once, but really enjoyed it. This post brings so many memories – Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Chinatown… Really hope to have a chance this great place again one day!

Nice post. Thank you for sharing. I surely need to visit San Francisco one day.

Very nice this post. I´ve never been in San Francisco but i really want to visit, especially to see alcatraz, the golden gate bridge and that amazing street, lombard. I imagine it must be a special place, with a good culture life.

China town in San Fran is a must. I also love watching the kiteboarders battle the wind and do tricks in the bay. I have never been to Alcatraz but that is now on my list for when I return. I love checking out the coast in Pacifica too…a bit quieter and less crowded, though that water is FREEZING!

first i saw Golden Gate in a Bollywood movie since than i want to visit the place and here you have given me some more reason to visit San Francisco. Thanks

Cool blog post. I’ve never been interested in visiting San Francisco, but you’ve provided some inspiration. It seems like there’s a lot to do and see.

I haven’t been to San Francisco in years. I’ve done many of the things you listed (and they are great), but I’ve not heard of the Sutro Baths. That sounds like something right up my alley! Glad to know there are some new things to explore when I go back!

This is such an information packed guide for anyone planning to visit San Fran! I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. Thanks for writing this!

Leave a Comment Cancel reply

Contact: [email protected]

Created by Mar y San Design

🙌 Awesome, you're subscribed!

Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!

Get us in your inbox

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest and greatest from your city and beyond

By entering your email address you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and consent to receive emails from Time Out about news, events, offers and partner promotions.

Awesome, you're subscribed!

The best things in life are free.

Sign up for our email to enjoy your city without spending a thing (as well as some options when you’re feeling flush).

Déjà vu! We already have this email. Try another?

Love the mag?

Our newsletter hand-delivers the best bits to your inbox. Sign up to unlock our digital magazines and also receive the latest news, events, offers and partner promotions.

  • Things to Do
  • Restaurants
  • Music & Nightlife
  • Neighborhoods
  • Shopping & Style
  • Los Angeles

Aerial Bixby Bridge (Rocky Creek Bridge) and Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur in California, USA America. Drone Shot

The best day trips from San Francisco

From Big Sur to Sonoma, the best day trips from San Francisco include long and scenic drives

Photograph: Shutterstock/Nuria Kreuser

One of the best parts of living in, or visiting, San Francisco is the access to so many amazing day trips within a few hours' drive. Yes, there are so many  things to do in San Francisco  itself—but beyond its 7x7 radius, plenty of Northern California adventure beckons.

Iconic destinations that most people have heard of—such as Big Sur, Napa or Sonoma, and Carmel-by-the-Sea—are all doable in a day. But so are smaller towns that shouldn't be overlooked. Looking for a beach day? Nearby destinations, including Stinson Beach, Bolinas, and Half Moon Bay, are perfect places to catch rays. Is rugged coastal scenery more your thing? Keep driving up the coast north to the small town of Jenner. Want something a bit more off the beaten path? Check out the artsy town of Guerneville along the Russian River or Gold Country at the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills.

From the beach to the redwoods, to wine tasting and art gallery hopping, the magic of NorCal awaits with these best day trips from San Francisco. 

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in the Bay Area

Been there, done that? Think again, my friend.

Best day trips from San Francisco

1.  point reyes and tomales bay.

Point Reyes and Tomales Bay

Distance from San Francisco:  1 hour 30 mins

With an enormous 71,000 acres of nature preserve on the Pacific Coast, Point Reyes is a dramatic windswept land populated by elephant seals, old-growth Douglas-fir forests, and a 145-year-old lighthouse. Start your trip at the  Bear Valley Visitor Center  to pick up trail maps, then make your way to Chimney Rock, where a five-minute walk from the parking lot takes you to a cliff's vantage point. If visiting between January and April, keep your eyes peeled for the Pacific gray whale migration, which passes just off the coast on the journey between Baja California and feeding grounds in Alaska. At the Tule Elk Reserve, hike or take a ranger-led tour to glimpse these majestic animals (July to September is the rutting season), or visit the historic Pierce Point Ranch at the trailhead. If you want a dip in the water, Heart’s Desire Beach in neighboring Tomales Bay has shallower and warmer waters than the open ocean.

Food options abound in nearby Point Reyes Station, a small rustic town at the mouth of the bay. Station House Cafe  is a long-standing eatery that serves up locally sourced fare with a lovely garden seating area .  Point Reyes Books  deserves a look-in while you’re here. This winsome little independent bookstore has respectable collections on wildlife and the environment and routinely hosts events involving the local artists’ community. Just up the bay, feast on classic oyster and Dungeness crab delights with a view at  Hog Island Oyster Company 's farm and the  Marshall Store .

2.  Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Beyond the surf and boardwalk, the amusement park rides that Santa Cruz is best known for are mountain ranges,  treetop walks , butterflies, and indie bands. The adventurous should beeline for Mount Hermon, where you'll find all sorts of activities ranging from an ecology tour in the trees to a two-hour zipline, railroad riding, and Bigfoot hunting. Those who prefer to remain on terra firma (and are visiting during the colder months) should try to catch the impressive butterflies residing in the eucalyptus trees at Monarch Grove, in  Natural Bridges State Beach . Music lovers will be satisfied with a night at  Moe's Alley , where they regularly host local and international bands. 

3.  Big Sur

Big Sur

Distance from San Francisco:  2 hours 45 mins

With winding mountainside roads, sweeping beaches, and breathtaking sunsets, is it any wonder the Big Sur is the subject matter of so many songs? (The Thrills and Buckethead, we're looking at you.) Ok, so it is pushing it on the day trip scale from San Fran, but if you head out at the crack of dawn or thereabouts, the drive will be totally worth it. Plus, the high quality of relaxing and eating that can be done there is sure to send you back singing. Make your way in on Highway 1, lap up the crazy beautiful views, and beeline for the beach—Pfeiffer is the stretch of shoreline where you can see the arched rock that forms a stunning light tunnel at sunrise/set. Then, wander up to the vantage point at McWay Falls to admire the tropical island-like vibes before swanning off for lunch.

Sierra Mar, the restaurant at  Post Ranch Inn , offers a prix fixe lunch with a view of the Pacific. Or stop in at  Nepenthe  amid the trees for 'The Famous Ambrosiaburger'—a ground steak sandwich served on a French roll with housemade ambrosia sauce . Don't forget to stop in at the  Henry Miller Memorial Library , where they host a range of events, before heading back up the coast.

4.  Stinson Beach and Bolinas

Stinson Beach and Bolinas

Distance from San Francisco:  1 hour

For friendly, laidback beach vibes, venture north to Stinson Beach and Bolinas. These two points, which bookend Bolinas Bay, boast a rugged coastline, stretches of white sand, and water-based activities. Keen swimmers should look out for Bass Lake, a body of freshwater situated a short drive up Mesa Road followed by a near-three-mile hike (trust us, it is worth it).

Reenergize with some fresh seafood or pop into the hillside  Coast Cafe  for a chunky sandwich at lunch or something more substantial from their dinner menu. And if you're planning to have a swift one before driving back, try out  Smiley’s Schooner Saloon , which is popular with the locals and offers games and live music with your drink.

5.  Skyline Boulevard (Hwy 35) and Woodside

Skyline Boulevard (Hwy 35) and Woodside

Distance from San Francisco:  45 mins

Escape into the cool blue mountains via Skyline Boulevard in Woodside, which offers nature trails, spectacular ocean and valley views, and wine-tasting without the traffic. When you reach town, you'll see a wooden cabin in a clearing at the intersection; this is  Alice’s Restaurant , the place to stop if you like to have your burgers and BBQ paired with the rumble of Harleys. Popular with bikers and cyclists plying the mountain roads, Alice’s offers breakfast until 2pm, Texas-style BBQ (brisket and pulled pork smoked in-house), and cheesy (literally and figuratively) motorbike-themed burgers. This is still the Bay Area, though, so the burgers are made with hormone- and antibiotic-free beef patties, and gluten-free beer is on the menu.

After lunch, continue southeast on Skyline. Ten minutes away is  Thomas Fogarty Winery —it is a short drive, so don’t miss the few unmarked vista points along the way—where you can catch panoramic views of the ocean across rolling hills. Try a flight of five signature wines in the winery's tasting room or buy a bottle, borrow some glasses, and sit out in the romantic wooden gazebo. For a different kind of unwinding, visit the  Jikoji Zen Center . Founded by Kobun Chino Otogawa, Steve Jobs’ mentor, the center welcomes visitors to meditate in its  zendos  or wander its tranquil grounds. From the front gate, it is a winding dirt track down to the main building, so make sure your suspension is in place. Ring the aging bronze bell at the entrance to let them know it is your first time.

6.  Sebastopol

Sebastopol

Distance from San Francisco:  1 hour 15 mins

Sebastapol is still the authentic, laid-back Sonoma outpost it was a generation ago. Dive right in, beginning at  Aubergine Vintage Emporium . In this hangar-like space, you might pick up anything from a broken-in aviator jacket to a Soviet Army-issued canvas belt. Hidden behind the clothing racks are a cavernous live music venue and a bar with an open patio. If you’re of a spiritual rather than spirits bent, wander up to  Many Rivers Books & Tea , a cozy bookshop stacked high with New Age and philosophical tomes and figurines. In the tea shop at the back, pick up a bag of Monk’s Blend, a smooth malty mix of Assam, Darjeeling, Keemun, and Nilgiri. For a light lunch, head to The Barlow, a cluster of restored warehouses once home to an apple processing plant. Sit out on the patio at  Woodfour Brewing Company  and try one of their Belgian farmhouse-style sours, mashed and boiled in the copper-plated tanks right behind the bar. Snack on cheeses from Petaluma, bratwurst, or Miyagi oysters.

7.  Guerneville

Guerneville

Distance from San Francisco:  1 hour 30 mins

Guerneville has long been a warm-weather destination for San Franciscans looking to get out on the Russian River and enjoy the summer sun. Floating down the river or hitting the beach here is still a favorite pastime when the temps rise. However, with this small town adding more shops, restaurants and lodging, it's become more of a year-round destination, especially given its location to the redwoods of Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, the coast, and wineries. Grab a bite at boon eat + drink , book a treatment at the indoor-outdoor  Spa at Dawn Ranch , and wrap  up your evening with a digestif at the  Hopmonk Tavern , a vast space with a red banquette bar, a concert venue, and a Tuscan-inspired garden strung with lights.

8.  Gold Country (Sierra Nevada Foothills)

Gold Country (Sierra Nevada Foothills)

Distance from San Francisco:  2 hours 30 mins 2 hours 30 mins

The Gold Rush pretty much jolted San Francisco (along with the rest of California) onto the world map, so a list of day trips would be incomplete without a visit to Gold Country. Much of it is further away than you’d want to travel in a day, but head to Columbia for a quick escape into the past. This historic town, set in the Sierra Nevada foothills, features shops and restaurants preserved to evoke the 1850s Gold Rush era.

Walk into  Parrott’s Blacksmith Shop  and get yourself a memento forged in their coal oven. For lunch, hit up  Columbia Kate’s Teahouse . Sit in a tiny red 1880s-style barn and enjoy rustic fare like chicken pot pie made from scratch or spinach and ricotta quiche. For a taste of old-style candy-making, visit  Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen , which still makes their confections in copper kettles and cools them on 100-year-old marble-topped tables. On the way home, stop at Parrotts Ferry Bridge, under which ferries once carried passengers between mining towns, which offers dramatic views over New Melones Lake and the adjoining hills. 

9.  Jenner

Jenner

Distance from San Francisco:  1 hour 45 mins

Tucked along the northern coast of Sonoma, Jenner-by-the-Sea is a tiny coastal hamlet perched high on a bluff, offering stunning views, plenty of outdoor activities and charming, independent businesses to explore. Lounge, picnic and watch for sea lions along Goat Rock Beach, challenge yourself to a seaside hike, kayak the waters or browse local art galleries and shops. There are two cute local inn options, Jenner Inn and River's End . If you're willing to drive a bit to the north, Timber Cove offers a renovated historic lodge with sweeping coastal views and a farm-to-table restaurant that's worth a trip up there for a meal alone. 

10.  Berkeley

Berkeley

Distance from San Francisco:  30 mins

Almost everyone has heard of Berkeley, even if they've never been there. This legendary university town is set in an incredibly beautiful location, perched on a hilltop with views of the bay looking west. To the east, there are lush green parks, redwood trees, and reservoirs. The campus itself is made up of tasteful, contemporary architecture incorporating the iconic Sather Tower. More commonly known as 'The Campanile' for its resemblance to the Campanile di San Marco in Venice, it stands 307ft tall, features clocks on its four faces, and affords jaw-dropping views of San Francisco Bay from its observation platform.

This university has featured prominently in recent American history, arguably more than any other. With its Bohemian counterculture, Berkeley gained a worldwide reputation for political activism in the 1960s with the Free Speech Movement, student protests, and rallies against the Vietnam War. Once you've soaked up some important history, wander around and explore the bookstores, quirky shops, and casual eateries that serve all kinds of ethnic cuisine and quick bites.

11.  Sonoma

Sonoma

Distance from San Francisco:  1 hour

A day trip to Sonoma to taste wine and explore is a favorite pastime for many San Franciscans. Located just 45 minutes to an hour north of SF, many locals prefer Sonoma over Napa for a more down-to-earth feel. While Sonoma County is large and sprawling, encompassing many towns, here we are referring to the actual town of Sonoma itself. Book some wine tastings in the area and then center the rest of your day around the historic Sonoma Plaza, which offers shopping, green space to relax and plenty of amazing restaurants, including longtime favorite Girl & the Fig . If you're looking to be pampered, head to the spa at the stunning Lodge at Sonoma .

12.  Pescadero and Half Moon Bay

Pescadero and Half Moon Bay

Pescadero boasts stunning bluffs and sandy beaches next to a small country town with a laid-back main street. Start your day by exploring the  Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve , a 243-acre wetland habitat popular with hikers and bird watchers. Take the Butano Trail up to a picturesque iron bridge over the creek for a short, relaxed stroll. More intrepid hikers will enjoy the Sequoia Audubon Trail, which winds past coastal scrub and Great Blue Heron nesting sites up to a pretty eucalyptus grove. After your workout, head to Arcangeli Grocery in  Norm’s Market , where you can get made-to-order grilled sandwiches from the deli in the back. For dessert, amble down the street to the James Beard-anointed America’s Classic  Duarte’s Tavern  for a slice of their olallieberry pie. Afterward, head to  Downtown Local  for a cup of Sightglass coffee and browse their eclectic collection of vintage items, including two café racer motorbikes (look out for the 1949 Nimbus in the window).

End your day at  Pescadero State Beach ; park at the northernmost parking lot if you want long sandy beaches, or at the southernmost lot if you’d like to clamber over rocky outcrops, inspect tide pools, and watch the surf from the top of a sandstone bluff. As sunset approaches, join the locals in camping chairs and blankets on the sand. If you’re in the mood for pampering, head up the coast to Navio at the  Ritz-Carlton , score yourself a window table, and watch the sun set beyond the ocean over a glass of pinot noir.

13.  Point Lobos

Point Lobos

Distance from San Francisco:  2 hours 30 mins

With miles of hiking trails across cliffs, coves, and forests, plus a rich marine habitat of giant kelp forests and darting sea lions, Point Lobos offers photographers, hikers, and scuba divers a great day out. Park by Cannery Point and start at the  Whaler’s Cabin , a museum on the site of a former whaling station displaying the personal effects and diaries belonging to the Chinese, Portuguese, and Japanese whalers who once lived here. You'll also see harpoons and learn the grisly process of harvesting blubber. Parts of humpback and gray whale skeletons lie somewhat gruesomely scattered outside.

If you’re oceanically inclined, the neighboring Whaler’s Cove is the place to scuba dive, kayak, or do some stand-up paddle boarding. Otherwise, find your way to Sea Lion Cove, where California sea lions and their pups can be spotted during the springtime pupping season, packing the beach nose to tail. A walk along the Sea Lion Point Trail will show you some of the best views of the reserve, with its characteristic lashing waves and craggy outcrops. Stop at Piney Woods for a picnic lunch with a view. Before you journey home, head to the famed tide pools on what is now called Weston Beach. Large sandstone slabs jut out of the ground, creating an awesome display of colors and patterns, all composed of sand that settled in underwater beds millions of years ago.

14.  Carmel

Carmel

Distance from San Francisco:  2 hours 15 mins

Carmel’s Ocean Avenue and its environs are a great place to feel the European village vibe the town is famous for. A worthwhile stop is the elegant  Harrison Memorial Library , which occupies a building designed by Bernard Maybeck (École des Beaux-Arts alumnus and architect of San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts). The reading room captures the charm of the quintessential small-town library, with heavy tables flanked by tall windows. Outside, the flagstone courtyard is a pleasant place to sit back and people-watch. For a cultural stop and to sample works rooted in this historic artist colony, visit the  Weston Gallery . In addition to a vintage photography collection (including prints by Carmel’s own Edward Weston and Ansel Adams), the gallery also has regular exhibitions of contemporary work.

When hunger strikes, drop into  Casanova , a charming French restaurant with a trellised outdoor patio. The eponymous Ocean Avenue leads directly to the ocean, and Carmel Beach is a lovely spot to kick back with locals on the fine white sand. Dog walkers and couples stop by in the afternoon to enjoy the view from the sheltered cove. History buffs will appreciate a trip to  Carmel Mission , the second founded in Alta California. On the grounds is a shrine to Junípero Serra, a member of the Portolà expedition that brought the first European settlers to the Bay Area.

15.  Los Gatos

Los Gatos

With its affluent tone and charming yet eclectic main street, Los Gatos weekends sees well-heeled locals having relaxed brunches or cruising boutique shops, all at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains. If Michelin-starred Manresa feels excessive for the day, drop in at  Manresa Bread  and take home a loaf of their signature sourdough levain. For lunch or an early dinner, stop at  Oak & Rye , a popular bistro with a wood-fired oven and a rye- and bourbon-laced cocktail list (best with the bistro's pretzel bread, made from two-year yeast grown in-house).

Bay Area history buffs shouldn’t miss a trip to Quicksilver Country nearby: Mercury was mined in New Almaden before the Gold Rush, and the New Almaden mines were the most valuable in the state, attracting Cornish, Chinese, and Mexican settlers. The  New Almaden Mining Museum  is housed in the Casa Grande, built in 1854 as the official residence of mining supervisors. If you’re feeling energetic, hike up to English Camp in the County Park next door for an aerial view of the remaining mine buildings.

16.  Tiburon and Angel Island

Tiburon and Angel Island

Distance from San Francisco:  40 mins by car, 20 mins by ferry

In Tiburon, you'll get that small-town vacation vibe less than an hour away from the city and with fewer tourists than in Sausalito. Rent a bike from  Demo Sport  and ride a segment of the Paradise Drive Loop (download a map from  marinbike.org ) or let serendipity take you past the town's pretty houses and impressive bay views. Hop on to the  Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry  and visit the museum at the  Angel Island Immigration Station , which documents the experiences of the many immigrants who crossed the Pacific Ocean, stopping first at the "Ellis Island of the West." Look out for poetry scrawled on the walls when the station was used as a detention center.

For lunch, we recommend a picnic at one of the many scenic spots scattered around the island. When you head to Tiburon, stop at  Luna Blu , a waterfront Italian restaurant serving English afternoon tea. Indulge in scones with Devonshire clotted cream, mixed berry jam, and traditional English cucumber sandwiches. Before you head home, take a leisurely stroll through Shoreline Park for a glimpse of the San Francisco lighting up the evening across the bay.

17.  Gilroy

Gilroy

Unlike the frenzied outlet shopping malls typically plonked near industrial parks and parking garages, Gilroy offers outlet bargains in more quaint surrounds. It's also famed for its farmstands and markets, where you can pick up all fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers, juices, and preserves—not to mention the famed Gilroy garlic. Pop over to  Garlic World  on Monterey Road to immerse yourselves in all things vampire-repelling—from seasonings to dips to garlic-flavored almonds.

After all that garlic action, you might want to air it out before heading home. The rambling woodland of  Henry Coe State Park  is a fantastic place to do this; covering 250 miles of land, it's the largest in California.

[image] [title]

Discover Time Out original video

  • Press office
  • Investor relations
  • Work for Time Out
  • Editorial guidelines
  • Privacy notice
  • Do not sell my information
  • Cookie policy
  • Accessibility statement
  • Terms of use
  • Copyright agent
  • Modern slavery statement
  • Manage cookies
  • Advertising
  • Time Out Market

Time Out products

  • Time Out Worldwide

Time Out magazine

sixtyandme logo

Watch our videos

254,000 subscribers

facebook link

Join the conversation

134,000 followers

pinterest link

Pin our posts

25,200 followers

email link

Get our newsletter

88,500 subscribers

  • Hearing-Aids
  • Healthy Aging
  • Losing Weight
  • Medical Issues
  • Reducing Stress
  • Brain Health
  • Solo Travel
  • Travel Tips
  • Small Business
  • Part-time Jobs
  • Encore Careers
  • Managing Money
  • End of Life Planning
  • Retirement Tips
  • Senior Living
  • Journal Writing
  • Entertainment
  • Inspiration
  • Empowerment
  • Getting Older
  • Reinvention
  • Giving Back
  • Dating Advice
  • Online Dating
  • Adult Children
  • Grandchildren
  • Estrangement
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Piano Lessons
  • Photography

best places to visit san francisco

Fun 4-Day Vacation in San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. This is no wonder with all of its unique and iconic landmarks. San Francisco is only 49 square miles, but it is absolutely filled with cultural and culinary diversity.

This city is home to hipsters, techies, immigrants, hippies, and yuppies. There is so much to see and do in this city, from that beautiful red bridge to the cable cars “reaching halfway to the stars” to Alcatraz and Chinatown. 

I don’t live in San Francisco, but I am a northern California native who has had the pleasure of visiting San Francisco on numerous occasions as a local recurrent tourist. As such, I have put together a 4-day fun filled itinerary for anyone wanting a San Francisco vacation. You may try to follow this as precisely as possible or use it as a general skeleton outline to build your own modified itinerary around.

Regardless, if you make an itinerary of your own or try to follow this one, I would definitely check with hours of operation of each proprietorship as they vary widely according to days and seasons. Also, there are many places/events that require advanced reservations. So, it really pays to plan ahead and adjust your schedule accordingly.

Get the Big Bus Tours Hop On Hop Off Ticket

I want to start by saying I am receiving no compensation for any of these recommendations. That being said, I do recommend getting a Big Bus Tours Hop On Hop Off 2 day explore + Alcatraz ticket. The advantage of the Hop on Hop Off bus is you can stop at all of the tourist attractions and stay as long as you want at each location. When you are ready to move on, just go to the Big Bus Tours Hop On Hop Off bus stop and there should be a bus coming by every 15 minutes from 10 AM to 6 PM. This also allows you to avoid the nightmare that is finding and paying outrageous prices for parking in San Francisco. 

Day 1: Stops #5, #11, #12 and #14

Start your day at 9 AM at the Buena Vista at 2765 Hyde Str. for a signature Irish coffee and breakfast. Then, trek right across the street for a photo op at the Cable Car turntable and a Welcome to Fisherman’s Wharf sign. After that, walk down Hyde Str. to Jefferson Str. and make a right for a 4-minute walk to the main Fisherman’s Wharf sign for another photo.

At Jefferson and Mason Str. there is Hop on Hop off stop with Big Bus Tours. Take the red route to Stop #5, Union Square South. From Stop #5 bus stop, it is a 4-minute walk to SFMOMA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. There are more than 32,000 artworks by numerous artists including Frida Kahlo. And, there is a whole floor dedicated to photography. 

After SFMOMA, head over to Super Duper Burger on Mission Str. for a great burger and fries. Go back to Stop #5 to hop back on the bus to disembark at Stop #11, North Vista Point. Here you may get some great photos of the Golden Gate Bridge or you may not. It is really hit or miss if Karl will roll in and ruin your view (yes, the San Francisco fog has a name and its name is Karl). When you have had your fill of this view, hop back on the bus and get down at Stop #12 to explore the Palace of Fine Arts with its beautiful Greco-Roman architecture.

best places to visit san francisco

Board the bus again and next is Stop #14. From this stop it is a 12 minute walk to the cross street of Lombard and Hyde. Here you get a great view of the famous Lombard Str., one of the windiest streets in the world. There is a straight walking path alongside the curvy street for cars if you feel the urge to take a hike down and get some photos from the other end and trek back up.

best places to visit san francisco

From the cross street of Lombard and Hyde, take a cable car to Beach Str. (and you can forever say that you rode a cable car in San Francisco). Then you will be right back where you started, across from the Buena Vista restaurant. From there it is a 7-minute walk to Scoma’s Seafood for dinner. Wander through Fisherman’s Wharf and you can call it a day.

Day 2: Alcatraz Tour and Pier 39

Start this day with a hotel breakfast or grab and eat some grub at a convenience or grocery store and then it is time to see Alcatraz. Even though you bought the 2-day explore plus Alcatraz ticket, you must get confirmation of your Alcatraz tour, through the Alcatraz Cruises company only, at least 5 days in advance. When I say at least, I very much mean at least. I advise you to purchase the Big Bus tour hop on hop off tickets and confirm the Alcatraz booking as soon as possible as Alcatraz trips in particular can fill up fast, especially in the summer.

Cruises start at 8:45 AM to 3:50 PM April through early October and 8:40 AM to 1:35 PM late October through March. The weather is unpredictable, so wear layers. Alcatraz is an abandoned federal prison, and the tour is very interesting in terms of its history and infamous inmates.

Once you are done with your Alcatraz trip, make the 6-minute walk to Pier 39 and have lunch at the Fog Harbor Fish House. Then, stroll through Pier 39 with all of its shops and performers. There is also a sea lion viewing area, Hearts in San Francisco photo op and viewing, musical stairs, a carousel, Aquarium of the Bay, and Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze.

Your 2-day explore plus Alcatraz ticket includes admission to The Flyer or 7 D Experience, both of which are at Pier 39. The Flyer is northern California’s only flying theater where you can enjoy a film of San Francisco’s landmarks. The 7 D Experience is a thrill ride, full motion seat and giant 3D screen with a laser blaster game. 

Hop on the bus at Pier 39 and head to Stop #2, North Beach/Chinatown. Peruse through historic Chinatown shops and make your way to the Golden Gate Cookie Factory. From there, it is a 9-minute walk to Dragon’s Gate for a photo op and then an 11-minute walk to the Great Eastern Restaurant for a Dim Sum dinner.

Day 3: Golden Gate Park

Although the Big Bus had a stop at Golden Gate Park, I advise you don’t waste your Big Bus ticket on this stop because Golden Gate Park really takes a whole day to explore. It is 3 miles long and 20% bigger than New York’s Central Park. So, however you manage to get to Golden Gate Park, be prepared to stay a long time.

best places to visit san francisco

I suggest starting at the Crepevine Restaurant at 624 Irving St. for breakfast. Then it is off to the Botanical Gardens. After this, make your way to the DeYoung Museum with its expansive collection of art. Then go to Park Gyros for lunch. Following that, make your way to the California Academy of Science which is a world renowned institution. It contains the Steinhart aquarium with over 40,000 live animals, the Kimball Natural History Museum, the Morrison Planetarium and the Osher Rainforest.

Afterward, make your way to the Blue Heron Boathouse to rent a paddle boat or row boat to traverse the lake. Plan accordingly because the boats cannot be rented after 4 PM. Then go to enjoy the Japanese Tea Garden. After spending a very full day in Golden Gate Park maybe use an app ride to go to Top of the Mark for a dinner of bites and cocktails. This sky lounge and bar is on the 19th floor and has sweeping views of the city.

Day 4: Museums and Ghiradelli’s Square

This morning head back to Fisherman’s Wharf for breakfast at Boudin Bakery at 100 Jefferson Str. Then take the 1-minute walk for some silly fun at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. They open at 11 AM. You can follow this up with a romp through Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Then, make the 11-minute walk to Ghiradelli’s Square. Here you may get a light meal in the square followed by dessert or forgo the meal all together and completely indulge at the Ghiradelli Experience Ice Cream Shop.

Then, peruse the shops and take advantage of the photo ops throughout Ghiradelli’s square. There is the mermaid fountain, Ghirardelli sign, and the 19th century brick buildings that used to be factories that produced a variety of products. Next, use an app ride for an 11-minute drive to the Exploratorium. Not quite sure how to describe the Exploratorium. I would say it is a science as art and coolness, hands-on museum. You will observe and be immersed in interactive science fascination at a multitude of exhibits. After the Exploratorium, you can take a 5-minute app drive to Original Joe’s restaurant in Little Italy for a delicious and hearty Italian meal.

And that completes the fun 4-day vacation in San Francisco itinerary. It is a city with a wonderful and interesting history. There is so much to see, do and eat that even locals have trouble experiencing everything. So, use this whole itinerary, part of it or simply use it as inspiration. Just make sure you have lots of fun.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Is San Francisco a city where you would like to vacation? What things on this itinerary interest you? Have you gone to any of the places on the itinerary? If so, what did you think of these places?

guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .

Maria Linda Martinez

I was born and raised in my city of San Francisco. We San Franciscans don’t really wear labels…all of that is down town or in the Haight. True city dwellers are down to earth, helpful and aware of the gems of the city everywhere. I worked at a sports club in the Fairmont and loved taking the cable car halfway to work everyday! Come to the Fairmont during Christmas! It is a sight to behold! Just have a hot chocolate in the lobby or a hot toddy at the bar. Golden Gate Park on it’s own, has so many things going on in the summer between live music and walking trails to festivals within and throughout the city. So many things I love here as a native, I’m tickled to know all the places that are fun and tourist worthy that I get to enjoy as I live here… talk to someone who lives here….gl

Tata

thank you so much for this article. It has been one of the places that i always wanted to visit. I use to watch the show “Streets of San Francisco” when I was young and always said I want to visit and ride the trolly cars up and down the hills.

Valerie

Please do your research before visiting this city. Never lock anything in a car, and if you rent a car, take out theft insurance. Look all around you as you walk out in public as crime is a big problem. And be aware there are many addicted and alcoholic homeless living on the streets using them as their living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms.

aleta

i agree Valerie.. this city is dangerous and i would not recommend walking alone at any time of day. Certainly do not display any jewelry or valuable items of any kind in public…sorry to say

Jan

I printed off the itinery but not all printed. I’m visiting over Labor Day.

Tags Senior Tours

Alisa Sabin

Alisa Sabin

Dr. Alisa Sabin is an urgent care physician at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation in Stockton, California. She is also an author of her debut novel, Still . It is a medical thriller about an organized crime ring of maternity nurses. Alisa loves working with patients and she loves to write. You can follow her on her website at https://alisasabin1.wixsite.com/mysite.

You Might Also Like

best places to visit san francisco

How to Pack and Travel Anywhere with a Carry On Bag

best places to visit san francisco

Tips for Getting the Most from Group Adventure Travel

print this page Print this page

best places to visit san francisco

6 Best Places for Walking in San Francisco

S an Francisco is a city best explored on foot. From the historic streets of Chinatown to the beautiful landscapes of Golden Gate Park, walking through San Francisco provides a unique and immersive experience.

In this article, we'll explore the best places to see San Francisco on foot, uncover exciting places to visit, and embrace the city's rich culture and history one step at a time.

So, lace up your comfortable shoes and get ready for a journey through the heart and soul of San Francisco.

Where To Walk in San Francisco

1. the embarcadero.

The Embarcadero is a scenic waterfront area along San Francisco's eastern shoreline. Walking here provides stunning views of the San Francisco Bay, Bay Bridge, and Treasure Island. Free walking tours in San Francisco allow you to take in these picturesque sights leisurely, allowing for a more immersive experience.

Walking along the waterfront, you'll encounter iconic landmarks such as the Ferry Building, with its clock tower and vibrant marketplace. You can better appreciate these landmarks' architectural details and historical significance on foot.

The Embarcadero features public art installations and sculptures, adding a creative and cultural dimension to your walk. You can engage with these artistic expressions at your own pace.

2. Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf is a famous waterfront area along the northern shore of San Francisco.

If the weather is clear, walking around the Wharf will afford attractive views of the San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island . The picturesque waterfront provides a serene and captivating backdrop for your stroll.

Fisherman's Wharf is home to several historic landmarks, including Ghirardelli Square and the USS Pampanito, a WWII-era submarine turned museum. The lively atmosphere at Fisherman's Wharf includes street performers, musicians, and entertainers.

The Wharf is renowned for its fresh seafood offerings. Walking will allow you to explore the various seafood stalls and restaurants, indulging in delicious clam chowder, Dungeness crab, and other local specialties.

3. Telegraph Hill

The ascent to Telegraph Hill, west of the Embarcadero, provides breathtaking panoramic views of San Francisco. At the summit of Telegraph Hill stands Coit Tower, a historic landmark with a distinctive design.

Walking allows you to appreciate the Tower's intricate details up close and offers the chance to explore its murals and observation deck, showcasing the city from different perspectives.

Telegraph Hill is also known for its secret staircases that wind through residential neighborhoods. Walking provides opportunities to discover them, often surrounded by lush gardens and historic homes, providing an intimate and authentic glimpse into the local community.

En route to Coit Tower, Pioneer Park is a tranquil green space with benches and picnic areas.

Walking through the park, surrounded by nature, provides a peaceful break before reaching the Tower. Telegraph Hill boasts a mix of architectural styles, from lovely cottages to grand mansions.

Exploring Telegraph Hill on foot also provides opportunities to check out local cafes, shops, and boutiques.

4. North Beach

North Beach is a San Francisco neighborhood west of Telegraph Hill and south of Fisherman's Wharf. It's a vibrant and culturally rich area, and walking there immerses you in its historic charm.

The neighborhood is known for its Italian heritage and was once the center of the city's Beat Generation. Strolling through its streets allows you to appreciate the well-preserved architecture and feel the energy of its history.

North Beach is known for its diverse culinary scene. You can explore the local cafes, authentic Italian restaurants, and bakeries that line the streets. From espresso in traditional coffee shops to delicious pasta dishes, walking allows you to savor the flavors and aromas of North Beach.

You can also visit Washington Square Park, a central gathering spot in North Beach. Cafes surround the park and offer a tranquil space to rest, people-watch, and soak in the atmosphere. This area is home to vibrant street art and murals that tell stories of the neighborhood's culture and history.

In summary, visiting North Beach on foot can create lasting memories of exploring this iconic San Francisco district.

5. Chinatown

Exploring Chinatown on foot offers a unique and immersive experience beyond the typical tourist itinerary. Walking allows you to absorb the lively and bustling atmosphere of Chinatown.

You can witness the vibrant colors, hear the sounds of local businesses, and engage with the dynamic street life that characterizes this cultural enclave.

By strolling through Chinatown, you can interact with locals, experience authentic cultural practices, and sample traditional cuisine.

Walking allows you to discover local markets and authentic eateries that may be missed when using other modes of transportation.

Chinatown has many small shops, art galleries, and cultural institutions. You're more likely to stumble upon these hidden treasures when exploring on foot, providing a more personalized experience.

6. Union Square

Walk south of Chinatown, and you'll arrive at Union Square in the heart of San Francisco. Hotels and high-end shops surround the city park.

The cultural epicenter of The City by the Bay features theaters, galleries, and museums. Walking allows you to explore these cultural offerings at your own pace, whether taking in an art exhibition, catching a live performance, or visiting a museum.

Union Square is known for its upscale shopping, offering flagship stores of famous brands. You can window-shop or indulge in a retail therapy session by exploring the luxury boutiques and department stores lining the streets.

San Francisco is a culinary hotspot, and Union Square reflects this with its diverse dining options. You'll find it all here, from cocktail bars and cafes to world-class restaurants.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, San Francisco's lively neighborhoods, each with a distinctive character, are best explored on foot. From the waterfront allure of the Embarcadero and Fisherman's Wharf to the history of Telegraph Hill and the cultural vibrancy of North Beach and Chinatown, each step reveals a little more of the city.

Walking through San Francisco is more than just a journey; it's an experience that captures the essence of the city's spirit, history, and beauty. With every corner turned, a discovery awaits, making San Francisco a walker's paradise and an unforgettable adventure.

This story is published in partnership with FreeTour.com.

The post 6 Best Places for Walking in San Francisco appeared first on Go Backpacking .

Ferry Building (photo: Dave Lee)

  • South Africa
  • Philippines
  • New South Wales
  • Northern Territory
  • South Australia
  • Western Australia
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Solomon Islands
  • Itineraries
  • About Travel2Next
  • Hotel Reviews
  • Travel2Next TV
  • Travel Shop

travel 2 next

  • Destinations
  • North America
  • 20 San Francisco Beaches

- This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure.

San Francisco is one of California’s most iconic cities, home to Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, historic trams and excellent clam chowder. Being on the coast, San Francisco naturally has many beaches, impressive ocean views and golden sand that you’ll find along the Pacific Coast Highway, throughout LA and into San Diego.

San Francisco is on its own little stretch of land and can get far chillier than the sunny cities further south, which is why you’ll often see its famous fog stretching across the city. On the other hand, this makes the beaches in San Francisco wilder and more exciting, with big waves for surfing and sometimes a lot smaller crowds. From beaches right below the famous red bridge to rocky coves that only the locals know about, you’re certain to find a beach in San Francisco’s Bay Area that you’ll love.

1- Baker Beach

2- crissy fields beach, 3- ocean beach, 4- marshall’s beach, 5- stinson beach, 6- aquatic park cove, 7- fort funston beach, 8- half moon bay, 9- pescadero state beach, 10- linda mar beach, 11- muir beach, 12- san gregorio state beach, 13- china beach, 14- mile rock beach, 15- kirby cove beach, 16- rodeo beach, 17- bolinas beach, 18- tennessee beach, 19- mcclures beach, 20- montara state beach, san francisco beaches, 20 best beaches in san francisco.

beaches san francisco

Baker Beach is possibly the most famous of all San Francisco’s beaches, nestled almost directly under the famous Golden Gate Bridge, with Marin Headlands in the background.

Located within the Golden Gate Recreational Area, the beach is often filled with locals and tourists admiring the spectacular view.

It is also a popular spot with photographers for great shots of the bridge. Although the water isn’t safe for swimming, you’ll have plenty to enjoy, whether you stroll along the sand, climb up to the bridge, do some hiking around the area or explore the historic Battery Chamberlain.

If you’re not driving and are up for something active, a great way to reach Baker Beach is by bike, which you can hire in central San Francisco, and getting here takes around an hour.

swimming beaches in san francisco

Crissy Fields Beach is on the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge and is extremely popular with locals sunbathing, jogging or swimming in the summer.

It is also popular with tourists who check out this beach before heading up the final part of the way to the top of the bridge.

The beach is fairly flat and exposed, which can get very windy, so kite and windsurfing are popular activities here.

It’s safe for swimming, although it can get cold and is a great place to spend a few hours.

Tip: There is a path all the way from Fisherman’s Wharf to the bridge, which goes right past Crissy Beach, so it makes a relaxing stop along the way.

san francisco bay area beaches

Ocean Beach is a lovely trip, only around half an hour from the city, with lots of relaxing space.

The National Park Service protects the area due to the rocky outcrops offshore and the beach’s dunes, where birds nest in winter.

You’ll be hard-pressed to visit Ocean Beach at a busy time, even in the summer, as it is 2.2 miles (3.5km) long, meaning there’s loads of space for everyone.

The best time to come here is summer, when locals sit on the beach with a drink or bonfire, as in the wintertime, this exposed beach gets foggy and cold.

Due to this, the beach generally isn’t safe for swimming and has strong rip currents.

san francisco beaches open

Another beach with a breathtaking view tucked almost underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, Marshall’s is a little wilder than Bakers Beach and is in San Francisco’s Presidio Park.

The beach is surrounded by low cliffs and offers beautiful views across the Bay and the ocean.

It’s small, at only 984 ft (300 m) long, so you’ll need to visit at low tide otherwise, it gets largely swallowed up.

To get here, you need to take a path from the Batteries to the Bluff hiking trail, eventually leading you to the beach.

The only people you may find here are the local naturists since swimming is prohibited, but you can usually find a peaceful spot to yourself.

nudist beaches in san francisco

Golden Gate Recreation Area is filled with beaches, another of which is the pretty Stinson Beach, which is northwest of the city.

It usually takes around an hour to drive to this beach, but on weekends in summer, expect traffic to be at a standstill as everyone wants a patch of this beautiful area.

This is because Stinson Beach is one of the longest in the area, with soft golden sand, but is largely protected from the winds, meaning you can enjoy a swim here.

You can also enjoy fishing, windsurfing and normal surfing, although surfing is usually more popular in winter due to the high waves.

Behind the beach are a few lively cafes, galleries and hotels, making for a perfect half or full-day trip from the city.

For more California ideas, see:

  • 40 Things To Do In Lake Tahoe
  • 20 Things To Do In San Francisco At Night
  • 21 Things To Do In Los Angeles At Night
  • 23 Landmarks In Los Angeles
  • 20 Landmarks In California
  • 20 San Diego Landmarks
  • 20 Songs About California
  • Best Places To Visit in California
  • 20 Things To Do In Santa Ana
  • 20 Things To Do In Malibu
  • Deserts In California Guide
  • 20 Things To Do In Fremont
  • 20 Things To Do In Berkeley
  • 20 Things To Do In Monterey
  • 20 Things To Do In Anaheim
  • 20 Things To Do In Santa Rosa
  • Best Time To Visit California
  • Los Angeles To San Francisco Road Trip
  • San Diego To San Francisco Road Trip
  • 20 Things To Do In Ventura
  • 20 Things To Do In San Luis Obispo
  • 20 Things To Do In Palm Desert
  • 20 Things To Do In Palm Springs
  • 20 Things To Do In Pasadena
  • Where To Stay In Los Angeles
  • 20 Things To Do In Bishop CA
  • San Francisco to Yosemite National Park Road Trip
  • 20 Things To Do In Yosemite
  • 20 Waterfalls In California
  • 20 Things To Do In Big Bear
  • 20 Things To Do In Laguna Beach
  • 20 Things To Do In Solvang
  • 20 Things To Do In San Ramon
  • 20 Things To Do In Roseville
  • 20 Things To Do In Carmel
  • 15 Things San Francisco Is Famous For
  • 20 Ghost Towns In California
  • 20 Ways To Spend Christmas In California
  • San Francisco Itinerary
  • San Francisco Bike Tours
  • San Francisco Go Cars
  • Exploring Hearst Castle
  • Yosemite National Park
  • 9 California National Parks
  • Lake Tahoe Snowshoe Adventure
  • 20 Things To Do In Bakersfield
  • 20 Things To Do In Redding California
  • 20 Things To Do In Manhattan Beach
  • 20 Things To Do In Fresno
  • 20 Things To Do In Riverside
  • 20 Things To Do In Long Beach
  • 20 Places To Go Glamping In California
  • 20 Things To Do In Eureka
  • 20 Los Angeles Day Trips
  • 20 San Francisco Day Trips
  • 20 Things To Do In Santa Cruz
  • 20 Things To Do In Beverly Hills
  • 20 West Hollywood Bars
  • 20 Things To Do In Half Moon Bay
  • 20 Things To Do In Morro Bay
  • 20 Beaches In San Francisco
  • Grand Canyon National Park Photos
  • 20 Things To Do In Stockton
  • 20 Things To Do In Temecula
  • 20 Things To Do In San Bernardino
  • 20 California Cities
  • 20 Things To Do In Irvine
  • 20 Lake Tahoe Beaches
  • 20 Things To Do In Yosemite in Winter
  • 20 Things To Do In Lake Arrowhead
  • 15 Things California Is Famous For

best beaches san francisco

Aquatic Park Cove is an excellent, swimming-friendly beach in San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

The Cove is protected from strong winds and has calm waters, making it one of the rare beaches perfect for swimming.

There isn’t much to do at this beach and few amenities, so sit back and enjoy or people-watch for a few hours.

You can also walk along the Aquatic Park Pier for stretching views over both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

It can be tricky to reach this beach, and parking is usually rammed, so instead, opt to take the famous San Francisco cable car to the Hyde & Beach stop.

best beaches near san francisco

Fort Funston is the southernmost coastal beach in San Francisco, around half an hour’s drive from the city.

Another Golden Gate Recreational Area beach, it’s wild and windy and covered in grassy cliffs, making it a haven for hang gliders.

Unfortunately, if you’re not catching the breeze, you’ll have to walk down the steep path to this beach, which is around 1312 ft (400m) in length, although once again, visiting at high tide is recommended because the ocean often makes the beach vanish entirely.

This is the perfect beach for enthusiastic walkers or hikers, with lots of trails leading up and around the cove.

It isn’t ideal for families, with difficult paths and swimming not recommended.

beaches in san francisco ca

Half Moon Bay is comprised of four excellent beaches, however, Dunes Beach, which is the northernmost of the four, is one of the best.

This is also because many people choose to head to the more popular Half Moon Bay State Beach rather than tackling the sandy climb down to the dunes, however, you’ll be rewarded if you make the journey.

The four beaches are a mile each, so you could realistically enjoy all of them, backed by picturesque cliffs and with soft yellow sand, they’re perfect for a day in the sun.

Swimming isn’t recommended here due to strong currents, but picnics and barbecues are popular, and there are many scenic hiking trails nearby.

best beaches in san francisco

Also a bit further south, in San Mateo County, Pescadero State Beach is nestled between two rocky bluffs and is much quieter than more famous nearby beaches.

The beach is pretty wild, with lots of arches, caves and rock pools to explore, although the waters can be rough.

Behind the beach is the popular Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve which is loved by bird and wildlife watchers and has multiple hiking trails to explore.

Amenities are thin on the ground at this beach, but just five minutes drive away is the town of Pescadero which has a few great local shops and restaurants to stock up or refuel.

san francisco beaches

Linda Mar beach is 15 miles (24 km) south of San Francisco in Pacifica and is a common weekend getaway destination for the city’s residents.

The beach is long and sheltered, although the waves can be high, which attracts avid surfers, and visitors can enjoy kayaking around the cove when it’s calmer.

You can easily spend the day relaxing here as close to the beach is a bustling area filled with shops, cafes and restaurants, all with great views over the water.

For great views, head up to the top of one of the bluffs via a walking trail for pretty views over the beach and ocean.

Driving north from San Francisco into Marin County, you’ll hit the lovely Muir Beach, which locals and nature lovers adore.

The beach is located behind a protected wetland area and can be reached via 450 ft (137 m) bridge, which is longer than the beach itself (300m in length).

The beach here is usually quiet, but you can sunbathe or go fishing, and many people come here to explore the wider wetland and nature trails since there are several challenging hiking trails in the area.

You won’t find many amenities besides restrooms and parking, so it’s wise to bring everything with you, but it’s ideal if you’re searching for a beach without any crowds.

beaches near san francisco

San Gregorio State Beach is a little further away from San Francisco than many others, but it’s worth a day trip or a stop if you’re passing by.

The beach is expansive and untouched, backed by cliffs and plenty of space for everyone to relax.

Although swimming isn’t advised at this beach due to high waves and strong currents, you can still sunbathe or go birdwatching – one of the most popular activities in this protected area.

There is also a scenic picnic area, plus an easy trail you can follow along the length of the beach’s cliffs, or on the beach itself, you can explore the various caves and lagoons along the way.

beaches san francisco bay area

Back to the breathtaking Marin Headlands, China Beach has distant views of the Golden Gate Bridge and is named after the Chinese fishermen who historically camped on this beach.

Like its neighbours, China Beach usually is quite chilly, windswept and even foggy, so swimming is generally not recommended, however, the beach has a lovely picnic area and playpark for children, or alternately the rock pools along the beach are littered with sea creatures which can be fun to explore.

You won’t find many people at China Beach, but if you’re in the area, it makes a picture-perfect spot for a picnic with uninterrupted views of the bridge.

Hidden within the Golden Gate Recreational Area is Land’s End, where you’ll find Mile Rock beach.

Although small and rocky, you can enjoy excellent views over the bridge and towards Marin Headlands in the distance.

There are loads of trails to explore here, both behind and on the beach, which is often covered in driftwood, including multiple shipwrecks and old military structures.

Grab a map from the Land’s End Visitor’s Centre to find a list of the best trails, and make sure to bring snacks and drinks, as there isn’t much on offer here.

Kirby Cove Beach is one of San Francisco’s most beautiful beaches, at the northern entrance to San Francisco Bay.

Although it is a little tricky to reach, involving a one-mile hike down a trail from the parking lot, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views.

You can enjoy views over the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay from the beach, undisturbed by the crowds you find on other beaches.

Walking on the trail and picnicking is popular during the day, but locals also enjoy camping here since you can reserve a spot and wake up to epic sunrise views over the water and spot lots of local birdlife.

san francisco dog friendly beaches

Rodeo Beach is right on the tip of the Marin Headlands and takes around half an hour to reach from San Francisco proper.

Unsurprisingly, the golden sand and ocean, combined with the unique rock formations jutting out of the water offshore, make this beach particularly popular with photographers.

If you look closely at the sand, it contains unique pebbles of varying colours, such as greenstone and red jasper, which give the entire beach an unusual colour.

The waves here are high, which makes it popular with local surfers, but there’s plenty of space for everyone, and its picnic area and facilities mean families usually visit it.

There is also a pretty lagoon near the beach, where you can see bird life, such as ducks, pelicans and seabirds.

Located near the small town of Bolinas, after which it is named, Bolinas Beach is a little further out than most beaches but can get very busy, especially in good weather.

The beach is at the mouth of Bolinas Lagoon, which causes high swells in the area, which is why you’ll find many surfers here year-round.

Whether or not you find a spot to settle on the sand, the lagoon is worth visiting to see the many seabirds there, where you can also see the local harbour seals hanging out on the sand spit.

Tennessee Beach is named after the SS Tennessee, shipwrecked here in 1853, and can occasionally be seen when the tide is low enough.

The beach is on the western side of Marin Headlands, just 20 minutes from the city, and is surrounded by high, lush green cliffs, which are home to wild birds, deer and coyotes.

The sand here isn’t the typical golden yellow but a dark ashy brown and it is a wild and remote beach that doesn’t get many visitors.

This is because you’ll need to follow a two-mile hiking trail from the Tennessee Valley trailhead, inside the Golden Gate Recreation Area, to reach the beach.

There are plenty of other trails to explore once you arrive, and there are also cycling trails and a picnic area, although you’ll need to bring food and drinks with you.

dog friendly beaches san francisco

McClures Beach is one of the most remote beaches you can reach directly from San Francisco, located in the northern Point Reyes National Seashore.

You’ll need to walk an easy but overgrown hiking trail of about half a mile to reach the beach.

The beach isn’t super long, but it is very scenic and covered in loose driftwood, as well as lots of tidepools which can be fun to explore.

Swimming is not recommended here – in fact, getting too close to the water at all can be dangerous due to the fast and unexpected rip currents.

The whole of Point Reyes is worth exploring over a day or two, as there are many hiking trails along the coast, so a visit to this beach is perfect as part of a more extended visit.

beaches in san francisco

Montara State Beach sits 18.5 miles (30km) south of San Francisco and is a long, sandy beach backed by low cliffs and Montara Mountain at one end.

Once again, there are strong currents here, and although people swim mand surf regularly, the water can be freezing.

The beach has exposed golden sand, so it’s perfect for sunbathing or strolling along the shoreline.

Although there aren’t lots of amenities directly on the beach, there are loads of shops and restaurants in the nearby town of Montara, as well as a couple of small hotels if you want to explore the wider area and hiking trails of McNee Ranch.

For more beaches around the world read:

  • 20 Places For Christmas On The Beach
  • 20 Sunshine Coast Beaches
  • 20 Best Beaches In Italy
  • 20 Best Beaches In Spain
  • 12 Beaches In Australia
  • 20 Nordic Beaches
  • 21 Longest Beaches In The World
  • 20 Best Beaches In Egypt
  • 20 Best Beaches In Asia
  • 20 Best Beaches in China
  • 20 Indonesia Beaches
  • 20 Best Beaches In Vietnam
  • 20 Dominican Republic Beaches
  • 21 Malaysia Beaches
  • 20 Cambodia Beaches
  • 20 Maldives Beaches
  • 20 New Zealand Beaches
  • 20 Beaches In Illinois
  • 20 Utah Beaches
  • 20 New Mexico Beaches
  • 20 Florida Keys Beaches
  • 20 Venezuela Beaches
  • 20 Arizona Beaches
  • 20 Barbados Beaches
  • 20 Hawaii Beaches
  • 20 Ecuador Beaches
  • 20 Beaches In Texas
  • 20 Cayman Islands Beaches
  • 20 Costa Rica Beaches
  • 20 Argentina Beaches
  • 20 Guatemala Beaches
  • 20 Grenada Beaches
  • 20 Beaches In France
  • 20 German Beaches
  • 20 Portugal Beaches
  • 20 India Beaches
  • 20 Malta Beaches
  • 20 Curacao Beaches
  • 20 North Carolina Beaches
  • 20 South Carolina Beaches
  • 20 Taiwan Beaches
  • 20 Honduras Beaches
  • 20 Greek Beaches
  • 20 New Jersey Beaches
  • 20 Beaches in Perth
  • 20 Mississippi Beaches
  • 20 Fiji Beaches
  • 20 Black Sand Beaches
  • 20 Tampa Beaches
  • 20 Best USA Beaches
  • 20 Best Beaches In The World
  • 20 Best Beaches In Mexico
  • 20 Best Beaches In Sri Lanka
  • 20 Beaches In South Korea
  • 20 Best Beaches In Japan
  • 10 Beaches In Tasmania
  • 20 Best Beaches In Cuba
  • 20 Best Beaches In Colombia
  • 21 Best Beaches In Canada
  • 20 Best Beaches In Wales
  • 20 Best Beaches In Scotland
  • 20 Beaches In England
  • 21 Seattle Beaches
  • 19 Kenya Beaches
  • 20 Beaches In Tennessee
  • 21 Oregon Beaches
  • 21 Jamaica Beaches
  • 20 Chile Beaches
  • 20 Best Beaches In South America
  • 20 Beaches In Maine
  • 20 Wisconsin Beaches
  • 20 Massachusetts Beaches
  • 20 New York Beaches
  • 20 Beaches In Brazil
  • 20 Beaches Turks and Caicos
  • 20 Haiti Beaches
  • 20 El Salvador Beaches
  • 20 Best Beaches In UK
  • 20 Beaches In Virginia
  • 20 Turkey Beaches
  • 20 Nicaragua Beaches
  • 20 Connecticut Beaches
  • 20 Aruba Beaches
  • 20 Panama Beaches
  • 20 Seychelles Beaches
  • 20 Anguilla Beaches
  • 20 Trinidad Tobago Beaches
  • 20 Mauritius Beaches
  • 20 Sicily Beaches
  • 20 Croatia Beaches
  • 20 Georgia Beaches
  • 16 New Hampshire Beaches
  • 20 Belize Beaches
  • 20 Uruguay Beaches
  • 20 French Riviera Beaches
  • 20 Alabama Beaches
  • 20 Mykonos Beaches
  • 20 Dubai Beaches
  • 20 Philippines Beaches
  • 23 Melbourne Beaches
  • 13 Singapore Beaches

Plan Your Trip

best car rental

Rent A Car – Find the best car rental rates at Discover Cars . They compare car hire companies to provide you with the best deal right now.

best places to visit san francisco

Find A Hotel – If you’re curious about this article and are looking for somewhere to stay, take a look at these amazing hotels .

Editor's Picks

101 travel quotes – inspiring the journey, 60 luxury escapes for your bucket list, 25 australian landmarks, what's hot, 20 fairytale castles in scotland.

travel 2 next

These 10 Beautiful Hotels Will Give You a Reason to Visit San Francisco

These places to stay are as varied and wonderful as the city itself..

  • Copy Link copied

Beacon Grand's enclosed rooftop bar, the Starlite Lounge, echos its heyday as a popular dance hall in the early 1900s.

Beacon Grand’s enclosed, rooftop bar, The Starlite Lounge, echos its heyday as a popular dance hall in the early 1900s.

Photo by Mark Mediana

Those planning a trip to San Francisco have a growing number of excellent hotels to choose from—and they range from luxury properties that embody the spirit of the city to boutique hotels with rooftop bars that draw locals. You’ll find a lot of options around the central but busy downtown area around Union Square, which can be fun if you’re in the mood for it, but neighborhoods like the Embarcadero or Nob Hill offer a quieter (yet still central) retreat. Or, consider basing yourself in Japantown, one of our favorite neighborhoods in the city .

Afar’s latest Hotels We Love list reveals the 10 best hotels in San Francisco, whether you want a luxurious spa vacation, a hip boutique stay with a sense of place, or a dreamy escape on the fringes of the city.

1 Hotel SF - Ferry House Suite (Bedroom).jpg

The 1 Hotel overlooks San Francisco’s iconic Ferry Building.

Photo by Douglas Friedman

  • Neighborhood: Embarcadero
  • Why we love it: A wellness-minded property that has a sustainability ethos and overlooks the bay

If you seek a serene, wellness-minded stay in one of San Francisco’s most central neighborhoods, the 1 Hotel , which opened in 2022, should be at the top of your list. Afar Deputy Editor Katherine LaGrave said of a recent stay that the 200 guest rooms and 14 suites feel “plucked out of a Nancy Meyers beachside rom-com in the best way possible: Think upcycled wood furniture and headboards, knitted beige throws, white and cream-colored linens. They are cool, calm, and offer a respite from the hubbub of the city, which really, truly, is right outdoors—the Ferry Building, visible from my room, was a three-minute walk.”

The hotel’s sustainability credentials are also truly impressive. Beyond the standard reusable water bottles and bulk-sized toiletries that are fairly standard in San Francisco, the hotel features local and reclaimed materials for the biophilic interior design, sustainably sourced bedding, a rooftop garden with beehives, and a zero-waste philosophy for the kitchen. It also sources “ugly” (but edible) produce for the lobby snack bar from the weekly farmer’s market across the street.

On sunny days, grab a seat at the happening large terrace patio of the 1 Hotel’s restaurant, Terrene , for a drink or dinner. Or, retreat to the spa and wellness center for a massage and a relaxing bath on the property’s rooftop. From $500

The Battery

The Battery SF - one of its bars

Guests who stay at the Battery also get access to the social club, which includes an array of uniquely designed bars and social spaces.

  • Neighborhood: Jackson Square
  • Why we love it: Interiors with a sense of place, and access to a lively private social club of San Francisco entrepreneurs, creatives, and bon vivants

Most people in the city know The Battery as an exclusive social club, but it also houses a 14-suite boutique hotel , open to members and nonmembers alike. Featuring a maximalist decor that channels the many sides of San Francisco—be it Chinatown-inspired motifs on the curtains or beams from the old ships that used to dock in the immediate location (the area was once water)—the hotel’s design has a distinct sense of place.

Hotel guests have access to the club’s social spaces, bars (yes, there are multiple, including a lovely outdoor terrace and a cozy, secret bar hidden behind a movable bookcase), restaurant, and near-daily events, such as comedy and burlesque shows, readings, and concerts. Thanks to the built-in community and social vibe, the Battery is a unique place to stay that will allow you to truly get to know the city and the people who live here.

The location in the historic Jackson Square neighborhood is a draw, too: It’s central yet quiet, and a short walk to nearby North Beach and the Embarcadero. From $495

Beacon Grand

The rooms at the Beacon Grand still retain elements of its historic charm.

The rooms at the Beacon Grand still retain elements of its historic charm.

The Beacon Grand

  • Neighborhood: Union Square
  • Why we love it: A historic boutique hotel that has been reimagined and revitalized for today, complete with one of the buzziest cocktail bars in town

The Beacon Grand , formerly known as the historic Sir Francis Drake, underwent a major renovation before reopening in the spring of 2022. In the central and bustling Union Square neighborhood, this iconic building originally opened its doors as a hotel in 1928. Although it has since received a very modern upgrade, elements of the historic building—such as the lobby’s grand staircase, marble floors, and chandeliers (one of which is said to still have a bullet lodged in it from a kerfuffle in the 1920s)—have been preserved. The 418 guest rooms have been refreshed with oak hardwood floors, white bathrooms with brass fixtures, and a jewel-toned color scheme. Small San Francisco–themed touches abound, such as sourdough motifs in the wallpaper.

One of the highlights of the property is the rooftop cocktail bar and lounge, the reimagined Starlite Room on the 21st floor. In its prior heyday in the mid-20th century, it was a popular dance hall. Today, it’s reclaiming that reputation and has quickly become a popular downtown nightlife spot. The hotel also has an excellent whiskey program in the downstairs bar that will suit any guest who prefers a more subdued drinking atmosphere. From $229

Cavallo Point Lodge

Cavallo__SF-_by_Kodiak_Greenwood.jpg

A view of Cavallo Point Lodge and the Golden Gate Bridge from on top of a hill.

Cavallo Point Lodge is technically in Sausalito, but gives guests unparalleled views of the city.

  • Location: Sausalito
  • Why we love it: A historic escape within easy reach of San Francisco
  • Loyalty program: I Prefer (Preferred Hotels & Resorts)

Cavallo Point Lodge is not technically in San Francisco, which is just a few minutes’ drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge. But it does have one of the best views of the city. In the former residences of high-ranking U.S. Army officers in the middle of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a popular Bay Area attraction for locals and tourists alike, it’s a standout choice for its historic charm and beautiful, nature-filled setting.

The 142 accommodations are in either the original colonial revival residences with large verandas or newer lodgings with floor-to-ceiling windows facing San Francisco Bay. Contemporary interiors feature wood and leather furnishings and gas fireplaces. If you can, ask for one of the 12 newly remodeled suites, designed by Restoration Hardware. Fresh-air activities range from paddleboarding and surfing in the bay to hiking along nearby hiking trails. Guests can also explore the area on one of the hotel’s vintage electric bicycles.

The 11,000-square-foot Healing Arts Center & Spa (day passes are also available to nonguests) offers soaks in a heated outdoor meditation pool, saunas, and massages. Launched in Fall 2022, the New American–meets-Mediterranean restaurant Sula showcases regional ingredients in such dishes as oysters from nearby Point Reyes and Niman Ranch beef filet. From $735

Fairmont San Francisco

Two tropical cocktails side by side at the Tonga Room in San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel.

One of the OG tiki bars in San Francisco, the Tonga Room is a scene that can’t be missed.

The Fairmont

  • Location: Nob Hill
  • Why we love it: A reinvented grande dame steeped in history
  • Loyalty program: Accor Live Limitless

Built by California architect Julia Morgan, who also designed Hearst Castle, Fairmont San Francisco opened to much fanfare in 1907 at the top of Nob Hill (a previous build of the hotel burned down in the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires). Today it’s filled with a century’s worth of stories: It was the first U.S. hotel to hire a concierge, and it served as a film location for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo . The late Tony Bennett sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” for the first time here in 1962. The Polynesian-themed, Mai Tai–slinging Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is legendary. In 1926, the hotel added a 6,000-square-foot penthouse suite with a two-story library that prominent guests (including John F. Kennedy and Mick Jagger) have checked into.

The hotel has evolved with the times—having added everything from a health club to honeybee hives—while serving as a perennial playground and meeting place in the heart of San Francisco, with views of the city and bay to match. The historic building and newer tower together feature 606 guest rooms and suites that were recently renovated and now feature a palette of grays and browns. For some of the best views, ask for a Golden Gate suite. From $249

Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco

MKT Restaurant and Bar.jpg

Don’t overlook the food at the MKT Restaurant and Bar, on the hotel’s fifth floor.

Courtesy of The Four Seasons.

  • Neighborhood: Downtown
  • Why we love it: Modern luxury in a central, downtown location

San Francisco is lucky enough to have not just one, but two Four Seasons hotels. The original Four Seasons commands a central location on Market Street, while the Four Seasons Embarcadero—the hotel group’s newer property, a 12-minute walk away, in the Embarcadero neighborhood—features warm-toned decor and stunning views of the Transamerica Pyramid. Although business travelers tend to gravitate toward the original, 277-room hotel, it’s our pick for leisure travelers, too.

The Market Street location gives travelers easy access to major attractions like the SFMOMA, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and Yerba Buena Gardens, as well as to excellent dining and nightlife (don’t miss an evening of jazz at historic The Dawn Club , right next door). A stay at this Four Seasons also comes with access to a multilevel Equinox gym, complete with an indoor swimming pool and a basketball court.

Although the city is teeming with incredible dining options, it’s worth reserving a night for a meal at the hotel’s California-centric, fine-dining establishment, MKT Bar & Restaurant . Thanks to its views overlooking the main thoroughfare, Market Street, the restaurant is a popular spot for watching the annual Pride Parade. Both the restaurant and the hotel’s lobby have lots of subtle nods to the area’s former, post–Gold Rush life as a hub for the printing industry. From $499

The Jay Hotel, Autograph Collection

The Jay Hotel in San Francisco

Travelers and locals alike won’t want to miss the spacious terrace bar, complete with firepits and space heaters for the typically cool and foggy evenings.

  • Why we love it: A well-located retreat with minimalist decor that exudes calm
  • Loyalty program: Marriott Autograph Collection

The cozy and quiet Jay Hotel was the most anticipated addition to the city’s hotel scene in 2023. This boutique hotel is in the brutalist building that formerly housed Le Méridien. The 360 guest rooms and suites have warm, textured, minimalist decor (like comfy, neutral-hued sofas and natural wooden headboards) that evokes calm and serenity. Adding to the oasis vibes are seriously comfortable beds, blackout curtains, and minibars stocked with local goodies, such as St. George gin. If you can, book a room with a balcony (a rarity among the city’s hotels), and enjoy the impressive views of the Bay Bridge and the nearby Transamerica Tower.

Guests and locals alike also won’t want to miss the hotel’s aptly named bar and restaurant, The Third Floor , which has an expansive terrace complete with firepits, cocktails, and food by restaurant group Omakase (also behind several beloved local restaurants, including Niku Steakhouse and Dumpling Time).

But one of the best parts of this hotel is its location. Tucked away on a relatively quiet block of the city’s downtown Embarcadero neighborhood, it’s central without feeling chaotic. Guests can easily walk to the bayside promenade (also called the Embarcadero), the Ferry Building, Jackson Square, and North Beach. From $429

Kimpton Hotel Enso

The newly renovated Hotel Enso draws decor inspiration from Japan.

The newly renovated Hotel Enso draws decor inspiration from Japan.

Courtesy of Hotel Enso

  • Neighborhood: Japantown
  • Why we love it: Welcoming staff and a chance to stay in a fascinating—but underrated—corner of the city.
  • Loyalty program: IHG

San Francisco doesn’t have a lot of hotel options outside of the downtown area, but branching out to other areas, such as the six blocks of Japantown, is one of the best ways to get to know the city like a local. In the heart of this petite neighborhood is Kimpton Hotel Enso (formerly the Buchanan Hotel) a warm and welcoming boutique hotel.

In 2022, the rebranding of the property brought with it a complete renovation, bringing light and airiness to the once-dark interiors of its 130 guest rooms and introducing more eco-friendly features like water-efficient showers in lieu of bathtubs. Little touches, such as kimono-style bathrobes, light wood furniture, and indigo-dyed textiles, bring a distinctly Japanese feel to the hotel’s interior design—a nod to the area’s heritage. Some of the rooms even include a small balcony. If you can, request one that overlooks the iconic Peace Plaza.

Characteristic of Kimpton properties, the staff here are warm, welcoming, and eager to help guests get to know this corner of the city—be it with a restaurant recommendation or sake tasting in the lobby (to give you some ideas). From $260

The St. Regis San Francisco

Pool - The St. Regis San Francisco Photo.jpg

The indoor swimming pool at the St. Regis in San Francisco.

Don’t miss the newly opened indoor pool, a rarity among San Francisco’s hotels.

  • Why we love it: Understated elegance and top-notch service next door to the SFMOMA
  • Loyalty program: Marriot Bonvoy

In the heart of the downtown SoMa neighborhood, the St. Regis San Francisco is an oasis of calm and unpretentious luxury. Opened in 2005, this property has earned its status as one of the city’s most luxurious stays, thanks to the impeccable service—from the personalized butler service to world-class concierges—and the handsome 260 guest rooms and suites. With comfortable beds, bespoke toiletry products, and large windows overlooking the city below, the guest rooms are all built to maximize privacy, comfort, and quiet.

In 2022, the hotel’s lobby and the ground-floor restaurant, Astra, were redesigned, transforming the space into a bright, maximalist bar area. The colorful and geometric-pattern–filled space beckons guests to linger at the start or end of their day.

Other notable on-site amenities include a sunny indoor pool area designed by San Francisco–based firm TEF Design and a state-of-the-art fitness center. As part of its efforts to give back to the city, the hotel houses the Museum of the African Diaspora on the ground floor of the building, as well as several notable sculptures in the public spaces. Art lovers will also be pleased to know the SFMOMA is directly next door. From $475

The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco

The outside of the Ritz Carlton San Francisco

The Ritz’s historic building has been many things over the years, including the Pacific Coast headquarters of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

Rachel Weill, Afar Media

  • Neighborhood: Nob Hill
  • Why we love it: Classic, over-the-top luxury—and a mean martini
  • Loyalty program: Marriott Bonvoy

In Nob Hill, The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco makes a strong impression from the outset. It’s housed within a neoclassical building that was originally designed as the Pacific Coast headquarters of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. The entrance’s large columns and ornate stonework befit its 1909 birth year, a style that continues in the chandelier-and-marble–decorated lobby.

Though historic, the hotel is not stuck in time. A 2015 revamp brought the 336 guest rooms and suites squarely into the present day, with elegant decor (think floor-to-ceiling drapes, plush armchairs, and touches of marble and silver throughout), luxurious Frette linens, and comfortable, lounge-worthy spaces. And despite the culinary temptations that await just beyond the top-hatted valets, be sure to enjoy at least one cocktail at the in-house bar and lounge (our favorite: a martini shaken with a novel turn-of-the-century contraption) or a glass of champagne in the sunny outdoor courtyard. From $489

Sit back and enjoy views like the Gastein Valley aboard the ÖBB railway.

IMAGES

  1. 35 BEST Places to Visit in San Francisco (2021 Guide)

    best places to visit san francisco

  2. Top 10 places to visit in San Francisco

    best places to visit san francisco

  3. 34 Best Things to Do in San Francisco Right Now

    best places to visit san francisco

  4. 10 Top San Francisco Attractions

    best places to visit san francisco

  5. Top 15 Attractions And Things To Do In San Francisco, CA

    best places to visit san francisco

  6. 15 Best Attractions in San Francisco for 2024

    best places to visit san francisco

VIDEO

  1. DO NOT Visit San Francisco

  2. Top 3 places to visit in San Francisco, USA🇺🇸 #travel #usa #sanfrancisco

  3. San Francisco

  4. Loomis, California

  5. Top 10 places to see when you visit San Francisco

  6. San Francisco

COMMENTS

  1. 30 Top-Rated Things to Do in San Francisco

    If you want the best views of San Francisco, take a hike to Twin Peaks. These famous grassy peaks rise 922 feet in elevation, making them the second highest point in the city (after Mount Davidson ...

  2. The 16 best things to do in San Francisco

    Walk in the footsteps of LGBTIQ+ trailblazers along the Rainbow Honor Walk, get to know civil-rights champions at America's first GLBT History Museum and join history perpetually in progress at San Francisco's month-long, million-strong Pride celebrations in June. 12. Take in the city panorama from Coit Tower.

  3. The 24 Best Things to Do in San Francisco

    The less "live" exhibits include Shake House, an immersive exhibit that allows visitors to (safely) experience the kinds of tremors that shook the Bay Area during the city's two biggest ...

  4. Top 20 Attractions in San Francisco

    PIER 39 From amazing photo ops and a sea of sea lions to chowder bread bowls and California wines, your visit to San Francisco starts at PIER 39.. The most visited destination in San Francisco, PIER 39 offers two levels of dining, entertainment, shopping, and attractions—including Aquarium of the Bay—all surrounded by unbeatable views of the city and the bay.

  5. 23 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in San Francisco

    For an exciting experience, hop on one of the historic cable cars and tour the city. Discover more things to do with our list of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco. On This Page: 1. Golden Gate Bridge. 2. Alcatraz Island. 3. Fisherman's Wharf.

  6. THE 15 BEST Things to Do in San Francisco

    11. Walt Disney Family Museum. 2,841. Speciality Museums. Admission tickets from C$35. Pre-purchased, timed tickets are required for entry. Located in the scenic Presidio of San Francisco, The Walt Disney Family Museum is one of the Bay Area's most inspirational venues, welcoming visitors….

  7. 49 Best Things to Do in San Francisco in 2024

    Other hot spots include Cavaña, a Latin American-inspired bar in Mission Bay, and Rise Over Run, a lush drinking destination on the top floor of the LINE Hotel. Clara Hogan. Advertising. 3 ...

  8. 43 Best Things to Do in San Francisco

    Walk or bike over the Golden Gate Bridge. Adrian Rudd/Travel + Leisure. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most recognizable sights in the U.S. The 1.7-mile-long, brick-red structure spans the ...

  9. The 10 Best Things to Do in San Francisco

    Stretching 4,200 feet and towering as high as a 65-story building, this well-known bridge is the gateway to San Francisco. 3. Cable Cars. Since 1873, cable cars have run up and down the hilly city, though after the 1950s, these cars have been kept in operation more out of historic nostalgia.

  10. 50 Best Things To Do In San Francisco At Least Once In Your Life

    The audio tour is one of the best things to do in San Francisco for tourists, but even locals will have plenty to learn on a visit to this historic island. 13. Ride a cable car. Photo by Ragnar Vorel on Unsplash. SF's cable cars are the only moving national landmark in the United States, dating back to 1873.

  11. THE 30 BEST Places to Visit in San Francisco (UPDATED 2024)

    11. Walt Disney Family Museum. 2,841. Speciality Museums. Admission tickets from ₹2,100. Pre-purchased, timed tickets are required for entry. Located in the scenic Presidio of San Francisco, The Walt Disney Family Museum is one of the Bay Area's most inspirational venues, welcoming visitors….

  12. THE 10 BEST Things to Do in San Francisco (2024)

    After being decommissioned in 1963, the prison is now a museum, welcoming millions of…. See ways to experience (59) 2024. 2. Golden Gate Bridge. 49,845. Historic Sites. Iconic suspension bridge offering panoramic bay views, bike rentals for scenic rides, and photo-worthy vista points from both ends.

  13. The 20 Best Things to Do in San Francisco

    Discover the top attractions and landmarks of San Francisco, from the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island to the vibrant Chinatown and the Palace of Fine Arts. Whether you're looking for culture, nature, history, or fun, this guide has something for everyone.

  14. The best attractions in San Francisco to put on your bucket list

    Parkside. Photograph: Courtesy San Francisco Zoo. Whether or not you've got kids—or big kids—in tow, there's no place quite like the zoo and San Francisco Zoo is a particular corker. Situated ...

  15. 33 Awesome Things to do in San Francisco for First-Time Visitors

    1. Ride the Cable Cars. San Francisco's cable cars are legendary, and no trip would be complete without hopping on one and doing a city tour. This tour is a great way to see the city's top highlights, including Union Square, Chinatown, Nob Hill, The Italian Quarter, and Fisherman's Wharf. Details here.

  16. 42 Best Places to Visit in San Francisco & Things to Do

    32. San Francisco Botanical Garden. Address: 1199 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122. Located in San Francisco's beautiful Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Botanical Garden is a must-visit destination for any traveler who appreciates nature and botany.

  17. 25 Best Things to Do in San Francisco

    Source: 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.

  18. 35 BEST Places to Visit in San Francisco (2024)

    H #1 - The Golden Gate Bridge - One of the most amazing places in San Francisco! The Broke Backpacker is supported by you. Clicking through our links may earn us a small affiliate commission, and that's what allows us to keep producing free content 🙂 Learn more.

  19. 15 Must See Places in San Francisco

    5. Alcatraz. Alcatraz is the most famous prison and an absolute must-visit when in San Francisco. The saying used to go " If you were bad you went to prison, if you were bad in prison, you went to Alcatraz ". Some of America's worst criminals lived here on 'the rock'. Today it is a national park and open for tours.

  20. 15 Best Places to Visit in the San Francisco Bay Area

    Ano Nuevo State Park, Pescadero. If you visit the Bay Area between December and March, be sure to pay a visit to Ano Nuevo State Park, located between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, to watch the elephant seals. Tours are offered daily during this time when thousands of northern elephant seals gather.

  21. The best day trips from San Francisco

    4. Stinson Beach and Bolinas. Photograph: Shutterstock. Distance from San Francisco: 1 hour. For friendly, laidback beach vibes, venture north to Stinson Beach and Bolinas. These two points, which ...

  22. 50 Things to Do Beyond San Francisco

    The southern part of the beach is the best place to lay out, stroll the sand or rest your eyes from the beach bods. Stay for sunset (who knows—perhaps you'll find a hottie to share it with you). ... Tyler is the Sr. Manager of Global Content & Communications at San Francisco Travel. He has lived in San Francisco since 2015 and has been part ...

  23. Fun 4-Day Vacation in San Francisco

    San Francisco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. This is no wonder with all of its unique and iconic landmarks. San Francisco is only 49 square miles, but it is absolutely filled with cultural and culinary diversity. This city is home to hipsters, techies, immigrants, hippies, and yuppies.

  24. 6 Best Places for Walking in San Francisco

    The post 6 Best Places for Walking in San Francisco appeared first on Go Backpacking. Go Backpacking ... You can also visit Washington Square Park, a central gathering spot in North Beach. Cafes ...

  25. CNN reveals America's Best Towns to Visit in 2024

    8. Grand Rapids, Michigan. High scores: Art and design, beer scene, outdoor activities With a world-class sculpture park and public art all over town, Grand Rapids is far more than "Beer City ...

  26. 20 San Francisco Beaches For Your Bucket List 2024

    Experience the exciting beaches of San Francisco. Surf big waves, enjoy stunning ocean views, and escape the crowds at these hidden gems. 9.2 C. Sydney. Friday, June 21, 2024 Home ... Best Places To Visit in California; 20 Things To Do In Santa Ana; 20 Things To Do In Malibu; Deserts In California Guide; 20 Things To Do In Fremont;

  27. The 10 Best Luxury & Boutique Hotels in San Francisco

    Neighborhood: Jackson Square Why we love it: Interiors with a sense of place, and access to a lively private social club of San Francisco entrepreneurs, creatives, and bon vivants Book now; Most people in the city know The Battery as an exclusive social club, but it also houses a 14-suite boutique hotel, open to members and nonmembers alike.Featuring a maximalist decor that channels the many ...

  28. San Francisco Business News

    The San Francisco Business Times features local business news about San Francisco. We also provide tools to help businesses grow, network and hire. ... Events 40 Under 40 Best Places to Work Most ...