24 Ultimate Things To Do In San Francisco
San Francisco, although it is geographically small, is jam-packed with diversions and delights that are sure to thrill curious wanderers, foodies and outdoorsy folks of all ages. From its vintage streetcars to the infamous Alcatraz Island, the iconic San Francisco attractions beckon over 15 million visitors from all four corners of the world every year. What’ more, the city is crammed with eclectic shops, hidden stairways, pocket gardens, excellent museums, artisan coffee shops and top-notch restaurants to appease even the most jaded locals.
Headed to the Golden Gate City? Here's a list of some of the best and most amazing things to do in San Francisco. Check them out!
Exploring San Francisco means you'll have to walk perpetually. So, give your feet a treat by wearing a pair of Vessi shoes. It's comfortable, stylish and amazingly durable. And, the best part is, it's waterproof. Of course, don't forget to bring a trusted, stylish and multi-functional bag. Check out these multi-purpose and durable bags that can make your San Francisco vacation a breeze.
1. Explore the largest Chinatown in the country
Compact, crowded and pleasantly chaotic, the San Francisco Chinatown is truly a feast for all these senses. As you walk through the dates at the intersection of Bush Street and Grant Avenue, you will feel like you have just left the city of San Francisco, and entered a totally different country. As a port of entry for the early Chinese immigrants, SF’s Chinatown was the first neighborhood of its kind in the US, and has been a dynamic ethnic destination since the 1860s. Known as one of the biggest and most vibrant San Francisco neighborhoods, Chinatown will appease you with its elaborate Oriental figures as well as its restaurants, fish markets and stores selling everything from trinkets to staples.
2. Walk or bike across The Golden Gate Bridge
Biking or walking across Golden Gate Bridge is absolutely a bucket-list must-do for visitors and locals alike in San Francisco, California. Not only is it the city’s most photographed and sought-after attraction, but the bridge is also an enduring symbol of the West Coast. Deemed as the most beautiful and famous bridge in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge manages to amaze even the most seasoned travelers and photographers, Wild Adventures, Honeymoon, City Escapades, with its striking 1.7-mile span and magnificent orange arches amid San Francisco Bay’s rocky seascape.
Whether you walk across it, ride across it in a car, or look at it from afar, this classic landmark is a breathtaking sight to behold no matter how you decide to experience it. The bridge can be accessed at any time you want, by bicycle, car, bus or foot. If you are driving, parking is pretty convenient, but limited, and is accessible on both the bridge’s south and north ends.
3. A night tour at “The Rock”
Alcatraz – the infamous former penitentiary – is nestled on an island with the same name in the midst of San Francisco Bay. Some of the most notorious and hideous criminals in the United States like George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Al Capone were incarcerated on “The Rock”. Though countless of inmates have tried, no one from the prison has made a successful escape from this formidable fortress. The penal institution, however, was closed in the 1960, and stories about Alcatraz are nothing short of legendary.
The best time visit Alcatraz Island is arguably at night. Haunting and nostalgic at any time of the day, the popular night tour adds an extra dose of chill to your Alcatraz visit, especially on foggy and creep evenings. For an unforgettable night tour, get the cell-house audio tour narrated by former guards and inmates, which recounts the frightening tales of prison life in Alcatraz, including the countless tragic escape attempts.
4. Hop on a rolling historic landmark
More than just a trusted means of transportation, the alluring cable cars are officially a designated historic landmark in the city of San Francisco. A beautiful relic of the pre-automotive age, these cars were made to scale the elevated slopes that were too lofty for horses. Three cable car lines leave from the end of California Street and Union Square, traveling at speeds of 9 miles per hour through Russian Hill, Nob Hill and Chinatown San Francisco to Fisherman’s Wharf’s. Each one-way trip will give you a slow roller-coaster ride that offers spectacular views of some of the celebrated hills and attractions in San Francisco.
5. Visit the Golden Gate Park
On the lookout for fun and awesome free things to do in San Francisco? Then, make sure to spend at least a couple of hours exploring the verdant Golden Gate Park – one of the world’s largest manmade parks. Stepping inside this park offers you a chance to walk across a scenic 1,000-acre land with monuments, museums, lakes, picnic areas and trails.
In addition, the park has quite a few charming features, such as the Japanese Tea Garden and a carousel. To top it all off, the park hosts a bevy of concerts and festivals throughout the year, such as the Dahlia Festival, celebrating the official flower of San Francisco.
A nice stop for those who are strolling through the park’s lush ground is the Conservatory of Flowers in its northeast corner, which offers its visitors a look at a wide array of vividly colored blooms as well as an opportunity to learn more about plans. Animal lovers, meanwhile, should drop by the Steinhart Aquarium in the mid-eastern section of the park. The Strawberry Hill is yet another people-pleaser in the park, luring meditation enthusiasts, cyclist and hikers with it its fabulous scenery.
6. Watch the San Francisco Giants in action
Even if don’t know anything about fly balls and home runs, watching the Giants play at the AT&T Park is nonetheless rather fun, and a quintessential San Francisco experience. Set on San Francisco Bay’s docks, the park provides great views of the waterfront, with paddle-boarders and kayakers chasing one another to retrieve splash hits over the park’s right-field fence. And in true San Francisco style, AT&T offers some of the country’s best ballpark culinary treats, such as Ghirardelli chocolate sundaes, the award-winning Tony’s Neapolitan pizza and Caribbean Cha Cha bowls.
7. Feel the pulse of San Francisco’s ever-changing nightlife
San Francisco nightlife is a constantly changing and evolving scene. The hottest clubs in the city are currently in the Mission and South of Market districts, with recorded and live Latin and rock music. As with other top city in America, San Francisco also has a diverse mixture of nightlife offerings that feature a mixture of music types, including oldies, swing, blues, jazz and house.
8. Hike the Twin Peaks
Rising more than 900 feet from the ground, the grassy and towering Twin Peaks offers great hikes as well as superb views of the city. Whether you are in the mood for a stroll up the second highest point in SF or prefer to ride a cab to the top to snap photos, you should pencil a stop to this destination into your travel itinerary.
9. Visit the Cartoon Art Museum
This entertaining and quirky SoMa museum is dedicated to animation and cartoon art in all its forms, with over 6,000 works that range from original animation cels and graphic novels to Sunday funnies and editorial cartoons.
10. See the stars at ACT
The American Conservatory Theater – the acclaimed resident repertory theater in San Francisco – has been since 1967 staging groundbreaking new works and modern classics, including major works by Tom Stoppard and David Mamet. The Conservatory counts a number of Hollywood moguls among its alumni, such as Danny Glover, Nicolas Cage, Annette Bening and Denzel Washington.
11. See the fascinating murals in Balmy Alley
One of the coolest free things to do in San Francisco is to stroll along Balmy Alley, and admire its prismatic collection of murals depicting the artists’ interpretation of world issues in the mid-80s.
12. Make a quick stop at the Cable Car Museum
Speaking of freebies, don’t forget to schedule a visit to the admission-free Cable Car Museum – a treasure trove that displays the history of cable cars in San Francisco. Here, you get to lay eyes on an array of nostalgic exhibits, including old photographs, tools, engines, and antique cable cars.
13. Walk down Lombard Street
San Francisco is home to some of the steepest and most picturesque streets in the country. Whether you are driving or walking, the road’s varying gradient in SD will surely catch your attention, and give you heart a healthy rate boost. And the way I see it, no other street in the city is as popular as the Lombard Street, fittingly nicknamed as the “Crookedest Street in the world”. Known as one of the most eccentric San Francisco attractions, this well-known roadway is just a block long, but has eight sharp turns, and is flanked by colorful flowers.
14. Spend a day at the beach
San Francisco, while not particularly well-known for its beaches, has a few good ones with great views along the Pacific Ocean, such as the Baker beach, China Beach and Ocean Beach.
15. Watch the Warriors play in Oakland
Technically, the Golden State Warriors play in Oracle Arena in Oakland, which is an 11-mile drive from San Francisco. Still, watching them live in person is worth the drive, and a nice entry to your bucket list, especially if you are a big-time basketball fanatic. Trust me, the way Stephen Curry and Warrior draining long bombs in the arena is a thing of beauty. Plus, the Oracle Arena is probably the loudest and most electric basketball stadium in America.
16. Swing by San Francisco Zoo
Traveling with a bunch of kids? One of the best things to do in San Francisco, when traveling with a family, is to pay a visit to the celebrated San Francisco Zoo. Billed as one of the best wildlife parks in the United States, San Francisco Zoo houses over a thousand individual animals representing more than 250 species.
17. Feast your eyes on a wondrous pile of Asian Art
The Asian Art Museum – the largest showcase of Asian Art in the United States – has one of the world’s most extensive collections of Southeast Asian, Indian, Japanese and Chinese art, spanning over 5,000 years of history with thousands of objects. Artifacts and displays here range from porcelains and texts from the Ming Dynasty to Indonesian shadow puppets and Japanese Buddha statues.
18. Dine at a food truck
The city of San Francisco has a booming food truck scene, which is quite evident by the throngs of people who every Friday night go Off The Grid at Fort Mason. This Northern California weekly food party draws around 8,000 visitors, and has dozens of vendors offering drinks and food from all over the world. Not only will this food showcase please your palate and give you a sensory overload of smells, but it also lets partake in some fun games, like Whack-a-Mole and tabletop shuffleboard.
19. A selfie with the Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies are the beautiful bundle of Victorian row house across Alamo Park. Aptly dubbed as “Postcard Row”, these houses frequently appear in blockbuster films and sitcoms like “Full House”.
20. Be blown away by the exhibits at the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is a dazzling hands-on museum showcasing over 600 exhibits that will challenge human observation and principles of physics. Here, you’ll get a chance to fabricate a human tornado, make holes in the space-time continuum, and challenge your brain’s perception of motion, shape and color.
21. Drop by Walt Disney Museum
In 2009, Diane – the oldest daughter of the legendary cartoonist Walt Disney – opened the doors of the Walt Disney Museum, to give people an up close look at the creative man behind Mickey Mouse. As you visit this one-of-a-kind museum, you’ll get to see exhibitions that follow the early career of Walt as a cartoonist, and all the way to his passing in 1966.
22. A taste of the San Francisco Sound
A visit to Fillmore is an absolute must-do and a bucket-list worthy entry for music lovers. After all, it is the birthplace of the famous San Francisco Sound as well as the stage where manager Bill Grahan launched the careers of notable rock legends like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Santana and the Grateful Dead. Though most of the bands that play in this joint have planted their feet firmly in the 21st century, you will still find a heap of modern-day throwbacks in Fillmore. Also, it has a marvelous upstairs lounge, wherein dozens of psychedelic posters are displayed to pay tribute to the rock gods who have performed there.
23. Wander around Mission District
The Mission District, even though it has lured the young hippie crowd in San Francisco in the past decade, still has retained its local and authentic Mexican feel. This is the place in California that introduced the burrito to the global limelight, so make sure to check out some hidden places with great eats there. Likewise, it ‘s a great San Francisco neighborhood for those who want to get away from heavily visited touristy areas like the Fisherman’s Warf and the Golden Gate Bridge.
24. Pass by a living rainforest
The California Academy of Sciences in San Diego is very often considered the greenest museum n the world. As far as I know, it is the only institution on the face of the earth to blend a scientific research program, natural history museum, digital planetarium and aquarium in one roof. This sprawling complex is wonderfully anchored by a living four-story rainforest dome that serves as home to ephemeral birds and butterflies. Not to mention, it has a living roof featuring a million native plant species that provide water and insulation for the museum, as well as reduce its carbon footprint.
To experience a sweet, fabulous and hassle-free trip to the Bay’s centerpiece, make sure to plan your trip to San Francisco for free with Trekeffect!
Looking for an easy and convenient way to plan a trip to San Francisco? Grab a copy of this itinerary, and make your San Francisco travel planning experience a breeze!
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips & Tricks
Shop for Travel Essentials
Book your flight
Find cheap flights using SkyScanner. This search engine is are our favorite, making sure you get the best deal for tickets all over the world. They are great at aggregating flights from multiple providers.
Don't forget travel insurance
Protects yourself against illness, injury, theft, and even cancellations with travel insurance. You're buying comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. We never recommend traveling without it. We’ve been using World Nomads, a great company, with great service and highly recommend them.
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out our resource page for the absolute best companies to use when you travel! We list our favorite companies that save people the most money when they travel and we think it will help you too!
Disclosure: Some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase. We only recommend products and companies we use and the income keeps the community supported.