40 Best Things to Do in San Francisco, CA
Characterized by its laid-back charms, San Francisco, California, teems with many attractions where you can have fun!
Constantly shifting between drizzles, cool drafts and sunny weather from neighborhood to neighborhood, the city seems to be in perpetual drift.
Interested to know more about this stunning city?
Here are the 40 best things to do in San Francisco, California:
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
A grand visage of burnished red, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed landmarks in the world.
If you intend to walk the distance, dress warmly to counter the swirling fog.
Pay a Visit to Fisherman’s Wharf
Waterfront dining has never been livelier than at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Between gourmet dining and wining and the outdoor stalls touting fresh sea catches, you’ll solemnly say your vows – if you want it, you’ll eat it.
Fisherman’s Wharf is also home to family-friendly attractions such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and the Aquarium of the Bay.
Have Fun at Golden Gate Park
Encompassing over a thousand acres, visitors can dip into the lakes or picnic with the family at Golden Gate Park.
Weddings and photoshoots are only some events held in this picturesque space; it’s a worthy venue for a particular day.
In particular, visit the Japanese Tea Gardens for a vibrant autumn viewing amid the manicured array of pagodas and stone bridges, refilling your zen meter before heading back into the city crowds.
Shop at Ferry Building Market
The stunning white-stone façade of Ferry Building Market hides an airy marketplace, arching skylight inviting sunny warmth mirrored in the community of local artisan producers based here.
After four years of restoration efforts, this transportation portal now serves local farmers and small food operators to promote ethnic diversity and awareness of the agricultural scene.
Shop for fresh produce or enjoy mouth-watering bites at food stalls on market days.
If you’re in town for a wedding, pray that Ferry Building’s inviting ambiance is the backdrop for their special day.
See the Alcatraz Island
In theory, fortified islands with a history of imprisonment are hardly attractive, but Alcatraz Island’s historical precedence is a point of intrigue.
Indeed, tourists willingly plunge into the depths of the island’s prisons on an unconventional tour.
Witness the Whale Migration with San Francisco Whale Tours
Time your visit carefully to land around January or early spring to witness the majestic, mind-blowing view of thousands of migrating whales.
Humpbacks and blue whales move currents with their gigantic mass, frequent visitors to the bay area between April to November.
Join one of the whale watching tours offered by San Francisco Whale Tours for expert commentary while readying your binoculars for a clear view of the earth’s largest animals.
Visit Union Square
Blend into the topical crowds of Union Square and shop for what you’re worth.
High-end outlets, art galleries, and luxurious hotels that cater to fancy travelers swap out past sunset for glitzier clothes.
Union Square transforms into a lively event space and sleek bar scene come evening.
Snap a Postcard Shot of the Painted Ladies
Fascination with the Victorian era has never ebbed, and the widely photographed Painted Ladies is proof.
The shoulder-to-shoulder Victorian houses along Alamo Square boast characteristic balconies, edge trimmings, pointed roofs, and large porches.
With light pastel shades of blues, pinks, and yellows coating their exterior, the colorful fronts of these private homes sit in stunning definition against the backdrop of San Francisco’s concrete downtown.
Shop at Chinatown
You’re in luck with the Chinatowns celebrating the best of Chinese cuisine.
Feeding culture straight into your mouth with delicious bites, Grant Avenue’s Chinatown will have you braving the throng for authentic Chinese flavor.
Have a Picnic at Mission Dolores Park
The ocean is irresistible, but the alternative of rolling hills and green space is just as enticing.
Join the barbecues at Mission Dolores Park or steal an inflatable couch for yourself during the body-ambitious attempt to tightrope walking and record-breaking hula-hooping.
Or, lay out a towel and sunbathe with the fresh smell of grass, relaxing your senses.
Hop on a Cable Car Adventure
A moving relic persisting from its first operations in 1873, the manual cable car has dwindled from 23 car lines to three.
Nevertheless, gaze out of its open-air sides for meandering views through the city.
You can even brave the extended ledges along the exterior entry and exit points if all the seats are taken – but do keep a firm hold!
Revisit History at Lands End
A whimsical name with similarly mystical trails, Lands End offers the perfect sunset view along its rocky cliffs.
Only one of Golden Gate National Recreational Areas' many attractions, visitors heading to Lands End should stop at the multiple historical sites and monuments along the way.
The remains of Sutro Baths and the restored Cliff House are not to be missed; dating from the late 1800s, they are iconic landmarks that survived multiple fiery disasters.
See the Murals Scattered around the City
Street art speaks volumes about social issues, acting beyond an artistic medium to represent heritage.
The hundreds of murals etched into Mission District’s buildings, and alleyways are loud pieces that call to its Latino community.
Balmy Alley features a love call from Mary Nash, proudly titled Las Milagrosas: Tribute to Women Artists; other mural-centric streets include Caledonia Alley, Cypress and Lilac Alleys, and Valencia Street.
For purely aesthetic purposes, snap up these bright pops and brighten your Instagram feed.
Explore the Exploratorium
As the name might suggest, you can answer your imagination about alternative worlds at the Exploratorium.
If the sight of a colorless world isn’t fascinating enough, try your hand at an interactive game for thought-provoking, socially driven scenarios.
Explore the Grounds of Presidio of San Francisco
A former military base that has grown into a remembrance park, Presidio of San Francisco stretches from ocean-facing Crissy Field to the thicker in-land hiking trails.
The sharp scent of eucalyptus will keep you energized on a hike or bike, drifting between abandoned military forts and the occasional monument.
You can also take a free shuttle through the area, jumping from the Walt Disney Museum around Main Post to Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire sculpture located around the edges of this recreational area.
Taste the Craft Beer at Dogpatch
Industrial-cool interiors seem to be the sign of an up-and-coming bar, and Dogpatch’s industrial past seems to have branded it the neighborhood for craft beers and cocktail experimentation.
Breweries, wine bars, and playful cocktail venues lure in hip crowds for some nighttime mingling and appreciation of San Fran’s liquor fun.
Explore Your Inner Artist at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Renovated and improved, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art features over 30,000 modern pieces of all mediums.
With a ten-story extension, the museum offers sixteen special exhibitions alongside its original galleries; visitors with less time to spare can drop by the tremendous ground-floor exhibits free of charge.
Let the hours pass as you brush up on international artworks and newer contemporary artists on the scene.
Hike up to Twin Peaks
Challenge the trek up to San Francisco’s second highest point for beautiful city views, where you can spot landmarks such as the Bay Bridge and other architectural highlights.
At the height of almost a thousand feet, Twin Peaks can also be reached by driving for those hoping to avoid physical assertion.
While the degree of beauty is unchanging, whether day or night, the same can’t be said regarding temperature; dress warmly as it is chillier up high.
Wander around Haight Street
You might spot a pair of red-heeled, fish-netted legs sticking out of a window between Haight and Ashbury Street.
Still carrying the scent of sandalwood incense, marijuana dispensaries, and free-flowing visuals of lingering 60s’ tendencies, Haight regularly features tie-dyes and lax attitudes of the hippie era.
While there isn’t much to see per se, you will find reminders of a past era in the shop contents and Joana Zegri’s Evolution Rainbow mural.
Experience San Francisco’s Food Scene
You can only eat so much in a day (unfortunately), but you can narrow your choices to Divisadero Street for comprehensive coverage of the city’s multicultural cuisine.
With six blocks teeming with light brunches, full-course Italian, a South Asia inspired wine-bar, and a plethora of international restaurants.
Alternatively, drop in for an afternoon tea treat at a much-loved bakery or café.
Connect with the LGBT Community at Castro
The neighborhood of Castro is the heart of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community, having been the home of Harvey Milk, a leading figure in the gay rights movement.
Friendly, laid-back, boisterous – it’s challenging to capture the spirit of Castro in just a few adjectives.
Dedicate a night to the gay-friendly, all-welcoming bars of the neighborhood and let loose by catching a truly jaw-dropping drag show.
Have a Nature Trip to Angel Island State Park
Angel Island State Park may presently be an outdoor haven for active nature junkies, but it has emerged from a diverse history.
Previously hunting grounds, then a cattle ranch, then an immigration station, and a missile base, visitors are encouraged to take a tram tour and learn more about its fascinating transformation.
If you prefer exploring on your own two feet, it is an easy 6-mile loop around its circumference.
Witness a Show at The Audium
Total darkness enhances our hearing and calms our thinking, and the Audium worked this sensory manipulation into a mind-blowing two hours of musical performance.
A circular theatre hosting only 49 seats seeks to bring sound alive by blasting 176 speakers.
Relaxed, eyes closed, and body open, you can almost feel the varying notes pressing on your skin and reverberating through your organs.
See the Sea Lions at Pier 39
Why should Pier 39 stand out from its peers?
Well, where else would you be able to watch playful sea lions bark and roll about?
Fish and squid pinnipeds may keep these California sea lions coming back, but no one is quite sure why they came swarming after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the first place.
Still, Pier 39 has drawn many tourists with these unusual inhabitants.
Even a naturalist is hanging around and answering questions, provided the weather is pleasant.
Hit up the masses at the Off the Grid event
Doesn’t a weekly food truck food festival sound absolutely heavenly?
All you need is a wallet full of cash, an empty stomach, and soft towels to lie on the grass.
Fire pits, cabanas, and live music are on par for wilder Friday evenings, but family-friendly Sunday afternoons invite chill picnickers and lawn game fun.
Held all over the bay area, two major Off the Grid events are hosted at The Presidio’s Main Post and Fort Mason.
Wind Down Lombard Street
Don’t miss out on Lombard Street's iconic zig-zag formation, a particular driveway famed for its snake-like design and landscaped shrubbery.
It is perhaps best admired at a slight distance; the intersection of Hyde and Lombard streets at the top of the hill is a clear vantage point of cars queueing for their drive down the slope.
The surrounding residential streets are also worth exploring with their white-washed home exteriors and personalized floral décor.
See the Specimens at the California Academy of Sciences
Taking you from sea to space and deep exploration of everything in between is the California Academy of Sciences.
Museum and classroom combined, visitors can wander for hours in the blue-tinged caverns of Steinhart Aquarium, featuring the world’s deepest coral reef display.
A rainforest has moved into a four-story simulation space, home to diverse fauna and winged species.
The space curious will feel elevated in the otherworldly Morrison Planetarium, state-of-art facilities inspiring those interested in astronomy.
However, the Academy’s “living roof " steals the show,” carrying 1.7 million native plant species.
Catch a Baseball Game at AT&T Park
A grand stadium that doubles as home base for the San Francisco Giants, baseball fan or no, AT&T Park is a worthy stop.
One of the perks of this gigantic ballpark is how it overlooks San Francisco Bay; you might spot kayakers and water-goers waiting for any far-flier hits to escape the bounds.
If that’s not tempting enough, maybe stadium treats like garlic fries and chocolate sundaes will have you rushing over to catch a game.
Watch a Movie at Castro Theatre
Watch a movie or two at Castro Theatre.
It is time to celebrate some of Hollywood’s best musicals, which of course, range from Broadway dramatic Grease and West Side Story to Disney’s mass-appealing The Little Mermaid and Frozen.
Sing along with the theatre live-action with help from goodie-bag props and on-screen subtitles for a crowd-encompassing musical night.
See the City from Coit Tower
Coit Tower crests Telegraph Hill in a smooth, flute-tapered outline standing 180 feet tall.
Named after the person who donated a hefty amount to the city, this 1933 love letter to San Francisco offers an alternative viewing point of the city.
Depression-era murals at its base, painted by a collective of artists, further mark Coit Tower as a historical landmark.
Listen to Music at San Francisco Symphony
Classical music lovers will no doubt have a night or two scheduled at the San Francisco Symphony, but connoisseur or not; everyone will come out of a Symphony film night dazed and amazed.
Watch childhood classics with the power of a complete live orchestra backing the tracks, movie magic, and real-time sound affecting a close-to-life experience never felt before.
Thrumming music and high-resolution graphics will buzz you with adrenaline long after the screen draws to a close.
Stroll around Tenderloin Museum
Tenderloin Museum honors one of San Francisco's most intriguing neighborhoods' long histories.
The Tenderloin district's 31 blocks, home to immigrants and iconoclasts, artisans and activists, sinners, and saints, are the beating heart of San Francisco.
Tenderloin Museum first unveiled its doors to the general public in 2015.
The ongoing exhibit examines the peculiar past of San Francisco's Tenderloin District, a region rich in historically significant musical, political, and architectural developments.
Its exhibition features more than ten decades of community history through unique, interactive design.
Explore the interactive exhibition area, sign up for one of their famed walking tours, or attend a public event at Tenderloin Museum.
Reconnect with Nature at San Francisco Botanical Garden
The 55 acres of sculpted gardens and open areas of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, a living museum located in Golden Gate Park, are home to more than 8,000 different species of plants from all over the world.
The Garden strengthens the relationship between people and plants and fosters a better appreciation for the need to protect Earth's biological variety through its activities and exhibits.
Several thousand taxa from all over the world are housed in the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
These collections are made accessible to academics and teachers annually to aid in various projects.
Take a 90-minute stroll through the garden alongside a docent to discover what's in bloom.
Indulge in Dandelion Chocolate
The Mission District of San Francisco is home to the bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer Dandelion Chocolate.
They have made single-origin dark chocolate from cocoa beans and organic sugar for over ten years.
Traveling and establishing long-lasting connections with cocoa growers and producers, they later create tiny batches of chocolate at their San Francisco facility.
From traditional fudge to tangy fruit, they aspire to showcase the diverse flavor notes of different cocoa beans.
To make the flavors stand out, they exclude the regularly used chocolate-making ingredients cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, flavorings, and preservatives.
Various San Francisco Bay Area events, from casual company outings to formal galas, are guided by qualified instructors who conduct chocolate tastings and activities.
Go Grocery Shopping at Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
Enjoy grocery shopping at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, a California-approved farmers market.
It is well known as one of the best farmer's markets in the nation.
Fresh farm supplies, artisan, and prepared delicacies are highly praised for their quality and variety.
Some of San Francisco's most well-known chefs and farmers may be spotted at the market every day, on Saturdays.
The markets sell produce from local small farmers and ranchers, most certified organic, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, meats, and eggs.
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market offers a venue for visitors to learn about agriculture and food.
Every week, up to 40,000 people shop at the farmer's market.
View Exotic Animals at San Francisco Zoo & Gardens
Pay a visit to the San Francisco Zoo, which is accessible daily throughout the year.
It hosts more than 2,000 exotic, threatened, and rescued species on 100 acres of magnificent landscapes near the Pacific Ocean.
San Francisco Zoo & Gardens strives to encourage environmental stewardship, foster a love of animals, and improve conservation programs.
Visitors will witness various animals worldwide, from multi-species habitats and interactive experiences to renovated historic buildings and up-close viewing chances.
Discover some hidden treasures while exploring the park's magnificent grounds.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Visit Sausalito and Tiburon
There’s no need to imagine what a house on the sea may look like when you can step into the bright homes of waterfront Sausalito.
A day trip of lively bay entertainment and outdoor art events, Sausalito and Tiburon are neighboring towns across San Francisco Bay.
Enjoy the nautical charms of Tiburon’s Main Street and the hush of lapping water at the marina.
See the Gigantic Trees at Muir Woods
You never feel smaller or younger than when standing beneath a grove of redwood trees.
Reaching as tall as 258 feet, the dramatic trees of Muir Woods National Monument are neck-breaking silhouettes that average over 600 years old.
Lose yourself in the shadowed trails and contemplate the fragility of life and the strength of nature.
When you have enough hulking redwoods, slip out onto on-site beaches for open skies.
Rocking a hilly topography, San Francisco’s many upslope attractions offer panoramic views.
Whether ascending Coit Tower or toiling up Telegraph Hill’s open-air stairway, you are always rewarded with a visual spread of the city.
From up high, it is easy to see the sprawl of nature, ranging from the expansive grounds of Golden Gate Park to smaller-scale Dolores Mission Park.
Dwelling in the rambling streets is slow bars, expressive murals, top-tier drag shows, and food trucks on the move.
There are markets down by the coast and wharf and dynamic entertainments that feature food and show.
Of course, one can’t mention the city without referencing the heavy start-up hub around the Bay Area, which invested in sustainable technology, new monies, and life-changing sciences.
Say what you will about San Francisco, but there’s always something going on.
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