Blake Walsh

40 Best Things to Do in San Francisco, CA

  • Published 2023/01/25

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

View of Golden Gate Bridge

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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.

Stunning view of Golden Gate Bridge

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Pay a Visit to Fisherman’s Wharf

People strolling around the Fisherman’s Wharf

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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.

Sea Lions at Fisherman’s Wharf

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Fisherman’s Wharf is also home to family-friendly attractions such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and the Aquarium of the Bay.

Boats docked at Fisherman’s Wharf

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Have Fun at Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Gardens Golden Gate Park

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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.

Green house at Golden Gate Park

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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.

Stone pathway at Golden Gate Park

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Shop at Ferry Building Market

Shops 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.

Exterior view of Ferry Building Market

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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.

Fresh fruits at Ferry Building Market

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See the Alcatraz Island

A distant view of Alcatraz Island

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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.

Hiking trail at Alcatraz Island

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Witness the Whale Migration with San Francisco Whale Tours

View of San Francisco Whale

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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.

Outside view of San Francisco Whale Tours

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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.

Two men watching the whales at San Francisco

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Visit Union Square

View of Union Square

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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.

People walkinng around the Union Square

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Snap a Postcard Shot of the Painted Ladies

Beautiful view of Painted Ladies

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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.

Facade of Painted Ladies

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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.

Night view of Painted Ladies

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Shop at Chinatown

Chinatown San Francisco

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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.

Crowd shopping at Chinatown

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Have a Picnic at Mission Dolores Park

Mission Dolores Park

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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.

Palm trees at Mission Dolores Park

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Hop on a Cable Car Adventure

San Francisco Cable Car on the road

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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!

Daytime view of a Cable Car

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Revisit History at Lands End

Trail at Lands End San Francisco

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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.

Scenic view of Lands End

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See the Murals Scattered around the City

Daytime view of a San Francisco Mural

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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.

Colorful mural at San Francisco

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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.

Tile mural at San Francisco

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Explore the Exploratorium

Exterior of the Exploratorium

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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.

Exterior of Exploratorium

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Explore the Grounds of Presidio of San Francisco

The grounds of Presidio

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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.

Walt Disney museum at Presidio of San Francisco

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Taste the Craft Beer at Dogpatch

Beer glasses in Dogpatch

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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

Exterior of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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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.

Building sign of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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Hike up to Twin Peaks

The road of Twin Peaks

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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.

Night scene at Twin Peaks

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Wander around Haight Street

Daytime view of Haight Street

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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.

Iconic legs sticking out a window at Haight Street

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Experience San Francisco’s Food Scene

Food tents at San Francisco

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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.

A cafe at San Francisco

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Connect with the LGBT Community at Castro

The road of Castro San Francisco

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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.

Rainbow crosswalks at Castro

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Have a Nature Trip to Angel Island State Park

Signage of Angel Island State Park

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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.

Hiking trail at Angel Island State Park

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Witness a Show at The Audium

Interior of The Audium

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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

Sea lions at Pier 39

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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.

Sea lions lying down on a dock at Pier 39

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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.

Cute sea lions at Pier 39

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Hit up the masses at the Off the Grid event

Signage of the Off the Grid event

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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.

People at the Off the Grid event

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Wind Down Lombard Street

Scenic view of Lombard Street

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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.

Cars driving down Lombard Street


See the Specimens at the California Academy of Sciences

Interior of California Academy of Sciences

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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.

Exterior of California Academy of Sciences

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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.

Display in California Academy of Sciences

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Catch a Baseball Game at AT&T Park

The field of AT&T Park

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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.

Baseball game in AT&T Park

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Watch a Movie at Castro Theatre

Exterior of Castro Theatre

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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.

Marquee of Castro Theatre

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See the City from Coit Tower

Aerial view of Coit Tower

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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.

Exterior of Coit Tower

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Listen to Music at San Francisco Symphony

Exterior of San Francisco Symphony

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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.

Orchestra of San Francisco Symphony

Mitch Altman, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Conservatory at San Francisco Botanical Garden

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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.

Great lawn of San Francisco Botanical Garden

Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Flora at San Francisco Botanical Garden

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

Daytime view of Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

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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.

Shoppers at Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

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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.

Fresh produce at Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

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View Exotic Animals at San Francisco Zoo & Gardens

A gorilla at San Francisco Zoo & Gardens

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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.

A koala at San Francisco Zoo & Gardens

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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.

Giraffes at San Francisco Zoo & Gardens

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Other Things to Do Nearby

Visit Sausalito and Tiburon

Daytime view of Sausalito and Tiburon

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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.

Waterfront at  Tiburon

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See the Gigantic Trees at Muir Woods

Trail at Muir Woods

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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.

Welcome sign of Muir Woods

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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.

Tall trees at Muir Woods

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Final Thoughts

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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