15 Best Things to Do in South San Francisco, CA

South San Francisco, CA
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South San Francisco, located in San Mateo County,  California, is a city that can easily stoke the wanderlust in you, for it offers so many sights to see and plenty of things to do.

In South San Francisco, each vantage point of its 9.20-square-mile area allows sweeping views of the city and its surroundings.

South San Francisco affords these vistas, as it is wedged on the basin and portions of the broad valley created in the west by the Coast Range and north by the San Bruno Mountains.

This city has a strong affinity with the scenic San Francisco Bay on its eastern periphery.

Notably, the bay accounts for some 21 square miles of the water area of South San Francisco, promising visitors a slew of aquatic thrills.

This city's rich potential for leisure activities is enhanced to the max by its long and fruitful history of development extending to contemporary times.

Founded as the town of Baden in 1856, South San Francisco has morphed over the years from an agricultural economy to a vibrant industrial city.

Having earned monikers like “The Industrial City,” “The Birthplace of Biotechnology,” and “The South City,” South San Francisco won’t disappoint in these 15 things to do within and near its enclave.

Hike at the San Bruno Mountain Park

San Bruno Mountain Park
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The San Bruno Mountain Park looming on the northern fringe of South San Francisco is easily accessible from the city via Hillside Boulevard.

The San Bruno Mountain's ridge rolls at elevations between 250 feet and 1,314 feet at the summit.

Thus, you can enjoy your hike in this 2,416-acre park, the marvelous vistas of the entire San Francisco and Central Bay Area.

San Bruno Mountain Park
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One highlight in this park with 12 miles of hiking trails is an exhibit wherein you can hike along a scaled version of the Solar System.

This display enables a walkthrough of the Solar System’s eight planets in their orbit and features educational panels about them along the trail.

You can camp at the San Bruno Mountain Park, and there’s a dedicated youth camping area.

Visit the Plymire-Schwarz House Museum

Ownership of this colonial revival-style house at Grand Avenue changed hand several times that so much history has been woven into it.

Its first owner, Dr. Harry Garritson Plymire, had it built in 1905 as a private residence and office, converting it to a hospital in 1913.

The property in subsequent years became a boarding house until amateur painter Ernst Schwartz bought it as his private residence in 1958.

The house was bequeathed in 1994 to the Historical Society of San Francisco, which turned it into a museum housing many mementos of the city’s history.

The displays in the Plymire-Schwartz House include period-appropriate antiques and exhibits of Ernst’s paintings.

Seek Public Art Installations across South San Francisco

There is an extensive collection of public and private art installations in San Francisco for your aesthetic enjoyment.

The art pieces at Orange Memorial Park’s Sculpture Garden and the city’s moniker etched conspicuously at the Sign Hill are but for starters.

At the Municipal Services Building on Arroyo Drive, the artworks to appreciate include the watercolor prints “California Butterfly Series” on wood, featuring each butterfly’s lifecycle and plant host.

Take a short trip to DNA Way to appreciate the “Harp,” an acoustic sculpture standing at 92 feet tall best visited during windy days to hear its reverberations.

A visit to the South San Francisco Caltrain Station on Dubuque Avenue is also worth it, as here you can view the mural “Prometheus Gives Fire to Man.”

Go Hiking at Sign Hill

Sign Hill
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Sign Hill is a landmark in North San Mateo boldly proclaiming a hillside sign: "SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO THE INDUSTRIAL CITY."

Put up in the 1920s, this signage has its letters rendered in large, painted concrete dominating its hillside location.

This landmark was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 as a remarkable example of civic pride during the early 20th century.

Sign Hill also features 65 acres of open space and a hiking trail of close to 2 miles.

Taking a walk through this trail affords views of San Francisco Bay and also offers the opportunity to observe local wildlife, such as birds and butterflies.

Enjoy the Centennial Way Trail

This trail is nearly 3 miles long and cuts across the city, stretching from the South San Francisco Station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) up to the San Bruno BART Station.

Actually, this trail is a linear park developed over the underground tube BART that built in its expansion in the San Francisco Peninsula.

Centennial Way opened in 2009 to mark South San Francisco’s 100th anniversary.

Since then, it became popular among bikers, skaters, and joggers, as well as locals walking to their workplaces and visitors exploring the city.

The runners of South San Francisco schools also use this trail for cross-country running.

The stretch of Centennial Way features drought-tolerant plantings, benches, lighting, kiosks, plazas, and interpretive trail signage.

Enjoy a Cantonese Meal at HL Peninsula Restaurant

HL Peninsula Restaurant specializes in Cantonese dishes served in its 500-seater banquet hall in downtown South San Francisco.

Located on Dubuque Avenue off US-101, this restaurant is the flagship of the Peninsula Group that operates in two other California locations.

HL Peninsula banners the experience of a chef-owner who boasts over 40 years of experience honed in the competitive culinary arena of Hong Kong.

Among the regular courses to enjoy at HL Peninsula Restaurant include its shrimp dumplings, rice noodle rolls, and roasted duck.

Or you can try some culinary adventure in the restaurant’s steamed concubine chicken, seaweed and jellyfish, and fried duck wings Mongolian style.

Pick Your Kind of Fun from 21 Parks

Orange Memorial Park
BrokenSphere, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

South San Francisco boasts 21 parks and playgrounds with more than 270 acres, featuring lots of recreational facilities and vast open spaces.

Orange Memorial Park at West Orange Avenue is one of the largest and among the best-equipped of these parks.

This park provides facilities for baseball, soccer, tennis, basketball, bocce ball, and skating.

It also offers an indoor swimming pool, a sculpture garden, a children’s playground, and picnic areas.

Orange Memorial Park is also the site of South San Francisco’s Saturday Farmers Market held from May to October.

The city likewise holds in September its annual “Concert in the Park” in West Memorial.

Have Dinner at the Basque Cultural Center

This restaurant is the home of Basque culinary delights in a setting with an upscale ambiance but also hospitable to the casual diner.

Located on Railroad Avenue, the Basque Cultural Center not only provides a spacious main dining area and three banquet rooms but also an outdoor covered solarium.

This restaurant’s specialization in cuisine from the Basque Country has earned high ratings from Zagat and major media outfits.

The dinner and lunch specials that the Basque Cultural Center offers include various preparations of duck legs, lamb, and fresh fish.

Expect the meats and fish of this restaurant to be grilled over hot coals, with lamb stews, bean dishes, and sheep’s cheese also prime in its menu picks.

Fill Your Mug at 47 Hills Brewing

Craft beers are very much a part of the lifestyle scene when you visit South San Francisco.

To fill your mug quickly with the right brew, proceed to the taproom of 47 Hills Brewing on South Linden Avenue.

This beer-lovers’ haven operates a 25-barrel brewing system, the only craft brewery and taproom of that prolific size in South San Francisco.

Its cozy and friendly taproom will at once tempt you with brews like 47 Hills’ Belgian-style farmhouse ale, its fruity and unfiltered Pink Boots, and the pilsner Yelling at Cars.

47 Hills Brewing also features an onsite kitchen, offering a wide selection of snacks and dishes prepared with fresh local ingredients.

Enjoy San Francisco Bay at Oyster Point

Oyster Point
Hank Shiffman / shutterstock.com

Oyster Point is on the eastern side of South San Francisco, jutting out to the San Francisco Bay.

A 33-acre park and a public marina plus a private yacht club are among the attractions for life and leisure activities in Oyster Point.

This area is also home to a business park as well as some hotels and restaurants that also serve as tourist magnets for Oyster Point.

The park here features a 2.5-acre beachfront, picnic areas, and hiking trails linked with the San Francisco Bay trail plotted around the entire bay.

The marina, on the other hand, provides 408 berths, a boat ramp, a fuel dock, and a fishing pier.

Sing and Dine at E Plus Studio Karaoke & Café

Reserve a private cubicle at the highly-rated E Plus Studio Karaoke & Café on South Airport Boulevard.

Here, you can sing the night away with friends or family and enjoy its authentic, delicious but affordable Hong Kong-style cuisine.

The authoritative asiastar-tv.com awarded high marks to E Plus Studio for its welcoming atmosphere and very warm and considerate service.

It offers specials that for a standard fee per person for a group of four already entitles each to one entrée and a drink, plus 2 hours of free karaoke singing.

E Plus’ menu selection includes its version of Beijing street food, rice plates, and family combo options.

Step on the Gas Pedal at K1 Speed

Put your driving reflexes to a test at the indoor go-kart racing circuit of K1 Speed on Beacon Street.

This location is part of an international US-based franchise that has been around since 2003.

K1 Speed provides adult racers with 20 HP electric go-karts with a top speed of up to 45 miles per hour.

Its go-karts for junior racers can go at a max of 20 MPH, and K1 speed also offers training for race novices and advanced competitors.

K1 Speed has an Arrive & Drive package wherein you can promptly join a field of 12 racers vying for the fastest time around its quarter-mile circuit.

Play at the Bay Badminton Center

Badminton may not be so popular in the US, but a visit to South San Francisco can offer space for aficionados of this racquet sports.

The city is host to the Bay Badminton Center, one of two sports sites in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The South San Francisco Badminton Center is located on San Mateo Avenue, and it provides nine courts in all.

This facility is socially friendly and family-oriented, providing a playroom for the kids while their parents are playing badminton.

Bay Badminton Center boasts a no-slip sports floor system, fully electronic court queuing setup, free parking, and free Wi-Fi access.

It also provides players with shower/locker room facilities and a full-service pro shop.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Go Gaming at Artichoke Joe’s Casino

Artichoke Joe’s Casino
Pi.1415926535, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This casino is a family-owned gaming and dining establishment located on Huntington Avenue in San Bruno, only about 2 miles south of South San Francisco.

A Maltese immigrant Giuseppe Sammut started this business in 1916, and at over 100 years old now, the casino is run by a third-generation Sammut.

The casino was developed from an old stable, and its bar and restaurant remain in the historic structure charming in its Old West décor.

The casino’s main cardroom is striking, with its large aquariums displaying colorful exotic saltwater fish.

The game tables of Artichoke Joe’s feature baccarat, poker, blackjack, and their variations.

Visit the Pacifica Esplanade Beach

This is a secluded beach at Esplanade Boulevard in the city of Pacifica, some 11 miles west of South San Francisco.

This Pacific Ocean-facing beach is ideal for fishing, surfing, and beachcombing, as well as dog-walking, for it allows off-leash pets.

Photography aficionados also love this beach because of its rugged bluffs, but swimmers stay away from its waters because of strong undercurrents.

The beach’s most convenient access to switchback trails and stairs is at the north end of Esplanade Avenue.

Street parking is available along this avenue.

Final Thoughts

South San Francisco does not often land on the list of leading tourist destinations, as it is more known for the business and industry endeavors in its fold.

Nevertheless, this city has many hidden charms owing to its superb valley location and proximity to San Francisco Bay as well as the Pacific Coast.

With this consideration alone, it can be quite easy to create an itinerary that explores many of the best things to do in South San Francisco.

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