San Francisco is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to.
There’s so many things to do and so little time to do it all.
You kind of just have to pick and choose what you like most and go with that. And hopefully, you’ve made the right choices!
With that said, here’s my list of San Francisco’s best things to do (for individuals or families).
50 Best Things To Do In San Francisco
Ride a Big Bus // One of my favorite ways to see a city is to see it from the top of a double decker bus. It helps me figure out where things are visually so I can explore what I want in detail later on. It’s also just a fun thing to do. I also really like the history I get as we drive by monuments, popular parks, museums, and any attraction really. It’s a great way to learn things about the city quickly.
I always do a Big Bus hop on-hop off tour in any city that offers it, and I highly recommend it for San Francisco.
It’s cheaper to buy a Big Bus ticket online. You can check prices here.
Watch a baseball game at AT&T Park // If it’s baseball season, why not catch a San Francisco Giants game. Tickets are pretty cheap and its an easy-going way to spend an afternoon or evening. Look for ticket prices here.
Visit San Francisco Museum of Modern Art // The Museum of Modern Art is an delightful building (inside and out) filled with amazing art. It’s probably San Francisco’s best museum. I think if you’re gonna do a museum, it has to be this one.
To get an idea of what the Museum of Modern Art is like with kids, read this blog post.
Visit Alcatraz Island // Yep, it’s the Rock! One of San Francisco’s (and the United States) best tourist thing to do is to visit Alcatraz. Al Capone was held here, and nobody has ever successfully escaped from Alcatraz. Just tons and tons of cool history you’ll learn on a tour. It’s great to visit during the day or night. The prison has been converted into a museum now for tourists. I highly recommend doing a tour of Alcatraz 100%.
tip: You will want to reserve your ferry/tour ticket to Alcatraz Island early because it’s so popular and books up.
Check out various Alcatraz tours here.
See the California Academy of Sciences // This museum is a natural history museum, where you’ll find an aquarium, digital planetarium, a living roof, and a rain forest. Every Thursday night is adults night only (yay for drinks, music and science!) however this museum is great for kids too.
Check this blog post for pictures.
Enjoy some of San Francisco’s finest coffee shops // San Francisco is renowned for it’s food culture, and that includes coffee! There are tons of cafe’s all over San Fran. But check out Four Barrel Coffee, Philz Coffee or Blue Bottle Coffee for some delightful drinks.
If you’re a coffee fanatic and need more ideas, here’s a blog post for that.
Get entertained at the Castro Theatre // Probably San Francisco’s most “colorful theatre, the Castro Theatre is a retro establishment that put you in the early 1900’s. The programming consists of old Hollywood movies, some modern movies, and sing alongs.
Visit the Exploratorium // This is San Francisco’s major science museum. Located on Pier 15 in San Francisco’s Bay, it’s a “hands on” museum experience where you really get to physically interact as you learn science. This museum is great for anyone, but I feel it’s especially awesome for families. Thursday nights is adults only (who doesn’t love some science and drinks!) Since it’s on the pier, you also get amazing views of the Bay. See the 7 reasons to visit the Exploratorium and this blog post.
Watch a movie at Sundance Kabuki Cinema // An amazing place to watch newly released movies and indie films. It’s a little pricier than your typical Cinema, but you get more here. You can order alcoholic beverages, food, and the theatre itself is very modern and beautiful. It has a lounge-like atmosphere with good amenities. Think of it as an upscale movie theatre.
Check what’s playing and buy movie tickets here.
Ride a cable car // You need to ride a cable car 100%. It’s just a San Francisco thing to do. It costs about $7 for a one way ticket. I recommend taking a cable car from the start point at Powell Street near Union Square (in front of the Gap store). And take it all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf (about 30 minute ride). It’s very scenic. And if you’re able, stand up and hand off it. It’s super super fun.
Have ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery // Eat home made ice cream at this amazing creamery. Expect the best tasting ice cream and long lines. If treats are your thing, read this blog post about the best treats in San Francisco.
Visit the animals at San Francisco Zoo // One of the best things to do with kids anywhere is the zoo! Fortunately, San Francisco has one of the best zoo’s, so it’s definitely worth checking out. They have kid specific amenities like a playground and farm area. The zoo is also very close to the beach. If it’s a sunny day out, a beach / zoo combo would be a really nice way to spend a day.
- Tips for seeing San Francisco zoo with kids
- San Francisco Zoo in blog posts
- Visiting the San Francisco Zoo
Sail around the San Francisco Bay during sunset // San Francisco’s bay is really gorgeous, especially during sunset. A cruise on a small catamaran/boat would be a wonderful way to spend an evening relaxing in the waters while taking in the incredible views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco. Check out the San Francisco Twilight and Sunset Cruise here.
Visit the Asian Art Museum // A museum filled with over 18,000 pieces of Asian art and artifacts from all over the world. It’s one of the best museums of Asian art in North America.
Spend a night at Beach Blanket Babylon // Dubbed the “world longest running musical revue”, this is a great way to spend an evening if you like pop culture satire. You can catch their shows at Club Fugazi. Check what’s playing and get ticket prices here.
Ride a San Francisco GoCar // These little cool cars is one of the funnest ways I’ve ever seen to experience a city. It navigates you around so you know where to go and when to turn, and it gives you all the history of whatever you are passing by. I didn’t get a chance to do this but it looked amazing. It’s a tiny little car and you just spend the day driving around the route. You can check it out here.
Visit the de Young Museum // Located in Gold Gate Park, the de Young museum is an excellent place to check out while you’re perusing around the park. It’s a fine arts museum that is over 100 years old and has galleries of artwork from places around the world. Check out this blog post about the de Young Museum.
Eat from a food truck // You’ll find food trucks parked all over the city. San Francisco is famous for it’s availability and variety of foods, and it’s no different with food trucks. Check out this article on the Bay area’s 20 best food trucks.
Eat Mexican food at La Taqueria // Located on Mission Street, you’re not going to find a better burrito in the city than here. One of San Francisco’s best places to get Mexican food, La Taqueria is a can’t miss.
You can check out the various day trips from San Francisco here.
Go on a wine tour // California makes some of the best wine in the States. If you’re a wine lover, it’s going to be hard not to sip on local wine at a nearby winery on a sunny day in California! A very popular wine tour is the Napa and Sonoma Wine Country Tour.
Go on a Golden Gate Bridge bike tour // Riding a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge is an incredible way to experience it. You’ll need to rent a bike and there are bike shops around to help you with that. You can also take a bike tour where a guide will lead the way for you, like this Golden Gate Bridge bike tour here.
Go on a San Francisco “Love” Tour // Learn about San Francisco’s hipster history by riding in a 1970’s VW hipster bus while listening to 60’s classic music from Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. You can check that out here.
Best things to do in San Francisco at night
Party on Mission Street // Mission Street stretches from 16th to 24th. Easily reachable by BART. Here you’ll find late night food joints along with bars/clubs to spend the night. It’s a bit of a grungy place with bums and litter around. But I never felt unsafe here. Bar hop around and have a late night hot dog before heading home. See San Francisco’s Mission district.
Eat a bacon wrapped hotdog // After a night of bar hopping and partying on Mission Street, grab a bacon wrapped hotdog from one of the street vendors parked outside. It tastes great, especially when you’re drunk.
Have a beer at Toronado // Toronado is one of the best places to grab local Californian craft beer. They have 45 different beers on tap to choose from.
Go Bowling at the Presidio // The Presidio bowling center opens late on the weekends. Throw some balls and have cocktails late into the night here.
See the city lights at Twin Peaks // Twin Peaks is great any time of day. At night though, it’s one of the best places to see San Francisco all lit up.
Check out local clubs // They are located all over the city. Ask a local where they like to go out at night or check out this list of the best nightclubs in San Francisco.
Tour San Francisco at night // Seeing San Francisco when the sun goes down is a night and day difference (lol pun intended). One super popular thing to do at night is to visit Alcatraz, or visit some of the cities popular neighborhood on a guided tour.
Free things to see in San Francisco
See the Golden Gate Bridge // The most popular things to do in San Francisco is to see the Golden Gate Bridge! A trip to San Francisco that doesn’t include a visit to the Golden Gate would be insane!
There are many ways to experience the bridge.
It’s a little bit outside of the main core of San Francisco and I don’t recommend walking from Union Square area to get there (super far!) Your options to see the bridge are below.
Here are five ways to experience Golden Gate Bridge:
- Ride a Big Bus across the bridge – This is how I went across the bridge. It was AMAZING sitting at the top of a double decker bus going across the bridge. Right after finishing crossing the bridge is a stop. Get off to take amazing pictures of the bridge. Also go hike around this area for different views of the bridge. I spent several hours here hiking around. Get discounted Big Bus tickets here.
- Ride a bike across the bridge – Riding a bike to the bridge and then across it into Sausalito is an incredible way to experience Golden Gate. You can stop anywhere along the way for photos. You can continue riding through Sausalito (great place!) until you reach the ferry point, and take a ferry back to San Francisco. Rent a bike yourself or go on a guided bike tour.
- Walk across Golden Gate – Walking is also fantastic. Just know that you’ll likely end up walking to the bridge, then across it, and back (and perhaps hike around the bridge area as well). So there’s LOTS of walking (3+ hours minimum). Be prepared for it.
- See the Golden Gate from the waters – You can take a ferry/boat and experience the bridge by water! This gives you cool views a lot of people don’t get, and more unique picture opportunities. You’ll also see Alcatraz and San Francisco as you sail around (yes, more photo ops!)
- Drive a car across the bridge – If you’ve rented a car you can drive it across the bridge. You’ll have to pay a toll to access the bridge. Probably the least enjoyable way to experience the bridge though. But quick if you’re short on time!
Visit Union Square // Union Square is San Francisco’s most popular square. It’s hard to visit San Francisco and not find your way here at some point. You’ll find big retailers like Macy’s and the Apple store here, lots and lots of hotels, the beginning of cable car rides on Powell street, and the meeting point for many free walking tours of San Francisco. It’s also a major stop for Big Bus tours.
Union Square is the best area to stay in San Francisco in my opinion. The location is unbeatable and most of the hotels are located within a few blocks from Union Square.
Here’s a great place to find cheap hotels near Union Square.
Take a free walking tour // Walking tours are an incredible way to get to know a city’s main points of interest and learn history at the same time. Free walking tours depart from Union Square daily. I highly recommend doing one early on. Just make sure to bring some change to tip your guide.
Check out Ocean Beach // A pretty good place to watch surfers or the sunset, Ocean beach is located on the Pacific ocean. I also recommend walking along the 4 mile coastline if you’re looking to get away from the city for a bit. It’s also very close to the city making it a great getaway and get back spot.
Visit Ferry Building Marketplace // This building is a food market filled with food stalls from all kinds of cultural backgrounds. You’ll find grocery stores, snack shops and restaurants here too. It’s all about the food here. Spend some time here roaming around from stall to stall, sampling all types of foods.
Visit Fisherman’s Wharf // One of San Francisco’s biggest attraction, Fisherman’s Wharf is a stretch of land along the northern coastline of San Francisco. Popular things to do here include eating at crab & seafood restaurants, shopping, and checking out the see lions. You can walk the entire Wharf in roughly 30 minutes, but you’re likely going to be spending hours here, maybe half a day or more.
tips: There’s lots of fun excursions/tours from Fisherman’s Wharf. They include Alcatraz prison, taking a ferry to North Bay, Cruising the waters around Alcatraz, …. Fishermans Wharf is my top pick for people traveling with kids and families.
Fisherman’s Wharf (along with Union Square) are the two best places to stay in San Francisco. Fisherman’s Wharf is a little better for Families (less bums and weirdos here).
Check out hotels near Fisherman’s Wharf here.
Walk through Pier 39 // Pier 39 is the most popular pier located in Fishermans Wharf. I read somewhere it is San Francisco’s second most popular thing to do after the Golden Gate Bridge. I can see why, because Pier 39 reminded me of Disneyland. It’s a tourist attraction itself, with many shopping opportunities (great souvenir shops), restaurants to eat in, entertainment, and lots of people around. It’s a must thing to do in San Francisco.
Must do in Pier 39:
- Try the crab here and get clam chowder in a bread bowl. Get them from street vendors, you’ll see them everywhere
- Many people come here to see the sea lions. It’s nowhere near as good as San Diego, but still a fun Pier 39 thing to do
Wander around the Presidio // The Presidio is a famous park near the Golden Gate Bridge. It has beautiful trails to walk/hike, and it’s one of the most gorgeous parks in San Francisco. You’ll find the Disney Museum and Lucas Studios here too. There are also coffee shops, restaurants, and entertainment like bowling and golfing available too. If you only have time to do one park, make it the Presidio.
tips: I recommend hiking or biking through the Presidio. Bring your camera too, as you’ll see amazing views of the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz, the ocean, and more. Also a great place to picnic.
The Presidio is a great place to hang out on your own. If you want to get some history and go on a guided hiking tour, check this out.
Shop at Westfield San Francisco Centre // This mall specifically is cool because it’s very tall (has many floors), and has very upscale food courts you don’t typically see. It’s a mall with low end and high end stores, with a high end shopping feel. It’s big (all the stores are here) and located in Union Square. Make sure to check out the super big and cool food court in the basement.
Visit Mission Dolores Park // One of San Francisco’s most popular parks with incredible views of the city. It’s located in the Mission area, where the people are more on the alternative and hipster side. You’ll probably find more younger people in this park than any other. You can drink alcohol in this park too. It’s a great place to relax, have a picnic, and enjoy the sun. There is also a newly renovated playground here for kids.
tip: I recommend spending a few hours on a sunny day in this park. See the “characters” of San Francisco while drinking some wine/beers. Picnic and people watch on a relaxing day.
Check out the Coit Tower // It’s a monument made for firefighters. You can take the elevator up the Coit Tower to get some cool views of San Francisco.
Visit Crissy Field // Located in the Presidio, Crissy Field is an amazing place to see the Golden Gate Bridge. Here, you can picnic, have a BBQ, and do stuff on the beach. You can also hike around this area and catch scenic views of waters and plant life.
Spend a day in Golden Gate Park // San Francisco’s biggest park can keep you occupied for days. Not only is it a massive green space to relax in, it is home to the Japanese Tea Garden, Botanical Gardens, DeYoung Museum, and the Academy of Sciences. Biking through the Golden Gate park to get to the Golden Gate bridge is also a great way to experience the park.
See the Japanese Tea Garden // Located in Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden is a nice place take in the sights and incredible views of green space, and drink tea.
See The Palace of Fine Arts Theatre // Near the Exploratorium is The Palace of Fine Arts. It is a monument and famous landmark in San Francisco. The grounds and ponds in the area are very beautiful, and the landmark itself is absolutely gorgeous. One of San Francisco’s great places for photos. Also a beautiful place to picnic. It’s a theatre of course, and they offer paid shows to watch.
Check who’s entertaining for the evening and buy tickets here.
Visit Alamo Square // Alamo Square is a historic park that is most famous for “The Painted ladies”. It’s where the “Full House” houses are. People come here just to take a photo of these historic Victorian homes. However, the park itself is very enjoyable as well. You get a fantastic view of downtown and it’s a great place to picnic on a sunny day. Also a great place to take photos.
See the California Palace of the Legion of Honor // A fine arts museum that has excellent art exhibits. It’s beautiful inside and out, and has a more European feel to it, compared to the other museums in San Francisco. It is surrounded by a public golf course, and was built to commemorate Californian soldiers who died in war. It also overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge so have your camera with you when you visit.
Visit Fort Mason // A neighborhood and park in San Francisco, it has an incredible farmers market in Sundays and a food truck event on Fridays. You’ll also find many festival events here, as well as biking opportunities. Fort Mason is also a great location to see panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Walk through Chinatown // Chinatown San Francisco is probably the best Chinatown in the Unites States. You really feel like you are in China. Just think of the best street you’ve ever been on in any Chinatown, and multiply that by 15. That’s basically Chinatown in San Francisco. It’s filled with supermarkets, restaurants, old Chinese people, and really gives you that Chinese feeling.
tip: Eat Chinese food here. It’s cheap and authentic. Have dim sum in the morning or a bowl of noodle soup later in the day. A great place to grab groceries too, and tons of street photography opportunities.
Go to Twin Peaks for amazing views // Twin peaks is perhaps the best place in San Francisco to see panoramic views of the city. The views are breathtakingly gorgeous. It is one of the highest vista points in San Francisco. Twin Peaks is also an amazing place for hiking/biking. You can drive up the hill to get here as well. Get your phone out and take a panorama. You’ll get the ocean on one side and the Bay on the other side. It will probably be breezy so bring a jacket.
Visit Lombard Street // Lombard street is world famous for being the most crooked street in the world. You can drive down it if you have a car (sometimes there are long queues!) or walk up/down it (there are stairs). You only need to spend 15-20 minutes here. It’s a quick free thing to do in San Francisco, and something to tick off the bucket list.
Visit Japantown // There are only three Japantowns in all of America, and one of them is located in San Francisco. Here, you’ll find Japanese flavored everything, including restaurants, monuments, spa’s, grocery stores, book stores, etc.
Visit the Castro district // Home to San Francisco’s gay and lesbian scene, it’s pretty world renowned as being the unofficial capital of the gay/lesbian community. You can spend a few hours here strolling around, looking at the interesting shops and, of course, people. The night life here is vibrant too, with several gay friendly venues (gay bars) and excellent restaurants. The Castro District is a great place to visit for a different experience.
See the Yerba Buena Gardens // A pubic garden in downtown San Francisco, you’ll find public works of art, a carousel, museums, skating rink, and gardens here.
See the Contemporary Jewish Museum // This is where you can learn about Jewish history from a contemporary perspective.
Visit the Haight-Ashbury district // This is a neighborhood and street where the hippie movement was born (Summer of 67). Today, it’s still the most hipster place in San Francisco (a very hipster city already). You’ll find many boutique shops, cafe’s, and restaurants here (modern and hipster). You’ll also find many hipsters here too (surprise, surprise!) It will take you back to the 60′ and the Summer of Love. I definitely recommend walking down this street.
See the follow Haight-Ashbury blog posts:
- 7 best places to see in Haigh-Ashbury
- San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury Disctrict
- San Francisco neighborhood guide
And that’s it! There’s actually around 60 things to do in San Francisco listed here. I plan to add things as time goes along so I decided not to number it. Whatever things you decide to see in San Francisco or do, I hope you have a blast! It’s an amazing city with tons of variety for everyone.
One last tip: Make sure to bring a light jacket. San Francisco will be surprisingly colder than you expect!
Have any comments?
Let me know your thoughts on this list of things to do in San Francisco! Hit me up with a comment below.